Tag: Behind the Book

The Smoky Hill River

Kathryns Banner

I am working on a series of historical western romances for Harlequin that take place in the fictional town of Oak Grove in Logan County in northwest Kansas. The town is situated just north of the Smoky Hill River which has so many interesting stories about it that I wanted to share a few here.

The waters of the Smoky Hill River start in the high plains of eastern Colorado and flow east with many other rivers joining in, until it flows into and forms the Kansas River. From there the water flows into the Missouri River and then on to the Mississippi River.

Kansas MapFor many years, Comanche, Sioux, Kiowa, and Arapaho tribes hunted extensively along the river before being forced out by encroaching settlers. Game was plentiful in the extensive grasslands and fish populated the river.

There are differing stories as to how the river got its name. The Plains Indians, depending on which tribe, called it CHETOLAH OR OKESSE-SEBO. The early English and French explorers called it the RIVER OF THE PADOUCAS. It has since become known as the SMOKY HILL RIVER.

George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938—naturalist, explorer, author, anthologist) said that the name came from a large grove of cottonwood trees along the river on the Kansas/Colorado state line. The trees were very tall and could be seen for miles from the flat grasslands. It is said they looked like a cloud of smoke. The place was a gathering place for many tribes to camp and barter and visit with each other. It was also a burial grounds and a place of refuge for the Indians under Black Kettle of the Sand Creek Massacre in 1864.

James R. Mead’s version differs slightly. He said that the river is named the Smoky Hill because of the buttes along the river, that when seen from afar appear hazy from smoke. James  R. Meade was a trapper and trader in the area during the years of 1850 to 1860.

Logan County,Kansas

The Smoky Hill Trail used by the Native Americans along the river was the shortest, fastest route west across Kansas. In 1858, it was traveled by those heading to the goldfields of Colorado or beyond. The Native Americans did not want to relinquish the rich land and skirmishes with settlers followed. The army set up several forts along the river. A road followed, and then as more settlers came, a railroad. In 1870, the Kansas-Pacific Railway to Denver was completed.

Smoky Hill River

The Smoky Hill River in the area of Logan County where my story takes place is only about three feet deep. Of course, this level changes dramatically depending on the rains and the melting snow. One bit of research I found interesting took place in 1868 when a drought plagued the plains and the river level was quite low. An immense herd of bison—hundreds of thousands of them (enough to cover a thirty-mile area)—came to the river to drink. The first bison were crowded out by the animals that followed, who in turn, were pushed out by those in the rear. It is said they drank the river dry!

I am collaborating with author, Lauri Robinson, in writing the stories of the people of Oak Grove. Laurie has the fortune of having lived in the area for a few years. Since I have never visited Logan County along the Smoky Hill River, I have had to lean on book and internet research of the area for my next three stories. If any of you have been there and have something you would like to add, suggest or correct—please comment! I have a feeling that I will only feel reassured of my information if I get a chance to visit the area myself. A road trip may just be in my future!

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Sisters

I write pretty short books, so there’s not always a lot of room for a supporting cast. Big families can get troublesome when you’re supposed to be focusing on the central romance. Because of that, my characters are sometimes only children, or they live away from their family, that sort of thing.

In my next book that’s coming out in March, the hero has 2 siblings (and yay – you get those stories in November

and next January) who both live far away. The heroine had a sister, but her sister died suddenly, leaving Avery to care for her baby niece.

Just because I “get rid of the family” doesn’t mean they aren’t important. And in many ways, LITTLE COWGIRL ON HIS DOORSTEP is very much about MY sisters.

My eldest sister Janet was the first person to give me the kick in the butt I needed to write my first manuscript. She always believed I could do it and told me that the years and rejections I put in was my form of “internship”.  The second book I ever sold starred a veterinarian (and so does my novella in May!) – just like my big sis.

This book is definitely a bit of a hat tip for the middle of us three, though (and we do have a brother, who is the oldest). My sis Janell has taken on a huge role in the care of my mom and stepdad this year. When someone needs driving to appointments or running errands, she’s on it. When my stepdad had surgery out of town this fall, it was Janell who went with my mom, stayed with her in bed and breakfasts that week, and made sure things were groovy. I half-joked that she was working on a fast track to sainthood. Her patience and compassion have been amazing. She is a far better daughter than I have been.

Over the holidays my family made the 5-hour trip and descended on her house for the better part of five days. We ate and played cards and she cooked a boatload of food for the potluck we held for our mom for her 80th birthday. I told her I felt like I’d been a total slacker and she’d done so much, and she laughed and told me she was thinking the same thing about me, so I guess we were even.

Anyway, the dedication and Dear Reader letters in this book are to my sisters, and I named the mini-heroine, baby Nell, after Janell.  As I say in the letter, I wonder if she will grow up to have the same twinkle in her eye and wicked sense of humour that my sister has?

 

 

Writing as Therapy

After I had my second child, I ended up with a really good case of Post Partum Depression. A big enough case that I was hospitalized for a short time and then treated on a regular basis for the next 6 months until being shifted back to my family doctor. A lot of what I learned about therapy was feeling entitled to take care of myself and put myself first. I made sure I got walks in the fresh air and sunshine. I took time every day to sit and read or just do something FOR ME. And when my mind started to race, I learned to write things down  – I journaled.

I don’t know why this was such a shock. I mean, I was never a diary-keeper but in high school when I was going through all that teenage angst, I was always writing poetry etc. as a way of expressing my feelings. Why did I stop? Who knows. I do know that it helped. Writing down my fears and worries suddenly made them smaller. Let me put them in perspective. Or simply let me acknowledge them so I could deal with them.

Then I started writing books – this was partly an emotional outlet and also fit into the “do something just for me” thing. I fell in love with it – with the words, the process, with the happy feeling of a happy ever after and the sense of accomplishment. I had a goal – I wanted to be published. It was something for me to work towards. And I got to do it while still being home with my girls.

In some ways, writing saved me. And in some ways, being ill saved me as now I’ve been able to turn that therapy into a career.

BUT.

But sometimes it still works as therapy. Because as we all know, life ain’t easy. We all have ups and downs – and while I’m on the subject I have to say the Fillies here at the Junction are some of the strongest and most compassionate women I’ve ever met. Last summer when my father in law was ill, they were there for me. I knew they would understand and they did. They knew exactly what to say. I love my Filly sisters.

And while all this was going on, I had a book to write. I didn’t get much done on it before September, and it was due at the end of that month. But things took a turn for the worst and my father in law passed away at the end of August. My focus was on family.

But as we all know, things don’t go back to normal right after a funeral. And I wrote THE REBEL RANCHER while dealing with a lot of feelings – some of my own, some simply worrying about my husband and his family. You don’t come through something like that unchanged.

This book will always be a bit special – both because I absolutely fell in love with the hero but because I wrote it during an emotional time in our family’s life and also because I worked through a lot of my feelings as Ty dealt with the changes in his family and falling in love with Clara. If Ty is strong and gentle and giving, it’s because that’s what I experienced watching my husband and his family come together. If he is hurting, well, I saw that too. And Clara is there for him, and she understands. I hope I was able to give that sort of support. And writing it helped me deal with all that had happened through what I think is the greatest medium of all – love and happy endings.

Writing was my escape and I love when I get mail from readers telling me that my book allowed them to escape for a few hours or helped them cope with something going on in their lives. If I can bring a smile or a happy feeling in the midst of trouble, I consider that a blessing. I have the best job in the world, don’t I?

THE REBEL RANCHER winds up the Cadence Creek Cowboys duet, but there’s another Cadence Creek story in the works right now.  Ty and Clara’s story officially hits shelves tomorrow. It’s dedicated to my father in law, and my husband, and in a stroke of brilliant luck also has my favourite cover ever.

Happy reading (and writing!)!

 

Lavender: Then and Now with Lynna Banning

Have you ever traveled in Provence?  If so, you may have admired the purple haze of lavender fields.  Lavender (lavendula angustifolia), known as herb de Provence, is a small aromatic perennial shrub grown for use in sachets and soap and for lavender oil which is used both as a medicinal and as a perfume.  Fresh, crushed, or dried the herb is used as a tea and as a stimulant, sedative, antiseptic, linen-closet freshener and moth repellant; it’s also sprinkled  in bath water and used to treat burns and bites.  Wands of stems can be tied in bunches and burned as incense sticks.  There is even lavender-flavored lemonade.

Historically, lavender (from the Latin verb lavare, to wash) dates from ancient times.  Ancient Egyptians used it for cosmetics and for embalming; Tutankhamen’s tomb contained jars of lavender-scented unguents.  Greek philosopher Diogenes anointed his feet with lavender oil so that it “envelopes my whole body and gratefully ascends to my nose”.Lavender is thought to have been first domesticated in Arabia and, with the 7th century Arab conquest of the Middle East and Spain, the use of lavender spread throughout Europe.  Arab physicians and researchers such as Avicenna (980 A.D.) studied medicinal uses of the herb.

The plant can be propagated from cuttings or from seed, requires good drainage, likes chalky soil and lots of sunshine and needs no fertilizer.  Extracting the essential oil is by steam distillation, just like brewing whiskey in a still.  One acre of lavender yields 300 to 1800 pounds of dried flowers or 2 gallons of essential oil.

Provence is now the world’s primary lavender producer; prior to World War I, the French government (and perfume-makers) saw lavender production as a means of keeping people from leaving the area of southern France, so the almond orchards were cleared to plant lavender. 

In America, Shakers were the first to grow lavender commercially.  Later, when the founder of modern-day aromatherapy, Rene Gattefosse, burned his hand while working in his laboratory, he used lavender oil,  which stopped the pain and healed the burn with no infection or scarring.  Today, lavender farms thrive in California, Texas, Washington, Oregon, and even upstate New York.

Interesting historical uses of lavender include the following:
When Henry VIII dissolved the English monasteries, lavender culture moved to domestic gardens.  Traditionally, it was planted near the laundry, and washed clothing was laid over the plants to dry with an enticing fragrance.  Mixed with beeswax, lavender made furniture polish.

Queen Elizabeth I drank a lavender tea to treat her headaches and was so enthusiastic about the plant she encouraged the development of lavender farms.  Charles VI of France stuffed his cushions with lavender.  Glovemakers in France were licensed to perfume their gloves with lavender because it was believed to prevent cholera. 

Queen Victoria loved lavender!  She appointed a special Purveyor of Lavender Essence to the Queen, and lavender came to be fashionable among her ladies.  Street sellers in London sold dried lavender; it was then put into muslin sachet bags for use in wardrobes and between bedsheets.  Young women wore small sachets in their cleavage to attract suitors.

And in the Old West, young and old women did exactly the same.

Can’t you just smell the lavender? In honor of her new release, Lynna is offering TWO of her backlist westerns to TWO lucky winners! Just leave a comment for your chance to win.

Visit me at www.lynnabanning.com

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