"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Inspiration for Hattie's Cowboy

The Story:

She didn’t want a husband. He didn’t want a wife. They had the perfect relationship ... until love came calling.

Hattie Peyton Longmore hasn’t had much of a future since her selfish husband divorced her and set her out in the streets of San Francisco. Struggling to keep a roof over her head, she jumps at the chance to move to her brother’s Idaho ranch to help him raise his motherless daughter. But when Hattie arrives, it isn’t her brother who greets her, but his best friend, Jim Rider, with the news of her brother’s murder. She longs for strong arms to comfort and shelter her in this strange, lonely land, and the handsome cowboy is more than eager to comply. She doesn’t have to worry about a rake like him wanting to marry. With him, she’s safe. With him, she’ll never have to disclose her greatest failure as a woman.

Jim Rider has always been wild and free, but his best friend’s pretty sister might just be worth sticking around for, at least for a short-term love affair. Besides, he needs to find Billy’s killers—and he wouldn’t dream of leaving Hattie out in this empty land alone until she can find some hired help, or a husband. The latter shouldn’t be too hard since every available male within traveling distance winds up on her doorstep, something that soon rubs him about as raw as a burr under the collar. It comes as a bit of a shock to his freewheeling mind-set when he realizes he doesn’t want anybody in her bed except him, and he’ll do whatever it takes to prevent it ... even if it means marrying her himself!

Behind the Story:

"Wherever men have lived, there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

As a writer and student of history, this is one of my favorite quotes. You can look at any place and there will be history there. There will be people who have passed through a place, or by a place, or who have been affected by a place, if for no other reason than to avoid its harshness, to fear it for some reason, or to bury a loved one on their way to another destination. Even that lone marker left in the wilderness will carry with it somebody's story.

I chose to set one of my books, Hattie’s Cowboy*, in my own back yard, literally, because there was a story here to be told. Numerous stories, as a matter of fact. There was, first and foremost, the story of my own people who settled this region in 1915, and my own life spent here following in my grandfather’s and father’s footsteps, farming and raising cattle with my husband. My grandfather started out raising sheep; it was big business in Idaho in those days. It was my father and uncle who, in the 40s, shifted gears into raising cattle because my dad, for one, hated sheep. He spent years working all over the west shearing them in the spring, but he didn’t raise them. His dislike for the little woollies was something I had some fun with in the book. My hero, Jim Rider, a died-in-the-wool (no pun intended) cowboy, would rather die than be caught owning range maggots (sheep), an issue that nearly makes him ride off and leave the love of his life, Hattie Peyton, to tend her own darn sheep!

Besides the ranchers and farmers who settled the area, I also wanted to include others in my story: the Indians, the miners, the soldiers, and the outlaws. The latter found this untamed area ripe for the picking. They would lay in wait along Idaho’s Gold Road for gold shipments coming out of the mines in Virginia City, Montana, headed to Salt Lake City. Another road, one that ran right past my heroine’s ranch, also had historical value. It was known as the Salt Road, a winding passage through the mountains of southeastern Idaho that began near the Oneida Salt Works on the Idaho/Wyoming border and joined the Gold Road at Eagle Rock (now Idaho Falls). Not only did three hundred teams of oxen continually haul their precious white cargo over the Salt Road, but it was also traversed by soldiers, Indians, gold seekers, and emigrants.

Many might pass through this area where my ancestors took root a hundred years ago, and they might see nothing but wide open country dotted with farms and rangeland and mountains. They won’t see historical sites along the road for famous or infamous characters. It was common people who left their mark on this land. Sadly, common people seldom go down in history, but their stories, their struggles, are often more interesting than those of the notorious characters who fill the history books. Often the very nature of their mundane lives makes them easy to relate to. Why? Because we can see ourselves in their daily struggles. Because the human condition always focuses on the basic needs and emotions of all people, of their struggle to make a living and provide a home for themselves and their families, of their desire for love, success, and perhaps even power.

Hattie and her cowboy are fictitious characters, but they represent the real people who settled this part of the world. They represent my people. I hope as you read their fun, lighthearted story set in a hard, unforgiving land, that they’ll make you laugh, cry, and love every minute of their story. And perhaps, in the end, they'll become very real people to you, too. It's the most a writer can hope for.
*Available for Kindle and Nook. Hattie's Cowboy, was originally published by Zebra Books as Mountain Ecstasy. The paperback is still available under that title.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Would You Read it Again?

In a discussion recently among some friends, it was asked which of our favorite books had we read the most times. I racked my brain and had to admit that I couldn’t remember ever reading a book twice. There are certain books I’ve loved so much that I’ve kept them on my bookshelves for decades, thinking some day I would read them again. But I never have.

As a matter of fact, I had a shelf with books “to read” and I finally admitted that I had had those books for years ... and years ... maybe as high as twenty years. And I still had not read them. Every time I would go in search of something new to read, those particular books kept getting put back on the shelf. So, I recently did a drastic thing. I gathered them up and donated them to the library. That was Liberating! Now I don’t even have to consider them anymore.

I’ve even wondered how liberating it would be to gather up all the books I have read and do the same thing, because I know I won’t read them again. But that’s probably a bridge too far. I think I keep them because I want to occasionally look through them and say, “Oh, I remember that book. I loved it.” And for a minute or two, I’ll fall back into the story. But read it again? Nah. I know I’ll always choose the new adventure, the road I haven’t traveled, the ending I don’t yet know. For me, that’s the fun in reading.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Doin’ the Hop (a.k.a. The Liebster Award 10 Question Blog Hop)

Fellow writer and critique partner, Amanda Gaumé, has roped me into answering 10 questions in a blog hop known more specifically as The Liebster Award 10 Question Blog Hop.  I’ve never done a blog hop before, but as long as it doesn’t involve public speaking, I’m okay with it. And if you think it might be fun and challenging to hop backward, you can check out Amanda’s blog, So Many Story Ideas, So Little Time, to see how those questions led to this post.

Now, onto my answers to Amanda’s questions:

1. What genre do you write and why?

I’ve written 11 western romances, an historical saga, and a contemporary novel. All of my books are set in the American West because it’s what I’m most familiar with and it seems to suit my voice. I love the West and its history and the stories of the strong, brave people who faced tremendous hardships to make a life for themselves in an untamed land.

2. What is the best book you’ve read in the last year and why did you enjoy it?

There are actually three books I’ve read this year that I really enjoyed: The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley, The Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman, and The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. Each book was different in its own way. Riley's was big and lush. Hoffman's was strange and unique with supernatural elements. Kearsley took on ancestral memory and wove past and present love stories side by side.

3. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned as a writer?

That’s a hard one. There have been so many lessons learned about the craft and the publishing industry. I suppose one of the most valuable, early on, was acting as my own agent. I sold my first three books without an agent (yes, it was still possible to do that in 1985!), and I handled my own negotiations and worked directly with the editor at Avon Books. It taught me what an agent does, what they can and cannot do. It forced me to learn about contracts. It taught me what to look for in an agent. It taught me a lot about the nuts and bolts of what goes on behind the scenes–things I might not have been privy to if I’d had an agent acting as a buffer.

4. Who is your favorite author and why?

I don’t have a favorite. I read so many different types of books. I’m always in search of a good story. I don’t care if a book is character driven or plot driven, just as long as the story appeals to me on some level, and as long as I can connect to the author’s style and voice. My only criteria is that the author has the talent to move the story forward. Every word has to count. Conflict, motivation, what’s at stake – it all has to be there on every page. Don’t bore me with stuff that isn’t going to matter in the end.

5. Where and when do you prefer to write?

I prefer my office with complete silence. Over the years my schedule has changed depending on my circumstances. Now that my children are grown, I prefer to write mid-morning to mid-afternoon. I like to break in the afternoon for a walk or some exercise of some sort. And maybe a cup of caffeine!

6. What’s your bad writing habit?

Ha! Just one? But, for starters, I will admit I’ve been accused of being wordy and over-explaining. Ironically, I’ve also had critique partners ask me to explain more when it has to do with “all things western” like branding cattle for instance. There are things so much a part of my life on a ranch/farm that I forget to add the detail others might need or want. And like most writers, I do a search and destroy for words like “just” and “finally,” which I tend to use too freely on the first draft. Does a writer ever reach perfection? No. We can only keep trying.

7. Christmas is coming up.  What is the one thing your main character would ask for?

The main character in my WIP is not materialistic. I think he’d get more enjoyment out of what he gives to his wife and son, rather than what they give him. But he does love to read, so I can see his wife searching for the perfect book for him, even if he doesn’t ask.

8. Is there any genre or book that you would love to write but are too intimidated to?

I enjoy reading women’s fiction novels like those I mentioned earlier. I’ve always enjoyed books set in the British Isles with suspense or “gothic” elements. I have my doubts, however, that my western voice and my gritty writing style would work in that genre. Ultimately, we write a lot of ourselves into our stories. I believe I would have to step completely out of myself to write that type of fiction, and I’m not sure it’s possible. To quote Popeye: “I yam what I yam.” You have to recognize your voice and your style and stay true to yourself.

9. How did you get started writing?

I wanted to be a writer by the time I was twelve. I enjoyed reading and learning about other places and cultures. I think it was specifically stories dealing with the human condition that drew me to write fiction.

10. Are you able to write during the holiday season?

I usually try to keep writing in some capacity. Creating is always hard with so many other things going on, but if a writer can do nothing else, I would suggest brainstorming your next few chapters or edit the ones you’ve written. If you have a deadline, then you have no choice but to write and let nonessential busyness fall by the wayside. When it all boils down, you really don’t need to bake 40 dozen cookies!

Now, I’m tossing out the lariat and roping--er, tagging--historical romance author, Cindy Nord, to answer these 10 questions:

1.  What genre do you write and why?
2.  How has your background influenced the stories you write?
3.  What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned as a writer?
4.  What’s your bad writing habit?
5.  Christmas is coming up.  What is the one thing your current hero and heroine would ask for?
6.  Is there any genre or book that you would love to write but are too intimidated to?
7.  In your opinion, and in your experience, what aspect of the writing/marketing process presents the biggest challenge for writers in today's changing publishing atmosphere?
8.  Every book, whether historical or contemporary, involves a lot of research. What do you like most about the process? And how can an author know when he/she has done enough to start writing?
9.  Writers are told not to follow trends, but to follow their heart. How do you decide which ideas to pursue and which ones to shelve?
10.  There are lots of tips out there for writers. If you could boil it down to one or two, what would they be?

Cindy’s Blog: True Love Awaits                  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Inspiration for Firelight

The Story:

From the moment half-breed beauty Phoenix Shappell sees the fiery red stallion on the cliffs overlooking Arizona’s Canyon de Chelly, she knows it’s the supernatural Fire Horse of her dreams – her guardian spirit. But while the wild and spirited Navajo woman sets out to capture the elusive stallion, she is thwarted by headstrong rancher Rafe Cutrell, who believes the horse is a killer and wants only to destroy it.

The powerful attraction between Rafe and Phoenix is held in check by divided heritage and an inexplicable distrust of each other. Their meeting sets into motion a journey to find the red stallion, as well as answers to what appears to be a previous life they shared that ended tragically. While enemies plot to kill them, Phoenix and Rafe must search their hearts–and their souls–as they follow the mysterious stallion across the mesas, and across time, to their new destiny. Set in the late 1800s.

Behind the Story:

It all started with a huge box of Frontier Times magazines given to me by a friend of my husband. He knew I wrote westerns and thought I might find something of value in the old magazines. Indeed I did. I found two separate articles, one from a 1967 issue about a chindi (an evil spirit), and the other from a 1973 issue about a chindi that rode a “spirit horse.”

In the first article, a Navajo family in 1825 had hired a powerful but blind medicine man to perform a three-day sing on a member of the family, whom they believed was tormented by the spirit of a dead enemy. They were supposed to pay the medicine man with five butchered sheep, but because they didn’t want to part with their sheep, they decided to give him the meat of five antelope, believing he would never notice the difference.

Within weeks, however, members of the family began to die, and it came to light that the medicine man had indeed noticed the difference and had put a curse on the family. They went to him to make amends, and he agreed he would remove the chindi for a price, but he wanted some time to think about what that price would be. The family members returned in ten days to find, to their horror, that he had died without removing the curse.

The immediate family, as well as the extended family, saw their members growing sick, wasting away, and dying mysteriously. When white man’s medicine arrived in the Navajo country, they sought aid, but these doctors could find no disease, inherited or otherwise, that could be attributed to the family’s troubles.

People knowledgeable in the Navajo religion believed that the chindi would follow the family until every last member died. There were a hundred members in the extended family in 1825 when the curse was placed, and by 1928 only one member remained, a young girl being cared for by friends. This family tried desperately to keep her alive, fleeing every time they believed the chindi had found them. But it was no use. On a cold, snowy night, the young girl met the same fate as those family members who had gone before.

In the second article dated 1973, the Navajo people in one region believed that a chindi rode the back of a wild palomino stallion. Any time he and his wild band were near, the people huddled in fear, believing that the devil rode the back of the “spirit horse” and that someone would die before morning. And someone usually did.

But the Navajo people had not always lived in fear of the magnificent animal. When the stallion first escaped its owner and fled into the wild, many tried to catch him. But their attempts to tame him were futile. He turned savage. When the rope settled over him, he screamed, bucked, kicked, and broke through barriers until he was free again. Efforts continued until someone did indeed capture him and manage to get on his back. But the stallion immediately threw him to the ground, then, enraged it turned on the man and crushed his body with his forefeet. This time no one went after the horse. There was no doubt that he was possessed by an evil spirit.

As the superstition around the stallion grew, he continued to roam the region, stealing mares and making runs through villages. No Navajo dared shoot him because they were afraid the chindi would retaliate. They tried to get white men to kill him. They even tried to kill the man whose mare had foaled the devil horse. People were so afraid that when they heard the horse “running with the wind” in the night, they loaded their belongings and fled before the chindi could catch them.

They finally convinced a white man to kill the horse. But when the stallion came into his gun sights, the man could not bring himself to pull the trigger on such a magnificent creature. He fired several times, but purposefully missed.

The horse disappeared after that, and the Navajo in the area thought the white man’s bullets had surely killed the stallion. But the white man knew better. He believed the horse was bound to surface again, so he went looking for him. He was relieved to find the stallion grazing on a distant range. Then, a month later, the horse’s body was found by a rancher. Someone had hung the dry carcass on a fence where everyone could see it. The white man believed the horse must have died from a disease, or perhaps poison, and no one else came forward taking credit for the horse’s death.

There’s nothing more alluring than a wild stallion, roaming free with his mares. Such a sight has always stirred the blood and the imagination, and in the case of these stories, clearly the fear and superstition of some. As my reincarnation story came together, I decided that my stallion would not be a killer or an evil spirit; he would be a guardian spirit whose purpose was to reunite two people whose previous lives together had ended in tragedy. His purpose would be to give them another chance at love. And so was born Firelight.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Chat With Linda Sandifer

My local writers group is conducting a chat with each of its members. To see the members' interviews to date, you can go to Blue Sage Writers of Idaho. To see my interview go to A Chat With Linda Sandifer.