Meet New Historical Author: Janet Oakley

My guest today is fellow Pacific Northwest author, Janet Oakley, and I’m delighted to feature her first published novel, Tree Soldier. Fast-paced, entertaining, and informative, this historical novel has it all: romance, rivalry, revenge, and redemption.

Synopsis: One mistake can ruin a life. One mistake can transform it.

A government forestry camp set deep in the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest might not seem the likely place to find redemption, but in 1936, Park Hardesty hopes for just that.

Blaming himself for the fiery accident that causes his brother’s disfigurement and results in the death of the bootlegging woman he loved, planting trees, building bridges and mentoring tough, homesick New Jersey boys brings Hardesty both penitence and the renewal of his own self-worth.

When he wins the love of Kate Alford, a local naturalist who envisions joining the Forest Service, which allows only men, he also captures the ire of a camp officer who refuses to let her go. Just when Hardesty is ready to seek his brother’s forgiveness, he is falsely accused of rape. Every aspect of his life he has tried to rebuild is put in jeopardy.

In the end, the only way he can defend himself is to tell the truth about his brother, but he risks being kicked out of the camp.

Worse, he could lose Kate’s love forever.

Janet, would you share the inspiration for this book?

My 96 year-old Mom is a native of Idaho and during the summers she often went up to her Uncle Lawrence’s ranch in Lowman just north of Boise. One summer around 1933 a Civilian Conservation Corps camp appeared about a mile away. Some 200 young men were there working on projects. Some were from New Jersey. Years later when I had to write a term paper for a history class, her stories came back.  I began to explore CCC projects around my county in Western Washington. A story of a young man from back East who is running away from a past mistake  began to form.

Is Park Hardesty modeled on a real person?

Hardesty is totally out of my imagination, except that he is from Western Pennsylvania where I grew up. I wanted him to be someone who had integrity, was a decent person, but felt guilty about being the catalyst in his brother’s tragic accident. He felt damned until he came West to work in a CCC camp.

Who do you envision would play him if a movie was made of Tree Soldier?

Now that’s question. I haven’t really thought about that. I did a quick search of the hottest actors under 25, but they’re too pretty. Hardesty is good looking, but he’s just a man of his times.

Tell us about the significance of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Washington.

The CCC is responsible for some of the most beautiful structures, campgrounds and parks on both side of the mountains and the Pacific Northwest for that matter. The young men, working in squads of 6-9 men, also planted trees, built roads and bridges, backpacked fish into remote lakes, and did reclamation work, including dams. In Whatcom County they built the Glacier ranger station, Silver Fir and Douglas Fir Campgrounds and the Warming Hut up at Mount Baker.

The program was responsible for saving the lives of countless families for while the boys worked, $25.00 out of the $30.00 they earned when to their families. That was a lot of money back then. The CCC trained the young men in forestry and wood craft, provided after hours schooling, and taught them to work as teams. In the end they tackled some of the worst  environmental problems caused by soil erosion and over-logging. Many have said the environmental movement started with the CCCs.

Tell us about your background.

I’m the daughter of Northwesterners who grew up back East. I have a degree in American History, and after a spell at home flew out to Hawaii on a whim and met my future husband there. I got a degree in Textiles from UH and after returning to the Mainland, got certified to teach. I love teaching history hands-on to kids and l love researching and writing about history, both fiction and non-fiction. I’m published at Historylink.org and have memoir essays in the Cup of Comfort series, one of which was the 2006 winner in non-fiction at Surrey International Writers in BC. I’m currently researching a 19th century bark involved in coastal trading. Tree Soldier is my second novel, but the first published. My sons are grown, my husband gone almost ten years. I often say writing saved me.

When did you start writing? I started writing stories when I was in second grade. I still have my handwritten and illustrated books, Funny Bunny Climbs Mount Everest, Funny Bunny the Prince. By fifth grade, I was writing historical fiction. I loved pioneers and anything with horses back then. My research skills, however, were limited.

Have you always been a reader? Definitely. My mom read to us and I just read oodles from first grade on. We didn’t have a TV in the home until I was around 14 and I was a bit shy. Books just took me anywhere. I devoured my local Carnegie Library. Loved the Black Stallions series, Wizard of Oz, Narnia, Mary Poppins. When I went to summer camp I read from the library in the mess hall.

Where can we find copies of Tree Soldier?

Tree Solder is available at

Createspace https://www.createspace.com/3493477

Amazon in Kindle and book form. http://www.amazon.com/Tree-Soldier-J-L-Oakley/dp/1453896473/ref=tmm_pap_title_0

And select bookstores such as Village Books. (I really want to support the indie book stores)

I’m blogging at http://historyweaver.wordpress.com and on Twitter at @jloakley

Tree Soldier’s at Facebook http://www.facebook.com/pages/Tree-Soldier/177455642270948

Please join us again on Wednesday when Janet shares her insights on historical research and writing.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have had a long-standing interest in CCC’s and have written several articles about them. Tree Soldier sounds like a “definite read” for me.

  2. Janet, congratulations on your first published book, and thank you for sharing with us. Everybody, stay tuned for more on historical research on Wednesday!

  3. Sounds like a great view into the world of the past, and a great plot. The cover’s also terrific!

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

  4. Your book sounds like a great read, Janet. My dad was a member of the CCC as a very young man and I wish Id listened more closely to the tales he told of his work in sothern California. Fascinating subject!


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