Hi everyone! I was thinking about how much I love fried potatoes tonight when I was making them for dinner. Those are a great “comfort food” to me, and one I don’t think I’d ever get tired of. But I imagine the cowboys of yesteryear grew sick of the fare they ate constantly–beans, chili, stew, potatoes, and the like–when they were on a cattle drive.
Dinner time at a cowboy’s camp, banks of the Yellowstone, Montana, U.S.A. Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.
Here’s another awesome picture that is around 120 years old–Wonder what they’re having to eat? Chili? Beans? Maybe biscuits and gravy? Or…POTATOES??? These color pictures were produced using a method called photochrom. This is making colorized photos from black and white negatives through the direct photographic transfer of a negative onto lithographic printing plates.
It was invented in the 1880s and by the 1890s, was extremely popular (when this image was shot). Credit: Mediadrumimages/PublicDomain
Here’s a really good recipe for — what else? COWBOY POTATOES!
2 medium potatoes, scrubbed
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1?4 cup onion, diced
1?4 cup bell pepper (or jalapeno for spicier fare!), diced
salt and pepper
Peel potatoes, if desired or leave the peel on and cut into 1/2″ cubes.
Heat oil in large skillet. Add the potatoes, spreading into a single layer. Let them get brown on one side before stirring.
Stir the potatoes, and let them brown on another side. Stir once more, and add the pepper and onion. Cook until the onions and peppers are tender. If the potatoes are not done, reduce heat to low and cover the skillet until they’re done.
Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
YUM, YUM! Hope you enjoy these! Do you have a favorite potato recipe? I’m sure we have a LOT more variety than the cowboys did! Don’t forget to comment for a chance to win some great prizes!
In 1849, California pioneer Catherine Haun wrote, “Although very tired of tent life many of us spent Thanksgiving and Christmas in our canvas houses. I do not remember ever having had happier holiday times. For Christmas we had grizzly bear steak for which we paid $2.50, one cabbage for $1.00 and oh horrors, some more dried apples! And for a Christmas present the Sacramento River rose very high and flooded the whole town!”
Now that’s a holiday to remember!
Celebrating Christmas wasn’t easy for those making their way in new territories, but upholding traditions was an important way of making these places feel like home. Often resources were limited and decorations consisted of whatever was handy—evergreen trimmings, berries, pictures clipped from magazines, popcorn garlands—and presents were often handmade, or ordered from catalogs, if mail service of that kind was available.
In Boise, Idaho, the community shared a tree in the 1860s and residents were invited to “communicate through it with their friends,” according to the Idaho Statesman. People could exchange gifts and there was a Christmas Eve party at the tree.
But what about those people who were truly in the wilderness on Christmas Day? Well, some of them couldn’t take time off from the important business of staying alive as this journal quote from fur trapper David Thompson attests: “Christmas and News Years day came and passed. We could not honor them, the occupations of every day demanded our attentions; and time passed on, employed in hunting for a livelihood.”
Lewis and Clark and spent several Christmases on the trail during their famous expedition. Christmas of 1804 was spent in Fort Mandan, North Dakota where the men were issued flour, dried apples and pepper to help celebrate the holiday. Clark wrote of this Christmas: “I was awakened before Day by a discharge of 3 platoonsfrom the Party and the french, the men merrily Disposed, I give them all a little Taffia and permited 3 Cannon fired, at raising Our flag, Some men went out to hunt & the Others to Danceing and Continued untill 9 oClock P, M, when the frolick ended.”
In 1806, the expedition was stranded at Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Coast. This was more of a gift giving occasion, according to Clark: “Our Diner to day Consisted of pore Elk boiled, Spoilt fish & Some roots, a bad Christmass diner. I recved a presnt of Capt L. of a fleece hosrie Shirt Draws and Socks—, a pr. mockersons of Whitehouse a Small Indian basket of Gutherich, two Dozen white weazils tails of the Indian woman, & Some black root of the Indians before their departure.”
That “Indian Woman” was Sacagawea.
If you’re interested in learning more about Christmas in the Old West, check out Christmas in the Old West: A Historical Scrapbook, by Sam Travers. The information in this blog was adapted from that book.
Have a Wonderful Holiday Season and a Very Merry Christmas! I’ve loved spending 2017 with you, and look forward to 2018!
Dear Readers… Jerome, Arizona earned its reputation as the wickedest town in the west after three catastrophic fires within an eighteen-month period. The pious people of the sinful town attributed the fires to Devine retribution and pushed to incorporate Jerome. Once building codes were passed, a fire department was established and laws were put on the books to rein in Jerome’s wild ways.
Who wouldn’t want to visit the wickedest town in the west after a description like that?
This past summer hubby and I drove Route 89A to Jerome, which lies between the towns of Prescott and Flagstaff. The trip through the Prescott National Forest was breathtaking and well worth the slow climb in elevation to 5,000 feet above sea level.
Jerome was founded in 1876, its population peaking at 15,000 in the 1920’s. I’ve been to this ghost town three times in my life. Once when I was fifteen on a family vacation out west and twice since hubby and I moved back to Arizona. Jerome, a former copper-mining town, sits on Cleopatra Hill overlooking the Verde Valley. Today it’s a tourist stop and a favorite haunt of ghost hunters. All of the various hotels and B&B’s are reportedly haunted.
Famous Bartlett Hotel
The remains of the famous Bartlett Hotel on Main Street brings in as much as $6,500 a year for the Jerome Historical Society. Tourists stop to toss their coins between the bars hoping to hit the old outhouse and pieces of rusted mining artifacts below. My days playing basketball in college did not help me hit the toilet.
The Connor Hotel
I entered the lobby of the Connor Hotel to look around and the desk attendant was happy to tell me about the place, saying several guests had seen the Lady in Red while others reported being touched, feeling a draft of cold air sweep over them, lights and TV’s flickering on and off—the “usual ghostly things” she said. Behind the motel are the remains of the 1918 haunted Liberty Theater, which played silent movies in the 1920’s. It’s the light tan building next to the red hotel in the picture below.
If you’re a paranormal enthusiast, you’ll enjoy the youtube video of photographs taken in the Connor Hotel that show ghostly orbs.
Years ago a department store sat across the street from the Connor Hotel, but now its an empty lot with only department store safe remaining.
The Jerome Historical Society is working on restoring the famous sliding jail, which slipped 200 feet downhill from where it originally stood. The ground shifted in the area after Phelps Dodge purchased the copper claims during WWII and began dynamiting the mountains. The mine, still owned by Phelps Dodge, closed in 1953.
Just for fun!
I get excited when I find something taller than me like this old gas pump.
I don’t write historical romances but if I did, I’d definitely use Jerome, Arizona, as the backdrop for a story. And speaking of books… I have two releases out this month…so here’s my shameless plug!
Sadie McHenry and her twin sons are heading home to Stampede, Texas. Sadie wants a chance to start over after being laid off—and she might have found it with rancher Logan Hardell. Logan instantly bonds with her boys, especially with Tommy, whose ADD makes him a handful. But Logan seems to understand the four-year-old’s needs and seeing them together melts Sadie’s heart.
Logan’s ranch is at risk, so Sadie agrees to help with their books—putting Logan on twin patrol! With his fun-loving approach to the kids and his rugged appeal, Sadie can’t understand why he’s ruled out a family of his own. But she’s not giving up on him just yet. Because Sadie’s convinced Logan is exactly what she and her boys need!
One woman’s journey home gets derailed by her soon-to-be ex-mother-in-law in a novel filled with humor, small-town charm, rekindled love, and the resilient ties of family.
Cast aside by her cheating husband, Katelyn Chandler is ready to pack it all in and drive home to Little Springs, Texas. She wants a chance to regroup, reconnect with her mother, and get back to her art.
But Shirley Pratt—master manipulator, elitist snob, and Katelyn’s terror of a live-in monster-in-law—has other ideas. Shirley insists on joining Katelyn’s trip after her son tries to pack her off to a retirement community. Katelyn has no choice but to play peacekeeper between the ornery old woman and the proud matrons of Little Springs. Yet the small town seems to be changing Shirley. And as Katelyn weighs the wisdom of picking up where she left off with Jackson Mendoza, the town bad boy and her high school sweetheart, she must find a way to believe in the strength of her dreams.
Tell me about a strange place you once visited for a chance to win a signed paperback or digital copy (reader’s choice) of the first book in my Cowboys of Stampede series, The Cowboy’s Accidental Baby. I’ll announce the winner in the comment section of this post sometime on Saturday Sep 9th.
I invite you to come along as I share my travels through the American old west. I’m thrilled to be one of the new fillies here at Petticoats & Pistols and I can’t wait to share my love of the Old West with you.
About me: Along with writing contemporary western romances I also write contemporary romantic women’s fiction. You’ll find that all of my books are set in small towns and usually include a few quirky characters. My stories incorporate the themes of home, family and redemption. This September I will publish my 40th project for Harlequin Books and my current series is called, Cowboys of Stampede, Texas.I also write small-town romances for Tule Publishing’s Montana Born line and Sweet Home Cowboy is my latest release.
And I’m a member of the Tall Poppy Writers. You can find out more about my small-town romantic women’s fiction novels as well as my western books on myWebsite.
If you follow me on social media then you know I love junk. My friends call me vintage Marin because I love flea markets so much. If you haven’t heard ofJunk in the Trunkyou should check it out!
I don’t know why, but I’ve always been comfortable around old stuff. I find ideas for my stories and characters when I browse through people’s castoffs. My love of antiques goes right along with my love of history and the old west. One of my hobbies is researching ghost tours and haunted old west towns. Sadly I’ve never experienced an encounter with a ghost but I love taking tours that share the history of the haunted locations. Hubby and I currently live in Phoenix and we’re recent empty nesters so we’re using our newfound freedom to travel the beautiful Grande Canyon State.
This past July my husband and I ventured out on Route 66 in northern Arizona. You can find all of my travel photos on my Instagram page.
Route 66 Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona has been on my bucket list for years.
For those of you who are confused this video Take it Easy by the Eagles band will explain it and reveal my age, lol!
Drift Inn Saloon
After Winslow we got off Route 66 and stopped at the copper mining town of Globe, Arizona and had lunch at the haunted Drift Inn Saloon—one of oldest continuously operating saloons in the state, opening its doors in 1902. The Drift Inn Saloon has been named one of the top five biker-destination bars in the state by the Arizona Republic newspaper and one of the “Magnificent 7” saloons by Arizona Highways Magazine. The second floor was originally opened as a boarding house for miners then turned into a brothel a few years later.
The bar is a living icon of the Old West, with its original tin ceiling. A Frank Olsen mural of Monument Valley is painted along one wall and hanging above the image are vintage portraits of soiled doves, which pay homage to the ladies who once worked in the brothel above the bar.
When I learned the bartender Eileen, was one of the owners of the bar, I bombarded her with questions about the history of the building. She and her partner had lived on the second floor for several years while they renovated the bar. She claimed the building was haunted and then asked if I’d like to go upstairs and look around. Of course I said YES!
Eileen told stories about the building that the local old-timers had shared with her after she bought the place. Several mediums have walked through the building and confirmed that spirits inhabit the premises. One of the rooms is said to be full of trapped souls unable to escape. And room 18 is said to be a very dark, evil room. A young woman stands in the shower and watches people in the bathroom. And of course there’s the nasty spirit of a man who wanders the upstairs. The medium couldn’t tell the owners for sure who he was but they believe he may be either Joseph Ludwig, a local miner who was murdered in one of the upstairs rooms in 1906 or the man who murdered him.
As a writer we romanticize cowboys and the old west in our stories… because who wants to read about smelly, bowlegged men who bathe once a month and are missing half their teeth? But that afternoon in Globe as I walked past the twenty-five rooms on the second floor of the Drift Inn Saloon, I had to acknowledge that life in the old west could be cruel, harsh and deadly.
I hope you enjoyed hearing about my experience at the Drift Inn Saloon. I can’t wait to share with you the other Route66 places and towns in Arizona. And since this is my first blog as an official P&P filly, let’s do a giveaway!
Tell me if you’ve ever had a paranormal experience or taken a ghost tour and your name will be entered into a drawing to receive a digital copy of my sweet western novella, The Bull Rider’s Pledge. I’ll reveal the winner’s name in the comment section of this blog post on Saturday August 12th.
Until next time…Happy Trails!
P.S. Don’t forget to enter the giant birthday bash giveaway (separate from this daily giveaway). You can find all the details along with the entry form HERE.
Hey everyone! Today Crystal L. Barnes joins us at the Junction to discuss weapons of choice and to give away one of her books. Please join us in welcoming Crystal!
What would the Old West be without the Colt Peacemaker or Winchester Repeating rifle? Or maybe your character’s choice would be the Henry Repeater? Or a lady’s favorite, the derringer?
Howdy y’all! Crystal Barnes here and what better place to talk about guns than on Petticoats and Pistols. (Thanks so much for having me back.) Recently I attended my local ACFW chapter meeting where fellow writer and fight scene consultant Carla Hoch spoke on Writing Your Fight Scenes Right. To start off the discussion, we all introduced ourselves and stated our (or our character’s) weapon of choice. Let me tell you, we got some great laughs out of this. We got answers that ranged from magic swords to swinging sickles. Maybe that’s part of the reason that has stuck with me.
What was my weapon of choice, you ask?
A Cast-iron skillet.
Not what you expected, right? I also mentioned the Colt Peacemaker for my hero, but I had to mention the skillet because I’d just recently written a scene in my WIP Hook, Line, & Suitor(Marriage & Mayhem, Book 3) where my heroine cold-conked the guy with one.
I’m sure you Disney-loving fans are thinking of Tangled and Rapunzel’s hilarious use of the skillet, and I have to admit that’s probably where part of that idea stemmed from but not entirely. We joke around in my family and call cast-iron skillets an “equalizer.” J
In book two of my Marriage and Mayhem series, Love, Stock, & Barrel, I did a ton of research on guns because my heroine grew up helping in her father’s gunsmith shop. She played with stocks, locks, and barrels more than she did with toys and tops. J Which is why, when she’s caught in a shotgun wedding with the barrel pointed at her, she can name the type of gun without blinking.
They say when a firearm is pointed at someone their focus fixates on the barrel opening. So how could my heroine still name the gun? I’m so glad you asked. J
In my research, I stumbled upon a Confederate sharpshooter rifle that was so unique a trained marksman could hit a man-sized target at a thousand yards easy. Some could boast two thousand. The price of the rifle was so comparatively high that only the best of the best got them. What made it so unique? Well, a Whitworth sharpshooter rifle had a hexagonal-shaped barrel, instead of the normal octagon opening. Thus, my heroine could stare down the barrel and know its make and model and her odds of getting away unscathed. Very slim to say the least.
Another interesting pair of weapons worth mentioning is the 1873 Winchester Repeating Rifle and the .44-40 Colt SAA revolver (aka the Peacemaker). I used these as my sheriff’s weapons of choice. Why? Because both firearms shot the same .44-40 ammunition. Pretty convenient for a lawman, right?
How about you? What is your (or your character’s) weapon of choice?
I’ll be giving away a FREE copy (ebook or paperback) of one of my stories to one of this post’s commentors. (Winner’s choice of title. Paperback for contiguous US winners only.)
An award-winning author, bona fide country girl, and former competitive gymnast, Crystal L Barnes tells stories of fun, faith, and friction that allow her to share her love of Texas, old-fashioned things, and the Lord—not necessarily in that order. When she’s not writing, reading, singing, or acting, Crystal enjoys exploring on road-trips, spending time with family, and watching old movies/sitcoms. I Love Lucy and Little House on the Prairie are two of her favorites. You can find out more and connect with Crystal at http://www.crystal-barnes.com.
I heard a TV commentator liken the violence of Baltimore back to the Old West. Is that a fair comparison? Some historians would probably disagree. Some have even gone as far as to describe the Old West as “a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place.” Hard as that is to believe they may be on to something for the following reasons:
The Old West Practiced Gun Control
Yep, that’s right. In fact, the very first law passed in Dodge City was a gun control law. Many towns including Tombstone had similar strict laws barring guns. Visitors were required to turn guns over to the stable owner or sheriff. Checks or receipts were issued much like they are today when checking coats at a restaurant. Gun owners could reclaim their weapons upon leaving town.
Not everyone followed the law, of course. Drunkenness and disorderly conduct would get you a free pass to the hoosegow, but so would toting a gun. The gunfight of OK corral was actually sparked by an effort to enforce the “no gun” law.
Gun control made economical sense. Towns wishing to attract businesses and commerce or even the railroad couldn’t afford to let crime run amok.
The Law of Wagon Trains Some wagon trains reportedly contained more than a hundred wagons and as many as 800 people, so keeping law and order was of primary concern. Many of these trains had their own constitutions which spelled out a judicial system. Ostracism and threats of banishment kept most travelers in line and there are few reported instances of violence on these trains. That’s pretty amazing considering the conditions and long months on the trail.
What About All That Cattle Rustling?
If we believed all those old time Western movies there wasn’t a steer in the land that hadn’t been rustled at least once. No question; Cattle rustling was a problem. That is until ranch owners got together and formed cattlemen associations. These groups hired private protection agencies, which pretty much put cattle rustlers out of business.
Bank Robbers Ruled, Right?
Wrong again. According to the book Banking in the American West from the Gold Rush to Deregulation by Lynne Pierson and Larry Schweikart, only eight actual bank heists occurred in the 15 states that made up the frontier west during the forty year period between 1859-1900. (Holy Toledo! My little hometown has had more bank robberies than that just in the last decade.)
Why so few bank robberies in the Old West? The answer is simple; Banks were hard to rob. Banks were located downtown often next the sheriff’s office. People slept above shops so the town was far from deserted. The bank’s walls were often doubly-reinforced. Blasting through the walls would wake everyone in town including the sheriff.
Some, like Butch Cassidy simply walked in the front door, but even that type of bank holdup was rare. Robbing stagecoaches was easier. But transporting money by stage fell out of favor when trains came along. Robbers who shifted attention to trains soon had to contend with Pinkerton detectives.
What About All Those Gunslingers?
Dime novels, old newspapers and movies would have us believe that shooting from the hip and quick draw duels were the norm. In reality, gunfights were few and far between.
Some well-known shootists (the word gunslinger didn’t come into play until the 1920s) deserved their reputations but, by today’s standards, most would be considered lousy shots. Some, like Wyatt Earp, killed nowhere near as many men as they were given credit for. A gunslinger’s reputation, however exaggerated, was sometimes more valuable than his skills.
Peter Hill, co-author of the Not so Wild, Wild, West wrote “If one wants to see the “Wild, Wild West” in action one should turn to congressional hearings, political demonstrations and arguments over recreational and consumptive vs. non-consumptive uses of forest lands.” Now there’s a thought…It kind of makes you wonder what those old cowpokes would have thought about the recent riots.
So what do you think? Was the Old West a quiet, peaceful and law-abiding place or wasn’t it?
Speaking of Wild:
Maggie Michaels is sent to Arizona Territory as an undercover mail order bride to track down the notorious Whistle-Stop Bandit. If she doesn’t prove the suspect guilty before the wedding—she could end up as his wife!
I picked up an interesting book at a swap meet titled 1001 Most-asked Questions About the American West by Harry E. Chrisman. The book is out of print but there are a few left on Amazon. I bet you didn’t know there were that many questions to ask about cowboys. Here are some samples from the book:
Did Indians have any special word to describe the covered wagons they saw on the plains?
They called them “teepees on wheels.”
So many western people say “howdy” when they meet you on the street. Where did the term originate?
Howdy is short for “How-do-you-do?” You don’t have to tell the inquirer how you feel, for he doesn’t care anyway! A cowboy once advised a friend never to say “Howdy” to a talkative, glib Easterner whom they both knew. “Why not?” the second cowboy asked. “Because he’ll tell you,” came the answer.
Is there any record of a woman riding in a cattle stampede?
Old cowboy Anderson from Sequin, Texas told of seeing a lady ride side-saddle being swept into a longhorn stampede. He wrote: “Seeing the cattle gaining, that woman swung herself astride and pulled off a race that beat anything I ever saw.” This is what they called riding “clothespin” style.
Was marijuana used to any extent in the settlement of the Old West?
Marijuana was not used as a drug. However one Western expert has noted that even Bibles and wagon covers were often made from the Devil’s weed, in addition to some of the clothing the pioneers wore and the hemp rope they used.
What was a “pitcher and catcher hotel” in the early West?
It has nothing to do with baseball. A pitcher was what they called the washbowl, and the catcher (or thundermug) was the chamber pot. Margaret here: Whoever thought up the name thundermug must have had a real problem.
What was the usual bounty offered for an outlaw when the posters read, “Wanted, dead or alive.”
$500 would bring a man in dead or alive. That was a lot of money back in the 1870-80s.
What did the term “grubline gossip” mean?
Cowboys laid off during the winter months would ride from ranch to ranch looking for odd jobs. In exchange for free food they reported whatever news they heard on their travels and this was called grubline gossip.
What were the worst factors pioneers had to contend with?
Blizzards, Indians, fleas, snakes, cholera, small pox, diphtheria, lice, bedbugs, prairie fire, falls into deep wells, accidents from livestock, cyclones, runaway horses, stampedes, heat sunstroke, silence of the plains and loneliness. Many women thought the latter two the worst.
What would have been the worst
factor for you?
Working undercover is no job for a lady, but one thing is certain;
Come hell or high water, Jennifer Layne always gets her man!
Ah, the automobile. What would we do without it? The car I most remember is a battered old ’61 white Valiant with a stick shift. The clunker almost caused me to gave birth and file for a divorce on the same night. That’s because my husband steadfastly refuses to drive over the speed limit. No thanks to him, I missed giving birth in that auto by mere seconds.
The reason I have cars on my mind this month is because of my new book, Waiting for Morning, a historical romance set in Arizona Territory in 1896. The hero, Dr. Caleb Fairbanks introduces the Last Chance Ranch cowhands to his beloved gas-powered “horseless carriage,” Bertha. When Caleb and backfiring Bertha incite gunfire from former dance hall girl, Molly Hatfield, the handsome doctor barely escapes with his life. Little does he know that his troubles have only just begun.
Today, cars are blamed for everything from global warming to funding terrorism through oil dependency. It might surprise you to learn that it wasn’t that long ago that the old gray mare was held responsible for the social and economic ills of the world.
In 1908, it was estimated that New York City alone would save more than a million dollars a year by banning horses from its streets. That’s how much it cost back then to clean up the tons of manure clogging the roadways each year.
A tree never hits an automobile except in self defense.
Horses were also blamed for traffic congestion, accidents, diseases and, of all things, noise pollution. Hooves clattering on cobblestones were said to aggravate nervous systems. Even Benjamin Franklin complained about the “thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, waggons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise” that assailed the ears of Philadelphia residents.
The first automobiles to drive west were driven by insurance salesmen and land agents. When an attorney in a small Texas town rose to leave during an important trial, he practically emptied the courtroom. Jurors, witnesses and spectators all wanted to see his two-cylinder Maxwell. An irate judge pounded his gavel and ordered the autorist to “Drive the contraption a mile out of town where there are no horses and permit everyone to look it over so the court can resume its regular business.”
As with all technology, outlaws were quick to see the advantage of automobiles. The auto allowed for a quick get-away and would keep going long after a horse gave out. This left local sheriffs at a disadvantage.
Youths hopped on the auto band-wagon long before their elders and many ceased driving the family springboards entirely. Frontier lawmen suddenly found themselves issuing stern warnings, not to outlaws, but to racing youths.
Remember: When everything’s coming your way,
you’re in the wrong lane.
The automobile was supposed to make the world a safer, saner, quieter and healthier place. That’s something to think about the next time you’re stuck in traffic. But take heart: the safer, quieter, more economical Robot Car is here.
To celebrate the publication of my book, my publisher is running a fun contest. To enter all you have to do is write a paragraph or two about the car that played a part in your life’s story and send to:
Writing a short story or a novel is a “journey” from beginning to end in many ways.
Hopefully, our main characters will learn something about themselves and grow emotionally and in their personal values of not only each other, but the world around them. They must become more aware of their place in the world as individuals to be able to give of themselves to another person, the hero to the heroine, and visa versa, or the story stagnates.
The main conflict of the story brings this about in a myriad of ways, through smaller, more personal conflicts and through the main thrust of the “big picture” dilemma. I always like to think of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell as a prime example of this, because the States’ War was the catalyst for everything that followed, but it also remained the backdrop throughout the book. This generated all of the personal losses and gains that Scarlett and Rhett made individually, so if the War hadn’t been the backdrop, the main original conflict, their personal stories would have taken very different routes and their love story quite possibly would have never happened.
No matter what kind of story we are trying to weave, we have to have movement throughout—not just of the characters’ growth, but of the setting and circumstances that surround them. Sometimes, that “ain’t” easy!
Have you ever thought about how important it is to have travel in your writing? No, it doesn’t have to be lengthy travel, although that’s a great possibility, too. Even a short trip allows things to happen physically to the characters, as well as providing some avenue for emotional growth and development among them.
One of my favorite examples of the importance of travel is the short story by Ernest Haycox, “Stage to Lordsburg.” You might know it better as the John Ford movie adaptation, “Stagecoach,” starring a very handsome young newbie…John Wayne. A varied group of people are traveling on a stagecoach that is attacked by Indians, including John Wayne, (a seriously good-looking young outlaw by the name of Johnny Ringo) who is being transported to prison. The dire circumstances these passengers find themselves in make a huge difference in the way they treat each other—including their hesitant acceptance of a fallen woman and the outlaw.
If the characters of the story are going somewhere, things are bound to happen—even if they’re just going to the store, as in the short story “The Mist,” by Stephen King. Briefly, a man goes to the grocery store and is trapped inside with many other people by a malevolent fog that surrounds the store and tries to come inside. Eventually, he makes the decision to leave rather than wait for it to get inside and kill them all. He thinks he can make it to the pickup just outside in the parking lot. A woman that he really doesn’t know says she will go with him. By making this conscious decision, not only are they leaving behind their own families (he has a wife and son) that they know they’ll never see again, but if they make it to the vehicle and survive, they will be starting a new chapter of their lives together. It’s a great concept in my opinion—virtual strangers, being forced to make this kind of life-or-death decision in the blink of an eye, leaving everything they know behind, when all they had wanted to do was pick up a few groceries.
In all of my stories, there is some kind of travel involved. In Fire Eyes, although Jessica doesn’t travel during the story, she has had to travel to get to the original setting where it all takes place. And Kaed is brought to her, then travels away from her when he is well enough. Will he come back? That’s a huge conflict for them. He might be killed, where he’s going, but it’s his duty. He can’t turn away from that. After what has happened to him in his past, he has a lot of mixed feelings about settling down and trying again with a family, and with love.
In a long ago English class, one of my professors once stated, “There are only two things that happen in a story, basically. 1. A stranger comes to town. Or, 2. A character leaves town.” Pretty simplistic, and I think what she was trying to tell us was that travel is a great way to get the conflict and plot of a story moving in the right direction. I always think of “Shane” when I think of “a stranger coming to town” because that is just such a super example of how the entire story is resolved by a conflicted character, that no one ever really gets to know. Yet, although he may have a checkered past, he steps in and makes things right for the Staretts, and the rest of the community.
In my upcoming novel, Time Plains Drifter, a totally different kind of travel is involved—time travel. The hero, Rafe, is thrown forward sixteen years from the date he died (yes, he’s a very reluctant angel) and the heroine, Jenni, is flung backward one hundred fifteen years by a comet that has rearranged the bands of time on earth. They come together in 1895 in the middle of Indian Territory. But the time travel is just a means to bring them together for the real conflict, and that’s the case with most of stories. Whether as readers or writers, we don’t want to look at the scenery/history for the most part; we want to see the conflict, and the travel is just a way to get that to happen.
For all the writers out there, how do you use travel in your writing? And for the readers, what kinds of travel passages bore you, or make the story come alive?
Here’s a short excerpt from Time Plains Drifter, which will be re-released at the beginning of June. Rafe and Jenni have just met, and there’s a definite attraction! Hope you enjoy!
FROM TIME PLAINS DRIFTER
For the first time, Rafe began to wonder what—and who—she might have left back there in her own time. Two thousand-ten. A mother and father? What about siblings? Was she as close to someone as he and Cris had been? Was she…married? Did she leave children of her own?
She was a school teacher, and he took comfort in that thought. In his own time, school teachers were usually women who were not yet married.
Suddenly, the question burned in his mind. Was she married? Did she have someone waiting for her? Hell, whatdifference does it make? He sighed. You’re dead, Rafe. Remember? Dead. All a mistake. Beck’s sure sorry, but—
If he was dead, why did his leg ache? He felt the pinch of the cramped nerve endings in his left calf just as he had always suffered from when he held this position too long. Was it real? Or did he just anticipate that pain, where it had always been when he was alive? He hadn’t imagined the instant response of his body earlier, holding Jenni Dalton in his arms. That had been real enough.
He stood up slowly with a grimace, and his fingers went to the small of his back automatically for an instant before he bent to massage his leg, then walk a few steps to ease the strain of the muscles. The twinges faded, but Rafe knew he hadn’t imagined either of them.
If I’m dead, how can I hurt? Was this part of what Beck had tried to explain to him earlier, about giving in to the “human” side of himself? Those “bodily urges?” Beck had seemed horrified that Rafe even entertained the thought of wanting to live again—in a normal, human state.
But he did, God help him. He did. And five minutes with Miss Jenni Dalton was all it had taken to reaffirm that conviction to the fullest measure.
There was something about her; something strong, yet, so vulnerable. Her eyes captivated him, her lips seductively beckoned to be kissed—but what if she knew she was kissing a ghost? A dead man?
His glance strayed to Jenni once more as she stood up, and he controlled the urge to go after young Kody Everett and choke the life from his body for his deceit.
Jenni came toward Rafe stiffly, her back held ramrod straight. Without conscious thought, he opened his arms to her, and she kept right on walking, into his embrace, until he closed the gates of safety across her back and held her to him, protected inside his fortress.
She didn’t cry, and Rafe knew it was because she was too exhausted. They stood that way for a long moment, breathing the night air. He wanted to give her what she needed—shelter, safety, and…togetherness. She wasn’t alone any more, and he wanted her to know it.
He felt her take a shuddering breath of bone-deep weariness. Who was waiting for her in her own time, to comfort her like this when she returned?
“Hmm?” Her voice was a contented purr.
He smiled. “Where you come from, are you, uh—married, or—”
“Huh-uh. No husband. No kids. Nobody at all.”
“No—betrothed?” He searched for a word they might still use a hundred and ten years from now, and by the way she smiled against his shirt, he knew he had sounded old-fashioned to her. “Okay, what’s your word for it?”
“Boyfriend. Fiance. Lover—”
She drew back at his indignation, looking him in the face. “It’s—It’s just a word,” she stammered. “It really doesn’t mean—”
“Don’t say that one,” Rafe growled. He shook his head to clear it. “What I mean is—you wouldn’t want to say that around anyone. They’d take you for a—loose woman.”
She looked up earnestly into his smoldering gaze, liquefying his bones with her piercing green eyes, her lips full and sensual, the tangle of copper hair blowing in the breeze. “Would you think I was ‘loose’ if I asked you to—to just lie down beside me? It’s not that I’m afraid,” she hastened to add. “I just feel—kind of shaken up.”