Liz Adair: Counting the Cost

Adair, coverPeople often ask me where I get the ideas for my novels.  I think sometimes they come from my DNA.  Certainly I’ve mined my family history for characters, settings, and story arcs, but there have been a couple times when I’ve written something as fiction that I found out later actually happened to a long dead relative, and there was no way I could have known. 

It happened in my latest book, Counting the Cost, which is based on the story arc of my uncle, a cowboy, who married a socialite from back east.   

My mother’s people were ranchers, but my dad worked construction.  Though Mother would love to have stayed close to family, my father’s work took us far away for years at a time.  I loved it when we came home to New Mexico for a visit, because I’d get to hear all the family stories again: how Aunt Clara’s husband got struck by lightning out on the roundup; how Uncle Buck used to travel with a goat in the rumble seat because his baby was allergic to cow milk; how my adolescent uncles staged an impromptu rodeo for the benefit of the local saloonkeeper’s clientele.

Adair, rodeo

Adair cowboy I was a grown woman before I realized that, in all the stories told, no one ever mentioned the uncle who married the lady from back east.  This uncle died before I was born, and when I puzzled about the absence of stories about him, I figured it must be because the family was so hurt by his untimely death that they couldn’t speak of him. 

My mother spoke of him to me, though.  Living away from New Mexico, she assuaged her homesickness by recounting family stories, and she told me all about this brother and the lady he married. My mother and the lady had become friends, and she, the lady, taught this poor, rustic, southwestern girl all the little unwritten rules that young women of the early-twentieth-century needed to know when they went out in society. 

There was one story Mother didn’t tell me, though, until the day before she died. That’s when I discovered that it wasn’t sorrow that kept the family from speaking of this uncle for fifty years; it was shame, for she already had a husband when she ran away with my uncle.  They lived together without benefit of clergy until she was free.  It was after they finally married that that my mother met and grew to love this new sister-in-law.

Louise Portrait 2[1]Nowadays, people might not be shocked by two people living together unwed, but in Depression-era, provincial New Mexico, it made outcasts of the couple and shamed the family. 

After my mother died, the story of a cowboy who falls in love with a married socialite from back east welled up inside me and poured out my fingers.  When the book was half written, I visited my two octogenarian uncles—one of whom was still working cattle—and got them to finally talk about their long-dead brother.  Each told me of an incident with that brother, an incident that I had no way of knowing about, that I had already written as fiction, but that actually happened. How did I know?  That’s why I say some of my stories come from my DNA

Adair carOther stories come from long-forgotten memories.  As I wrote Counting the Cost, I must have remembered seeing the photograph of my mother traveling from Seligman, Arizona to Hot Springs, New Mexico with her mother and this same brother.  Without his saddle and bedroll, a cowboy was unemployed, so they stowed it the best they could for the journey.

Here’s how I used it in the story:

  Shadow rode in just as Heck was tying up his bedroll. He dismounted and stood holding his horse’s reins as Heck carried the bedroll out to the car and tossed it atop the things in the rumble seat. It stuck up above the roof of the car, even when Heck cinched it down as tight as he could. “That’s my bedroll,” he said.

Ruth called to him from the car, where she still sat with her head resting against the doorpost. He leaned in closely, since her voice was so faint. “What’s in the rumble seat?” she asked.

 “That’s my bedroll,” he said.

“Tom Mix just uses one blanket. I’ve seen him in the movies.” 

 Heck smiled tenderly, glad that she was feeling well enough to tease him. “The ground’s a lot softer in the movies.”

Heck stuck his saddle blanket, bridle, and spurs behind the seat and stood looking at his saddle. There was no room, but without his own saddle, he was unemployed. So, he threw it across the hood of the car and tied it down with a short piece of rope. He took the quirt that was hanging on his saddle horn and approached his young friend. “Evening, Shadow. I’m pulling out now.” He nodded toward the car. “Miz Reynolds is going with me. I think she’s feeling too bad to say goodbye.” He offered the quirt to Shadow. “I made this the other week. I’d like you to have it. I sure enjoyed working with you. I know you’re going to be a mighty fine cowboy.”

Shadow’s eyes went from Heck to the car, where the battered face showed through the windshield. He swallowed. “Thanks, Heck.” He had to make a second try, because the words didn’t come out right the first time.

“I’d be obliged if you’d take Spook to Mike. Tell him I want him to have ‘im.” 

“All right, Heck.” 

Heck reached in his pocket for the sugar and walked to the corral. Spook trotted up and took the sweet morsel from his hand. Heck said softly, “You treat Mike right, you hear? I’m sure gonna miss you. Never been a pony like Ol’ Spook. Goodbye, old fella.” He patted Spook on the neck and turned away, feeling all of a sudden very weary.

 Shadow watched as Heck got in the car and swung it around, waving to him as he went past. But, he couldn’t wave back. He just stood there, holding the quirt in both hands as he watched his hero drive away with someone else’s wife.

 Liz Adair So the question for you western writers out there is, where do you get your stories?  Your settings?  Your characters?  I’ll have a drawing of the names of all the people who comment and send the winner a copy of Counting the Cost.

Visit my book trailer at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=moiORkCKbYM

 

 

Guest Blogger
Updated: January 18, 2010 — 7:26 pm

33 Comments

  1. Wow! What a love story!! 1930’s They left family, friends, everything they knew for LOVE! She eventually must have gotten a divorce(to be free) which was also considered a social disgrace. I applaud their devotion to each other. I hope they were happy!

    I’d love to read your story “Counting the Cost”.

  2. Hi Liz! What a great story about your aunt and uncle. It’s definitely the stuff of romance. And I agree, you’ve got story-telling in your DNA. It must have been amazing to speak to your uncles and discover that the actual facts paralleled your novel.

  3. Hi, Liz,
    What a great family history you have, and the photos are priceless. Wonderful to know how the story of your aunt and uncle enriched and inspired your novel!

  4. Thanks for the great post. It is nice to know about your family history. So many familys have lost that now a days. Great photos.

  5. My family history is so hun-drum in comparsion…

  6. I was captivated with this interesting story and love the fabulous photos. This is what stories are all about, real life people, true stories that pull at the heartstrings and are beautiful. Thank you for sharing this memorable and enthralling saga.

  7. Hi Liz,

    Welcome to P&P. We’re so happy to have you come visit. I love old family stories and you have some of the most interesting I’ve heard. Your disgraced uncle sounds so neat. I think it’s great when people stand firm in their choices. My heart goes out to him because I’m sure he missed that family connection. You have some great pictures too! I’m glad you included them.

    Your excerpt of the book really hooked and reeled me in. Wow! It’s very powerful. I’ve got to have this book.

  8. What a great post! I love to read stories about family! Lets face it family is the best thing in life anyone can have. I am glad to know that some stories are based on authors families! Your book sound like a great read and I would love to read it. Thanks for sharing your story and family with us!

  9. What a fascinating post which I enjoyed greatly. I love the black and white photos which capture the era so perfectly. Your story had me riveted and totally engrossed. Counting The Cost is a treasure.

  10. Hi Liz,

    Great Post I agree with Linda I love it when a person stands up for what they believe in. I have put your book on my list

    Have a wonderful day

    Walk in harmony,
    Melinda

  11. Thanks for sharing such a great post… love the pics! I am not a writer, but I am always amazed at how authors pull their ideas together to create a book for all of us to enjoy! 😀

  12. Hello Liz, and welcome to the Junction! I, too, have family stories that seem to live in my subconscious, waiting for theirchance in a story.

    Counting the Cost looks wonderful! Congratulations.

  13. What a fantastic stories. I just have to be there are stories at least similar to that in many families and that so many of them get buried without the light of day. Glad you found out about some of them because they gave you lots of ideas. I remember my husband’s uncle finally telling us that his parents were first cousins – still a secret to a lot of people lol.

  14. Hi Liz, so good to have you here! Welcome!

    A number of my stories so far are set in Nebraska and I depend on a close friend, a Nebraska native, and her family’s history and local color for a lot of ideas. But going through a plethora of antique photos when I cleaned out my mom’s old house has put a ton of new plot lines in my head. My great-gramma was a debutante who married a schoolteacher. Lots of possibilites there, I think LOL.

    Your book sounds fantastic. TBR list for sure!

  15. Hello Fillies!

    After 1.5 yrs on a job where I could not visit you, it is GOOD to be back.

    Great post, Liz. I don’t write historical~ but love to read it! I write contemporary and ideas come from various places….a thought, a song, or a snippet of conversation.

    PamT

  16. hi liz,

    enjoyed today’s post…learned a lot.

    would love to read your masterpiece…thanks for the opportunity.

  17. Love the family history!

  18. Family stories are the best since they are based upon actual family history which I love reading about. This book is wonderful and the photos are excellent. Thanks for this glimpse into your book.

  19. Enjoyed the excerpt from your book! It’s on my TBR
    list now and I’m looking forward to reading it!

    What would we do without our families? They really
    do help us in many, many ways! Even with storyline ideas ! LOL

    Pat Cochran

  20. I loved your post. I, too, have written stories that I later found out to be true. Like you, I’ve wondered if perhaps family history is engrained in our DNA. Maybe that really is the source of our stories.

  21. Liz, what a fascinating post. For my historicals, I always seem to get an idea from a seed that gets implanted in my brain when researching. It might not be used on what I’m doing at the moment, but it seems to germinate to and come alive when the time is right. I wish my family was as interesting as yours. Great topic, and I love the excerpt!

  22. Thanks, Laurie, Victoria and Elizabeth; Rebekah, Anon1001 and Ruth; Linda, Quilt Lady and Ann; Melinda, Colleen and Tracy; Jeanne, Tanya and Pamela; Karen, Karen and Ellie; Pat, Margaret and Phyliss, for all your comments.

    Wow! They said there would be lots of comments, but I’m used to the comments on my own blog (www.sezlizadair.blogspot.com) and was expecting three or four.

    You all put out great vibes and made my day. Thanks for telling me how you feel about family, about old pictures, and, if you’re a writer, how you get your stories.

  23. wow. . . you got me. You did that so well. I will have to go get this book.

  24. Great, marelou. You can order it from Amazon, if you don’t win the drawing, that is.

  25. Heya Liz! I think I finally stumbled the contest blog after reading all the others this Wanderer ended up in, like a kid in a candy shop(or book store!)~ YEEE HAW I am following a passel of terrific Gals now! I’m gonna need a road map to find my way back to my own blog after this~

    I can’t wait to read this book-for some reason,I imagine my mother and her first love, in Las Cruces, NM, in the early 40’s…is that sappy or what?

    Anyway, congrats on your book! WOOT!

  26. Thanks, Sandra! That’s not sappy at all, and, though this book is set in the ’30’s, I know from experience that New Mexico didn’t change much for the next 20 years.

    Glad you wandered by.

  27. Avatar

    Family stories can be a rich source of ideas for books. You were lucky to have such a rich pool to draw from. It is true that what barely causes a raised eyebrow today would cause someone to be shut out of their family 40-50 years ago. I can remember when one of my aunts got divorced from an abusive husband. The church didn’t approve of divorce and we weren’t even supposed to talk to the family. The word pregnant was treated almost as a profanity. We weren’t supposed to know about things like that. Where was the baby that showed up about a month latter supposed to have come from?
    Sounds like a good story. I look forward to reading it. Sounds like there are a lot more stories in your family waiting to be told.

  28. What a fascinating family story. Thanks for sharing it with us, Liz. COUNTING THE COST sounds wonderful!

    I’m not a writer but have always loved hearing about how/where writers get their ideas and inspirations.

  29. Patricia,

    People born in the last twenty to thirty years have no idea the social strictures we lived under. It’s marvelous to have a lot of them done away with, but I miss some of the others.

    Thanks for your comments.

  30. Karen W., thanks for commenting. You may not be a writer, but you’re a reader, and what would the world be like without people who love words and stories?

  31. Thank you!

  32. What a great story. I know what Liz means about family history as a mine full of ideas, particularly the scandalous bits!

  33. Thanks for your comment, Ann. The interesting thing about the ‘scandalous bits’ is that, in that day and age, people really did hold to the adage of ‘if you can’t say anything nice about anyone…’ and often those stories died with the last of that generation. That’s what would have happened with this story, because none of my generation knew anything about this scandal–which wouldn’t be very scandalous now.

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