No Accounting Taste

I grew up in New Mexico on a steady diet of red beans and fried potatoes. Occasionally, we might have a roast, some fried chicken, or pork chops. Only that didn’t happen very often. Also, once in a blue moon my mama would boil some spinach or greens. You couldn’t have paid me enough to get a bite of that green slimy stuff in my mouth! Yuck. But, as I grew older and left home a funny thing happened—my tastes changed. Now I love spinach, cabbage, and cauliflower, plus a lot of other foods that I turned up my nose at when I was young. 

Taste can also be applied to fashion and those changes for me on a regular basis. I’m not that finicky about clothes and shoes and purses. I like a lot of different things—mostly everything my daughters hate. It seems we have opposite ides of what looks flattering. Go figure. 

 kissing-couple.jpgBut, what I’m finding totally amazing is the change that’s happened in my book preference over the last ten years. I used to scan through a book when I contemplated buying it to see if the heroine was young and if there were no “distracting” children in the story. If the heroine wasn’t late teens/early twenties or the story involved children, it went back on the shelf. I wasn’t interested in reading it, no matter how well recommended. Truth was, I didn’t give the book a chance. I wanted the girl young and the story free from anything that cluttered it up, like kids. My interest was only in the relationship between the hero and heroine. 

I’m not too proud of this, but I once spurned a good story simply because the hero was short. I didn’t care that he was handsome and tough. The fact that he was short ruined the story for me. pioneer-children.jpg

Somewhere along the line, and I can’t remember when or how it happened, I drifted toward older heroines and I began to love stories that involved children. I found that children added a depth to the story that it probably wouldn’t have had. And now I can’t stand stories featuring some young thing that hasn’t lived long enough to have real character. Those go back on the shelves. I want my heroine to have had experiences that shaped her into the person she is.  Doesn’t matter to me if she’s married, widowed, or a spinster as long as she’s late twenties to late forties. And I want children, the more children the better. I want a rich, full-bodied story that tugs at my heart. I want the woman to have struggled and lost screen-kiss.jpgsomething very precious so that she knows when fortune smiles on her, she reaches for it with all the strength and tenacity she has. I want the same for my hero. He’s a man who’s rugged, who’s come through the fire, and who isn’t afraid to live life to the fullest. Rarely does he care what those around him think. He’s his own man and he walks tall even though he may not have physical height. I do confess though that I still prefer him to be tall, but I’ll read the story now even if he isn’t. Another thing I’m finding is that I love to read mainstream where there’s no romance at all, which is something I wouldn’t have considered ten years ago. It was romance or nothing.

 There’s no accounting taste I guess. Not everyone’s is the same. That’s why there’s room for all sorts of stories about a multitude of subjects and people. Variety is good. That way everyone can be happy and have what they prefer.

Maybe my age has something to do with my taste. As I get older my tastes in things change? I don’t know. That’s a deep subject. Could be true though. I just wonder if I’ll suddenly develop a craving for seafood? If I do, that’ll be a miracle. I’m not about to discount it with absolute certainty. And I wonder if at some point I’ll yearn for stories with seventy and eighty year old heroes and heroines?? Ha! Can’t imagine that now but who knows. Guess I’ll have to wait and see. 

What are your tastes and do you find that they’re changing or have already changed? Or what kind of books do you really like? I’d love to hear your comments.

Continuing Our Journey West . . .

I thought I would continue our trip west in 1848 this week. Our wagon trail left Independence on April 5th. We hope it will take less than six months, but more likely it will take seven or eight. Good thing we don’t know that yet.

You already know from previous blogs about the clothes necessary for the trip and about some of the maps available at the time. I thought this week we would consider the provisioning for the six to eight month trip.

The cost of the trip ran between six hundred and a thousand dollars, and many families saved years for the trip. This total included the wagon, mules or oxen and provisions, but did not include money needed along the way for additional provisions, ferries or for Indian guides.

Building a wagon and provisioning were major undertakings. According to “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey,” the overland wagon “had to be built of seasoned hardwood to withstand the extremes of temperature; an ordinary farm wagon was not strong enough. The classic prairie schooner was not the big-wheeled, boat-curved Conestoga wagon, but a smaller, lighter wagon with straight lines top and bottom.” Typically, emigrants used a farm wagon with a flat bed about ten feet wide with sides two feet high. It had to be amphibious and its slats caulked for river crossings. It should carry no more than 2,000 – 2,500 pounds. The covering of the wagon was a double thickness of canvas “as rainproofed as oiled linen or muslin, or sailcloth could be made to be.”

Foodstuffs were assembled at the start of the journey. “The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California”, recommended that each emigrant supply himself with 200 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of bacon, 10 pounds of coffee, 20 pounds of sugar and 10 pounds of salt. Additional supplies included chipped beef, rice, tea, dried beans, dried fruit, baking soda, vinegar, pickles, mustard, and tallow. Butter may be preserved by boiling it thoroughly and skimming off the scum as it rises to the top until it is quite clear like oil. It is then placed in tin canisters and soldered up. Packed in this way, it keeps sweet for a great length of time.

If you think of a family of six, food stocks would nearly consume all the allowable weight. Then there would be needed spare parts for the wagon, tar and grease barrels, water barrels and spare parts for the wagon.

Think of that farm wagon again. After the provisions there is precious little room left for personal possessions, much less sleeping space for a family of five or six or nine.

The diet would hopefully be supplemented by wild game, and this was plentiful in the 1840’s, but as the number of trains multiplied along the Oregon Trail, some as large as 400 wagons, the game disappeared and the diet, well, the diet became rather spare.

Single women occasionally took the trek, though they were rare. The Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey tells the story of Rebecca Ketchum of New York who decided she wanted to go to Oregon to become a teacher. She traveled by stagecoach, unaccompanied by anyone, from New York to Independence when she joined a group for the remainder of the way to Oregon.

Although a woman, but probably because she was single, she spent most of the trip on horseback with the men. The wives apparently did not consider her worthy of riding in the wagon with mothers and children. Ketchum’s account also illustrates at least one nineteenth-century woman’s clear sense of her own worth. When she accidently discovered that she was paying more than others for her place in the wagon train, she refused to do washing any more, since the men – who had paid less than she – were not expected to wash clothes.

And that leads me to my next blog when I’ll talk about love and marriage on the trail. Some facts might well surprise you.

Do You Love Words?

I love words! It sounds strange, but I really do. When I write I get a thrill when the words flow from one to the another like a beautiful rhythmic song. I’ve read authors whose works are so musical that it’s a true and simple joy to read.

When I write my westerns, the words I use have to give the flavor of the time period without over doing. This is called the author’s voice.  Voice comes naturally for most of us, but sometimes we do need a little help.

The greatest resource  I’ve found is The Cowboy’s Dictionary – the Chin Jaw Words and Whing-Ding Ways of the American West, by Ramon F. Adams. This book is a compilation of vocabulary words and phrases from rodeo terminology, common words used by cowmen, sheepmen, the freighter, the packer, the western river-boatmen, the logger, the western gambler and the stagecoach driver.  I enjoy searching this dictionary and finding new terms and meanings that depict the joy and fondness I have for the American West.

 Here are just a few:

Alfalfa desperado – A cowboy’s name for a hay hand.

All horns and rattles – Said of someone displaying a fit of temper. A man in this mood, as one cowboy said, “maybe don’t say nothin’, but it ain’t safe to ask questions.”

Monkey Ward cowboy – A cowboy wearing a mail-order outfit and having little or no range experience.

Man for breakfast – A killing. This expression originated in frontier days when there were so many killings at night in the tough cow towns and mining camps that when the good citizens awoke the next morning they could see the body or bodies laid out before breakfast.

Hobble your lip – A cowboy’s advice to someone to quit talking so much.

chuckwagon500.jpgLoggers and cowboy names for the cook:

Dough-belly

Dough-boxer

Dough-puncher

Dough roller

Dough wrangler

Sourdough

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Bonnet strings

Conk cover

Hair case

Hard-boiled hat

John B

Lid

Woolsey

War bonnet

In my upcoming release Bodine’s Bounty, there’s word that I’ve never heard before.  See if you can spot it?charlenesandsbook.jpg

A hard-bitten bounty hunter has no time for love…

Heiress Emma Marie Rourke is naive, innocent and very, very determined. She’ll find her outlaw fatherand make it as a singer.

Bodine—just Bodine—has promises to keep. And looking for some spoiled flibbertigibbet runaway isn’t top of his list. But, dammit, his conscience won’t let him rest until he finds her. And at least there’s a reward for retrieving her.

Protecting Emma isn’t the easy job he expects it to be. Bodine is startled when he can’t get his mind—or his hands—off Emma’s diminutive figure! He’s sworn to keep her safe—but who will save her from him?

No spoiled heiress will stand in his way!

Okay, so how many of you know the meaning of flibbertigibbet?  Honestly, I had to look it up! 

What western words or phrases do you love? Are there any you think are overused? Tarnation, I sure as anything would love to know!

Posters- Thanks for stopping by. I do value your comments, but a family emergency has taken me away today. 

I’m offering a 2 in 1 book in a random drawing today. I’ll pick the winner on Saturday, so please check back.  Win my contemporary Expecting the Cowboy’s Baby and Julianne Maclean’s Sleeping with the Playboy all in one! 

Be sure to enter the Big Fall Bonanza contest and visit me for my all new Win in Winter Contest.

Happy Trails and Happy Reading!

Wild Bill Hickock

wb-hickock.jpgTwo weeks ago we blogged about Calamity Jane.  Here, as promised, is a portrait of the man she claimed to be the love of her life—Wild Bill Hickock. Sadly, perhaps, Calamity is barely mentioned in sketches of Wild Bill’s life.  We can only guess that their fabled romance was either one-sided, on Calamity’s part, or mostly invented by the dime novel writers of the day—the same writers who transformed Wild Bill into an American legend. 

James Butler Hickock was born May 27, 1837 in Troy Grove, Illinois. In the years prior to the Civil War, he worked as a hunter, a muleskinner, a bodyguard and as a wagonmaster on the Santa Fe trail. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he became a civilian scout at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.  Wild Bill’s legendary career began in 1861 when he was tending stock at a station for the Overland Stage.  When three men came to collect money owed them by the station’s owner, a fight broke out.  Bill and a fellow worker brutally killed the men who’d come to get their cash.  They were tried and acquitted on grounds of self defense.  Four years later, a writer would turn this incident into a heroic stand, with Bill holding off a gang of terrorists and receiving eleven bullet wounds in the process.  Similar encounters dogged Bill for the rest of his life.  He was a brave man, but reckless and prone to violence.  In many cases, his exploits were blown up to serve as fodder for the pulp fiction market of the day.  Bill swiftly became an American pop star.  Between 1867 and 1871 Wild Bill served variously as a lawman and army scout. Sometimes his tactics were too much for the townspeople.  In 1869 he was appointed sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas.  After killing two men he was voted out of office.  In 1871 he was appointed marshal of Abilene.  After a gunfight in which he accidentally shot and killed his own deputy, Wild Bill turned in his badge and began to drift.  For a time he toured with Buffalo Bill’s show, but he hated acting and left to become a professional gambler.In 1876 he returned to Cheyenne where he married Agnes Lake Thatcher, the owner of a circus.  From there he went to Deadwood, hoping to strike it rich in the gambling saloons.On August 2, 1876, he was playing poker when a drifter named Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head.  At the time he died, Wild Bill was holding two black aces, two black eights and the jack of diamonds—to be forever known as the “deadman’s hand.”  He was buried in Deadwood.  His famous Sharps rifle was buried with him. Many actors have played Wild Bill in films.  Who’s your favorite?  Which portrayal seems most accurate?  Who would you like to see play Bill in a movie about his life?

Let’s Talk About Family!

horseheader11.jpgGood Morning!

 Hope that you are all doing very, very well on this beautiful day of 9 October 2007!  Today I thought I’d open up the discussion to talk about a part of our books that is quite a natural offshoot of that gorgeous hunk that we see on the covers of our books, and that gorgeous, wonderful man that we married.

Often today when we think of family, we might consider it in terms of our immediate family, that is, our husband/wife, children, mother, father, brothers, sisters, grandparents.  Many of us might even think of family only in terms of husband/wife, children, since that is where we live and where our attention is directed so much of the time.  Here’s some of my direct family:

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My wonderful husband in an oh, so romantic pose and my son-in-law, Patrick; daugher, Alyssa; and daughter, Trina

 But today, I thought I’d share with you the Native American concept of family…and sometimes, you might even say clan.   In Native America, the immediate family consisted not only of one’s children, husband/wife, sisters or brothers, etc., it also composed of anyone related no matter how distantly.  That is to say:  uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, cousins (no matter how distant).  In fact, anything that could be traced to a shared ancestor was considered one’s immediate family.   It also included special relationships — adoption, god-children, etc.

Here’s some of my more of my immediate family:

family1.jpgbrotherandwife1.jpgnephewandwife1.jpg galler81.jpgnephewandwife21.jpg

From left to right — niece and her husband, Mike, me, mother-in-law, Joyce; grand-niece, Rosena and of course, my husband.  Then next picture is my brother, Jim and his wife; my nephew Kurt and his wife; brother-in-law, Bob and last picture is my nephew Greg and his wife.

Then we have my extended family:

patriciarunningcranedevereaux21.jpg61.jpgpats1.jpgtiarachase1.jpg

From left to right Samantha (sitting) and Patricia combing her nieces hair; next picture Grandfather George & me; next picture Pat, Patricia and me; next picture my god-grandchildren, Tiara and Chase. 

As a matter of fact, most tribes were really clans of a sort, almost all were related and hunted and camped together.  In those tribes where there were distinct clans, one was never permitted to marry inside his or her own clan, no matter how distantly related.

It was the break up of the extended family that probably, more than any other factor, percepitated the downfall of the Native American culture in the latter part of the 19th Century and early 20th Century.  The Dawes Act in the late 19th Century contributed greatly to this, by redefining the definition of “family” to mean only husband/wife and children, and then granting land to only one’s “immediate” family.  It struck at the root of Native American culture.

Which brings me to the topic that I thought we might discuss today.  First, I’d love to hear about your family and how your family is doing in this, our modern world.  And second (and this might be slightly controversial) do you, in your opinion, believe that we, like the Native American of the late 19th Century, have our very roots under attack today?  By roots, I mean the traditional family unit.  Some say yes, some say no.  What is your opinion?

So come on in and join our discussion.

Guest: Jodi Thomas

LEARN HOW TO FALL …

Some writers believe that after years in the word business, you don’t have to deal with rejection or disappointment.

But after twenty years and twenty-five novels in print, I’ve learned that the secret of how to succeed may be in learning how to fall. In this game more can be learned from stumbling than from success.

Early in a writer’s career we sometimes look at rejection as a failure. But the failure is in not submitting. Like a boxer, a writer needs to learn how to roll with the punches. In my blog, this weekend, I want to talk about ways to remain on course in your writing even when failure knocks you down.

If I could tell new writers just one piece of advice, it would be: “Learn to fall”. There will jodicowboyhat2007.jpgbe times, thousands of them, when this business of writing doesn’t go your way.

You must learn to stop holding onto the safety strap and jump out into the unknown. Leap and the net will appear.

Developing a Plan for Rising after a Falling:

Bury the corpse.

If a book is rejected over and over again, maybe there is a reason that it is not selling. Perhaps it is time to put it under the bed and start anew.

Celebrate.

Not only the sales and contest wins, but also times you try and come up short.

Keep learning and moving.

New fields in writing are constantly opening; be aware of new trends.

Phil Price, an accomplished playwright, once said, “I’ve often wondered why sky divers yell for joy and people who fall off cliffs scream. After all, they’re both seeing the same view. It’s only the last foot that changes.

Chinese proverb:

Fall down seven time; get up eight.

If any writers have advice for how to handle rejection, please let me know.
For example: Keep a jar of expensive chocolates to open only when a rejection comes your way.

DRAWING TODAY

Thank you for joining me today. From among those who post comments today, I’ll draw 2 names, each person to receive an autographed of my newest release (release date Nov. 6th) Texas Princess. Here is a blurb about Texas Princess:

texasprincessf-cov.jpgWith Texas Princess, the second novel in the fascinating Whispering Mountain trilogy, NY Times and USA Today best-selling author Jodi Thomas once again lives up to her reputation as one of the romance genre’s most compelling western historical writers.

Tobin McMurray has hated being around people since he was ambushed, while helping to defend his family’s land, at the age of six. Only because of his love of hors­es does he agree to leave Whispering Mountain to deliver a very special stallion to one of the richest men in Texas.

Upon his arrival, he collides with Liberty Mayfield, the nearest thing to Texas royalty. He’s fascinated by her then shocked when her father asks him to kidnap his only daughter.

Alone and on the run from death threats, strong, quiet Tobin and pampered, headstrong Liberty discover they need one another – both to stay alive and to feel alive as passion ignites. 

Cowboys & Chocolate

cpA perfect combo for this western author – as well as the heroine in my next ‘Bride’ book ~ Lily loves her cowboy and her hot chocolate.silver While researching beverage servers of the 1800’s, I discovered the wonderful world of antique chocolate pots–like a coffee pot, only specifically designed for serving hot chocolate. They just don’t serve hot chocolate the way they used to. I was intrigued to find out that chocolate was so revered by the Aztecs that they used chocolate as both food and currency. Near the end of the XVIII century, Spanish explorers took chocolate back to Spain where it became the Kings’ Official Drink in New Spain and Europe. Europeans began preparing chocolate with cream and sugar, creating what we know today as Hot potChocolate.

The first chocolate pots, like that of my heroine (shown above – 1852), were made of sterling silver, and sometimes copper. Similar to coffee pots, chocolate pots were designed with shorter spouts and did not have filters, though some had holes through the center of the lids for stir sticks. Ceramic chocolate pots gained popularity in the 1890’s and 1900’s, the leading manufacturer being Limoges, in France. cpotI’m suddenly in the mood for a chocolate party 🙂

Christmas on the Frontier

christmas-dinner.jpg

The holidays are fast approaching and many of us have already begun to make plans, buying gifts, making things, stocking up on flour and almond bark.  Sometimes we get stressed out with all there is to do, what with addressing cards and baking cookies for school programs and stopping by all those open houses our friends are having.  This year we’d all do well to take a few minutes and remember just how convenient our lives are in comparison to those of our ancestors.  When you think about it, preparing for a holiday is often as simple as making an online purchase or stopping by the grocery store.  But what did our great-great grandmothers do to get ready? 

In the mid 1800s the festivities were much the same as they are today, with traditions from other countries having been adopted.  Our pioneer fathers and mothers decorated trees, gave gifts, baked cookies, puddings and pies, hung stockings by the fire and attended church celebrations.  On the frontier, away from stores and conveniences, soldiers, cowboys, mountain men and pioneers faced extreme difficulties while bringing Christmas to the plains and the mountains.  They often weathered blizzards and many winters game was difficult to find.  Fruits and vegetables dried or canned from the fall harvest were rationed sparingly.   

The fortunate were able to bring heirlooms and ornaments west with them, but many more had to be resourceful and use whatever nature provided: evergreen boughs, pinecones, holly, nuts, popcorn and berries.  Christmas trees were most often decorated with ribbon, yarn, cookie dough ornaments, gingerbread men, paper cutouts and popcorn strings. woodenhorse.jpg

These men and women didn’t make a run to Walmart for extra lights or unpack plastic totes from their basement storage.  They braved the elements, often spending late night hours sewing and knitting to make meager gifts.

doll.jpgFamily members had to work for months in order to create handmade items.  Cornhusk dolls were popular.  The beauty and durability of cloth dolls depended on the talent of the parents who made them.  Some had attractive embroidered faces, while others had painted features.  Wool or human hair was added, and the clothing was similar to that of the child.  

dancing-dan.jpgA doll that was popular with boys as well as girls was the dancing doll, sometimes called Dancing Dan or Limber Jack. Its wooden body was jointed at the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and elbows, and had a hole in the back into which a stick was inserted to make the doll dance. It took skill to make the doll move in time with music or a song. This was a form of entertainment before the days of television.  How long do you think something like that would entertain one of our kids today who are used to video games and computers? 

Among other gifts were sachets, carved wooden toys, such as spinning tops, trains and horses.  Pillows, footstools and embroidered handkerchiefs all took work.  Knitted scarves, hats and socks were practical.  Sometimes children received cookies and fruit.  Remember how delighted Laura Ingalls was to find a tin cup, a peppermint candy and a shiny penny in her stocking on Christmas morning? 

207634_ginger_bread_men__baking.jpgOften, the tree wasn’t cut and decorated until Christmas Eve.  A family would sing carols, and if they were fortunate to have a musician and an instrument in the family, they could even have accompaniment. If there was a church nearby, there was a church service on Christmas Day, followed by a meal consisting of goose or turkey.  Aren’t you glad you don’t have to pluck a turkey?  If fortunate, unmarried men were invited to join a family for their festivities.  People often spent the day visiting friends and neighbors. cowboyclog.jpg

We often think of those as simpler times, times when family and friends and the true meaning of Christmas were the focus, rather than the gifts and the commercial aspect.

Sometimes I think it would be refreshing to peel back all the busyness and glitz and simply celebrate the holiday quietly.  This year my critique group has planned to exchange gifts we make ourselves.  It should be fun to see what everyone comes up with.  I’m still thinking on mine….the thought of fudge won’t leave me alone.  

We can all be thankful that our forefathers kept the spirit of Christmas alive on the frontier, because many of their traditions are still an important part of our celebrations.  What can you do this year to simplify your holiday and make more time for the things that are really important?