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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Author Interview: Velda Brotherton

Western author Velda Brotherton has a career spanning many years and many writing accomplishments. Her first published works were newspaper articles, features, and a historical column. Since then she has gone on to write many fiction and nonfiction books. She was recently a finalist for the prestigious Women Writing the West award, the WILLA, for her nonfiction book, Fly With the Mourning Dove. Among her recent releases is her seventh western romance, Stone Heart’s Woman

You’ve called yourself, “a pure country girl.”  Can you tell us a little about your background and what there was about it that not only led you to become a writer, but how it influenced the stories you have chosen to write?

Being pure country is more a feeling than reality. When I was five we moved from a small log cabin in the Ozark woods to my great grandparent's home in a small town. I had only to cross the highway to get to school. Huge events in the world interfered with my remaining a country girl. World War II sent my parents to Wichita where my dad enlisted in the Navy and my mom went to work at Boeing. You've heard of Rosie the Riveter, well Mother worked on the B-29s and after the war we remained in that booming Kansas town until I married. But always we returned to Arkansas several times during the year to visit grandparents, aunts and uncles and I loved it. Playing in the woods with my cousins, I imagined myself living the life they enjoyed.

Well, some 20-odd years later, that dream came true when hubby and I brought our two children to Arkansas from New York where he worked at Pan Am. Here we bought land and built a home not 15 miles from where I was born. This country girl had come home at last. We indulged in all the things I'd always dreamed of. Bought some cattle and a tall, beautiful Kentucky Walker mare, chickens, pigs, rabbits. Grew our own garden. The whole nine yards.

We remain here today. Though the animals are gone we still own the land that butts up against the Ozark National Forest and has a live creek running through it. We've let a lot of it go wild to accommodate the birds, deer, fox, bear and other critters as we are in a wildlife management area.

I've been happily writing here for over 25 years now. We travel for research and conferences, but not as much as we once did. I've turned to promoting heavily on the Internet because managing book signings and lugging books around the country to events has become too difficult. I'm just getting too old for that. But one never gets too old to write.

You started writing newspaper articles, features, and had a historical column, but your first published novel was a western romance. Stone Heart’s Woman, your seventh, was released in February 2012. What led you to launch your novel-writing career in this genre and do you have any more romances coming up? 

The entire thing was purely a fluke. My mother saw the ad in a newspaper looking for a feature writer. I'd been doing a lot of freelance newspaper work through the local craft outlet. That's a long story, but they'd asked me to write a weekly column profiling the various crafts people who exhibited at the outlet, and so I was hired for the newspaper job. That led to interviews with people whose families had settled here in the early 1800s. Surprisingly, Arkansas, especially the western portion, is very western indeed. Think Judge Parker and the U.S. Marshals stationed in Ft. Smith who regularly went into Indian Territory after the bad men of the era, Fayetteville was the hub of cattle drives going northwest on the Cherokee Trail, and also a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail Run. We've got as much western in our veins here as have Texans, it's just a different variety of the west.

Then I met a cowboy by the name of Dusty Richards, who today has over 100 published westerns and was recently voted the best living western writer. He introduced me to Western Writers of America after my entry in his annual western contest won first place. I attended, pitched that very same book to an editor from Penguin and the rest is, as they say, history. It became my first western historical romance after some tweaking 'cause it was a pure western originally. That was Goldspun Promises, now Montana Promises available through Kindle.

Though I have to admit I'd never read romances, still only read a few written by close friends, I love writing western historical romances. They free my soul to relive those days that come so close to being like the childhood I'd dreamed of while growing up in Wichita. And yes, more are coming.

One of your nonfiction books, Fly With the Mourning Dove, was a finalist for WWW’s Willa Award. What is it about and what inspired you to write it? 

This book tells the story of my mother's cousin, whose parents homesteaded in New Mexico after World War I when her father returned from the war and took land given to veterans. Edna was six when they moved to Tres Piedras, then Old Taos onto their ranch. She shared her many stories with me when we'd visit her in New Mexico, and loved my westerns. She kept saying I should write her story but she didn't want it to be a romance. 

She began to write down her memories and send them to me along with those I'd taped or recorded when we visited and it wasn't long before I knew we had a book. I wrote it as creative nonfiction in the style of a novel and she approved the manuscript before I submitted it. We were both so pleased to have Fly With the Mourning Dove final in the prestigious WILLA Literary awards named for the esteemed southwestern writer, Willa Cather. The book is still available and will continue to be so. In this day of conversion of rights, I plan to see that it remains on Kindle after the exclusive to the publisher expires. Isn't this a wonderful time for writers with so many opportunities to remain "in print?"

You’ve been successful writing in many genres. Do you have any advice for others who would like to “branch out?”

Probably one of the biggest mistakes a writer can make, promotion wise, is to write in many genres. Yet, if you have the urge to do so, don't worry about how difficult it will be to promote your work. We all should write what we're passionate about. You'll find a way to tie your work into a platform that you can promote if you really want to. The important thing, if you write in a variety of genres, is to make your name well-known. Concentrate on that by writing articles and blogs. Spread the word on the Internet by offering the kind of information readers crave. They'll naturally gravitate to your books when you do that.

The information can be anything from subject matter taken from your books to things you learned researching that readers might like to know. If you write nonfiction, that opens up many more avenues for sharing tidbits of knowledge. Dig deeply into research and you will learn things that most people don't know. Share and you'll make more friends and friends translate to readers.

What is at the heart of all your books, regardless of the genre in which they fall?

My deep admiration for the people who settled the west, especially the women. Think of their plight. Second class citizens without the right to vote, they followed their men into situations that challenged their very existence. While doing difficult physical work they carried and bore children, many died doing so, then they watched their children perish to accidents and disease, lost husbands and continued to raise their families in what was actually a foreign land. These were some of the strongest people and women to ever live. 

Out of all your books, is there one that gave you the biggest challenge, and why? Is there one that you could say “wrote itself?” One that is your favorite?

If I had 14 children (that's the count of published books today) and you asked this question about them, what sort of reply would you expect? The biggest challenge was probably the first western romance because I'd written it one way and the rewrites meant an entirely new slant on my work. Another huge challenge was learning to use a computer. My first books were written on an electric typewriter from Sears. I wore it out writing three big novels, my learning books, that remain stored to this day.

Actually, oddly enough, the book that wrote itself was my first born, a little nonfiction book of interviews/essays about people who remained in Arkansas and one who had to return to re-embrace the joy of living here. That's me, of course. The book is Wandering In The Shadows of Time, which is still available and was originally published by Seven Oaks Books in Conway, Arkansas in 1994. Interviews in it include one with Al Houser, the man who told me he was the first baby born to the Ft. Sill Apaches after they were released with their leader Geronimo from Florida to return to Oklahoma. Al was also a war hero. Several other interviews are near to my heart. No one in that book is alive today but me. I updated it about 10 years ago.

As for my favorite. Making that choice is no more possible than if they were all my children. I love them all. I always like the last one I'm writing while I'm working on it, but once it's done, I go back to liking them all, and that's as it should be.

You’ve also written a cookbook. How do you ever find the time to cook!

I don't, but my mother did. The cookbook came from her collection over about 80 years and they're all authentic Ozark recipes. I was approached at a conference after winning the WILLA and asked to do a cookbook that contained stories of growing up in the Ozarks during the Depression. Because my dad was a great story teller, I could incorporate his stories and my mother's recipes. This book was pretty easy to write. I occasionally cook something, but mostly it's dinner whatever I can put together and then every man for himself, so to speak, for breakfast and supper.

When not writing, what do you enjoy doing? Any hobbies?

I don't have time for hobbies. What I enjoy doing is spending time with our lovely daughter, her son and daughter and a darling six year old great grandson. We have a pool we share and so summers are spent out there or grilling or having birthday parties, celebrating holidays, that sort of thing. Our daughter lives just through a stand of pine trees next to us.

I enjoy a weekly meeting with a critique group that I've been a part of for 28 years. We nurture and mentor young writers, and currently have 8 published writers who were published after joining our group. Dusty Richards and I sort of run the thing.

You are now launching your back list as ebooks and have learned how to format and design covers. Any advice or suggestions?

Dig in and don't give up. Ask for help from those who have already learned and when you learn something help others. It's a steep learning curve unless you are really good at formatting, computers in general, and design, but believe me, if I can do it anyone can. 

I began by having my books scanned by Blue Leaf because I no longer had computer files on them. Then I downloaded a free book from Smashwords on formatting. Even then, you have to do a lot of digging to access the formatting steps. There are excellent tutorials online for uploading to Kindle. Google until you find the one that suits you. There's a lot more to it than Kindle would have you think. I use Mobi Creator to upload my books, but they must be properly formatted first and therein lies the work. If you know html it will come easier, but if you don't, Mobi Creator takes care of the html for you.

Find an online stock photo company you like. I use Dreamstime but there are others. I just found what I wanted there at a decent price. Remember copyrights protect you too, so don't use copyrighted work on your covers.

And authors, please heed this piece of advice. If you've written a book and think it should go on Kindle, have it professionally edited and listen to what the editor has to say. You can ruin your future writing reputation by uploading a book that isn't ready to be published.

What’s next?

I've started a series about the Victorians who settled in Victoria, Kansas. They attempted to transplant a piece of England and live the same sort of life in America. These were for the most part Remittance men, second sons of Lords etc., who could not inherit by English law. I'm working on editing the first of three books. Each will feature one of the women who came over to marry and find a better life. Of course, such plans often go awry.

The experiment ultimately failed, some of the Victorians blended in with American life, others returned to England, and Germans settled nearby the town. There's no sign today of the Victorian castles and homes that were once there. For that you have to go to Victoria, Texas. Ah, I wonder what sort of stories I might find there one day.

Velda’s Kindle books: http://www.tinyurl.com/7dr9mbn