Encouragement from an unexpected source set Barbara Ankrum’s romance-author’s feet on a new path. Help us welcome Barbara to Wildflower Junction.

By Barbara Ankrum

Barbara Ankrum
Barbara Ankrum

For years, I resisted the temptation to write a romance with a Native American protagonist.  Frankly, I was scared to do it. I might get it wrong. Or, worse, insult someone! So I avoided it even though I longed to write one.

Then my daughter moved to Kansas.

On a visit, I took the grandkids to a cool little farmstead called Deanna Rose, and was surprised to find there a reproduction of a Kanza (tribe) mound lodge. From the outside, the mound looked like a tall, grass-covered hill with two tunnel-like doorways. Inside, it was a circular wood-braced lodge, 14’ high at the center with cottonwood tree trunk poles supporting the arched roof. Beds lined the walls all the way around the forty feet in diameter perimeter. In the center, a fire pit and a hole in the ceiling for smoke to escape.

indian mound 3The earthen walls were fourteen inches thick insulating the interior from the harsh Kansas summer sun. Outside, it was 3,000 degrees, (I jest—but it was Kansas in July!)  But inside that mound it was a cool 70-something and I lingered.

A Native American docent started to chat with me about the structure and I asked a bunch of questions. The mounds are scarce—almost non-existent now, because they were nearly all destroyed by the Army in the Indian Wars, set ablaze and collapsed.

indian mound 5When I admitted I write historical romance and secretly always wanted to write a Native American hero, but didn’t have the nerve, this woman looks at me and says, “Why not?” And I was like, “Well, because I’m not Native American. I might not do their story justice.” This sweet woman laughed. “But you see,” she said, “You’d be telling their story, a story that might not be heard otherwise. A story that might never have a voice. You must write it.”

I was dumbfounded but profoundly affected by her words.  Maybe I just needed a new perspective. If I did my best with it and gave it my heart and told the story that was calling me, then it might be enough. After all, isn’t that what writers do?

indian mound 4This woman’s off-handed encouragement was the jumping off point for THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS. Set Montana, my hero is a half-breed Cheyenne (okay, so I dipped my toe in!) and my heroine is a white schoolteacher he accidentally kidnaps and drags into the wilds of the Montana Mountains. It’s set in the post-Indian War devastation of the far West tribes and the systematic removal of the Native American children to white-run boarding schools.

And it turned out Essie was brave and maybe a little inspired by that docent’s words, too. When I got a really nice review from a Native American reader thanking me for not backing off the true story of the boarding schools, I could only smile and secretly thank that woman from Deana Rose.

Essie SparksYou never know where encouragement will come from. You never know how your words will affect someone else. And you never know what you can do until you try.

I hope you’ll give THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS a read. Maybe it will inspire you to be brave about something in your own life.  I think if we just remember that we bring our own heart to the things we do, we bring something to the table that no one else possibly could. And that’s more than enough.

Find The Ruination of Essie Sparks and Barbara’s other books at Amazon.


What is it you’d love to try, but have held back doing? Tell me and I will give away one e-copy of THE RUINATION OF ESSIE SPARKS to one lucky commenter.

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  1. Great blog! Looking forward to reading The Ruination of Essie Sparks. There is a few things that I would to try, but I have held back on, one them being writing a book; which I am doing. (Do not include me in the giveaway. =) )

  2. What a great story. Inspiration can come from unexpected sources, but you must be open to it as well. I am glad you were.

  3. Very interesting post today. I’m glad you were able to find your inspiration to write the book. There are quite a few things that I have wanted to try, but the fear of failure (among other things) always holds me back.

  4. Love your post. Can’t wait to read The Ruination of Essie Sparks, these are my favorite kind of books. Thanks so much.

  5. Hi Barbara! Welcome back. We’re so happy to have you. Your post was very inspiring. And you’re absolutely right. A chance encounter, words that affect us deeply, maybe something we say to someone–you just never know what changes they might bring about. I’ve read about the government program where they yanked Native American children from their homes and family and put them in white boarding schools. Forbade them from speaking their language or indulging in the time-honored practices of their people. Shameful and Disgraceful! They tried to destroy a whole culture. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong. And I’m struck with fear that it may happen again. If the wrong person comes into power, we may have the same things all over again with another culture.

    I have to get this book! In fact, I’m going over right now. Essie sounds like a very strong woman, the kind I love reading about.

  6. What an inspirational tale. Thank you for posting. What I’d love to do is to stop procrastinating on the stories I want to write and make them a priority.

  7. What an awesome surprise encouragement! I do adore those little inspiring surprises. Something I’d always wanted to do? Hmmmm, drive a boat on the ocean. 😀

  8. I have always wanted to learn to play the violin… never tried… turned to other things like drawing and crafts though.

  9. Colleen, it’s funny you say that. When I was trying to decide what to do with my life (pre-writing) it was between learning the hammered dulcimer and trying my hand at writing. I guess you can see which won. Which was probably a very good thing as I don’t have the patience for the dulcimer! But the violin? I say go for it!

  10. Barbara, Thanks for telling us about the mound lodges. Interesting and sad that there are so few left. They sound much more efficient and clean than the sod dies were. I understand why the army did what they did, don’t agree with it, but the settlers could have learned much from the construction techniques.
    I am glad you took the step and wrote your native american story. Even if you were just testing the waters, it sounds like you did a good job. Maybe it is time to go in a bit deeper and write a few more.

    One thing I always wanted to do was write. I wrote in high school and had several chapters finished. Unfortunately, my family found it and spent one evening reading it out loud, laughing, and criticizing everything about it. Ridicule and shaming do wonders for a young teens self-confidence and self-esteem. I never wanted to write again. At this point, I am more than a bit too old to start a serious writing career. I will just enjoy the research authors do and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

  11. I don’t really have something I’ve wanted to to that I haven’t- other than travel a lot. My husband and kids have tried to get me to write fiction but I honestly don’t have the drive successful authors have. In other words I’m lazy and prefer to read. 😉

  12. What an exciting story. I find mounds and their history fascinating. And, the topic of “Americanizing” the children of the native tribes is also interesting — some good features and some very negative ones when it comes to the attempt to break down and dismiss their culture. The Ruination of Essie Sparks sounds like a book I would enjoy reading. Best wishes on its success.

  13. Patricia, I’m so sorry you were discouraged so young about writing. It happens all too often. But I’m glad you enjoy reading even if you aren’t planning to write. I always say it’s never too late to do what you love! Thanks for your story.

  14. Hi Barbara,
    Loved your inspirational story of how the book got written! Beautiful pics too. I always love reading a book where I can learn something about history I didn’t know. Great cover and story!!

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