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

Friday, October 19, 2012

Interview with Western Writer Eunice Boeve

Eunice Boeve grew up in Libby, Montana and Bonners Ferry, Idaho. Married to a native Kansan, she has lived in Kansas since 1957. A mother and grandmother, retired now to writing, she has worked with special needs children and in their family owned funeral home. She has five published books for children, two for adults, and several magazine articles and children's short stories.

You live in Kansas but also spent part of your life in Montana and Idaho. Can you tell us about your background and how it not only led you to become a writer, but how it influenced the western stories you write?

We lived on a small ranch in northwest Montana until I was fourteen. We then moved to Idaho and lived in town. (I never got over missing the ranch, even now after all these years, a part of me still lingers there.) My dad raised horses and worked for the U.S. Forest Service, packing horses with supplies for fire crews, lookouts, and trail crews.  He died when I was five, but we stayed on the ranch another nine years. 

I think both my parents influenced my interest in writing and if there is a “writing gene” I probably inherited that from my father.  My dad was forty before he married (my much younger mother) and had spent those years “cowboying.”  He wrote a book about his cowboy days and a horse only he could handle. (He loved horses and was, perhaps, an early-day horse whisperer.) Unfortunately he didn’t get his book published (only sending it out once before his death in 1943) and in our move from Montana to Idaho in 1951, the manuscript was lost. My father craved life in the outdoors, loving the isolation of uninhabited land, traveled on horseback, but he also loved jokes and story telling in the company of others and his family life in that small, brown house on Libby Creek crowded with seven children.

My mother haunted the local library and read to us in the evenings from that county storehouse. Influenced by our daddy, we loved Will James and Zane Grey and other western writers, and influenced by our mama, we favored such non-western writers as Gene Stratton Porter and Louisa Mae Alcott. My mother also recited poetry and loved to sing. 

One might also look at the combination of my being an exact middle child and in addition touched with a bit of survivor guilt as the scrawny girl born a few years after the death of a strong husky baby boy. So I was always eager to prove my worth, to please, and, perhaps, also to be counted.

Ride a Shadowed Trail won the 2009 J. Donald Coffin Award given annually at the Kansas Authors Club convention. Can you tell us about it as well as your new release, Crossed Trails.

A judge for the Coffin Award called Ride a Shadowed Trail “captivating in both plot and character.”  I like to think that is true. The story, set in mid-1870s Texas, begins with the murder of eight-year-old Joshua Ryder’s mother. Taken in by an old cowboy, he learns the trade and ten years later hires on with an outfit taking a herd of longhorns to the markets in Kansas.  The ranch owner, a widow, accompanies the herd, taking along her son, Lee, and daughters, Belle and Kit. Josh and Belle fall in love, but fate intervenes and then Josh learns the identity of the man who murdered his mother.

I hadn’t intended to continue Josh’s story, but so many readers asked, “What happened next?” and since I didn’t know, having left him planning to go with a trail herd to Montana, I decided to see for myself and wrote Crossed Trails. Set in Virginia City, Montana in 1877-78, Josh, whose life experiences have led him to believe he is unworthy of love and family, had planned a life of self-imposed exile when he crosses trails with a woman of the Nez Perce and her newborn baby.  Instilled with a deep sense of responsibility, Josh soon finds himself the provider for a family of sorts, which includes an old washerwoman, a little girl whose Chinese mother is dead and whose white farther is an outlaw, as well as the Nez Perce woman and her baby. The love of a redheaded woman,  and a murder charge, further complicate Josh’s life and leave him with two choices: cut and run, or figure out a way to evade the hangman’s noose long enough to clear his name.  

You’ve also written middle grade books, including the most recent, Echoes of Kansas Past: A Travel Through Time. How will it appeal to children, and what can they hope to learn from it?

 Echoes of Kansas Past—A Travel Through Time is targeted for 3rd through 5th grade children.  It is the story of twins, Jack and Mollie, who accidentally activate their parents’ time machine and travel back into Kansas History.  The twins actually live the experiences through the magic of time travel.  Sometimes they are spectators, as in listening to a speech by Susan B. Anthony; sometimes they become people of a different race and culture, once as runaway slaves, another time as small first graders in a non-integrated classroom with Langston Hughes, once as orphans on an orphan train, and once as Kanza Indians in 1620. They meet President Eisenhower as a boy, and experience the fear of a suffocating dust storm and a nearly suffocating grasshopper invasion. Through these experiences they learn and hopefully the reader will too, that not only does Kansas have a rich heritage, but also life isn’t always fair. I also hope the reader will feel connected to the twins whose personal lives are revealed before, during, and after their adventure in the time machine.

Much has been said about social networking as the new way to promote one’s books. What do you find to be the pros and cons? And do you have any other suggestions for writers to promote their work that you have found beneficial?

 Ahhhh, social networking, the boon and the bane of many an author’s existence.  We authors can now get our work out there and before more people, but there are so many more of us now that more avenues of publishing have been opened for our ease in getting our work in print.  So, I wonder, is our small voice in this mix just as faint as it was before?  I have a website, I blog, I do Facebook, and I try to keep up with Goodreads, but usually lag behind there. Much more than that and my writing time gets crunched.  I also mail and email flyers that usually earn good to fair returns.  I have a blog and get a number of readers, but few comments, especially from non-writers. I’d like to capture that audience in comments on my blog.  I’m thinking it might be a good idea to pick a mix of authors who write in your specific genre and follow them faithfully, leaving comments so they know you’ve visited their websites. And then they need to go to ours and return the favor, and maybe slowly we’ll drag in the non-author readers who will leave comments. Some readers of my blog have left comments in e-mails or on Facebook, but it better serves the author, I think, if the comments are left on their blog page. My latest publisher is one who lists for their criteria an author-kept website. I wish I could afford to hire a “Cracker Jack” publicist and stay in my hidey-hole and write, but alas I cannot. So I keep plugging away and try to maximize social media and the regular kind of advertising but not so much that my writing time suffers.

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?

 Pretty much what I’ve stated above. Getting your name and your work out in the midst of zillions of others trying just as hard to get their name and work noticed is tough.  I love to write, but I’m not so fond of marketing.  I live in a rural area far from cities of any size, so it’s cost prohibitive for me to travel. Not sure that works so well now either.  I’m afraid our reading audience is dwindling too.  I do think author interviews such as this are helpful.  People seem to be interested in the writing process and how ideas are transited from the brain to a bunch of words that coalesce into a story.

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?

I hate to start my research and then I get so wrapped up in it that I hate to quit. But there comes a time when I know that, okay, it’s time to fish. The line is baited so drop it in the water and see what kind of a haul you’ll have to take to market. Sometimes I have to go back and do more research. In “my soon to be back in print” book, The Summer of the Crow, I didn’t know a pet crow would come into the story (obviously I didn’t have the title yet either) so I had to stop and research pet crows. It was fun research as they are interesting creatures.

Is there anything you would like to add that might be of interest to readers?

It might be of interest to know that unlike many who write fiction and must plot their stories and so know the beginning the middle and the ending in advance, and I suspect those who write mystery stories, do need to do that, but I do not. Early on, I tried to plot out the story, but the plot soon fell by the wayside and what happened was not what I thought would happen and sticking to the outlined story seemed to inhibit it and make it dull even for me.  So I’ve learned it is best to start with a character, a setting, a time, do research of that time and place and then start the writing.  I never know exactly what will happen nor do I know who the other characters will turn out to be (such as their background or even their names). And sometimes the names I choose, they won’t respond to. I thought Beth was the name of the girl in this story I’m working on now, but I soon had to change her name to Anna.  For some reason she wasn’t a Beth.  Names are a puzzle to me. Why a character under one name refuses to come to life but jumps right in if I change his/her name, I don’t know.  I just call it magic.

Are you working on a new project?

Right now I am working on a serial story for five Kansas newspapers that sponsor a program called Newspapers in Education about some kids sent west to Kansas on an orphan train. The story will run as a 16-chapter story beginning in mid-January 2013. I’ve done two others; in fact Echoes of Kansas Past began as a serial in the program and ran in 2011 as a 16-chapter story. I added ten chapters to make it book size. In 2012  I wrote "Missing You,"  a WWII story, for the program. I intend to add ten more chapters to it and make it into a book like Echoes.  I hope to have it out next spring/summer.

I hope to start on another western novel soon and am pretty sure I’ll take up a branch from Josh’s story, namely the little girl in Crossed Trails as a grown up young woman.

But there have been other stories I’ve imagined I’d write and so far have not, so we’ll see.

To visit Eunice's website or to purchase her books, click the following links:

Echoes of Kansas Past   

Ride a Shadowed Trail 

Crossed Trails  

All Books:

Eunice's website: