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In Defiance of Failure. Trust God and Fish or Cut Bait…

Last time, if you will recall, I related that in back in 2000 I had started writing A Lady in Defiance and my computer crashed.

Several thousand words into the story I lost ALL of it.

Well, I had my hands full with a baby. I shrugged and thought I would probably come back to the story one day. If it wasn’t dead and buried for good. Maybe God would resurrect it…Who knew?

Fast forward to 2007.

I took a job working for a vanity press doing author promotions. One day at a book signing, I was watching the author talk about his story and the thought came to me, “I can do this.” Meaning, write a book. I didn’t know anything about plot structure, character arcs, POVs, but I had to write. It felt almost like a compulsion.

The story of three sisters stranded in a lawless mining town roared back to life in my brain. I dove in and had the first draft finished in March of ‘08, mere weeks before the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.

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Only, my first attendance was in 2008

I honestly don’t even know who suggested I attend a writers conference. I’d never given it any thought and I’d never heard of this one. It was (and still is) held in Black Mountain, NC though, and I was up for any excuse to visit my mountains.

When I looked into it, I discovered that I could have a critique done on my first 30 pages by a seasoned professional writer, and even pitch the story to editors and agents! The possibilities were exciting and terrifying. I told my boys–five, eight, and forty-seven at the time–that I had no idea what to expect or even pray for. I just knew there was an adventure waiting.

I remember my eight-year-old said the most interesting thing then. He said, “It’s like that scene from Indiana Jones when he steps out into thin air. But there’s really a bridge there to catch him.”

bridge

Wow. That’s called a Leap of Faith. And what a picture of how God holds us up and leads us. Instantly I knew I was supposed to go to this conference.

It turned out to be a life-changing event.

More next time…

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Immigrants Who Came to Give and Not Take…Meet Sarah Thal

(Editor’s Note: this is an update of a blog I wrote in 2012)

Going back through some old research notes, I stumbled across the story of an immigrant to America. An unsung heroine who came here to make America a better place and give something back…not just take and remake the country in the image of her old country.

The early immigrants to America, the ones who thrived here, were independent, strong-willed, stubborn, adventurous risk-takers. They didn’t want handouts. They wanted the freedom to make their own way.

Just this morning I read the story of Sarah Thal, a German-Jewish immigrant who came to America with her husband in 1880. The couple settled in North Dakota. Her first child was born in a cabin so full of cracks that a make-shift tent was made around her and the baby. They literally camped in front of the fireplace to keep warm. She watched prairie fires light up the distant sky on more than one occasion. She lost a baby because 10 feet of snow prevented her from getting to a doctor. This was Sarah’s existence. It never broke her. She didn’t let it turn her into a bitter old woman. She accepted her circumstances, praised God in the storm, and plowed on.

One year the German community decided to get together and celebrate the 4th of July. It was a 22-mile trip each way for the Thal’s to attend, but they were proud and eager to do so. As she wrote in a letter, “Each foreign colony celebrated in their own fashion, loyal to the traditions of the old land and faithful to those of the new. . . .”

Faithful to those of the new.

Unfortunately, stout bloodlines like Sarah’s are getting “watered down.” It’s a shame. American women were strong and resilient as a rule, fiercely independent, the toughest in the world. And she wanted to be an American. Therein lies the crux of the matter with the flood of illegals at our border.

Today, I think women like Sarah are the exception, which is why it’s important to remember them! Do you think I’m wrong? Speak your mind, politely, please.

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Of Popcorn and Prostitutes

I didn’t expect the research for A Lady in Defiance to break my heart.

If you have read my Defiance books, you know I’ve gone to great pains to bring the old west mining town of Defiance to life. Those “great pains” were hours of research. Admittedly, since I’m a history freak, I enjoyed most of it.

Some of it, not so much. Here’s what I didn’t enjoy: learning just how awful the lives of prostitutes in these lawless towns were.

prost

While disease was the number one cause of death, the number two cause was customer violence. But get this: one report I read said that partner suicide was statistically valid. Meaning, the number of girls who made suicide pacts was not nominal. When life got so awful, so unbearable, many soiled doves agreed to end their lives together.

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In Telluride at the height of the silver boom, there was one street in the red light district where the doors swung open and shut so fast it was nicknamed Popcorn Alley.

Think about that for a second.

In A Lady in Defiance, there is a scene in which a soiled dove opens the Bible and learns how Jesus dealt with a woman accused of adultery. I literally cried writing that part. I cried over my character finding hope…and over all the real prostitutes who never did.

Today, I pray for all the innocents abducted and forced into this lifestyle. Seems we’ve come full circle. Or, more accurately, outdone ourselves. Today, human trafficking has surpassed the illegal sale of arms. It will surpass the illegal sale of drugs in the next few years. Up to 300,000 Americans under 18 are lured into the commercial sex trade every year.

A hundred years ago, the citizenry rose up and ran brothels out of business either by force or by electing politicians who fined such houses out of existence. Today, all we seem to want to do is tear down Confederate statutes and blame each other for slavery that happened a hundred-plus years ago.

Here’s a thought: let’s turn our energy to something more positive. Let’s deal with today’s modern problem of sex trafficking and slavery and save some of the men, women, and children who have been forced into this horrid lifestyle.A Lady in Defiance by Heather Blanton

Just my politically incorrect two cents.

(Check out https://arkofhopeforchildren.org/child-trafficking/child-trafficking-statistics)

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Pen Names–In Defiance of Compromise

I’m not afraid to wade into controversy, but I was a little surprised by the passionate reactions to a question I asked on social media yesterday about using pen names.

 

penn

 

My original post went like this: Recently I was discussing pen names with a fellow author. She thinks they are fine and give an author leeway to write in different genres without losing fans or confusing them. Ooooookay. My argument is too many authors nowadays seem to use pen names to play both sides of the moral fence. Specifically, if an author is a follower of Christ shouldn’t everything they write reflect that world view–if not the Gospel–no matter the genre or pen name?

Read that last sentence again. If an author is a follower of Christ shouldn’t everything they write reflect that world view–if not the Gospel–no matter the genre or pen name?

My answer to the question is simply, yes. Reflect it. Not necessarily preach it, hammer it, shout it or even mention Jesus by name. But write a story that is grounded in a Biblical worldview.

If an author is a follower of Christ shouldn’t everything they write reflect that world view–if not the Gospel–no matter the genre or pen name?

I am seeing too many authors using pen names to write, frankly, some pretty ungodly stuff. Sweet, clean novels posted and sold in Christian fiction circles, and the author actively works to develop a following of readers who like her work. Then that same author turns around, changes her name and writes some pretty steamy–even erotic–stuff, or other types of stories that DO NOT ultimately glorify God. I have a problem with this. I feel betrayed. Used. Lied to.

In the discussion over on one of the bigger Christian groups, folks were quick to point out that pen names serve a lot of purposes–they protect a writer’s private life, family details, security clearances, certain relationships. Also, some authors argue, they don’t want to offend a fan who likes them for one particular genre by accidentally pulling them into a book in a different genre. Therefore, different names are a signal this is a book in a different genre.

I certainly don’t mean to imply that I am the Pen Name Police. Yes, authors certainly CAN write in any genre. They SHOULD write in any genre. But if you call yourself a follower of Christ, it is my argument a reader should ALWAYS be able to expect certain values to be a foundation in your work–for example, your book shouldn’t condone or glorify sin of any kind. And THAT is the crux of my argument. Some of these pen names are simply being used to mask, obfuscate, hide the true heart of the author.

So, as far as my work goes, it may not always be pretty. Sometimes it will be gritty. Occasionally, I go outside my genre. Heck, my stories may not win any awards, but the rock beneath my keyboard is Christ. Period.

 

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And Just Who Might Fiery Naomi be Based On?

Last week I gave you some thoughts on who and what inspired my character of Charles McIntyre. This week, I’d like to dish on his forever-love and my favorite heroine, Naomi Frink Miller McIntyre introduced in A Lady in Defiance.

Heather_Blanton_Lady_Defiance The middle sister between Rebecca and Hannah, Naomi has been called a guard dog. She has the temperament and courage to confront threats to her sisters—albeit early on you could argue she didn’t have the wisdom. Through three books, though, she has grown in her faith and as a person. She has worked to get her temper under control and tame her tongue. Like all of us, sometimes she succeeds.

So from where did this fictional character spring? Originally, she was me. Literally, for the first couple of chapters, I was Naomi. While a touch embarrassing to admit, this is pretty common for authors writing their first book. But pretty quickly something interesting happened—Naomi developed a spirit of her own. Things began to happen to her that I knew I would react one way and Naomi would react another. She had come to life and become her own person. I found it startling and very cool.

It took me a while to figure out that no one character—historical or fictional—had spawned Naomi. She is an amalgamation. She is the young, determined wife of a fallen American soldier manning his cannon at the Battle of Monmouth (see my blog); she is the frontiersman’s wife whose temper the Cherokee so feared they named her War Woman (see my blog); she is the sassy young actress who wasn’t afraid of anything, not even the mud and snow of the Klondike (see my blog); she is the rancher’s wife who lived isolated and alone on the windswept Montana prairie (see my blog). The woman who did what she had to do to make a life for her loved ones. The woman who personified never give in, never back down, never lose faith.

Yeah, that’s Naomi.

Image result for reese witherspoon return  to lonesome dove

Reese Witherspoon

As far as looks, sure there was my blonde hair and green eyes, but when Naomi began to come to life, Reese Witherspoon fit the bill much better.

Diane Lane, who played Lorena in Lonesome Dove, had the right looks, too, but her character in that was kind of weak. Reese was in Return to Lonesome Dove and she played a sassy and impetuous gal. I will add, when cover designer Ravven took my notes and searched for the right model, she nailed it. The girl on the cover A lady in Defiance Hearts in Defiance is as close to Naomi as we can get. Unless someday we get Reese on the cover.

Image result for diane lane lonesome dove

Diane Lane

It could happen.

 

 

 

 

Who Were the Men Who Made Charles McIntyre?

angelbad

Quirt Evans

I often get asked if any of my characters are based on an actual person. Sometimes, they are, sometimes they’re straight out of my imagination. I thought it would be fun to share with you today who I saw in my head when I was writing one of my favorite and most popular characters, Charles McIntyre.

ALID_charles

Charles McIntyre

Who can resist a man running from love because he knows it will be his undoing? Think John Wayne’s classic character of Quirt Evans in Angel and the Bad Man. Well, Charles McIntyre is my sexy Southern scallywag (now mostly redeemed), lord of Defiance and the main man in my Defiance books. His character was born when I watched the movie The Harvey Girls. The actor who played opposite superstar Judy Garland in this flick was the up-and-coming John Hodiak.

hodiak

Ned Trent

Hodiak was one of the first to play a saloon owner AND bad boy redeemed by a good woman. Ned Trent was the name. Selling whiskey and women was his game.

Keeping these archetype characters in the back of my mind, I fell in love later on with Eric McCormack’s looks and portrayal of Clayton Mosby, entrepreneur, saloon owner, and bad boy in Lonesome Dove: The Outlaw Years. When I sat down to write the first Defiance book, A Lady in Defiance, these three characters and actors swirled in my head.

mosby

Clayton Mosby

 

Eventually, of course, HBO released the graphic and gritty western Deadwood. The ruggedly handsome English actor Ian McShane played Al Swearengen, an entrepreneur, saloon owner, and bad boy with apparently no redeeming qualities whatsoever. I only watched one episode of Deadwood and that was a good three or four years after I’d finished ALID. The profanity, violence, and sex in this show went waaaay beyond my limits, so I can honestly say there is no direct link between my McIntyre and Swearengen.

But I will say this for McShane’s character: Swearengen was exactly the kind of soulless villain Charles McIntyre was based on. And the darker the soul, the more amazing the transformation when light touches it.

ian

Al Swearengen

I adore those tough men brought to their knees by love. Charles McIntyre is my absolute hero. One reader called him swoon-worthy. I love that. He was unrepentantly cruel, selfish, violent but turned to jello in Naomi’s hands–because real love, both of a good woman and of a perfect Savior, cannot/will not leave a man unchanged.

Changing a Book to Satisfy the Mob

Apparently, author Amélie Wen Zhao hasn’t heard the famous Lincoln quote: You can’t satisfy all of the people all of the time.

sad girl Amid the outcry of Snowflakes who thought she had treated the issue of slavery without enough sensitivity, the debut author asked her publisher to yank the release in June of Blood Heir so she could re-write some scenes.

As Publisher’s Weekly put it, “…particularly that a slave auction scene in Blood Heir was insensitive to POC readers due to the history of slavery in the U.S.”

Well, uh, I would suggest the mere historical FACT of slave auctions is pretty darn insensitive to POC (People of Color, if you’re not familiar with yet ANOTHER hip acronym).

This is a shame. The mob is telling this girl what to write and how to write it. And she caved. As did her publisher. As an author, you can probably imagine how much this bothers me. Where does it stop? Shall we run all our ideas by some PC filter group? Put some kind of warning on our books?

Here’s a thought: maybe we could just figure out who we’re writing for and keep that group happy. I know, crazy, right? Hitting our target reader. What a concept.

I’m sorry Amelie was ambushed by a virtual mob of “tolerant” liberals. I am sorry that she caved and won’t get to write the book she envisioned. That really does make me sad, but not just for her. Reading a book the way the writer saw the story is like sitting down to chat with a friend. It’s a personal experience. Her readers aren’t going to get that now.

As for me, well, I bet you can guess what I would say to a mob telling me how to write a book: don’t buy it.

My stories are written for folks who have at least passing respect for the Almighty, are okay with guns, happily salute the American flag, like fiery, determined heroines, long for a world that honors old-fashioned values like kindness and decency, and enjoy watching my flawed characters overcome steep odds. I’m pro-God, pro-gun, pro-life, pro-Bible, pro-US Constitution, and pro-freedom of speech.

Unapologetically. rooster

If any of these statements offend you–well, I must ask, what are you doing here? I’d love for you to read my books. I think most of them are pretty entertaining and inspiring. They’re really well rated on Amazon. But my world view isn’t changing for anybody.

 

 

 

 

The Woman Who Struck Fear into the Hearts of…Rattlesnakes

I couldn’t resist sharing this tale with y’all. I was doing a little research and stumbled across the story of  Kate McHale Slaughterback. Born in Longmont, CO in 1894, Kate was a pistol. By all accounts, she was strong-willed, independent, arguably surly, and she did not like to be told what to do. By anybody. Which may account for several failed marriages.

Perhaps headstrong to a fault, I can’t help but think this is the very flaw that saved her life and created her legend. You see, Mrs. Slaughterback came to be known as “Rattlesnake” Kate because she killed a few of the critters one afternoon–over 140 of them. One. Hundred. Forty.

As you might expect, the indpendent Kate could handle a gun. One afternoon she and her three-year-old son ventured down to a local pond. Some duck hunters had been there earlier and Kate thought she might have the chance to bag a wounded one for dinner. Walking back to her son and her horse, she noted a rattler crawling across her path and popped him with her .22. But another rattler appeared. And another. The ground literally started squirming with writhing, hissing, rattling snakes, scores of them, separating her from her little boy.

Kate shot rattlers until she ran out of ammo then she snatched up a sign (that supposedly read NO HUNTING) and went all Samson on the reptiles. For over two hours, she bludgeoned, kicked, stomped, and smashed snakes. Finally, she had a path open and made a beeline to her boy.

A neighbor noted her disheveled appearance when she returned home and she shared her story. Whether to prove the truth of it or gather up the skins, she and the neighbor returned to the site of the massacre. Color him appropriately impressed and he spread the story. The tale went viral, especially once the newspapers got hold of it, and like reporters were apparently compelled to do in those days, they gave Kate a moniker, dubbing her “Rattlesnake” Kate.

Kate was a skilled taxidermist and entrepreneur. Her fame allowed her to sell rattlesnake souvenirs, but she also made herself a dress out of the hides. Upon her death in Greely, CO in 1969, the garment was donated to the history museum there.

Now, I just want to say, what Kate did was crazy amazing. But as an arachnophobic, I can totally understand it. FEAR can make you insanely strong. If Kate was as afraid of snakes as I am of spiders, I can easily understand going whirling-dervish mad and killing snakes in a blind rage of fear and fury. And then you strand her child on the other side of the reptilian river? Oh, yeah, this is a Mama Grizzly story.

Can you imagine what she might have done if she’d had the jawbone of an ass?

Photo credit: 1987.32.0013A, City of Greeley Museums, Permanent Collection. Katherine Slaughterback with two strings of rattlesnakes, 1925. Photographer unknown.

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