Ashley Ludwig: Fiction, Fact, or Figment of Author’s Imagination?

allornothing_w2343_200x300Wow. Let me first just thank Cheryl St.John for asking me to post to this wonderful site. I’m a long time visitor, sometime commenter, and have been a fan since researching my current release, All or Nothing.

Writers and readers of historical fiction know—whether we’re talking romance, mystery, or any other sub-genre—more goes into the story then simply writing the tale. We need to know the landscape of the piece. Understand the perils and pitfalls of the time period. And, most importantly—what was it like to be a woman in those conditions? How did one bathe? Eat? Where was the bathroom? And what was one to do when it was so blasted hot outside without air conditioning?

All or Nothing is set in the Arizona West of 1876. The time when my bandit—a real to life bad guy who was never captured, El Tejano—roamed the Dragoon Mountains outside of Arizona. The story is seasoned it with my own life experience, after spending much of my childhood playing among the rugged adobe ruins of Fort Lowell, in Tucson, Arizona.

However, much of my research came from my previous profession. A trained archaeologist.  I traveled the southwest surveying for corporations. I studied historic and prehistoric sites, bagged and tagged artifacts, and hauled boxes of them to dusty museums, all the while knowing that someday I’d fold all that knowledge into my own stories.

I’d been a writer for years, but strictly in the work sense. No romanticizing allowed, my supervisor would say.  I was an archaeologist, tasked with writing reports on sites we discovered, researching bottle-bottoms and landmarks, recording that history for posterity, for whatever corporation funded our research.

sherds_exampleMy favorite discovery came after surviving the scariest hike in history—surveying ridge tops down the rugged, red slopes of the Copper King Mountains in eastern Arizona. Exhausted, shaken from almost tumbling down a drainage hole during a rockslide, I needed a minute before starting up again. I walked. I took deep breaths, sat—head between my knees, when I saw it. A bit of white and blue mixed in with the pine needles and gravel. I picked it up, surveyed the shard, and found another. A broken plate. Praise God, I stumbled on an historic site—the Little Colorado Mine. My discovery, and mine to map, survey, and write up for history. But, just the facts, they warned me.

Fine. I did it their way. And, oh boy! It was a struggle.

ashleyMy romantic nature wanted not just to report on the Limoges pattern on shattered dishes. I wanted to discuss the woman who’d opened her hope chest after traveling the rutted road in their rickety wagon, and found her wedding china smashed! How she sobbed over their hand-painted shards. Sure. Maybe that’s what happened.

Or, perhaps a marriage of convenience lured her to that God forsaken bit of land under the shadow of Copper King. In a fury, her husband out digging for silver (and finding nothing but wretched copper ore), she flung a plate or two at his head right before she hitched up the wagon and hightailed it out of there. 

Or, maybe their third baby knocked it off the table while reaching up for a cookie, they all had a good laugh, picked up the pieces and tossed them out onto the trash heap and went in to read the Bible together.

So, my supervisor was right. All I knew for sure was I had a shattered feminine plate in a rugged wasteland. It wasn’t my job to figure out how it broke or why. 

But guess what? As an author, I can.

I can take bits from that experience, the harrowing experience down the mountain side which opens All or Nothing, and weave it with the story of a massacre left widely untold by the popular citizens of Tucson, and pick apart the accounts to guess what might have actually happened there. I also can create a heroine who was confronted with one of the worst occupations in history – being an Army Laundress for the US Cavalry—some of the most unsung heroines of our time.

Researching these things in a time before the internet was a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. But, with the help of women like you—I was able to research historic catalogs, read through to find the price of coffee (green or roasted), by the bag or barrel, and what rations and pay were given a woman who worked for the Cavalry!

Like a kid in a candy store, I grabbed facts. I pocketed them. I wove in “spice” for the story, seasoning my characters and their encounters with each other. I walked with them through the fort grounds, laid out my map, figured out what angle to reach the stable from the parade grounds, and lived the story with them.  My editor picked out the rough spots, evaluated my historical claims and matched them to reality. Where did the train really stop? What song would your heroine be dancing to? Humming? In 1876! Thank heaven for the Internet. A library at our fingertips.

Does an author do this much research for a story set in modern day? Perhaps. But, there is so much that contemporary authors can take for granted that we have to stop and really think about. Our readers can tell when we’re faking it.


One commenter will win an e-book copy of All or Nothing with my compliments… Thanks so much for visiting!

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71 thoughts on “Ashley Ludwig: Fiction, Fact, or Figment of Author’s Imagination?”

  1. Hi Ashley! I am an early riser today (or rather one who hasn’t slept so I won’t rise today). Ashley, I too love it here on this blog! And too these post like yours, I love learning more! I didn’t know about El Tejano nor the Little Colorado Mine at all. And to find a broken plate as an archaeologist and spin the history into a romance is so neat! You’re so right about the internet too because things like this that I learn about, I want to find out more about and probably will go traveling on the internet today on it! I know that just today I was reading the word ‘jetty’ in a historical I’m reading but knew what it was within the sentence but I was curious to know more more and put a note down to check it out. Most I learned was from the romance books I read. And I too know that the history that surrounds it all, within is the romance story you create! I love reading it!

    Did you decide to write romance after leaving your work as an archaeologist or did you write romance too during that time? Do you have more stories you want to write from the history you learned from your work in the past, if so what will your theme be for your next book? Again so nice to meet you!

  2. I just loved this story as well, Cathie.

    Thanks so much, Ashley, for being our guest this week – it’s a busy week, with people heading off to RWA, and those of us at home need to keep each other company.

  3. Caffey – nice to see you here. Glad to have you reading!

    I’ve always written (& read romance), like so many of us. When spending many a night in my motel — let me tell you, the kind of place you want to bring your OWN sheets — or the little trailer where I lived for 8 months in eastern Arizona one year — I’d have my yellow note pad and weave stories.

    Right now, I’m writing a contemporary piece about a Marine Archaeologist, an FBI agent, and the historical mystery they must solve before time runs out!

    It has more suspense — but the romance and inspiration of the piece is at the heart. As you said, the history surrounds it. The romance is the glue of the story.

    Thanks for coming out!

  4. Well, hey, Cheryl!

    I’ve just poured my first cup of coffee, and the little ones are tucked in upstairs. For now! 🙂

    Thanks for having me here. I’m participating in the “Stay at home RWA Write athon!” Keeping up with my 1k words a day — in hopes that current WIP is done by Middle of August, as I’ve promised myself! Are you playing?

    I appreciate your having me out… I love this site. It’s such a fun place to spend time, research, and make friends!


  5. Hi Ash!

    This is the first time I’ve been here, and I have to say…it’s GORGEOUS!! I don’t think I’ve seen a more beautiful blog anywhere!

    But back to you and your story…I think that’s so neat you found that plate in the middle of the desert. I’d be like you, I’d wonder how it wound up there, and I’d imagine scenarios just like you. I think the profession of archaeologist is so cool (brings to mind Indiana Jones, don’t ya know!) LOL

    Anyway, your book “All or Nothing” is simply superb, and your descriptive prose of the area excellent. Many wishes on its continued success. 🙂


  6. Miss Mae,

    I appreciate the kudos and your support, as ever. 🙂

    There is something overwhelming about scanning the earth for bits of shattered pots, bottles, flaked stone, and — if you’re very blessed — a real site.

    There’s nothing like a troop of dirty, dusty archaeologists living and working together to create true camaraderie. Being one of very few women in the field created an interesting dynamic, too. 😉

    I agree. I love hanging out here. These ladies really know how to put together fascinating information.

    Folks, Miss Mae is a romantic suspense writer, and a great one at that! Thanks for coming out!


  7. Hi Ashley,

    Love the article and wish you continued success with this book. Can’t wait to read it. And please don’t put me in the contest as I already have it. Just haven’t had a chance to read it yet. I just dropped by to offer my continued support.

  8. Abi,

    Thanks for commenting! nice to see you here. I just popped over to your site and agree with you wholeheartedly – books are our adventures. Nice to see you, and have a wonderful day.


  9. Dani

    Thanks! Glad to see you, and appreciate your stopping by.

    Have a wonderful day!

    Time for me to pour another cup of coffee, and start waking the kiddos for a fun filled day in the sun. It’s gonna be HOT out here in So Cal. We’ll be teetering on the 100 degree mark…good day for a siesta!

    What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?


  10. HI Ashley!

    Great post! I wish you tons of success with All Or Nothing. After blurbing it on my P&P, I was definitely intrigued. I can’t wait to get a chance to read it! I’m so glad you joined SaSR, too. It’s great to see you there!


  11. Hi, Sarah!

    Isn’t this web site awesome? What a great group of women — I’ve already picked up a few of their books, and looking forward to reading more.

    Thanks for coming out! and stay cool today…


  12. Hi Ashley – Great Post! Glad to see you here! That is very neat that you can use your professional skills and expand on that with your imagination! I wouldn’t necessarily think of archaeologist being dangerous but obviously it could be!

  13. Hey Ashley,
    As a fellow historical writer, I know just how right you are about the need for accuracy in the details. I also happen to know, since I’ve already read ALL OR NOTHING that you have definitely put in the time, and have the experience to write that Arizona setting like you’ve been there–since you have! All I can say is, it really shows. ALL OR NOTHING brings the west to life, and the time period, and it is a great read.
    Don’t put me in the drawing, since I have a copy, but I wish many hours of happy reading to your lucky winner.

    Inspirational Romance for the Jane Austen Soul

  14. MarthaE

    Well, I’m no Indiana Jones! LOL — but finding yourself in a precarious position on a mountain side can certainly get your heart thumping!

    As I mentioned, my current WIP is about another Archaeologist – an underwater archaeologist. I used to DREAM of that, sweating under a blistering hot Arizona sun!

    You don’t think about all the surveying that leads to the actual dig. Only a small percentage of archaeology is the excavating part.

    Thanks for dropping by!


  15. Hi Ashley,

    Welcome to P&P. We’re delighted to have you. Archaeology has always interested me. I love the questions that automatically form when I hear about a find, especially in an unusual place. My mind goes crazy with all the “what ifs.”

    I’m wondering if you found anything else in the area where the plate shards were?

    Your book looks fantastic. The cover is gorgeous. Now that I know a little what it’s about, I plan on getting my copy.

  16. Very fascinating Ashley! It’s wonderful that you can draw on those exciting moments when writing your books. All or Nothing sounds like an awesome story—can’t wait to read it. The story you have in the works about the Marine Archaeologist and FBI agent really sounds intriguing. As a suspense junkie that’s really more up my alley. I wish you continued success on your book and all your writing endeavors.

  17. Linda,

    Thanks so much for having me. In answer to your question, at the Little Colorado Mine – we found:

    * Mine shaft and adit (that’s a test shaft)
    * Miscellaneous historical bottles, bottle bottoms – for everything from Heinz ketchup to medicine bottles (I love bottle bottoms. I used to sketch them, potsherds, and flaked stone…in the days before digital cameras!)
    * China – as mentioned – the only feminine contribution to the site
    * Remains of three structures – including the main house, an outhouse, and storage shed
    * Wagon rims, various other rings, hooks, and rusted iron.
    * Burned out, early model Ford.

    Now, the last item — the guys were most interested in HOW someone got an early model Ford out there in the first place!! It obviously didn’t make it back out!

    Thanks for your comment, for having me here, and for your question! I’d love to hear your thoughts on _All or Nothing_ after you’ve read it!


  18. Anne,

    Even when I’m writing contemporary, somehow history always works its way into my story.

    I’ve thrown a fair amount of suspense in All or Nothing…but glad to know my current WIP strikes your interest!

    I’ll post an excerpt shortly… see if that catches your interest!


  19. Ashley, welcome to the Corral! We’re so glad you stopped in to visit with us today.

    You’ve definitely made me want to visit the Tucson area. And I can’t wait to read All or Nothing!

  20. Ashley,
    I live in AZ too…although I am in S. Scottsdale now. I started out living in Far East Mesa/Gilbert. We have been here for 3 years and all 3 we’ve just been counting down the months until we can leave. =) Truly though, I find the desert desolately beautiful… I can’t imagine how the pioneers in this area answered the call to settle this harsh land. I’ve heard stories of the pioneers sleeping outside under wet sheets on the clothesline in an attempt to stay cool. I can’t even begin to imagine how the women survived the horrid heat with long skirts on. And how did they keep from getting a sunburn? If they wore a bonnet/hat the whole time how did they keep from getting heat exhaustion? ARgh…

    I have had an enjoyable 3 years here…but, the summers are so unbearable that I can’t imagine how that woman didn’t just pick up that plate and bash it over her husbands head in the “heat of the moment.” It was probably 115 degrees that day, and it was probably baking day or laundry day, and he was probably complaining about something lame, when “THWACK!” She just beaned him on the head with a plate and scooped up her toddler and headed for the Mountains. =)

  21. Tracy,

    Tucson is the home of my heart. I grew up there, graduated from the University of Arizona — majoring in Archaeology & History — and there is just nothing in my mind more dramatic than an Arizona Sunrise or Sunset.

    Glad to have you here!


  22. Stephanie! LOL

    THWACK! I think that’s exactly where my mind ran to. He was probably telling her that he was pretty sure he’d almost found a vein of silver. THWACK! Smash! Slam!

    That would do it for me.

    We have good friends in Gilbert, AZ. I love Scottsdale – always thought that must have been the inspiration behind the Road Runner cartoons – with those sandstone mountains…

    Good luck on hightailing it out of there. We’re well ensconced in Temecula, CA – which is just north and East of San Diego. 18 miles to the Pacific, as the crow files. They try and tell me it’s hot out here, but I just laugh. Anywhere you can open the windows to 70 degrees after sundown is alright by me.

    There’s an AMAZING book in the public domain called “Vanished Arizona” – by Martha Summerhayes – and she describes life as a young Cavalry bride in vivid detail, surviving some of the WORST of what Arizona had to offer in the 1870s. I highly recommend it for research, and to remember to thank heaven for your UVA/UVB sunscreen!


  23. I am an archeologist at heart. The house we live in used to be a general store, post office, doctor’s office, and ahrdware store in the 1890s through 1960s. The back property had a train track that ran right up to what is now my garage door up until the 1930s. When we moved in my sons weren’t old enough t ogo play in the woods, but when they were they started bringing me old bottles and toys. I ignored it for awhile but the urge to go out there and dig myself overcame me. The first time I dug up an intact quart-sized cobalt blue Phillips Milk of Magnesia bottle I let out a yell that was heard all over the neighborhood. The things I’ve dug up would boggle your mind. And, I’ve only scratched the surface, the railraod bed runs for a mile behind our house for a total of 11 acres with things buried under the ground or laying on the surface. I found a whole bed of old marbles just laying on the ground one day, beautiful old ones of various colors, sizes, and shapes. Some had melted into odd shapes. The salt and pepper shakers I now use came from there, 1930 green depression glass, ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!!! So, I totally understand your passion, archeology gets into your blood, as does the ability to turn words and ideas into fabulous stories. I’m going to turn my house into a book some day called “Owl Creek,” for the owls that live along our creek with digging for my treasures as part of the plot.

  24. Sandy,

    That’s a story I’d love to read.

    My granddad’s farm — where we spent summers as a kid — had real “Indian Mounds” on the property. My sister and I used to head out there with our shovels. That was back when she was going to be the archaeologist, and I just followed along. Well, she’s a firefighter — but I kept the dream alive.

    That’s wonderful what you’ve found. If you really want to be a pro, I recommend you try to keep your dig in a grid pattern (1 meter by 1 meter squares…and check soil coloration to see where layers vary. It’s not just WHAT you dig up, but where you find things in the layers of soil. The deeper you go, obviously, the older the artifacts. You could probably find leave behinds of the folks who built those train tracks. You can keep a little log book of your finds! Ooh, and wouldn’t I love to see that!

    Well done, and look forward to reading “Owl Creek!” You know I’m already a fan of yours!


  25. Ashley–your blog is as good as a short novel. Very nicely done, the way you described various theoretical scenarios to explain the discovery of the shards of china. I enjoyed every word–Celia

  26. That’s me one of us stuck home not at RWA, grumbling writers.
    I love the fact that you discovered it and imagined all the ways it could have gotten there.
    So for a little while you took me back in time and painted a picture with your words.
    Now that’s what I call writing!

  27. Celia,

    You couldn’t have made me any happier if I were twins. Your kudos mean so much, as you are an author I really admire. Thanks for reading…



  28. Mary

    Let’s not grumble too loud. Let’s put all that energy toward our next WIPs!

    Truth? I only got about 240 words written today before my daughter woke up. But, I’m sure they were brilliant. LOL.

    Thanks for your comment, sweetie. I really am in awe of your comment. Think I’ll float around on this for awhile!


  29. Hi Ashley,
    I decided the housework could wait and was blessed and inspired by your blog! Thanks for the invite!

  30. Kelly, sweetie! glad to see you here!

    I heard from a twitter friend this morning that her order of responsibilities is: Family, Writing, Housework.

    I’m totally down with that! As evidenced by the current state of my kitchen sink. Thanks for dropping in!


  31. Oh, Ash! What a story. How amazing. What a fabulous life you have led! And to use it to inspire your stories is brilliant. Congrats on all your successes! You know I adore you, hon 🙂


  32. Renee! you’re hilarious.

    Trudging across the desert and over mountain tops made me long for a desk, a computer, and a phone. LOL.

    Thanks for the kudos, and back atcha with the adoration.

    We’ve got a regular mutual admiration society over here!


  33. Wow, thanks for sharing such a wonderful and interesting post with us today Ashley! I have to say that I am looking forward to reading some of your work! 😀

  34. Hi Ashley,

    Great blog post and I love this site! Makes me wish I had placed my story in the late 1800’s like I orginally planned.

    I am so glad you didn’t listen to your boss, and alllowed the romantic side to come out. I just loved “All Or Nothing.” If you had squelched the romantic side, I would not have been able to enjoy that book.

    It must have been wonderful. And to think…God gave you a tumble so you could make a unique discovery. And from that unique discovery came a wonderful historical romance! One thing led to another and now you have “All Or Nothing.”

    The late 1800s is my favorite time era, but I wonder if I’m up to that much research. Maybe after I do Aunt Violet’s (Journey To Forgiveness)
    story…. Who knows?

    Good luck and God bless you. You are a wonderfully descriptive writer with heart and soul characters. Beau reminded me of Clint Walker, (Cheyenne Bodie, my childhood heart throb.


  35. Laurean,

    I love how you phrased that – and ain’t it the truth! Whether it’s sliding down a mountain tearing the seat out of one’s jeans, or teetering on a slope in a stagecoach accident, or having a vanity case stolen at the train station – the Lord does all things for His handiwork!

    There’s a world in every character we create: Experiences, heart ache, setbacks, tribulations, and ultimate reward of a good, old fashioned HEA!

    I think that Aunt Violet deserves a tale of her own and a hero that could put Austin fans into a tale-spin. Don’t you? 🙂

    Thanks for popping over, kiddo. Glad to see you.


  36. I’m DE-lighted to have introduced our site to so many new faces today! It tickles the Fillies to no end to know you all think our site is beautiful.


  37. Great post, Ashley! After finishing a historical novel and another novella set in the 1800s, I agree it’s difficult to get the right facts in. But I do as much research for contemporaries, so it’s all a matter of the way you weave it together.
    Best of luck with your release! Sounds like a fantastic read.

  38. Thanks Cate!

    I agree. My contemporaries are equally researched for character job/ site location/ and events that are focus of the story.

    It’s all the spice that brings it together — the true story underneath, told through the eyes of the characters who are in the middle of their HEA romance…

    Thanks for coming to visit!


  39. Cheryl,

    You stepped out for a bit, and look what’s happened!

    We’re having a party in this here corral. It’s been a really fun day. Lots of newbies introduced to your beautiful site. I’m SO grateful for being part of this group.

    Thanks for having me. (Sponsoring me? 🙂 LOL. I’m sticking around.


  40. Hi Ash!
    What a great story of finding the pottery shards! Is that experience what started you writing in general, or was it just the trigger for this book?

    The book you described, “Vanished Arizona,” sounds like a real treasure chest for a writer. I love finding books like that.

    I hope you sell a bajillion copies and get to research to your heart’s content, and write to it too. 🙂


  41. Awe, Kris! thanks for heading over to the corral!

    I’ve been writing since childhood – but the first book I ever completed was inspired during this hike.

    I’ll post the link to Vanished Arizona to my site tomorrow… It’s an amazing story written as memoir when Martha Summerhayes was in her sunset years…

    Same to you, my Medieval writer-mama! I have to get back to Griffyn – so close to the end!! I’m engrossed in your mystery, and enthralled with your romance. 🙂 Hoping kids will go to bed on time tonight!



  42. Ashley, I can imagine how you must have felt when you found that plate. Isn’t that what we all love about history – taking a fact and following us into our imaginations to create a story? Speaking of which, your book sounds fascinating!

  43. Jennie,

    Thank you! Relief? Excitement? Amazement!

    And, just like writing, once that moment of inspiration clobbers you from out of nowhere, the real work begins.

    Finding the site led to hours and days of research on who lived there? when? why? and for how long? I landed at the BLM in Phoenix, doing research on microfiche… those were the days!

    Now, everything’s at our fingertips–a crazy time to be a lover of history! with Google Book search, we can find out anything from any time. I’m forever in awe of what they’ll think of next.

    Thanks for your comment! nice to see you here.


  44. Wonderful story Ashley!

    I don’t get to visit here near as often anymore because where I work has blocked all the fun sites 🙁

    I certainly miss all you fillies tho!

    God Bless everyone!

  45. Sounds like a wonderful book. Archaeology was my first love. My dad shot that down when I was talking about college. ” No reason to study that, there was nothing left to find.” Since the college closest to us didn’t offer it and I couldn’t afford to go anywhere else, I was stuck. I am still very interested and we visit sites whenever we travel. I can see where it would be hard for you not to think past “just the facts.” Now you have a treasure trove of tidbits to use in your stories.

  46. It sounds great. You must have been so excited about your find! I admit to getting kinda excited about your plate myself. What a wonder to find right out in the middle of nowhere, just waiting for you.

  47. Patricia,

    Good for you–the National Park Service has wonderful sites all over the country where you can go and learn from their wonderful staff. Growing up, my parents took us to Montezuma’s Castle, Walnut Ridge, Canyon De Chey, and many others on summer trips. It’s a great way to get inspired.

    And, as for there being nothing left to find? We’ve barely scratched the surface. My latest heroine is an underwater archaeologist, as I might have mentioned somewhere in this post – and she is on the hunt of an ancient mystery I’m piecing together from tidbits and clues of real-to-life treasure. Of course, with as much creative license as I care to use! 🙂

    Have a great day!


  48. Cheryl, thanks again for a wonderful day. I’ve drawn a name from the hat, and e-mailed it to Cheryl – for the e-book winner of All or Nothing.

    In case you’re reading this, Stephanie, why don’t you shoot me an e-mail so I can send you your copy!

    Thanks, everyone. I’ll be back to visit soon!


  49. Archeologists can find themselves in some pretty wild places. And I’m not talking about just the land and elements. Then you have to deal with people who don’t want you there, for various reasons, and people who want to loot, the treasure hunters. And then you have wild animals and such. Not to mention just staying alive!! Carrying a gun is a must in some areas of this planet.

    But it is so fascinating, finding all that history!!! Finding out what really happened, vs what you read in history books, guessing. Often the facts don’t match the history they try to sell you. Like the Dead Sea Scrolls, for an example. Seeing the truth is an eye opener!!!


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