I’m so happy to be visiting Petticoats & Pistols today. For the past five years my romance novels have focused on cowboys and ranch settings, specifically in my favorite state of Montana. Full disclosure here, I’m actually a Canadian, living on the border of the Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Alberta. But four years ago my spouse-to-be and I fell in love with a cottage on Flathead Lake, south of Glacier National Park in Montana, and the love affair has only grown since then. (For the guy and the cottage!)
Maybe this photo will help explain the appeal:
To get to this cottage Mike and I drive through some of the best ranching land in the world (stopping frequently so I can take photos).
In fact the highway south of Calgary is called “The Cowboy Trail” and it leads almost the entire way to Montana. And the further south we go, the more beautiful it becomes.
See what I mean? So, loving Montana the way I do, is it any wonder when my friend Jane Porter called to invite me to write for a new publishing company she was starting (Tule Publishing) and suggesting we begin with a series of romances featuring cowboys in a fictional town in Paradise Valley Montana, that I said: Hell yes!
It isn’t just the scenery in Montana that I love. It’s the emphasis on family, intrinsic to the cowboy way of life, the code of honor the men and women of the west live by, and their love and appreciation for their land and their animals. All of these qualities are wrapped up into the 6 book series that I’ve subsequently written for Tule. All is not sunshine for the Carrigans of the Circle C however. There are secrets that divide, family conflicts, painful losses and other obstacles along the path to love and forgiveness.
The latest book in this series came out this October. A Bramble House Christmas is about a grieving man and a lonely woman who travel to Marietta, Montana for the holidays…never expecting the magic they will find on they arrive. I love writing Christmas stories for many of the same reasons I’m drawn to cowboys and ranch settings. I appreciate the way we focus on home, family and hearth at that time of year. It’s the season to reflect on the things that are really important in life. At the end of each story, I strive to leave my readers with a smile on their face and a tear in their eye.
Thanks so much for inviting me to your blog to chat about what I love about Montana, westerns and Christmas romances. Now it’s time to hear from you. What do you look for when you pick up a Christmas romance? And do you love western settings as much as I do? I’ll be giving away an e-book copy of Snowbound In Montana and A Cowgirl’s Christmas to two random commenters.
p.s. On my website right now is a contest for a Kobo Glo HD. Please take the time to enter and to sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to hear about my future releases and reader giveaways.
I absolutely adore the Victorian years…indeed, those golden decades when Queen Victoria sat her throne. And as we know, what the good queen mandated across the big pond, so obeyed the middle and upper class of America.
During this era, participating in genteel pastimes allowed a well-heeled lady freedom from the humdrum of her everyday life of reading, playing the piano, or passementarie needlework. Any opportunity to appreciate the great outdoors would most certainly be well accepted. From croquet to tennis to horseback riding, these informal, yet socially-appropriate, affairs helped to bring excitement to her life. Yet, no task delivered as much enjoyment as did the recreation called archery.
When the Queen of England proclaimed her love of this hobby, deeming it worthy of a lady’s attention, her vanguard of devoted followers took heart. Archery caught on like wildfire, blazing across nineteenth-century womankind to become the first organized, competitive sport for females. But ladies never lost sight of their femininity. In fact, at the Grand National Archery meeting in Norwich, England, in 1866, the first prize was a magnificent Spitalfields Silk shawl — a coveted item, to be sure! By 1880, archery clubs for the genteel in America could be found coast-to-coast, but only the wealthiest women could afford the equipment needed to join.
A lady’s bow weighed 40 pounds at full draw and arrows were 30-inches long. Soon archery became the sport, which could even be enjoyed upon a whim as it did not require the changing of dress that accompanied the activities of croquet or tennis. In fact, the lady’s archer outfit simply consisted of her dress for the day. A small quiver containing extra arrows draped one shoulder. Across the archer’s other shoulder draped a “scoring kit,” of sorts. Inside this and usually made of silk was an ivory, acorn-shaped container that held beeswax to keep her gloved fingers from sliding off the bowstring, an ivory pencil, and a small, circular disc containing paper to keep score. Also tucked inside was an extra bowstring and several gold tokens. With every archery match won, the champion would receive a coin from each of her opponents.
Collecting these coveted tokens became the quest of every lady archer. The afternoon event was usually followed by a gala dinner and an evening of a grand and glorious ball. The wealthiest even built their own lodges to host said celebrations. So the next time we wonder what activities the affluent ladies of the Victorian era did to pass the time, now we know exactly which one they preferred.
Cindy will gift one ebook of With Open Arms to one blogger today!!
Historical romance writer Cindy Nord is the author of No Greater Glory, a number-one Civil War romance at Amazon for more than a year and book one in her four-book The Cutteridge Family series. With Open Arms, book two in the series, debuted in August 2014. Cindy also contributed to the non-fiction anthology Scribbling Women and the Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them. A blend of history and romance, her love stories meld both genres around action and emotionally driven characters.
A war-weary ex-soldier. An untamable hellion. Love doesn’t stand a chance in hell…
Hardened in childhood by the death of her parents, then left to run the family’s southwestern territory ranch when her brother rode off to fight for the Union years before, Callie Cutteridge hides her heartbreak behind a mask of self-sufficiency. Breaking horses for the army proves she’s neither delicate nor helpless. When a former cavalry officer shows up claiming to own her brother’s half of the Arizona ranch, she steels herself to resist the handsome stranger’s intention to govern even one single aspect of her life. After all, loving means losing…to her it always has.
For months, Jackson Neale has looked forward to putting the bloodstained battlefields back east behind him. Callie isn’t the agreeable angel her brother led him to believe, but he’s damned well not the useless rake this foul-mouthed hellion thinks he is, either. His quest for calm stability contradicts sharply with her need for control, yet still their heartstrings tangle. But how can these mistrusting partners transform their fiery passion into a happily-ever-after when all Callie knows how to do is fight…and all Jackson wants is peace?
Archery1_LaBelleAssemblee_1831.jpg: Illustration from La Belle Assemblee, 1831
Archery2_ScientificAmerican_1894.jpg: “Meeting of the Toxophilite Society.” Scientific American, 1894
Archery3_HarpersWeekly_1881.jpg: “The Archery Tournament, Prospect Park, Brooklyn.” Harper’s Weekly, July 23, 1881
Archery4_HarpersWeekly_1878.jpg: “Archery Practice on Staten Island.” Harper’s Weekly, 1878
Settings are something that, in a story, are a crucial element, and part of the reader’s sensory experience, but for the most part should be unobtrusive. You want the reader to feel as if they’re in the same time and place as the characters, but you don’t want the setting details to overshadow the story.
Don’t ask me how this happened, but over the past four or five years I’ve found myself firmly planted in the American West. I’ve written Demon Westerns in a dystopian future. I’ve got a paranormal “Cowboys and Aliens” alternate history story coming out soon. And my current release, Her Secret Love (#3 in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series from Tule Publishing), is a contemporary romance set on the shores of Flathead Lake, Montana. (Check out those images. My husband wants us to move there.)
I’m fairly confident my love affair with the West began the same way as that of most western romance fans—by reading Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. (How can those author names not appeal to romance readers?)My father recently gave me his entire Louis L’Amour collection—heaven. I tell him they’re Harlequin romances for men. I mean, come on. There’s always a strong woman character who needs a helping hand from the hero, but who can ultimately stand on her own.
The problem for me as a writer, however, is that I’m seriously setting-challenged. I’m an abstract thinker and not at all visual. I can’t read a map. (I once wrote an entire book with the locations upside down and backward from what they are in reality. So far, no one’s noticed.)Descriptive details bore me. And I live on the East Coast of Canada, surrounded by the Bay of Fundy and the Atlantic Ocean. We have a large dairy industry here, but if you try to compare our farms to Montana ranches…no.
This is what my world looks like:
Here’s my personal experience with the American West:
And in my head, here’s what I think the West looks like:
Mix those with the chase scenes from Mad Max: Fury Road and I’m sure you can understand the challenge I face.
There are details about the world we each live in that, in our heads, are universal truths, but in reality, are anything but. When my youngest son began university, we took a few of his friends from Oman to see Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia. They kept asking if we could stop the car so they could explore the boggy wetlands that surround the Atlantic beach areas here. They live in the desert. They’d never seen wetlands before.
Cherry Lake, Montana might be a fictional town, but the location is not. Every time I had a bird chirp in Her Secret Love, I had to look up what kind of bird it might be. The trees are different. The grass is different. I had no idea what the seasons might be like. They turn at different times from what I’m used to. Sunrise and sunset aren’t the same. Not to mention, school starts so much earlier in Montana than it does here.
There are four books and one novella in the Secrets of Cherry Lake series. (Small Town Secrets is free on Amazon.com if anyone wants to check out the series.) That’s four authors who all had to coordinate setting details for the town and its inhabitants. We were lucky in that one of our authors, Jeannie Watts (The Secret Bride), is actually from the area. She’s the Tule Publishing resident expert on All Things Cherry Lake.
Writing this series was a lot of fun. Creating Cherry Lake was a great learning experience, too. I hope to write more stories in this particular setting.
And I hope readers will enjoy the Secrets of Cherry Lake as much as we enjoyed writing about them.
If you want to learn more about the Montana Born books offered by Tule Publishing, I’m giving away an e-copy of Cinderella’s Cowboy by USA Today Bestselling author Roxanne Snopek:
Sometimes princes look a lot like cowboys…
Chad Anders doesn’t know why mousy Cynthia Henley trips all over her tongue when she’s around him. Nor does he understand his undeniable attraction to this good girl. Wild and sexy is his type, like the dream-girl he caught a glimpse of years earlier he’s never forgotten.
Cynthia’s superpower is invisibility, especially with men. It’s better for everyone that way. Besides, she’s got a cat. She’s okay. But when playboy-rancher Chad hires her, she’s got a chance to shine. Professionally, at least. Until she learns of his fascination with a mysterious dream-girl, who was actually nothing more than a shy teenager on an ill-advised dare all those years ago. Cynthia knows she’s no man’s dream-girl and never will be.
But there’s magic at the ball. Princesses glow in the starlight, princes appear out of nowhere, and, sometimes, they look a lot like cowboys…
In my latest release, FUGITIVE HEARTS, widow Claire Daines, who has confessed to killing her husband, slips away on a train bound for Texas to search for her runaway foster son. Attempting to evade Sheriff Frank Garrity, she makes an unscheduled detour through lawless Mus-ko-gee.
The town of Mus-ko-gee—named for the Muskhogean people, the Creeks who inhabited that part of Indian Territory—sprang up overnight. Literally. The day the Katy Railroad drove stakes to mark land reserved for the depot and adjacent wagon ground, several tents and board shacks appeared, providing gambling, liquor and whores.
“Before breakfast, one man was dead and the murderer was being chased over the prairies by a lot of men. So, Mus-ko-gee was born in blood.” Locating Engineer F.O. Martin, later dean of the School of Engineering at University of Kansas.
The town’s first “citizens” were mostly the rabble that infested the previous terminus points of the expanding rail line. In fact, folks called this brand of criminal “terminuses” because they followed the railroad to each terminal point, looking for easy pickings.
“Three men were shot about twenty feet from our (rail) car in one night at Muskogee. Oh, this was a little hell, this was! The roughs took possession in earnest… There was no law here and no means of getting any.” George Reynolds, Special Agent to the Indian Territory
One visitor appalled by the lawlessness asked why the government didn’t do something about it. He was told, “there is no government, but lots of trials.” That is, if both parties were Indian, the offender would be tried under Indian law. If either party was a white, he would be tried at Fort Smith, and that was pretty much no trial. There was a reason the officiating judge, Roy Bean, had the nickname, The Hanging Judge.
In 1873, a writer from New York’s Scribner’s Magazine visited Muskogee’s version of “boot hill” where eleven men were buried with their boots on. “Each grave,” the reporter noted, “is a monument to murder.”
Brad Collins (who makes a brief appearance in FUGITIVE HEARTS) was a typical terminus type. He was a half-breed whiskey smuggler, a “desperado and a dead shot.” It was said he could throw a pistol in the air, catch it as it fell and hit a target at thirty paces. Even the other “shootists” in the Territory were in fear of him.
(Information, images and quotes taken from The Katy Railroad and the Last Frontier by V.V. Masterson)
In this excerpt, Sheriff Garrity catches Claire trying to evade him (again) and is escorting her to safety when they encounter the outlaw Brad Collins and members of his gang outside a saloon.
“Don’t talk.” The sheriff’s voice dipped low. “Keep going.”
Claire replied in a whisper. “I wasn’t planning to stop for a conversation.”
He slipped his arm around her waist and picked up the pace.
The three men cut them off at the street. The sheriff had to stop, attempt to run around them, or barrel through. He hesitated.
The bold sheriff never hesitated. She’d never known anyone with more courage than the lawman. What kind of men would scare him?
The one who confronted them had the blackest eyes she’d ever seen. Looking into them was like staring into the darkness of a sealed room. The soulless man smiled. That was even more terrifying. “Mister, she don’t look like she wants to be with you. Why don’t you hand her over?”
She clung to the sheriff’s arm.
“My wife isn’t feeling well. Let us pass.” Sheriff Garrity delivered the lie smoothly, as he tucked her behind him.
The cold-eyed man stopped smiling. His hand drifted to one of the revolvers in twin holsters strapped to his thighs.
“I wouldn’t do that,” the sheriff warned.
Claire’s heart fluttered into her throat. These devils would kill Frank to get to her and he knew it. She considered asking them nicely to step aside. But they weren’t the type to respond to polite requests or reason. One look told her they wanted what her cousin had wanted when he attacked her in the barn and tore her dress.
Wait… Hadn’t her “husband” said she wasn’t feeling well?
Claire screwed up her courage. “Ohhh!” she groaned and put her arm around her waist. She staggered in front of the sheriff and wove toward the other man with her hand outstretched. “Oh, sir, please…please help me! I-I’m terrible sick…”
“Claire, come back here!”
If the sheriff would play along, he might avoid getting killed.
The troublemaker reacted with surprise when she grabbed his sleeve. “Oh God, help me. Get me a doc,” she choked out. “I got…cholera.”
“Cholera? Christ!” The man couldn’t shake her off fast enough.
She gagged and retched. Couldn’t force anything out of her empty stomach, so she spit a wad of saliva on the ground and let it drip from her lips.
“Hell, Brad, she’s pukin’,” one of his companions blurted out. “She’ll infect you.”
The two cowards turned tail and ran.
Claire dropped to her knees and threw her arms around her would-be rescuer’s legs. “Help me…”
“Get the hell away!” The man called Brad shoved her aside. He shuffled backwards, and then turned on his heel and fled.
Frank Garrity bent down and scooped her up, satchel and all. She wound her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder, moaning, as he carted her across the street to the boarding car.
He mounted the steps, swept her inside, set her on her feet and then slammed the door and latched it. Her moans turned to laughter. Inappropriate, but she always burst out laughing after she was scared witless.
Her protector turned. He wasn’t laughing. Not even smiling. His face was set in a grim expression. Apparently he didn’t experience relief in quite the same way.
E.E. Burke is giving away an e-book to one lucky commenter today. If your name is chosen, you will win your choice of books from the series Steam! Romance and Rails.
“Sheriff…I just shot my husband.”
Hotel owner Claire Daines is a respected member of the community. Until she shocks the entire town by rushing into a saloon wearing only her nightclothes and confessing to very inebriated lawman.
Is she a killer? Is she crazy? Or is she covering up something worse?
For years, Claire hushed up her husband’s dangerous condition to guard his reputation. When tragedy strikes, she puts her own life at risk when she vows to keep another terrible secret.
Sheriff Frank Garrity must get to the truth, although the tough, hard-drinking lawman hides his own secrets and would rather walk a lonely path than face his demons. But as Frank unravels Claire’s subterfuge and unlocks her heart, he’s torn between his desire to save her and his duty to bring her to justice.
You can pick up your copy of FUGITIVE HEARTS at Amazon or other online retailers.
Weave together rich historical detail, passionate romance, add a dash of suspense and you have books by E.E. Burke. Her chosen settings are the American West, and her current series Steam! Romance and Rails takes place during the tumultuous era of America’s steam railroads. Her writing has earned accolades in regional and national contests, including the prestigious Golden Heart®. Over the years, she’s been a disc jockey, a journalist and an advertising executive, before finally getting around to living the dream…writing stories readers can get lost in.
The West offers such rich locales that historical authors have a nearly unlimited supply of locations from which to choose for the settings of their novels. But what if a writer wants a new spot in her Old West?
No problem! Both venues work—the real deal and the once-upon-a-time setting.
Last year I finished a three-book series based in Cañon City, Colorado, with many specific historical tidbits from the 1800s. But for a commissioned Christmas-bride novella collection, I wanted more freedom. I wanted to make up my own names for places, so I did.
I confess, my mind’s eye saw the story set somewhere along the snowy 1885 train route to Leadville, but between the first and final pages, The Snowbound Bride began and ended near my imaginary town of Spruce City, Colorado.
Freedom at last!
After I chose the location, I came up with my characters’ names using a different method than I usually employ. Most often, I close my eyes and go with the first name that pops out of my fingertips so I can start getting words on paper.
But for the Christmas story I dug into my family lineage for actual names from the era. And guess what I found?
My maternal grandmother was Ara Garr Jameson, an interesting woman who really deserves her own book about running for mayor of Chillicothe, Texas, when women didn’t do such outlandish things.
But for the time being, I decided to use her spunk to fuel my heroine and named the gal Ara Taube. Taube is not a family name, but it’s the German word for dove, and that fact fit nicely into the story.
All of my grandparents have long since passed on, so I feel a little more of the aforementioned freedom when it comes to using familial monikers. What’s a family for if not to provide a few quaint names?
However, I probably won’t be using my paternal grandmother’s name – Travine. Sounds too much like latrine and I just can’t go there. (Sorry, Grandma.)
One of Grandma’s daughters, Geraldine, married Charles Berry and became Gerry Berry. Too bad I don’t write kids’ books because that would be a cool name.
For a less-than-sterling secondary character in one of my novels, I chose a name that fit quite well, but I had to change it when I sold the manuscript. The name happened to be the same as my husband’s mother. Not a plan if I wanted to keep peace in the family.
With several titles now in print and several more in the hopper, I’m always on the lookout for good names. Sometimes I find them in unusual places. Like funerals.
The brother of a man whose funeral I attended and my grandfather teamed up for the name of my Colorado Ranger, Haskell Tillman Jacobs. His story, Romancing the Widow, finaled for the 2015 Will Rogers Medallion award.
Professional Bull Riders’ events and magazines like American Cowboy and Western Horseman feature men and women with unusual names that work well for contemporary authors. And don’t forget about the neighbors.
On a photo shoot at a neighbor’s particularly enticing Spanish-style barn and house last summer, I met his cowgirl daughter, Mason. Her name is sure to turn up in a future contemporary tale.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. With his unusual tag, he had the right to inquire and I believe I do too. I’m named after my father, David.
Guess he wanted a boy.
Do you have an unusual name or an unusual story behind your name? I love to hear it.
Barbour’s novella collection, The 12 Brides of Christmas, releases October 1 where books are sold as well as online.
I will give away one signed copy to a US reader on October 1st or thereabouts!
Davalynn Spencer writes inspirational Western romance complete with rugged cowboys, their challenges, and their loves. She finaled for the 2015 Will Rogers Medallion award in Western Fiction and makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with her handsome cowboy and their dog, Blue. Connect with her at www.davalynnspencer.com.
I’ve been asked by a few people why I chose Lecompton, Kansas, to be the setting of my second book, and the simple answer is: my publisher, Rebecca Vickery at Western Trailblazer, asked for a follow-up effort. I was not planning on writing a second novel, figuring on being a one-and-done author after Borrowed Guns, so when asked for a new effort featuring the same two main characters, I balked by saying I didn’t have any ideas for a story. This was the truth as I am not a very imaginative person, and I also made it clear at the end of the first book there were no further adventures involving the two.
Rebecca then suggested taking an incident mentioned in Borrowed Guns, and making a short story out of it (does a hundred and fifty-five thousand words qualify as short?), featuring one of the characters. Lucky for me, I set that event twenty years earlier in the historically important city of Lecompton, just south of a rowdy little town called Rising Sun.
Rising Sun completely disappeared from the Kansas landscape within a few decades of its founding, unlike the more politically significant city of Lecompton across the Kansas River to its south, which has endured until this day. With the population hovering around six-hundred in 2014, Lecompton is still a proud little town, never having forgotten the major role it played in precipitating the election of Abraham Lincoln, in turn leading to the secession of the southern states, and ultimately, the Civil War.
Following the opening of Kansas Territory, scores of Northerners and Southerners flooded the area in attempt to promote their ideological vision for the future state. Lecompton was the first official capital of the Kansas Territory and was originally founded as a pro-slavery settlement, boasting two newspapers, both in favor of making Kansas a slave state. By 1855, enough Missourians had crossed the border to illegally vote in a pro-slavery legislature which took up residence in Lecompton. Abolitionists in Topeka answered this chicanery by drawing up their own free-state constitution for Kansas, but President Franklin B. Pierce threw his support behind Lecompton, declared the Topeka government in rebellion and rebuked the Topeka constitution, ending its debate in the Senate.
Basking in Pierce’s support, Lecompton legislators drafted their own pro-slavery constitution and submitted it to a vote by the populace in 1857. To make certain it passed, the ballot box was again stuffed with pro-slavery votes from residents of Missouri who crossed the border to vote. The trickery was discovered when an informant saw the candle box containing the fraudulent ballots being buried by two legislative clerks. Upon investigation by the sheriff, it was later found, and a legitimate election was scheduled to be held. Two other constitutions were proposed prior to the new vote, with the free-state constitution winning the election, and all three sent to Washington to be debated on by Congress.
It was during this debate that the fight mentioned in the South of Rising Sun broke out on the House of Representatives floor. President James Buchanan, a pro-slavery advocate, urged the legislators to adopt the original Lecompton Constitution, but it was eventually by-passed in favor of the free-state constitution, paving the way for Kansas to enter the Union as a non-slavery state in January of 1861.
The Lecompton Constitution was mentioned thirteen times in the famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates of the 1858 Illinois senatorial campaign. Democrat Stephen Douglas, who ran for president against Abraham Lincoln in 1860, refused to support the Lecompton constitution when it was being debated in Congress, arguing that the citizens of each territory should be allowed to decide the slavery issue by their own vote. Douglas’s outright refusal to support the Lecompton Constitution so enraged Southern Democrats that they split from their Northern counterparts and ran their own candidate for president against Lincoln and Douglas. In addition, a fourth candidate entered the race, and with the vote split four ways, Lincoln won the election with only thirty-three percent of the vote, and the rest became history.
The story is somewhat more complex than the distilled version I have related, but it would require an entire book to elaborate all the intricacies of the politics involved, and I have no intention of going down that path. It does, however, lay to rest the argument that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights.
Today, not a single trace remains of Rising Sun, but visitors to Lecompton (originally called Bald Eagle) can tour the Territorial Capital Museum and Constitution Hall and learn about the fascinating story behind this small but historically important Kansas town. Since doing extensive research for South of Rising Sun, I’ve become engrossed by Lecompton’s past and its role as “the birthplace of the Civil War.” Did you know Lecompton was also home to one of the biggest gunfights in the West? But that’s another story.
I’ll give an e-book of my latest historical western, South of Rising Sun, to ten readers who leave a comment about the setting, Lecompton, Kansas. The winners will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 30).
J.D. McCall grew up in Kansas during the time when Westerns were king on television and at the movies. Living in a state that was home to such places as Abilene, Dodge, Wichita, and many other of the wickedest cattle towns ever found in the West, he was never far from Kansas lore, which included the legendary figures of Earp, Hickok, Masterson, and Cody. Not surprisingly, he has retained a great affection for that part of American history which was once the Old West. Born too late to be a cowboy, J.D. makes his living in this modern day as an industrial hygienist in the field of occupational health and safety. He continues to reside in the city of his birth, Ottawa, with his wife and three children.
There is tremendous irony in how popular the Western genre of Historical Romance is with today’s readers.
After all, life in the Western United States in the late 19th century was hardly the stuff romantic dreams were made of.
Sweaty saddles, dusty bedrolls, boll weevils in the breakfast bowl, horse flies feasting on your neck and only the most rudimentary levels of sanitation. Not exactly Harry Met Sally.
And during the Gold Rush era, romance was barely mathematically possible as there was a severe shortage of ladies in the bustling, burgeoning Barbary Coast area. The fairer sex were even scarcer in the desolate hills of the Gold Country and the few women who did reside in the region were…uh um…mostly of the working variety.
So why is it that historical novelists such as myself and well informed readers…like you…cling so tightly to the notion there is romance in the air of those Western Skies?
For me, there always was something undeniably, absolutely captivating about the wide open spaces of the West. In fact, in writing In Golden Splendor, the second novel of my Heirs of Ireland series, I discovered the landscapes themselves became a central character in the book.
They became inseparably entwined in the courtship of the story. Here are some examples:
Any good romance starts with our leading lady or man with a yearning in their heart, a sense of aloneness. The great expanses of the unexplored wilderness of the West naturally provoke emotions of deep yearning, always a key to a great romance.
Even at a distance, the ribs of the great beast showed through its patchy and scarred chestnut fur. Through the barrel’s eye, Seamus tracked the young bull as it limped its way over to an aspen tree. The elk raised its head, crowned in mockery by horns uneven and fractured.
Did it catch his scent?
Then the animal relaxed, bared its teeth, and tugged on a low-lying branch, releasing a powdery mist of fresh snowfall and uncovering autumnal leaves of maroon, amber and burnt orange. Brilliant watercolor splashes on a white canvas.
In the deadly stillness of a finger pointed on a trigger, Seamus shared a kinship of loneliness and futility with his prey, whose ear flapped and jaw bulged as it chewed.
What is romance without beauty, whether it is expressed through a perfectly sculpted face or experienced in the depths of a pure heart? When it comes to landscapes of the American West there are few areas on our planet that offer as seductive a setting for an epic journey of the soul.
Can you imagine being the first to capture sights of Yosemite? Long before there were roads and campgrounds?
There spinning beneath them, breathlessly and seemingly miles below, was a valley finely tailored in a stunning cloak of white and generously covered with snow-flocked forestry. It lay at the base of a symphony of granite that reached like grateful hands up to the heavens. Tears of adoration poured freely from great waterfalls that descended with fullness, despite the lateness of the season. Behind this all, the sun lowered its head beneath the distant edge of the crucible, pouring into the sky cottony plumes of pink, rose, and rusted orange.
Just as the thorn to the rose, the territory of the West can prove to be the perfect villain in the story, an antagonist who challenges our heroes to the core of their being:
Now also coming into clarity was the gruesome evidence of the trail’s savagery. Lining either side of the pathway were the tragic debris of failed crossings. Sun-blanched rib cages and scattered bones of oxen, horses, mules, as well as broken wagon frames and wheels with missing spokes. Even more haunting were the discarded dolls and toys and even cribs, a reminder of how death dealt no better hands to the young.
The Ephemeral Moods
This scenery of the West as well can prove to be a treasured palette for authors, allowing us to shift emotion and moods of a story.
The harbor fog drifted in as they weaved between the ghost ships, amidst the lofting smells of dead fish, rotting wood, and mildew. The waves splashing against the hulls and moans of bending timber and strained ropes added to the eeriness of the evening. The farther they were from the shoreline, the more desolate and forbidden became this naval graveyard.
Characters of Strength
But the rich scenery is far from the only tool of the Western-themed novelist. Also in romancing the West a writer can tap into the deep complexity and intrigue of those who would respond to such a Manifest Destiny in their lives.
What great romance awaits such complex characters!
Which is why in the blending of all of this mostly male humanity, the woman who approached appeared so extraordinary and so out of place. She was dark enough in skin color to be Mexican, but her facial features were European, with high cheeks and taut skin. Her hair flowed freely, brown and straight and nearly all the way to her glistening silver belt buckle. She glanced at Seamus with playful and alluring eyes.
Yet rather than being dressed in the bright, ornamental dresses off the painted ladies in town, she was dressed more as a man, with leather leggings, a red plaid shirt, spurred boots, and a black flat-brimmed hat. Most notably, she swayed with confidence and strength.
The Pen is Yours
What about you? What do you think makes the American West such a perfect accompaniment for romance?
One of the commenters who answers Michael’s question will win an autographed copy of his or her choice from the Heirs of Ireland series: Flight of the Earls, In Golden Splendor, or Songs of the Shenandoah. Click on the book covers above to find out more about each book. The winner will be announced Sunday evening (Aug. 23).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael K. Reynolds’s debut novel, Flight of the Earls, about the Great Irish Potato Famine was a finalist for RT Book Reviews 2013 novel of the year award in the category of Inspirational Romance. In Golden Splendor, set during the San Francisco Gold Rush, earned fourth place as Forewords Best Historical Novel of 2013 and Songs of the Shenandoah, the Civil War-era conclusion to the trilogy was a Top Pick in RT Book Reviews, as well as a finalist for RT’s Book Reviews Book of the Year and was the Gold Award Winner as Forewords Best Historical Novel of 2014.
Howdy to all the Fillies and everyone at Wildflower Junction! I always enjoy seeing what everyone’s been up to and learning about all the new books. If you’re thinking there was a stretch of time between my last western romance and now, you’re right. I worked on a few other projects and I took about a year off. Now I’m excited to have a new release to share with you.
Take a sexy cowboy, a spirited wild-haired beauty, horses, kids and an orphan and mix them with betrayal, hope, compassion and a steamy romance, and we have Sequins and Spurs.
My working title for this story was Song of Home, because my heroine, Ruby Dearing, is a singer. I worked in a few songs appropriate to the year, which was fun. Ruby ran away from home at a young age, learned that life on the road wasn’t all that glamorous, and returns to the Nebraska farm where she was born to beg forgiveness of her family. There’s an unexpected flaw in her plan: There’s no one left to forgive her.
Forgiveness and second-chances often play a big part in my stories, and this time it’s about accepting the fact that sometimes forgiveness is not forthcoming. It’s also about being able to forgive oneself.
I happen to love Pinterest. I create an inspiration board for each story, where I keep track of research, likenesses to portray characters, clothing, and visual details of the story. You can see the board for this story here.
Among those pictures you’ll see a vintage quilt. Ruby’s mother had a quilt that reminds Ruby of good times. Ruby learns to make quilt blocks out of old clothing. Recently my husband and I got to see the Homefront and Battlefield Quilts and Context in the Civil War, before it returned to the textile museum in Lowell Pennsylvania, where the display items were sent back to their original locations. It was amazing to gaze upon those hand-sewn pieces of history sewn by wives and mothers of soldiers, some made for their men, others for auctions to raise money for supplies. They are pieces of family history that have become the threads of our nation’s history.
I’m giving away a digital copy of Sequins and Spurs to one person who leaves a reply one of these two questions today:
Is there a quilt in your family that embodies history—or have you made a quilt for family members that will become an heirloom?
What’s the most thought-provoking thing you’ve ever seen in a museum?
Thanks for stopping to chat!
Cheryl St. John is the award-winning author of fifty Harlequin and Silhouette books, which include historical romance as well as contemporary. In describing her stories of second chances and redemption, readers and reviewers use words like, “emotional punch, hometown feel, core values, believable characters and real life situations.”