I’m thrilled to be a part of Petticoats & Pistols. Tomorrow I’ll be bringing up the tail-end of our first two weeks on the web, and will share some insights on my fascination with the wild and rugged terrain of the American West. New to the publishing world, my first two western historicals hit bookshelves this past March and April. Tomorrow two random posters will win a copy of my debut novels, MUSTANG WILD and BRIDE OF SHADOW CANYON.
I had been writing and submitting for several years before I joined an RWA chapter and a local writers group. With the help of other more experienced writers, workshops and conferences, I learned and grew. Those first early projects are still in boxes in a storeroom. I truly didn’t know what I was doing. After studying Dwight Swain and garnering the advice of great ladies like Diane Wicker Davis (Avon) and Barbara Andrews (Ecstasy – and Silhouette as Jennifer Drew with her daughter Pam Hanson) and also being with a critique group, the first book I wrote start to finish was Rain Shadow.
At a Minneapolis conference, after spending the entire morning in the bathroom doing self-talk, I pitched the book at my first editor appointment. The editor asked to see it and later rejected it saying my hero was too unsympathetic.
I had submitted to agents about that same time, and one called me, saying with certainty, “I can sell this book for you.” I was thrilled, of course, and she did indeed sell it to Harlequin Historical. Thirty-some books later she is still my agent. After some initial quibbling over my title, it stuck and RAIN SHADOW was released in 1993. Back then HH did what they called March Madness and introduced two new authors each March. I loved the cover, loved it loved it. Loved the Wild West Show on the front. Adored her fringe jacket. Blew up the image and admired it. The art department used the pictures I’d sent them, and even her gun is in perfect detail.
Question from shopper at one of my very first book signings: “Is this you on the cover?”
Note to self: At all times be prepared to answer very odd questions graciously.
My second sale followed right on the heels of the first because it was a book I’d written previously. It had been shopped around other publishers without success. My new editor, who continued to be my editor for the next ten years, agreed to look at HEAVEN CAN WAIT, then asked me to cut a hundred pages and take out a subplot. Which I did with a lot of help from my critique group. It’s difficult to be that brutal to your own work. The story was indeed better for that revision. So the books came out one after the other, but not in the correct chronological order, story-wise. The villainess in Heaven Can Wait is the dead wife of the hero in Rain Shadow. So whenever I talk to people who will be reading them for the first time, I suggest they read them in the correct order.
And here’s something I’ve never mentioned before. The subplot I cut from Heaven Can Wait was the thread of Franz and Annette trying to have a baby. Over the years I’ve thought a few times about giving them their own story thus completing tales of the three brothers, but I’d have to go out of chronological order again, and for some reason that bugs me. Besides they were too happy together and supportive of each other…what would be the conflict? Wait, the story could be chronologically correct if it happened years after the last and their marriage had fallen apart because of their inability to conceive. Hmm, sounds like a lot of angst — wonder if I could handle that. <g> (I thrive on writing angst! Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry, make ‘em FEEL is my goal!)
So there you have the inside scoop on my first two sales and how they came about. It’s still exciting to see a new cover for each current release. It’s always a thrill to know that the stories I’ve worked so hard on are bringing pleasure to readers. As readers ourselves, writers know the delight of finding a new author, of becoming lost in a story, of falling in love with appealing characters. Being able to write those stories for others is a joy and a satisfaction beyond measure.
What we remember when we think back on a story isn’t always the specific details of the plot or even the character names. What we remember is how the book made us feel. If we were swept away, excited, intrigued, riveted, saddened, we recall those feelings. In an earlier blog, when I asked about the first romances you read and loved and you listed so many great ones, I’ll bet you remembered the way those stories affected you on an emotional level.
Which stories won places on your keeper shelf by involving your emotions?
I 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.
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?’
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.
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 her 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?
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? 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.
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.
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. 😉
Now, 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.
The 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
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 Quanah 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?
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!
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.
It’s been our first week here on Petticoats & Pistols, and we’re pleased as punch you love our site as much as we do.
Now, let us know what you think of our blogs! Are you enjoying their western flavor? Or are you looking for something different from us?
Something about our books? Our personal lives? Our writing and all about how we do it?
Let us know!
We’re working on rounding up some danged special guest bloggers, too, so check back often. We’ll let you know the days they’re coming.
But most of all, keep sending us your comments–we read each and every one!
Thanks so much to everyone who posted and stopped by Petticoats and Pistols today.
I’ve entered you all in a drawing and the winner will receive an autographed book from my available titles and 5 Harlequin Coupons!
Congratulations to: Kathleen
I’ll be contacting you via email soon!
COMING UP ON MONDAY:
YOU WON’T WANT TO MISS IT!
The 1957 tagline: The Lonesome Whistle of a Train… bringing the gallows closer to a desperado–the showdown nearer to his captor!
On September 7th, a remake of the classic western by Elmore Leonard will hit theaters. I hope I’m not disappointed because the orginal with Glen Ford and Van Heflin will be difficult to top. In Arizona in the late 1800’s, infamous outlaw Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) and his vicious gang of thieves and murderers have plagued the Southern Railroad. When Wade is captured, Civil War veteran Dan Evans (Christian Bale), struggling to survive on his drought-plagued ranch, volunteers to deliver Wade alive to the “3:10 to Yuma”, a train that will take the killer to trial. In the original, Evans does so in order to pay for a well. On the trail, Evans and Wade–each from very different worlds–begin to earn each other’s respect. But with Wade’s outfit of bad guys on their trail – and dangers at every turn – the mission soon becomes a violent, impossible journey toward each man’s destiny.
We should have a Premier Blog Party! Can’t you see the Fillies on the red carpet?
When I heard the song by Big and Rich—Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy, I had to chuckle. It did bring about some very, uh, provocative images in my head. Cowboys are fantasized, romanticized and idolized by women around the world.
Let’s face it, romance writers and readers have a glorified image of the Cowboy. Rugged, bold and sexy as all get-out. I won’t disagree. Nobody likes to write a great cowboy more than I do. So I won’t go there today… there’s time for that later. Today, I’m talking about the their beautiful accomplices, companions and first loves. No, not the heroine … but our hero’s trusted horse!
Through my years as a western romance author I’ve had to research horses as often time they played a very essential role in my stories. The gorgeous one-year old palomino is J.R. He’s a quarter horse straight from Wayne Newton’s Ranch, now living at my cousin’s stables in North Las Vegas. It was a joy to meet him, feed him and make friends with him. There’s nothing like hands-on training. And J.R. sure received a lot of attention that day!
J.R was new at the stables and in the corral. Two other geldings didn’t accept him into their fold and they pranced and snorted and annoyed J.R. until the geldings were separated from him. The interaction between the three horses was fascinating to watch. Then the palomino simply took off, all long streaming golden mane and sleek, smooth lines, circling the corral over and over again, displaying his temper and prowess.
Inspired by J.R. I wrote a wild palomino stallion into my March 2008 release, Taming the Texan. It’s amazing how the wild horse and man both needed to be tamed and they came to terms with their own natures at the same time.
TV MOVIE HEROES AND THEIR FAITHFUL HORSES
Who could forget these two TV shows? I used to watch them over and over, and I remember telling my dad once, “I love you the most, except for Roy Rogers.”
Roy’s radio show ran for 9 years before hitting the TV screens from 1951 through 1957. He and his trusty golden palomino were featured in the show and over 100 movies. You don’t think of Roy Rogers without Trigger by his side. And remember Dale Evans and her ride, Buttermilk?
The same holds true for The Lone Ranger – Clayton Moore portrayed the masked Texas Ranger who rides about righting injustices on his horse Silver. Who could forget that opening announcement. “A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty ‘Hi-yo, Silver.”
Did you know:
- Camargue horses are completely white as adults. Their babies are pure black when they are born.
- There is a breed of horse from Russia called Akhal-Teke. It can go for days without food or water.
- You measure a horse’s height in hands. Each hand equals four inches. If you say a horse is 16.2 hands high, the 2 stands for 2 fingers.
- You can tell how old a horse is by how many teeth it has. A horse gets all of its teeth by the time it is five years old. After that, they just get longer.
- A female horse is called a mare. In the wild it is the mare that decides when the herd moves on to another spot to find food.
- A male horse is called a stallion. Usually only one stallion will stay with a herd.
- Any marking on a horse’s forehead is called a star, even if it is not shaped like a star.
- Horses and ponies feel safer when they are in a herd.
- Mustangs are one of the few breeds of horses that live wild in North America. They are related to the horses that the Spanish explorers brought to North America 400 years ago.
- Horses can communicate how they are feeling by their facial expressions. They use their ears, nostrils, and eyes to show their moods. Beware of a horse that has flared nostrils and their ears back. That means it might attack!
- A hoof is like a fingernail. It is always growing and needs to be clipped so that it won’t be uncomfortable for the horse.
- A farrier is a person who makes horse shoes and fits them on your horse. They also clip hooves to keep them from getting overgrown.
- A horse can move in four ways: walk, trot, canter, and gallop. A gallop is the fastest gait
Are there any horse lovers out there? Do you have a favorite hero/horse combo from movies or TV?
For many of us, the American cowboy is the ultimate fantasy hero—a strong, handsome hunk in a big hat and tight jeans—a hero who makes our hearts gallop. But the mythic hero is based on real men who played a major role in taming the west. And most of them were even tougher than the fantasy model. They had to be. Let’s take a look at them.
The heyday of the real American cowboy lasted from the end of the Civil War to the mid-1880s. The men who rode the cattle trails numbered about 40,000 in all. The average age was 24. They came from many walks of life. Most were dirt poor. Most—though not all—were uneducated. Among them were mustered-out soldiers from the war, farm boys looking for adventure, outlaws on the run, black-sheep sons of European families, and even a future U.S. President—Teddy Roosevelt, who took up cowboying as an adventure.
The work they did—driving herds of longhorn cattle across rough country, sometimes for more than a thousand miles—was murderous. Cattle were mean-tempered and dumber than fence posts. They got lost and had to be found. They got worms, mange and sickness and had to be doctored. They got mired and had to be pulled out. They got stolen and had to be rescued. They stampeded and had to be stopped. And they demanded 24-7 care with no time off. Being a cowboy was hard, filthy, dangerous work, all for a wage of about $30 a month plus meals. This excerpt from a trail boss’s journal will give you an idea of what the life was like. “Upset our wagon in River & lost many cooking utencils…was on my Horse the whole night & it raining hard…Lost my Knife…There was one of our party Drowned today & several narrow escapes, I among them…Many men in trouble…Horses all give out & Men refused to do anything…Awful night…not having had a bite to eat for 60 hours…Flies terrible…Found a human skeleton today…”
By the 1890s the great trail drives had ended and a new generation of cowboys had emerged, living and working on ranches, dressed in blue jeans and Stetsons. But all of us who write about the West, owe a debt to those first tough, courageous REAL cowboys!
We’ll learn more about cowboys in future blogs. Meanwhile, does anybody know some good cowboy stories? Do you have a favorite cowboy movie? A favorite cowboy character?
For the research-minded, I’d like to mention my source—THE COWBOYS from the Time-Life Books Old West Collection. Happy Trails!