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!
Abortion. Yeah. I’m going there.
As a history freak, I’m pretty well acquainted with how hard life was for the women who settled and–might I add–fought–for this country. Sometimes they manned cannons or rode through hell and high water to deliver intelligence. They fought marauding Indians, beat off snakes with sticks, stared down cattle rustlers, stamped out brush fires with handmade quilts, heck, even crawled through blizzards. And a lot of the time our ancestors did these amazing feats with babies in their arms and toddlers clinging to their apron strings.
I read somewhere the average woman in the 19th century had six children. Most of these ladies probably would have liked to stop before then. Six babies is a lot, but having them was a fact of life because successful birth control (short of abstinence) wasn’t a fact of life. I surmise, however, if they’d had magic wands and could have “undone” any of these pregnancies, I’d bet 99.99% of these gals would have balked at the proposition. In fact, I’d bet they’d be willing to walk through hell covered in gasoline to protect their infants.
Fast forward to the 1970s when all a woman had to do to prevent pregnancy was pop a pill or slap a condom on her partner. Yet, Democrats and spineless Republicans pushed ahead (Roe v. Wade) to legalize abortion, though with “strict limitations” because those words make “murder” so much more palatable. Pro-lifers warned this was a slippery slope; man is after all evil and rebellious at heart.
So here we are today. The New York state legislature comes along and votes into law the right of a woman to kill her baby in the 3rd trimester. And she doesn’t even have to have a doctor perform the homicide. I heard this morning the Virginia legislature is considering a similar bill.
If you know me, you know I’m not politically correct so it won’t surprise you where I come down on these horrific “laws.” I am DEEPLY DISGUSTED by New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick and NY State Senator Liz Krueger and Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran. The “sponsors” of these bills. I’d call them death merchants.
Ladies, a law that allows the murder of a child for no reason other than the baby is an inconvenience is diabolical. Abominable. Dastardly. Evil. Heinous. Soulless. As are you.
And I’m sorry for you.
I can talk politics all day long and not lose my temper. THIS is the one issue on which I struggle to maintain patience and kindness. I’m not just dealing with ignorance or fear (as I see so often when discussing the 2nd Am), this is EVIL. Pure and simple. And I stand in Defiance of it.
Pray, people, pray. Vote Pro-Life. Donate to pro-life candidates. Support our pro-life president.
Our ancestors didn’t fight and struggle to keep their children alive to build this nation and settle a country just so we could treat human lives as if they are less valuable than cattle. Think about it. If the politicians feel this way about a 9-month old baby in the womb, who’s next? Senior citizens? The mentally challenged? Jews?
Can I get an amen?
In light of all the racial tension boiling in Ferguson, I thought it would be uplifting to remind us that, even in the Wild West, peace among different races has not always been elusive. Mattie Bost Bell Castner is a wonderful example.
Born a slave in Newton, NC in 1848, she and her family moved to St. Louis after the Emancipation Proclamation for a fresh start. Mattie worked as a nanny, domestic servant, and hotel maid. Eager to expand her horizons, though, she moved to Fort Benton, MT and opened a laundry. Her business did quite well and the former slave could have called herself a successful, independent businesswoman. Sharp, wise, well-spoken, and pretty to boot, Mattie caught the eye of John Castner. Castner, too, was a hard-working entrepreneur who ran his own freight business. He had scouted much of the territory and had a particular fascination with Belt Creek. Dreaming of bigger pay offs than the freight company, he had filed several mining claims along the creek’s ford, which is near present day Great Falls.
Recognizing the fact that life in Montana is not for the faint of heart, Castner was taken with Mattie’s grit and determination to succeed in such a tough environment. Defying convention, the white man took as his wife the lovely, dark, former slave. The two were stronger together than they could have ever been apart. They dug in and went to work, building what would become the town of Belt. Castner pursued his interests in freighting and coal mining, and opened a mercantile. Matty opened the Castner Hotel, in the center of the booming little mining town. A place known for good food, exquisite service, and plenty of smiles.
Perhaps because of her background, this former slave was renowned territory-wide for her generosity and compassion. She was always ready to help out new families in town with advice, connections, and donations of supplies and cash. She became known as “the mother of Belt.” In the meantime, her husband served as the town’s mayor.
The mixed race couple had a good thing going and blessed others as much as they could, building a tight community, and living a life together that was envied by most.
When Mattie died in 1920, she left her fortune of $25,000 to charity.
A life begun in slavery could have made this woman dark and twisted. Instead, Mattie became a true Lady in Defiance. She lived in defiance of bitterness, hatred, and racism to leave behind a legacy of peace, love, and unity. Well done, Mattie. Well done.
copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
John had Abigail. Romeo had Juliet. Chief Ouray had Chipeta.
Unless you live in Colorado or are a student of history, you’ve probably never heard of her. She was the second wife of the Ute chief, but she came to be so much more.
Dubbed “Queen of the Utes” by a reporter contemptuous of Indians, a poet turned the slam into an homage. And well-deserved it was.
When Chipeta was only an infant, a band of renegades attacked her Kiowa village. She was the sole survivor. Friendly Utes found her crawling through the smoking remains and adopted her. Many years later, when Chief Ouray’s first wife died, Chipeta became the caretaker for his son. Ouray was impressed with the girl’s keen mind, compassion, and poise. Eventually the two married and were inseparable from then on.
Chipeta traveled everywhere with Ouray, which was highly unusual for Ute culture. But he valued her counsel. She was a true confidante and friend, and one of his biggest supporters as he tried to navigate the treacherous road of negotiations with the US government.
Ouray’s overriding goal was peace with the whites. Just like in all the movies, there were hot-headed braves and opportunistic tribal leaders who hated him for “selling out”. There were some Ute bands that wouldn’t speak with him, but they welcomed his wife. Where Ouray could not go, the soft-spoken, perceptive Chipeta would hold councils and share the information with her husband as he sought to save his people, albeit on smaller and smaller pieces of land.
In 1879, an uprising at the White River Res resulted in the deaths of 11 white men, including the Indian agent, Nathan Meeker. Meeker’s wife and daughter and several others were taken captive at the massacre, enraging the government. Tradition says Chipeta housed and cared for the girls, and then, along with Ouray, negotiated their release.
This event, coupled with another deadly skirmish between Utes and soldiers, resulted in the Ute Removal Act. The entire tribe was relocated to scrub and sand in Utah. Ouray died there in 1880.
Chipeta met tribal leaders and government officials alike. They all honored and respected her. She traveled to Washington, D.C. with Ouray to negotiate a peace treaty with the government. She dined with Kit Carson and his family, and rode in a train with President Taft. Yet, for most of her life she lived confined to a government reservation, subsisting on poverty-level subsidies. Still, she always spoke up for her people, never let her conditions break her, and stubbornly believed in peace.
Chipeta died in Utah in 1924. Upon her death, Colorado petitioned to have her and Chief Ouray exhumed and reinterred in Montrose. Perhaps now the Queen of the Utes finally has her peace.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Don’t miss my new book, Hearts in Defiance, coming out in September 2014!
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I love the stories of women who, on the verge of losing everything, look defeat squarely in the eye and knock the snot out of it.
When Sarah Cockrell’s husband Alexander died in 1858, he left her with three small children and a few struggling businesses. Oh, and a mountain of debt.
At the time of his death, Alexander owned a sawmill, gristmill, office building, and a ferry business in Dallas. Recognizing Sarah’s business acumen, and since he couldn’t read or write, he let her handle his books, as well as his correspondence. Upon Alexander’s passing, Sarah did not wring her hands and think about running back to Virginia. She jumped in, wrestled his debt to the ground and emerged with a sound company.
Sarah is remembered in Texas, though, for the construction of an iron suspension bridge across the Trinity River. The Texas state legislature OKed her idea for the venture in 1860, but it took her 12 years and the end of the Civil War to bring it about. In 1872, the bridge opened up Dallas to several major roads and ushered in a pretty energetic economic boom. Ironically, while her bridge company did well and the city blossomed, Sarah never sat on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company. It wasn’t customary. She owned the majority of stock and could have sat at the head of the table, but methinks a few men on the board didn’t like the competition.
And they had reason to fear this little lady. She was just getting rolling. The bridge deal was good to Sarah and by the 1880’s she was dabbling in real estate, becoming a regular Donald Trump. In 1889 she handled fifty-three separate land deals and in both 1890 and 1891 more than twenty.1 By 1892, the belle from Virginia owned a quarter of downtown Dallas.
There are plaques and charities and buildings named for Sarah. Who remembers the men on the board of the Dallas Bridge Company, hmmm?
1 Texas State Historical Association
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Do you remember your first boyfriend? Was he, perhaps, a bit of a bad influence? Did you follow him into escapades that now leave you wondering in horror, what was I thinking? Cheer up. He probably never shot it out with US Marshals.
Rose Dunn, youngest of ten, was born in Oklahoma and received a formal education from a convent. In the meantime, two of her brothers went astray of the law and started hanging around some pretty tough characters. Sometime in 1892, they brought George “Bittercreek” Newcomb home. Newcomb was a known outlaw who rode with the likes of Bill Doolin and the Wild Bunch. Perhaps this bandit mystique was part of his charm. Either way, at the impressionable age of 14, Rose was in love.
Happily at the beck-and-call of the 29-year-old Newcomb, Rose rode with him when she could, often fetched supplies and groceries from town for the gang, and, after a particularly violent shoot-out in ‘93, lovingly nursed his wounds. As story-tellers have a practice of doing, she was dubbed Rose of the Cimarron. Legend says she managed to get a gun and two belts of ammo to Newcomb as US Marshals were shooting at him, thus enabling him and companion Charley Pierce to escape. The marshals didn’t mention Rose in their reports, however. Admittedly, it would have been more than a little annoying, arguably embarrassing, to confess a fugitive got away because his fifteen-year-old girlfriend interfered.
Regardless, this shoot-out resulted in the deaths of three lawmen, raising the bounty on Newcomb and Pierce to the serious sum of $5,000 each. A price worthy of Jesse James.
Now, while Rose was traveling her outlaw path, ironically her brothers flipped sides and turned into bounty hunters. They weren’t half-bad either. One might even say they were ruthless.
In 1895, Newcomb, accompanied by Pierce, swung by the Dunn family home in Norman, OK to see Rose. It was a fateful decision. Her brothers happened to be there as well. They shot Newcomb and Pierce as the two men dismounted. Why not? The reward said dead or alive.
Whether Rose set him up, which her brothers denied, or Newcomb’s death broke her wild ways, Rose turned over a new leaf. A few years later, she married Charles Albert Noble, a sober, respected man of the community who held political aspirations. Though she would outlive Albert and marry once more, Rose never again crossed the law.
In fact, she spent the rest of her life trying to prove she was not A Lady in Defiance, only a misguided girl who had a little growing up to do. Still, for years after Newcomb’s death, it was not an uncommon site to see Rose riding her favorite horse hell-bent-for-leather across the sandbars of the Cimarron River.
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
By Heather Frey Blanton
Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
Not much is known about Mollie. You’ve probably never heard of her. But you know her husband. C.S. “Buck” Fly was THE photographer in Tombstone when the shoot-out at the OK Corral went down.
Mary “Mollie” McKie moved with her family to San Francisco sometime in the 1850’s, when she was around 8 or 10. The boisterous town may well be what fostered her desire for adventure, but a good upbringing kept her from falling into vice. In Defiance of the times, she took up the male-dominated hobby of photography. She also took up a husband, Samuel D. Goodrich. Apparently he wasn’t a good fit and, in a day when divorce was rare, Mollie showed him the door after only two years.
Soon, she met the dashing and adventurous Camillus Sidney “Buck” Fly, a young man who had grown up in the Napa Valley. He also loved capturing still life. We don’t know how they met. It’s a shame because they made a lasting impression on each other. We do know they married in Sept. of ‘79 and by December had arrived in the silver boomtown of Tombstone, AZ.
Within a year, they had gone from working in a tent to owning a 12-room boardinghouse that also housed the famous photography studio (the door of which was within spitting distance to the OK Corral). Buck spent a great deal of time riding the range, snapping beautiful photographs of the landscapes, as well as capturing historically valuable pictures of the Indian campaigns. A tiny gal known for her spunk, Mollie accepted the long absences and kept things humming at home. She ran the boardinghouse, took portraits for customers, and raised a daughter. Sometime in the early 1880’s, a young girl by the name of Kitty appeared on the census as a member of their household. It is not known whether she was Fly’s daughter or a simply a child they adopted, but Mollie loved her and took care of her like she was blood.
Part of that care included removing Kitty and herself from a bad situation when Fly’s drinking spiraled out of control. In ’87, Mollie divorced him and the famous photographer left Tombstone. Soldiering on, she kept the studio and boardinghouse running, but there is clear evidence she was nursing a broken heart. Mollie never remarried. She was at Fly’s side in Bisbee, AZ in 1901 when he breathed his last. She then arranged to have him buried in Tombstone, and bought him a nice, well, tombstone.
Mollie was Fly Gallery until 1912. Feeling her age, she retired to Los Angeles and died there in 1925. Prior to her death, she donated all of Fly’s negatives to the Smithsonian, well aware of the contribution her husband had made to history by chronicling the West.