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 http://marielaval.blogspot.co.uk/
Anne de Gruchy https://annedegruchy.co.uk/category/blog/
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Dr. Bob Rich http://wp.me/p3Xihq-14G
Anne Stenhouse  http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire  http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Judith Copek http://lynx-sis.blogspot.com/
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Marci Baun  http://www.marcibaun.com/blog/
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com

 

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You Might be a Redneck If…

You live in Chino Valley, Arizona!

Beautiful clouds

Recently Chino Valley, where I now live, was named “#1 Redneck City in Arizona.” I have to laugh. First of all, by population it’s a town (about 11,000), not a city. One of the criteria for ranking is number of high school graduates, which they said was the least in the state.

A story in the Courier Times newspaper debunked that statistic, quoting Assistant Superintendent Cindy Daniels, Chino Valley Unified School District, “We actually have one of the highest graduation rates in the state, 92 percent (Class of 2016), and have been recognized at both the state and national levels for this accomplishment.”

Another criterion was number of bars (ranked high). However, when my husband and I moved here almost five years ago, we remarked that it was a good sign there seemed to be more churches than bars in town.

It’s funny, how the perception of a rural community can be so skewed. I’d just been talking to a new neighbor who said her son (from Prescott) told her not to even look for property in Chino Valley, because first he’d have to knock two of her front teeth out and buy her a trailer. (We live in an extremely nice subdivision with beautiful homes and well-kept acreages.)

100_0182When we lived in Mount Vernon, Washington, the small town of Sedro-Woolley was about the same distance as Chino is from Prescott, and that was its reputation as well. Birthed from the lumber industry in the 1800s, it still sits in the middle of farming country. Even “worse” was anything “upriver” from there, as if it were the backwoods of Appalachia.

I’ve always been the “hick from the sticks.” I grew up on a ranch in isolated, rural eastern Montana, 35 miles from the nearest town (and only one in the county) which had a population of about 300. The nearest “city” was at least 100 miles away. I attended a one-room country school which boasted four students when I started first grade, and I didn’t have any girls my own age around until I went to high school (where I lived in a dorm during the week). So, I was a bit socially backward for part of my life.

SeekingAmericanDream_1.5x2When my mother emigrated from Germany after WWII, she was considered “different” and therefore “suspect.” Fitting in, for her, was difficult and she fought that prejudice all her life.

My newest novel, Seeking the American Dream, is based on my mother’s life and the kind of life I had as a “redneck.”

I guess you never quite escape your roots!

Published in: on August 11, 2017 at 6:00 am  Comments (2)  
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Prairie Fire!

by Heidi M. Thomas

Prairie firePhoto courtesy http://askabiologist.asu.edu

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 weebly.com

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.

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