I’ve been a book lover my entire life. Yet over the last decade or so, I’ve found that I am reading less and less. With a day job, writing full time, and family/church responsibilities, time is at a premium. Yet I don’t want to lose the pleasure of discovering new characters and adventures inside the covers of unexplored tomes. So I’ve started looking for new motivations to help me keep reading a priority. Last year, I attempted to keep a list of all the books I had read. I think I lost track somewhere around fall, but I did find satisfaction in seeing over 20 books on my list before I stopped keeping count. I know that’s small potatoes for many of you, but it was encouraging to me.
This year I’m going to try something with a little more accountability and hopefully a lot of fun. Inspired by many fun reading challenges circulating around social media, I decided to create one for my Facebook group – The Posse. I asked for their input in coming up with the categories, and nearly all the ones you see on my list are iterations of their suggestions. Here’s what we came up with . . .
We tried to create a list with a lot of flexibility to allow for personal taste and interest while still giving us the motivation to try something new or perhaps stretch our literary comfort zone just a bit.
You don’t have to be a Posse member to use this reading challenge, but if you want to participate with other readers and join in the discussion, we’d love to have you! We talk about all kinds of other things, too, including brainstorming ideas for my books. But at the beginning of every month, I’ll be posting the upcoming reading challenge category, and at the end of the month, I’ll create a post where everyone can talk about the book they read, how it fit the category, and what they thought about the story. It’s strictly for fun, so if you need to skip a month or two, that perfectly fine. Just join back in when you can. Personally, I’m hoping to use this as a motivation to read more as well as an accountability piece to keep me going even when life gets busy.
Years ago, I was a restaurant reviewer for a local newspaper. My husband and I would dine at a restaurant like regular customers. At the end of the meal, I’d pull out my card and announce that the restaurant had just been reviewed.
Once I became known, restaurant managers and owners offered me free meals and other bribes in exchange for reviews. In order to write a fair and unbiased review, I never accepted anything free (though I must admit the costly bottle of champagne challenged my integrity), but you can’t blame anyone for trying. Restaurants depend on reviews for survival. So do writers.
Whereas a single review in a newspaper or online can increase business for an eatery, writers needs a number of book reviews to notice a difference in sales. In recent years, writers have lost important review outlets such as Romantic Times. Now writers must depend on reader reviews on outlets like Amazon and Goodreads and those are not easy to come by.
Oh, sure, writers can pay review services and many bestselling writers do just that. But the services don’t come cheap and there’s no guarantee that enough reviews will be provided to offset the costs.
Why All the Fuss About Book Reviews?
Reviews offer writers greater visibility and a better chance of being found. Also, many promotional sites require a certain number of reviews before an author can use the service.
A study conducted by the Northwestern University found that people bought products based on popularity, meaning the most reviews. Oddly enough, the reviews didn’t even have to be good. Products with a lot of bad reviews sold more than products with fewer but better reviews. (With that criteria, even a mouse could become popular if given enough reviews.)
It doesn’t take much. 20-50 reviews are enough to give consumers confidence enough in the product to purchase it.
Why don’t more readers leave book reviews? According to my unscientific survey among friends and family, here are the top excuses, oops I mean reasons, for not leaving a review.
I didn’t purchase it from Amazon
Amazon allows reviews whether the book was purchased from them or not. If purchased from Amazon, it will say verified purchase. Amazon does have an instinct for sniffing out reviews by a writer’s family members and friends (okay, you can’t blame me for trying), but otherwise anyone can review a book.
I’m not a writer
You may not be a writer, but we writers value your words. You don’t have to write anything fancy and you certainly don’t have to compete with a professional reviewer. I liked this book because….is a good start. Or maybe you didn’t like it as much as the author’s earlier works. Honesty is always best when writing a review. If you simply can’t bring yourself to write one, you can locate the book on Amazon, find the review that is closest to expressing your thoughts and click on “helpful.” Yep, in the wondrous and sometimes confusing world of Amazon algorithms, “likes” and “helpfuls” count.
Don’t have time
I heard this one from someone who had recently won a free book from an online contest. I’m sure most winners don’t think about the time it takes the author to package and mail a book. Also, books don’t come free. The writer probably paid for the book out of her own money, not to mention postage. But writers do this willingly hoping the winner likes the book enough to recommend it to her friends, and yes, give it an online review.
My one review won’t make a difference
Oh, but it does, it does, and we fillies appreciate readers who take the time to post reviews. You’ve helped contribute to the success of our books and we can’t thank you enough.
So how important are reviews to you in choosing books, movies, restaurants or Amazon purchases?
Okay, now here’s the good part. Post a comment and you could be one of five winners to receive a copy of my new release The Cowboy Meets His Match—yep five. BUT (yep, there’s a catch!) I’m going to ask for the very thing most writers are too embarrassed to ask for: All I’m asking in return is that winners consider posting a review of the book. Yee-Haw!
Back in April, I attended a writing retreat in Branson, MO. It was a wonderful time of rest and fun and great writerly conversations. But thanks to a reader’s recommendation, one of my favorite parts of the trip was a little side journey to Mansfield, MO. When I discovered that the home where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived and wrote the Little House books was only an hour away, I knew I couldn’t miss the chance to visit.
I grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie books and watching the television series. It is because of Laura’s books and others like them that I became so enamored with historical fiction. Getting to actually walk through the house that Almanzo built for Laura, to see the room where their daughter Rose slept as a girl, to see the small desk where Laura sat to write her novels . . . it gave me chills.
The tour guide took us through the house in the order that it was built. It started as two rooms and expanded over the years to contain three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, music room, small library, and front parlor. Laura and Almanzo both lived into their 90’s, and the caretakers have kept their house almost exactly as they left it upon their deaths. There were several lamps that Almanzo made by hand along with chairs and other furnishings. They wouldn’t let us take any pictures inside the house, but I bought a few postcards to help me remember.
Rose Wilder Lane was a successful writer well before her mother decided to pen the stories of her life. Rose published several novels and wrote for many popular magazines. She traveled extensively in Europe and made quite a nice living for herself. So in 1928 before the stock market crash that would send the country into an economic crisis, Rose decided to build her parents a new house. She purchased it from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and hired an architect to make a few structural changes. They called it The Rock House because Rose had it fashioned like an English stone cottage. It was less than a mile from their farm at Rocky Ridge. Laura and Almanzo moved to the Rock House and stayed there for eight years. But in 1936 when Rose decided to move back to New York, the Wilders moved back to their beloved farm house. As much as they appreciate their daughter’s gift, the Rock House just wasn’t home.
Back at Rocky Ridge, we had the opportunity to visit a wonderful museum filled with artifacts from Laura’s life including her Pa’s fiddle and original manuscripts. There were notes in the margins where Rose had obviously given her mother editorial advice, and no doubt Rose’s connections with the publishing world in New York opened doors for her mother that Laura would never had been able to open for herself, but seeing those manuscripts in Laura’s own handwriting made it abundantly clear in my mind that those who claim Rose was the true author of the Little House stories are mistaken.
The final place we visited was the small community cemetery where the Wilders are laid to rest. Having seen their lives portrayed on television and in novels made them seem larger than life. Yet seeing their graves made it truly sink in that they were real people, living real lives. What an amazing adventure they shared.
So, if you ever happen to travel through Missouri, do yourself a favor and spend a couple hours in Mansfield with this amazing family.
Did you grow up reading the Little House books?
Did you watch the TV show?
Besides Laura, who was your favorite Little House character?
In addition to writing, I substitute teach in elementary school. This week is Read Across America, with schools celebrate reading, and particularly, Dr. Seuss. The program is encouraging supporters to take a selfie with their favorite childhood book and post it to social media. I decided to take it one step further and write this month’s blog about my choice.
But before I start talking about that, I must issue a quick apology, because my favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, isn’t western related. For those who don’t know the story, it’s about a selfish, spoiled girl raised in India whose life is overturned when her parents die, forcing her to move to England to live with an uncle she’s never met.
I can’t remember what grade it was in elementary school or who my teacher was, which I truly regret, but one my teachers read The Secret Garden aloud to my class. From the moment she cracked the book open, I was hooked. I couldn’t wait for afternoon to arrive so I could head to the English countryside to spend time with poor Mary Lennox. After we finished the story, I bought a copy from Scholastic and reread the book repeatedly.
I loved seeing Mary growing more confident and content as she connected with the moors. Her budding relationship with Dickon captivated me. Even then I possessed the heart of a romance novelists, because I envisioned after the story ended, them living happily ever after on their own land, with a beautiful garden they lovingly tended together, and of course, they were still best friends with Colin. (BTW, I still want to know how their lives turned out. Hmmm. Maybe there’s a western fan fiction story in there!)
The mystery surrounding the cries in Misselthwaite Manor and why everyone insisted Mary was imagining things held me mesmerized. When Mary found her cousin Colin, and they and Dickon started exploring the secret garden, I was there too, sharing in their adventures.
For me, The Secret Garden had it all—romance, mystery, a heroine with a tragic past in need of a home, family, love and belonging. All themes that are intertwined in the books I write today. The Secret Garden hooked me on reading and started me dreaming about writing my own stories.
But how about you? Leave me a comment about your favorite childhood book to be entered to win the snack set and a copy of To Love A Texas Cowboy. Ironically, like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, To Love A Texas Cowboy is my story about a tragically orphaned little girl. Though she’s not the main character, Ella being orphaned, like Mary, sets the story into motion.
Now go. I’m excited to hear about your favorite childhood book and why it means so much to you!
Hi folks, Winnie Griggs here.
Lately I’ve noticed several photos of early bookmobiles circulating on Facebook and it got me to wondering about the history of these literary vehicles. So of course I had to dive in and do a bit of research. Here is a little taste of what I discovered.
Bookmobiles have been around since the 1850s. It was during this period that the Perambulating Library made its appearance in the UK.
The US was a bit slower to implement this service. In 1893 Melvil Dewey led the effort to implement something called Travelling Collections. By 1899 there were 2500 of these travelling collections across the country.
In 1903 Wisconsin began using wagons to deliver books to schools.
It wasn’t until 1905 that the first US library, The Washington County Free Library, specifically designed a wagon to be used as a bookmobile. This effort was headed by Mary Titcomb who patterned it after the service in the UK. The wagon was driven by the library janitor, Joshua Thomas.
1912 saw the introduction of the first motorized vehicles, allowing the libraries to greatly expand their range of service.
The term bookmobile was first used in January of 1929.
The use of vehicles was greatly curtailed during the Great Depression, but that did not shut down the system. For example, women used pack horses in Kentucky, and in Mississippi a librarian used a house boat to provide mobile library services.
During the following years the number of bookmobiles in the country fluctuated as factors like wartime, the cost of fuel, and economic upswings and downturns impacted finances and materials.
The Everett County Public Library’s bookmobile (called Pegasus after the mythological flying horse) was purchased in 1924, making it the first bookmobile in Washington State. It was retired in 1950, then restored in the 1990s, making it the oldest still-operational bookmobile.
The state with the most bookmobiles is Kentucky.
Fun facts from around the world:
Zimbabwe utilizes a donkey-draw bookmobile that, in addition to providing books, also provides some technology services.
Kenya has the Camel Library Service with a collection of over 7000 books
Thailand has elephant-drawn libraries
Some coastal communities in Norway have their library needs met by itinerant ships
z z z z z
As for me, I have very fond memories of bookmobiles. The first elementary school I attended didn’t have a library so the bookmobile came by every other week. It was always a treat to step inside and see so many books in one place. And since I have always LOVED books and reading, it was even more magical to pick out one to take home with me.
What about you? Do you have any personal experience with a bookmobile?And what information in the post above did you find most surprising?
Howdy, everyone! I’m happy to be joining the Petticoats & Pistols as the newest member today, partly because it’s always nice to hang out with other writers and readers but also because of the focus on westerns. You see, I’ve loved westerns for as long as I can remember. I recently had to answer a questionnaire for my publisher, and one of the questions was why I liked cowboy stories. I had to sit and think about it because it was just something that had always been true. As I was growing up in rural western Kentucky, we only had three TV channels and had to go outside to physically turn the antennae if the reception was bad. I distinctly remember that old movies played on Saturday afternoons, and a lot of those were westerns. When I think back on them now, I can identify why they attracted me and why I still love western-set TV shows, movies and books.
The landscape was so wide open with impossibly wide skies and a rugged type of beauty. This was completely different than the wooded, rolling hills where I grew up. At that point in my life, I’d barely been out of the state with brief trips a few miles down the road and across the river into Illinois and a Girl Scout trip to Opryland theme park in Nashville, Tenn., both of which looked pretty much like Kentucky. So those western landscapes, even if some of them were created on Hollywood lots, were like a different planet that I longed to visit.
Even though it was romanticized and still is to some extent, cowboys were iconic American heroes. They could live off the land, were honest (at least if they were wearing a white or light-colored hat), chivalrous, and a force for good. Even back then in the 1970s and ’80s, I knew that things were rarely that black and white in real life. Reality was more complicated and filled with shades of gray.
I love stories set in the past. I haven’t met a costume drama I didn’t love, and westerns — at least for me — fall into that category. It’s a bit like being a time-traveler and being transported to a different time and place, but you don’t have to worry about the lack of hygiene or modern medicine.
While I love my modern conveniences, I for some reason have always loved stories about survival and living off the land. When I think about people who set off in wagon trains west, not knowing if they’d make it or if they’d ever seen friends and family again, I’m awed by how much courage that took. Kind of like people who boarded ships in England and sailed for America. Even though modern-day cowboys and ranchers have the modern conveniences the rest of us do, they are still men of the land and work out under those wide-open skies.
While I write contemporary romance, many of which have cowboys as heroes, I still have a great love for western historicals. These were the first romances I read back in high school and continued to read in the years that followed — stories by Lorraine Heath, Kathleen Eagle, Elizabeth Grayson, among others. My first manuscript was even a historical set along the Oregon Trail, inspired partly because of that old video game called Oregon Trail. A friend even got me a shirt once that said, “You have died of dysentery,” which is a familiar phrase to anyone who played the game.
If a new movie comes out that is a western, I do my best to go see it in the theater so they’ll continue to make more. If there’s a western-themed TV series, I’m parked in front of the small screen. My all-time favorite show, Firefly, actually is a mixture of western and my other favorite genre, sci-fi. Yes, space western, and it was awesome!
In the months ahead, I look forward to blogging about various western-themed topics — my trips across the American West, my love for western-themed decor, rodeo, etc. And I look forward to interacting with the readers of Petticoats & Pistols.
Why do so many women named Kathleen become romance authors? They’re everywhere.
Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Kathleen Kane, Kathleen O’Brien, Kathleen Baldwin, Kathleen Eagle, Kathleen Kellow, Kathleen Maxwell, Kathleen Bittner Roth, Kathleen M. Rodgers, Kathleen Ball, Kathleen Y’Barbo, Kathleen Winsor… They’re all somewhat celebrated, and some are still writing today.
Then there’s that other Kathleen—the one who finds humor in the most inappropriate places at the worst possible times. The Kathleen whose wardrobe consists primarily of egg on her face and the taste of shoe leather on her tongue. The Kathleen who encourages fictional characters to cuss and steal and murder and commit all manner of other dastardly deeds because they can get away with it and she can’t.
The troublemaking one. The one who reveres sarcasm as high art. The one who should be rich and famous by now if for no other reason than name association.
To tell you the truth, I find it more satisfying to be poor and infamous—which is a good thing, since I’m a pro at both pursuits.
Here are a few more truths:
1) I’m the eldest of four siblings: two girls and two boys. (Yes, four middle-aged hooligans with similar DNA remain at large. Be afraid.) Three of us are overachievers: My sister is a retired judge, the eldest of the boys is literally a rocket scientist, and the baby of the family is a computer systems engineer. And then there’s me.
2) My sister, brothers, and I played cowboys and Indians a lot when we were kids. I was always the outlaw. Why no one saw that as a warning remains a mystery.
3) I retired from the U.S. Air Force at the ripe old age of 22. No, I was not mustered out on a Section 8, although that would’ve surprised no one.
4) I still have my wisdom teeth, my appendix, and my tonsils. My mind, on the other hand, hasn’t been seen in years.
5) As a journalist, I’ve worked the scene of a major airline disaster, covered political scandals, written columns about poltergeist-infested commodes and human kindness, won awards…and found myself staring at the wrong end of a gun—twice. Thankfully, I’ve yet to be ventilated. (A more astute individual might have realized it’s unwise to antagonize crazy people.)
6) My author bio says I come from “a long line of ranchers, preachers, and teachers on one side and horse thieves and moonshiners on the other.” I did not make any of that up. Some of my relatives still ranch, preach, and teach. The horse thieves and moonshiners found other lines of work.
7) My paternal grandmother’s mother was American Indian. Grandma never knew what tribe; consequently, neither do I. In the late 1800s, Kentucky hillbillies considered marrying an Indian shameful, so no one talked about great-grandma’s heritage. My grandmother never met her mother’s relatives. (My dad, who as a child helped his father run moonshine, was the first in his family’s history to earn a college degree. He referred to himself as a “hillwilliam.”)
8) My short story “Peaches” was based on my maternal grandparents’ courtship. Granny, a young widow who taught in a one-room Texas schoolhouse and had her hands full with three rowdy boys, took a peach pie to a church social. The man who was to become my grandfather, a bachelor rancher in his 50s, won the accidentally over-seasoned pie at auction. He nearly choked to death on the first bite. His response? “I s’pose I ought to marry that little woman ‘fore she kills somebody.”
9) My house celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Compared to some of the other homes on Galveston Island, it’s a youg’un. The Capt. H.H. Hadley House (yes, it has a name) was completed in August 1915…two weeks before a deadly Category 4 hurricane struck. More than three dozen big blows later, it’s still standing.
10)Four Chihuahuas ranging in age from four to fifteen live in this house. Whatever they’ve told you about the intractability of their servant, don’t believe them. If they didn’t want to be deviled by a spoiled-rotten delinquent, they shouldn’t have rescued me.
There. Now you know all of my deep, dark secrets. Before you decide to pursue blackmail, read “The Ransom of Red Chief.”
To compensate for the loss of financial opportunity, I’ll give away a copy of The Dumont Brand, which contains the first two stories in a series about a Texas ranching dynasty with more skeletons in its closets than there are in a graveyard. “The Trouble with Honey,” a new story in the series, will be published this summer.
To enter the drawing, leave a comment revealing something about you. Oh, c’mon. It’ll be fun! Your life can’t be any more embarrassing than mine. 😉
Harper Lee, the elusive novelist who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, a novel that was written from a child’s-eye whose view reflected racial prejudices in a small Southern town recently died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 89, in her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama.
Although I read a dozen articles about her death, they were about the same through the eyes of the Associated Press. The information that I found the most intriguing was in her biography.
One thing of interest was that her full name was Nelle Harper Lee. Her first name was her grandmother’s name spelled backwards. Lee dropped the Nelle because she didn’t want people to mispronounce it. Her father was a lawyer, a member of the Alabama state legislature and part owner of the local newspaper. For most of Lee’s life, her mother suffered from mental illness and rarely left the house. It was believed that she may have had bipolar disorder.
Although Lee was the youngest of four children, she was scrappy as any of her brothers. Not to mention she was brilliant.
One of her best friends, and who as authors today we’d call a critique partner, was Truman Capote, then known as Truman Persons. Lee often stepped up to serve as Truman’s protector. Truman, who shared few interest with boys his age, was picked on for being sensitive and for the fancy clothes he wore. While the two friends were very different, they both had difficult homes lives. Truman lived with his mother’s relative after largely being abandoned by his own parents.
“The world knows Harper Lee was a brilliant writer but what many don’t know is that she was an extraordinary woman of great joyfulness, humility and kindness. She lived her life the way she wanted to– in private – surrounded by books and the people who loved her,” Michael Morrison, head of HarperCollins U.S. general books group, said.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a little over a half a century ago, quickly became a best-seller, won the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a memorable movie in 1962, with Gregory Peck winning an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus, plus the movie winning three Oscars. As the civil rights movement grew, the novel inspired a generation of young lawyers.
By 2015, its sales were reported to be more than 40 million worldwide, making it one of the most widely read American novels of the 20th century. When the Library of Congress did a survey in 1991 on books that have affected people’s lives, I was second only to the Bible.
Lee herself became more mysterious as her book became more famous. At first, she dutifully promoted her work. She spoke frequently to the press, wrote about herself and gave speeches..
But she began declining interviews in the late 1960s and, until late in her life, firmly avoided making any public comment at all about her novel or her career. Other than a few magazine pieces for Vogue and McCall’s in the 1960s and a review of a 19th-century Alabama history book in 1983, she published no other book until stunning the world in 2015 by permitting Go Set a Watchman to be released.
”Watchman” was written before “Mockingbird” but was set 20 years later, using the same location and many of the same characters. Readers and reviewers were disheartened to find an Atticus who seemed nothing like the hero of the earlier book. But despite unenthusiastic reviews and questions whether Lee was well enough to approve the publication, “Watchman” jumped to the top of best-seller lists within a day of its announcement and remained there for months.
Much of Lee’s story is the story of “Mockingbird,” and how she responded to it. She wasn’t a bragger or a drinker like many authors of her time. She was not a recluse or eccentric. By the accounts of friends and Monroeville townsfolk, she was a warm, vibrant and witty woman who enjoyed life, played golf, read voraciously and enjoyed plays and concerts. She just didn’t want to talk about it before an audience.
One of the most interesting things I found about her life really doesn’t differ a great deal from today’s readers. Although eventually To Kill a Mockingbird was released as an e-Book, she wasn’t all that pleased with the decision. In her words, like many of ours, she said, “I’m still old-fashioned. I love dusty old books and libraries. I am amazed and humbled that ‘Mockingbird’ has survived this long ….”
As most students who grew up in my era, To Kill a Mockingbird was required school reading. However, I read mostly Granny’s True Confession mags she hid under the bed in the room I stayed in every weekend, plus of course, required class reading.
When I got older, the first real romance novel I read and it’ll always be my favorite is The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss. After I got caught up on her older books, I turned to LaVyrle Spencer. There are so many to choose from but my favorite of all is The Hellion and later Hummingbird. For me, as I remember, The Hellion, was the first truly bad-boy hero I’d ever read. Just writing about it today makes me want to find my copy and read it again, but since I’ve got to get the second book in the Kasota Springs series finished for Kensington, I guess I’d best save the reading of The Hellion and The Flame and the Flower until it’s winter and I can curl up with hot tea in front of the fireplace and read.
My question to you all … what is the book you literally “cut your teeth on” when you began reading historical romances?
Being the first day of March, I can truly smell all the freshness of spring here in Texas. To one lucky winner I will give you an e-Book of the first book in the Kasota Springs series, The Troubled Texan.
This was a fun shot at Barnes and Nobles and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a picture. To Kill a Mockingbird, Filly Linda Broday’s Texas Mail Order Bride, and the Valentine’s short story collection from Prairie Rose Publications, Hearts and Spurs which features P&P Fillies Linda Broday, Tracy Garrett, Cheryl Pierson, Kathleen Rice Adams, Tanya Hansen, and Phyliss Miranda.
It’s always so exciting when a new book comes out, but I’ve been chomping at the bit to get this one into the hands of readers ever since A Worthy Pursuit came out last June. My latest project, a novella titled The Husband Maneuver(from the collection With This Ring?), is finally here! I’ve been dying to share Daniel Barrett (aka Dead-Eye Dan) and Marietta Hawkins’s story with you.
Dead-Eye Dan is a dime novel hero inspired by the exploits of Daniel Barrett during his bounty hunting days, but Dan gave up that life to be an ordinary mule trainer. Only, the dratted dime novels keep glorifying his past and making it impossible to escape. He’s been in love with his boss’s daughter for two years, but his promise not to make advances while in Jonah Hawkins’s employ has kept him silent about how he feels. That and the fact that he worries Etta couldn’t love an ordinary mule trainer if her head was full of dime novel nonsense.
Marietta loves the man, not the legend, but when Dan decides to leave her father’s ranch for good in order to start his own spread, she panics, fearing she’s about to lose him forever. She takes drastic measures to convince him of her wifely suitability, but when a deadly hailstorm hits the ranch, will her dreams shatter like broken window glass?
With all the dime novel aspects in this novella, I wanted to work in actual scenes from a Dead-Eye Dan novel. Those scenes ended up being my favorite sections to write. I start each chapter with a Dead-Eye Dan excerpt, so the reader gets to enjoy two stories in one!
I thought I would share one of the Dead-Eye Dan excerpts with you. Enjoy the over-the-top sensationalist dime novel style.
Dead-Eye Dan climbed the tall oak with the skill of a cougar. Jaw tight, he scaled the tree hand-over-hand, his gaze locked on the v-shaped branch above his head. He had one chance to slow his prey. One chance to gain the upper hand. He wouldn’t squander it.
When he reached the branch he sought, Dan positioned himself in the cradle, bracing his legs against the sturdy trunk. In a single, smooth motion, he slid his Remington long range rifle from the custom holster on his back and lifted the Vernier peep sight into position with a flick of his thumb. The walnut stock fit against his shoulder as if it were an extension of his body.
Dan leaned forward and rested the barrel against the branch in front of him, notching it against a broken twig’s stub to keep it steady. He located his target. Four horses, 750 yards ahead. Four thieves and a woman. His woman. Taken when the desperadoes left the bank. They thought to use her as a shield to keep him at bay. A fatal error. The moment they touched Mary Ellen Watkins, they’d signed their death warrants.
–from Dead-Eye Dan and the Outlaws of Devil’s Canyon
Who are your favorite over-the-top cowboy heroes? From TV, movies, books – there are plenty to choose from.
I’m giving away 2 copies of With This Ring? today. Leave a comment to enter.
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.