In addition to writing, I substitute teach in elementary school. This week is Read Across America, with schools celebrate reading, and particularly, Dr. Seuss. The program is encouraging supporters to take a selfie with their favorite childhood book and post it to social media. I decided to take it one step further and write this month’s blog about my choice.
But before I start talking about that, I must issue a quick apology, because my favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, isn’t western related. For those who don’t know the story, it’s about a selfish, spoiled girl raised in India whose life is overturned when her parents die, forcing her to move to England to live with an uncle she’s never met.
I can’t remember what grade it was in elementary school or who my teacher was, which I truly regret, but one my teachers read The Secret Garden aloud to my class. From the moment she cracked the book open, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for afternoon to arrive so I could head to the English countryside to spend time with poor Mary Lennox. After we finished the story, I bought a copy from Scholastic and reread the book repeatedly.
I loved seeing Mary growing more confident and content as she connected with the moors. Her budding relationship with Dickon captivated me. Even then I possessed the heart of a romance novelists, because I envisioned after the story ended, them living happily ever after on their own land, with a beautiful garden they lovingly tended together, and of course, they were still best friends with Colin. (BTW, I still want to know how their lives turned out. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a western fan fiction story in there!)
The mystery surrounding the cries in Misselthwaite Manor and why everyone insisted Mary was imagining things held me mesmerized. When Mary found her cousin Colin, and they and Dickon started exploring the secret garden, I was there too, sharing in their adventures.
For me, The Secret Garden had it all—romance, mystery, a heroine with a tragic past in need of a home, family, love and belonging. All themes that are intertwined in the books I write today. The Secret Garden hooked me on reading and started me dreaming about writing my own stories.
But how about you? Leave me a comment about your favorite childhood book to be entered to win the snack set and a copy of To Love A Texas Cowboy. Ironically, like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, To Love A Texas Cowboy is my story about a tragically orphaned little girl. Though she’s not the main character, Ella being orphaned, like Mary, sets the story into motion.
Now go. I’m excited to hear about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you!
“A man’s got to have a code, a creed to live by, no matter his job.”
When I began writing western historical romances, I had to do some serious research on the old west. It became quickly apparent that every account of the men and women who came out to the new frontier during the westward expansion of the United States were bound by a special caveat that ruled their conduct … not by written laws. Being a native Texan, I grew up with these unspoken policies being pounded in my head, but never thought about them being anything but doing what is right whether you can legally get by with it or not. I never thought about “The Lone Ranger” being a perfect example of a hero living by homespun laws and a gentleman’s agreement.
Almost every article about the Code of the West attributes the famous western writer, Zane Grey, as the first chronicler of the unwritten laws in his 1934 novel aptly titled The Code of the West. The resilient, heroic trailblazers who forged west and learned to live in the rough and tough country were bound by these understood rules that centered on integrity, fair play, loyalty, hospitality, and respect for the land. For these pioneers, their survival depended largely upon their ability to coexist with their neighbors, their rivals, and their peers.
A cowman might break every written law on the books if deemed necessary, but took pride in upholding his own code of ethics. Failure to abide by the unwritten law of the land didn’t necessarily bring formal punishment, but the man who broke it basically became a social outcast. Losing a man’s honor was considered a fate worse than being hanged.
I read a very technical, yet interesting, article where historians and social theorists explained the evolution of the Code of the West. How it was a result of centuries-old English common law. The paper explained the code’s elements which includes “no duty to retreat”, “the imperative of personal self-redress”, “homestead ethics”, and “ethic of individual enterprise.”
Although informative and logical, it sounded a little stiff, so here’s my explanation of the code as it applies today as it did in the Old West.
1. Mind your own business; 2. Keep your hands to yourself; if it isn’t yours, don’t touch it; 3. Be loyal, modest, courageous, friendly, and respectful; and 4. Live by the Golden Rule.
There are many practical, and some quite humorous, interpretations, I’ve come across.
Remove your guns before sitting at the dining table.
Always drink your whiskey with your gun hand, to show your friendly intentions.Never try on another man’s hat.
Cuss all you want, but only around men, horses, and cow.
Defend yourself whenever necessary and look out for your own; but never shoot an unarmed or unwarned enemy. Known as “the rattlesnake code”, always warn before you strike.
And, never shoot a woman, no matter what.
Don’t inquire into a person’s past.
Take the measure of a man for what he is today.
Be pleasant even when out of sorts. Complaining is for quitters, and a cowboy hates quitters.
When approaching someone from behind, give a loud greeting (call to camp) before you get within shooting range.
After you pass someone on the trail, don’t look back…it implies you don’t trust him.
Be modest. A braggart who is “all gurgle and no guts” is intolerable.
Honest is absolute–your word is your bond, a handshake is more binding than a contract.
There are hundreds of “do’s and don’t” that the pioneers and cowboys honored because of the informal code they lived by. What are some of your favorites?
I’m giving away an autographed copy of any of the western historical romance anthologies that I wrote with fellow Filly Linda Broday, Jodi Thomas and the late DeWanna Pace. I added a picture of our anthology “Give Me a Texas Ranger” that was included in the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame Writing the Ranger exhibit.
Happy Monday, everyone! I hope you’re all set up to have a fabulous week ahead. I’m looking forward to the release of the latest in my Blue Falls, Texas series from Harlequin Western Romance this Thursday. Well, Thursday marks the release of the ebook version; the paperback follows the next Tuesday, March 6. Here’s the blurb for Twins for the Rancher, which I have to say has the most adorable cover.
MIXING BUSINESS WITH PLEASURE
Rancher Adam Hartley knows that big rewards mean big risks. His plan to expand the family business in Blue Falls, Texas, is a good one. Unfortunately, someone else beat him to it—and bought the old abandoned restaurant he’d been eyeing. Yep, a beautiful newcomer just stole his dream…and his heart, too.
Except single mom Lauren Shayne knows that love is dangerous. Love almost destroyed her business and her reputation, and she won’t ever make that mistake again. So why is she so attracted to Adam? The drop-dead-sexy cowboy seems determined to win over Lauren and her adorable twin babies…but how can she be with him if she’s not sure she can trust him?
This is the fourth book within the series that features one of the five adopted Hartley siblings. I’ve loved really exploring this unique family made up of three brothers and two sisters, none of whom are blood related. But that doesn’t make them any less family. They tease each other like any brothers and sisters. And they have each other’s backs like no one else. And despite all the teasing, nobody is happier when one of them finds true love. I was called to write this because I’m always so interested in the concept of family being something you create instead of something you’re born to.
Oh, and if you happen to be a fan of the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond was the inspiration for my heroine, Lauren, who is known as the Brazos Baker.
I had a cool experience when the cover of this book was revealed. The mother of the little girl in the blue dress contacted me to say that was her happy baby on the cover. She’s just as cute as a button, isn’t she?
As some of you may know, Harlequin is ceasing publication of the Western Romance line in June. Since the last of the Hartley siblings’ books was due to come out in August, for a while that book’s fate was up in the air. I found out last week that Harlequin will be launching a new program in 2019 to publish these orphaned books. My book, tentatively titled Texas Cowboy, Be Mine, will be out in January 2019. It’s my last contracted book for Harlequin, but I’ll be continuing to write western romance stories with Tule Publishing. I recently turned in my first book to them and have been working with them on cover images. The book is with the editor now, but as soon as I know when it’s set to debut, I’ll no doubt be yelling it from the rooftops (aka social media, this blog, my newsletter, etc.). Speaking of my newsletter, if you’d like to sign up for periodic updates from yours truly, it’s a simple sign-up here.
Want to Win?
To celebrate this week’s release of Twins for the Rancher, I’ll be giving away two signed paperback copies of the book to two commenters today. Since both of my main characters are the entrepreneurial business types, let me know if you’ve either started a business or, if not, what type of business you would love to start if you could.
Erica Vetsch here. Thank you so much to the P&P ladies for inviting me to join you again! I love visiting with you all. That being said, I am on vacation today…sitting in a car, driving the 1700 miles back to frigid Minnesota from beautiful sunny Florida where I was visiting my awesome parents. I will most-likely be unable to respond personally to your messages until I get into my hotel room for the evening, so please, bear with me!
Using Historical Figures in Your Fiction
Have you ever read a novel that used an historical figure as one of the characters? Was it fun for you to ‘recognize’ a character and see the author’s portrayal of how they might have been in a given set of circumstances? Did the character ring true to what you knew about them?
I love stories that have cameo appearances by historical figures, especially famous cowboys and lawmen and outlaws of the Old West, or presidents, soldiers, and personalities of the Civil War, but when I read one and I see things that are glaringly off with an historical figure’s portrayal, I tend to cringe and put the book down for something else.
So how does an author go about using real people in their novels? Can you use a real person in fiction legally? Are there any rules?
First, it is certainly legal to use historical figures in your fiction. Writing about Richard the Lionheart or Wyatt Earp won’t get you into any trouble, even if you mischaracterize them or portray them in a less than glowing light. (FYI, writing about current public figures has different laws about slander, libel, and image copyright, so research those laws if you want to write contemporary fiction. Even flattering treatments of people who are alive and kicking can land you in a legal tangle.) Second, writing about historical figures doesn’t have any ‘rules’ per se, but there are some guidelines that I try to follow that will endear you to readers of historical fiction.
Learn the basic facts and personality of the character by reading history books, watching documentaries, and if possible, reading primary sources such as diaries, autobiographies, and first-hand newspaper accounts. (No matter which historical figure you use, there will be a reader or two out there who is an ‘expert’ on that character and jealously guards their canon. As much as possible, try to get the history correct—or you might hear about it later!) Some things that might be important to consider are: the character’s family situation, how they make decisions, attitudes and philosophies about social issues, familiar catchphrases or gestures (Think Teddy Roosevelt and “Bully!”) etc. You will also be able to create dialogue that feels authentic if you can read their own words and get a sense of their speech patterns and cadences from reading primary sources.
Create a timeline of the character’s life, paying particular attention to the time and setting of your story. If you are going to include an historical figure in a fictional situation, make sure they weren’t demonstrably elsewhere in real life. For example, if your scene takes place in St. Louis on November 19, 1863 and you have President Lincoln show up, EEEK! Lincoln was delivering the Gettysburg Address on that day and couldn’t possibly have been in Missouri at that time.
Stay true to the things you know about the character. Lincoln was tall, skeletal, with a dry wit. George Armstrong Custer was ambitious, overconfident, with a near-obsessive devotion to his wife. Clara Barton was a shy child, a determined crusader, and an autocratic leader. Readers will respond to an historical figure in your fiction that ‘feels’ like the character they already know.
When in doubt, err on the side of historical accuracy. Many people read historical fiction in order to learn while they read. Often, readers will take as gospel what they read of historical events and people in fiction, relying on the author to do the research and present it in a truthful way. Sometimes, you want or need an historical figure to do something in your story that you can’t authenticate through research. That’s fine, but be sure that you are staying within the bounds of historical accuracy when you do. (Unless you’re obviously writing a spoof piece like Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies, or Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.) If you include a fictional variation that might be misconstrued, use an author note to explain to the reader what is factual and what is fictional.
An example from my own work is the story A Bride’s Portrait of Dodge City, Kansas. I used several historical figures from Dodge City who would be familiar to readers of western fiction. Because they were used fictitiously, I wanted to make certain that readers understood which characters were historical and which were fictional, and which characteristics for real people I had manufactured for the sake of the story. I included an Author’s Note so that readers would feel I was ‘playing fair’ and not misleading them with inaccurate historical information. Here’s that Author’s Note as it appeared in the beginning of the book:
Author’s Note: While most of the characters in this story are fictitious, the characters of Charlie Basset, Luke Short, and Bat Masterson are taken from the annals of Dodge City history. I have tried to stay true to the historical record, with one noted exception: Bat Masterson’s proclivity for keeping printed material stacked in his office is fictional and entirely of my own creation.
In my story, it was important that a piece of paper get lost in the sheriff’s office. Since Bat Masterson was the sheriff during the setting of my story, I needed him to be a bit of a paper hoarder. But I also wanted to be clear to the reader that I had no historical facts that would indicate that he was an office slob. J Hence the author’s note.
Questions for you!
If you are a writer, have you ever included historical figures in your fiction? If so, who?
If you’re a reader, do you have a favorite novel that included an appearance by an historical figure?
Answer in the comments below to be entered to win a copy of my newest release, 7 Brides for 7 Texas Rangers!
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Best-selling, award-winning author Erica Vetsch loves Jesus, history, romance, and sports. She’s a transplanted Kansan now living in Minnesota, and she married her total opposite and soul mate! When she’s not writing fiction, she’s planning her next trip to a history museum and cheering on her Kansas Jayhawks and New Zealand All Blacks. You can connect with her at her website, http://www.ericavetsch.com where you can read about her books and sign up for her newsletter, and you can find her online at http://www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/ where she spends way too much time!
Accuracy to a newspaper is what virtue is to a lady;
but a newspaper can always print a retraction.
–Adlai E. Stevenson
My March release, How the West was Wed, follows the story of two rivaling newspaper editors. JOSIE LOCKWOOD is the successful editor of the town’s only newspaper until the very charming, very handsome BRANDON WADE moves to town to start his own newspaper. At first Josie welcomes the competition, but she soon learns that readers prefer Wade’s bold hyperbole to her more serious type of journalism.
I especially enjoyed writing about a Victorian newspaper woman. Women editors date back to colonial times, and some edited publications in the east during the first half of the nineteenth century. Still, in those early days, the newspaper business was primarily a male occupation.
This changed somewhat during the westward movement. The late eighteen-hundreds saw some 300 females editing 250 publications in eleven western states. California led the way with 129 known female editors. No doubt there were more, but some female publishers sought credibility by listing a husband’s name on a masthead.
Newspaperwomen covered everything from national and local news to household hints.
Newspapers at the time also carried what today might be called fake news. Along with their morning cup of Arbuckle’s, Victorian readers were regaled with stories of mysterious creatures, flying objects, ghosts, extraterrestrials and other strange phenomena.
It’s not hard to see why the news business would attract female interest. Having control over editorial content afforded women the opportunity to lead a crusade, promote religious and educational activities, and bring a community together. Women still didn’t have the vote, of course, but some female publishers had strong political views which they were all too glad to share with readers.
Editorial disputes like the one between Brandon and Josie were common in the Old West, but not all had such a happy ending. Sometimes things went too far. In some instances, the feud ended in gunfire.
Most feuds, however, were carried out with a war-of-words. Rival editors prided themselves on the quality and quantity of their insults. Typesetting was a tedious job. It took less time and effort to call someone an idiot or numbskull in print than to find a gentler approach.
If editors weren’t fighting each other, they were fighting readers. Any editor printing an inflammatory story could expect to be accosted at the local saloon or challenged to a duel. Things got so bad that an editor of a Kansas newspaper wrote: “What this community needs just now is a society for the prevention of cruelty to writing men, otherwise editors.”
After one man was acquitted of killing the editor of the Leavenworth Times, the Marion County Record wrote, “That’s just the way with some juries—they think it no more harm to shoot an editor than a jack-rabbit.”
Fortunately, today’s disgruntled readers are more likely to drop a subscription than drop an editor, but one thing hasn’t changed; For more than a 150 years, the death of newspapers has been predicted. It was once thought that the telegraph would do the ghastly deed. Today, the Internet is taking the blame. Whether it fully succeeds is anyone’s guess.
So, what do you think? Are newspapers still relevant?