Montana Promises: More Western Than Romance

Montana Promises (1)Montana Promises is the first in the “Montana Series” by Velda Brotherton and was recently republished. Tressie Majors is left alone in a soddie on the vast great plains after the death of her mother in childbirth. She has no idea where her father might be. Struck by gold fever he abandoned his family and set out for the gold fields of Montana Territory. She wants only to find him and let him know how much she hates him for leaving her and her mother alone and vulnerable. As she buries her mother and the child, she sees a horse and rider approaching in the distance. Perhaps this is her way out.

by Velda Brotherton

This book originally was my very first publication. Intended to be a western, I was told by a western editor that it needed to be turned into a romance because of the female protagonist. So that’s what I did, and it came out from Topaz in 1994. The publication happened so quickly I walked around in a daze for months. In fact, it was chosen at the last minute when another author failed to meet her deadline and a space opened up. The manuscript was lying on my editors desk, she’d read it once as a romance. The original cover was computer generated. It featured Steve Sandalis, the Topaz Man. I would later meet him at a Romantic Times Conference. He was a bit shy and very charming. Attending that first conference was a culture shock, but I recovered nicely.

My editor told me later that I’d kept my hero and heroine apart for too much of the book, and I wasn’t to do it again. We laughed about that later, but I was more careful with the books that followed. I was accustomed to writing westerns, and turning one into a romance challenged me. I still feel my books are more western than romances.

Two more Montana books follow this one. The next, Montana Dreams, features Ben Poole, who visited with Rose in chapter fifteen of this book. His adventures are tied up with the railroads that are beginning to criss-cross the west.

We are told, as authors, to write what we know. I disagree with that. I say, write about what we want to know. And that’s what I did when I wrote this trilogy that takes place in the Big Sky country of Montana. All my life I’d wanted to go to Montana. My Dad would go hunting in Wyoming and Montana once every year and I’d beg him to let me go along. But in those days, girls didn’t do such manly things.

Once I began this series, I visited Montana every day in my research, and later the actual writing. I dug deeply into Montana’s culture, the flora and fauna of the countryside, and traveled from one small town to another.
new Velda One day after a couple of the books were published, I was pleased to receive a phone call from a lady in California who said she was raised in Montana and when she read my books she felt as if she’d gone home. I couldn’t have received better praise.

Several years later, I was able to visit Montana and Wyoming, and when we went to the preserved ghost town of Virginia City, felt as if I were going home myself. I knew this place, where Reed and Tressie spent so much time.

To check out my books, go to Amazon or my website.

Velda Brotherton has a long career in historical writing, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of history and the west is responsible for the publication of 15 books and novels since 1994. But she’s not about ready to stop there. When the mid-list crisis hit big city publishers, she turned first to writing regional nonfiction, then began to look at the growing popularity of E Books as a source for the books that continued to flow from her busy mind. Those voices simply won’t shut up, and so she finds them a hSad Songs cover 4ome.

A need to continue to write and submit her work, soon led to publishers in the growing field of E books. Within a matter of months, she placed a western historical romance, Stone Heart’s Woman, with The Wild Rose Press, an award winning E Book publisher; then a mainstream paranormal, Wolf Song, was accepted by SynergE Books. A much grittier book set in the Ozarks, A Savage Grace, about a demon gone rogue and a woman who tames him, is under consideration by another E Book publisher. Recently Wilda’s Outlaw: The Victorians was published in both E book and print by The Wild Rose Press. She is now producing audio books through ACX from her Kindle published books. Montana Promises came out in audio May 8, 2013, read by Jeff Justus. She also uploaded a novella, The Legend of the Rose to Kindle that same month.

Velda signed two more contracts in May, 2013, one with Wild Rose Press for Once There Were Sad Songs, a women’s fiction, another with Oak Tree Press for a mystery, The Purloined Skull.

An Interview with the Women of Pendleton Petticoats

Our interview today is with three characters from Shanna Hatfield’s new historical series. Set in the western town of Pendleton, Oregon, the Pendleton Petticoats series highlights brave, determined women. During the early 1900s, Pendleton was a modern, progressive town, despite its Wild West reputation. In addition to 18 bordellos and 32 saloons, Pendleton offered residents such cultured experiences as an opera house, a French restaurant, and a tearoom. It was the second city in Oregon to have paved streets and boasted a telephone office as well as wonders like indoor plumbing to those who could afford the services.  The women in Pendleton Petticoats are from diverse backgrounds but find unity in following their hearts and chasing their dreams.

Pendleton PetticoatsAundy, Caterina and Ilsa join us today to talk about life in Pendleton.

Welcome to you three lovely ladies. Tell us a little about how you each came to be in Pendleton.

Aundy: I came to Pendleton as a mail-order bride for a kind-hearted farmer named Erik Erikson. We wed as soon as I stepped off the train, but had a wagon wreck on the way home. Erik died three days later, leaving me, a city girl, his farm and everything he owned.

Caterina: Growing up in New York, I never expected to live so far out west. When a mafia boss decided I would marry him, my family helped me escape and I got off the train here. Aundy was the second person I met and we’ve been friends ever since.

Ilsa: (Giggles) You forgot to mention the first person you met was your very good-looking deputy sheriff husband, Kade. You literally ran into him when you turned a corner and smacked into his chest.

Caterina: (Glaring at Ilsa) So I did. Thank you for sharing that with everyone. Let’s talk about why you came to town.

Ilsa: Because Aundy, she’s my sister, and Garrett, that’s Aundy’s husband, rescued me from our horrid aunt in Chicago who was holding me prisoner and brought me here.

What does a typical day entail for each of you?

Aundy: Garrett and I live on the place I inherited from Erik. Our day starts early in the morning with chores. I still don’t like gathering the eggs because our rooster is a nasty little fellow, but I enjoy everything else on the farm. My favorite thing is riding my horse Bell with Garrett, or sitting on the hill above the pasture watching our sheep. Thanks to our Chinese cook, I don’t have to spend a lot of time in the house.

Caterina: Kade and I live just outside of town with his behemoth dog, Ike. We ride into town together in the morning. He goes to work at the sheriff’s office and I go to my restaurant where I create Italian food that reminds me of my family.

Aundy: She’s an amazing cook. You really should drop by sometime for dinner. Her ravioli is divine.

Ilsa: And you have to try one of pastries. In fact, if I don’t stop eating there so often, I’m going to have to let the seams out of my dresses.

Caterina: You could always learn how to cook…

Ilsa: (Shakes her head) I’d rather sew.

Aundy: (Smiles sweetly and bats her eyelashes at Ilsa) We all know she eats at the restaurant so she can ogle Caterina’s handsome brother.

Ilsa: I don’t ogle Tony! (Huffs indignantly) Returning to the question, I have a dress shop just down the street from Caterina’s restaurant. I design and create clothing, primarily for women. I used to sew for the most elite in Chicago’s social circles, but I’m excited to bring high fashion to the women of Pendleton and Umatilla County.

What’s one thing people might not know about your town?

Caterina: It’s growing faster than we can imagine. In the two years I’ve been here, there has been a boom in new businesses and enterprises, like Ilsa’s boutique and my restaurant.

Aundy: There’s also a boom in less savory businesses like those in The Underground.

What’s the Underground?

Caterina and Ilsa both look at Aundy.

Aundy: There are tunnels running beneath a section of town that connects several businesses and provides a place for unsavory characters to quench their thirsts, play cards, and engage the services of… um… (Aundy leans close and whispers) women of ill repute.

Ilsa: And you should never, ever stand on top of the grates set in the boardwalk because some of the men in the tunnels will try to peek up a lady’s skirt.

That’s certainly scandalous. Have any of you ever been in the Underground?

 Caterina: Gracious, no!

Ilsa: I should say not! It’s no fit place for a lady.

Aundy: Oh, goodness, look at the time. We really should be going. Thank you so much for inviting us here today. We’re so grateful for this wonderful opportunity to connect with your readers.

 Thank you for joining us. Any parting words for our readers?

Ilsa: If you enjoy historical fiction, clean romances, or a good western, I hope you’ll consider reading our stories in Aundy, Caterina and Ilsa.


 Shanna Hatfield is a hopeless romantic with a bit of sarcasm thrown in for good measure. In addition to blogging, Shanna Hatfield 2eating too much chocolate, and being smitten with her husband, lovingly known as Captain Cavedweller, she is a best-selling author of clean romantic fiction written with a healthy dose of humor. She is a member of Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and Romance Writers of America. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”

Find Shanna’s books at: Amazon | Amazon UK | Barnes & Noble | Smashwords 

Follow Shanna online: ShannaHatfield | Facebook | Pinterest | Goodreads | You Tube | Twitter

Email Shanna at

Meet the Author of A Night on Moon Hill

NightonMoonHillFinal-Version-194x300Tanya Parker Mills is the author of A Night on Moon Hill, a 2012 Whitney Finalist. I was privileged to meet her at a writers conference recently, bought her book, and was immediately caught up in the story. It kept me riveted until the end.

 Synopsis: Swimming is Daphne’s one refuge—until the night she finds a body in her pool.

University professor and renowned author Daphne Lessing has never felt at ease in society. But a disturbing occurrence in her once calm and controlled existence suddenly unearths events from her past and thrusts an unusual child into her life.

Ten-year-old Eric has Asperger’s syndrome and is obsessed with fishing and angels. Soon, Daphne finds herself attached to him—and faced with a choice: Does she leave him and return to her solitary, ordered life, trusting others to do right by him, or does she allow this bright child to draw her into the world she has tried to shun? And what about the man that came into Daphne’s life with Eric? Will she be able to shut him out as well?

Welcome, Tanya. Tell us where the idea for this story came from.

I noticed on a walk around my neighborhood in Southern California several years ago that more than a few gates to backyard pools appeared to be unlocked and it got me thinking how easy it would be for someone to sneak in for a free swim during the day while the owners were at work. At first, it was going to be a short story with the trespassing swimmer making a shocking discovery, but then I saw that I could weave it into a larger tale involving Asperger’s syndrome—something I wanted to throw more light on because of my son’s diagnosis at age six. Eric was really inspired by my son.

When did you know you were a writer?

I didn’t really feel I was a writer until I finished my first draft of my first novel, THE RECKONING. Up to that point, I’d piddled around with poetry, lyric writing, and magazine and news articles, but once I’d created a whole story, complete with character arcs and subplots, a whole new world opened up to me in terms of expectations for myself.

What or who are your influences for your writing?

My first influence for my writing came from my father, an author himself. He only ever self-published, but he showed me that it could be done and he believed in me. As far as authors I look up to most, I would have to say Barbara Kingsolver for voice (what she did in The Poisonwood Bible with all those different voices was amazing) and Charles Frazier for description. I’ve always been attracted most to literary fiction and particularly when it’s historical. That’s what I’m eventually aspiring to.

You have published another book, The Reckoning, winner of the 2009 Indie Book Award for Multicultural Fiction and the 2010 Writer’s Digest International Self-Published Book Award for Mainstream/Literary Fiction. Tell us a little about how that book came to be.

I had long had an idea for a coming-of-age type novel set in Baghdad, Iraq based on my own childhood, but I could never seem to find my way into it. Then I attended my father’s writing group with him one weekend and, challenged by him, I decided to try my hand at their writing prompt that day: Write something that includes two true things, one false thing, and throw in a crazy relative. Believe it or not, what I came up with was pretty much the beginning of THE RECKONING (minus the crazy relative), and when his group responded so well to what I had written, I knew I was on my way. This was only three months before the U.S. invaded Iraq, so I wrote that first draft quickly, determined to get the story done about the time of the invasion and use the facts of our attack in the end of the story. By this point, it was no longer a coming-of-age story, but rather a tale of how a grown American woman comes to terms with events from her childhood as the U.S. prepares to bomb Baghdad.

What kinds of books do you like to read?

I read all kinds of books. Right now I’m in the middle of a middle grade novel, “Savvy,” but I’ve also recently finished an historical look at the building of the St. George Temple. I love to read biographies and histories (I recently read a history about the Arabists in the C.I.A., which quoted my father), but mostly I turn to literary fiction and historical fiction. One genre that has never appealed to me is romance, though I’ve come across one or two recently that defied the stereotype and I found worthwhile. Another genre I don’t care for is Horror. I used to indulge in WWII spy novels for what I called my “junk reading,” but I don’t have time for much of it anymore. I do like the action, adventure, and suspense.

What do you find challenging in writing? (And/or) what was the hardest part in writing your books?

My biggest challenge in writing continues to be forcing myself to get going on it on a daily basis. Second to that is doubting myself and whether I truly want to get on what I call the “publishing treadmill” where you then have to produce at least one book a year. I’m a very slow writer (perhaps another reason I admire Barbara Kingsolver) and don’t like to hurry the process.

What has been the most surprising thing you learned from creating your books?Mills_019Business

I’ve been most surprised to find a higher power, if you will—a muse, or divine intervention, even—guiding me and leading me toward the story’s end. Something will occur to me, I’ll put it in the story, and the next thing I know, it has shed a whole new light on some other aspect of the story or led me down an entirely unexpected path. I experienced that a lot in my last book.

Are you working on a new project now?

Yes, I’m doing a final revision on a middle grade fantasy—the first in a series, I hope. I’m nervous because it’s quite different from my other two books, and I’ll probably end up publishing it under a pseudonym. Still, even though it’s fantasy, it’s grounded in reality and it fits with THE RECKONING and A NIGHT ON MOON HILL because it’s fiction that bridges cultures. Given my childhood and background overseas, that’s always a priority for me.

The Magic of Creating

?????????????????“Why do you write?” Most authors hear that question or its near relatives—“With the market so impossible, why on earth do you keep at it?”—over and over and probably ask ourselves that every time we spend a day marketing. I’ve heard a dozen answers, none much more satisfactory than “Just because,” and I don’t suppose my answer is much better, but I can’t resist trying. So here goes.

I see a woman in the distance, her hair flowing in the breeze, standing where I am, in the meadow above the sea. Dreamy, floating on air. When I get home and take pen in hand (not really, but computers sound so mechanical), I enter into her sense of unreality, which I share, and discover she’s from Minnesota. At this point, she emerges from me, Chicago born, with an enduring sense of incredulity at having landed on the Santa Barbara coast.

But once I name her, she acquires her own destiny and I drop away. I don’t know how this happens. I recognize some elements of her story as transformations of my own experience much as we recognize dreams as arising from our hopes and fears. Such transformations are the magic of the unconscious, not to be interfered with. She is Myra and her world is about to collapse. This became HOME FIRES, the novel that was released in December, 2013.

Let her go, and she will take me places my conscious mind never dreamed of or even wanted to go. I saw one heroine heading for adultery, and my conscious mind rebelled. I stopped writing until I gave in and gave her her head. In HOME FIRES, the surprise was of a different, and more amazing, sort. Myra, torn apart by her husband’s infidelity, mortified at her own willful blindness to it, retreats to her art studio. Here she is.


 Myra turned on the light, finally, and stared at the print run, which was, in fact, complete, and she was in no mood to mat either prints or watercolors of sea lions playing in the surf, tide pool creatures, clouds of silver-winged plover—scenes from a life that had vanished. Instead, she taped fresh paper to her drawing board, and soon an oversized hen with disheveled feathers and long scrawny neck appeared from the point of her pen.

“Matilda. That’s surely your name.” She smiled, as she cast the day’s shame and humiliation onto the paper. If Matilda wasn’t art, so what? She brought laugher. “You need company.” She laid the chicken aside and took a fresh sheet. A porcupine. Eyes narrowed, he was calculating the distance to a heron who stood nearby, his long beak in the air. Alphonse. That was the heron. And the porcupine? Rufus. That would do nicely.

Feeling blood flow through vessels that had been numb since morning, Myra drew out still another sheet. Quills flew, striking not only Alphonse but a gull who had the misfortune to fly by. The gull tilted and crashed, giving out a long drawn-out screech. Eustasia, Myra named her, as the gull’s squawking brought Matilda’s head, at the end of her long neck, into the picture, and Alphonse flapped his wings, knocking Rufus over as he took off.

“You’re the clumsiest heron I’ve ever seen,” Matilda remarked.

“Bad knees,” Alphonse answered.

So there they were. An overgrown chicken with too much neck, a porcupine with lousy aim, a gull bristling with quills, and a heron with bad knees. “I think you’re going to be great company,” she told them, taping them in a row above her desk. She sat back and looked at them, her body released from the day.


The adventures of The Rabbleville Varmints, as they come to be called, become an on-going strip throughout the novel. Here is my artist-friend Helen Gregory Nopson’s depiction of them.HomeFires critters

No reader will be more surprised than I was at the sudden emergence of much needed humor in this story. I assure you Myra is the cartoonist, not me. It was as though beneath the level of creativity that created Myra, another emerged.

Why write, you ask? Because it’s magic.

Judy was born, raised, educated and married in Chicago, and raised her family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She went back ????????????????to school as an adult and began to write, winning two writing awards from the university—one for a novel and another for an essay.
Following a divorce, she began teaching academic writing at the University of Michigan and continued at the University of California, Santa Barbara where she was active in developing career paths for non-tenured faculty. Though she continued to write fiction during those years, she published largely professional articles and, finally, a textbook (Engaging Inquiry: Research and Writing in the Disciplines) with colleague, Mark Schlenz.
Judy has now moved to Washington State to write fiction full time and has two other novels published: Nowhere Else to Go and The Inheritors.

A Guide to Manhood

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERABoys want men in their lives as models of what to become, as guides along sometimes shaky paths, and as companions just for sharing. Boys need men in their lives to grow into capable, confident, nurturing men for a strong and secure society. Without realizing it, fifteen-year-old Paul Hansen found what he wanted and needed to climb from youth to manhood. In Turnaround Summer, he gives us an inside peek—with humor, sensitivity, and wisdom—of the magical results from men mentoring boys. Turnaround Summer calls all men to ensure a bright future for our world by becoming that guide to manhood our boys need.

Welcome, Paul. Turnaround Summer is a memoir, a coming-of-age story about you as a teen. What made you decide to write a book about your experiences?

It was words from my faith, where God spoke to me to tell my story of how others helped me on my journey to manhood.  Though there were others in my life, this particular time was hard for me at home, and I needed a sort of wakeup call, that I could overcome the obstacles.

Tell us a little about your father, your relationship with him, and what prompted him to send you to Canada that summer in 1961.

My father was close to me all the years of growing up. He was a successful businessman and divided his time between trying to maintain a home relationship, a marriage and raising three children. The marriage ended in tragedy and reflected in his career; at the time of going to Canada, he was recalling the people and the place where he experienced breakthrough in his own battles, and that life is an adventure in so many forms. He wanted me to focus on unknown horizons, the ruggedness of the wilderness and the people that navigated it, and why they were successful.

My Dad visited there for guided hunting and fishing (with Paul’s mentor Ted Helset) over a number of years. He developed his skills in that venue, from people who did it for a living and a way of life. There reason for being up there was to overcome the hardship, learn from nature, and adapt to its complexity and beauty. It was a rugged life only for the hearty with a sense of survival. Though my Dad came from the depression era, and knew about survival in that arena, he loved the woods and wanted me to share in that, with people that lived it daily.

Paul on boat

What was the most important thing you learned that summer?

That summer, I learned that in the middle of your journey you are offered the opportunity to walk down another trail in a totally unfamiliar environment, experience that, savor the difference and add it to your list of experiences. To respect all walks of life, their loves and desires, hardships and triumphs, and their offer to share with you. Life as we see it is not necessarily the only vantage point. There are so many other opportunities to view the horizon from another perspective.

What is the message you want readers to take away from Turnaround Summer?

The message is that we have so much in our lives of value, share it with the next generation or two or three. They are the inheritors of this world, they need to know that their story will someday be of value if they seize the opportunities we can offer. They are so receptive if we reach into their hearts, and listen to their curiosities.  They only lean into the things that internalize them for lack of another outlet. Challenge them to go beyond the television, the computer, and actually live life outside the box.

Are you working on another book?

Starting a novel with a bit of emotional and romantic background based on things currently materializing in my life.  It has an aspect of relationship, adventure, crisis and tragedy. All of which we experience at one time or another in our lives if we choose to live beyond what we perceive as  “the edge”  This is definitely a work in progress as the rest of the story has not completed itself in my life as yet… But will very soon!

Paul Hansen worked for thirty years as a building contractor in western Washington. Now retired, he enjoys time with his three children, grandchildren, and extended family in the area, gardening, traveling throughout North America, but Paul makes sure he still has time to fish! Paul’s wife Linda of 44 years passed away last April. He says, “I am marrying a beautiful woman from our church, she was widowed 7 months before I was, and mentored me through the grief process. She was a friend of Linda’s, and we actually helped with her husband’s service.  We have been together since last July, and have found commonality in our lives. She is a water color artist, loves music, plays the piano as I do, and I make her laugh a lot with the rest of my stories.”

Linda's 19-lb Silver

Linda’s 19-lb Silver

Turnaround Summer is available on 

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  
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Painful, Beautiful Individuality

by Kathryn Craft, author of The Art of Falling

ArtOfFallingSmallI was fifteen, and I had a legal problem. I stood facing an official representative of the Department of Motor Vehicles, whose role was to fill out my learner’s permit application.

“Last name.”


“First name.”


“Middle name.”

“I don’t have one.”

The woman peered at me over her half-glasses and spoke with the tired expression of one who has heard it all. “No one likes their middle name, but you have to tell me. It’s the law.”

Apparently it hadn’t been illegal for my parents to fail to give me one. How did they know they wouldn’t get their desired boy until child five? They’d run out of girl names they liked.

I shrugged. “Sorry.”

She started to write in the space. I read upside down, hoping not to see the word “Sorry.” She wrote: NONE. This made me feel like a ZERO.

I had a good long heart-to-heart on this matter with my best friend, Ellen, the next day. We were on the upper deck of our neighborhood swimming pool, making fudgies. We’d opened a pack of brownies from the vending machine and rendered plucked-off sections pliable by rolling them between our hands. I was fashioning the body for a little fudgie pig while Ellen and I tried to think up a middle name for me.

I needed something that would make me fit in with all the other three-named people in the country, but at the same time distinctive enough to stand out. When I’d told my mother what had happened she’d been unconcerned; she figured her daughters could use their maiden name in the middle once we get married.

I did not think I should count on that.

It was as if this portion of my identity remained elusive. If I could rename myself by the time I got my real license, it could be official. So I sought Ellen’s advice. But she said, “I don’t know, Kath, you’re the only person I’ve ever met who didn’t get a middle name. It’s kind of exotic.”

“What do you think of Margaret? Kathryn Margaret. I like it better than Ann Margaret, don’t you?”

Ellen thought it over as she lined up her fudge art on the deck railing. I expected Ellen would like the name, because she liked me, and was not the type to lash out with the God’s-honest-truth like members of my family. “Too Catholic. Makes you sound like a nun.”

“Oh.” I realized the huge mistake I could make by renaming myself. If I made a bad decision, I’d have no one to blame but me.

“My dad’s middle name is Weist.”

“Kathryn Weist Graham.” Ellen Patricia tried it on. She didn’t like her own middle name, and never used it. She wouldn’t need one for long—she was beautiful and tan and classy and already had a boyfriend who was nuts about her. “I like that one.”

“But it’s a family name,” I said. “It seems like it should be bestowed, not claimed.” I pressed a little tail to my pig’s behind. “I guess I could just use Nonnie.”

“Nonnie? Where’d that come from?”

“The lady put it on my permit form yesterday: N-O-N-E. You could pronounce that Nonnie, right?”

We laughed. I added my pig fudgie with its drooping tail to Ellen’s svelt snake on the deck railing. The forecasted storm would wash them away, but concerns about fitting in and distinguishing oneself would be themes I’d revisit again in my life.

My artistic aptitude would not end up expressing itself in the realm of edible sculpture—the very next year I discovered dance, then later, writing. But in my choreography and in my debut novel, The Art of Falling, I would continue to explore what defines our individual contribution as an artist—how to be enough like others to fit into the market, and how to be individual enough to be distinctive.

My protagonist, Penelope Sparrow, struggles with this theme in regard to body image. When the strong and resilient body she blames for ruining her dance career saves her life after what should have been a deadly fall, giving her an extraordinary chance to reinvent herself, can she fight her obsessive need to fit in and embrace her individuality boldly enough to leave a distinctive mark on the Philadelphia dance world? Join her, and see!

Kathryn Graham Williams Craft ended up with plenty of names, thank you, but that’s a whole different story. She isCraft_small_photo the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, which was released on January 28 and has already gone back for a second printing, and While the Leaves Stood Still (due Spring 2015). Her work as a developmental editor at, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she now serves on the board of the Philadelphia Writers Conference and as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads Craftwriting workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.

Published in: on February 13, 2014 at 6:54 am  Comments (13)  
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Meet Cowboy Poet Sally Harper Bates

sallyI had the privilege to meet Sally Harper Bates last spring when she moderated a panel on “The Lives of Cowboy Wives” at the Phippen Museum in Prescott AZ. Sally is a [past] ranch wife, a singer/songwriter, a cowboy poet, and a budding novelist. Born in Prescott, Arizona and raised on ranches in Yavapai County, she readily admits her roots have buried themselves so deep in the manzanita and malapai of Northern Arizona she would probably not survive a transplant. Her family stands on 5 generations of ranching roots in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and several members of her immediate family are still involved in ranching, even though she is no longer a ranch resident. She and her husband, Pat, live in Chino Valley on a 4-acre fenced plot that provides at least rural existence. Sally is the author of a children’s series—Cable Carson Cricket, A Cowboy’s Christmas—a story compilation, and Life Between Dust & Clouds—a memoir told in essay and poetry.

Welcome, Sally. How did you get started writing cowboy poetry?

I was raised so far from town that we didn’t have television until I was about 12 or 13 years old, so the family found other ways to entertain ourselves. One of those was a lot of reading, and since we were home-schooled many of our assignments included reading. My grandmother had a solid collection of poetry by Sharlot Hall (early area pioneer), and my dad’s favorite poet was Robert Service, so both of those writers became models for my research and reading. I loved poetry and music from the time I was old enough to pound out a rhythm on a toy piano I got for Christmas. And since poetry and music run together so nicely that just found its way into my life quite readily.  I started writing poetry as assignments for my school projects, but found I wrote a lot of it when I was looking for something to do when riding wasn’t in the mix for the day.

Do you feel poetry is the best way to tell the story of ranch life and the West?Front Cover

Not necessarily, but it’s a very effective way to express the heart of ranching. Stanley Kunitz, American Poet Laureate, wrote something like “If we are to understand what it was like to live in any given time-frame of history it is to the poets we must turn.” I think poetry gives us a unique opportunity to share the heart of the matter in a way that not a lot of people relate to ranching and the cowboy way of life.

Tell us about your first poem, and the first one you had published or received recognition for.

I really don’t remember when I wrote my first poem, but it had to be in grade school. The first one I had published was in Western Horseman a long, long time ago titled “Howdy Rose, Remember Me?”  But I was shortly after that included in a few anthologies such as Cattle, Horses, Sky and Grass published by Northland Press and Graining the Mare collected by Theresa Jordan.

You are a native of Yavapai County in Arizona. Tell us a little about your background.

Dad was a cowboy all his life—worked at the ORO Ranch off and on from the time he was 15 years old, and before that he did day-work for local ranchers. He worked his entire life in the shadow of Hyde Peak near Camp Wood on one side of the mountain or the other. On both sides of my family tree the roots are planted in ranching and farming somewhere in the west. I was raised around cowboys and their families all my life, and being a full time all time resident of Yavapai County most of my friends are ranch folks.

How were you introduced to music?

My Dad played the guitar and the fiddle a little bit, and Mom pecked around on the mandolin, but my real solid introduction came from a couple who worked on a neighboring ranch and came over for potluck and singing several times a year. They bought me my first guitar and taught me a lot. But my dad let me learn chords on his Monterey, and it was he and friends singing cowboy songs and reciting cowboy poetry that got me hooked on the genre. I had a few instructional pointers from folks, but never took any lessons, which is why I still run with the same 14 chords I learned back then.

Tell us how your CD, “Tramontane (From Over the Hill)”, came into being.

Tramontane was a fluke. I have four other albums that all had purpose and planning, and took some time to pull together. I just wanted to do one with some of my favorite songs on it, so that one came together pretty quickly. All my other albums were original songs or once in a while one that a close friend wrote. The title “Tramontane” has the traditional translation of “From over the hill.” If you look it up in the dictionary it means “foreigner”.  Either way, some of the songs came from someplace other than my brain and guitar.

New Christmas coverWhy do you write, what makes you do it?

 Lots of folks have asked that question through the years, and I tried for a long time to come up with some “ethereal” explanation. But my brother in law says all the girls in my family have a disease that causes us to have this intense need to cover any blank piece of paper with words or pictures. It’s called “Whiteitis.” I think that probably explains it as good as anything!  But there is a piece of work by Terry Tempest Williams that is a pretty good list of all the why’s of a writer that I keep a copy of around.

 Tell us a bit about your writing process.

No process . . . just when an idea and one-liner starts running around in my head I grab a piece of paper and write it down. From there if it keeps “niggling” around in there I’ll sit down and work on it and if it comes to fruition it’s usually a poem or the start of some kind of book or short story.  If it stays interesting, I stick with it, time allowing.

Is there a theme or message you want to convey to your readers?

Not really . . . I just write what I love and what I have lived as it comes to mind. I guess part of that writing is a hopeful place that wants others to understand what a special kind of life ranching is, and to give people a different perspective and insight to what happens on ranches.

What authors or books have influenced you?

Without a doubt, Sharlot Hall.  But about 28 years ago I had the privilege of meeting and becoming accepted in a group of Cowboy Christmas covercowboy poets who began to mentor me and encourage me to write poetry. Not to just write it but craft it and work it into something I could be proud of. I can’t say I’ve got that mastered, but I owe a lot to Vess Quinlan, Joel Nelson, Carole Jarvis and Audrey Hankins, and those who are writing real quality poetry that made me want to write like they did.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve lost control of my life and time . . . I’m helping produce a huge project called Home on the Ranch which will be an event that will celebrate and honor ranch women and their talents. It is going to be held in Wickenburg October 3-5 this year. That has completely absorbed my life for several months outside my clinging firmly to my church and ministry as it presents itself. I’ve been trying to write a short novel that is loosely based on an event that happened in our family at the turn of the century, but can’t really find time to get it accomplished. I get up at about 4:30 and most nights lights out end up being around 11 pm . . .  and the computer is my “helpmate” these days. I get cabin fever and have to get outside sometimes, but the work calls me back pretty quickly.

Circles of Deception Probes Crop Circles

by Frances Evlin

CirclesDeceptionInstantly, Risa knew—the man was going to jump.

Thus opens Circles of Deception, my novel about the crop circle phenomena. Risa’s flash of intuition propels her into the world of the circle-makers, individuals with extraordinary mental abilities. And into my long-time favorite unsolved mystery.

To help you understand what I am going to rave on about, please look at photos of these amazing works of art. One such site is It lists them year by year since 1994, three years after they gained worldwide attention, thanks to two retired English gentlemen who claimed they’d made all of them from 1978 to 1991.

Their story is one of the first you will find if you Google crop circles. The formations were not as complex then as they are now, and their confession sounded plausible until I got to the part where they said they made the “grapeshot” small circles by pole vaulting, to avoid leaving paths through the crop. That claim presented a serious credibility gap.

Anyone who looks at recent crop circle formations will see they have progressed far beyond the point where they could be made with a center pole, rope and stomper board.

They are no longer simple circles. In fact, many are not circles at all, but incorporate geometric designs, and representations of animals, birds and other creatures great and small. Those that still feature circles may include 3-D elements (Sugar Hill, August 1, 2007) or intricate floor lays (Etchilhampton, July 25, 2011).

I do not believe these formations are made by ETs. God created the universe and science does not know where it ends. We do know it contains thousands of planets. It is unreasonable to presume that only Earth is populated with intelligent beings. Novelists and screen writers often portray ETs as other than humanoid, but God created man in His image, so we can further presume that Beings from other planets would at least resemble Earth dwellers. However, it equally unreasonable to hypothesize that ETs would venture through space only to leave field art designs that Earth people are unable to interpret.

The designs are much too complicated and precise to be made by weather anomalies.

That leaves only humans as the probable formation makers. Eliminating those designs that are obviously contracted to publicize an event or advertise a product, we are left with other field art of unexplainable origin. A phenomenon, a modern mystery.

So I wondered what sort of individuals could be creating them. They would have to be people who: (1) had an excellent grasp of math, particularly geometry; (2) had some knowledge of architecture, to know how to lay out a pattern, even on hilly ground; (3) were willing to stomp around for hours at night in all kinds of weather; (4) had spouses or family members who did not question their frequent absences; (5) had a reliable vehicle with enough cargo space to haul their tools; (6) were risk-takers, foolish enough not to care about being caught and prosecuted for trespass or criminal mischief; (7) were sufficiently dedicated to their mission to never utter a word about it to anyone other than their circle-making buddies.

It was that last requirement that intrigued me the most. People like recognition. If they create something fantastic, beautiful and/or inspiring, they want the world to know they did it. Remember we are not talking about only one nationality or one ethnic group. Crop circle formations have appeared in twenty-five countries. The network of circle-makers would have to be worldwide. They would want to compare notes, to see who is contemplating what sort of design. Can’t you imagine the jealousy, the hard feelings (anger?) if a group in Country A was all set to put down a never-before-seen pattern only to find a group from Country B had done it within the last twenty-four hours?

What would be the consequences if a group became careless, left telltale footprints, let themselves be seen or otherwise jeopardized the mystery the phenomena needs to survive? Would members of other worldwide groups forgive and forget? Wouldn’t there be serious punishment for the offending group, followed by public denunciation of that group as frauds?

A similar scenario exists for an individual circle-maker who became disenchanted with the whole idea and declared s/he intended to go public. Is there a secret society, ala some university groups, whose threats (physical, social, financial) would force that person to keep quiet?Crop_circles_Swirl

Did the British government set up Operation Blackbird only as a disinformation campaign? Why doesn’t the scientific community seriously seek to solve the origination of the formations instead of declaring all of them hoaxes and ridiculing those who research them?

Those are the thoughts that ricocheted through my mind when I visited the crop circle near Wilbur, Washington in 2007 (simple circles, not a stylized Teddy bear.) Who ARE these people? True, some folks are gifted at creating designs, although why they would choose cereal crops as their medium of expression baffles me. HOW do they escape detection? In over thirty years, and with up to 10,000 formations recorded worldwide, nobody has been prosecuted for trespass and/or criminal mischief? Some of the formations have appeared within sight of a major highway and no motorists noticed someone skulking about in the dark fields? (Wickham Green, July 29, 2010). Amazing!

And where are the “practice” formations? The attempts that turned out to be less than perfect? Once in a while, a poorly executed formation will appear, but the great majority are found in fine shape. This field art cannot be done over. There was no sloppy early version of The Milk Hill Galaxy of August 12, 2001, with its 409 circles of graduating size. And it has not been replicated, in spite of a Crop Circle Challenge offering approximately $160,000 to do so.

I think we have two phenomena here: The tantalizing circles and the mindset of the individuals who create them.

Frances Evlin is the author of eight novels: two mysteries, one YA, and five fantasy. She is a Pacific franceslNorthwest native whose love for creative writing predates her years involved with marriage, children and employment in the lumber industry. She appreciates the power of the English language and enjoys tinkering with words, as you will discover when you read her books. She enjoys reading soft-boiled mysteries, light fantasies and ghostly paranormals. Not sure if she’s an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist, she strives to live up to her motto: Don’t ever get daunted.


Published in: on January 10, 2014 at 6:37 am  Comments (2)  
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The Book I Want to Read Part I

  author photoAmy Hale Auker writes and rides on a ranch in Arizona.  She is the author of Rightful Place, 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction. Her first novel, Winter of Beauty, was released by Pen-L Publishing in October.  You can read a current essay of Amy’s in the January 2014 issue of Cowboys&Indians magazine, on newsstands now.

by Amy Hale Auker

My current Amazon order looks something like this:  the new Ann Patchett memoir about her writing life, The Goldfinch, Paul Harding’s Tinkers, a novel by Lionel Shriver (she’s a woman!), an advance order for Anthony Doerr’s new book, and Howard Zinn’s history of the United States.

My father threw out the television when I was in the fourth grade, but my reading life began long before that.  In fact, I do not remember a time when I could not read and I stared with dismay as Jill and Ted single-syllabled their way through my kindergarten class taught by a recent college graduate.  My father made peace by promising her I would sit still through the lessons if I could read anything I chose.  Then he drove to the nearest big city bookstore, returning to our tiny country parsonage with a bag of books: Charlotte’s Web, the whole Laura Ingalls Wilder series, Five Little Peppers and How they Grew, Anne of Green Gables and many more.  I sat still during class—and lunch and recess and free play and art and any time someone would leave me alone, my brain firmly wrapped in a book.

As writers, we know our writing life is defined by our reading life.  But what defines our reading life?  For the most part, our reading life is informed by libraries.  And libraries are influenced by region and the reading demographic in that area.  Our personal shelves are often defined by season or inner journey with the fluff being donated to the Friends of the Library fundraiser each year.  The shifts in my reading life haven’t always been in a straight upward trajectory, but rather, wind around in loops.  Inspiration to stretch, to read the “hard” books, has often come from surprising places.

I read “The Glass Menagerie” because it was in one of my father’s high school literary anthologies, the same reason I read Poe.  I read The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes twice during junior high when I was tired of Cherry Ames, Grace Livingston Hill, Nancy Drew, books about girls and horses, and Janette Oke.  I discovered Irving Stone when my mother caught me sneaking smutty romance novels, and once again my father made peace. He gave me The President’s Lady which was shelved next to The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Origin, and Lust for Life.  Imagine what would have happened if he had steered me toward John Irving!  I read Heart of Darkness because I was in Academic Decathlon my junior year in high school.

When my life became formulaic and prosaic, so did my reading life.  Too poor to buy books, I was dependent on small town libraries and country librarians.  But still, I devoured the written word.  While pregnant, I read every book on gestation and the birthing process. While nursing, I read about lactation and found out surprising things about humans in general.  When I began to homeschool my children, my reading life took many growth spurts, and I discovered the wonderful world of fantastical literature.  Arthur Ransome, J.K. Rowlings, Brian Jacques, and Jean Craighead George, to name only a tiny few, inspired me.  Of course, also during those years, I embraced simple, sweet, straightforward stories that could hold my brain still long enough for me to drift off into much-needed sleep.

The inspiration to read “hard” books came again the summer my son was fourteen.  He read “The Red Pony” that spring for part of his literature course.  In June we went to the big city library and he showed up at the circulation desk with a huge pile of books.  When I wearily asked him what was going on, he explained to me that he was going to “read every book that man wrote.”  And he did. I hope Steinbeck heard him from the grave. Because of that moment and a series of separate events, I began to, once again, read the hard books.

The last several years for me have been defined by both the reading and the writing.  My exposure to great writing now stands firmly on a foundation of years spent seeking out writers who get the job done, stands firmly on a foundation of my love for language and the poetic use of language.

My journey as a woman has been marked by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Leaning into the Wind, Ride the White Horse Home, the writings of Jean Shinoda Bolen and Maya Angelou, and the weeks I spent reading, The Mists of Avalon—twice.  The evolution of my faith has been marked by the discovery that there are more books of wisdom than the one I was taught from as a child.  My writing life has been influenced by possibly the same books on your shelf:  Cameron, Goldberg, Lamott, Dillard, Strunk and White, et al.

Over the past decade, my reading life got huge boosts from two people and two events.  My non-fiction editor and friend winter of beautyAndy Wilkinson pointed the way to great essayists:  E. B. White (which led to the poet Donald Hall, which led to both Rilke and Rumi), Verlyn Klinkenborg, Merrill Gilfillan, Terry Tempest Williams, and Dan Flores.  Andy directed me to Gretel Ehrlich and Robert Graves.  Hard books, hard reading, but well worth it, both because of their beauty and their aid in developing focus.  Andy gave me my own copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Please join us tomorrow for the second installment of Amy’s reading and writing journey.

Published in: on December 19, 2013 at 6:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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Breaking TWIG a Thought-Provoking Read

8 x 10 updatedby Deborah Epperson

Thanks, Heidi, for inviting me to be your guest today. I’m honored to share some thoughts on your blog about my book, Breaking TWIG.

Set in rural Georgia in the 1960s, Breaking TWIG is a coming-of-age novel about Becky (Twig) Cooper, a young woman trying to survive the physical and emotional abuse of her mother, Helen, a beautiful, calculating woman. Not even Twig’s vivid imagination, keen wit, and dark sense of humor is enough to help her survive the escalating assaults of Helen and a new stepbrother, Donald, but help comes from an unexpected source–Frank, her stepfather.

The first thing readers usually want to know is if the storyline is based on my personal experience? I am quick to say my mother was the polar opposite of Helen. My mother was loving, kind, and supportive. I had a large, wonderful extended family also, but it was my mother, Betty, who encouraged my writing. Mom passed away before Breaking TWIG was published, but she did get a chance to read it. The book is dedicated to her.

The second question I’m asked is what was the inspiration behind the story? Frankly, the idea stems from my college studies. I majored in biology and English and have always been interested in the issue of heredity verses environment in child development. Which one has the most influence on a child? At times, Becky (Twig) worries that she has inherited her mother’s “picker” ways and her gene for chicanery, but Becky also believes having one person who loves and believes in you is all a person needs to keep hope alive. Growing up, both Becky and Henry (a family friend) had one parent who berated and abused them, and one parent who gave them unconditional love and support. Helen had no such love or support system when she was a child. I wanted readers to think about how important the roles of unconditional love and a supportive environment—or the lack of these two influences—are in helping to shape a child’s development into an adult.

The largest writing difficulty was in regards to the changing relationship between Frank and Becky. It shocked some author photoreaders. I hadn’t planned that relationship, but as many writers have said — characters in a novel seem to take on a life of their own. Also, there are racially-charged words that are not politically correct in today’s society, but they were typical of the language used in the Deep South in this time-frame when traditions like segregation were colliding with Civil Rights, integration, and Vietnam.

My goals in writing are to remain true to my characters, and to tell a good story. A story that shows nobody is perfect, life is messy, and we all fail more often than we’d care to admit. But with faith, love, and perseverance, we can find the strength to continue toward our own truth with a bit more forgiveness and understanding for others and for ourselves.

Today, I’m working on a romance-suspense called Caddo Girl. It’s set in Louisiana in the 1970’s. After it’s completed, I’m doing a sequel to Breaking TWIG because so many readers have asked me to continue Becky’s story.  They have actually called me to ask if Johnny and Becky ever got together. I tell them I don’t know. My imagination hasn’t got that far yet.

Thanks for stopping by and have a blessed holiday season.~ Deborah

Thank you, Deborah, for sharing your writing journey with Breaking TWIG. I loved the book and I’m looking forward to reading your next one!

You can find Deborah on her Website, her blog, on Twitter @DDEpperson,  on Facebook, her e-mail, and the book is available in paperback and ebook on Amazon.

Published in: on December 13, 2013 at 6:30 am  Leave a Comment  
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