Round Robin: Favorite Time Period

Round Robin logoThe Round Robin topic for this month is: In what time period do you prefer to set your stories – past, present, or future? What are the problems and advantages of that choice? Would you like to change?

So far, the books I’ve written have taken place in the first half of the twentieth century. My three novels, Cowgirl Dreams, Follow the Dream, and Dare to Dream are all based on my grandmother who rode bucking stock in rodeos during the 1920s and take place in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. My new novel, Seeking the American Dream, is based on my mother who emigrated from Germany after WWII in 1948.

3 book covers

I enjoy writing historical fiction based on family history, because it brings them to life for me. Some of it I remember, but doing research on the era is also an enjoyable endeavor for me.

Life in the early 1900s was difficult in many ways, especially when compared to our modern conveniences of today. They had no electricity and no running water, so part of my ancestors’ day was spent carrying water from a well or reservoir, chopping wood or gathering coal for heating, and cooking everything “from scratch.” My grandmother and mother were not able to grab a cake mix from the shelf and whip up a cake in 30 minutes or less. Ingredients, such as flour and sugar, were purchased in bulk a couple of times a year, and eggs were gathered from the hen house. The wood or coal-burning stove had to be fired up, fed, and stoked and then the timing had to be perfect to judge the right temperature to bake the cake or bread or roast the meat.

SeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2It was a simpler and more peaceful time, however, with no TVs or computers or cell phones blaring the bad news of the day. Family was foremost, but neighbors helped each other with work and food and camaraderie during harvest, branding calves, or shipping time. Evenings were spent with family, reading, mending, listening to music or radio programs, and planning the next day.

While we live in exciting times, sometimes I miss the “good old days,” even though life was hard at times.

I am working on novels now that are more contemporary, and I’m having fun with those as well. In some ways, they’re easier to write because I know more about the period, but also because these are pure fiction, not based on family history.

Which are your favorite eras to read?

Please visit the following blogs to find out what time period other authors enjoy writing about:

Marie Laval
Anne de Gruchy
Skye Taylor
Dr. Bob Rich
Anne Stenhouse
A.J. Maguire
Judith Copek
Victoria Chatham
Beverley Bateman
Marci Baun
Helena Fairfax
Diane Bator
Rhobin L Courtright


Prairie Fire!

by Heidi M. Thomas

Prairie firePhoto courtesy

Lightning strikes, a glow forms on the horizon, the smell of smoke wafts on the wind. Prairie Fire!

This scenario strikes fear in the hearts of ranchers everywhere, and this fear was realized recently in eastern Montana near where I grew up. The Lodgepole Complex Fire near Sand Springs eventually encompassed 270,000 acres, burned miles of grazing land, haystacks, outbuildings, and killed some livestock.

Here in north-central Arizona, where I now live, the Goodwin Fire in June also devastated 28,000 acres, closed a main highway, and evacuated residents for several days.

In my new novel, Seeking the American Dream, I have a fictionalized composite scene of this feared wrath of Mother Nature, when Neil and the neighbors battle a prairie fire on their ranch and Anna fears they will lose their home.

praire fireline

Photo courtesy

Excerpt From: Seeking the American Dream

As they approached within ten miles of the ranch, yet another huge bolt of lightning crashed into the earth along the horizon. Anna thought she saw flames flicker in the distance.

“Prairie fire.” Neil punched the accelerator to the floor. Then, nothing, just the blackness of the night sky.

Anna breathed a small sigh of relief. Maybe it had been a reflection of the lightning strike against the clouds.

A sudden gust of wind stirred the stillness in the air, and dust swirled in the headlights. Then flames leaped again from the same spot. Anna gasped. In minutes the hillside glowed and smoke rose as the dried grass caught and the fire spread.

“Is it…it isn’t our place, is it?” Anna couldn’t breathe with the fear that gripped her.

“It won’t come our way.” Neil’s voice was firm with conviction, but his knuckles turned white around the wheel…


It was only a half-mile from their house. Anna heard the flames crackle. Her nose closed and her eyes watered from the astringent smoke.

“I’m going to get the tractor and plow a firebreak.” Neil jumped out of the car. “You’ll have to carry buckets of water and wet down the roof, in case it heads this way.”

Anna ran to the house, carrying Monica who now screamed in fright. “Honey, it’s okay.” Anna tried to control her quavering voice. “Here, you can lie down in Mama’s bed and look at these books. I have to go to the well and get some water. You stay right here.”

“No, Mommy. You stay.” Monica sobbed and clutched at Anna’s neck.

“Honey, you’re all right. Mommy will be right back. Look at the book. It’s your favorite, see? Three Little Pigs.” She tucked the blanket around her daughter’s shoulders. Oh, please stay put. Dear Lord, watch over her.

SeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2Anna grabbed the drinking bucket from the kitchen cupboard and ran out into the wind. Her skirts whipped around her legs and her hair lashed her face. She pumped a bucketful of water. Now, where was the ladder? She scuttled toward the house, crablike, grasping the heavy bucket in both hands, water sloshing down her dress. It would take forever to wet down the roof. She had to find a faster way. What do I do? Anna looked wildly around and focused on the galvanized bathtub. She pulled it around the side of the house and ran to the granary, where she found the ladder and an armload of gunnysacks. She dragged the ladder to the house, then went back for the sacks. Throwing them into the tub, she dumped the bucket of water on top and ran for another.

The fire thrust intense orange, hungry fingers high against the inky sky and rode the crest of the hill on the other side of the county road. Anna’s eyes stung from the smoke haze. Her throat ached. Vehicles with their tanks of water in the back sprayed the flames. Someone had joined Neil with another tractor, plowing a firebreak. The men looked like black stick figures silhouetted in the wavering glow that lit the sky like a sunrise. The heat flushed Anna’s face.

She grasped several soaked gunnysacks, climbed the ladder, and spread them over the roof. Between trips, she ran into the house to make sure Monica stayed put, terrified she would wander outside to find her mommy. The little girl whimpered, but lay in the big bed, wide-eyed, holding a book to her chest. It was as if she sensed the danger and knew this was a safe place.

“Good girl. Just stay there, Mama is right outside.”

One eye on the fire, Anna climbed up and down the ladder, her pink dancing dress now stained and wet. Then she felt the wind on her face and watched in horror as it switched direction. As if sprouting glowing wings, the fire jumped the road. Now it was headed their way.

She watched the men struggle to turn the fire. Just as they started another fire line, the wind gave a violent push and the fire jumped over. Men beat at the burning brush and grass with wet gunnysacks, trying to contain the spread. The wildfire twisted and turned, a living entity, consuming the dry prairie grasses.

Anna twisted her ruined skirt in one fist. This couldn’t be happening. Would they lose their pastureland and their house, too?

Seeking the American Dream is the first in the “American Dream” series, the next generation of the Moser family we met in the “Cowgirl Dreams” series. This book is based on my mother who emigrated from Germany after WWII. The book is available autographed from my website or through Amazon.


My Mother Seeks the American Dream

When my husband and I moved from Missoula, Montana to western Washington in 1996, I thought it would be an easy transition. We were both ready for a change, a great job became available for him, and I was a freelance writer. I could do that from anywhere.

But I was surprised at how difficult it was for me to adjust, become acclimated, and feel at home there. Everything I’d known changed—new grocery stores, new doctors, and new friends. I kept thinking, what must it have been like for my mom, who emigrated from Germany in 1948 after WWII?

I moved only a few hundred miles, the language and culture was the same, and we did actually have some acquaintances there before the move.

Mom photo hi resMy mother came from an urban setting, where—at least before the war—they enjoyed electricity and indoor plumbing, and cultural experiences such as concerts and plays. She moved to extremely rural eastern Montana with no running water and an outdoor privy—the “middle of nowhere” where the nearest town was close to a hundred miles away—to live with the in-laws for nearly three years. She knew very little English, the culture was different, and people still considered Germans “the enemy.” Plus, she knew no one, except her fiancé, a man she hadn’t seen for two years!

A move like hers took a great deal of courage. I remember my nervousness when I went from my ranch home to college in the “big city” of Missoula, Montana. And I got to go home for quarter breaks and holidays. It was ten years before Mom was able to go back to Germany to visit her family.

All of these thoughts and questions ran through my mind until I was compelled to sit at my computer and write her story. I fictionalized it, so I could “fill in the blanks,” and with fiction, the author can create an ending that is the way it should have beenSeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2.

It has been twenty years since I started writing my mother’s story, and Seeking the American Dream is finally published! It was not the right timing until now. I needed to study and learn my craft, to continue to make it better, and chronologically, it follows the “Cowgirl Dreams” series I wrote, based on my rodeo cowgirl grandmother.

Mom died thirty years ago, but I hope she would be proud of the results. You were a strong, brave woman, and I’ve always admired you.

Seeking the American Dream is available as an e-book and in print from Amazon and autographed copies through my website.

Advance Reviews:

“With beautifully researched detail, haunting descriptions, and the authentic language of the heart, Heidi Thomas’s Seeking the American Dream is a classic immigrant’s tale, a domestic drama that shows the rebuilding of the world as planned at the kitchen table, enacted in the fields, and put into action in the financial, emotional, and psychological details of daily life. A story of longing—and finally of belonging—we see one woman’s dream become the fulfillment of the American dream one step at a time.”

– Mara Purl, best-selling author of the Milford-Haven Novels

“Seeking the American Dream is such a beautiful, heartwarming book! It was a pleasure to read about Anna’s quest for her dream. I didn’t just enjoy it, I loved it! Heidi Thomas has a way of building suspense that just kills me. Readers will love it as much as I do.” –Carol Buchanan, award-winning author of “The Vigilante Quartet” series

“Once again, I open the pages of a Heidi Thomas novel and I’m transported to another time and place. From post WWII Germany to the sometimes-brutal Montana ranch life, Seeking the American Dream explores one woman’s journey as she faces impossible odds to live her dream. Ms. Thomas is excellent at period literature. You won’t be disappointed.”—Brenda Whiteside, Author of The Love and Murder Series
Synopsis: As a nurse, Anna Schmidt deals with the aftermath of a war-torn Germany on a daily basis. The destruction and suffering of WWII frame her existence until she meets American GI, Neil Moser. His stories of ranch life in Montana, his quiet kindness and compassion, and the attraction that blossoms give her hope for a different life. Before their relationship develops, Neil is suddenly shipped out of Germany, and Anna is left with nothing but a yearning for what might have been.

Anna’s dreams are renewed when Neil writes to declare his love and propose that she join him in America as his wife. After two years of endless paperwork, she is finally on American soil. But will Anna be able to overcome the language barrier and harsh Montana ranch life, to gain acceptance from his parents, and form a family in a country that still considers a German the enemy?

Book 1 in the American Dream series and the next generation of the Moser family.

Women to Match Our Californio Mountains


by Anne Schroeder

maria-ines-coverThe Spanish women of California have been popularly portrayed by Hollywood as vapid fashionistas or dark-eyed flirts peering over their fans at smitten suitors. In fact, these women were strong helpmates in a new land. In the early 1870s, interviewers under the direction of historian Hubert Howe Bancroft set out to record the memories of many aging Spanish widows. These anecdotal stories revealed amazing recall of dates, names and events that had occurred decades earlier. Girls were reared to be vivacious and charming, and they used their charm to bring down unpopular governors and uncover plots by their servants. They defied their Yanqui invaders by hiding bandidos, the true sons of the land, under their ball gowns, or in one case, in their birthing bed.

They were daring horsewomen. They slept on stiff cattle hides and made do without luxuries because the Spanish supply ship only arrived once a year. They were surprisingly robust when it came to childbearing. In many of the early families, 20-25 children born by a single mother survived childhood. Resolute in their Catholic faith and determined to be good examples to their Indian servants, they flourished in the remote outpost of California.

Every school kid knows the story of Sacagawea, leading the Lewis and Clark expedition across half a continent with a newborn baby and a sick husband. Then there’s Pocahontas, savior of the English colony and, later, wife of John Rolfe. After she was baptized under the Christian name of Rebecca, she became the toast of English aristocracy until her death at 22. But can you name another strong Indian woman?

I set out to write a series about a California native woman from a little-known tribe of Mission Indians. The Salinans lived in an area of sagebrush, forest and bottomland with a north-flowing river that runs from the Santa Lucia Mountains of the Central Coast to Monterey Bay, through what would later be known as the Salinas Valley.

Maria Inés was conceived as a result of rape by one of the soldados taxed with guarding the Mission. She is a native “everywoman” who endured in silence while she tried to assimilate her ranchería (village) traditions and her belief in the pagan god Cooksuy and the lesser gods of rain, sun and soil, with the demands made of the new white God that the padres brought. She was taken from her family before the age of 10 and placed in a monjério, a room with other unmarried girls and women who had not found a husband. Here they were trained by a trusted Spanish señora to spin, weave, wash clothes and groom themselves modestly in order to become fit wives and productive Spanish subjects.

For Maria Inés and her Indian sisters, California became a dangerous place. The Missions were the de facto inn keepers for travelers along El Camino Real, the long wagon track that led from Baja California. Strangers stopped for hospitality every night. Her blood was strong enough that she didn’t succumb to any of the white man’s diseases that decimated most of her people.


Anne writes memoir and historical fiction set in the West, especially California, including many anne-at-cuesta-parkpublished short stories and essays. She and husband now make their home in Oregon where they share a passion for old ruins and out-of-the-way places.  If you want to learn more, ask your library to stock a copy. Maria Inés is published by Five Star Press, in hardbound in bookstores, Amazon and libraries. Cholama Moon is another novel in the Central Coast Series. Both are available on Kindle.



Dishwater Tree Grows From Seed of Conversation

dishwater treeSeveral months ago, I had the opportunity for a sneak preview of Angela Janacaro’s debut novel, The Dishwater Tree, and enjoyed the story so much. Now that it is out, I wanted to share her journey with my readers.

Welcome, Angela. Where did this story come from?

Thank you, Heidi. This story came to me by way of a ninety-two year old woman who happened to mention a trip she and her husband were taking back to the Miles City, MT area to view her childhood homestead. When she returned I asked what she had seen and her reply was, “The only thing left was my mother’s dishwater tree.” Although I had never heard such a description of a tree, I knew immediately what it meant and it struck a chord with me and ignited my imagination.

 Have you always wanted to write? How did you get started?

I have always written, but never considered myself a writer. For me writing has always been a way to express something I am unable to verbalize. When I started having children, my writing increased exponentially because I had so many emotions for my children and my life as a stay-at-home mother. I began writing after the children’s bedtime and during naptime as a creative and emotional outlet. I also enrolled in an adult education course for writing. It met every month and I was required to bring something to class which set the sideboards on what I could realistically accomplish during the month. The most difficult aspect of the class was sharing what I had written with others because it felt so deeply personal to me. After a few classes, I discovered people responded well to my words and stories and it gave me the confidence to believe there was a novel in the pages I had written.


What did you learn from writing The Dishwater Tree? And what would you like your readers to learn from it?

Writing this book was such a wonderful experience! I know it sounds cliché, but it amazes me a seed of an idea could be given to me by way of a conversation with a friend, and it could grow into the story of The Dishwater Tree. I learned the emotions, situations and characteristics I write about are universal and embraced by anyone who reads this book. First and foremost, I want the readers of The Dishwater Tree to be immersed and entertained. Secondly, if a reader takes anything from the story I hope it is the feeling that life is beautiful. If we all had the privilege to make it to the epilogue of our own lives I think we would find both the bad and the good meant something, and brought us, and those we loved full circle.    

 Who is your favorite character, and why?

Hmmm….tough question because I love them all! It’s almost like answering which of my four children I love the most. My favorite character is Josephine Rourke. She is everything we all aspire to be; beautiful, rich, kind and loving. Yet, she also endures terrible hardship and loss which is something we can all relate to in our own lives.     

Do you write in chronological order or do you bounce around within the manuscript?

I have been asked that question many times and I can understand why because it’s almost as if there are two novels under one cover. I wrote the story from prologue to epilogue. While I was writing a chapter with Josephine and Jimmy in 1922 I knew what would have to happen in the following chapter with Worthy and Marie in 2002. Because the characters are so intertwined, the thought process flowed easily for me. I am almost embarrassed to admit this, but because I am such a rookie writer, I did not even use an outline.

 What books or authors have most influenced your life most?

The book, Dancing at the Rascal Fair by Ivan Doig because of its sweeping descriptions of the Montana landscape and raw human emotions. The author, Mildred Walker because her characters are so relatable and her writing style is clean and concise.

 What is the wisest thing anyone has said to you?AngelaJanacaroMed

“You’ll never know until you try.”

 How did you find your publisher, Raven Press?

My sister knew that I had a manuscript hidden away in a desk drawer and that I had never done anything with it because I really didn’t know what to do. She shared a newspaper article about Janet Muirhead Hill and Raven Publishing. I sent in a query, and the rest is history.

 Do you have another writing project underway?

I do! I am working on a book about a lifelong best friend relationship which is tested because of poor decisions made earlier in life and truths left untold.

The Dishwater Tree is available through Raven Publishing and

Synopsis: It’s 2002, and Worthy Chambers’ days are as numbered as the leaves on the dishwater tree at the end of Confederate Lane. Her final wish is to know who left her on the orphanage’s steps nearly eighty years ago. With few clues to follow and the clock ticking, her daughter Marie agrees to help in the search. Life-long questions are answered, love is rekindled, and secrets are revealed.

Alternating chapters take the reader back to 1922 to share in the life of Josephine Rourke, a young woman pledged by her parents to marry a hot-tempered man she doesn’t love. Meanwhile, a young Irish activist for the copper miners of Butte, MT, flees to Wallace, Idaho, to escape the threat of death. When he and Josephine fall in love, trouble brews for both of them.
The weeping willow tree on a barren hill in Miles City, Montana, plays a part in the hopes and dreams of three generations.


On Retreat in the Huachuca Mountains

portraitArletta Dawdy writes from Northern California but her heart is in the 19th century American West. When immersed in the stories of strong, independent women, she has been known to get lost in their adventures. Arletta’s social work background lends itself to character development. Her extensive travels in the Southwest add believability to her settings. HUACHUCA WOMAN and BY GRACE are the first two books in The Huachuca Trilogy.

On Retreat

by Arletta Dawdy

A time for contemplation.  Time to recharge my batteries.  Time to take inspiration from the setting.  A time to let go of daily issues, routines and people. Such were my goals in heading to southeast Arizona on a six week retreat of my own design.

I write about the Huachuca Mountains. My stories were born here on vacation and research trips by living in the area, breathing in its history and beauty, listening for the tales of bygone people.  Over the years I photographed, kept journals and wrote the first two novels of the Huachuca Trilogy while in the locale and away from it. Every so often, I had to return to engage my muse, sharpen her perceptions and find the voices of my characters once again.

The story ideas found roots and growth on the high peaks washed by wind, rain and snow. Songbirds, butterflies and sixteen varieties of hummingbirds gave color and sound among the ancient oaks and silvered sycamores. Following Ramsey Creek opened the doors to my imagination with Chiricahua Apaches, Buffalo Soldiers, miners, loggers and homesteaders peopling the canyons, cliffs and desert floor.

In returning to the Huachucas this past spring, I immersed myself in the timeless domain where wandering deer and courting turkeys came to my doorstep several times a day.  Turkey gobbling heralded each new morning.  Late afternoon found a young deer tackling the hanging bird feeder, standing on his hind legs and snatching seeds from the rim. He honed his talent as the days went by. Three peacocks owed their existence to a sixty year history of ancestors introduced by a local rancher. No doubt his bride instigated the idea. These will be the last for all three are male, one of whom favored sitting on the carpenters horse at the edge of the driveway.

Arriving home one evening, a javelina escorted me to the cabin.  Also called peccaries or skunk pigs, javelinas are native to thehuachuca woman cover Americas, have a harsh odor and sharp tusks. My apprehension built as he neared the cabin and I worried that he’d go for the scattered feed or otherwise take up residence at mine! Instead he continued on his way, heading for the creek without a look back.  The next day, the javelina demanded a presence in my work; a fearless young boy appeared in Rose of Sharon, my WIP, seeking a “doggie” from a gathering of javelinas.  The child has no apprehension about the animals but the adults who gather fear for his safety and it is Rose who first knows of his danger and saves him.

Watching spring fill trees and bushes with new leaves and blossoms renewed my sense of place with deeper connectivity and intensity. Walking about the mountains, kicking at mineral-laden rocks led to a scene in which White Buffalo makes a bracelet charm for Rose. These story threads hadn’t occurred to me sitting at my computer at home in Northern California. They took off from my retreat experience, thoughts and dreamtime in the quietude of the setting.

My manuscript had been dragging with a lack of focus and motivation in the heroine. I knew, in my head, the conflicts she faced,  but they lacked the energy and vitality of well-written prose. It was as if, at home, I couldn’t feel these things and, therefore, my character couldn’t.  My words were flat, lacking affect, and so I had come up empty for long blocks of time.  The connectivity I sought evolved from “getting into the skin” of my characters and opening myself to convey who they truly are. That happened on retreat.

Written during a three-day retreat at the Russian River, close to home.

How do you recharge your writing batteries?

Meeting and sharing with other writers?

Going to nature and solitude?

HUACHUCA WOMAN is a work of historical fiction set in Southeast Arizona from 1886 to 1961. A veranda rail breaks. Barn filth is turning to dust. A rattler’s nest needs clearing. Peeling paint on the old house demands attention. At 75, Josephine Nichols hasn’t been up to caring for the Lazy L Ranch. She’s thinking of selling out when spring break 1952 brings the Nichols cousins to the ranch and its matriarch. Recording the treasured stories of border life as only Jo can tell them, they get more than they dreamt of, bargained for or knew. Jo’s love of the land and family are keys to her life-story. She tells of lost loves; of fears and fights against abandonment; dangerous bouts of depression threaten her stability; and guilt walks with her through too many years. The stories are framed against borderlands events and characters: Pancho Villa, Geromino, Mexican Revolution and WW1. A pact develops between the threesome to insure that the ranch endures. Nine years later, as Jo is put to rest at Sentinel Rock, The Lazy L Historical Ranch is a vibrant learning center for the preservation of the history, cultures and legends of Cochise County, not the least of which is of the HUACHUCA WOMAN.

BG Cover photoBY GRACE traces the heroic journey of young Grace Pelham as she travels geographically and psychologically into the Far West of the late 1890’s. Following her father’s death, she leaves Albany on a quest to find her vocation and stumbles into unexpected troubles and rewards. Thrust out on her own, she must escape the threat and murderous accusations posed by her benefactress’ nephew. With changing identities, fearsome obstacles and personal challenges along the way, Grace profoundly affects and is affected by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a married man and his family, a lost child, Jane Addams, a male-dressing horse woman/prospector, a rigid minister and his tightly corseted wife, the Irish mob, and Chinese friends. When her nemesis confronts her in a syphilitic haze, threatening to kill her and a loved one, Grace prevails. Her signatory “By Grace” is applied to her jewelry designs. The Blue Opals of southeastern Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains promise opportunity and a new life.

Meet WILLA Award Author Janet Fox

Janet Fox’s Young Adult novel, Forgiven, was a WILLA Literary Award Finalist in the Forgiven with awardWomen Writing the West’s 2012 competition, and it is a story well-deserving of this award. This is a companion novel to Faithful, which takes place in Yellowstone Park in Montana.

Synopsis: Flirting on the edge of danger, Montana girl Kula Baker finds herself on the streets of San Francisco, alone but for a letter of introduction. Though she has come to the city to save her father from a cruel fate, Kula soon finds herself swept up in a world of art and elegance – a world she hardly dared dream of back in Montana, where she was no more than the daughter of an outlaw. And then there is the handsome David Wong, whose smiling eyes and soft-spoken manner have an uncanny way of breaking through Kula’s carefully crafted reserve. Yet when disaster strikes and the wreckage threatens all she holds dear, Kula realizes that only by unlocking her heart can she begin to carve a new future for herself.

Welcome, Janet, and congratulations again on your award. Tell us how Forgiven evolved. Did you start with the idea of writing a story centered around the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake or with the character?

I began with the character – although I’ll confess that setting forms an integral part of my author photoearly process. Kula is a secondary character in my first novel, Faithful, and I fell in love with her. But she’s a tough character, and initially my editor was leery; she worried that readers wouldn’t be able to connect with her. When I submitted the draft, I’m happy to say Jen changed her mind – or maybe Kula changed Jen’s mind.

I do like to create events in my historical world/fictional world that would interest readers beyond the story arc, and in that sense, taking Kula to San Francisco at the time of the great earthquake seemed like a perfect fit. Kula’s world is shaken to its foundations metaphorically and literally.

What made you decide on the genre of young adult historical romance?

I’ve been writing most of my life but my early projects were all for adults. It wasn’t until my mother died, and I found among her papers a stack of unpublished children’s stories, that I realized that my voice is that of a young person. I guess you could say I suffer from arrested development. As for historical, I’ve always loved history, and it seemed to fit the character of Maggie in Faithful, who popped into my head one day as I was taking a walk, and then she just wouldn’t leave me alone. And the romance: aren’t all young women obsessed with romance? I know I was, so I just put myself back in those shoes and relived all the aches and pains and desires I had as a teen.

Faithful high resAnd why the setting of Montana?

That walk I was taking? That was here in Montana one summer day when we were in our cabin in the mountains. Maggie wormed her way into me through the magic of those mountains. And then I had to send her to Yellowstone, which is both beautiful and treacherous, because what she was living through had to push her way outside her comfort zone. Again the setting resonated with the underlying theme.

Kula began in Yellowstone because that’s where we meet her in Faithful, and her core values and ideas are formed as a result of her upbringing there and then in time spent in Bozeman.

What is the insight you, as an author, received from writing these books and what do you hope your readers will take away?

Interesting question. I don’t consciously look for my theme up front when I begin a new project; I always start with a character and a snip of a situation. I never know what will evolve from that. It’s only in the later stages of drafting that I begin to identify my “theme” – what my readers might take away, what Thomas McCormack calls the “master-effect” – so that I can tie imagery and symbolism together to make a resonant whole. Each of my novels does something different in that regard.

I suppose, though, that what I’m doing when I write is searching for meaning. I’m looking for answers. I guess if I ever really find those answers, I’ll stop writing; and for the moment I have no plans to stop writing.

Do you have a favorite author who has inspired you?

I have many. From Dickens, I’ve tried to learn the art of the cliff-hanger. From Austen, the beauty of the perfect sentence. Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games), crafts constant tension; M.T. Anderson (The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing) does historical with rich resonance and veracity; Tolkien constructs evocative settings; Hemingway writes lean and spare; Joyce writes with poetry. I admire many, many contemporary kidlit authors: Maggie Steifvater, Rita Williams-Garcia, Laurie Halse Anderson, John Green, Laini Taylor, Gary Schmidt, Polly Horvath, Richard Peck, Judy Blundell….I could go on and on.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

When I was in third grade.

Seriously, my third grade teacher sent a poem I wrote to the town paper, and when I saw my name in print, that was it. I was hooked, and never stopped thinking about becoming a writer.

Have you mentored other writers?

Yes, I hope so! I’ve given critiques as donations for various charities, and I’ve spoken at many writers’ conferences. I taught high school for four years and I love encouraging young writers; a young woman here locally won a contest that included my mentorship, and she has great talent and promise. I like to encourage writers. But I do have to limit the amount of time I give away, because I have many projects waiting for me.

What advice do you have for kids who aspire to write?

Read. Read all the time. Search for support and don’t be discouraged – it takes time to build skills. When you’re ready, study the craft. Find a support network – I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) early in my career, and the advice and information I gathered there was crucial. Keep writing, and try writing different things in different genres; you might find your voice in picture books or in poetry or in westerns. Don’t give up.

Your third YA novel, Sirens, is now available. Is this part of your series or is it a Sirens front cover.indddeparture?

Sirens is a definite departure. For one thing, it’s set in 1925 New York. For another, it’s slightly edgier than the first two, with gangsters and Prohibition, and a missing brother who may or may not be dead and who may or may not be a ghostly presence.

What project are you working on now?

I have three projects in various stages, and they are a real departure for me. Two of them are middle grade fantasies (although one does have historical elements) and the third is a young adult science fiction novel. I move back and forth between them as I finish drafts, or as my agent is reading. I don’t like to be idle.

You are traditionally published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin. How difficult was it to land that first contract? And do you have an agent?

I do have an agent, Alyssa Eisner Henkin, and I’ve been with her since before she sold Faithful. She is instrumental in focusing my career. She came from the editorial world, so she is hands-on with my projects, giving me lots of feedback and nurturing them until they are ready to sell. I had sold my very first book, Get Organized Without Losing It (Free Spirit Publishing, 2006), on my own, but I’m thrilled to have Alyssa on my team.

Learn more about Janet on her Website.

The other two important things I did for my career was join SCBWI, and I went back to school (Vermont College of Fine Arts) for my MFA in writing for children. Both of those steps took me from a wanna-be writer to a serious and committed author. I’ve been lucky, but I’ve also been determined to grow and learn, and that’s really what it takes.

Meet the Author: Marcia Melton


My guest this week is Marcia Melton, whose debut novel, The Boarding House, was just released by Raven Publishing Inc. Although written for middle grade readers, I was caught up in this story of survival. Marcia has captured the flavor of the early 1900s in the rough-and-tumble mining towns of Montana.


The lives of eleven-year-old Emmie Hynes and her twelve-year-old brother, Conrad, are changed forever when a tragic mining accident kills their beloved Papa. Forced to bid a numb farewell to their home and friends in Butte, Montana, they move into a dilapidated boarding house in Philipsburg, a small town across the mountains. When Mama finally gets the boarding house shined up and running smoothly, and Emmie and Conrad are beginning to fit into their new community, a financial crisis threatens them with homelessness. Join Emmie and Conrad in the tumultuous world flavored with political intrigue, the fight for women’s suffrage, dangerous mining practices, and labor conflicts in 1914.

Marcia, congratulations on your young readers’ novel! Tell us where the idea and inspiration came for this book.

I grew up in Montana and for me, it is a place rich in family history and stories. Like many people (no matter where their place of roots is), I wandered to many other places, but now that I am able to spend more time in Montana, the stories are bubbling. There is a vast kaleidoscope of material here for me – both family stories and the stories of Montana in general.

I visited the small town of Philipsburg, Montana, where my great-great grandmother had run a boarding house and lo and behold, the building was still standing! When I stood in front of its weathered wood façade, a story just hopped out!

Why did you decide to write for young readers?

As a child, books and libraries were magical places for me. In the best of times, they held adventures and friends, and in the hardest of times, they held solace. My career was spent as a librarian and a teacher of children’s literature so a children’s book is comfortable territory for me.

I’ve always loved history and historical fiction which can truly resonate and make history come alive for young readers. Stories connect us (readers of all ages) through time to the history that has brought us to “now.”

I certainly can identify with you about the magic of libraries!

How much of the book is realistic?

The setting is in real places – Butte, Philipsburg, Anaconda, and Helena, Montana. The characters are fictional as are many of the events. As happens in writing, I think, I used memories and people from my family for my inspiration, but when I got into it and the story got going, it took on a life of its own and magically galloped along. By then, I was just glad to be along for the ride.

I did thorough research so that the story, dates, and events which occur within the context of the story would be accurate. The backdrop of mining and labor struggles, the suffrage movement, the events of 1914, the State Fair, and Jeannette Rankin’s leadership and speeches in favor of suffrage are all things which I researched to be able to accurately weave them into the story.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

In many ways, I feel as though I am always learning to consider this. It is humbling. However, I’ve always like to write. Even in writing journals, letters, poems, and small stories, the hours would fly by and it felt like a special place to be where one could both “tell” and also “reflect.”

My grandfather, who was a small town newspaper columnist and poet for many years in Dillon, Montana, wrote me a letter on my 16th birthday in which he said, “Try to be a writer…[there is] a touch of class there.” I have that letter framed and sitting on my desk. Sixteen to now is, for me, quite a long time. Still trying!

Who/what motivates you to write?

When writing fiction, the best motivation is that feeling of entering another world, somehow crossing an imaginary threshold to see what will happen as the story and the characters take on a life of their own and “become real” (as in The Velveteen Rabbit).  Time at one’s desk, or in the old green easy chair where I sit, keeps one world at bay, while another world beckons.

When working on researched writing such as articles, essays, or nonfiction, the interest and learning that comes from research, the treasure hunt aspect, is surely motivating.

Overarching all is that writing gives a way to share and connect with fellow lovers of ideas, books, and stories.

Are there any writers (living or dead) that have influenced you?

In the field of children’s historical fiction, the standard bearers for me are Katherine Paterson, Karen Cushman, Patricia Reilly Giff, Lucy Maude Montgomery, and Deborah Hopkinson.  That being said, my all time favorite writer for children is E.B. White and for adults is Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

What do you find particularly challenging in writing?

Three words best answer this – Stick To It. I don’t know if having a “wandering mind” is a phenomenon for all writers… but for me, this is both a wonderful blessing and a challenge. Corralling my wandering mind to focus on working on the story at hand, instead of dreaming up new ones can be my biggest hurdle.

Do you have advice for beginning writers?

Those three words “Stick To It” are surely applicable again and at the same time, to follow your dreams and let the stories carry you away. Knowing that there will always be readers out there who need and want to sink into a good story (like we did growing up and all through life). The formats may vary and change, but the power of story-sharing stays the same. It connects us and for all writers, but especially for beginning ones, turning on this light gives a beacon and keeps us on the path. The integrity of staying with the story is first and then one can enter the whole bailiwick of the publishing world with the gem of your story in hand.

There are many publishing avenues available to beginning writers and creative ways to bring one’s words to the public. I felt very grateful to find a fine-quality, small, independent publisher, Raven Publishing, Inc. of Norris, Montana.
Are you working on another project?

Ideas are popping like popcorn and I hope to be able to write more Montana historical fiction for middle grade readers. This summer brought trips to two history-filled places in Montana — Fort Benton with visions of 1860’s steamboats along the levee, and Bannack with gold rush fever. I am hoping some characters and stories await here.

Where is the book available?

The book can be obtained at:, Baker and Taylor Books, Follett Library Resources, Bookstores throughout Montana, and


I am a librarian and former teacher of children’s literature. My family roots echo back to the 1880’s in Montana in the Butte, Dillon, Philipsburg, Fort Benton, and Bears Paw mountain country. I have worked in many education settings from Head Start to higher education in Arizona, Montana, and New Zealand. I am glad to now be living back and forth between Arizona and our family cabin by the Gallatin River in Montana. 


Part II: Louise Lenahan Wallace

My guest this week is Louise Lenahan Wallace, award-winning author of four novels and many short stories and articles. Her newest novel is Day Unto Day.

How important is research in writing your historical novels?

Another of my writing goals is to make the time and place of my novels as accurate as possible. If one of my characters uses Gold Medal flour in 1870, and the reader happens to know it wasn’t sold under that name until “Superior Flour” won a gold medal at a flour exhibition in 1880, my story loses historical credibility, in spite of all my research. A small detail? Yes, but rest assured, if there is an error, someone, somewhere, will find it. In my reading, I have come across such mistakes; they leave me feeling deflated. Having discovered inaccuracies, how can the reader believe in the rest of the story?

 Where do you find your characters?

I actually have to smile at this question because of the profound—and unexpected —influence research has had on creating my fictional characters. Having decided early on that I wanted to include historical background in my writing, I formulated my research requirements. I decided that I would not include any fact as historical unless I found two references that agreed. If I found two differing opinions, I searched until I found a third one that verified one of the first two. If I was unable to find a third reference, I did not include it in the story.

As I was checking the historical details for my first book, The Longing of the Day, I stumbled across the fact that, during the Civil War, the Sixth Ohio Volunteer Cavalry was sent west to Fort Laramie in Nebraska Territory. The troopers’ duties included erecting additional forts and protecting the Overland Stage Road from increasing Indian harassment resulting from the transfer of the regular soldiers east to fight in the larger war. Even as I sat looking at those few lines of information, a blurry picture formed. Quiet, peace-loving man… joins Ohio Volunteer Cavalry… finds himself in far-off Nebraska Territory, fighting Indians….As with all my research, I sought a second notation to verify the initial information.

After an extensive, fingers and toes crossed search, I found one further, short reference to this apparently little-known incident. Even as I breathed a heartfelt thank you, my blurry picture leaped to vivid life. What would he see, how would he participate in the day-to-day events of the war? How would his wife and children, left behind to keep the family farm going as best they could, conduct their daily lives? How would they fare emotionally as they waited for weeks at a time for news? From a few lines in a book, come upon so unexpectedly, that speculation became my third novel, Days of Eternity, published in 2007, which led to its sequel, Day Unto Day, published in 2010. Serendipity—such a lilting word!—in a very large way.

You’ve done some non-fiction writing as well. Which do you prefer, and do you find one easier than the other?

I enjoy writing fiction—novels and short stories—and non-fiction articles and essays. One makes a pleasant break from the other when I reach a spot that just refuses to say what I want it to, no matter how many times I revise it. (It happens, even after so many years of writing!) My short fiction story Night Shadows won a commendation in Aesthetica Magazine’s International Competition last year. I have written several non-fiction articles, including A Faded Card, which was published in Chicken Soup for the Single’s Soul. My biographical stories, Chris’s Legacy of Laughter and Eight Letters received finalist awards at the Pacific Northwest Writers Competition. The Windows of His Heart: Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce won a second place award in the Wyoming Writers Competition. I research the historical details for my fiction books as well as for my non-fiction writing. I’m definitely a “trivia” person, and take special delight in those “aha!” moments of discovering some new fact or date. Maybe that’s why, for me, research is fun. Like a squirrel, I store nuggets of information that don’t fit my current project but, surprisingly often, come in handy later on.

You’ve been fortunate to find publication acceptance with small publishers. How has that experience been as opposed to possibly self-publishing or trying for the larger publishing houses?

At the time of my early attempts to find a market for The Longing of the Day, self publishing was considered a pitiable, last-ditch solution by authors who were unable to find a company that would accept their manuscript. “Vanity Press” or “Published by Author” credentials were an all but certain guarantee that the “real” publishing world would turn up its nose at any such work. This included tacking “self-published entries not accepted” onto virtually every list of contest rules. The burden of such restrictions was, of course, added to by the fact that snail mail was the system of the day. There was no e-mail to speed up the process of sending out a manuscript, with a return envelope included, and then having to wait, sometimes for two or three months, for a “does not suit our publishing needs” mimeographed response. Fortunately, much has changed since then.

While I was searching for a publisher, I came to feel, after numerous rejections in which it was clear that the company had not even read my submission, that the larger eastern publishing houses had little interest in viewing submissions from writers “out west.” Spurred on by this awareness, I began to concentrate my efforts on the smaller, newer presses. Even this route was not without its bumps—and lumps. In response to my submitting The Longing of the Day, that had already won an unpublished novel finalist award at the Pacific Northwest Writers Competition, one small press publisher told me that my “setting is vividly real… characters are superbly crafted…plot is a real page-turner…but…it’s not good enough for my publishing house. I’m certain, however, that you’ll have no problem finding a publishing house with lower standards than mine, who will be glad to publish it.” A little daunted, and admittedly more than a little confused, I slogged on.

Eventually, I found Ogden Publications, a small press in Topeka, Kansas, that most happily published it. The first printing of 1500 copies sold out in six weeks and went into a second printing. They also published my second novel, Day Star Rising, in 2001, a year after the first one. Unfortunately, they downsized their publishing operations, and are no longer doing full-length novels.  Both earlier-published novels, however, are still selling, more than a decade later, as are my third and fourth novels, Days of Eternity, published by Treble Heart Books in Arizona, and Day Unto Day, published by All things That Matter Press in Maine.  I am currently working on my fifth book, Children of the Day. Like the Perils of Pauline movies of old, it clears up What happens next? curiosities from the earlier books, and poses a few more snags to be sorted out in my characters’ lives.

What advice do you have for new writers?

Write for yourself. Write what feels right to you and someone will be interested. Write what you know. In addition to careful research, I have woven incidents from my family history into these stories, just for fun. A name or date here, an aunt or uncle’s “I remember the time…” there, of no significance to others, but immediately recognizable to my relatives, who lost no time in assuring me and telling others (unintentional word-of-mouth publicity) how tickled they were at recognizing my selections. In Day Unto Day, I drew heavily upon my personal experience to shape the character of Rose and her physical, spiritual, and emotional reactions to the aftermath of her illness. And yes, the skunk story in The Longing of the Day really happened—to my mother and grandmother. (My apologies, Grandma, for letting the skunk out of the bag after all these years!) Above all, be persistent. In the twenty-five years before my first novel was accepted, I received enough rejection slips to paper two walls. One might say I’ve written the book on that. But that’s a story for another day. Perhaps Day By Day….

Louise’s books include Longing of the Day, Day Star Rising, Days of Eternity and Day Unto Day. These books are available through her website www.louiselenahanwallace.comand on Amazon.

Book 4: The farmhouse on the cover of Day Unto Day. is a copy of a picture that was actually taken during the Civil War. Website:

Book 1.  The Longing of the Day.  The locket on the cover is an important tie-in to the story.

Book 2.  Day Star Rising.  My editor took this picture of her sister and brother-in-law, as well as the other pictures in the book.

Book 3. Days of Eternity.  Lee Emory found this picture, and I think it really captures the essence of the juxtaposed farm world and the Civil War.

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 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


Amazon in Kindle and book form.

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

I’m blogging at and on Twitter at @jloakley

Tree Soldier’s at Facebook

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

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