The Kid in All of Us

TootleI just attended a baby shower and, being a writer, I came up with books as gifts. So they’re in my head right now. I gave her the mother-to-be four favorite books that I read to my daughters when they were little.

Tootle

I think Tootle is THE book for a young mom to read to her children. It’s a Little Golden Book. The moral of the story is: There are nothing but red flags for little trains who get off the tracks. 

Now it might take a bit of considering because that moral is pretty well buried in the silliness of little Tootle frolicking in a field of wildflowers when he’s supposed to be practicing being a locomotive. But this is a deep truth. There truly are nothing but red flags for little trains who get off the tracks. 

I have a day job working with people who are off the tracks in a major way. And there are NOTHING but red flags in these people’s lives. Read your babies and grandbabies Tootle and make sure they get the point. 

The Big Orange Splot

The Big Orange SplotTo go with Tootle I loved The Big Orange Splot by D. Manus Pinkwater. Some people mistake Tootle as a call to live a life of conformity. But there is a difference between following your dreams and being off the tracks. The Big Orange Splot is all about loving what is special about you. Plus, it’s a book long poem and it’s a joy to read. 

My house is me

And I am it

And it looks like all my dreams. 

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Next is ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ by Robert Louis Stevenson. This is the classic best book for children in my humble opinion. 

The Swing

 How do you like to go up in a swing?

Up in the air so blue?

Oh, I do think it’s the pleasantest thing,

Ever a child can do. 

A Child’s Garden of VersesThere are a whole collect of these beautiful, child centered classic poems. I used to recite that poem while I’d push my daughters on the swing and they learned to say it along with me. 

I think this one is hilarious, so how far have we come from this?

The Whole Duty of Children

A child should always say what’s true

And speak when he is spoken to

And behave mannerly at table

At least as far as he is able.

Maude and Claude Go AbroadMaude and Claude Go Abroad

The final one is “Maude and Claude Go Abroad” by Susan Meddaugh. This again is a book length poem. Susan Meddaugh is simply a genius. The way she twists the word to create her poem full of humor and whimsy is just a delight.

My favorite of many lines:

And then we laid eyes on

Land on the horizon. 

I just love that the woman rhymed ‘eyes on’ with ‘horizon’. That’s just creative and funny and the book is full of smart, sharp language like this.

So what’s your favorite book from childhood? Yours and/or your childrens’? Do you read books to children? Do you read for fun, to teach, to quiet the little monsters down so they’ll go to sleep?Let’s talk about books that bring out the kid in us. 

Be My Valentine – Times Four!

Valentine’s Day for the Girls

Not a great picture-fuzzy-but I’ve talked about how Clay in Petticoat Ranch wasn’t used to being around women and I modeled Clay just a bit after my husband, from a family of seven boys and now we’ve got four daughters.

This is the Valentine’s Day of 1984. My three oldest daughters–Josie 5, Wendy 3, Shelly 3 months. My husband would bring me and each of the girls flowers. I’d get three roses and they’d each get one or I’d get a floral arrangement and they’d each get a tiny one, like in this picture.

One year he went to pick the girls up from a neighbor who was babysitting them and he took the BABYSITTER a single rose.

That wasn’t so good though as she told me later that her brat husband hadn’t given her anything so my husband’s Valentine was the best she got. Not exactly good news for her husband!

Anyway, though my husband sometimes struggles to understand women, he did okay a lot of the time. 🙂

MySpace for Dummies

MySpaceFirst let me preface this by saying: Everything is all right NOW! 

But—I read an article in RWR magazine a while back about how you cannot miss out on MySpace if you want to promote your work. Well, I’m on MySpace and all 759 of my close personal friends are no doubt reading Petticoat Ranch right this second.The page is up and running now, but it wasn’t always so easy.

RWR didn’t tell me the dark side of MySpace—and no, I’m not talking about the vampires who have their own pages. That is the subject of another column. Far darker than the blood-sucking living dead is me trying to create my own page. I’ve spent, oh, I’m sure it just seems like a decade trying to figure out MySpace.Finally, my 17-year-old daughter Katy took pity on me and showed me how to invite people to be my friends and how to—forgive me—pimp my page. Where do kids come up with these things?

And why do they have the nerve to say them to their mothers?! 

Anyway, I invited a bunch of people to be my friends. It felt kind of, well, nervy, you might say; like a bad high school party you go to and everyone gives you the “Who invited you?” look. But Katy pep-talked me into it, so I did it.Then after all the invites went out, I tried to, umm, you know to my page and—forgive me again—somehow ended up with a stripper as my background picture.

She was not there when I selected from among the 1,000,000 background choices. And sure, they can’t show you everything on the background, but c’mon! You’d think they’d include it if there was a stripper!! And she was moving—there were shots of her wearing less and less. It was very high-tech in a triple-X kind of way. Did I mention I did this after I invited all these friends? Excellent. Nice surprise if they come and check things out, huh? I invite you to MySpace and a stripper opens the door. Just the impression I want to make!So, of course, on the very day someone might actually agree to be my friend—“hello 38 Double D.”Calico Canyon Cover
 
And the only way I could get rid of g-string girl was to get rid of everything, including a bunch of scary-looking lines of code.  Think “Nightmare on Elm Street” with a computer monitor. 

 I don’t even really know what code means, except it’s numbers and symbols and letters that mean nothing to me. I hated to erase it because once it’s gone, there’s no getting it back—not with my computer skills. But either the code went or the stripper stayed and honestly, there was just no chance the clothing challenged girl could stay, what with my friends coming over soon, so I had to delete it all.

So, I lost the stripper and everything else too, except my book cover and a blurb about the book, and of course this nice, growing list of friends. Did you know I’m now friends with Tim McGraw? Yeah, right! Me and Tim! BFFs.  

I now have many friends, most of whom I have stolen from other author acquaintances’ sites and, well, I’m worried. I mean, honestly, do my friends love me for myself? I think not. I’m guessing I’m not going on Tim McGraw’s Christmas card list. And how badly can we abuse the word friend, huh? And why, oh why, did Faith Hill dye her hair brunette—what was she thinking?

So that’s my adventure into cyberspace. If you want to invite me to be your friend (and you’re not afraid), I’m completely open to it (http://www.myspace.com/petticoatranch). Just remember the more I drag you inside my head the more you’re going to need a GPS tracking system so when you call for help—and believe me, you will—the police can find you and save you. And just one more point: I wouldn’t be able to help you run the GPS tracker so you’d be on your own there, too. 

Next up? Facebook. If I survive, I’ll report back.

cover_petticoatranch_sm.jpg

So how are you with technology? Ever accidentally logged onto some site you were afraid would make Homeland Security kick down your door? And what about research? Authors are always looking for a way to kill someone in a fresh and entertaining way…good luck running for President and not having the, “Seventy-five Fastest Acting Poison’s” website show up in the opposition research. Or the fact that you’ve checked out, “Severing A Human Head” from the library…six times.

Tell me about you and technology. The wonder…and the terror!

Black Gold, Texas Tea, Y’all Come Back Now, Here?

BootsIn my research for Gingham Mountain’s oil story angle I found out so many interesting things that I could have written the whole book about it. First how come my bad guy recognizes the oil seeping up out of the ground as valuable while the guy who owns the land just thinks whatever it is fouls his water? It’s because oil was still in it’s infancy in 1880. There wasn’t much market for kerosene because coal oil was inexpensive and wood and candles provided heat and light so simply, why consider another source. It reminds me just a little bit of us, now in American…well all over the world. These days oil seems simple and other sources of power seem complicated and expensive, like solar power and nuclear power. So we don’t make much use of them.

Here’s why my bad guy knew and my cowboy hero didn’t. He was from Pennsylvania. In the early 1850s, a Pittsburgh druggist named Samuel Kier began selling bottled oil from his father’s brine wells as “Pennsylvania Rock Oil”, but met with little success. One day a whale oil dealer, processed a small amount of Kier’s “tonic” to make a lighter oil that burned well in a lamp. When Kier heard about this, he began using a one-barrel whiskey still of his own to convert his rock oil into lamp oil. After Kier upgraded his still to five-barrel capacity, Pittsburgh forced him to move his operation to a suburb out of fear of an explosion. In or around 1854, Benjamin Silliman of Yale University successfully distilled oil into several fractions, including an illuminating oil – kerosene.

cover_petticoatranch_sm.jpgI thought this was really interesting. One barrel. Get that? His ‘refinery’ was one whiskey barrel in which he converted rock oil into lamp oil. So in Gingham Mountain, the third book in my series that begins with Petticoat Ranch, I felt like it was safe to have a small time refinery. But I didn’t want my bad guy to set up the refinery himself because he needed to sneak in and out of the oil seep to steal the oil and he wouldn’t want to leave a trail. So he hauls his stolen oil to the nearest town and ships it to someone who refines it.

For years they ‘harvested’ the oil by skimming it off a creek, producing at the peak, six to ten gallons a day, so this is how my bad guy is harvesting his oil. But the twist that came after the skimming was drilling. In the summer of 1859 the experiment with drilling began. Although progress was slow, usually three feet a day in shale bedrock, they reached a depth of 69½ feet by August 27. When the drilling tools were pulled from the well one morning, they noticed oil rising in the hole. After installing a hand-operated lever pump borrowed from a local kitchen, the first day’s production was about twenty-five barrels. Production soon dropped off to a steady ten barrels or so a day, and the well is said to have continued at that rate for a year or more. Although this well was no gusher, it was the beginning of an idea. Titusville transformed almost overnight from a quiet farm town to an oil boom town of muddy roads, hastily constructed wooden derricks, and noisy steam engines. The Pennsylvania oil boom was on! This was in 1859, two years later the first oil well was drilled in Calfornia. Sites continued to be discovered steadily through 1878, the year Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and overnight the demand for kerosene plummeted as electric lights caught on. The oil industry entered a recession that didn’t fully recover until the invention of the first practical gas powered automobile in 1886—I could write a whole blog about this too. Fascinating. Horse and CarEven with the car appearing, it wouldn’t be affordable until they began rolling off the assembly line. The first to do this was Ransome Eli Olds in 1901, followed quickly by Henry Ford.

And also in 1901, the Spindletop gusher came in near Beaumont, Texas. Spindletop was not the first nor the biggest, but  it was one of the great gushers of all time, and, most important, it heralded the birth of the Texas oil industry. spindletop1.jpg

Spindletop blew in when Anthony Lucas, a Louisiana mining engineer, drilled a well to 1,020 feet on a lease owned by Texas businessman and amateur geologist Patillo “Bud Higgins”. Lucas placed his well on a low hill that he and Higgins thought might be a salt dome, and when the ground began to tremble on that fateful day in January and a great spout of oil exploded into the air, it confirmed their belief that oil accumulated around salt domes. The well produced an astounding 800,000 barrels of oil in just 8 days.

By September, there were at least six wells producing from the crest of Spindletop, with many more on the way. Total production from the field in 1985 stood at 153 million barrels.

One of the reasons the oil and the cars is so interesting is because of the innovation of it all. I read on one of the research sites that there are over 100,000 patents that led to the invention of the first automobile. There was a fortune to be made if you were first, if you made a tiny improvement in an old patent.

flintlock.jpgWatch the History of the Gun sometime on the History Channel. It’s like the story of America. The race to patent improvements, cars are like that, and oil…finding uses for it made people rich. Thomas Edison, the Wizard of Menlo Park, had an INVENTION FACTORY. People would come in and say, “Can you make this egg beater electric?” And he’d do it.

Think about the way we’re surrounded with technology now and think back to…smoke signals…the pony express…telegraph lines…airmail…the phones with cranks and operators with wires to plug in to connect people. Now, we can’t make cell phones small enough. iphone.jpg

Could any of us really survive in the rugged west or are we too soft and too far removed from the chicken coop to the cut up chicken on the styrofoam plate in your grocer’s freezer.

What’s the most amazing invention to you? What’s your favorite?

DON’T CONFUSE ME WITH THE FACTS!

I kind of wrote myself into a corner with Gingham Mountain Book #3 in the Lassoed in Texas series. Petticoat Ranch is book #1.

So I’ve got all these ELEMENTS I need to deal with from books #1 and #2, plus the new ones for this book.

 spindletop.jpgELEMENT #1 oil. Honestly before kerosene was widely used no one cared about oil. It was just this awful smelling stuff that polluted ground water and, although people knew it would burn if refined, refining was a lot of trouble and no one did it much because there was no money in it.

Oil wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a little one. What’s an oil refinery look like in 1880? Was there one in Texas? Can you build your own small one?

Before long I was wishing I’d never even thought of oil. But it was so interesting and I’ll write a whole blog about it sometime.

The next ELEMENT was the Civil War. The war is over, but it can’t be too long over because my characters were named and set in time by the earlier books. The Civil War caused me all sorts of trouble because of the next ELEMENT, trains.

I needed a train.

Old Train Engine

Well, was there a train in Texas after the Civil War? How soon did train travel resume? Did it ever end? Did it end north and south but not east and west. You’ve got to figure there were no trains coming from New York, across the Mason/Dixon Line during the war.

And I needed a train because of the next ELEMENT Orphan Trains. Orphan Trains came to Texas but the dates were really vague. Orphan Trains traveled from 1850 to 1920. So the dates are so wide…YES the Orphan Trains came, but when exactly and to where?

And … here’s an odd ELEMENT that took me a surprising amount of work to track down.

I needed a mountain.

So, Beaumont, Texas seemed to be the center of early oil activity and I wrote the book, placing it in a fictional town but they’d travel to nearby Beaumont. Except, I was sure I’d found evidence of some rugged ground in the general Beaumont area, but I couldn’t find it again. In fact just the opposite. Beaumont is in the Texas Coastal Plain. I could include some info here for you about the Texas Coastal Plain but trust me, the main sticking point for me as I researched was the constant references to low-swampy ground…for (I’m estimating) one zillion square miles.

  GRRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!

Anyway, by now I’m juggling balls in the air. We talk a lot on this blog about loving research. You know what? I hate research.

Oh, I enjoy the reading, honestly the stuff I read about the Spindletop oil well–that’s an actual picture of it above–coming in is just the stuff dreams are made of. Thrilling. It’s the story of American ingenuity and a new era in this country. I loved reading about the Orphan Trains and even trains in general. Heck I even liked studying Texas geography on Google Earth.

But I’m typing along and suddenly I’m not sure if there was train travel … I had someone from Book #1 Petticoat Ranch and #2 Calico Canyon coming in on the train to visit the characters of Book #3 Gingham Mountain so there’d better have been trains.Petticoat Ranch Cover

So I’m having fun, my couple is snipping and dancing around each other, bad guys are closing in and and I’ve got to quit to find out if I can produce a mountain. You know, the mountain that is tucked up behind the cabin…the mountain Gingham Mountain is named for and which one of the characters falls off of and where the treacherous stand of trees that really is completely integral to his home and why did I ….oh forget it.

Trust me when I tell you, it’s way easier if you the reader just suspend disbelieve and go along for the ride. I mean if I need a mountain, a train, a historical date, Texas, oil and orphans, what am I supposed to do? Somewhere in that state I can have it all but it can be hard work and it’s way more fun to dwell on how hunky the hero is and how feisty my heroine is. I wish I could just make it all up, you know?

 

So have you read books that get it wrong? Does that make you crazy? If I’ve got a mountain on a low-swampy coastal plain am I gonna hear about it?

I wish no one would confuse me with the facts.

…Wearin’ a Dress

Wearin’ a Dress

 Rogers Astaire  Fred Astaire is one of the most acclaimed dancers in American history. Ginger Rogers, too, but she never earned the fame Astaire did. I heard Ginger Rogers said, “I did everything Fred did, only I had to do it backward, in high heels, wearing a dress.

           And yet Astaire was the big star. 

           And that brings me to Sacajawea. Yes, there is going to be something about the west in this, it’s NOT about ballroom dancing.

This teenager, age estimated at 17-years-old, accompanied this group of rugged soldiers all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Saved their lives more than once, probably had to do all the cooking (oh, maybe not) and she did it with a baby strapped on her back wearin’ a dress.

            But do they call it the Sacajawea Expedition? No-o-o-o-o-o!

            I couldn’t even find for sure how to spell her name because Lewis and Clark kept journals and spelled it differently, phonetically I suppose. Sacajawea didn’t speak English. How could she tell them how to spell her own name? She wouldn’t have known where to begin spelling it.

           I read the book Sacajawea by Anna L. Waldo years ago and I just loved that story of the young woman, sold into slavery, one of two wives to this…by most accounts, abusive drunken French fur trader, Charbonneau, leading Lewis and Clark through the Rocky Mountains.

           Man, I think I’ve got it hard when my car’s air conditioning goes on the fritz.

           The Lewis and Clark expedition recruited Sacagawea’s husband, to accompany them westward, expecting to make use of Sacagawea’s ability to speak to the Shoshone. The expedition expected that they would need to trade with the Shoshone for horses. Sacagawea spoke no English, but she could translate to Hidatsa to Charbonneau, who could translate to French for Francois Labiche, a member of the expedition, who could translate into English for Lewis and Clark. It had to be like a multi-cultural game of Telephone, passing the words back and forth through those translations.

             They really wanted Sacagawea, even more than Charbonneau, yet he got hired, and you know he got the money.

             Accompanied by her infant son, Sacagawea set out with the expedition for the west.

             This reminds me of an episode of Walker Texas Ranger.

              Have you ever noticed that when someone is insanely tough, the writers have to weaken him before they bring the enemy in. Superman and Kryptonite? John Wayne with a bullet lodged in his spine. Walker and oh, say, an army with automatic weapons.

Walker’s been bitten by one hundred scorpions. He shakes that off and saves the day, then collapses near death afterward. If he’s not weakened (and Sacagawea doesn’t have a baby strapped on her back and wearin’ a dress) it’s just not a fair fight.

Her memory of Shoshone trails proved valuable, according to some sources; according to others, she did not serve as a guide to the trails so much as to find useful foods and medicines along the way. Her presence as an Indian woman with a baby helped to convince Indians that this party of whites was friendly. And her translation skills, however indirect from Shoshone to English, were also invaluable at several key points.

The only woman on the trip, she also cooked, foraged for food, and sewed, mended and cleaned the clothes of the men. Yes, the expedition members hunted for food, too. But that means mainly they shot deer. Once they were crossing the Rockies in treacherous winter weather, her knowledge of edible plants saved the day. To their credit, Lewis and Clark treated Sacagawea as a valuable member of the party, even giving her and York, Clark’s enslaved black servant, a full vote in deciding where to spend the winter of 1805-6. It would be more than a century later when women were given the right to vote. 

So she fed them, sheltered them from hostile Indians and led them through the

Rockies. And she did all this with a baby on her back, wearin’ a dress, just to make it fair.

Sacagwea Coin

In recent years more has been written about Sacagawea and the dollar coin honoring her helped everyone see her contribution.

I’ve thought it would be an interesting series of books to write about the women who were standing right beside the men making history.

           Daniel Boone was married, Davy Crocket, too, and Kit Carson. Who were these women? What were their lives like? Often they got left behind, but even so, many were left in unsettled places. They seem like fertile ground for novels and a part of the largely untold story of taming the west, wearin’ a dress.

              What historical western women, real or fictional, most interest you? Who would make a good character in a novel? How can we get their stories told?