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

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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why Wasn't I Hooked?

Too many times, it seems, I find myself not being able to read a lot of the books I’ve piled on my reading stack. It’s become a bit disturbing. Is it me, or the books? It used to be that when I started a book, I felt obligated to finish it, no matter what. Maybe it’s just a function of getting older and seeing time shrinking, but I've come to the conclusion that there’s not enough time to read books that don’t interest me. I won’t say they are “bad” books, or poorly written, but there is definitely something in the way they're written that doesn't engage me. I can’t blame it on the subject matter, because I won’t start reading a book in the first place if the subject matter doesn’t interest me.

Naturally, I have to ask myself, “Why wasn’t I hooked?” Well, for starters, sometimes it’s simply the tone of a book, or the author’s voice and style of writing that I can’t relate to. For example, there's a “snarkiness” nowadays in our society that appears in many of the contemporary books. It doesn't mean it's bad; it's just something I personally don't care for, so I'll skip books with that particular tone. There also seems to be a trend for heroes and heroines to be “anti-heroes” and “anti-heroines” to the extreme; i.e., there is nothing commendable about them at all. They have no redeeming qualities. They are not people you would like in real life or want to have anything to do with. I’m okay with my protagonists having flaws and being far from perfect, but if they’ve got something really amiss, I'd at least like to see them trying to overcome it. In other words, a guy who’s a serial killer is not going to be my hero, no matter how you paint him.

Another reason I get unhooked from a book is because I’ve never been able to trudge through a lot of narrative, description, and introspection in the first chapter (or any chapter, for that matter). I have always preferred stories that dive right in.  Bore me with pages of “setting up the story” by “telling” me about a person, and you’ll lose me. I want to know just enough about that character that I get a sense of who they are, and the rest I’ll learn along the way. Don’t bog down the first chapter with this stuff! Don't slow the book's momentum with a sagging middle either. Give me information only in small, sweet, dark chocolate servings–please!–and in just the right place and at just the right time. However, I would like to say that I’ve read authors who can use, in abundance, everything I just said not to use and they do it brilliantly. Every word is a gem that can’t be skipped. So, as always, there are exceptions, but it takes the exceptional writer to pull it off.

I want a story to move forward. I want to feel immediate compassion or some other sort of connection to the main character. I want to get the sense that whatever started the turning point in the main character’s life (which is where the story should begin) is significant and that things are going to get worse before they get better. I want to feel that something is truly at stake for the protagonist, and I want to see how he or she is going to handle this life-changing situation through inevitable twists, turns, and bumps in the road. Even if the life-changing situation appears insignificant on the surface–i.e., something barely visible just beneath the surface of a pool of murky water–I want the sense of suspense and tension that will keep me engaged long enough to see what that “something” is.

I confess that I usually find myself analyzing every book I read from a writer’s eye, but I will also try to give another writer the benefit of the doubt. I will usually always trudge through three chapters before giving up. If I can get engaged in a story and forget to analyze it, then, to me, it’s a really good book. I get excited when I find myself slipping into a story so much that the writing becomes invisible. I find myself even more excited to actually complete an entire book and admit, “That was a darn good book!” Of course, the writer in me always asks why was it a good book. And the answer is always the same: the writer just knew what to say, how to say it, and precisely the right time to say it.

So, my last few questions are to those of you reading this post: “As a reader, what makes you start skipping through a book you thought you were going to like? What makes you give up on a book entirely? Are there parts of a book you always skip, like prologues or excessive narrative, etc? And, lastly, what makes you fall in love with a book so much that you wouldn’t think of skipping any part of it?”

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Some Fun With Western Slang

Western slang is a big part of the authenticity of any western, regardless of the sub-genre. Context will usually clue you in to what a phrase actually means, but you might just as easily find yourself completely perplexed. So, just for the fun of it, here are a dozen Old West slang phrases that you might find both confusing and amusing. See if you can figure out what they mean. The answers are at the end.

1. We ought to hire him to keep the windmill going.
2. He doesn’t use up all his kindlin’ to make a fire.
3. He was grinnin’ like a possum eatin’ a yellow jacket.
4. His hinges got loosened.
5. He had more wind than a bull in green corn time.
6. You can’t hitch a horse to a coyote.
7. He’s ridin’ herd on that woman.
8. He’s padding out his belly every chance he gets.
9. He spent all morning airin’ his paunch.
10. That kid could knock a dead dog off a gut wagon.
11. That guy couldn’t drive nails in a snowbank.
12. That feller looks like someone swiped the silver linin’ off his cloud.
1. He talks so much he creates his own wind.
2. He doesn’t waste words on small talk.
3. He was happy (or embarrassed).
4. He got thrown from a horse.
5. He was “full of hot air.”
6. Two opposites don’t make a good marriage.
7. He’s courting that woman.
8. He’s eating every chance he gets.
9. He spent all morning vomiting.
10. That kid stinks to high heaven.
11. That guy is a complete idiot.
12. That feller looks right sad.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Stable’s Place in History

Before the automobile displaced horses for anything but pleasure, people depended on these noble creatures for both work and transportation. Their lives, and their livelihoods literally depended on the horse, so a wise man, or woman, took extremely good care of these precious animals. Horses that were used daily were kept in barns, or stables so they could be well fed and groomed daily. These structures could be simple or very elaborate, depending on the wealth of the owner. The main criteria was that they were functional, well ventilated, and afforded protection from the elements.

Buildings materials could be everything from rough lumber to buildings made of brick and mortar and decorated with paneled ceilings and fancy lamps. Most owners agreed that the best floors were clay or lumber. Concrete or asphalt was not chosen because it was too hard on the horses’ legs and feet. Straw or sawdust was used on the floors to absorb the urine and manure, then easily shoveled or forked out daily into wheelbarrows to be hauled away.

A lot of work went into taking care of the horses, so oftentimes men were hired specifically for the job. Sometimes a crew was needed to do the feeding and watering, grooming, as well as to keep the stables cleaned out daily. Harnesses had to be cleaned, oiled, repaired, and organized. Sometimes each horse’s harness was placed on hooks next to the horse’s stall; other owners preferred to keep the tack in a separate room. Saddles almost always went into a separate room and were placed on saddle racks. Equipment such as shovels, pails, brooms, pitchforks, clippers, hoof picks, soap, brushes and currycombs had to be kept clean and organized.

Stalls were built according to the size of the horse. They were designed to fit either big draft horses or the lighter weight saddle horses. Each stall had a manger at its head for oats and hay. Individual stalls could have gates, if they were larger and the owner chose to turn their horse loose inside, but if there were many horses, the stalls were narrow, not gated, and the horses’ were tied inside the stall near the manger.

Well-bred, well-kept horses and stables were not only a source of pride, and a symbol of affluence, but they were also a reflection of the man himself. For if a man mistreated his horses, he not only lost a good animal to serve him, but he lost respect among his peers as well.