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

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Wisdom of Husbands

Okay, I had to share this. My husband came home from baling hay all day and asked me what I'd been doing. I told him I'd been hammering a 2-page synopsis into one page. He said, "Well, that ought to be easy. Just print out one page and tell them there is more upon request." Oh, if only it could be so easy. Thanks, honey. You always know how to put things in perspective.

Friday, July 19, 2013

What's on Your Summer Reading List?

It’s been a crazy summer and I haven’t had much time to read. Along with writing and helping my husband with ranch work, we've been preparing for a trip to France, which we will soon embark upon! When I do catch a few quiet moments to read, I’ve been making a concentrated effort to read the books I’ve had on my shelves for years, books loaned to me by others, and some of the books I downloaded to my Kindle that have been there for a long time. In the last few weeks I’ve read, The Other by R. Lawson Gamble, Tell me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon, and The Widow of Larkspur Inn by Lawana Blackwell. Up next, Feast Day of Fools by James Lee Burke, and A Woman Betrayed by Barbara Delinsky.

As you can see, I read all over the board. My only criteria for a book is that it has to engage me in the first few pages or chapters. If it doesn’t, I move on. There are so many books out there and so little time so I don’t waste it on something I’m not truly interested in. What’s your criteria? Do you stick to one genre, or do you read anything and everything? Do you feel obligated to finish a book even if you don't particularly like it?

I’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer and what’s on your fall/winter list. Word of mouth is the best marketing tool that exists for a book and its author, so please pass along recommendations of books you’ve read recently.

Happy Reading!

Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Inspiration Behind Raveled Ends of Sky

People often ask where we writers get our ideas. My inspiration for Raveled Ends of Sky, an historical saga of an 1843 overland journey to California, came from the diaries of many women who participated in the Westward movement. The following is the book's Foreword, which might be of interest to readers and history buffs. The book was recently released as an ebook for Kindle. 


The Westward movement of the 1800s has seldom been portrayed in books and films from the viewpoint of the unmarried woman. Even those stories written about married women tend to lean toward the notion that women, in general, undertook the overland journey because they had no choice, and that every step of the way was a torturous affront to their delicate sensibilities.

In writing Raveled Ends of Sky, I wanted to dispel that myth. I wanted to show that although there were women who did not want to go West, there were just as many who took an active part in the decision to do so.

In 1849, Catherine Haun wrote of her journey west with her husband:  "It was a period of National hard times and we being financially involved in our business ... longed to go to the new El Dorado and ‘pick up’ gold enough with which to return and pay off our debts.... Full of energy and enthusiasm of youth, the prospects of so hazardous an undertaking had no terror for us, indeed, as we had been married but a few months, it appealed to us as a romantic wedding tour."

In 1852, Lydia Allen Rudd traveled to Oregon with her husband. In her words, "We were leaving all signs of civilised life for the present. But with good courage and not one sigh of regret I mounted my pony and rode slowly on."

Raveled Ends of Sky hinged, to a large degree, on the motivations that drove my lead protagonist, Nancy Maguire, and her widowed friend, Lottie England, to join the Joseph Ballinger Chiles company in 1843. Chiles's company was only the second wagon train ever to undertake the overland journey to the Mexican province of California. The first wagon train to attempt the perilous journey had been in 1841 and was unsuccessful. No wagon road existed across the Great Basin or the mighty barrier of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The pioneers on that first journey were forced to abandon their wagons at the Sierras and walk the remaining distance, weak with starvation, to the California settlements on the coast.

In those early days, maps still did not exist, save those drawn on scraps of paper, or etched into the soil by some trapper's stick as he squatted near a fire before an anxious audience and tried to relate landmarks, water holes, and possible mountain passes. Chiles, and a few of the men who would be with him on his 1843 expedition to California, had made the journey in 1841. They had returned by horseback to Missouri in 1842. Although they still had not discovered the wagon road over the Sierras during that first expedition, they at least had a better idea of the best route south from Fort Hall and across the Great Basin. Finding a wagon road was the one thing Chiles wanted to accomplish more than anything.

Historical records are not consistent, but there appear to have been approximately six women and five children traveling with the Chiles company, including two unmarried women. One would automatically ask why those women agreed, or chose, to leave the relative comfort and safety of their homes to undertake a perilous journey to a foreign land where no wagon road had yet been discovered, and where rumors of revolutions and wars passed over the land with the regularity of the sun.

It has been said that people went West for three reasons:  to get something, to get away from something, and just to get there. A study of the Westward movement reveals that men, at least, were usually motivated by financial difficulties, health problems of a family member, free land, business opportunities, or the call to be missionaries to the Indians. The discovery of gold in California and other areas lured thousands.

The women's characterizations in this book were crucial to the story's plausibility. "Gentle tamers" would not embark upon such a treacherous journey without men to protect them. Instead, the story called for highly independent women. Women who were driven by the desire for adventure and freedom from the restrictions placed on them by Eastern society.

For a while I entertained the notion that a single woman would have to be forced to embark upon such a dangerous journey alone. She would have to be running from something–a disastrous love affair, family problems, poverty, or scandal. But after numerous excerpts from women's diaries of the overland journey, I seldom found those things to be motivators for the women who journeyed westward, at least in the beginning.

 Recently married nineteen-year-old Miriam A. Thompson Tuller set out for Oregon in 1845. "I was possessed with a spirit of adventure," she wrote, "and a desire to see what was new and strange."

Single woman Elizabeth Wood, traveling to Oregon in 1851 said, "I have a great desire to see Oregon ... the beautiful scenery of plain and mountains, and ... the wild animals and the Indians, and natural curiosities in abundance."

Many books about the overland journey end when that distant shore is reached, but the journey itself was only the beginning for the emigrants. For those in this book, who journey to California, getting settled in a foreign land where "gringos" were not welcome was as much of a challenge as the journey itself. As Eliza Gregson wrote of those difficult years before California became a possession of the United States, "We few women were very uneasy about this time for we did not [know] whether we were widows or not."

The reasons women went West were many and varied. But those unmarried women who set out alone–possibly more so than those who went with the protection of husbands and families–were possessed of the spirit of adventure that was fundamental in opening and taming new lands. They were stubborn and defiant, strong-willed and resourceful. They stepped out bravely into the unknown, risking their lives for a dream they could have no other way but by their own doing.

In Nancy Maguire and Lottie England I have tried to portray two single women who exemplified the courageous indomitability of the whole. Women who had nothing to lose by going West, and everything to gain. Women who possessed the tenacity and the fortitude to blaze the trails upon which an entire nation would follow.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What About Those Bad Reviews?

Earlier I posted about how reviewers and readers should critique or review an author’s book. It would be nice if people would try to follow some of those suggestions, but what happens if they don’t and you get a mean, nasty review? What can you do? The short answer is: not much. You just have to suck it up. What you shouldn’t do is fly off the handle and respond to a nasty review. In our online world where everything you ever post is out there forever, it will only make you look bad to whine about a less than complimentary review. 

As writers, we want everyone to like our stories, our characters. We want them to appreciate the hard work we’ve put into our books. Unfortunately, not everybody is going to like our baby. The creative world is subjective. Even you, as a writer, don’t like every book you read. Sometimes you can pin-point why a work was only mediocre. But what about those books that are undeniably well written, get rave reviews, but don’t touch you in any emotional way? Keep this in mind; other people might feel the same way about your book. It’s not personal. Not everybody will like what you write. It’s as simple as that.

But will a bad review be a death knell for your book? Apparently Norman Mailer was concerned about it. In 2003, he wrote a letter to the publisher of The New York Times wherein he said, “It does take three good reviews to overcome a bad one, if the bad one is a potential reader’s first acquaintance with the work.”

Every reader can be swayed to some degree by a bad review. As for me, when I look at reviews, I lean toward what the majority of the people say. If there are one or two reviews that seem way out of line (like giving the author one star when everyone else has given them 4 or 5 stars) then I don’t take as much stock in the bad review.

So, here are a few things you can do if you get a bad review:

Consider the source: Was it a professional reviewer who reads thousands of books in your genre? Or was it someone who might hold disdain or ignorance for your genre. Maybe it stemmed from jealousy? Another writer who has yet to be published, perhaps. The green-eyed monster can be a vicious creature. Or it might be someone who loves to hate everything. By criticizing someone else’s efforts, he feels important and superior. If he can tell the world about it, it’s an even bigger coup.

If the bad review comes from a reader who bought the book (rather than a professional reviewer who is paid to do reviews), they could still fall into one of the above categories and be someone who just loves to say nasty things, so keep that in mind. But if they didn't like your book, they won't buy another one and they'll tell everyone they know not to buy your book. Reader reviews tend to hit us the hardest and have the most lasting effect on our egos (and maybe even our sales).

Focus on good reviews: It seems to be human nature for writers to dwell on the words of one bad review. Instead, you should go back over all the good reviews. If you really need bolstering, write down the good reviews and pin them near your computer so you can read them frequently and be reminded of those people who liked your book.

Learn from it: As much as we writers hate to admit it, sometimes there is a modicum of truth in a bad review. It might be sour grapes on someone’s part, but it might not. After you’ve considered the source, be honest with yourself. Is there a lesson for you to learn so you can improve your writing?

Move on: After you’ve allowed yourself to cry, cuss, or be depressed for several days, then put it behind you and get back to work. I like to think of the authors who had some bad stuff written about their writing, but they became household names and their works became classics.

On Leaves of Grass: “It is no discredit to Walt Whitman that he wrote Leaves of Grass, only that he did not burn it afterwards.” – Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The Atlantic, “Literature as an Art,” 1867

On Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë:  “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — Graham’s Lady’s Magazine, 1848

On Catch-22. “Catch-22 has much passion, comic and fervent, but it gasps for want of craft and sensibility… Its author, Joseph Heller, is like a brilliant painter who decides to throw all the ideas in his sketchbooks onto one canvas, relying on their charm and shock to compensate for the lack of design… The book is an emotional hodgepodge; no mood is sustained long enough to register for more than a chapter.” — Richard G. Stern, The New York Times Book Review, 1961

On The Great Gatsby: “Mr. Scott Fitzgerald deserves a good shaking. Here is an unmistakable talent unashamed of making itself a motley to the view. The Great Gatsby is an absurd story, whether considered as romance, melodrama, or plain record of New York high life.” — L.P Hartley, The Saturday Review, 1925

On Catcher in the Rye. “This Salinger, he’s a short story guy. And he knows how to write about kids. This book though, it’s too long. Gets kind of monotonous. And he should’ve cut out a lot about these jerks and all that crumby school. They depress me.” — James Stern, The New York Times, 1951

On Brave New World: “Mr. Huxley has been born too late. Seventy years ago, the great powers of his mind would have been anchored to some mighty certitude, or to some equally mighty scientific denial of a certitude. Today he searches heaven and earth for a Commandment, but searches in vain: and the lack of it reduces him, metaphorically speaking, to a man standing beside a midden, shuddering and holding his nose.” — L.A.G. Strong, 1932