10 Snags of Writing Colonials vs. Westerns by Guest Author Pam Hillman


Please welcome guest author Pam Hillman! It’s always a pleasure to have her here at Wildflower Junction! Today she has a great giveaway planned and, with a nod to our 10-year celebration, has had the daunting task of coming up with 10 differences she’s had to deal with as an author between westerns and colonials. 

Pam Hillman Author

Happy 10th Anniversary Petticoats and Pistols!

Thank you for allowing me to be part of this celebration.

I proposed a 1790s colonial series set in the Natchez Mississippi District and, to my delight, my publisher bought it. Sure, I knew there would be a bit of a change in my writing style from westerns to the 18th century. But it’s only about 80 years difference. How hard could it be? How much could change in 80 years? Well…

Anachronistic Words

 On the off-chance that I’m not the only one who had to look up the meaning of anachronistic, it means “something or someone that is not in its correct historical or chronological time.”
Okay. Got it.
With a few exceptions of course, if I had been switching from writing colonials to westerns, my toolbox full of words would have carried over as they were already in use 70-80 years earlier. But since I was going backwards in time, I had a lot of favorite words that had to be cut because they weren’t in use in the 1790s. Words like smidgen (1845), howdy (1840), smokestack (1860), boilerplate (1860). The list goes on and on.

Patterns of Speech

A man of the colonial period had a different pattern of speech than the 1880s cowboy did. Their language was a bit more formal, more stilted, but it’s a little more subtle than that. It’s the cowboy lingo, the drawl, that sets the two periods apart. The words they used were important though, because that’s the only way we can really show that slow, sexy drawl of a cowboy. I’ll be honest, I missed that aspect of writing my cowboys.
But I still managed to make Connor O’Shea a swoon-worthy colonial-type cowboy, I think. 🙂
Pam Hillman

Good Day, Mistress Bartholomew

While Mister (Mr.), Missis/Missus (Mrs.), and Miss could be used in the 18th century, Mistress and Master are words we tend to associate for those in authority or as terms of respect during the colonial period. So, I used all of the above in my 1790s series, simply to provide variety. A little about ma’am, specifically. It’s associated closely with the cowboy vernacular as a term of respect to women, but it was in use by 1670. I used ma’am, but a lot less liberally than I would in a western, sprinkling in the more proper Mistress to help set the tone apart from a western.

Housekeeping and Tools

It’s the little things that jump out and bite you. Wood-burning cast iron stoves were invented in the mid-1500s, but it wasn’t until the industrial revolution that they were even remotely affordable for the general public. So I had to be careful not to use the word “stove” in my 1790s stories in that context. After writing several westerns where my heroines cook on a wood burning stove, pulled bread out of the oven, or the hero reached for the coffee pot in the cookhouse, that turned out to be quite a challenge. Unfortunately, I’m afraid one or two references might have slipped through.
Mostly pots and pans, tools, and things of that sort didn’t change much between the two periods. But when in doubt, I always check sources.
Pam Hillman Promise Kept

Let’s Eat

 Cobbler (1860) and sowbelly (1870) were two of a slew (1840 btw) of words I couldn’t have used in my 1790s series, but when I looked at a list of foods from 1790s, the only one that I would hesitate to use in the late 1800s was matelote (1730), which is a type of stew.

Let There be Light

I also had to be careful of the type lighting my characters used. In my westerns, the hero might just light the lantern, and readers immediately know what type of lantern I meant. While the word lantern goes back to 1300, during 18th century America, they mostly used candles with tin reflectors to reflect the light. Widespread use of kerosene lamps and lanterns came at a bit of a later time.

Catch Phrases

Probably the biggest hurdle for me was the catch phrases peppered throughout westerns. Phrases like “poker face” (1885, but my editor found evidence that the first poker game was played in 1829), “pipe dream” (1900), and the one that gave me the most sorrow to cut was “hook, line, and sinker” (1838).

Social Mores

The class structure of the haves and the have nots was still in place in the late 18th century in the Americas, but it was slipping. As hordes of immigrants, both bond and free, flooded into the colonies in the 18th and 19th centuries, they held the promise of freedom close. The cowboy, the gold miner, the railroad worker, the pioneers all had freedom of choice that their ancestors only dreamed of.
So, there was a bit of a shift in the way I portrayed my characters to the way I’d show a foot-loose and fancy-free cowboy.

The Cowboy Swagger and His Clothes

There’s just something about describing a cowboy, the way he talks, the way he walks, his clothes, his boots. Maybe it’s just ingrained in me after reading and writing westerns my whole life. They say clothes don’t make the man, but a Stetson and a pair of cowboy boots goes a long way. But, still it is possible to give that swagger to a man who’s been plunked down in a different time period.
Pam Hillman 3

The Word Cowboy

For the record, the word cowboy was in use by 1725, a noun to refer to a cow herder or a“young cowhand”. I just can’t really see Mel Gibson or Captain Jack uttering the word cowboy in The Patriot or any of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but stranger things than that have happened.
Now that I know the word was in existence, I’ll try to slip it in my next 1790s historical. 🙂
Pam Hillman The Promise

The Promise of Breeze Hill

 Natchez, MS; 1791
Anxious for his brothers to join him on the rugged frontier along the Mississippi River, Connor O’Shea has no choice but to indenture himself as a carpenter in exchange for their passage from Ireland. But when he’s sold to Isabella Bartholomew of Breeze Hill Plantation, Connor fears he’ll repeat past mistakes and vows not to be tempted by the lovely lady. The responsibilities of running Breeze Hill have fallen on Isabella’s shoulders after her brother was found dead in the swamps along the Natchez Trace and a suspicious fire devastated their crops, almost destroyed their home, and left her father seriously injured. Even with Connor’s help, Isabella fears she’ll lose her family’s plantation. Despite her growing feelings for the handsome Irish carpenter, she seriously considers accepting her wealthy and influential neighbor’s proposal of marriage.
Soon, though, Connor realizes someone is out to eliminate the Bartholomew family. Can he set aside his own feelings to keep Isabella safe?
Pam Hillman
It’s time for prizes, yes? It may be Petticoats & Pistols’ birthday, but you get the gifts! I’m giving away a bag of books today. Signed copies of Claiming Mariah, Stealing Jake, and The Promise of Breeze Hill.
In addition, my publisher is sponsoring a Mississippi Gift Basket Giveaway to celebrate the release of The Promise of Breeze Hill. Click the graphic to the right to enter that separate contest.
Leave a comment to enter the book giveaway mentioned above.
Pam Hillman Author 2
CBA Bestselling author PAM HILLMAN was born and raised on a dairy farm in Mississippi and spent her teenage years perched on the seat of a tractor raking hay. In those days, her daddy couldn’t afford two cab tractors with air conditioning and a radio, so Pam drove an Allis Chalmers 110. Even when her daddy asked her if she wanted to bale hay, she told him she didn’t mind raking. Raking hay doesn’t take much thought so Pam spent her time working on her tan and making up stories in her head. Now, that’s the kind of life every girl should dream of.

P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giant birthday bash giveaway (separate from this daily giveaway). You can find all the details along with the entry form HERE.

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67 thoughts on “10 Snags of Writing Colonials vs. Westerns by Guest Author Pam Hillman”

  1. Wow, what a great post, Pam! Honestly, I’m kind of lazy as a reader and in my mind will kind of let all sorts of time periods mush together as “historical” 🙂 Thanks for pointing out some of the differences between the colonial period and the Westerns that come later! Very interesting stuff!

    • Fedora, I’m pretty forgiving too. 🙂 If I’m hooked by the story and the characters, I wouldn’t even notice a lot of the minor slips in word usage by a few years. So glad to see you in P&P today!

  2. Hi Pam! I loved this post! I always love it when I pick up a novel that the author weaves in a pattern of speech that can actually bring the story to life for me. I read a book recently that was set during WW1 and the hero was from Ireland. I could almost hear the brogue in his dialogue and that added to the story for me.

    I liked the comparison you did for Connor O’Shea for 1790 and 1880. He is swoon worthy by the way.

    Many blessings and Happy 10th Birthday!

    Cindy W.
    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

    • I agree, Cindy. I like the little bits that make the time period and the characters come alive. It doesn’t take much, but it needs to be consistent. My editors are amazing and I give them credit for helping me make my books shine.

      We might let a word or a term slide if it came into popular usage just a few years after my time period, but if it’s too far out, it get nixed!

    • I know, right? Seems like a little thing, but in 1790s colonial America, it stands to reason that the majority of homes and businesses were still using fireplaces. I’ve never seen a reference to stoves in Colonial Williamsburg, even. Another fun research tidbit that I might have to research…. When/where were the first stoves introduced into the American colonies? 🙂

  3. Great post! I love the to hear differences 80 years can make in writing a historical. Very interesting!

    • Isn’t it crazy? When we think about it, the language, especially slang, relaxed considerable in the 19th century. I blame it on all us Americans. We’re such rebels! lol

    • Thank you, Estella. On the recommendation of some of my author friends, I bought English Through the Ages and it’s been invaluable to me when I question a word choice. Of course I use online resources like Dictionary.com, and my synonym finder, so all of those work together to fact-check.

      As a matter of fact, I’m traveling this week, heading to do my first EVER keynote speech at a ladies retreat, (so y’all keep me in your thoughts, esp. tomorrow at 1:30 pm), but I packed my rolling carryon with all those heavy research books as I’m in the editing stages of book two in the Natchez Trace Novel series. Thankfully, we’re traveling by truck and hubby is driving, so I get to fix my nest in the passenger seat an work away. 🙂

  4. Great blog! I’ve never read one of your books and would love the opportunity! I’m always looking for a new go to author!

    • Stephanie, so glad to find a new “friend”. I hope you get a chance to check out my books. It’s always nice to connect with new friends who love historical romance as much as I do. 🙂

  5. Thanks for all the interesting facts, great research! Like “sowbelly” and where “cowboy” came about! 🙂

    • Eva, I was gobsmacked (I should look that up… I’ve used it twice this week! lol) to read that cowboy was in use that early. It just feels like something that wouldn’t have been used until the mid-1800s at least.

      Us historical authors read English Through the Ages for entertainment. Ha!

  6. Thank you for sharing your very interesting post, Pam. I always love visiting P&P. It’s a great way to start the day!?

    • There’s always something new and fresh at P&P, Melanie, isn’t there? I’m loving the theme of 10 this week. Such a neat way to celebrate P&P’s 10th birthday.

  7. Great post I really enjoyed it. I guess a person would have to be careful with how they worded things back then to get them right.

    • Yes, I’m sure they had cool ways of saying things, but it seems like they didn’t have as much slang, cliches, and catch phrases as entered the English language in the 1800s. I did discover some cool words and phrases, but they were so out of touch with today’s language that I didn’t want to use them.

      I wanted to use “hook, line, and sinker”, as in “She’d reeled him in hook, line, and sinker, then gutted him when it suited her,” but the phrase wasn’t in use until around 1838. The phrase we found that had a similar meaning and was in use in the 18th century was “to swallow a gudgeon”.

      That didn’t quite fit the image I was looking for! lol

  8. Love this blog, as I never even thought about what might be different in language back in the day. I was aware of being addressed as Mistress or Master, but you gave a lot of different information. Now I will be more aware when I read the different eras to see if the author has done her research.

    • Veda, don’t let your new awareness ruin a book for you. 😉 A little (sometimes a lot) of leeway is fine to keep from boring or confusing the reader. If we wrote in the completely stilted language of some of the historical periods of the past, I’m sure readers would be bored out of their gourds!

      But if a hero whips out his iPhone in the 1700s, we’ve got a problem. Unless, of course, he’s a time traveller! lol

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Caryl. These are things we never think about when switching genres. I think I’m going to stick to the 1790s and the period between 1850-1890 from now on just to make my life easy. 🙂

      I think of authors who write family sagas that span 300 years (Gilbert Morris and his The Winslow Family series comes to mind). Just think of the tons of research because he was constantly changing geographical locations AND time periods. Wow.

  9. I so appreciate the research you authors put into your work (especially historicals). I love learning but with the bonus of a good story as opposed to history books. I like to think things are accurate and I thank you for that. I heard one author say at one time that she made stuff up – now in fantasy or futuristic that is wonderful, but I was aghast at that comment lol.

    • There’s a fine line between writing fiction and making stuff up that either is completely wrong for the time period. Sure, I make a lot of stuff up…we have to … but I have to prove to myself, my editors, and my readers that anything that I write into (or out of) my stories could have happened.

      Currently, I’m editing The Road to Magnolia Glen, book #2 of the Natchez Novel Series. My editor asked if there were enough French in the area that a particular Frenchman wouldn’t be noticed and/or recognizable. The French settled the Natchez District in 1704, 97 years before my book takes place. Over 500 French brides were sent to the area in the early 1700s, so I think it’s safe to say that the French element was alive and well in that time period.

      Another instance in The Promise of Breeze Hill , the heroine’s father is adverse to owning slaves. But I gave him a strong, believable, historically accurate reason for his beliefs. And you find out why as the story progresses. This thread is tightly woven in with the heroine, the hero, the plantation, one hundred year-old backstory and affects the outcome of the story. And even more important… it’s historically accurate. It’s not the main thread of the story, but it’s a nice strong anchor that I’m very happy to have worked into the story.

      The key is to be historical accurate, and provide proof that something COULD have happened.

  10. Love noting the similarities and differences between westerns and colonials! Thanks for sharing, Pam.

  11. Heads up! LATE BREAKING NEWS! Tyndale is giving away a Natchez Mississippi themed gift basket and the wonderful fillies here at P&P rode ALL NIGHT LONG to bring the news to you!

    Aren’t they the greatest??? Like a modern day Pony Express team. Hooo-doggie!

    Check the updated blog up above to enter the giveaway hosted by Tyndale, but be sure to come back here to P&P and PARTY with these gals. It IS their birthday, after all! 🙂

    Happy birthday, P&P!

  12. Oh my, Pam! That Mississippi basket looks amazing! One lucky reader is sure to enjoy all those goodies. Welcome back to P&P and Wildflower Junction. It is wonderful to have you here–and especially for you to join right in with our 10 year anniversary celebration!

    I once wrote a book set during the the time of the Alamo, and after writing a western, was so very surprised to learn of all the “cowboy things” I couldn’t use in 1836. Things like canvas pants or Stetsons! It not an easy feat to learn a new generation of words so I can really appreciate your post here today. Best wishes on this new series!

    • Kathryn… YES. You nailed it!

      I remember writing one story and it was just a few years before the Colt 45 was invented. A savvy critique partner caught my slip up.

      And that was my introduction to fact checking EVERY little thing even if I think I know the answer.

  13. I loved your post Pam. Also reading about the differences between the two time periods. I’m putting Promise of Breeze Hill on my TRL. I really enjoyed the excerpt. So happy to meet you here Pam.
    Carol L

  14. Okay, ladies, we’re checking out of the hotel and will be traveling the rest of the day, then I’ll be at a ladies retreat tonight and tomorrow.

    However, unlike the characters I write about, I have a smart phone and I know how to use it! !!! And more importantly, I’m not the one driving. My trusty cowboy is, so I’ll be checking in throughout the day.

    Keep the party going!

    • I’m back! We’re cruising down the interstate, and I’m surrounded by all my electronics!

      We’re definitely not in the 18th century anymore!

      Pearl, so glad you enjoyed today’s post. 🙂

  15. Hi Pam……Welcome back to the Junction and thanks for helping us celebrate our 10th anniversary! This is exciting. So many things have taken place in ten years. I love your post and can’t imagine the problems in changing centuries. I’m glad it’s you and not me but I can see you’re more than up to the challenge.

    Congratulations on your new release! That’s looks great.

    • Thanks Linda. To tell you the truth, my editors are amazing! I couldn’t do it without them.

      And I’m honored to be back to visit. The P&P community is vibrant and alive and it’s just plain fun to hang out with y’all for a day!

  16. oh wow, now that is a lot of research to go into your books! I love it!! Crazy to see what words were not used way back when. Thanks for sharing!

    • Susan, for real! I have to say that by the time I wrote book #2 I’d found my “colonial” voice as it were, but since we haven’t gotten to the macro edit yet, I could be wrong about that. 🙂

  17. Wow. I’m so impressed with all the info you have provided. It’s interesting to see how different phrases are said differently over the years. Thank you so much for giving readers such inspiring books that take us back to different eras.

  18. Sounds like quite a bit of research went into your book! I’m not a stickler for accuracy but I do appreciate it, especially when I learn more “behind the scenes” in posts like this!

  19. Hi Pam! Such an informative and fun post. I have been looking forward to this series since I first leaned about it – downloaded Breeze Hill the day it released & am eager to read. Don’t enter me in the drawing — I have all your books ?

    Do you have any suggestions for sources to check words for a particular period?

    Congratulations on your latest release.

    Nancy C

  20. What a fun post to read! There are so many things authors have to think about, and then I get to just sit back and enjoy the book. 🙂 Thanks for all the hard work!!

  21. Hi Pam. Thanks for a great post. It amazed me just how careful you had to be to make sure that everything word or term was appropriate for that time period. Thanks also for the chance to win your books.

  22. Thank you for a most interesting post. We often don’t think about the origins of the words and phrases we use, when they came about, and how their meaning may have changed over the years.
    I look forward to reading The Promise of Breeze Hill. Many people don’t realize that indentured servants were bought and sold like slaves and were often treated as badly. It sounds like Connor O’Shea is a strong man dedicated to his family. It will be interesting to see how the story develops and who is trying to destroy Isabella Bartholomew. Why is Connor holding back?
    I am glad to see some stories coming out depicting earlier times in our country’s history. Each period has so much to offer an author in ideas for stories.

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