It’s springtime at the Junction, and it’s my favorite season of the year. The countryside is turning green, wildflowers are blooming, the Texas sun shines without the deadly summer heat, and blue skies lift my spirits. The signs of new life and fresh beginnings fill me with hope.
By far, my favorite spring sightings in Texas are the bluebonnets. I start looking for them every year around this time. They don’t generally start blooming this far north until April, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of a few early ones peeking through the grass along the highway.
One of my other favorite things about spring is all the birthdays in my family. My husband’s birthday was March 9, my youngest son’s was March 22, and today is my mom’s birthday.
In honor of my mom, I’m going to give away a set of three books by the lovely Tracie Peterson. This is her Sapphire Brides series – and since sapphires are blue and bluebonnets are blue – it seemed fitting. (OK, that’s a bit of a stretch, but who cares? It’s free books!)
To enter for a chance to win, leave a comment describing your favorite element of spring.
This month I’m debuting a new series titled Heart of the Frontier. Book one is titled Treasured Grace and is the story of three sisters in 1847. The focal setting of the story is the Whitman Mission in the area of present day Walla Walla, Washington.
This is a model of the mission layout with the main mission house to the right, the blacksmith shop in the center and the Emigrant’s House on the left. The mill pond (upper left) was where they also had a grist mill.
This location was the site of the Whitman Mission Massacre that took place November 29, 1847. It was this massacre that truly changed the course of westward expansion and brought on the setting up of military forts along the Oregon Trail.
Marcus and Narcissa Whitman (she was one of the first two white women who crossed the Rocky Mountains) had tried for over ten years to win the hearts and minds of the Cayuse Indians in their area. However, a measles epidemic struck and killed a great many Cayuse, as well as whites. The Cayuse were convinced that Whitman (who was a doctor as well as a preacher) was trying to kill them and so on November 29th, they attacked and killed the doctor and Narcissa, along with most of the other men who were living at the mission. The remaining fifty-four women and children were taken hostage and held for nearly a month by the Cayuse.
On my many visits there to glean information for my series, I found the park rangers to be some of the best I’ve encountered while doing research. It was fascinating to learn about the Cayuse people. They were a nomadic people who were known for their horses and horsemanship. They were also considered to have some of the fiercest warriors.
They lived in tulle mat lodges and traveled with the seasons to harvest various roots and vegetation, as well as take advantage of the salmon fishing.
In the 1840’s this area of America was called Oregon Country. It was mostly inhabited by Native Americans and the British. The latter ran a string of Hudson’s Bay Company forts and traded with both the Native Americas and whites who came west. I mention this because another fascinating aspect of this massacre and the aftermath was the part the Hudson’s Bay Company played.
When it was learned that 54 white women and children were being held captive, Peter Skene Ogden (one of the factors at Fort Vancouver – now present day Vancouver, Washington) went to work to secure their release. He and Chief Factor James Douglas put together a ransom hoping they could convinced the Cayuse to let the women and children go without harm. The ransom included 62 blankets, 63 cotton shirts, 12 Hudson Bay rifles, 600 loads of ammunition, 7 pounds of tobacco and 12 flints. Eventually the Cayuse did agree to this and the women and children were set free. I thought it quite interesting, if not touching that The Hudson’s Bay Company never billed the American settlers for the ransom. I thought it equally interesting that reimbursement by the American government was never offered.
Tracie Peterson is giving away a print copy of A Love Transformed to one lucky commenter. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow to see if…her winner is you!
After writing 110 books, most of which are historical in setting, I’m often called The Queen of Christian Historicals. Anybody who knows me, knows that historical research for my stories is important to me. I work hard for accuracy and sometimes that means getting my hands dirty to learn something I want my historical characters to do. In keeping with that I’ve learned to drive a stage coach, tat, make soap and candles, handle firearms, skin a deer, studied and use centuries old patterns for clothing and the list goes on. I once had a wanna-be writer say to me, “Why bother – it’s just fiction?” My response? Because it matters!
Nothing ruins a story faster for me than an author who hasn’t bothered to do their research. For example, one book I read had characters on a railroad line that didn’t exist. It might have been okay to create a fictional rail line, but the author had a railroad in the west before railroads had been established. I read a story once where the hero and heroine were eating at a famous hotel restaurant – only the restaurant wouldn’t be a part of the hotel for another twenty years. It’s things like that that make me throw books against the wall. Of course, I realize many readers will never know the difference, but to me it’s a sacred trust we the author have with the reader to make the books as accurate as possible. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes. I make plenty, but we owe it to our readers to give our very best.
Recently, I decided to have a character who finds healing and consolation in working with sheep. She enjoys herding the sheep and then learns to card and spin wool into yarn and so I thought I should do the same. I found someone with sheep who also worked with the raw wool. The smelly stuff had to be washed, dyed and carded and so I learned all about that. Next, I found a wonderful woman who is a historical weaver and spinner. She taught me to spindle spin. My yarn wasn’t very even, but it was good enough to use in crocheting a hat.
Once I had spindle spinning under my belt, I found a friend who taught me to spin on a wheel. What fun! I found I really took to the process. I loved the feel of the wool in my hands and the methodic, relaxing process of sitting at and operating the wheel. I found it to be great time for prayer. Better still, it allowed me to be able to share the process in my story. Sure, I could have just plunked my character down at the spinning wheel and said “she spun” but I felt that knowing more allowed me to really bring that action alive.
To me learning new things for the sake of the story is important, whether it’s new writing techniques or old day-to-day processes that kept a family alive and well. I love to talk to people who know their history and craft. To me one of the most important aspects of our job as writers is to weave history seamlessly into the story so that the reader finds themselves swept up in the time-period and lives of the characters. My favorite authors are those who can draw me into the story so completely that I feel like I’m there—right alongside the characters. Those are the very best stories of all. So if you ever wonder if the extra research is worth the effort—it is.