I’ve long desired to write a western historical with a lady photographer, but while I was writing them as Laurie Grant, the time never seemed to come. Now that I’m writing inspirational western historicals for Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historicals, the time finally came, and THE OUTLAW’S LADY is now out.
My heroine, Tess Hennessy, living in the Rio Grande valley of South Texas in the 1880’s, is a lady with a camera. Using his daguerreotype camera, she has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of her uncle, who was one of Mathew Brady’s photographers in the Civil War. But her mother, naturally enough, wants her to act like the young lady she is and make a fine marriage with a proper gentleman. But how is Tess to do so, Mrs. Hennessy despairs, if she is always traipsing around with a bulky camera and staining her clothes with nasty developing chemicals? It will take a special hero to appreciate the fiery Tess, but of course I provided her with such a man—Sandoval Parrish, a half-Mexican, half-Texan who may or may not be an outlaw with Delgado’s infamous gang of Mexican raiders who wreak havoc along the border. Sandoval is a man with at least two secrets, one of which haunts him and drives his desire for vengeance.
My research for this book was fascinating. We have it so easy these days with tiny digital cameras, loading our pictures onto computers and elsewhere in less time than it took to write this sentence. We have the ability to crop and enhance them, print them in color or black and white, even sepia, caption them, make videos—the possibilities are endless! But it was not always so. The cameras of yesterday required the ability of its subjects to hold still for at least 15-30 seconds. Action shots were impossible—all that registered was a blur. No wonder the people in portraits of that era looked so stiff!
A camera such as those used in the Civil War, and by my heroine, was a bulky affair, and if the photographer desired to develop his pictures on the spot, it had to be transported with its bottles of chemicals on a little cart complete with a leather or canvas hood over it to provide “darkroom” conditions. When Tess is forced into accompanying the infamous bandit on his exploits to make a photographic record, her “What-Is-It Wagon” must accompany her, and she has to make him understand that she can only take “still shots”—photographs of him and his banditos in action are not feasible. But he is perfectly content to pose of pictures with his booty, and have her use her drawing ability for the rest.
Old-time photographers of this era used the “wet collodion” process—glass plates were prepared with solutions of collodion, a thick liquid which left a thin transparent film, then dipped in silver nitrate to make the plate sensitive to light. While the plates were still wet (they had to be used within the hour), the photographer placed it into the camera, exposed it while the camera was aimed at his subjects, developed it, and washed it with water. When the negative, which developed it, was dry, it was placed on a sheet of light-sensitive paper and exposed to the sun. Finally this paper was developed, fixed, and washed, and voilà, a photograph!
I was fortunate enough to do a research trip to Texas for this book and for my upcoming series, “The Simpson Creek Spinsters.” We also went to Big Bend. Imagine my surprise when comparing the cover of THE OUTLAW’S LADY—easily the most beautiful, most scenic cover of my career–to a picture of me standing on the bank of the Rio Grande by the Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend revealed that the artist used this exact spot! How cool is that? I had to contact the artist and praise him, of course.
I hope you will enjoy reading THE OUTLAW’S LADY as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks, Petticoats and Pistols, for giving me this opportunity to write about this subject and this book!
Blessings, Laurie Kingery