Story Ideas ~ Imagination Mining and Lightening Strikes


Every writer’s process is different for developing stories. Personally, I can’t just sit down and write a story.  I have to see it, hear it…the characters have to talk to me, compel me to want to learn more about them, to care about them.  In November I began to embark on writing a new western series…well…almost.  I began to think about writing a new series. This is the first time I have finished a book and didn’t have another already in the works. I was starting with a blank page and this vague idea to write a BookGrowseries based on the founding and development of a western boomtown. But where, who, and what historical element could I tap into? Too many options can be a mind-boggling thing!  I went on a research book-buying spree and poured over books about pioneer doctors, pioneer teachers, mail-order brides, western madams, desperados, railroads and ranchers–in a sense I was mining for characters, sparks of inspiration to help me form a community. I read countless intriguing tales, and yet, nothing really called to me, no voices or faces of new characters formed in my mind. I’m not one to take notes (I’d only lose them), either something takes hold in my mind or it doesn’t. I needed a series title, character names. For me, these are cornerstones I use to build a visual foundation and a connection to my story.

It wasn’t until I’d gone to Borders to find a World War II book for one of my boys that I happened across GREAT MAPS OF THE CIVIL WAR—not just a map book, but one with a pocket on each page containing a map of a major battle, and on the pages were accounts and information about the cartographers who drew those maps. I had never realized what a huge part these map makers played in the war or the danger they faced. Cartographers on both sides risked their lives to survey battle grounds where opposing troops patrolled and capturing the others maps was a prized advantage. I was mesmerized for days and began to see an image of a hero, a scarred and callous Civil War veteran and skilled cartographer who’s life now has no direction (much like my writing at this point!).  One tidbit of information that had stuck out in my mind from earlier readings about post Civil War was the movement of the railroad and their campaigns to lay routes into the mining territories of Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. Since I’ve already written a series in Wyoming, minerthe other two states were at the top of my list for possible locations. This newly forming hero was the perfect candidate for a railroad surveyor team to travel  into the western frontier for possible railroad routes. 


I still had no heroine, no set location, no burning drive to lead this team in one direction or another. All through November and December as I shopped and worked on my house I chipped away at the hardpan of my brain, trying to find the vein of my story.  As of last week I was still waffling between Colorado and Montana…did the heroine meet up with the men on the trail or was she already in a mining community–was she a widow, a virgin, a spitfire with a grudge against the railroad? What was the significance of their first encounter? Nothing would stand out and sing to me. I needed a bolt of lightening!! Just one strong jolt to charge this story and bring my characters to life!


This past Monday my boys went back to school and as I drove home in the blessed silence, I heard it, this soft whisper in my mind…Copper Canyon.  I don’t know lighteningwhere those particular words came from—perhaps the copper faucets I’ve been trying to decide on for the new kitchen (still haven’t moved home), but this moment was the lightening strike I’d been waiting for, the charge of inspiration to breath life into these characters who’d been bumping around in my mind, waiting to be grounded. I got home and Googled Copper and Montana. Wouldn’t you know, Montana had the world’s largest copper mine, first discovered in the early 1870’s–the major vein wasn’t tapped into until the 1890’s–the early claims were just enough to start small booms–Eureka!!!!!


After two months of mining and chiseling out vague impressions of character story arcs my Copper Canyon Series has life!  In the past few days I’ve been fleshing out the characters and storyline which has been unfolding in my mind with bold color. This is a picture I sent to my editor with the suggestion for the series title…the working series title, which could change–as they usually do 😉 



This is where I’ll be for the next few months, and the months after that as I dig into the second book in the series–which is already coming along nicely–strange how a single spark can make such a huge difference.


Here’s wishing lots of lightening strikes for all y’all!  Anyone else’s new year starting off with a bang?  I hit a bit of a bump on Tuesday when I got a speeding ticket after dropping off my boys *ggg* My resolution was to find balance in ’09, so I guess that balanced out my excitement from Monday–I guess I need balance and Cruise Control  😉


My upcoming June Anthology STETSONS, SPRING AND WEDDING RINGS, with authors Jillian Hart and Judith Stacy, is already up for Pre-order on Amazon! 

Catherine Stang and Medicine in the Old West

A big thanks to the ladies from Petticoats and Pistols for inviting me to come blog! 


When I was working on my new release, The Bargain, I had a rare chance to do research with my husband.  (Not the way you’re thinking.  LOL.)  Like the hero in my story, my husband is a doctor, although in a different specialty.  The history of medicine is a hobby of my husband’s, so he enjoyed sharing with me what it was like to be a doctor back in the 1800’s.  I’d like to share with you what I discovered.       


The first Medical College in America was founded at the University of Pennsylvania in 1765.   American medicine in the mid-19th century was a far cry from today’s curriculum of 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3-6 years of residency training.


Most aspiring doctors would spend a few months in a medical school for 2 terms, often without having a college degree, then spend a year or two apprenticed to a practicing doctor where they would learn the practical aspects of patient care.  Medical students were renowned for their raucous and drunken behavior.  Most medical schools in America were privately owned and run by individual doctors.


 Medical techniques were still rudimentary.  No anesthesia, save for perhaps intoxicating the patient with liquor, was available at that time for surgery – even ether was not yet available.  A surgeon was prized for his ability to perform operations quickly due to the pain, and a good surgeon could, for example, amputate a leg in about 2 minutes.


Antibiotics were still decades in the future, so post-op infections were the rule, with mortality rates for even simple operations running about 50%.  Wounds were usually cauterized with boiling oil or hot pokers after surgery.  The operating theaters in hospitals were often located in towers or in a separate building so that other patients could not hear the screams of the surgery patients.  Surgeries of the abdomen or chest were uniformly fatal.


Medicine theory was still grounded in the passive, nature-based principles of Hippocrates, a Greek physician from 4th century BC, and Galen, the 2nd century AD Roman physician. Some herbs were available in 19th century America and some plants were used, such as the foxglove plant which provided digitalis for dropsy, or congestive heart failure, but the mechanism of action was unknown and doses were not precise.


Hospital wards were unsanitary to say the least – often 3-4 patients shared a bed, and one could often awaken to find oneself sleeping with the corpse of a bedfellow who had passed on during the night.  Doctors had little knowledge of the germ theory, which was doubted and ridiculed by some doctors, so handwashing between patient visits, or even between the doctor doing an autopsy and examining his next patient, was rare.  No wonder people would do most anything to avoid going into a hospital when they could.


With standard medicine in such a state, many people sought out herbalists or homeopaths who, even if their nostrums were ineffective, at least did little harm and let the patient heal by themselves if possible.  This was preferable to the frequent bloodletting or provision of emetics and strong purgatives to make the patient vomit or have diarrhea which were among the “heroic medicine” treatments most doctors used at the time.


Of necessity, medical practice advanced during the Civil War, possibly due to the sheer number of patients. Attention began to be paid to basic hygiene as cause and effect perhaps became more readily apparent, and army physicians began to compare notes on epidemics and infection. Slowly, new methods of dealing with traumatic injuries were developed and patient care overall began to improve, although it was still primitive. Some believe that medicine advanced more during the Civil War than during any other four-year period in history.


My latest release, The Bargain, takes place in a Union field hospital in the closing days of the Civil War. It is the jumping off point for my Western series, Finding Home. Researching the medical practices of the time gave me a greater sense of admiration for the doctors of the Old West and what they went through to try to help others. 


I have an autographed copy of my new release The Bargain to give away. I’ll draw a winner from all the comments.  Thanks in advance for stopping by to leave a comment. 


The Bargain is available in print & e book from 


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When An Old Man Dies, A Library Burns Down

petticoat-ranch-cover-small.bmpCivil War Widows 

In Petticoat Ranch, my hero Clay fought in the Civil War as did Sophie’s first husband. Research can really lead you into fascinating areas. I saw this head line on a story the other day.

Gertrude Janeway, 93, Is Dead; Last Widow of a Union Soldier

Gertrude Grubb Janeway, age 93, died Friday Jan. 19, 2003, at her home in Blaine, Tenn. She lived in a three-room log cabin bought for her by her husband in 1927. She was the last surviving widow of a Union soldier. Her husband, John Janeway, died in 1937 at age 91.Gertrude Janeway Civil War Widow She married her husband in 1927 when she was 18 and he was 81. In an interview in 1998 she said they sparked for three years because her mother would not sign for her to marry. As a Union widow pensioner Janeway received $70 per month from the Veterans Administration until the day she died. Gertrude never remarried and talked all her life about how much she loved John. So that article led me to this one:

Alberta Martin, 97, Confederate Widow, DiesCivil War Widow Alberta Janeway

The person thought to be the last-known Confederate widow, Alberta Martin, was born Dec, 4, 1906, and died at age 97 in Alabama on May 31, 2004. In 1927, at age 21, she married William Jasper Martin, then 81. William and Alberta had one son. Mrs. Martin died nearly 140 years after the Civil War ended.Her marriage in the 1920s to Civil War veteran William Jasper Martin and her longevity made her a celebrated final link to the old Confederacy.And, do you think we’re done yet? No!

Widow recalls marrying Civil War veteran

Maudie Hopkins Civil War WidowThe publicity surrounding Alberta Martin’s death prompted relatives of Maudie Celia Hopkins of Arkansas to reveal that the 89-year-old was in fact the last civil war widow.

Hopkins married 86-year-old William Cantrell on Feb. 2, 1934, when she was 19.To me this is almost staggering…isn’t it? C’mon! It’s history come to life. Our links to the past seem so distant and, as I sit here typing on my computer, and click around on the World Wide Web–sometimes annoyed because it takes WEBSITES too long to open–I get hit with this. Someone is still alive today who was married to a Civil War veteran. In the historical western novels the Petticoats and Pistols fillies write we have to capture that long ago time. But as long as Maudie Celia Hopkins is still alive, that history is now.Who is the oldest person you know?

Any veterans in your past?

My father, Jack Moore—who never did much traveling at all until he retired, spent a year and a half in Korea. There’s traveling for you. Can your parents remember when the lights went on? My mom and mother-in-law can. Ask them about it. You can see the amazement in their eyes at the miracle of an electric light bulb. At church one day someone mentioned WWII and I asked the lady who brought it up, ‘Did your husband go to war?’ She said, “Everybody went.”

I remember someone saying Laura Ingalls Wilder came west on a wagon train and lived to see a rocket launched into space. It’s just not that long ago.

Tell me what the oldest person you know lived through. World War II? The Dust Bowl? The Depression? And if you don’t know the answer to that, go talk to them. Have you ever heard the saying,

“When an old man dies, a library burns down.”

There is a book in everybody’s story, and a library in an old person’s story.

Who’s the oldest person you know? Tell me about your own living history.

Mary Connealy Signature Icon