I want to thank Petticoats and Pistols for inviting me and giving me the opportunity to share with all of you. This is a favorite site of mine and blogging with you here is beyond exciting!
This week, my second novel, Choices, was released. Set at Fort Randall, Dakota Territory in 1876, it tells the story of a rebellious officer’s daughter, an honorable enlisted man, and a forbidden relationship.
Twenty odd years ago, when my late husband, Tim, and I were first married, we shared an avid interest in living history. He was an archaeologist, I was a history teacher, and we were both passionate about the American West. He created the persona of a soldier-a private-and I was a governess. Both of us spent scores of hours researching the period:the army, etiquette and social rules, nineteenth century dress; and how our characters fit within it. At the same time, Tim was also the project manager of the Fort Randall Archaeological Project. We lived and breathed Fort Randall for over two years.
Choices flowed out of that. The facts were swimming around in my head, mingling constantly into different storylines (that happens a lot with facts in my head). They begged for characters to play them out and for the words to be written down.
The nineteenth century army had rigid sets of rules for being a soldier and complex social codes for how officers, enlisted men, and their women were permitted (or not permitted) to interact. I was amazed at how stratified society was at these western outposts and at how thoroughly officer’s wives observed those social norms. Memoirs, scholarly studies, and the notations left by army personnel all speak to the separation of classes—as defined by rank.
But even more amazing were the exceptions. Though officers’ wives were socially superior to enlisted men’s wives, they were not officially recognized by the army. In fact, they were considered camp followers, in the same category as prostitutes who might do business just off the military reservation (their places of business were nicknamed “hog ranches”) and were allowed only at the sufferance of the commanding officer. Laundresses, who were often wives of enlisted men, were official civilian contractors with corresponding army regulations detailing their rights to be there.
On most posts, lifestyles of the enlisted and officer classes were narrowly defined and very separate. A few diaries and memoirs offer glimpses into occasional relaxation of those barriers, most often for an all-post holiday celebration or when there was an unusual crisis.
I wanted to share all this but also to present a story about choices, about how we all choose who we are going to be in terms of relationships with others. Miriam, my heroine, confronts rules and regulations head-on and resists them every step of the way while she seeks ways to cross the lines. I introduced her rigid and domineering mother, Harriet, to bring pressure on her to toe the line and to personify the exclusionary nature of society. Lt. Wood is representative of expectations. Mixed in is the culture of the army, Harriet’s addiction to laudanum, Jake’s honor, the laundress’s common-sense outlook on life, and Major Longstreet’s predicament of his own making.
I hope you will find the story and fun to read as I found it to write and that my characters reveal the subtleties involved in the choices that face us all.
Sometimes research can turn up a gem of information that can send your story in a different direction. When writing my second novel, Touched by Love, I needed a place for the heroine’s kidnapped brother to be taken. I knew the general area where I needed him to be held, just not a specific location. And of course, it had to be historically accurate for the time period in which my story was set.
I began searching the internet for prisons used by the Mexican Army in the 1800s and found Perote Prison. The location was ideal, 600 miles into Mexico, and several hundred Texans had been incarcerated within its walls.
The Castle of San Carlos (photo to the left *) was built by the Viceroy of Mexico in the late 16th century, 7000 feet up the mountains overlooking the port of Veracruz. It was designed as an ammunition storage facility and a military training school, and as a second line of defense for Veracruz. Both the Spanish and Mexican armies used the immense fortress as a prison. Texans captured during three disastrous expeditions against Mexico were imprisoned and died here.
The Aztecs called the place pinahuizapan, or “something-to-be-buried-in.” Situated high in the mountains, at an altitude of 7000 feet, the castle made an ideal prison. The stone and masonry walls were twelve feet high and six feet thick. The entire structure was surrounded by a wide, deep moat spanned by a single drawbridge. Add to that the weather in this high desert, and it must have seemed like the most inhospitable place on earth to those unfortunate enough to be there.
When I discovered Perote Prison, I knew it had to make an appearance in the book. I ended up writing a prologue that forced the hero to ride to this remote prison to correct a terrible mistake and save a man’s life at the possible cost of his own. The added scenes demonstrated the hero’s sense of honor and responsibility, adding depth to his character and making him more redeemable in the eyes of the reader.
Interesting, isn’t it, how a gem of information can send you off in a different direction and make your characters—and your story—better?
* J. J. McGrath & Walace Hawkins, “Perote Fort- Where Texans Were Imprisoned”, Volume 48, Number 3, Southwestern Historical Quarterly Online
It’s good to be back on the blog. A family emergency sent me to California for close to a month.Not an easy trip, but all is well.I want to give a big thank you to my fellow Fillies who filled in the gap for me. Ladies, you’re the best!
Now that I’m home, I’m getting back to the business of writing.Woooo Hoooo! I’m shopping for a hero! A lot of writing is work, but the hero hunt is just plain fun. I never know when the right man will show up. It’s usually out of the blue. This time his arrival was no exception. He came out of the Wild Blue Yonder . . . literally! I was on an airliner, an Airbus 319 to be precise, in Seat 10B.
Has anyone here flown Virgin America? The cabin colors are purple and black. Instead of movie screens that drop down from the ceiling, each passenger has an individual entertainment system complete with movies, television, and music. It’s about as far from the Old West as you can get, but somewhere over Nevada I programmed a play list and did some time-travel. Thirty-seven-thousand feet above fly-over country, Bruce Springsteen’s voice came through the headphones.
Can you hear me?
I love this song!It’s on Bruce’s newest album and it’s totally over the top.It’s got outlaws, a bounty hunter, wild mustangs a Navaho girl, pistols, mountains and buckskin chaps. After a month of Los Angeles freeways, Holly-weirdness, and smog, I felt almost normal again.
The lyrics got me thinking . . . What is it about outlaws that’s so appealing? I’ve been thinking about this, because I want my next hero to be as bad as I can make him. He won’t stay that way, of course. And that’s what I think the real appeal is for an outlaw hero. By the end of the book, they’re redeemed. They might be bad to the bone, but they don’t stay that way.
My all-time favorite outlaw hero is Johnny Cain in The Outsider by Penelope Williamson. When the story opens, he’s “a man killer.” He’s about as irredeemable as a man can be. Yet he’s the one who risks his life to save Rachel’s son. That’s another key to the outlaw hero. Bad men sometimes do good things.
Keep in mind I’m talking about heroes in romances.In real life, I’d have been terrified by the Wild Bunch or the Cole-Younger gang. Then again, there’s Doc Holliday. Granted, I see Val Kilmer when I picture him, but what really intrigues me is the complexity of his character.That man was a loyal friend to Wyatt Earp. He was also highly educated, a dentist, and very good with a gun. It’s quite a mix. He may not count as a full fledged outlaw, but he captured the rebellion of the West.
When I’m creating a new hero, the challenge is to balance darkness and light, good and evil. Maybe that’s why I like Outlaw Pete so much. It’s got all the highs and lows of real life.A lot of outlaw heroes are at war with themselves. In the romance the good side always wins. I like that!
Does anyone else have a favorite “outlaw” song?A favorite outlaw hero?I can think of a bunch, but I’d love to have y’all add to my list.
And last . . . I’m giving away books from my backlist today. It’s good to be back at Petticoats & Pistols, so I’m celebrating. Anyone who comments will be eligible to win a copy of either Midnight Marriage or Stay for Christmas.These are two of my older HH titles. Good luck!
Greetings from the Wardman Marriott Hotel in Washington DC, the site of this year’s national conference for Romance Writers of America!I’m thrilled to be here. Not only is it a great chance to hear industry news and attend writing workshops, I get to spend time with friends. You know that feeling when you sit down with a group of girlfriends you haven’t seen in a while? Everyone starts talking and there’s just not enough time to say everything that needs to be said. That’s what RWA is like for me.
The conference launched with the annual “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing. Since 1991, RWA has donated more than $600,000 to literacy charities. The totals aren’t in for this year, but the room was huge and it was packed.Before it started, I snapped a shot of fellow Filly Tracy Garrett.She’s signing copies of Touched by Love.
And here’s Pat Potter saying hi. You can’t see the Rita pins on her badge, but my mouth gaped.Pat is so friendly and so talented . . . I confess! I’m in awe.
I’m also in awe of of those serendipity moments that are unique to RWA.I had one of those happy coincidences the first time I stepped into the elevator. My roommate and I (here’s a shout-out to Sara Mitchell, my fellow LIH author) struck up a conversation with a writer wearing a pink “First Sale” ribbon.“Who did you sell to?” I asked.
“Dorchester,” she answered. “I write western romance.”
Music to my ears!Turns out I was talking to Caroline Fyffe. She’s set to blog at Petticoats and Pistols on August 6th.
My next western-flavored coincidence is typical RWA. The literacy signing and is over and I’m in the elevator. (I seem to spend a lot of time in elevators!)I look up and see a man I can’t quite place. Turns out he’s Leigh Greenwood (aka Harold Lowry).I’m beginning to wonder if the hotel put all the western writers on the same floor!
The conference is just beginning.Thursday’s schedule includes a breakfast with the Harlequin Historical writers.That’s the line where I started and I’m stoked to be catching up with old friends. On Thursday night, I’ll be getting together with new friends. The Love Inspired Historical authors will be gathering for dinner. Friday is all business. I’ll be meeting with my editor and my agent, and then attending a workshop by Donald Maass.
I’ll post other serendipity moments in the Comments section.At RWA, you never know who you’ll meet in an elevator. It could be me!
Wow. Let me first just thank Cheryl St.John for asking me to post to this wonderful site. I’m a long time visitor, sometime commenter, and have been a fan since researching my current release, All or Nothing.
Writers and readers of historical fiction know—whether we’re talking romance, mystery, or any other sub-genre—more goes into the story then simply writing the tale. We need to know the landscape of the piece. Understand the perils and pitfalls of the time period. And, most importantly—what was it like to be a woman in those conditions? How did one bathe? Eat? Where was the bathroom? And what was one to do when it was so blasted hot outside without air conditioning?
All or Nothing is set in the Arizona West of 1876. The time when my bandit—a real to life bad guy who was never captured, El Tejano—roamed the Dragoon Mountains outside of Arizona. The story is seasoned it with my own life experience, after spending much of my childhood playing among the rugged adobe ruins of Fort Lowell, in Tucson, Arizona.
However, much of my research came from my previous profession. A trained archaeologist.I traveled the southwest surveying for corporations. I studied historic and prehistoric sites, bagged and tagged artifacts, and hauled boxes of them to dusty museums, all the while knowing that someday I’d fold all that knowledge into my own stories.
I’d been a writer for years, but strictly in the work sense. No romanticizing allowed, my supervisor would say.I was an archaeologist, tasked with writing reports on sites we discovered, researching bottle-bottoms and landmarks, recording that history for posterity, for whatever corporation funded our research.
My favorite discovery came after surviving the scariest hike in history—surveying ridge tops down the rugged, red slopes of the Copper King Mountains in eastern Arizona. Exhausted, shaken from almost tumbling down a drainage hole during a rockslide, I needed a minute before starting up again. I walked. I took deep breaths, sat—head between my knees, when I saw it. A bit of white and blue mixed in with the pine needles and gravel. I picked it up, surveyed the shard, and found another. A broken plate. Praise God, I stumbled on an historic site—the Little Colorado Mine. My discovery, and mine to map, survey, and write up for history. But, just the facts, they warned me.
Fine. I did it their way. And, oh boy! It was a struggle.
My romantic nature wanted not just to report on the Limoges pattern on shattered dishes. I wanted to discuss the woman who’d opened her hope chest after traveling the rutted road in their rickety wagon, and found her wedding china smashed! How she sobbed over their hand-painted shards. Sure. Maybe that’s what happened.
Or, perhaps a marriage of convenience lured her to that God forsaken bit of land under the shadow of Copper King. In a fury, her husband out digging for silver (and finding nothing but wretched copper ore), she flung a plate or two at his head right before she hitched up the wagon and hightailed it out of there.
Or, maybe their third baby knocked it off the table while reaching up for a cookie, they all had a good laugh, picked up the pieces and tossed them out onto the trash heap and went in to read the Bible together.
So, my supervisor was right. All I knew for sure was I had a shattered feminine plate in a rugged wasteland. It wasn’t my job to figure out how it broke or why.
But guess what? As an author, I can.
I can take bits from that experience, the harrowing experience down the mountain side which opens All or Nothing, and weave it with the story of a massacre left widely untold by the popular citizens of Tucson, and pick apart the accounts to guess what might have actually happened there. I also can create a heroine who was confronted with one of the worst occupations in history – being an Army Laundress for the US Cavalry—some of the most unsung heroines of our time.
Researching these things in a time before the internet was a bit like finding a needle in a haystack. But, with the help of women like you—I was able to research historic catalogs, read through to find the price of coffee (green or roasted), by the bag or barrel, and what rations and pay were given a woman who worked for the Cavalry!
Like a kid in a candy store, I grabbed facts. I pocketed them. I wove in “spice” for the story, seasoning my characters and their encounters with each other. I walked with them through the fort grounds, laid out my map, figured out what angle to reach the stable from the parade grounds, and lived the story with them.My editor picked out the rough spots, evaluated my historical claims and matched them to reality. Where did the train really stop? What song would your heroine be dancing to? Humming? In 1876! Thank heaven for the Internet. A library at our fingertips.
Does an author do this much research for a story set in modern day? Perhaps. But, there is so much that contemporary authors can take for granted that we have to stop and really think about. Our readers can tell when we’re faking it.
“A gold mine is a hole in the ground with a liar at the top.” – Mark Twain
When I began doing research for my debut novel, Touch of Texas, I knew I was searching for a special type of location. It needed to be isolated, with a means of support for those who settled in the town. I didn’t want the town to be too prosperous – that eliminates some of the available conflict for a story. Also, the area had to be right for the nefarious to operate – cattle rustling, horse stealing, etc. – and have numerous places for them to hide.
The hero of the book was a Texas Ranger, the tall, dark and dangerous type, who preferred taking on assignments that sent him out alone, far from civilization. My mental picture of the heroine was his total opposite, a fragile-looking woman with golden hair…
Golden? Aha! A gold mining town. But was gold ever mined in Texas in the 1800’s? I don’t mind making stuff up in the name of my art, but I believe fiction needs to have a basis in the credible.
Silver mining has been going on in Texas since the Franciscans Friars discovered the precious ore near El Paso in 1680. These mines were hidden by the good Friars from the Jesuit brothers and the locations lost for many years. One mine was rediscovered in 1793, then lost again, then found again thanks to church records in 1872. In 1880 the Presidio Mine was discovered. In the ensuing years, strikes were made in all over the western half of the state, and even in the Hill Country.
From The Handbook of Texas Online: “In 1905, 387,576 ounces of silver were produced in the state, and in 1908 the Bonanza and Alice Ray Mines in the Quitman Mountains in Hudspeth County were producing ore valued at $60 to $65 per ton. In 1918 the Chinati and Montezuma mines closed. The Presidio Mine was one of the most consistent producers of silver in the country; from 1880 until it closed in 1942 it had produced 2,000,000 tons of ore from which 30,293,606 ounces of silver, about nine-tenths of the total output of the state, had been extracted, along with a small value in gold and lead.”
There it is. The answer to whether anyone ever mined for gold in Texas. The operations weren’t profitable, but there have been gold mines in Texas since the 1800’s. In fact, there has been a gold mining operation going on in the Hill Country continuously since the expedition of Bernardo de Miranda y Flores left San Antonio in February, 1756.
Most gold mining took place in the far southwestern part of the state, in the area called Big Bend. (That’s a picture of Big Bend National Park to the right. Gorgeous, isn’t it?)
There was some mining around Fort Davis and in the Davis Mountains, and also in Presidio County.
While researching the history of Fort Davis, a United States Army post in operation from 1854-1891, I found mention of a wave of gold seekers coming through on their way to California from San Antonio. The need to protect these adventurers and pioneer was part of what helped drive the placement of the fort.
Amateur prospectors have discovered arrastre, granite bedrock milling stones, abandoned by the Mexicans and Spanish in and on the banks of the creeks where they searched in vain for gold.
But since when has gold fever been cured by the words “you aren’t going to find it here”.To this day, the persistent legends of large veins scattered through the state are enough to keep hopeful panhandlers searching.
Panning still turns up small amounts of gold around the ruins of Fort Davis, as well as in the Hill Country around Llano and Mason Counties, where there were mostly placer mines—that’s the mining of alluvial or sediment deposits for minerals. Despite the odds against finding anything, they’re still mining for gold in the Lone Star State.
While no one person or mining company ever got wealthy digging or panning for gold in Texas—the total recorded value of the gold dug out of the ground is less than $250,000—they did and still do hunt for the precious metal. And for a fiction writer, that’s all I needed to create my own little piece of the past.
Maybe Mark Twain had it right – although I’d rather consider myself a weaver of a tall tale rather than a liar.
Last month, while attending the Romantic Times BookLovers Convention to promote my latest release, TOUCHED BY LOVE, I had the pleasure of participating as part of a panel on “Historical Romance Through the Ages.” The writers, five in all, covered the gamut of settings, from 1100s Scotland, through Georgian, Regency and Victorian England, and across “the pond” to the American West.
Our discussion concerned what set apart a romance in our chosen time period. In my case, what makes a western a western.
I enjoyed listening as those who wrote European-set stories discussed social mores, etiquette, keeping Mama happy, and buying just the right hat at the right store for that party that all the right people will attend.
In a western, in my opinion, the environment has more influence on stories than most other factors. Think pioneers, survival, and hardship; taking care of yourself and looking out for your neighbors because that’s what a good person does. Hats and parties were important, especially to young ladies of a “certain age,” but, for the most part, people concerned about survival don’t care if their clothes are the latest fashion – they’re just glad to have clothes to wear.
As to social etiquette, the proprieties were certainly observed, but I imagine they were often tossed off the wagon in deference to survival. Of course, the backlash of ignoring them makes for great conflict in our stories.
When a family moved west, they took what they could carry and left everything and everyone else behind. Letters moved slowly, if at all, leaving these westward pioneers isolated from everything familiar. They had to suck it up and create their own “familiar”, their own new lives, friends and routines. They even had to build their own surroundings. Young men suddenly had to provide for their families. Women learned to create a home wherever they decided to put down roots. It took real grit to make it when nothing was familiar. And if the crops failed, or a fire destroyed the house, or their livestock were rustled, they brushed themselves off and started over.
Westerns are about hope and opportunity. That’s a big part of why I love writing them. There was a chance for those who had “fallen” to redeem themselves or turn their backs on the past and begin again. No matter the hardships, they had an opportunity to make a happy-ever-after for themselves and the generations to follow.
How about you? What makes a western a western for you?
When I start doing interviews for a new release, I’m always asked how I got started writing. Because the real story is a long one, I give a brief version or answer that I always wrote. Here’s the rest of the story….
The first story I ever wrote was called The Pink Dress. I stapled the pages into a book and drew a cover. I don’t remember how old I was. Maybe eleven. Many years later, I wrote a short story, submitted it, and received a rejection from Redbook magazine. I was fourteen and I still have the story and the rejection slip. I still remember the feeling of rejection and disappointment when I received it. My first complete novel was titled The Rebel. I’m actually too embarrassed to tell you what it was about, but the title would have sold well to Silhouette, don’t you think? In fact it probably has. I was sixteen when I wrote it.
I wrote in notebooks for years while my children were growing up, and I started a couple of books that way. I never got serious until my youngest daughter went to first grade. I was lost without her, but instead of having another baby, going to school or getting a real job, like many women with empty nest syndrome, I decided that was the time to write the book I’d always wanted to write.
All The Tender Tomorrows. Great title, eh? Ambitious undertaking. Great characters. No plot. Passive, passive, passive writing. A totally unsellable time period. I typed it on an old manual Smith-Corona, with an “A” that struck half a line below all the other letters, and the manuscript underwent at least three or four complete rewrites.
I didn’t know it was passively written. I didn’t know it was a time period no one would buy. I thought it had a great plot—I was involved. LOL I sent it to many, many publishers—most major publishers, in fact. What they should have said in their rejection letters was: “This doesn’t fit our present needs, and if it ever does, we’ll shoot ourselves.” But they didn’t.
However, I did not receive constructive rejections; I got vague form rejections. But I did learn to persevere. I wrote the whole thing from beginning to end and rewrote it as many times and as many ways as I knew how. And if one of those publishers had told me how to change it to make it better, I’d have done that, too.
Soft Summer Magiccame next, a contemporary. The pool man story. Spoiled rich girl gets her comeuppance when her father’s Midwest bank goes broke and she has to work as a nanny for the guy who maintained her pool—and she learns he is the owner of the company. A slim bit of conflict. A lot of steamy romance and sexual tension and some love scenes I still remember…not terrible. Would it sell today? Perhaps rewritten. Will I? No.
Brotherly Love a.k.a. A Kindred Oathfollowed that. It was another contemporary. A young man’s dying brother makes him promise to take care of his widow after he’s gone. Some conflict. Some plot. Fair characters. Not redeemable. But I sent it out, too. Both of those were rejected by all the contemporary publishers.
Through All The Tears. This was an attempt at the inspirational market. (I also tried to sell articles and devotionals and all other kinds of projects in between these stories.) Dumb story. Dumb plot. Didn’t finish it. But it had some really well written pages in it, so I was developing something. A voice perhaps.
The Birthright was a story I loved from its very conception. I fell in love with my research on this endeavor. The first draft had page after page after page of all the fascinating details I’d learned. I included nearly my whole notebook full of notes into the story.
Mind you, this was still before I ever found a writers organization. I was reading the outdated how-to books from the library and thinking I could do this. I worked on this story for a few years. After several rewrites—and buying a second-hand IBM Selectric typewriter, I had a good thing going. I really thought I was uptown with that electric beast. Baby, I had arrived. This book would be a best seller.
I mean this typewriter even had those nifty little eraser papers you held against the paper and re-typed over—no more globs of white out all over the striker keys, or white out plastered so thick on the page, it chipped off all over my desk.
I did great—unless I took the page out of the carriage. It was not impossible to get it back just exactly the way I took it out so I could fix it, but there’s only so much time in a year, you know?
I submitted that manuscript to all the publishers. And they all rejected it. By that time I was the query letter queen. I knew just what to say to get them to ask for my entire book. Everyone asked to see it–no one wanted to buy it.
Around this time I found RWA and a local chapter. And I started learning. All along I’d thought I was so prolific. I never had writer’s block. I just sat down at the keyboard and wrote and wrote and wrote. Words flew off my fingers onto the pages.
Well, then I learned about passive writing and studied Swain, and found out about motivation/reaction and feeling/action/speech and CONFLICT! And I learned why I’d blissfully written so easily for so long. Ignorance was bliss. I was writing crap. Fixing it was a monumental task.
At this point, since I’d learned so much and was now such an improved writer, I decided to start something new.
This Business of Love. (I’m still going to use this title someday.) Another contemporary attempt. I had joined a critique group by this time. Boy, was it hard learning how much work my writing really needed.
The characters wouldn’t leave me alone, so I went back to The Birthright. I rewrote it. And then I got very, very, very brave—and had it critiqued by (the late) Diane Wicker-Davis, an Avon author and member of our chapter at that time. A few weeks later, I got the critique; Diane went over her thoughts with me. She’d Xed out page after page and written “nothing happening” in the margins. I couldn’t look at it or go back to any writing for two solid months. But in my heart, I realized she knew what she was talking about.
I was never going to have a better opportunity, so I rewrote it again, using her edits and suggestions. And I submitted it again–and had it rejected by an agent who actually gave me two pages of suggestions. I rewrote it again. And she rejected it again.
I stuck it on a shelf.
My next project was Rain Shadow. By that time I was taking care of my first grandchild while my daughter worked, still raising two children at home, and working 40 plus hours a week at a “job” job. When I look back, I can’t imagine how I managed it all, but I did.
I wrote every available minute. When I was writing Rain Shadow, I was working some pretty crazy hours, but whenever I wasn’t at work, I was in front of my computer. My children took turns fixing supper, and they learned to leave me alone while I was working. My husband, who’d never turned on the washer in his life, learned to do laundry. I wasn’t always happy with the results, but hey, he did it. For nearly a year, I barely attended any family gatherings. My husband took the kids and left me home, undisturbed, to work.
The first editor I sent the manuscript to was one I’d met at a conference—I spent the entire morning before the appointment in the bathroom being sick. She asked to see the complete manuscript. For months, I waited on pins and needles.
She rejected it: Anton was unheroic and Rain Shadow was unfeminine. Well what did she know? She was just the senior editor at Big Publishing House. Being me, I had the manuscript out to other people and places, too, and soon an agent called to tell me she loved the story and she was sure she could sell it. Harlequin bought it four months later.
Then I learned about line edits and copy edits and cover art sheets, and after the dust settled, I went to the pile and thought, “Hmmm….” I pulled out The Birthright, which I had retitled Heaven Can Wait in one of the many rewrites, and mailed it to my editor, with a letter asking what I could do to get her to by it. A few weeks later, she called with the answer. “Cut a hundred pages and much of the God stuff.” I did. She cut more. I finally saw that book in print.
After selling Land of Dreams, Saint or Sinner, and Badlands Bride, my agent convinced me to test the contemporary waters, so I’ve written several contemporaries over the years as well.
The Preacher’s Wife, which will be out in just another week or so, is my thirty-second published book, and my first inspirational for Steeple Hill Love Inspired. I’ve come a along way since stapling pages and drawing my own covers, but I still enjoy the process of creating stories.
Right out of the chute, let me say how thrilled I am to be joining Petticoats & Pistols as a new Fillie! I’ve loved this site since the day it opened and now I get to be here among these fabulous western writers on a regular basis.
I love history. That’s no surprise, of course, to anyone who knows me. I not only enjoy writing about the past, but researching those bits and pieces that make the historical story I’m writing realistic, interesting and accurate.
Research comes in many forms. I can spend hours in a library, hunting through books. Or online, looking for one particular fact. But my favorite type of research is the kind I didn’t plan.
In my trips to research a story, I’ve come across some fun facts. Did you know there was a salt war in Texas? Neither did I was researching for this blog. Bonus: I discovered the Texas Historic Sites Atlas while looking for a picture of the marker.
Were you aware there was a Revolutionary War battle in St. Louis, Missouri? That’s right, halfway up the mighty Mississippi. The Battle of Fort San Carlos was fought when British-led Sioux, Sac, Fox and Winnebago warriors attacked a newly built French entrenchment in May of 1780. That historical fact came from a local newspaper article my mother forwarded.
Ever heard of Crash, Texas? It’s a town that was built for the express purpose of allowing spectators to witness a train crash up close and personal. A friend sent me that news story.
Then there’s the Great Santa Fe Trail Horse Race, begun in 1848 and revived in 1977. I found out about it when researching the coach stops along the Santa Fe Trail after visiting the Pony Express Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.
Do you read the footnotes and attributions at the end of a historical research article? You might take a stroll through the archived blogs right here at Petticoats & Pistols –the Fillies have shared some wonderful research.I love running across obscure information while I’m researching something else. And you can find some of the most interesting—and mostly useless—tidbits in some unlikely places. ebay® is one place that surprised me. I found some cool info on china and crystal and Texas artifacts there while researching my latest release, Touched by Love.
Buy at Amazon
Now, you’ll have to excuse me. There’s a museum website I just heard someone mention.
What’s the most unusual fact you discovered in the most unlikely place?
Some of my favorite shows are the programs on how movies are made. Movie Magic is one, and there’s another on Bravo. And there are all those HBO specials; I looked to see what is on in May and it’s The Making of P.S. I Love You, Blades of Glory, and Hairspray (Oh! I have to see that one!) among others. I always remember my favorites, too. And I love bloopers.
Sometimes after seeing how over budget a production is, or the how the blue screen effects were done, I go see the movie just to see how it came out. Even if I don’t have the slightest interest in a movie in the first place, after I watch one of those programs, I have to see how all the special effects and the computer imaging and fake rain and snow and all that stuff came together into 90 minutes of near-perfect cinematography and sound and lighting. The process absolutely intrigues me.
Even seeing a movie first and then watching the how-they-did-it program fascinates me, but I’d rather know the behind the scenes first, for some reason. Then I can sit and pick out all the places where I know they did a particularly wonderful job—or had an especially difficult time.
I think one reason why that intrigues me so, is because everything that looks so polished and perfect in the finished product, was actually grueling, laborious, often times FRUSTRATING work behind the scenes.
I remember for example, in the making of Jurassic Park, every time that huge stegosaurus—the one that broke through the fence and came after the kids in the car—every time it got wet in the rain scenes, the mechanical parts stopped working. The crew would have to stop, dry it down, wait, and start over. Hours and hours and hours, and in some cases DAYS of painstaking work just getting a few perfect shots.
It’s not so unlike what we writers do.
Other writers and all the readers see us with our good clothes on, our hair fixed, at meetings and conferences, at signings, with stacks of the glossy finished product in front of us.
How many hours of unglamorous work went into the finished product? I hate to even think how much I’ve made an hour on some of my projects, because when I think about it, the more difficult it is, the more time it takes. And the more time it takes, the less I’m making per hour. And I must tell you I don’t get up in the morning and slip into my pink ostrich-feather trimmed negligee or dictate to my personal secretary. Some days (and nights) I do my best writing in my jammies! Now there’s a picture for ya, eh?
Finished books can represent years. They also often represent other projects that fell by the wayside in between. Not every book that a writer proposes sells. I know a lot of authors who claim they sell about one out of every three stories they come up with.
A book takes anywhere from a few months to several months to complete. Some writers take a year or more. And those words don’t flow out of our brains in perfect order. Great scenes don’t just happen without plotting and planning and playing with dialogue. I usually write a story from beginning to end. I’m a very linear writer. But sometimes I have to go back and add things I belatedly realize are needed. Many authors write in layers, with dialogue first and then go back to add body language and setting. Others write scenes out of order and then connect them like a puzzle. It always amazes me how the process differs with each person—and with each book. I don’t write every book the same way. And then there’s the middle muddle, and all kinds of things that can get a writer off track.
I’ve never asked other writers about this, but most often my books leave an impression on me—an imprint of what was happening in my life at the time it was written, be it good or bad. I remember which book I was writing when something significant happened in my life. While we’re bringing characters to life, we’re simultaneously living life.
I think I can imagine what it’s like when the director, producer and crew of a movie watch the finished product for the first time. They remember how that scene came off beautifully after the boom was repaired or how amazing it is that a shot was edited to remove a dog that shouldn’t have been there. And then I imagine they look at the film with fresh eyes and marvel at how all the parts and players came together in a satisfying and rewarding piece of work.
That’s how a book feels, too. Satisfying and rewarding, even though I know all the things that happened behind the scenes. It’s still a delight to see a new book cover for the first time. When my author copies arrive, I open the box and touch them, open them, read the first few pages. Spotting my release among all the others at Wal-Mart or the grocery store never gets boring.
Coming in just a few weeks now is another first for me: My June Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical will be my first inspirational with Steeple Hill, and I’m excited about its release. It’s one of those stories that were a long time in the making. I planned it years ago, but never had the perfect place for it until the LIH line was created.
I’ll be drawing a name for a copy at the end of the day, so leave me a comment!
Seriously, how many people can work in their jammies?