In addition to writing, I substitute teach in elementary school. This week is Read Across America, with schools celebrate reading, and particularly, Dr. Seuss. The program is encouraging supporters to take a selfie with their favorite childhood book and post it to social media. I decided to take it one step further and write this month’s blog about my choice.
But before I start talking about that, I must issue a quick apology, because my favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, isn’t western related. For those who don’t know the story, it’s about a selfish, spoiled girl raised in India whose life is overturned when her parents die, forcing her to move to England to live with an uncle she’s never met.
I can’t remember what grade it was in elementary school or who my teacher was, which I truly regret, but one my teachers read The Secret Garden aloud to my class. From the moment she cracked the book open, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for afternoon to arrive so I could head to the English countryside to spend time with poor Mary Lennox. After we finished the story, I bought a copy from Scholastic and reread the book repeatedly.
I loved seeing Mary growing more confident and content as she connected with the moors. Her budding relationship with Dickon captivated me. Even then I possessed the heart of a romance novelists, because I envisioned after the story ended, them living happily ever after on their own land, with a beautiful garden they lovingly tended together, and of course, they were still best friends with Colin. (BTW, I still want to know how their lives turned out. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a western fan fiction story in there!)
The mystery surrounding the cries in Misselthwaite Manor and why everyone insisted Mary was imagining things held me mesmerized. When Mary found her cousin Colin, and they and Dickon started exploring the secret garden, I was there too, sharing in their adventures.
For me, The Secret Garden had it all—romance, mystery, a heroine with a tragic past in need of a home, family, love and belonging. All themes that are intertwined in the books I write today. The Secret Garden hooked me on reading and started me dreaming about writing my own stories.
But how about you? Leave me a comment about your favorite childhood book to be entered to win the snack set and a copy of To Love A Texas Cowboy. Ironically, like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, To Love A Texas Cowboy is my story about a tragically orphaned little girl. Though she’s not the main character, Ella being orphaned, like Mary, sets the story into motion.
Now go. I’m excited to hear about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you!
I’ve always been a girl… And then a woman/sister/mom/wife/daughter/sister-in-law/grandma….
But now I’m officially a Petticoats and Pistols filly and do you know why?
I write Westerns.
It’s not my fault.
IT’S NEVER MY FAULT! (Just had to get that out of my system.)
But this time it’s true… Love Inspired asked me to be part of a Western continuity a few years ago and I was hooked.
I am over the moon and if that sounds overdone, trust me: it’s not. It’s facts, ma’ams, simply facts. And huge thanks to the wonderful writers/cowgirls of Petticoats & Pistols for bringing me ’round the campfire. But how is writing a Western novel different from writing my typical novels?
That’s Colt Stafford on the cover. And that cover is a clue. Western heroes are larger than life, regardless of size… Because it’s not the size of the man. It’s the size of the heart.
Real cowboys are strong enough to be gentle… They’re man enough to put others needs, including the horse, the stock, the wife, the kids… before theirs. They’re tough enough to find faith, even if it’s not for the first time. They practice “Cowboy code” and they’re proud of it. Whether you’re the oldest brother Colt, pictured above…
Westerns are different in lots of ways. The obvious distinction is setting, and that’s a big difference because the West prides itself on being The West… Movies and books chronicle the push west, Ken Burns did a whole documentary about Westward expansion, Western movies and television shows abound and there are high school and college courses done on the positives and negatives of that westward push. History books cleaned up some stories, while scholars re-painted those same stories with dark intent that sometimes went to opposite extremes.
In the midst of it all, a region was built, bought, separated, fought for, fought over, divided and maintained. The heartland became the opening segue into the American We. With land spreading west, north and south, new states, cities, towns, villages and ranches were born. People moved west, moved back east, and moved west again, pushing that invisible wall of separation until they hit the Pacific Ocean.
I’ve delved into the history of it to create a fictional town set in South Dakota, one in Idaho and one… romance in a soddy!… in eastern Nebraska.
I’ve written an award-winning, bestselling series about the contemporary west, and loved it.
Whether my stories are set in modern times or historical venues, they have one thing in common: Love. And strong, strong women.
I love strong women.
I love empowering women.
Women are the unsung heroes in so many roles in life, but not in a Ruthy book. A memorable hero is a wonderful thing. But I love a book that celebrates the strong overcomer in a woman. A book that champions HER as much as it does him…
Because I believe women are blessed with an amazing strength that gets overlooked too often. Hey, I’ve been in a labor bed… and at a bedside, holding a dying hand. I’ve been in an emergency room, watching skilled professionals try to save a life… and at a graveside, mourning when life succumbs.
A great Western is a story of strength… of hope… of love.
My joy in writing gets polished in all of my books, but my cowboy books grab a piece of my heart and don’t let go… Maybe it’s the hat.
Maybe it’s the setting.
Or maybe… just maybe… it’s that pioneer-loving side of me that will never take the American West for granted.
Hey, I brought some home-made ice cream and chocolate dipped cones… and strong coffee. Join me inside and if you leave a comment, I’ll toss your cute name into a hat for the first Double S Ranch book “Back in the Saddle”. Let’s talk why we love romance
Harper Lee, the elusive novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that was written from a child’s-eye whose view reflected racial prejudices in a small Southern town recently died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Although I read a dozen articles about her death, they were about the same through the eyes of the Associated Press. The information that I found the most intriguing was in her biography.
One thing of interest was that her full name was Nelle Harper Lee. Her first name was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards. Lee dropped the Nelle because she didn’t want people to mispronounce it. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and part owner of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness and rarely left the house. It was believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.
Although Lee was the youngest of four children, she was scrappy as any of her brothers. Not to mention she was brilliant.
One of her best friends, and who as authors today we’d call a critique partner, was Truman Capote, then known as Truman Persons. Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interest with boys his age, was picked on for being sensitive and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both had difficult homes lives. Truman lived with his mother’s relative after largely being abandoned by his own parents.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to– in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her,” Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a little over a half a century ago, quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, plus the movie winning three Oscars. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers.
By 2015, its sales were reported to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people’s lives, I was second only to the Bible.
Lee herself became more mysterious as her book became more famous. At first, she dutifully promoted her work. She spoke frequently to the press, wrote about herself and gave speeches..
But she began declining interviews in the late 1960s and, until late in her life, firmly avoided making any public comment at all about her novel or her career. Other than a few magazine pieces for Vogue and McCall’s in the 1960s and a review of a 19th-century Alabama history book in 1983, she published no other book until stunning the world in 2015 by permitting Go Set a Watchman to be released.
”Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” but was set 20 years later, using the same location and many of the same characters. Readers and reviewers were disheartened to find an Atticus who seemed nothing like the hero of the earlier book. But despite unenthusiastic reviews and questions whether Lee was well enough to approve the publication, “Watchman” jumped to the top of best-seller lists within a day of its announcement and remained there for months.
Much of Lee’s story is the story of “Mockingbird,” and how she responded to it. She wasn’t a bragger or a drinker like many authors of her time. She was not a recluse or eccentric. By the accounts of friends and Monroeville townsfolk, she was a warm, vibrant and witty woman who enjoyed life, played golf, read voraciously and enjoyed plays and concerts. She just didn’t want to talk about it before an audience.
One of the most interesting things I found about her life really doesn’t differ a great deal from today’s readers. Although eventually To Kill a Mockingbird was released as an e-Book, she wasn’t all that pleased with the decision. In her words, like many of ours, she said, “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long ….”
As most students who grew up in my era, To Kill a Mockingbird was required school reading. However, I read mostly Granny’s True Confession mags she hid under the bed in the room I stayed in every weekend, plus of course, required class reading.
When I got older, the first real romance novel I read and it’ll always be my favorite is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. After I got caught up on her older books, I turned to LaVyrle Spencer. There are so many to choose from but my favorite of all is The Hellion and later Hummingbird. For me, as I remember, The Hellion, was the first truly bad-boy hero I’d ever read. Just writing about it today makes me want to find my copy and read it again, but since I’ve got to get the second book in the Kasota Springs series finished for Kensington, I guess I’d best save the reading of The Hellion and The Flame and the Flower until it’s winter and I can curl up with hot tea in front of the fireplace and read.
My question to you all … what is the book you literally “cut your teeth on” when you began reading historical romances?
Being the first day of March, I can truly smell all the freshness of spring here in Texas. To one lucky winner I will give you an e-Book of the first book in the Kasota Springs series, The Troubled Texan.
This was a fun shot at Barnes and Nobles and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture. To Kill a Mockingbird, Filly Linda Broday’s Texas Mail Order Bride, and the Valentine’s short story collection from Prairie Rose Publications, Hearts and Spurs which features P&P Fillies Linda Broday, Tracy Garrett, Cheryl Pierson, Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hansen, and Phyliss Miranda.