My density has brought me to you.
Okay, sorry, if you are not a Back to the Future fan. Density translates to Destiny. But I have a destiny for you. A Destiny in Defiance.
I have a lot to say about book 4–its great characters, its politically incorrect views, its robust length–but I thought today I’d share some random insights and a little background on the story.
So, as it often happens, I started A Destiny in Defiance with one idea but some of the other characters simply wouldn’t be quiet. Hence, the story definitely heats up the rivalry between Charles and Matthew, but Naomi has her own set of problems revolving around the men in her life–namely, Charles and Two Spears. There is Hannah, trying to figure out if a woman truly can have it all–love, career, family–or does something gotta give? And Mollie and Emilio move forward. A little.
The biggest surprise, though, came from two new/semi-new characters: Lane Chandler, the foreman at the King M ranch, and Dr. Hope Clark. Lane started leaping off the page, waving at me to give him a bigger part. He turns out to be quite the cowboy. And Hope is a complex character who is tired of being the rope in a tug of war between her fiance and her father. At some point, she needs to figure out what–and who–she wants out of life. Will she find real romance in Defiance?
I’ve posted BELOW a short excerpt from A Destiny in Defiance. Read it and comment on it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. We’re still doing final edits and wordsmithing, but I think this snippet is passably entertaining.
A Destiny in Defiance releases on November 1.
Right now the pre-order price is $2.99. This is a mammoth book (over 90,000 words) so the price will be going up.
Get your copy today while it’s still at the pre-order price.
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Now, READ ON:
**Rebecca and Hannah are discussing the mysterious new nurse in town:
A cup of coffee pressed to her lips, Rebecca watched Hannah drizzle melted butter over a steaming biscuit, tear off tiny pieces and feed them to Little Billy. Her glassy stare, however, said her mind was elsewhere. Around them, the Trinity Inn’s restaurant reverberated with chatting customers, tinkling silverware and the clank of dishes.
“Billy thinks I should just ask her outright.”
Rebecca set the cup down. “Why don’t you?”
“Oh, I suppose eventually I will. I just thought by now she would have revealed a little more of her story to me.”
“You said she’s a private person. Those kind don’t open up easily.”
“I guess. It’s just that sometimes when she talks, it’s like she’s saying one thing but thinking another. I don’t know.” She picked up a napkin and dabbed at her son’s face. “I can’t explain it.”
“Awkward pauses? Sentences that seem to redirect abruptly?”
Hannah looked up. “Yes.”
Rebecca nodded. “When I interviewed her, I had that same sense. As if she almost says one thing, but then quickly corrects and says something else.”
“So, what do you think? Do you agree with me that’s something amiss? But not necessarily something terrible,” Hannah was quick to add.
“I think it has something to do with Edward.”
“This is all conjecture.” Rebecca took another sip then grasped the cup in both hands. “Pointless speculation until…”
“Until I actually do a little digging.”
I wrote A Promise in Defiance (which is on sale right now for only .99–regularly $4.49) with one scene in mind–the main character dying in the street. And I find it really interesting how the Holy Spirit led the whole book to that moment! I mean, it just worked out perfectly. And while the story wraps up with hope and redemption, I like how I left a few characters with some unanswered questions–meaning, waiting to hear from God on some issues, because, as it turns out, by popular demand, there is a Book 4.
In honor of A Promise in Defiance being on sale today, I thought I’d share a snippet of one of my favorite scenes with you. It’s hard to do, b/c there are so many plot twists in A Promise, it’s difficult to avoid SPOILERS! But here ya go:
* * *
Leaning on the bar, Delilah listened for a moment to the sounds that had played in the background of most of her life: men muttering, laughing, cursing; the slap of cards and the triumphant cry over a winning hand; the jangle of chips being dragged across the felt; a tinny piano belting out a lively tune. Beneath it all, the sultry voices of her girls issuing their siren’s call.
Only the saloon of The Crystal Chandelier was open. The theater was still a week away from its first show. The men didn’t mind too much. From the moment she had flung open her doors, the crowd had been steady and strong. The girls in their cribs were producing well. She flipped through the papers in front of her, covered in names and numbers, tallies at the bottom. Yes, they were turning a nice profit.
The upstairs girls here in the saloon would begin receiving callers Saturday night. The Celestial Flowers, however, were destined for her auction. In the meantime, all these little ladies were working the floor, advertising their potential, but serving drinks only. The tease never failed to have the men queuing up for opening night.
“What’s the matter, Big Jim? You look a little down.”
Delilah didn’t look over at Mary Jean addressing a customer, but the softness in the girl’s voice intrigued her, and she continued listening.
“Ah, I ain’t down.”
From the corner of her eye, Delilah saw the big man in a sheepskin vest drop his two bits on the counter.
“I was thinkin’ about that Preacher.”
Mary Jean poured Big Jim a shot and took his money. “Thinkin’ ’bout what?”
“I’m still rankled about that mess on his door. Whoever did that’ll try somethin’ new. Tomorrow is Sunday. I was pondering staying sober and seein’ if I might catch me a scat-smearin’ coward sometime tonight.”
“Coward?” Smith’s voice. He had slipped up on the other side of Big Jim.
“Smith.” Big Jim’s tone turned hard. “I don’t reckon you had anything to do with the “paint” left on the Preacher’s door? Sounds like somethin’ you’d do.”
“You callin’ me a coward?”
The two men faced each other.
“That’s enough, boys.” Delilah did not deign to look up. “No fightin’ in my place. You know the rules. All fights go to the ring out back.”
Silence stretched out for a moment. Delilah did wonder between these two, who was the toughest. By all accounts, Smith was the meanest and sometimes that was more than enough to win a fight.
“You’d best be careful, Smith.” Big Jim tossed back his drink, set the glass down, and stomped away. Mary Jean took his glass and hurried away to the dry sink behind the bar, as if to avoid Smith.
“Did you do that?” Delilah asked still without looking up. “Have you no better morals than to desecrate a house of God?”
“It was just a little warning of what’s coming his way.”
“Leave the Preacher alone for a bit. Make a little trouble for McIntyre. I don’t care how you get to him, just make him suffer.”
“That’s his foreman sittin’ over there in the corner. I heard him say McIntyre’s got a herd of two thousand head comin’ in tomorrow. Guess he wants to be a big cattle baron.”
This could be useful information. “How many men in the crew?”
“Didn’t ask. Probably at least twenty.”
“Free drinks for all of them when they come in the first night.” Delilah turned and scanned the crowd, looking for the foreman. “Where’s McIntyre’s man?”
Smith chucked a thumb over his shoulder. “Dusty fella, sitting under the lantern.”
“Mary Jean,” Delilah called without looking at the girl, “bring me a bottle and two glasses.” She handed her receipts to Smith. “Put these on my desk upstairs. Mr. Foreman over there looks like he could use a bath . . . and a friend.”
Want to read more? Get your copy of A Promise in Defiance today while it’s only .99, regularly $4.49!
Oh, and hey, if/when you read A Promise, please leave me a review! I sure would appreciate it!
I learned something today in my research into those feisty pioneer women that I just had to share. I knew that the Daniel Day-Lewis movie Last of the Mohicans was based on James Fenimore Cooper’s novel of the same name. What I didn’t know was that the story of white girls kidnapped by Indians was based on the actual event experienced by Jemima Boone, who was rescued by her legendary father, Daniel.
The following short article is from a longer History.com article entitled 7 of the Gutsiest Women on the American Frontier. I’ve blogged about nearly all the women on the list but somehow missed Jemima. You should read the whole thing, it’s quite entertaining, but here’s my favorite part:
Rebecca Boone wasn’t the only formidable female in Daniel Boone’s family. His daughter Jemima earned her own spot in the history books on July 14, 1776. That’s when a Cherokee-Shawnee raiding group abducted Jemima, aged 14, along with two other girls while they floated in a canoe near their Kentucky settlement. Demonstrating their own knowledge of frontier ways, the quick-witted teens left trail markers as their captors took them away—bending branches, breaking off twigs and leaving behind leaves and berries.
Their rescue team, led by Daniel Boone himself, took just two days to follow the trail and retrieve the girls. The rescuers included Flanders Callaway, Samuel Henderson and Captain John Holder, each of whom later married one of the kidnapped girls. This event became such an integral part of frontier lore, author James Fenimore Cooper included it in his classic novel The Last of the Mohicans.
Ah, those ladies in defiance. How their legends live on.
The women who built this country did amazing things to make America a better place and rarely complained while they were doing it. They just rolled up their sleeves and jumped in. They didn’t whine or cry. They didn’t call themselves victims when they weren’t treated fairly. They just kept working at doing good for the country or their little corner of it. AOC and Omar could learn a thing or two from these gals. Case in point, meet Susie Anderson.
Born in Indiana in 1870, she moved with her family to Cripple Creek Colorado at the beginning of the town’s gold rush. Deciding she needed more of a challenge than the rough and rowdy mining town could provide, her father encouraged her to attend medical school. In 1893, she entered the University of Michigan medical school. Little did she know how difficult the journey to put two letters behind her name would be.
She graduated in ’97, but while in school, was diagnosed with tuberculosis. The illness would plague her for the rest of her life. She returned to Cripple Creek and tended to the miners there for three years, but the pretty, petite doctor was jilted by her fiancé in 1900. That same year she suffered the loss of her little brother.
In need of a change, she relocated her practice to Denver. Surely, the bustling, modern city would provide a steady flow of patients. Not. Anderson nearly starved to death. Patients were very leery of a female doctor, especially when there were already several male doctors in town. Frustrated, she moved again, this time to Greely, and took work as a nurse. How frustrating that must have been for this gutsy, stubborn gal. Probably the stress had something to do with her TB flaring up. Sick and weak, Anderson moved to Fraser, Colorado to recuperate or die. She breathed not a word of her vocation.
But word got out, as it always does, and her health improved. I wonder if the two events are related? At any rate, the citizens of remote Fraser were delighted to have a doctor. They didn’t care if she was male, female, or a different species entirely. Everyone from lumberjacks to ranchers to pregnant wives came to see her. She occasionally even treated a sick horse.
In her career as a doctor, “Doc Susie” was paid with everything from firewood to food. Cash was an extreme rarity and her living conditions reflected that. Nearly destitute, sometime around 1915 or so she was appointed the Grand County Coroner and the regular paycheck helped ease some of her financial concerns.
She never owned a car but always found a way to visit her patients. Most often she walked, sometimes in hip-deep snow. Mostly, though, friends and family members of patients provided transportation. Anderson was not rich financially, but she earned an esteemed reputation as a fine rural doctor and diagnostician. Her life was not easy but I think that’s how she would have wanted it. She liked fighting for her accomplishments.
She conquered a frontier, both real and emotional, leaving behind a path for other women who dared to dream big. Anderson practiced in Fraser until 1956 then retired to an old folks home in Denver. She died four years later and was buried with her family in Cripple Creek.
Respect the lace.
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
Just my politically incorrect two cents.
By the way, A Lady in Defiance is on sale right now for only .99 if you’d like to pick up a copy!
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?
Christmas in the West in the 1800’s. For some reason, I get warm-and-fuzzy feelings thinking about the wide open spaces, deep snow, tall pines, warm hearths, homemade gifts, sleigh rides, fiddle music, shy cowboys asking for a dance at the Christmas ball–Whoops! Sorry, I drifted off there for a second!
You can see why I write this stuff!
I’d like to share with you three of my favorite things that put me in mind of a Western Christmas: a certain book, a certain song, and a certain poem. Maybe they’ll set you to dreaming about a Cowboy–er, I mean, an old-fashioned Christmas, too!
THE BOOK-–More than a decade ago, I read A Bride Goes West, the memoirs of Wyoming wife and rancher Nannie Alderson. The book haunts me to this day. You’d have to read it to understand, but Nannie was a fire-cracker with a rebel’s heart! Nothing ever kept her down; she accepted life with grace and grit and lived a grand adventure when the west was still wild and wooly.
Born to an affluent southern family, Nannie grew up in post-Civil War Virginia. Her home and community were spared much of the desolation of war, leaving her to blossom in a world that clung to the most genteel Southern graces. Her petticoats were ironed daily, she never cooked a meal or did her own laundry, but she did learn the most useless graces of high society. Her mother was a vain woman who enjoyed being the belle of the ball and was pleased to groom her daughter for the same fate.
Nannie only felt strangled by the shallow, societal confinements.
In 1880, she had the opportunity to visit a cousin in wild-and-wooly Kansas. Nannie jumped at it. Right from the start, she fell in love with the freedom of the West. No one judged her there; no one treated her like a hot-house flower. What you wore or who you ate dinner with didn’t impress anyone. Folks were measured by their sand, not their silk breeches. Hard work and honest words were all that mattered.
While there, she met the man who epitomized these traits. Walt Alderson had left home at the age of 12 to make his way as a cowboy. He spent years learning to be the best cowboy he could be with the ultimate goal of running his own spread. In all that time, he never made one visit home.
Then suddenly, his future rolled out before him. He and his business partner purchased some land in Montana and started the work of building a ranch. For whatever reason, Walt decided in the midst of all this to check in on his family. The night he came home, Nannie was sitting on his living room settee.
Nannie’s recollections of building a ranch in the wilds of Montana with Walt are fascinating, detailed, peppered with humor, and always honest. She went from gliding across hardwood floors to sweeping dirt floors covered with canvas. She went from living in an antebellum mansion to a drafty, two-room cabin. She went from swirling about at parties with young men in perfectly tailored suits to dancing with dusty cowboys in patched up dungarees.
She had to learn to cook and her tutors were those trail-hardened ranch hands who treated her like a princess and readily forgave her for the rocks she called biscuits. She survived bed bugs and blizzards; delivered children with no midwife and stared down Indians. Nannie even shot a rattlesnake who attempted to take up residence in her kitchen. She readily admits she had moments when she felt sorry for herself, but, mostly, Nannie counted her blessings. She loved her life. She loved the way of life out West.
Like Walt, quitting was never part of the plan, even when the stock market crashed and Indians burned their house. For ten years they worked and slaved to forge a home from the beautiful, desolate, wide-open country in Montana. Even when Walt died, leaving her a widow with two young children, Nannie cowboyed up. She made ends meet; she raised good kids.
The next time your microwave goes on the fritz or you forget to pick up milk at the store, pick up a copy of A Bride Goes West. I guarantee this American woman will put things in perspective for you.
THE SONG–Two-Step ‘Round the Christmas Tree. I was in Wyoming on my honeymoon when I heard this song for the first time. It truly has special memories for me. Give a listen and get to dancin’!
The Poem–The Creak of the Leather. The absolute maestro of cowboy poetry is the legendary Bruce Kiskadon. And if this poem doesn’t make you want to strap on a pair of spurs and jump in the saddle and ride out and cut down a Christmas tree, check your pulse!
THE CREAK OF THE LEATHER
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)
It’s likely that you can remember
A corral at the foot of a hill
Some mornin’ along in December
When the air was so cold and so still.
When the frost lay as light as a feather
And the stars had jest blinked out and gone.
Remember the creak of the leather
As you saddled your hoss in the dawn.
When the glow of the sunset had faded
And you reached the corral after night
On a hoss that was weary and jaded
And so hungry yore belt wasn’t tight.
You felt about ready to weaken
You knowed you had been a long way
But the old saddle still kep a creakin’
Like it did at the start of the day.
Perhaps you can mind when yore saddle
Was standin’ up high at the back
And you started a whale of a battle
When you got the old pony untracked.
How you and the hoss stuck together
Is a thing you caint hardly explain
And the rattle and creak of the leather
As it met with the jar and the strain.
You have been on a stand in the cedars
When the air was so quiet and dead
Not even some flies and mosquitoes
To buzz and make noise ’round yore head.
You watched for wild hosses or cattle
When the place was as silent as death
But you heard the soft creak of the saddle
Every time the hoss took a breath.
And when the round up was workin’
All day you had been ridin’ hard
There wasn’t a chance of your shirkin’
You was pulled for the second guard
A sad homesick feelin’ come sneakin’
As you sung to the cows and the moon
And you heard the old saddle a creakin’
Along to the sound of the tune.
There was times when the sun was shore blazin’
On a perishin’ hot summer day
Mirages would keep you a gazin’
And the dust devils danced far away
You cussed at the thirst and the weather
You rode at a slow joggin’ trot
And you noticed somehow that the leather
Creaks different when once it gets hot.
When yore old and yore eyes have grown hollow
And your hair has a tinge of the snow
But there’s always the memories that follow
From the trails of the dim long ago.
There are things that will haunt you forever
You notice that strange as it seems
One sound, the soft creak of the leather,
Weaves into your memories and dreams.
Of course, though, the most wonderful, most amazing, most old-fashioned thing about Christmas is the birth of a savior two thousand years ago. Remember and celebrate the Reason for the Season: the One who was born to die for mankind.
And I hope you all have a very merry, very blessed, very old-fashioned Christmas!
As a nation, not only have we become deeply divided, but we’re divided over stupid things. Maybe–here’s a crazy thought–if we were a little less sensitive we’d all get along a little better. Instead of scouring the universe for something that hurts our little feelings, maybe we could be more concerned with things that matter.
So, here’s the reason for my rant. I recently read an article (Writing with Color Description Guide Part One) that said writers shouldn’t use words like chocolate, coffee, cinnamon, cocoa, etc. to describe a Person of Color. Such descriptors are, according to this article’s author, fetishizing, dehumanizing, and my favorite (and I quote): these words are about aggression and appropriation and have links to colonialism.
You can’t, according to the writer, use coffee, for example, to describe someone’s skin color because it refers to slavery. You’re microaggressively trying to show your European dominance. I have to quote the writer again: “Cocoa. Coffee. They drove the slave trade. They still drive the slave trade.” (Underline is hers not mine.) In short, you are obviously a racist if you use the word coffee to describe an African American’s skin tone. Give me a break.
BUT, we can use words like peachy and milky to describe whites–because, according to the article’s author, whites aren’t people of color. Furthermore, she says it’s okay to say Olive-toned (Olives have no historical connection to slavery?). She also says it’s okay to use other foodie descriptors like wheat, soybean…wait, what? Soybean?
I’m pretty sure a stranger would be offended if I described her skin as a warm soybean color. Now THAT is dehumanizing.
And just who does this writer suggest run the Politically Correct Botanical Comparison Police anyway? Her? Frankly, with stupid suggestions like “soybean,” someone needs to take her badge away.
I LOVE coffee. I am pretty sure that’s not because I’m a subconscious racist. Coffee smells like heaven. The texture is gritty and firm. The taste is warm, savory, and comforting. I could sleep on a bed of steamy milk. Anyone who walks into a Starbuck’s and inhales that heady aroma knows exactly what I’m talking about.
My point is rather than worrying about microaggressions or poor cliches in literature, people that live to be offended should try to be more constructive. That is if they truly want to make this a better world.
Instead of complaining about being called coffee, go have a cup with someone who has a different view of life from yours. Instead of acting like your elders’ march for civil rights didn’t break any barriers, let’s march together to end sex slave trafficking. Instead of whining about the way illegal immigrants are treated, study America’s history and look at what blessings members of the “melting pot” have added to the world.
I have a suspicion, though, the writer of “Writing with Color” would rather just go read Mark Twain and strikethrough all the offensive words. Maybe she’ll feel better but I doubt it.
How about you? Do you feel victimized by bad color metaphors or do you even give a rip as long as you can see the scene and the character?
(To be fair, the author in Part 2 she does offer some nice substitutes, but she clearly shies away from metaphors and similes, preferring to just use colors to describe characters).
This post first appeared at Cowboy Kisses, May 2017 by Heather Blanton
A simple question on the surface, I thought a quick Google would give me the answer. Turns out, a few females claim the honor. So after a little more serious digging, I came up with Mary Hallock Foote and her first novel, Led-Horse Claim: A Romance of a Mining Camp published in 1883.
Turns out, Mary was quite an interesting gal. Born in 1847 in New York to Quaker parents, she attended school at the very proper Female Collegiate Seminary in Poughkeepsie. Her gift for the creative arts convinced her father (clearly a forward-thinking man) to invest more in his daughter’s education. He sent her to Cooper School of Design for Women, and by her early twenties, Mary was a sought-after illustrator and designer for some of the most notable publishers in New York City. She loved her job. She loved the city. But she loved a man more.
In 1876, she married Arthur De Wint Foote, a young mining engineer whose career would take her deep into the wild-and-wooly Western frontier. Mary saw it all. From Deadwood to Leadville, from Idaho to Mexico.
Impressed, sometimes astonished, at the characters populating these rowdy mining towns, Mary wrote and illustrated dozens of articles for readers “back East.” She quickly gained the reputation for being one of the sharpest observers of, and most civilizing influences on, the bawdy mining, and ditch (irrigation) towns out west. According to an article in the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, “The Victorian gentlewoman traveled the American West dressed in hoop skirt and petticoats, insisting that her children be educated by an English nanny and fed by a Chinese cook, so that she could work on her illustrations and stories, without interruption.”
What this quote doesn’t tell you is that Mary didn’t have time to raise the children because she had to help put bread on the table. Her husband’s career as a surveyor and civil engineer was difficult, at best, due to his unswerving honesty. Apparently, fudging numbers was expected in the mining industry, but Arthur didn’t play along. Hence, the continual moves from one town to the next. But Mary wrote about it all and her short stories and serials gained in popularity. They were published alongside the likes of Rudyard Kipling. Her articles and observations of life in the Wild West were met with lavish reviews, especially by those who could recognize the ring of authenticity—because they lived it.
Mary’s stories leaned more toward Western romance, though, as opposed to Owen Wister-style shoot-outs and brawls. She wrote fifteen novels in all. However, her husband eventually landed a job managing a mine in California and as his salary increased, Mary’s hectic writing pace decreased. Her last book was published in 1919. She didn’t seem to miss writing.
Mary and Arthur were married for nearly sixty years. She, ever hardy and determined, lived until the ripe old age of 90. Unfortunately, while her life was long, her fame was not. It is nearly impossible to find the complete collection of Mary’s works now, even on Amazon. What a loss for the Western Romance genre.
I love old books and am always looking to read more. Please feel free to suggest some!