Family Stories

We write them, we read them, but also, they are our own history – they’re part of who we are.

I have two examples:

First, mine. My grandfather was an itinerant preacher on the plains of Saskatchewan, Canada. They lived in a tent (not many trees on the plains). He’d be home long enough to get his wife pregnant, then go off on his donkey, preaching again. After the first few babies were born (she was alone), she told him she was going to a city, with or without him.

9 of the 11 children. My dad is the youngest

So they moved to Saskatoon. The kids kept coming, and at one point, the house caught on fire. Once my grandmother got all the kids out, she went back for her husband’s sewing machine (he was a tailor as well as a preacher) and threw it out the window before getting out herself.

This isn’t the one that burned.

I come from hardy stock!

My second story is my husband’s. His maternal great-grandmother was 11, her sister 9, when her mother died back east. Her father put them on a train heading west, and told them there would be someone to meet them in Texas, and he’d follow as soon as he wrapped up business.

The girls got off the train in Midland, Texas. No one to meet them. A few good people traded off taking them in until the 11 year old could get work and take care of her sister.

She never knew what happened to her father.

Two months after she died, they got a phone call from someone back east, claiming to be kin. Turned out, the father shipped the girls off on a train to get rid of them. He was marrying another woman, who didn’t want his kids.

5 generation photo. His great-grandmother is bottom left.

Can you imagine? I’m glad she passed without knowing that.

Okay, your turn – give me your family story in the comments!

My Worst Date Ever

By Laura Drake

I know, Valentines is over, but Karen Kay’s romantic ‘meet’ story last month reminded me of mine, and it was very different than hers.

My Southern California apartment manager set me up. Really. This woman I hardly knew except to pay rent to, called me out of the blue telling me that a guy in the complex had noticed me, and asked if she’d introduce us. My silence must’ve telegraphed stunned, because she rushed on to say that he was a successful businessman, polite in the old-school way, and kind of shy. He was raising his two kids all on his own… Before she could launch into a saving-kittens-from drowning-story, I said, okay, half to make her stop, half because I was curious to meet this throwback.

She knocks on my door that afternoon, introduces him and takes off. There I stood, not knowing what to do with this shy, good looking man on my doorstep. He invited me out that night, and I said yes, because I couldn’t say no to that cute, little-boy smile.

He took me to dinner, and proceeded to drag me through every detail of the horrific divorce he’d just gone though . . . for TWO HOURS. I’m sitting there thinking, He may be cute, but I’m so out of here.

Then he tells me his goal is to be married within the next year. Wow. Really? I NEVER planned to marry again. And he has full custody of his two kids. I’d never had kids – never wanted them. I couldn’t wait to get home.

He dropped me at my doorstep, and looked like he wanted to kiss me, but didn’t.

Then he asked me if I wanted to go for a ride on his motorcycle that weekend. He has a motorcycle? I LOVE motorcycles! The wind in your face, the thrill of speed, wrapping your arms around that strong chest . . .

Okay, so one more date. At least he couldn’t talk about his divorce while we were riding, right?

Luckily, I didn’t find out until after we were engaged that the apartment manager felt sorry for him, and was setting him up with random single women from the complex – he hadn’t noticed me – he didn’t even know what I looked like!

That shy guy and I celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary this month!

He went from the worst date I’d ever had to my best friend. Who knew that could happen?

I’d love to hear your first date stories in the comments!

Fort Worth Facts

I recently moved about 20 miles away from Fort Worth. I’m excited to discover more about this epic historical town, and will, the minute it’s safe to do so. 

I’m putting together a list of little known places I want to see, and I thought I’d share it with you, in case you ever visit (this may even entice you to!)

  • Jesus BBQ – This quaint shoebox on South Main has been in business since 1969. A sign hangs over the sidewalk – “Jesus BBQ and Mexican Food.” The reviewer loved it.
  • Pick Your Own Strawberries 3010 S. Bowen Road, Arlington Pay $10, get a 1-pound strawberry basket and spend a sunny day picking strawberries. Better get there early as sometimes the berries are picked over before closing.

  • The Blue Hole, Dinosaur Valley State Park 1629 Park Road 59, Glen Rose

  • The swimming hole in Dinosaur Valley State Park offers visitors a chance to cool off in 20-feet-deep clear water surrounded by 100 million-year-old fossilized dinosaur tracks. Before you go, check out the Texas Parks & Wildlife website to learn how to map nearby dinosaur tracks because some may be hard to find.

  • Ayres Cemetery2500 Block of Scott Avenue 

    A tiny, antiquated cemetery hides one block off Interstate-30 in a motel parking lot in East Fort Worth. Crumbling gravestones tell a story of one of Fort Worth’s first families. Nestled next to a few of the gravestones are markers indicating that some were citizens of the Republic of Texas, which ended in 1846. The last time someone was buried in this family lot was in 1955. The Ayres Cemetery remains as a symbol of the area’s early settlers.

  • Bonnie and Clyde Shooting Dove Road, Just East of Hwy. 114

    This power couple frequented North Texas reportedly because relatives lived here. However, their career as robbers and gangsters slowed and halted when they played a part in killing several Texas patrolmen near Grapevine.

  • Northside Street Art Intersection of 21st and Roosevelt streets

    An enraged gorilla sits on the side of a nondescript building in an otherwise colorless part of town at the corner of 21st Street and Roosevelt. The artist is unknown.

  • The Stockyards – Lots to do there:
    • Cowtown Opry
    • Fort Worth Herd Cattle Drive
    • Mechanical Bull
    • Cowboy Hall of Fame
    • Cattlemen Maze
    • Filthy McNasty’s Saloon

I don’t know about you, but I love the quirky, the obscure, the unknown. I plan to visit several of these places!

Have you ever been to Fort Worth?  

Cowboy Sayings

One of the things I collect is cowboy sayings (come on, you already knew I was weird). Here are a few of my faves.

 
 
  • Small as a bump on a pickle
  • That horse is the hind legs of destruction
  • I ate so many armadillos when I was young, I roll up when I hear a dog bark.
 
 
 
  • Texas is the silver buckle of the bible belt
  • There’s two theories about arguin’ with a woman. Neither works.
  • Speak your mind, but ride a fast horse.
  • Always drink upstream from the herd.
  • Never ask a barber if you need a haircut.
 
 
  • Never drop your gun to hug a grizzly
  • Never ask a man the size of his spread.
  • Never miss a good chance to shut up.
  • Never smack a man chewing tobacco.
  • He’s crazy as an acre of snakes.
  • I was so poor growing up, I had a tumbleweed as a pet.
  • And probably the most famous – don’t squat with your spurs on.

I even have cowGIRL ones!

  • High steppers give bumpy ride.
  • You can’t get ahead of anyone you’re trying to get even with.
  • If you wake up and find yourself a success, you ain’t been asleep.

  • Cryin’ about a bad past is a waste of good tears.
  • Nobody’s credit is better than their money.
  • Half your troubles come from wanting your own way. The other half come from getting it.
 
What’s your favorite cowboy/country saying?

The ‘Mother Road’

My agent is shopping my Women’s Fiction road-trip story. Here’s the blurb:

Trouble with the Curve meets Peace, Love and Misunderstanding.

Third generation Jacqueline Oliver was born to be a hippie; she resisted. Through a series of odd events, she finds herself with the hippie grandmother she resents on a Route 66 road trip that could save her business and answer the questions from her damaged past. Or drive her crazy.

I’ve ridden Route 66 a bunch on my motorcycle, and I even got to ride part of the abandoned section on a bicycle! But still, I had to do research. I came up with some amazing facts I didn’t know:

  • It was going to be named U.S. 60 but was changed to 66 as it did not run coast-to-coast.
  • The moniker Mother Road was coined by John Steinbeck in his novel “Grapes of Wrath” (1939).
  • Its original alignment went through Las Vegas and Santa Fe in New Mexico, but an irate governor re-routed it to bypass them in 1937 to punish politicians in Santa Fe.
  • The segment across San Bernardino County in California from Needles to Upland with 244 miles (393 km) is the longest segment within one county of the whole route and is 20 mi. longer than the distance between London and Liverpool in the UK.
  • The The expedition led by Lt. Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale (1822 – 1893) to survey and build a wagon road from New Mexico to California, followed the 35th parallel, its course was later followed by Route 66. He used camels, imported from Tunis as pack animals. Though hardier than mules, the camels scared both horses and mules. The Army decided not to use camels in the future.
  • The route is over 2,000 miles long: 2,448 miles in 1926
  • Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Hollywood stars of the 1930s and 40s, spent their honeymoon in Oatman, Arizona. (I’ve seen that room!)
  • Pixar‘s 2006 animated film Cars had the working title of Route 66,
  • Wigwam Motels. There was a motel chain with rooms designed to resemble an Indian teepee. Two of these motels survive, one in San Bernardino, CA, the other in Holbrook, AZ.

And finally, the photo I used for inspiration while I was writing.

Mailboxes line the road beside the original alignment of Route 66 in Peach Springs, Arizona.

Have you ever ridden the Mother Road? There’s an eerie throwback vibe to it that seems to echo the past. If you haven’t been on it, I highly recommend a road trip!

Do You Read Series?

Readers tend to love series. But you may not know that there are more than one kind. Here are the basic types:

Dynamic Series – follows the same character or group through the series as they try to accomplish a large goal. The story arc is too big for one book and is fleshed out over multiple books.  Think: The Hobbit, or Harry Potter.

Static Series – each book is more an individual event or installment in the characters’ lives than a series of related events. Think: Sherlock Holmes, Murder She Wrote, or Babysitters Club. You know, Cozy mysteries.

Anthology Series – tied together by a world, a setting, or character relationships. The series can be made up of dynamic and/or static series. Think: Marvel or Hogwarts.

That ends the education part of the post, promise.

I only write the last type – mostly because I’m not smart enough for the first two! I’ve written three small town series – they’re popular and especially well adapted for Westerns.

But my very first series is different – because I didn’t mean to write a series! The first book I ever sold was The Sweet Spot,  a reunion story about a divorced couple with a ranch that supplied bucking bulls to the bull riding circuit. In the divorce, he got the bulls, she got their valuable semen. It won the Romance Writers of America RITA award for best first book that year (I’m still squeeing!).

But it sold in a 3-book series. I freaked out. I’d never written a series. I didn’t even know about the types of series above. So I followed the old adage, ‘Write what you know’. If you’ve been reading my blogs here, you know that what I know is bull riding.

So I wrote a series set in the world of professional bull riding. 

The second book, Nothing Sweeter, was about a woman on the run from her past, who ends up taking a job as groom on a remote, failing cattle ranch. She talks them into raising bucking bulls as a way to turn the bottom line to black. Oh, and falls in love with the curmudgeon owner. 

The last book, Sweet on You, is a road trip story. A combat medic veteran can’t stand witnessing soldiers’ pain any longer. She returns stateside, and takes a job as a member of the medical team that cares for injured bull riders at the PBR events – figuring she could do the job, since she had no respect of spoiled athletes. You guessed it, she falls for one.

I’m proud of their overall average star ratings of 4.6-4.8 on Amazon, but I have another reason for bringing them up today:

They’re on SALE!!

The Sweet Spot is $0.99, the other two are $1.99! Not sure how long the sale will last, so check them out soon!

What is your favorite type of series? Your favorite one?

Scootin’ the Boot

A size 11 woman’s foot never looks good in cowboy boots, trust me on this. So when Boot Scootin’ came up as a topic, I panicked. But then Pam Crooks set off bells in my head – there’s more than one kind of boot. Sadly, my kind aren’t cute, or sexy.

First, let it be known right up front, I’m a klutz. I admit it. Nothing to do but laugh at myself. I’m also an adventurer – I push the envelope on a routine basis.

The two together? Recipe for disaster.

You know those boot-casts they put you in nowadays? Yeah, I’ve been in those as best I can remember, FOUR times.

The first was a freak fly fishing accident. I’ve got a bad knee from a motorcycling accident (Oh, make it 5 incidents-was in a boot from ankle to hip, that time) and the knee gave out on a hill. I felt the bone snap, but was in denial, and had my girlfriends haul me down to the jacuzzi on the luggage cart (wine may have been involved – but only as a painkiller).

The good thing about that, was I had tickets to the PBR Finals in Vegas the next week, and no way I was going to miss it. So we rented a wheelchair. The handicapped entrance was right next to the bull riders’ locker room. I call that a score!

 

Then I had two separate foot surgeries, right after the other. Between the two, I was in a boot  for a year.  My neighbor broke his ankle in a freak golf accident (yeah, two klutzs in the same neighborhood-what are the odds?) We used to race our knee scooters on the sidewalk.

 

 

 

 

Then came the one that had zero humor. I was out fly fishing in the back of beyond, Oregon, stepped in a hole with a branch across it, and snapped both bones in my lower right leg. Thank God there was cell service – I called 911 – a sheriff’s deputy zeroed on in the signal and found me about a 1/2 hour later. Problem was, it was an area of mud and downed trees – no way to get a stretcher to me – someone else would’ve broken their leg.

So everyone stood around (by then a few locals heard the yelling and stopped by) chatting about what to do (not me, I was the one doing the yelling). They finally came up with the idea of bringing a boat down the river, loading me on, and taking me to the ambulance waiting at a boat ramp. So that’s what they did. 

 

Then it was just 30 minutes on a dirt road (I felt every rut) and another 15 min to the hospital – all in all I think it was 2 hours from when I broke it until I got good drugs at the hospital. I was so happy I asked the doctor to marry me.

Surgery, a plate, 13 pins and a wire later, I was back together. The doctor released me two days later, but wouldn’t let me fly for another week. An angel stepped in – a lady I’d worked with years before lived in the area and gave up her BED to me for a week! 

 

That was it. I learned my lesson. No, I’m still riding motorcycles and fly fishing, but I’m being veeeeeery careful, now.

Oh the Research!

I think I win the award for the weirdest research trip ever. Don’t believe me? Read on.

I wrote a Women’s Fiction, Days Made of Glass. My main character is a woman bullfighter. Not the Spanish cape-and-tights kind, the American rodeo kind. When a bull rider is thrown, these guys step between a ticked-off bull and the downed rider.

Yeah, in a word – NUTS.

To my knowledge, there has never been a female professional bullfighter, so the concept and potential for conflict intrigued me for a long time. I was dying to write that book.

As a two-decade-long fan of bull riding, I know everything that could possibly be gleaned from watching it on TV, seeing events in person and talking to bull riders. I corresponded with several bullfighters, who generously offered to answer my questions (the photo above is of one of them). But to write about a woman who attends a bullfighting school, I would need to know a lot more.

Have I told you how much I love the internet?  I looked up rodeo schools in Texas, and came across Lyle Sankey’s Rodeo School. I emailed him, and he wrote back right away, and told me to come on down!

Lyle Sankey (on the ground) and his staff.

My husband and I drove to New Caney, outside Houston, over a Memorial Day weekend. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I showed up at 8 am on Saturday armed with a notebook, pen and tons of questions.

I learned a lot of technique and strategy, not only about bullfighting, but all the rough stock events: bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback riding. Even if that was all I’d learned, it would have made the trip worthwhile.

But I learned so much more.

The students ranged from 7 (!) to their mid-thirties. There were two girls. Some students wanted to do this for a living, some wanted to try it for the adventure. Lyle and his staff were amazing. Teaching someone to ride a bull requires more than just knowledge — the instructors were constantly watching to be sure that the student wasn’t only listening, but hearing. When you’re scared out of your mind, you don’t pay as close attention as you would otherwise. Many times I heard the bull-riding coach say, “Stop! Look at me.” Then, in a calm voice, he’d make sure that what he was saying sank in. After every ride the coach would go over with the student what he did right, what he did wrong and how to do better the next time.

First, lots of practice

7-year-old Carl, stretches before his ride.

The transformation in the students in three days was amazing. Not only in their skills, but I could see their confidence and self-esteem rise, hour by hour.

Lyle was teaching life lessons along with bull riding. At one point, a teen was getting ready and the bull leaned on his foot against the back of the chute. He whined. Lyle admonished him: “It’s time to Cowboy Up. That isn’t just a slogan on the bumper of a pickup, you know.” The kid was embarrassed and mad. He rode for two jumps, was bucked off and stomped out of the arena. Lyle followed him, talking the whole way. The kid wasn’t buying it. Lyle went back again ten minutes later, when the kid had calmed down and was more likely to listen.

You can’t pay someone to care that much. Lyle is a special man, who really cares about people.

In listening to Buddy Bush, the bullfighting coach, I learned more about what a rodeo life is. They are basically dirt-road gypsies. The life is much harder than I’d realized. But watching Buddy’s face as he told me stories, I could see how much he loves it. He believes he’s the luckiest guy out there. Isn’t that what everyone’s looking for?

Me, with Buddy Bush, Bull fighter and coach

Thanks to the research, and Lyle Sankey, the bullfighting in my book will be authentic.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I didn’t get on a bull, or in the arena with one.But if I were twenty years younger, I would have!

This is the book that came from that research: https://books2read.com/u/b6rz2J

Where I’m From – A Fun Excercise!


I discovered this years ago, and I enjoyed the trip down memory lane so much while creating this, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s a wonderful family keepsake.

And you don’t have to be a writer to do it – promise!

Below mine is the ‘Where I’m From’ template –  If you decide to try it, please post your results in the comments! 

Where I’m From

 

I’m from Johnson Baby Oil, lemon juice hair bleach, and swimming pool perfume. From standing on towels to protect bare feet from tarmac, waiting to pay Smitty the Ice Cream Man for my fudgicle. I’m from Lilac scented, kite flying, cloud watching summers.

I’m from shoelace skate key bracelets, homemade skateboards, and bicycle wheels clacking with playing cards. From kick the can, pickup softball games, and hide-n-seek until after dark when Mom yelled, including our middle names.  I’m from Gold Bell Gift Stamps, candy necklaces, and Vicks Vapo-Rub.

I’m from the big house on the corner, with the blue spruce dressed in red lights for Christmas. I’m from the room in the corner, with two windows, model horses, swimming ribbons, and a pet mouse, Scout. I’m the one on the left of the couch, Steve on the right, Nancy in the middle. I’m from the creek that ran through woods, all the way to Hidden Lake. I’m from the Civic theater with Tarzan, slow-pokes and ancient, popcorn-scented darkness.

I’m from Shakotko bones and Stutte high foreheads. From Lanie’s sweet smile, and Marge’s distracted love. From Nancy’s elfin face, bullheaded stubbornness, and undying loyalty. I’m from put your finger on your hand to show where you live Michiganders, hockey on TV with my chin on dad’s hip and, after the Lions losing on Thanksgiving in Tiger’s stadium, coming home to the smell of Mom’s turkey and dressing.

 I’m from Angry God Baptists, singing in the choir, and the golden-naved church I thought I’d be married in, and never was. I’m from Russia and Saskatoon, Livonia, and Petoskey, pirogues and pasties. I’m from shit on a shingle, milk toast, tuna casserole and Jiffy Pop.

I’m the keeper of treasures: photos, Christmas ornaments, and Toto’s Styrofoam Reindeer from first grade. From Nancy’s library, to her ‘I Love You’ charm around my neck, keeping a promise all these years she’s been gone.

####

 

The WHERE I’M FROM Template

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description… adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from _______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the _______ (description of family tendency) and _______ (another one).

From _______ (something you were told as a child) and _______ (another).

I am from (representation of religion, or lack of it). Further description.

I’m from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).

 

I Have a WINNER!

 

I know it’s early – but I try to spend the evenings with my husband, so I leave my office early. Thank you everyone, for making me feel so welcome – I know I’m going to love it here!

The winner of my July release, Cowboy for Keeps, is, KRISTI!

Watch for an email from me.

In case you didn’t win, and want to check it out – HERE is a link to buying sites.

Have fun, and stay safe everyone.

Laura