‘Saving’ The West


In trying to come up with a topic for today’s post I pulled up my lagniappe file.  That’s the folder where I stash all the interesting stories and factoids I come across during research – the unexpected little tidbits that have nothing whatsoever to do with my actual story need, but that spark my imagination and get my ‘what if’ meter vibrating big time.

The piece that jumped out at me this time was an article I came across when researching circuit preachers for a minor story thread in one of my books.  The article talked about a very unique tool utilized by missionaries who were attempting to do their own brand of ‘taming the west’ – namely Chapel Cars.


chap-car-ext02These were railroad cars that were modified to serve as traveling churches.  They road the rails from town to town, diverting to sidings for as long as they were needed, then moving on to the next stop.  These cars were outfitted with very modest living quarters for the missionary and perhaps his wife.  The rest of the space was utilized for church services.

Most western movies and tales glorify the gun-toting lawman or vigilante, portraying them as the tamers of the wild and wooly west.  In actuality, the peace-minded missionaries who road the rails played a larger part in bringing peace to the lawless west than any of their more aggressive counterparts.  They traveled in their mobile churches to remote areas of the country, bringing spiritual direction and a civilizing influence to people who were starved for something to offset the violence and loneliness of their existence.

These Chapel Cars traveled throughout the west and midwest – including North Dakota, Nevada, Minnesota, California, Louisiana, Texas, Oregon and Colorado.  They stopped at mining towns and logging camps, tent cities and newly established towns, bringing their gospel message and the reminder of civilization to people who had seen neither for a long time – if ever.

And, given the unfettered existence of those in the camps and towns, their appearance was surprisingly well received more often than not – especially by the ladies of the area.  The arrival of these Chapel Cars signaled not only the chance to attend Sunday services, but brought with them someone to perform weddings, funerals, baptisms and also a welcome excuse for social gatherings.  In addition, many a rough and tough cowboy who would have balked at attending a traditional church seemed to feel differently about these side rail services.  In fact, the very novelty of the Chapel Car brought folks from miles around just to have a look.

Of course, they didn’t always receive a warm welcome.  There are recorded instances of the Chapel Cars being pelted with eggs and refuse, defaced with graffiti and even set on fire.  But these were rare instances and the cars and their custodians survived to continue their mission.



These repurposed rail cars were furnished with pews, a lectern, an altar table and in some cases an organ.  Depending on the construction, they could seat over 70 people inside.  The Chapel Car was a multipurpose unit, serving as a home, church, Sunday School, social hall, library and meeting place.  They carried bibles and tracts which were distributed all along the lines.  The missionary and his wife, in addition to their usual ministerial duties, were expected to function as singer, musician, janitor and cook.  They helped organize permanent churches, including raising the necessary funds and helping to construct the buildings.

There are records to support the existence of eleven Chapel Cars in all, though there is some evidence there may have been as many as seventeen.  Of the eleven known cars, three were utilized by Catholics, seven by Baptists and one by the Episcopalians.

Chapel cars remained in use throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  With the advent of World War I, however, the railroad tracks had to be kept clear for troop movement.  In addition, new regulations prohibited the railroad companies from giving ‘free rides’ to the Chapel Cars, something that had been common practice up until that time.  And as paved roads and the automobile became more prevalent it became easier for folks to travel longer distances on their own to attend church.  Thus, the Chapel Cars that had brought their spiritual message and civilizing influence to the rough and tumble west faded into history.


So, what is the most memorable place where you’ve attended a church service and what made it memorable for you?

A Good Walk Spoiled

Well I wanted to write about cowboy stuff this week.
Planned to in fact.
I’ve got a book coming out July 1st
I really ought to be talking about that.
But I’ve got to tell you all about an experience I had that is odd and upsetting and may lead to me making a fortune. I went golfing.
Golfing is a very old sport and while I’ve never heard of any cowboys playing it, I’m sure it had been invented so I think I slink within the parameters of the focus of this blog…try to picture John Wayne with a golf club in his hand instead of a Winchester and we’re good to go.
No, I don’t play well. I’m not going to make a fortune by joining the pro tour. I’m not good enough for that. And well, okay, not the women’s pro-tour. And no, not even the Senior Women’s Pro-tour. (Is there one of those?)
That’s not how I’m going to make my money.
Two words
It is my idea. I officially patent it here before you all publicly today. I share it with the world and officially claim the fortune that is to be made with
Here’s the thing I found out about golf when I was tricked into going.
It’s slow.
I cannot believe how long those people take to line up their bodies and clubs and balls. The title of this blog is a reference to a book written by John Feinstein about the ups and downs-vicissitude if you will-of golf.
And yeah, I’ve been dying for a chance to use the word vicissitudes in a blog post, so happy day for Mary. 🙂
 I cannot believe how many practice swings those people took.
I soon lost the will to live and–in order to cling to life, as well as to remain sane (shut up, Cheryl, I am too-all records to the contrary have been sealed)
I resorted to my usual pastime.
And planning a blog post.
 I got to thinking, if they’d just let me GO!
I’m mean sure I was only dribbling the ball out a few yards…
okay, a few feet…
okay, it sometimes went backward…
when I didn’t miss it entirely.
But mostly I was whacking it forward and it didn’t go far.
While all those show offs who’d fake swing over and over and over.
And line their bodies up and stare at the hole and test the wind–
while they were getting ready to hit…and I will admit that they hit it far. I’m not saying all that time and trouble doesn’t WORK. But still, I think I’d have been able to beat them if only we’d been playing for TIME instead of strokes.
I could have hit it ten times and I’d be on the next hole already. And I think you should be able to pass people, too, like a foursome that’s ahead of you. Hey! This is SPEED GOLF people.
Think Nascar.
Get your motor running.
Born to be wild
That’s when I got the idea for
I want you all to mentally add a deep, deep voice-James Earl Jones and make it echo when you read
I think I’ll make more money if you do that, so play along.
It would require padding, but most sports do.
You’d just line four people up, yell GO! and first one done with 18 holes wins.
This could really catch on.
A helmet, shoulder pads, shin guards, steel toed boots, maybe a chest protector-and a STOP WATCH. All decorated with a neat little Nike Swish.
I want a cut of that money, too.
I am telling you this could be BIG.
We are a fast paced society. We time EVERYTHING.
Why not golf?
Why not
Speed Golf 
(James Earl Jones – echo – c’mon work with me)
That guy in the picture above would be FINE if he had a helmet.
Any golfers out there? What do you think?
I promise I’ll invite you all out on my yacht
just as soon as the money starts rolling in.
And no, I’m not getting invited back to go golfing next week,
why do you ask?
Montana Rose available for pre-order on Amazon.
Click on the cover to order

Janet Tronstad and Debra Clopton Discuss Small Town Brides

small-town-brides Debra Clopton and Janet Tronstad are delighted to be guests here at P & P today.
We’re both western women and have a fondness for cowboys and their brides. In our June book, “Small-Town Brides,” we tell the story of two cousins who find love in tiny towns, one in Montana and one in Texas. When we first started these two novellas, we wondered how to tie them together and decided to create a wedding veil as a family treasure linking the two cousins together.
We are dealing with two heroines, two heroes, and two towns so we’re going to give away copies of our book to two people who make a comment today.
As we pictured this veil in our book, we thought about what it would mean to the brides in a family. It’s often a tradition for pieces of wedding finery to be passed down through the generations. Since the two cousins share the same bridal veil that their great-grandmother had used, we speculated that the older woman had been married in the early 1900’s. That meant her wedding veil probably would have been made out of silk tulle. Nylon net became the standard in the 1950s, but before that handmade lace was the only option.
We can only speculate about what the rest of her attire would have been like. We’re sure that she dressed herself as fashionably as possible though. Janet recently read an excerpt from an 1857 California trail diary that said, “There is a bride (who) wears hoops. We have read of hoops, but they had not reached Kansas before we left so these are the first we’ve seen.”
What bride doesn’t want to create a fashion stir?
Janet’s grandmother (who wed around the turn of the century) wore a white hat rimmed in flowers and carried a single rose. Her grandmother told Janet once that she married her grandfather because he was the best dancer for miles around. Do you know what your grandmother wore for her wedding? Does your family have anything like a veil or a ring that they pass down through the generations? We’d love to hear about it.
Click on cover to purchase Small Town Brides

And the Horse You Rode In On

In my soon-to-be released novel Montana Rose, a side character, who will soon have his own book, has this stunning black stallion and he’s making money on stud fees. I have fun with this guy because his horse won’t let anyone near him except the owner…and barely him. And the owner is so cranky that man and horse, are two peas in a pod. Giving this man, Tom, a horse turned into research of course and that led me to today’s blog. Horse Breeds.
I’ll give you a quick run-down of Montana Rose before I start the very sane and lovely talk I have planned about Horse Breeds.

Left pregnant and widowed in the unforgiving west, Cassie is forced into an unwanted marriage to rancher Red Dawson.

No decent man could turn away from Cassie and leave her to the rough men in Divide, Montana. Red Dawson knows Cassie is beautiful and he’s interested in her, has been even when she was a married woman, but she’d spoiled and snooty and he’s purely afraid marrying her is a bad idea. But he’s too decent to leave her to a terrible fate.

He finds out real fast that Cassie’s not cut out to be a rancher’s wife. She keeps trying to help and Red has his hands full keeping her from killing herself with her efforts, and preventing her–in her attempts to be a good wife–from leaving his ranch in ruins.

While Red struggles with his overly obedient but badly incompetent wife, an obsessed man plots to make Cassie his own, something he can’t do as long as Red lives.

Now back to horses: The more I researched horse breeds for that small character, Tom Linscott, the more I wished I’d never started. There are over 300 breeds of horses. And I kept reading about ‘types’ and ‘breeds’. Those are different things. I think. I did find a few really interesting tidbits about some horse breeds we’d all recognize (by name if not by sight.)

Three foundation studs: Byerly Turk-from around 1690, Eclipse from around 1709, and Godolphin Arabian from around 1720. The Thoroughbred line was rooted in horses from the east, Arabians for example and they grew out of a desire to move away from the massive, powerful war horses bred to carry a knight wearing full armor.
Foundation studs? Does that strike anyone else as weird? That they can trace an entire breed of horses to three imported stallions? What about inbreeding? Didn’t anyone bring in a horse and just not mention it? How rare were horses? I’ll bet there are 400 foundation studs but only three guys bragged about their snazzy imported horses. The rest of the men probably had a farm to run.
Thorougbreds were lighter and faster but with great endurance. The main focus was on race horses and almost all thoroughbreds can trace their line to these original three horses.
This is a portrait of Darley’s Arabian, one of the Foundation studs but note that of course he is an Arabian, not a thoroughbred. A thoroughbred is what grew out of the cross breeding with Arabians and English horses.
The thoroughbreds came to America from the very beginning with the earliest pilgrims.
Is it just me or does the thoroughbred in the first picture, the portrait of Darley’s Arabian in the second picture and the white quarter horse below…all look a lot alike.
I don’t really understand horse breeds. I mean sure, I get Clydesdales. I get Shetlands, they’re different, Welsh, zebras…I get that. But the rest…pretty darned nit picky, I think.
That’s why I studied them. So would my hero have a thoroughbred? 
I still can’t decide and his book is half written. Maybe I’ll make that stallion a pure bred Arabian. That would be a little rare in America back then…right? The whole point is, he’s got this great horse and he’s making money on it. Well, that’s not the WHOLE point, but it’s important.
The other main choice is a Quarter Horse. They trace their roots to 1600.
The horses in America at this time were mostly of Spanish origin, with the greatest amounts of blood from Arabian Barbs (Barbs? I’ve got no idea what that means, must be a kind of horse breed though) and Turk lines. In 1611 the first significant import of English horses was made to Virginia. These English horses were of native, eastern and Spanish blood.
When the new English horses were bred to the native stock, a compact horse with heavily muscled hindquarters began to develop. But the horse owners also liked to race. Quarter horses were strong enough and fast enough to do both field work and win a race.
Another main kind of horse is the draft horse..such as Clysdale, Belgians, Morgan. Draft horses predate recorded history. Big strong horses were the earliest domesticated kinds because they could pull loads and work in the fields. In America, throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, horses in America were used primarily for riding and pulling light vehicles. Oxen were the preferred because they: cost half as much as horses, required half the feed and OOPS and could be eaten when they died or were no longer useful. Oxen, however, were slow. So there were many who preferred draft horses.
An interesting and tragic detail I found. In the five years surrounding WWI, Europe imported from America over one million draft horses to be used in the fighting of that conflict. Two hundred came home. Many of course remained in Europe but the death and injuries to horses were staggering. British veterinarians in French hospitals are reported to have treated 2,564,549 for war related inflicted injuries.
Mustang- The Mustang is a wild horse that descended from Spanish horses. The name Mustang comes from the Spanish word mesteño or monstenco meaning wild or stray. They don’t have a real breed because over the years they became a mix of numerous breeds. These were the horses which changed the lives of the Native Americans living in or near the Great Plains.
Catching and taming wild horses was a good source of income for ranchers. To sell them or to save the money needed to buy horses for their ranch.
I heard a theory once about why Native Americans didn’t make scientific progress, didn’t invent the wheel, didn’t becomes more settled and build cities. Didn’t learn to work with metals or invent guns.
It might have been because they didn’t have pack animals that could be domesticated. In Asia and Europe they had horses and cattle. But the only suitable animal of that type in American was the buffalo and it was just too unpredictable to ever make a good domesticated animal. Pack animals made life so much easier for people who had them, they had more time for pursuits including inventions.
I’ll make one more comment about Montana Rose. Have any of you ever read Janette Oke’s beautiful classic romance, Love Comes Softly? That novel inspired mine in the sense that my novel begins with a widow, pregnant, penniless and alone in the west, who must marry to survive.  And the man who marries her because she needs someone and all the other choices are unsavory. (that’s not in Love Comes Softly I don’t think. I don’t remember unsavory?) Both novels are classic marriage of convenience stories. (okay, maybe CLASSIC isn’t quite applicable to Montana Rose…YET!)
Unlike Oke’s lovely, sweet, gentle-hearted novel though, mine veers almost immediately to mayhem, gunfire and comedy. So I think of it as
Love Comes … Hardly.
Or maybe-
Love Comes…Loudly.
Or possibly-
Love Comes Barely…except that sounds kinda dirty. 🙂
So, any horse lovers? Anyone have a horse? Anyone fallen off a horse? I got a story there.  Or two. And the x-rays to prove it.

Research, Romance and Real Life


I’ve got to hand it to my husband. He listens patiently when I ramble on about my books, but what can he say about imaginary people with imaginary problems? It’s got to be a tad bit frustrating. He wants to help, but there’s not a lot he can do.

All that changed while I was researching Kansas Courtship, my March 2010 release from Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historicals. The book is a continuity, which means I didn’t pick the characters. An editor wrote a basic story line for three related books. My book, the third in the series, features a lady doctor and a mill owner in a town devastated by a tornado.

No problem with the lady doctor. There’s plenty of reading material on frontier medicine (waving at Kate Bridges here; her P&P blogs were gold). I could visualize my heroine’s life right off the bat. Colvin Run Historic Mill 

The hero was a different story. From Day One, this guy was a problem child. He’s a mill owner. At the time, I knew nothing about mills. The story is set in Kansas in 1860. I’m thinking, “Kansas? Where are the trees? Don’t they grow wheat in Kansas?” A little research cleared up my misconception. Eastern Kansas is quite different from western Kansas. In 1860 there were plenty of trees. I was in the clear with my assigned characters, but I still needed to see a mill. 

I looked online. There’s a youtube video of an historic mill, but it didn’t help. I looked at dozens of pictures, but I couldn’t visualize how the pieces worked. Nor could I hear or smell any of the details. Milling is completely out of my range. Wood comes from Home Depot and bread comes from grocery stores. That’s about it.

 The answer came out of the blue on a gorgeous Sunday morning. My husband and I were leaving church when I started muttering, “I really need to visit an historic mill.”

The next thing I knew, we were doing a U-turn on Route 7. This wasn’t your garden variety U-turn. He gunned the engine of our oh-so-sporty Camry and I was half out the window. My voice went up two octaves. “What in the world!”

“A mill,” he said. “We’re going to a mill.” He sounded like James Bond.

“Where?” I asked.

“Up the road.” Imagine clipped speech. Picture the intensity of Daniel Craig or Sean Connery, and you’ve got the idea.

The next thing I knew, we’d turned up the road to the Colvin Run james-bond3Historic Mill, an official landmark. We’ve lived in northern Virginia for several years now, but I don’t know the area very well. My husband, it turns out, had driven by the mill on his way to have lunch with a friend a few weeks earlier.

For the next two hours, we took in every detail of the mill and asked the miller dozens of questions. I’ll never forget the sound of water spilling as the wheel turned and the millworks went into motion. The gears made a huge racket and dust filled the air. We saw the miller adjust the millstones and learned about the perils of the trade. I used all those details in Kansas Courtship.

I had the best day! Best of all, I got to share it with my husband. My characters may be imaginary, but my husband is very real. He’s also my real life hero.


This isn’t quite related to milling, but I’m hung up on the James Bond comparison. I’m also shopping for a hero for my next manuscript. Of all the actors who’ve played “Bond, James Bond,” which one do you think would look best in a cowboy hat? Choices are Sean Connery, Robert Moore, Timoty Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig.  I know there’s one other actor who played James Bond once, but I can’t remember who.  Anyhow, I am leaning toward Timothy Dalton, but Daniel Craig is moving up on the list.


And last, I want to say how thrilled I am to be a Filly.  It’s a joy to join this group of talented authors who all love western romance.  To celebrate, let’s have a drawing. I’ll toss the names of everyone who comments into the cowboy hat and pick out three winners. Winners get the book of their choice from my Love Inspired Historicals. Good luck!



Click on The Maverick Preacher cover to order from amazon .com!

Courting the Doctor’s Daughter


dr-daughterI’m delighted to be back as a guest at Petticoat and Pistols. I feel right at home with authors and readers who love history as much as I do. cover-adelaide


My visit coincides with the imminent release of my second book Courting the Doctor’s Daughter, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical on May 12. J The new book continues the stories of children who rode the orphan train into Noblesville, Indiana and turned lives upside down, as children are apt to do. My debut novel Courting Miss Adelaide introduced the heroine of the sequel, Mary Graves, the town doctor’s daughter, a widow with three sons—two from her marriage and one from the orphan train. A handsome stranger blows into town peddling his “elixir of health.” Mary is outraged by the claim’s Luke makes for his phony medicine. Or so she sees his tonic. Worse, she soon suspects Luke has an interest in her foster son, Ben. Then the real trouble begins. J


To write Courting Miss Adelaide, the first book set in Noblesville in 1897, I researched the town and the “orphan train.” I talked about this phenomenon in my September 2008 post at https://petticoatsandpistols.com/2008/09/page/5/

To learn more about sending orphans from New York City to homes in the Midwest and beyond visit http://www.orphantraindepot.com/index.html   


With Courting the Doctor’s Daughter I needed to research herbal remedies, looking for an ingredient with medicinal properties that fit the isears-cataloguemage I had of Luke’s medicine. In Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, I found what I sought—catnip. J Not only cats appreciate this herb. Uses for humans include: digestion and sleeping aids that also eases colds, colic, nervous headaches and fevers. Catnip was listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1842-1882. In more recent times, Varro Tyler, Ph.D., author of The Honest Herbal found a bit of evidence that catnip may be a sedative. The Health Food Shoppe, a health food store near me carries catnip in capsule form. The manager said it’s used to calm fussy infants.


Has anyone used catnip for medicinal purposes? Or do you have an herbal home remedy you’ve found to be effective?


To write historical fiction, I keep several books close at hand. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary dates words and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms dates phrases. The pitchfork-smTimetables of American History, Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s and American Victorian Costume in Early Photographs are invaluable.


One of my favorite research books is a replica of an 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue called Consumers Guide. The Chicago based company sent their catalogue postage free to millions of Americans. In this 770 page catalogue a variety of merchandise is interspersed with sales appeals, testimonials and illustrations of goods that I find fascinating. I can imagine the excitement these catalogues created when they arrived in homes. The replica catalogue was published in 1976 by Chelsea House Publishers and is a wealth of information for historical writers. I’ve used it to research cook stoves, clothing, hats, tools, watches, books, groceries, furniture, guns and farm, harness and saddles and kitchen equipment.


I’ve found a few of the family pieces we own that I treasure as well as some I’ve collected over the years. I say I treasure because my husband could care less. But we have an old fold-up fan, wooden pitchfork and a picture of my husband’s ancestor Daniel W. Squire wearing his Union Civil War uniform. We also have two of the letters he wrote while he was away. This line from his letter intrigues me: “We are within 32 miles of Rebel troops and know one cartridge in the camp and likely to bee marched into the brigade in this fix.” Though I can only assume Daniel fought in that war, he made it home unscathed, only to die from the effects of dysentery. soldier-picture


Do any of you own an antique you’d like to share with us today?


fanThe Drug Department of the Sears and Roebuck Catalogue lists a vast array of homeopathic medicines, remedies, bitters and tonics that include laudanum, paregoric and turpentine. Cures for worms, obesity, asthma, nerves, rheumatism are only a few of the medicines available through the mail in 1897.


A couple of my favorite cures in the Drug Department include:


Arsenic Complexion Wafers


“These wafers can be taken without any fear of harm resulting from their use. They are excellent medicine for giving to the complexion a clearness and brilliancy not obtainable by external applications, at the same time they improve the general health, causing the figure to grow plump and round.” letter


Undoubtedly a little arsenic is good for us. Anyone need additional help to grow plump and round? Price: $.40


The Princess Bust Developer and Bust Cream or Food


“If nature has not favored you, with that greatest charm, bosom, full and perfect, send for the Princess Bust Developer…”


janets_picture1The bust developer resembles a toilet plunger, only it’s made of nickel and aluminum and came in two sizes—four and five inches in diameter. It isn’t mailable on account of the weight. So perhaps lifting this object of torture added to those curves.


“The bust cream is a delightful cream preparation…and forms just the right food required for the starved skin and wasted tissues.” 


I keep picturing some farm wife saving her egg money to buy this combo for the price: $1.46.


Visit Janet online at:




Email her at:janet@janetdean.net


For a chance to win a copy of Courting the Doctor’s Daughter leave a comment. In fact, if you missed the chance to read my debut, I’ll give away a copy of Courting Miss Adelaide too. Just specify which book you’d like to win.

My Favorite Women of the West

iama-ehq-siteI love the story I wrote for my current release.  It’s called “Home Again” and it’s a novella in the Love Inspired Historical Mother’s Day anthology. Overall title is In a Mother’s Arms.  The heroine has a 12-year-old son who’s determined to get into trouble.  He starts by throwing a rock through the church window. That act of rebellion puts him in the path of the town sheriff, the man my heroine jilted fourteen years earlier.

What I loved about the story is how hard the heroine is trying to raise her son to be a good man. Here she is . . . A woman in 1890 Colorado, running a store, raising a child and divorced. She needs help and the hero is glad to give it, but the bottom line is that she’s responsible for raising her son. Like the real life women who settled this country, my heroine, by shaping a single child, contributes to the creation of the time and place we call the Old West.

When I started this column, I was going to list my five favorite Wild West women. Several names came to mind, most of which you’d recognize.   Annie Oakley… Calamity Jane . . . Caroline Ingalls of “Little House” fame. Don’t get me wrong. I’m fascinated by these women and their larger-than-life ways, but I wouldn’t call them favorites. They are complex individuals with good traits and not-so-good traits.

I thought of Sacagawea, the Indian guide for Lewis and Clark.  In elementary school I read her biography a dozen times. She’d be on the list, but I’m sure my impression has been overly romanticized. She’s a favorite, but I don’t feel strongly connected.sacagawea

I broadened my search and thought of Willa Cather. A woman and an esteemed author, she was born in Virginia in 1873 and grew up in Nebraska. In college I read O Pioneers! and My Antonia. I enjoyed the stories, but I didn’t love them the way I love a western romance.

Somewhere in my search, I realized something simple. The women of the west I most admire don’t have individual pages in history books. They could most likely shoot a gun, but they weren’t in the league of Annie Oakley. They had grand adventures like Sacagawea, but their journeys had another purpose. They wrote like Willa Cather, maybe not books but letters by the dozens, even hundreds.

willa-catherThe women of the west I most admire were the wives and mothers who lived everyday lives. They cooked breakfast for their eight kids, did laundry in tubs with homemade soap, and tended sick children. They stared down danger, kept the faith and somehow brought civility to the wide open spaces of America. I have the deepest respect for these women and always will. They had tough lives and they persevered. What’s more, they passed that grit on to their sons and daughters.

 Mother’s Day is a few weeks away, but I’m celebrating early this year.  Home Again is dedicated to my mom.  She’s strong, smart, wise and just plain fun. Who are the women, both in history and in real life, that you most admire?  I’d love to hear about them.  Everyone who comments will be automatically entered into a drawing for a copy of In a Mother’s Arms.

To learn more about Victoria, visit her website at www.victoriabylin.com

Order now from Amazon.com   

Winnie Griggs Loves Quirky Town Names!

winniepubI have always been fascinated by colorful and quirky small town names.   I grew up in South Louisiana so I was familiar with town names such as Westwego, Cut Off,  Dutchtown, Raceland, Crown Point, Head of Island, French Settlement and Grosse Tete (French for Big Head).   


For someone who already had storytelling in her blood, these names really sparked my imagination.  I spent many childhood hours making up stories about how all these towns got their curious names.  Westwego – was it named by some settlers from back east who travelled great distances and decided this was far enough?  Or was it merely a stopping point for folks headed even farther west?   And who in the world would name their town Big Head?  At some point I learned Dutchtown was actually settled by German immigrants and was originally called Deutschtown, but the name evolved over the years into what it is today.  Another fascinating story-sparker!


When I went to college, I moved further north while still remaining in Louisiana and encountered a whole new map of town names to puzzle over.  There I encountered towns with names like Bunkie, Dry Prong, Flatwoods, Powhatten and Breezy Hill.  Again, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about the plain-dealingcircumstances and people who settled these places.


Then I married my college sweetheart – a prince charming disguised as a cattle-rancher-in-the-making.  He swept me away to his home town, a place I was delighted to discover was called Plain Dealing.   


Today, whenever I start a new book, finding the right name for my town (always fictional) is just as important to me as finding the right names for my hero and heroine.  There is always a story in my mind about how the town name came to be, though that rarely makes it to the pages of the book.


My first book, WHAT MATTERS MOST, was set in the Texas town of Far Enough.  The town name was based on my childhood musing over the real town of Westwego.  I pictured a small group of settlers travelling through the area and the womenfolk getting tired of the whole thing and telling their menfolk they’d travelled ‘Far Enough’ and were ready to settle down NOW!


For my second book, SOMETHING MORE, the heroine arrives on the scene at a stage relay station called Whistling Oak.  The name came about when I pictured a giant oak with a hole formed by two trunks that had not quite fused together.  As the stagecoach driver explains it to the heroine, “See that ol’ oak tree over yonder with the hole in the middle?  That’s what gave this place its name.  Big wind blows through just right and you can hear the whistling for near pepper-clouda mile.”


Large flocks of small blackbirds winter near my home.  Hundreds of them will land in fields or trees in the area.  If something comes along to spook them, they all fly up at once, like a scattering of pepper on the wind.  That was the inspiration for Pepper Cloud, MO,  the town my third book, WHATEVER IT TAKES, takes place in.


My fourth book, A WILL OF HR OWN, is set in a town called Clover Ridge, VA, a somewhat more mundane town name than I normally go for.  But I wanted something that was indicative of lushness and serenity.  Besides, the story doesn’t tarry there for long.  A good one third of the book actually takes place aboard a ship.


Turnabout, TX, was the town name I chose for my fifth book, LADY’S CHOICE.  That one was almost a no brainer since the whole theme of the book, in handmedownfamily125both the primary and secondary storylines, was about turning one’s life around after having made poor choices earlier in life.


When I started work on my current release, I struggled for quite a while with what to name the town.   I came up with and eventually discarded several names.  THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY is my first foray into the inspirational market and I wanted something that would provide a subtle nod to that change.  I also wanted it to have that rural, small town feel and be just a tiny bit quirky at the same time.  And then one morning I woke up, and there it was.  Sweetgum, TX.  The sweetgum tree is indigenous to the area, the name is fun and rustic sounding, and the word itself has that hint of heart to it that I was looking for.


So, do you pay very much attention to town names in a book?  Do they help set the tone for you at all?  And are there real town names you’ve come across that have tickled your fancy, piqued your interest or just plain caught your eye?  Share some of your favorites.

Come on in and visit!  Winnie will give away a copy of her newest book, THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY, or one from her backlist to TWO lucky commenters!

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To learn more about Winnie and her books, visit her website:


The Nuts & Bolts of Inspirational vs. Secular–Renee Ryan!

I am honored to be a guest this weekend. Thank you to all the Fillies for providing me this opportunity to blog. I’ve been a big fan of Petticoats & Pistols ever since it started, due in large part to the fact that I’m also a big fan sixgun2of westerns, and I mean all westerns, not just romances. My two favorite movies are Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma. I’m also partial to High Noon with Gary Cooper, but who isn’t?

I’ve been fascinated with the Old West ever since I was a kid growing up in northeast Florida in the sixties, a heyday for all things western. I loved watching Gunsmoke on Sunday nights. Even better, there was this really cool theme park near my hometown called Six Gun Territory. My father took my twin sister and me there at least once a month. The park was set up like an old western town straight out of a 1960s television program. Yeehaw!

sixgun1Aside from all the usual rides and yummy food, Six Gun Territory staged a mock “shoot-out” every two hours in the deserted streets. Looking back with my adult eyes, I realize those shoot-outs had to be the cheesiest shows ever staged. But to a five-year-old little girl they were pure magic. The good guy always won! Hmmm, I think I’ve suddenly discovered the origin of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE. The hero is a dedicated lawman and the heroine has a five-year-old little sister who utterly charms the poor sucker, er…I mean hero…from page one. Maybe I should write a song, Ode to Six Gun Territory.

Or, maybe not.

For what it’s worth, the Old West has always been good to me. My first published novel was a western romance set in 1879 Denver, Colorado. EXTREME MEASURES came out in July 2002. That was seven years ago. SEVEN years ago! I could write an entire blog about that looooong dry spell. However, I won’t.

Suffice it to say, lots of things have happened in my life since that first novel hit the shelves. Most importantly, I’ve switched from writing secular romances to inspirational romances.

Although, I have found a lot of success thanks to the switch (I’m working on my fifth contracted manuscript for Steeple Hill) I can’t say the move was an easy one. It took me a long time and a lot of false starts to learn the difference between the two sub-genres.
Such as:

1. Level of Sensuality: This is the big difference between the two sub-genres and what I consider the pink elephant in the room. There is often a misconception about this topic so let me clear something up right now. Inspirational romances are not merely “sweet romances”. Oh, they can certainly be “sweet”, but this is not a prerequisite.

In fact, a writer cannot simply take sex out of the story, or even shut the door to the bedroom, and magically have an inspirational romance.

Yes, the story should have two people falling in love without the use of sex, or blatant sexual tension on the page. However, the focus should always be on the emotional connection between the hero and heroine rather than the physical connection. Put another way, whether it’s a kiss, a look or even a touch, the event needs to trigger an emotional reaction in the character(s) not a physical one.

marshaltakesbride2. Attending church: Yet another misconception out there and one that needs addressing. Simply sending characters to church on Sunday does not make a romance an inspirational.

Both the hero and heroine must go on a personal faith journey that is tied directly to their internal conflict. The inspirational thread is actually an additional element to the GMC of your character. Think of it this way: the internal growth of the hero and/or heroine must happen by way of the character’s faith journey.

3. The characters must all be good: No, no, no. Good is boring. Good is unrealistic. Good is…bad. In fact, the best inspirational romances are when the characters are deeply flawed from the inside out. The story will be much stronger if the hero and heroine make a few wrong decisions before they make the right ones.

I had a minister once say, “We’re all emotionally hurting on some level. Christians simply turn to Christ to help them get healthy.” That resonated with me as a writer and is something I keep in mind throughout the writing process.  The more human the characters, the more they’ve fallen away from their belief system, the bigger the journey required to return to a stronger faith than before. Getting them there is half the fun and the key to a good inspirational romance. ?

4. Inspirational romances are preachy: Again, not true. Every inspirational romance is different, of course. The level of “preaching” will depend on the type of story, but nowhere should the story be a place for the author to bang the reader over the head with his or her personal theology.

Salvation stories (where a character ultimately comes to Christ who wasn’t a believer at the beginning of the book) can sometimes seem preachy to someone not used to reading inspirational romances. It’s up to the author to thread Scripture into the story seamlessly.

Now, stories where both the hero and heroine are already Christians but have fallen away from their faith tend to be less preachy. However, the faith journey must still be strong and memorable. Again, it’s up to the author to make sure this journey is both realistic and inspiring.

So, there you go. A quick summary of what I think makes an inspirational romance different from a secular romance.

You might be interested to know that February 2009 marks the one year anniversary of Steeple Hill’s new line, Love Inspired Historical. To celebrate this anniversary, I will be giving away three autographed copies of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE, as well as one very special GRAND PRIZE. The grand prize winner will receive a copy of every Love Inspired Historical published during the past year. That’s twenty-four free books to one winner!

In order to sign up to win the grand prize, please send me an email at renee@reneeryan.com with your contact information of name, address, and email. I will draw the name of the GRAND PRIZE winner Sunday night, February 1, at 9:00 PM EST.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by this weekend. God bless you all!

reneeryanRenee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a February 2009 release. Her next book in the series, Hannah’s Beau, hits the shelves July 2009.

For further information check out www.reneeryan.com

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