The Last Little Chicky

chickies.jpgI was a child bride.  At least by today’s standards, I was, but back in my younger days, living in a small town in western Nebraska, it was common practice to marry soon, very soon, out of high school.   

And that’s what we did–when I was 19 and Doug was 20.  Fifteen months later, our first daughter was born.  Three more followed.  With our youngest, Amy, coming seven years after the sister before her, Doug and I have had a child in the house for a very lo-ong time. 

 In two days, we won’t. 

Why does that scare me? 

Amy goes off to college on Friday and ends 31 years of curfews, chores and school activities.  No more uniforms to wash on weekends.  No more work schedules posted on the ‘fridge.  No more ‘What’s for supper, Mom?’ 

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It scares me, all right. What will Doug and I talk about?   What will we do when we only have each other?  What will it be like to have the house empty of little chicks? 

Ironically enough, the Today Show (my favorite–you’ll hear me quote from them often in the coming months) recently aired a segment on becoming empty-nesters.  They tell me I’m entering the second half of motherhood and that I’ll have the time of my life.  They claim my marriage will likely enter into a new honeymoon stage.  We’ll rediscover each other.  Grow closer.  Have fun. 

Hmm.   

I’ll also be entering a phase that will be just for me.  More time to write.  Or take spontaneous research trips.  I can pick up and go to writers conferences, have lunch with girlfriends . . .. 

Sure.  Okay.  But the fact remains I’ve lived more of my life with children than without them, and now my littlest chicky doesn’t need me anymore.  She’s sprouted her own wings and is flying away to a new life of herchickies.jpg own.  I’ll lay awake at night knowing her bedroom is empty and her car isn’t sitting in the driveway.  I won’t know where she is at any given moment.   

I’ll get over it, I suppose.  Most likely, I’ll even learn to like it.   Until then, I take comfort in the Today Show telling me there’s a million of us on the brink of post-mommyhood as the new school year begins, and I’m not alone as I enter my new world. 

What about you?  Are you there yet?  Was it hard having your little chick leave the nest–or are you counting down the days?   

Sagebrush, Songbirds, and Socializin’

What could be better than a June night with a group of friends under the Texas stars, laughing more than the law allows, and eating until we couldn’t hold another bite? linda-hilary-jodi.JPG Not much any better than that. I don’t get to do near enough laughing so when Phyliss Miranda and Jodi Thomas twisted my arm and made me sign my name in blood, I knew I’d fill the empty well with so much laughter it’d spill out and soak into the rocky ground. Sharing the experience with such wonderful friends made it even more special when Phyliss, Jodi, Molly McKnight, Ginger Porter and I gave Hilary Sares of Kensington Publishing a taste of real pioneering life. I hope she won’t hold it against us! 

Big thanks go to Hilary for toting a neat surprise—the title of our second anthology, Give Me A Cowboy—all the way from New York. She’s the best. You wouldn’t take her for a New Yorker in the ten gallon hat Jodi brought for her to wear. She looked more like a Texan than we did. A regular cowgirl. linda-hilary.JPG

But, back to my story.  In Palo Duro Canyon just south of Amarillo, Texas there’s a certain sound of happiness in the music of the wind, the twill of the songbirds as they flitter among the branches of the mesquite and cottonwood, and the rustle of the sage as the evening draws to a close. We perched on some rocks like a gaggle of satisfied fat geese and watched a magnificent sunset. You had to be there. The fading light bounced off the walls of the canyon, giving us a show I won’t soon forget. Don’t know about the rest, but I felt as if I’d died and gone to paradise. It reminded me of the song that asks to go to Texas when you die. I hate to brag, but our corner of the universe is something. I never tire of looking at the wide expanse of sky and the land that goes on forever. sunset.JPG

Looking at all that beauty, it never even dawned on me that I had quite an experience in store. Ha, I’m a little slow sometimes, but let’s not go there. 

That night I learned the meaning of three words that I’d casually slung around like ground corn to a flock of chickens. I’d always thought of rustic as something that’s kinda modern except with an old appearance. And a bathroom as a piece of smooth porcelain—or shoot, even a wooden outhouse with a round hole. But spending the night at Cow Camp educated me in “roughing it.” I found out quick why Jodi went back to her soft bed and shiny white porcelain. Yep, I certainly did. She’s a pretty smart cookie.  😉

cow-camp-cabin.JPGNow, the word Cow Camp should’ve given me a clue as to what I’d signed up for. But, like I said I’m a little slow. They promised me that the bathroom was just across the road. No problem. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) built these cabins during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. They constructed them from natural rock from the area with no frills. And, other than limited electricity, they’re exactly as they were when they finished constructing them. These rock shelters had no bathroom, no sink, and no running water. Thank the good Lord we had electricity at least and a bed of sorts that used rope for the springs. That was my saving grace. 

It was after I discovered that we had to walk quite a distance to the “road” that led to the bathroom that panic set in. In daylight it wasn’t so bad, but in the dead of night by flashlight it was another story altogether. Rather than risk an encounter with rattlesnakes, wild critters, and god-knows-what else, we each chose a bush and put our name on it. No wonder they told me to bring bedding, water, and toilet paper. That should’ve been a clue as well. I’m gonna have to smarten up a bit. 

Later we sipped on cold drinks, told ghost stories, and laughed our silly heads off and I knew that having fun came in lots of shapes and sizes and wasn’t measured by what accommodations I had or didn’t have. Friends can renew the strength of someone who’s had too much heartbreak. They can remind you that life stinks but it’s full of amazing joy too. And friends can polish your soul until it shines like a brand new penny. Some things you can’t put a price on. 

wild-turkey.JPGThe next morning over breakfast, we fed a flock of wild turkeys some sausage balls and peach cobbler. They didn’t complain. I swear, I thought they were going to climb in the car and go home with us. The crazy turkeys! They probably would’ve if we hadn’t slammed the door fast enough. 

Our fun did extend with a raid on the gift shops and meeting Gerald Cathern, an author who knows just about everything there is to know about Palo Duro Canyon. Gerald was doing a booksigning in the gift shop. He’s so full of fascinating stories. He writes a lot about Charles Goodnight, the famous cowboy who with Oliver Loving established the Goodnight-Loving Trail. (If you recall, Robert Duvall played Oliver Loving in the movie, Lonesome Dove.) In 1876 Charles Goodnight began ranching in Palo Duro and at one time was sole owner of the canyon that only had one way in and one way out. The rugged trail was a steep incline and I can only imagine how he managed to get his cattle down it.  Probably took a whole lot of cussing and quite a bit of expert roping ability.

 Goodnight was an interesting and very enterprising man. He was reportedly the first rancher in the Panhandle to use barbed wire, he invented the chuckwagon that came to be used by every outfit driving cattle to market, and helped organize and serve as the first president of the Panhandle Stock Association. Plus, he made his famous treaty with the great Comanche, Quanah Parker. He promised goodnights-dugout.JPGQuanah two beeves every other day in exchange for leaving his herds alone. One of the highlights for me on this trip was seeing Goodnight’s old dugout in the canyon that’s still in excellent condition today. It was dug into the side of a hill with cottonwood and cedar logs enclosing the front. With a man and his horse inside on a rainy night, it would’ve certainly brought new meaning to the word cozy. 

History of both the American Indian and the cowboy pressed around me so close at times that I felt I could reach out and touch it. A really neat feeling. And I came away with new appreciation for friendships old and new, regardless of the lack of white porcelain. I just wish we’d have gotten to see the musical, Texas, in the outdoor amphitheater but we didn’t have time. Shoot! Guess we’ll save that for another day. 

Have you visited a place that gave you the sense that you’d stepped back in time?

Or maybe that you might’ve lived there?

Out With The Books!

I’m delighted to join the Petticoats and Pistols team and have the opportunity to say howdy to fellow western lovers.   I started writing westerns at the beginning of my career and plan to return there. They’ve always been the love of my writing life, but I kinda got sidetracked with Scotland, early America and suspense.

Now it’s time to return to my roots.  A proposal for a five-book series is in the works, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

In the meantime, I’ve just finished a suspense novel, which means it’s time for a bit of housecleaning. Conveniently, it’s also time for my neighborhood’s giant garage sale which draws thousands of bargain hunters.  Since it usually occurs during deadline time, I’ve only participated three times during the twelve years I’ve lived in Memphis. But lately I’ve been receiving hints from my extended family. “If you ever move,” they claim, “your house will rise four feet.”   Comments are getting downright rude.This is in reference to the more than 4,000 books in my house. I have a lifetime of books. I do not believe in getting rid of a book. Any kind of book. But predictions that my house might collapse under their weight indicate a mild withdrawal might be in order. 

Too many books.  A notice of the giant garage sale. A sign?

I found a cardboard box and started the search for possible rejects in my office. I have eight floor-to- ceiling bookcases in my office alone. Those are my, ahem, research books. There’s one wall devoted to American western history; one to Scottish history and English history; one to murder, general mayhem, and various ways of tormenting people (for my suspense novels). The last area includes the general resource materials: costumes through the ages, guns through the ages, underclothes through the ages, ships through the ages, etc. Then there’s the one essential book for all writers: Baby Names. I have four of those, each one absolutely essential.

Okay, Pat, you can do this. You really can. After all, most of these books are no longer necessary because of the internet. Instead of using all that space, you need only a computer and mouse these days.

Yeah, and the heart isn’t essential for life.

Still, I start with the books under my desk. Surely I don’t need four Thesauruses. And four dictionaries.

I’ll start with the Dictionaries.   Dictionaries do well in garage sales.  (Well, since I never sold one, I don’t really know, but I suspect this is true).  Now this one has the dates of when each word came into common use. Can’t dump that. The second one has nice large print.  Invaluable for midnight hours. The third, well it’s a paperback and light. Easy to hold. The last, well . . . I never know when I’ll lose the other three under piles of books.

Maybe I’ll have better luck with the Thesauruses. No one needs four. Or maybe they do. This one is big. Lots of words. But the second is better organized. And then the third is the Synonym Finder. Paperback again. Bright red cover. Easier to find when reams of paper cover my desk as I finish my final draft. Can’t give up that one. The fourth? Well, I can’t find it right now. But I know it’s there. Somewhere.

On to the western shelves.

Do I really need “Diary of a Cattle Drive Cook.” Yep, absolutely necessary to my well-being.   Just listen to the call for breakfast:

“Wake up Jacob!

Day’s a-breaking

Beans in the pot,

An’ sourdoughs a’breakin’!”

Now where can you find that on the internet?

Then there’s “Apache Days and Tombstone Nights,” the autobiography of John Clum who was mayor of Tombstone during the Earp-Clanton battle at the OK Corral and founder of the “Tombstone Epitaph.” He was also an Indian fighter who took Geronimo prisoner. This is the real deal. Great stuff, especially since my dad grew up in the area and had met him (please don’t add up those years).

What about “Soiled Doves, Prostitution in the Early West,” and “Mollie,” the journal of a city woman who homesteads with her husband in the Nebraska Territory? Or the multitude of other diaries of participants in the building of the west? Miners, army wives, cowboys, gamblers, boatmen, and one of my very favorites: the journey by an English woman across the Rockies on horseback. Alone (“A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains.”)

Ah,  here’s “The Prairie Traveler,” the 1859  best selling handbook for American Pioneers.   A must for any wagon train tale.

Can’t give up any of the above. Each was carefully collected on trips west, usually at state and national historical sites, and my proposed western series would include all the characters above.

Oops. Don’t remember that one about the Apaches. I’ll just read a page or two . . .

How late is it? Can barely see. Where did the daylight go?

On to the Scottish shelves. Maybe I’ll have better luck there.

“The Laird’s Table?” Now how easy is it to find meals from the 15th Century in Scotland on the internet? Better keep that one. “The Steel Bonnets?” Nope, love that book. Fascinating history of the English/Scottish border in the 1500’s. Okay, do I really need twenty books on clan names and castles and Scottish ghosts?

Aye, I do. Never know when I’ll return to Scottish historicals, just as I now intend to turn back to my original love, westerns. There’s a lot in common between the two, particularly rugged individualism and strong women. I indulged my love for both when writing, “The Marshal and the Heiress,” when a western marshal goes to Scotland, and its successor, “The Scotsman Wore Spurs,” when a Scot goes west. 

But I digress.  I take my empty box downstairs. Lots of books there. Twelve more bookcases. And piles. Piles everywhere. Fiction and non-fiction of all kinds. Surely I can find a reject here and there.

Ahhhh, there’s my Elswyth Thane Williamsburg series. You would have to pry those from my cold dead hands. Along with Celeste De Blasis’s “The Proud Breed, ” my all-time favorite western. If you haven’t read it, find it. It’s long, very long, but every page is a treasure. “Lonesome Dove” rests next to it as my second favorite.

That box is kinda light. I look inside. An “AAA Tour Book” about Texas. Well, I have an updated one. But I smile. Progress.

Enough for now. It’s two in the morning.

As for my getting-rid-of -books project, well, tomorrow is another day.

In the meantime, I would appreciate any suggestions on how to tear away a few of the volumes clutched tightly against my heart.

We're Here!

I guess you could say Petticoats & Pistols was my crazy idea.

I blame it on a marketing class I took from Gwen Schuster-Haynes last spring.  It was a fab class, and in one of her lectures, she featured a blog site put together by a group of writers.  She hailed them as one of her alumni success stories for their dedication to a career plan.  And the amazing thing?  They weren’t published, but yowza, were they motivated to be.  I fell in love with their site for being so clever and memorable.  Check them out: 

These ladies inspired me to do something similar, but there were already a gazillion single- and multi-author blogs out there.  I knew I needed something unique, too, to market myself and my books.  

Now I don’t consider myself clever or memorable.  Not by a long shot.  But the one thing I could claim to be was a western romance author, and by golly, there wasn’t a single blog out there dedicated to us and what we write. 

It didn’t take long, and Petticoats & Pistols was born.  

My time on MySpace, Shelfari and reader sites has revealed that romance lovers miss westerns.  Writers miss writing them.  And we’re hearing whispers that westerns are coming back . . .. 

The ten of us have banded together to keep that pendulum swinging in our direction.  We want to be THE go-to site for western romance.  We want readers to come to us to find the latest western romance releases, both historical and contemporary.  We want western romance writers to guest blog with us.  We want published and aspiring western romance writers to share info links about the Old West, writing tips, good news about their sales, etc. 

Most of all, we want to have fun! 

Each of us will blog a couple of days a month.  Weekends are reserved for guests.  Come over often.  See who’s here and what we have to say.   

You just might find Petticoats & Pistols a clever and memorable place to visit! 

(Heartfelt thanks to Laura at Swank Web Style for her infinite patience and talent!)