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. Anneschroederauthor.blogspot.com

 

 

Writing the West

by Judith Kirscht

judy informalI am not a Westerner, by birth, so some would say it’s presumptuous to place my stories there. But the West shapes the imagination even for those raised East of the Mississippi. Chicago kids like me dream of the open skies of the Great Plains, the mountains beyond it and the sea—a fairytale land of space and freedom. My husband-to-be was from Oregon, and my first experience with the West was a train trip across the country to visit him, my first adventure, being snowbound (in that same train) in the Blue Mountains. Far from being put off, however, I loved the mountains, the space, the air.

When I began to write, some twenty-five years later, my writing coach said, “You write from place. It shapes your characters and your stories.” Now, some forty years of writing later, he has proved right. My first published novel, Nowhere Else To Go, is set in a fictional Midwest college town, based on Ann Arbor, Michigan where I raised my family. The story—a college town caught up in the turmoil of the Sixties—is clearly born of place and time. The second, The Inheritors takes place in Chicago, where I grew up, and at its core are the sensibilities of those who live in cultural, racial, mix of cities created by the great migrations of the Twentieth Century.

Chicago Street Scene 1By the time I actually moved west to California, my sensitivity to place was well formed. I had spent six years in Berkeley, so I already had a sense of California as the home of all those who escaped seeking a golden life—all of those like me. They were as rootless as the characters of my first two books were rooted. Santa Barbara was similar in that regard, but it was there that the power of nature took dominance. The beauty of that coast is legendary, and for the fifteen years I taught at the university there, I lived beside some forty acres of open meadow leading to cliffs above a mile of wild beach and the sea. I swore I would walk that meadow every day—and I did. And so Home Fires, my third novel takes place there and carries that sense of the almost unreal beauty of that place and the woman who breathes it in.CA Scenery

All of these places reinforced my sense of the power of place to shape story and character, but I think few are as aware of the power of nature as the Northwesterners, where the expanse of water and mountain dwarf all else. I think I was drawn to Washington, some ten years ago, because the combination of water and forest remind me of northern Michigan, Wisconsin,

Hawkins Lane Cover

Hawkins Lane Cover

and Minnesota—vacation country of the Great Lakes states. And here in the Skagit Valley I’ve found people rooted in a way the Californians of my experience weren’t. They are fishermen, hunters, farmers, wedded to the land and sea. And so the protagonists of Hawkins Lane, Ned Hawkins and Erica Romano, are brought together by their love of the mountains. They carry that love of the space and solitude of the wilderness, the escape, the self-reliance that has shaped the national imagination.But in Hawkins Lane the power of mountain and forest becomes a character—a dominant, powerful force to be contended with before all else.

Here are a few snippets.

“As March neared its end, the stream behind the Romero house rushed with melting snow, the crowds of skiers and snowshoers on the streets of McKenzie Crossing began to thin, and eagles passed over the house on their way to the river. Erica recounted every change in her journal, every new bare patch of lawn, every bird, and every change pushed her harder …”

A sheen of white glimmered ahead. A moment later they were staring without breath at the vast expanse of snow where the trail had been. He reached for Bonnie’s hand but it was gripping the pommel of her saddle. … tears running down her cheeks.

‘Bonnie …’

‘He’s in there, isn’t he? Archie.’”

“Over and over, he radioed her. Her line was open, but she didn’t answer. He was overwhelmed by the enormity of the woods, of the lunacy of their illusion that this mountain was their friend. The night belonged to the mountains, the wind, and the rain.”

 And finally, the image of a frightened child looking down a tree-roofed lane that gave birth to the story became this ending.

“   he stood looking down its tree-roofed length. It was stripped and naked, but nature would re-clothe it. In a month, the alders and evergreens would take up everything that had happened and fold it into their branches.”

North Cascades

North Cascades

Read more about Judy in this article from GoAnacortes, and you can purchase her books on Amazon.com. Check her website and blog too for more about her books.

Cholama Moon Book Giveaway!

Congratulations to fellow Women Writing the West member, Anne Schroeder, who has just had her debut novel, Cholama Moon, published by Wild Oaks Press. Following is an excerpt from that novel. Please leave a comment with your contact info, and your name will be entered in a drawing for a copy of the book!

Synopsis: Homesteaders struggle to establish ranches in Central California in the 1870s, amid earthquakes, drought, banditos, remoteness and human failing. Young Virginia Nugent’s privileged life ends with the death of her mother and her father’s guilt-ridden descent into addiction. She is conflicted in her love of the ranch and her desire to escape until an old cowhand’s loyalty and a Southerner friend of her late mother offer hope that she can change her destiny.

Chapter One

By Anne Schroeder

CF - Cholama MoonThe herd stallion stood with its neck arched like a golden statue while rays of sunlight danced across his back. Nearby, his mares milled nervously, their ears jutted forward at the rumble of the earth beneath them. A piebald mare let out a scream and bolted, eyes wild. In the gathering madness a cloud of dust wafted up from a crack in the adobe earth. The mare reared, flaying her hooves in terror as the Great Tulare basin buckled and rolled toward them. Giant oaks crested with the undulation and returned to their places, their deep roots intact. Pine trees toppled, their shallow roots no match for the disturbance. Hawks screamed and took flight. Dust emerged from a dozen gashes in the earth and filled the air while the shaking continued. When it was over, the mare sank to her knees.

In the charged stillness, Sancho Roos felt the earth relax.

Minutes later, an aftershock split a crumbling bank and a thin ribbon of water escaped and flattened out across the sand. Sancho’s gelding fought his control. He reined it hard left, in a tight circle until the land settled and fear calmed. When it seemed that the earth was in no danger of splitting beneath his horse’s hooves, Sancho turned his attention to the strange valley they had just entered.

Four young vaqueros worked the mustang herd, calling out to the horses in soft voices that held no fear. The boys were good choices—native Californios more used to the earth’s quaking than their gringo bosses. Sancho spit a stream of chew onto the ground and spurred forward. Time enough for palavering later. They’d be recounting this day for some time.

A shout from one of the vaqueros—the mares had bolted. Some were running at full speed, saliva foaming from their mouths. The rest followed. “Hold ‘em back. Arrimate! Pull up! Pull ‘em up,” Sancho shouted. Their hooves plowed the trail into fine dust that settled in his eyes. Sancho coughed and spat another stream of spittle, wiping his mustache with the back of his hand at a dead run while he held his rein in the other. Suddenly a whiskey colored mare took off up the rise. From the corner of his eye a roan raced past. The herd stallion. It screamed a warning and charged after the mare, biting her hard enough that the mare squealed. As quickly as it began, the stampede ended.

“Hold ’em up, amigos. Bunch ‘em at the creek. Keep your eyes peeled for trouble. Been a hell of a day so far.”

Stirred by the April breeze, the glistening silver leaves of the cottonwood played across the stallion, darkening its coat to a blood red. The next aftershock passed with only his disdainful snort while the vaqueros pushed the mares. Trampling the narrow bank, the stallion kept watch as the mares lowered their heads and began to drink from the Big Cholame Creek.

“Yeeeeeeyeiiii!” A lean vaquero raced past. His silver conchos jangled as he crashed into the water suspended from the side of his horse, his lithe body held up only by a boot wedged against his left tapedero, his fancy covered stirrup, and the pressure of his knees. His right hand grasped the horse’s mane. His left hand, dangling inches from the ground, disappeared in a spray of water.
In the flick of a quirt the boy cleared the opposite bank. In the space of a blink the boy sat astride again, drinking from his cupped palm. The boy’s scarf, the color of a yellow billed magpie, fluttered in the breeze as he glanced around with a grin for anybody who was watching. Satisfied, he tipped his flat-brimmed hat and let out another whoop before he rode off, followed by his cheering amigos.

Sancho’s disgust brought the taste of bile to his tongue. A fool stunt on the heels of the earthquake—but what else could he expect. The boss had taken on four strutting bantams not old enough to shave, with their worldly fortune in their silver tack, tooled leather britches and buckskin jackets.

“Confoundit!” His growl was lost in the noise of the vaqueros’ laughter. A moment later he softened. Crazy, maybe, but they knew their horses. Already they were saying the earthquake was a good omen. Maybe they were right—a day for celebration.

Anne at Cuesta ParkAnne Schroeder made a recent move with her husband of 45-years and two dogs from her beloved Central California in search of new adventures. She now lives in Southern Oregon where she writes and hikes.

She is President-Elect of Women Writing the West and contest chair for the LAURA Short Fiction Contest. She has had dozens of published short stories and essays about the West published, and two memoirs, Ordinary Aphrodite and Branches on the Conejo. Cholama Moon is her first published novel. The second book of the series, Maria Ines, will be released later this year.

Don’t forget to comment for a chance at the Book Giveaway and leave your contact info!

New Release: Follow The Dream

At last, the long-awaited sequel to Cowgirl Dreams is available!

Nettie Moser’s dreams are coming true. She’s married to her cowboy, Jake, they have plans for a busy rodeo season, and she has a once in a lifetime opportunity to rodeo in London with the Tex Austin Wild West Troupe.

But life during the Great Depression brings unrelenting hardships and unexpected family responsibilities. Nettie must overcome challenges to her lifelong rodeo dreams, cope with personal tragedy, survive drought, and help Jake keep their horse herd from disaster.

Will these challenges break this strong woman?

This sequel to Cowgirl Dreams is based on the life of the author’s grandmother, a real Montana cowgirl.

Advance praise for Follow the Dream:

In her poignant tale of Nettie Moser’s diligent pursuit of a dream, Heidi Thomas gives a stunning example of what it means to “Cowgirl Up.” FOLLOW THE DREAM is a dynamic story of a woman’s strength and determination that is sure to inspire as well as entertain.—Sandi Ault, award-winning author of the WILD Mystery Series, including WILD INDIGO, WILD INFERNO, WILD SORROW and WILD PENANCE

“Follow the Dream draws the reader into the lives of tough Montana ranchers, Nettie and Jake Moser. Dreams come and go, but their ranching life goes on with hardships and struggles for basic survival, but also with abiding love and humor. A wonderful story of courage and endurance.” –Mary Trimble, award-winning author of Tenderfoot, Rosemount and McClellan’s Bluff.

“…a bittersweet novel with its accurate depiction of the lives of cowgirls in 1920s Montana and its tender portrait of a marriage.” –Mary Clearman Blew, award-winning author of Jackalope Dreams.

To preview and order an autographed copy of the book, go to Heidi M. Thomas’ website Or the publisher, Treble Heart Books.

Published in: on October 3, 2010 at 8:39 pm  Comments (9)  
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A Dream Worth Having

My guest today is first-time novelist, Catherine Madera, author of Rodeo Dreams. This story is about fifteen-year-old Cindy Crowe, who adopts a mustang and pursues a dream of barrel racing fame. If only she can keep from being distracted by disappointment, rhinestoned rodeo queens, and a certain cute bull rider. Ultimately, Cindy discovers that any dream worth having has the power to break your heart…and change your life forever.

Catherine, this is a wonderful story for adults as well as young adult readers. Tell us what inspired you to write this book.

In 2004 I read the young adult book, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Even at 32 years old I found the book delightful—fun and heartfelt. It reminded me of being a teenager and the importance of friendship. Though I’d never thought of myself as a fiction writer, I thought that if I ever did write fiction I’d want it to be something like the Pants books. I loved the classic horse stories as a child and worked to create an intriguing story that combines elements I never grow tired of: the drama of pursuing a dream and friendship (between humans and also human/horse friendships). My protagonist is a teen but I wanted to write a story I would enjoy reading.

How did you come up with the title and the theme? (Great minds think alike!)

Yes they do, Heidi! I love cowboy/girl culture and rodeo. And fighting for a dream is a universal theme that is endlessly fascinating to me. As to title, nothing else came to mind at the time. Shortly after I began writing, however, I had what I now call a “T-shirt from God” moment. I’d been feeling discouraged with my first attempts to write the story and that old negative voice we all fight with was berating me for wasting time on the thing. I remember a conversation I had with God that said, in essence, “What’s the use?” That very day I went into town and stopped at the feed store to buy a couple items for my small farm. I took a few extra minutes to look through some clothing that was on sale. My mouth dropped open when I pulled out a shirt that had a vintage rodeo cowgirl on the front wearing red boots. In rhinestones underneath it said, “Rodeo Dreams.” I bought the shirt. It may sound weird but at that moment I felt God’s encouragement to keep going.

Wow. That is so cool! I love anecdotes like this.

Have you always been a writer?

I was always an avid reader and enjoyed writing poetry, etc. in elementary school. I knew I wanted to be a serious writer when I worked on the school paper my senior year in high school. For many years after, I dreamed about becoming a journalist—flying to the scene of exciting stories and meeting interesting people.

What was your first published piece and when?

My first published piece was an essay for the now out of print Victoria Magazine in 2000. It was called “Horse Heaven.”

You’ve written many essays and non-fiction magazine articles. How did you get started in this writing arena?

In 2004 I won a national contest for Guideposts Magazine (one of fifteen women nationwide out of 3,000 entrants) and had a remarkable, intensive, all expense paid five-day trip to Rye, NY to learn to write inspirational non-fiction stories. That experience changed my life and birthed my freelance career. Most of what I know about story telling I learned from Guideposts. I still write for the magazine and other non-fiction publications.

Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?

I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer (though I sometimes wish to be an outliner!). I work from a general idea of major events in a story but no firm idea of how I’ll get from one scene to the next. My characters constantly surprise me!

Have there been other authors or books that have influenced you?

An important early influence was my first editor at Guideposts, Jim McDermott. He taught me so much about the elements of story. The books that have helped me the most include: Writing for the Soul, by Jerry Jenkins; Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and On Writing, by Stephen King. Very recently I also read Donald Millers outstanding new book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. It has great wisdom for writers about how to create a great story as well as inspiration for life. I also consider the northwest writer Sibella Giorello (The Stones Cry Out/The Rivers Run Dry/The Clouds Roll Away) an important mentor and friend in my writing life. The encouragement of those a bit farther along the road is critical.

You are a cowgirl in your own right. Did you grow up riding and barrel racing or is this a recent development?

I grew up with horses and have done lots of different types of riding. However, I’ve never barrel raced! In a curious twist of life imitating art, my eleven-year-old daughter has become serious about the sport of barrel racing. She takes lessons on her Quarter Horse, Cowboy, and we do local shows and 4H. She would like to do junior rodeo in the future. I own an Arabian stallion named Eli and enjoy dressage and trail riding.

How do you think your childhood background has influenced your writing?

I moved around as a child…a lot. Seeing many different places/people perhaps inspired my curiosity and fascination with people’s stories. I also grew up in a home where books and reading were very important. My father, especially, encouraged a love of good writing.

You decided to self-publish your book. Tell us what influenced this decision and what your experiences have been in doing this project.

I spent about four years editing the story, submitting it to contests and my critique group, and pitching to agents and such at writer’s conferences. I received enough positive feedback to feel like I had something worthwhile. Unfortunately, it was bad timing in the publishing industry. I knew that, regardless of my solid experience writing non-fiction, I’d have a tough time getting an agent. I’d always thought self publishing fiction, in particular, was a bad idea. “Kiss of death” were the exact words, as I recall. However, God seemed to have other plans for me. He very definitely gave me direction to self publish and put the people in my path to help. Most notable, perhaps, was my graphic artist, Karen Bacon. From the beginning, Karen “got” my vision and I love what we created together. I also opted to use a printer, not a vanity press. This kept my printing cost down and also got the book into the major distribution channels immediately and with almost no effort on my part. Self publishing can be a confusing maze of choices and options with numerous pitfalls and ways to waste your money and compromise your copyright. I feel blessed that my experience has been extremely positive and low/no risk.

What are you doing to market Rodeo Dreams?

Good question! I have been pretty low key but am selling the book slowly and steadily through word-of-mouth, Amazon/Barnes, and also in a couple niche stores in the area. I am getting the book in front of my target audience through groups like 4H and horse expos/events. I am also interested in presenting the book at elementary schools and am looking into ways to do this. As every serious writer knows, marketing these days is almost exclusively up to the author whether you go through a traditional publishing house or produce the work as I have. It can be tough but also a good opportunity to learn and grow.

Are you working on another fiction project?

Yes. I am working on a sequel called Rhinestones. In addition, I’m about a third of the way into a work of women’s fiction.

Here’s a fun question for you: If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three things would you have to have? Assuming I can’t have my husband, Mark (thinking deserted), I’d need good coffee, my Bible, and my Smart Wool socks/long underware for potentially cold days. I hate being cold!

Catherine, thank  you so much for sharing your publishing story with us.

Rodeo Dreams is available on Catherine’s website, The Writer’s Way, on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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