Sunday, May 30, 2010
Of all the hero types abounding in romance literature, I feel that the soldier is the most alluring, intriguing, and romantic of them all. Oh, sure - I love a Highlander and pirate just the same as the next reader, and give me a sexy Eloisa James duke any night of the week! But there's something exciting about the soldier. Romances depict them in many guises - battle weary Crusaders, Civil War soldiers coming home to changed lives, patriots fighting redcoats, marauding viking warriors, and Special Ops-turned-bodyguard, to name a few.
It's not just the uniform that keeps readers turning pages and writers frantically summoning their muse to battle again. The soldier hero has seen a different kind of life than any number of Mr. Darcys or cowboys. The soldier has stared death and danger in the face. He's survived unbearable circumstances and faced an often invisible foe. His scars go deeper than the surface. His heart and soul may be touched by what he's encountered.
Some of my favorite heroes are soldiers or warriors of some kind or another, whether general turned gladiator (as shown in the film Gladiator and the new Spartacus series), knight/soldier (Clive Owen and hunks in King Arthur), Civil War veterans (Jude Law in Cold Mountain and Christian Bale in 3:10 to Yuma). For the modern era, Tom Cruise made a fortune portraying Maverick in Top Gun, and Pearl Harbor is still my favorite romantic movie (I skip through the fighting bits).
In the 8 novels I've completed, a surprising 5 have a hero with a soldier's past or present. Three are naval sea captains (though one leans toward pirate - but just a bit), one is a soldier in the Hungarian army pre-WWI, and my first published novel, TAME THE WILD WIND, has Jed; a Yankee captain fresh from the horrors of Gettysburg. In my stories, the military career is in the hero's past, but somehow comes back to haunt him. My current WIP features a hero who lost an arm in the Napoleonic Wars. Neither my heroine nor I see him as less than what he is, though he has his own demons to work out.
A soldier's rigorous training, loyalty, patriotism, and courage adds a lot to rounding out a hero. It brings a broader spectrum to the average knight or cowboy, prince or pirate. I'm not saying every hero should have a military background. Far from it. Maybe our fascination with soldiers is that it's a career that has mostly been exclusively male for centuries. With more females joining up, perhaps the mystique of the lover/warrior will fade. Until that happens, I'll take my heroes with a dash of fight in them!
This blog is written with great affection for the military men in my life I've been proud to have known and loved - Dad (USAF), Uncle Skip (Army), Uncle Gil and Uncle Jesse (Navy), my fathers-in-law (Army and Navy), my brother Don (Navy submariner) and my own hero husband, Walter (USMC). Thank you for your service to our country.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
They were called caballeros, one of the highest stations you could have in life. The caballero was among the first cowboys in the U.S. Even the poor Mexican vaqueros were very proud and there were few things they couldn't do from a saddle. Caballero is literally translated as "gentleman." The root of the word comes from caballo—Spanish for "horse."
For every caballero there were perhaps dozens of independents—the true "drivers" of cattle: vaqueros. All of the skills, traditions, and ways of working with cattle are very much rooted in the Mexican vaquero. A cowboy in the U.S. today has developed what he knows from them.
Vaqueros were proverbial cowboys—rough, hard-working mestizos who were hired by the criollo caballeros to drive cattle between New Mexico and Mexico City, and later between Texas and Mexico City. The title, though denoting a separate social class, is similar to caballero, and is a mark of pride.
Vaquero is a transliteration of the words 'cow' and 'man.' Vaca means 'cow.' Interestingly enough, in Spanish they are called cowmen; in English, it was demoted to cowboys.
TEXAS LONGHORN FOR THE TAKING
In 1821 Anglo settlers arrived in Texas and became the first English-speaking Mexican citizens in the territory. Led by Stephen F. Austin, they arrived in San Felipe de Austin, Texas, to take advantage of the vast expanse of cattle, free for the taking.
Millions of longhorn cattle in the brush country of Texas were loose, and had strayed and multiplied. All the new settlers had to do was round up the cattle.
The vaqueros had been doing this for 223 years, since 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate, one of the four richest men in New Spain (present-day Mexico) sent an expedition across the Rio Grande River into New Mexico.
Oñate spent over a million dollars funding the expedition, and brought some 7,000 animals to the present-day United States. It eventually paid off; the first gold to come from the West was not from the Gold Rush, but rather from its wool-bearing sheep and then its long-horned livestock.
Four centuries have passed since the vaqueros first roamed the plains of Texas and New Mexico. Many say that the culture is dead, or on the verge of dying—along with the cattle-driver culture in general. But is it disappearing? It is said that there will always be cowboys as long as there are cattle, because they all claim the most efficient way to work cattle is from horseback.
And the vaqueros?
Compare the cowboy culture to a car. If the vaqueros invented the car, the styles change a little bit, but you still have the basic chassis, four wheels, and an engine. I think it will stay very much the same. Though there may be optimism about the preservation of the culture, there is pessimism about outside influences.
But they're very proud of who they are. They are very much interested in keeping their culture alive and viable.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
So I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to share recipes that our Regency heroines might have whipped up? And because I’m every bit as fanatic a rose grower as Margaret in Smuggled Rose, I hope to include in future blogs a few potions and concoctions for those who love gardening and natural, organic products. With luck, others might find this as fascinating as I do.
However, I warn you from the start that I may include recipes that catch my fancy simply because they are so…bizarre. If history has shown us anything, it’s that there is no end to the creativity of human beings. And sometimes, that creativity leads us down very peculiar paths.
So, to start, here are two recipes from the Regency period. The first is a simple recipe for Lavender Water that even ladies today might find useful, albeit in smaller quantities. The second is an interesting recipe for perfume, Eau d’Ange, that I’ve seen referenced in several Regencies. Finding this recipe filled me with glee and made me feel much closer to the ladies of the past.
Take four handfuls of dried lavender flowers and sprinkle them with 1 quart of brandy, 1 quart of white wine, and rose water. Leave the mixture 6 days in a large bottle, well-corked. Let the liquor be distilled and poured off.
In a mortar, pound fifteen cloves and one pound of cinnamon. Put the whole into a quart of water with four grains of aniseed. Let it stand over a charcoal fire 24 hours, then strain off the liquor and put it up for use.
This perfume is most excellent and will do well for the hands, face and hair, to which it communicates a very agreeable scent.
* * * * *
I’m tempted to try these, albeit in slightly smaller quantities. Eau d’Ange, in particular, appeals to me as I’ve always been fond of “spicy” scents. I inherited my grandmother’s spice cabinet—literally a small, six-drawer cabinet made out of maple. For years, when you pulled out a drawer, you could still smell the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves she stored in the small compartments. I’ve even sprinkled a few of those spices in the drawers in hopes of reawakening the delicious fragrances I remember.
Maybe that’s why I still love those spicy scents and that Eau d’Ange caught my fancy immediately.
Hope you found these interesting and will look forward to more “Regency Receipts”. Perhaps even a few natural cosmetics, tonics and remedies. You never know where my research and fancy will take me.
Leave me a note and let me know your thoughts!
Friday, May 14, 2010
A bit of history from the tour: the two-story building on Concho Street was constructed in 1896. A short time later, Miss Hattie moved to San Angelo and married Mr. Hatton. When she discovered he quite liberally imbibed in alcohol, she divorced him. The divorce settlement granted him the lower floor of the building and she got the upper floor. Access was via a separate door and staircase at the east end of the building.
The dining room was used only by the women and Miss Hattie hired a woman to cook and clean for the ladies. The sheets were changed daily and their meals were prepared in a 6’x8’ kitchen. Miss Hattie’s Bordello was the first building in San Angelo to have running water, electricity to the upstairs and glass windows. The claw foot tub was extra long and considered big enough for two. Off the entry parlor runs a long hallway with the ladies’ rooms on either side. At the end of the hallway is a small balcony.
Miss Blue’s room provided proof that she was aptly named because all the decorations were in shades of blue. Because of its location adjacent to the bathroom, the room also had a tub and hot water heater.
Originally from New Mexico, Miss Mable came to San Angelo to work and earn money for her husband’s consumption treatment. Vivid colors, serape blankets and black lace fans decorated her room.
Miss Kitty was popular enough with the local ranchers that she received bequests of a ranch from the wills of three different ranches. To this day, one ranch has remained under the control of her descendants.
Miss Rosie loved the color red, especially for her shoes. From a window in her room ran a catwalk to the San Angelo National Bank. Not only would the girls use this as an escape route during police raids, upstanding citizens would go into the bank for meeting with one of the bank officers but really they were paying a visit to the bordello without advertising the fact.
Miss Goldie was the star attraction and commanded $2.00 for her favors—exorbitant for the times. (Most of the other ladies earned a quarter to half that fee.) Because she was the highest earner, her lodgings consisted of a parlor and a bedroom. A lace curtain separated the rooms. Among her clients were many military officers.
Since she lived elsewhere, Miss Hattie had an office and parlor set aside to conduct her business. The gentleman’s waiting room was used for card playing, dominoes and conversation after they’d visited the ladies. Entertainment of quick-witted banter and harmonica playing was often provided by Elmo, a regular visitor never had money to partake of the ladies’ favors.
Over the years, the prostitutes changed and four different women owned the bordello and the right to be called Miss Hattie (think the Dread Pirate Roberts in The Princess Bride). The bordello was finally closed down by a Texas Ranger-led raid in 1952.
Some of the original furnishings remain and the upholstered sofas with wood trim and iron bedsteads were quality pieces at the time of initial use. As I walked the narrow hallway and learned about the women who lived in those small rooms, I thought of the difficulties that led them to that life. The one bit of solace was that Miss Hattie sounded like a madam who looked out for her girls and offered them nice surroundings.
Similar museums exist in other cities and in other states. If you might want to write about a soiled dove and want a peek at what life was like for such a woman, don’t pass up the chance to visit one of these museums.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
Last month I showed you a doorway in Haddon Hall that was barely over five feet high, with my friend Margo standing in it to corroborate its height. But I also told you the other doorways there were all about the height of modern doorway. And I promised to show you evidence I found in England that people in medieval times weren't always short.
So this month I'll take you with me to Bakewell in Derbyshire and the parish church where I made my discovery.
It's a commonly held belief people in the Middle Ages were very small, presumably because times were so tough and so many of them starved. Historical records don't offer much, but we know William the Conqueror was probably somewhere around six feet tall. His wife was exceedingly short, though, apparently not much over four feet in height. Of his four sons, William was exceptionally short, and Robert was nicknamed Curthose- a pun referring to both his short legs (short hose) and his foolish habit of giving away everything to his friends, leaving him "short of" hose. Nobody mentions the height of the others, so probably they weren't exceptional.
But what about ordinary people, those that weren't descended from braw Vikings, and who maybe didn't always have everything to eat when they wanted it?
The Bakewell Parish Church is an ancient place of worship, sitting on a steep hill, with an Anglo-Saxon cross in the cemetery dating back to the 8th Century. All along the walks to the main doors are rows of plaques similar to grave markers, but without graves. These date from the mid to late 19th Century, and may memorialize people who died abroad. But it was not until we saw a strange stone sarcophagus that something seemed out of proportion. We knew what they were, having seen Roman sarcophagi in Bath the week before. The hole in the bottom is creepy, but the rest of it is obviously made to contain corpses. And they appear to have been re-used.
I eyed my son, all hefty-bodied 6'2" of him. (He's skinnier now, and would never forgive me if I didn't mention that.)
"Andy," I said, "Go stand by that tall sarcophagus so I can get a picture of it."
"Okay, but I'm not getting in it."
And here I thought the kid would love to do something creepy. What did he do, grow up while I wasn't looking? But anyway, here's the picture.
Now, tell me, why would anyone carve something that big out of stone if there weren't people big enough to need it?
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Olivas Adobe is a great way to “visit” Southern California’s Rancho Period first-hand. Not far from my home, this prime example of adobe (dried clay brick) architecture is unique with its two-story structure. Don Raymundo Olivas added an unusual second floor during the rancho’s hey-day in the late 1840’s, and the house has been restored to its original stature.
Don Raymundo was born poor in 1809 in the tiny pueblo that grew into today’s Los Angeles and joined the Mexican Army in California at 16. As a Lancer (cavalryman), he was assigned to the Presidio (fort) at Santa Barbara, about two hours north of L.A.
It was here in Santa Barbara that Raymundo met Teodora Lopez and married her in November 1832. In gratitude for his loyalty and service, Mexican Governor Juan B. Alvarado granted Raymundo and a friend 4,670 acres of land in today’s Ventura County. Raymundo began ranching this land while Teodora began bearing children. 21 total, eight girls and 13 boys.
When gold was discovered along the American River about four hundred miles north, Raymundo found his own "gold mine" and made a fortune supplying those Forty-Niner miners with beef as well as hides.
These were the golden years for the adobe, with its remodeling and additions and glorious parties. Raymundo’s family prospered until drought in the 1860’s destroyed the cattle empires. He survived by raising sheep.
His death in 1879 was the beginning of the end for the Olivas' fortune, and the adobe house was sold in 1899. Some of the ranchland has become a municipal golf course, some strawberry fields, some subdivisions. After passing through many owners, the adobe itself was purchased by Max Fleischmann, of the yeast empire, who restored the building in 1927. Upon his death, the adobe was given to the City of Ventura, and it opened as a museum in July, 1972. Docent-led tours are frequent.
We local folks enjoy the “Cowboys, Heroes and Outlaws: Passport to the American West” held every summer, with Western reenactors in full regalia as well as pioneer crafts for the kids.
In fact, many fourth-grade schoolchildren take field trips to the adobe for a hands-on two-hour program that brings to life the Rancho Period of California History.
And at Christmas, you can enjoy a holiday candlelight tour that showcases the tradition of Las Posada, where Mary and Joseph seek room at the inn.
Although my current release, Marrying Minda, is set in northeast Nebraska, as is Marrying Mattie, available August 27, 2010, Olivas Adobe is a great place to set a future story, to be sure. And an even better place to visit.
Ya’ll come on down, ya hear?
Monday, May 10, 2010
Sunday, May 9, 2010
Call in the cavalry! My new release, Destiny, features a cavalry officer tasked with a most unusual mission. In honor of Major Jack Travis, the by-the-book soldier who takes on a highly dangerous, extremely unorthodox mission, I decided to present a look at the cavalry and its many roles in the Civil War.
The U.S. Cavalry was a branch of Army service known for their skill as horseman and soldiers. These forces played many important roles in warfare throughout this country’s history. During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers on both sides of the conflict assumed key roles on and off the battlefield.
In earlier conflicts, cavalry soldiers were used for offensive actions. Massive cavalry charges were used to overwhelm infantry formations. As weapons became more accurate at larger ranges, the effectiveness of cavalry charges diminished. A horse and rider were easy targets for rifles accurate to 300 yards or more. The cavalry’s role in offensive actions shifted to cavalry against cavalry offenses rather than cavalry against infantry. This type of cavalry against cavalry action occurred during the first Battle of Bull Run.
Cavalry soldiers were often tasked with defensive actions to delay offensive attacks and to carry out long-distance raids. These raids often brought fame to those who led the operations. Confederate General J. E .B. Stuart’s raids against the Union Army of the Potomac in 1862 during the Peninsula Campaign and the Maryland Campaign brought him renown in the South, while Union General Benjamin Grierson’s long-range raid in Mississippi offered strategic support to Grant’s army in Vicksburg.
During the Civil War, cavalry soldiers assumed a key role in reconnaissance and counter-reconnaissance. With their mobility and speed, the cavalry served as the eyes and ears of Union and Confederate generals. They were also utilized to raid enemy lines of communication, supply storehouses, railroads, and to conduct guerrilla warfare.
The hero of my new release, Destiny, is a cavalry officer tasked with an extremely unusual mission: protect the runaway daughter of a Northern senator by beating her would-be abductors to the punch. Major Jack Travis is a skilled horseman, a crack shot, and an experienced raider who’s none too happy about his new roles: captor and bodyguard. He should be in the field, not stealing a runaway bride from a train to keep her out of the hands of her father’s enemies. The by-the-book officer finds his captive is anything but the plain, mousy woman he’d been told to expect. Emma Davenport is beautiful, intelligent, feisty – and forbidden. He’ll risk his neck to protect her, but how can he protect her from himself?
The book trailer and more information on Destiny are available at The Wild Rose Press site. Hope you'll stop by and check it out.
Saturday, May 8, 2010
The term Stagecoach came about because of the ‘coaches’ that carried passengers along a route in ‘stages’. Stagecoaches could be anything from buckboard wagons to elaborate ‘coaches.’ As long as they were used for public transportation and ran a regularly scheduled route, they were considered stagecoaches. Depending on the route, the number of regular passengers, the weather, and the distance, the coaches would vary, as would the number of horses or mules. Four was the usual number, but six-team coaches were not uncommon, especially for the larger, ‘overland’ stages, and the smaller, shorter coaches and routes were usually pulled by two horses. The average speed was five to twelve miles and hour.
Despite close quarters, long, bumpy and dusty roads, and threats of Indian or outlaw attacks, stagecoaches flourished and were widely used, even after the railroads crossed the nation. The term stationwagon came about when long wagons boasting three wide bench seats came into service for the specific role of carrying passengers to and from railroad stations.
In most vehicles, passengers were provided an average of 15 inches each, and sat with their knees dovetailed with the traveler across from them, and depending on other cargo the stage was carrying, passengers often had to hold their luggage on their laps. Etiquette, and/or, passenger behavior was strictly enforced. Wells Fargo had this list of rules posted:
• Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
• If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
• Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
• Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
• Don't snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger's shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
• Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
• In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
• Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
• Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It's a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.
Fares varied, not only due to distance, but class as well.
First class meant you rode all the way.
Second class meant you had to walk at bad places along the road.
Third class meant you had to push the coach when needed, especially on hilly terrain.
Depending on the schedule, stagecoaches would travel all night, stopping only for fresh horses and quick meals. When an overnight stay was included, the coach often arrived around midnight, and left again by six the following morning. Passengers were encouraged to pack food provisions and they were also told not to grease their hair before traveling because dust would stick to it.
Stagecoaches came to an end around 1915, when motor buses took the place of the horse-drawn coaches.
I’ve ridden in a few ‘tourist’ stagecoaches, and the short rides were fun, but I must admit I prefer modern transportation options. However, my heroines—and heroes—do not have that option. Here’s a short clip from my latest work in progress…Unclaimed Bride.
The bitter wind that had trampled upon the leather curtains covering the stage windows and snuck beneath the buffalo robe now piled on the seat, hit her with renewed force. It easily could have stolen her breath away, but Constance Jennings’ first glimpse of her destination already had her lungs locked tight. The thread of hope and optimism she’d held the last few miles vanished. Pinning her quivering bottom lip between her teeth, she twisted to glance back inside the stagecoach. The one other passenger, Reverend Stillman, waved a hand for her to climb down the steps. He was a polite man who’d carried on pleasant conversation during the last leg of her journey, but she highly doubted the people lining the street waited for him to depart.
With a death grip on the door rail, she lowered herself to the ground. As she planted her dress boots on the dirt street, tremors seized her toes, and then traveled, slowly snaked their way all the way to her scalp. Every hair follicle tingled. Engulfed by the heavy wave of anxiety, Constance lifted her gaze to the two dozen men staring from the edge of the dusty road. Her lungs burnt. She parted her lips to let the air escape. A gust of that unrelenting Wyoming wind caught on her headdress. The covering had once been stylish, but now most likely looked as tired and worn out as the rest of her wardrobe. She grabbed the curled straw brim to keep the wind from stealing the hat, and gulped at the swelling in her throat. Which one of the dozen was he? Which of these men was Ashton Kramer—the man who’d ordered a bride?
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Last week I got the chance to visit Appomatox, Virginia. Having passed it numerous times this we decided to visit. This area is so filled with history. In the near vicinity are Poplar Forest, the retreat home of Thomas Jefferson, Red Hill, a family home of Patrick Henry as well as the National D-Day Memorial. Needless to say there’s going to be a second trip to the area.
The site where Lee surrendered to Grant has been preserved, not just the house but the area surrounding it. There is a courthouse, the McLean house, a jailhouse, a general store and several other buildings to tour on the site. Just going there is a step back in time. They say pictures are worth a thousand words.
Here are some pictures from
Appomattox...but why the floor?
My first question at the McLean house, was about the floor. It looked like linoleum. But it's not. This is canvas that's been painted and finished for a floor covering. Recently this floor was restored and the house was closed while artists painstakingly restored all the scratches and gouges.
This is the room where Lee surrendered. Note the creepy doll. It was there the day of the signing and is called the Silent Witness doll. The guide says she has a tendency to move around on her own. The actual doll is in the Smithsonian. This one is a replica, and you can also buy them at the gift shop. While at the gift shop that doll kept falling off the shelves--even though it quite secure. (No, I didn't buy one.)
This is the old store. There were many things hanging from the rafters or nailed to walls.
There was a hanging chandelier with removable kerosene lamps.
There was a little bit of everything in the store. (Even a smoke detector.)
Faux finishes were everywhere. From faux wood treatments on doors to faux stone and marble on fireplaces and walls. The the "marble" is painted on and the doors were treated to look like different types of wood were used in construction. All the doors at this building were like this.
Lastly here's the jail.
There must be a thousand stories in this building alone. The walls are thick brick, reinforced with iron bars, and the windows and doors are barred. Regardless, there were reportedly a few escapes from this jailhouse.
There was a post in the floor of each cell where a prisoner could be chained. You can see the post in the photo--its just to the left of the bed.
I greatly enjoyed the trip to Appomattox and already have a second trip to the area in the works to visit more historical sites in the area.
Don’t hide your eyes! It’s not a blog about four letter words. While trying to come up with some different curse words for my heroes to use in sticky situations, I turned to my faithful “Cowboy Lingo” by Ramon F. Adams. Much to my surprise, cowboys rarely used curse words. Anyway that was what the book said. Being a non-believer (mainly because I don’t believe a rough, tough, macho cowboy wouldn’t curse with the best of them) I started web browsing and lo and behold- everywhere I looked it said the same thing.
Cowboys didn’t use the usual curse words, except for on occasions where one word would do; they cussed. You’re saying what’s the difference? To curse is to use profane language. To cuss is a term of abuse or a derogatory term.
Cowboys took huge delight in coming up with the best cussin’ they could think of. They spent hours in the saddle chasing obnoxious, flea-ridden, scour-covered, ornery critters. The more colorful and picturesque they could make the cuss the happier they were with getting the problem off their chests.
They were right proud of themselves when “airing their lungs” not only did it get the cattle movin’ but stopped the person they were cussin’ in their tracks to think about what they’d said. It was felt by many a cow puncher that the only way to get the cattle movin’ was to cuss up a storm. They didn’t limit their string of blasphemy to simple words either. They’d throw in a Spanish word and some sophisticated word they heard at one time or another. Anything to give the rant a good sting to the person or animal they were cussin’.
He used language most people understood and painted a picture that could be seen, heard, and smelled. His cussin’ and story tellin’ was the beginning of today’s cowboy poets.
Below is a poem by Terry Henderson, cowboy poet. It shows the lyrical quality the cowboys strived for and the vastness of their imaginations. You can find more of Terry’s poems at: http://www.cowboypoetry.com/terryhenderson.htm
Cursin' the Yearlin's
We began the trail quite early. We were out before the dawn.
The group saddled up the horses, headed out with several yawns.
We spread around the pasture to encircle that young herd.
It was time to move the yearlin's. Of a run, we were assured.
The yearlin’s are like human teens, more energy than sense.
The smallest noise, the slightest move will make them scared and tense.
We made it through the first run and kept them in control.
We settled into trailin’. I rode forward on patrol.
I was lookin’ for stray cattle that might be in the way.
We didn’t want no mixin’ or we’d not get done today.
A couple miles later, the herd headed up a hill.
Quakies grew on either side. The lead began to mill.
Comin’ up before us was a canyon, long and steep.
Just before we got there, in a fog began to creep.
I was ridin’ up on point when I saw the lead steer go.
He headed into aspens and the canyon down below.
My horse responded quickly to head them back uphill.
But the thickened fog around me made my vision nearly nil.
I began to yell my loudest, to scare them to the trail.
They must be turned around or we will lose them in this vale.
“You chigger-headed flea spit! You ig’norant snake-eyed hog.
Turn your rattle headed rock brains ‘round here in this stiflin’ fog.
Git back you scrawny horn fly hosts. Ya’d better find that trail,
‘cause runnin’ down this canyon will come to no avail.
You wand’rin’ sons of Satan. You nightmare’s blackest dream,”
were only some of things I said, to yearlin’s that I screamed.
“You’ll not live to make the mountain top, you crusty leather hides.”
My threatening spread eerily, echoed in from several sides.
The steers slowed their run, more frightened from the noises all unseen,
and the ghostly shapes a movin’ in that pea-soup foggy sheen.
We finally got them headed back and strung along the trail.
An hour later, sun appeared, though misty and still pale.
When we finally reached the cow camp, an old neighbor said to me:
“I don’t believe I ever heard you cuss so angrily.
I don’t believe I’ve ever heard another cowboy say
quite like you did, the things I heard, while trailin’ cows today.
It must’a worked, those things you said, cause we got here with the herd.
Though I admit I felt right creepy when my eyes, by fog, were blurred.
I hope I never have to hear you curse another cow.
I felt real bad a learnin’ I just thought that I knew how.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
First, let me clarify, a cowboy is an individual who tends to cattle, a wrangler is one who tends to horses, usually a remuda during a cattle drive. Each cowboy required the use of several horses for remounts. During cattle drives in the old days, when deaths occured along the trail, it was usually the wrangler while getting the horses across. In many old western movies we see cowboys firing guns. Guns weren't allowed while driving cattle. They remained in the cook wagon until needed.
One of the most interesting facts I learned was the number of cowboys needed to run a ranch. I've always thought a large operation hired eight to ten men but usually one man is responsible for 1,500 to 2,000 head averaging 1,800 per man. If more men are needed, day workers are hired. A large ranch in South Texas might have three or four regular cowboys. The cowboy usually spent nights in a line shack and tended the cattle during the day watching for sick cattle and over grazing of the land.
Free range cattle don't do well with cattle dogs. They see them as predators like bears or mountain lions. Controlled cattle tolerate them.
Most branding of horses is done today with liquid nitrogen. Hot wire is still used on cattle but with the use of a branding shute which makes the process easier on both the calves and those applying the brand.
The most shocking fact I learned this weekend is that John Wayne couldn't ride a horse. He looked terrible in the saddle. A real cowboy can adjust to the gait of any horse is just a few minutes. The trot is the hardest gait to ride. The rider must catch the gait and go with it. I need a lot more practice. Of course, I think the roughness depends on the horse. Friday I rode Texas and did pretty well when we broke into a trot. On Sunrise, I bounced all over the place.
Though I learned many more facts, I'll save those for someone else to share.
The photo above is by 1881 Western Photography Co.
Happy reading and writing folks!
Monday, May 3, 2010
Call it sheer stupidity on my part, but I forgot how those tailgate parties go sometimes. They don’t always end on time— some folks like to hang around and chat or polish off what’s left of the beer before heading into the stadium. I also forgot that my car has a six-disc CD changer, and when one disc comes to an end, it immediately moves on to the next.
So, wrapped up in a dozen conversations and looking forward to what would hopefully turn out to be a White Sox victory on my mind, I have to admit that I was as startled as anyone to realize that once the AC/DC had faded out, it was quickly replaced by a shrill, mildly grating sound coming from my car’s speakers.
Bagpipes that merrily belted out “Scotland the Brave.”
My stomach filled to bursting with grilled burgers, beer, and jello shots, I leaped… well, stumbled… to the car, and clumsily switched the stereo back to Disc One. But although the dulcet tones of Nazareth’s “Hair of the Dog” burst forth in all their electric glory, I realized with embarrassment that my friends were now looking at me as though I’d come from Mars.
My forgetfulness had ruined the mood. Worse, I was now something of a strange little doofus in my friends’ eyes, all of whom looked at me with expressions that said, “Dude… bagpipes… really?”
What I could not explain to them was that the bagpipes were not necessarily something I take delight in hearing, but rather the music was part of a soundtrack album I’d put together to help me write my newest book. Oh, they all knew about my second career as a writer—and they all thought it was cool— but I learned that to the normal human being, novels are sometimes like hot dogs: most people like them, but you sure as heck don’t want to know what actually went into the process of making them. Sometimes it’s just too terrifying a thought to contemplate.
When I set out to write a book, I’ve got a process. Yes, I come up with the characters and plot and all that fun stuff… but then I tend to get weird. Coming from a film school background, I believe that every character, every situation, every basic concept in a story must have a corresponding theme song— Richard Wagner called it leitmotif— and I have been known to spend hours sifting through the strangest, most esoteric genres one can find in I-Tunes, just to find the most appropriate song.
But, dude… bagpipes??
I suppose my music choices were more acceptable to the uninitiated back when I wrote contemporary stories. One story, set in the modern South, had me listening to Johnny Cash and George Strait for months on end (not that I would ever complain—I love their music). But writing historical novels is a completely different animal. My new book, Passage to November, is set on a Great Lakes freighter in 1913. Back then, music was played on cylinders, and the gorgeous but unwieldy Victrola (or, more accurately, the “Victor Talking Machine”) was just coming into widespread use.
The music itself was charming, innocent, and sometimes even downright odd to our modern ears. “Danny Boy,” that sad Irish dirge, had been released only a year earlier, and now everyone knows it well enough to warble it off-key while soused on St. Paddy’s Day, but most of the music that was popular back then never really stood the test of time. After all, how many people nowadays can actually belt out “Peg O’ My Heart,” or “The Band Played On”? Probably only a few obsessive romance novelists, truth be told. But if it was current and meaningful in the lives of your characters, you owe it to them as their creator to go the extra mile, add it to your musical library, meditate on it, and find out what the song means to the people in your little world.
Music creates a mood and sets the tone for the characters and events in the story. My heroine, Clara Grace, is a violinist who lives and breathes music; although she is an attractive young woman, it is her music that breaks through the shell that’s hardened around the heart of Captain William McTavish (yep, he’s the reason for the bagpipes).
As a writer, music takes me back to the place where I need to be, back to the world that lies just beyond what Stephen King calls “the hole in the paper,” and into the hearts and minds of the characters that chose to spring to life in my cluttered mind. For Clara, I chose quiet classical pieces. McTavish got the Celtic treatment. Together, they have a beautiful love theme called “The Pearl,” (the version by the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra is especially gorgeous). The storm that tears them apart has a score that evokes extreme danger and fear, and when it is realized that all may be lost forever, a quiet hymn reveals their desperation. Just for the heck of it, I got a little crazy and threw in Beck’s “Loser” as the bad guy’s theme song. Anachronistic? You bet. But it worked.
As novelists, we are charged with the duty of inviting our readers into our hearts, our souls, our minds. Unless you are lucky and someday Hollywood comes along and makes a film of your book (or you screw up the music at your next tailgate party), it’s not likely that your reader will ever hear the music that plays in your characters’ hearts. But if you’ve listened carefully to what moves your characters, your audience will not only read your words—they, too, will fall in love with the place you created, with the characters you brought to life… and maybe they will even hear— really hear— the music that lives in your heart.
Your music, dear writer, is the story you have to tell.
Sunday, May 2, 2010
Astronomy has always interested me. When I was a kid, I would take my little Golden Guide to the Stars and my flashlight to the back yard and gaze up at the constellations. Winter or summer, and winter in New England is pretty cold, on most clear nights I would go outside and look at the stars. Back then, I didn’t have a telescope, or even binoculars. When I was in college I received a small telescope as a gift. I still have it buried in the basement, but I haven't used it in years.
Maybe my childhood interest in the stars had something to do with the astronomy theme in Lady of the Stars, my Regency time travel novella. I'm still not sure how the idea came about.
Anyway, the telescope the hero, Richard, owns is a real one. I looked up antique telescopes on the web and found this Pallant: http://www.antiquetelescopes.org/19thc.html
This telescope is ideal for my story. It's a real, early 19th century English telescope, perfect for Richard to own. The telescope is also small, less than a foot long, so Richard or Caroline, the heroine, could easily carry it to an observation position. It figures in Caroline’s and Richard’s courtship, as well as providing a link between past and present.
I rarely look at the stars now. Too many lights and too many trees obscure my view. I still remember most of the constellations’ names, and I always stay up and watch any lunar eclipses that are visible in my area. But, as Lady of the Stars shows, I haven’t completely forgotten my childhood interest. Maybe art does imitate life.
Thank you all,