The Romance Reviews

Friday, December 28, 2012

Looking back and looking forward


The year is drawing to a close.  In spite of all the hype, the world as we knew it did not end on December 21st, as many of us claimed it would not.  The best explanation I ever heard for the Mayan calendar was that the guy carving it just ran out of rock.  Perhaps not totally accurate, but funny enough to make me smile about it repeatedly.

The end of the year is a time to take stock, to evaluate, and even to make goals for the coming year.  Looking back on this year, I’m a little bit amazed and even stunned with what I have accomplished and what I have learned this year.

This year saw me learning new skill sets: canning, learning to cook over an open fire (not as easy as the romance novels I write make it out to be), making bread completely from scratch (and I do mean scratch, as I even ground the wheat in a hand grinder), and those skill sets leads to the first of my goals for the new year.  I want to learn to cure a hide and make leather. 

While working on the edits for The Devil’s Own Desperado, I learned that there are times I need to walk away from the manuscript.  When it went “live” on Amazon, I discovered that a review can have me dancing around the house for days, and another could leave me scratching my head in utter confusion.  I also learned to appreciate the good reviews, and take the less than good ones as a learning experience.  It’s true, you cannot please all of the people all of the time. 

I’m still learning this “self-promotion” thing.  It’s time consuming but in the long run, I am certain it will pay off.  That’s my second goal for the year: becoming better at self-promotion and not being embarrassed by bragging about myself.

I promptly began to polish the second manuscript in the series of romances set in the town of Federal, Wyoming Territory and sent it to my editor at The Wild Rose Press.  I’ve learned to have patience, whether or not I want to have such a “virtue.”  Because the second went to my editor so close to the Christmas break, I know I won’t hear anything until after the New Year.  I must keep reminding myself that patience is a virtue…sigh…

I learned that no matter my intentions, NaNoWriMo is NOT a good thing to attempt while teaching a full course load (125 freshmen students).  Because I committed myself to be the best teacher I could be to those students and they trust me to be that good teacher, the manuscript took a definite back seat to my students—as it should have been.  But, once the semester was over, I jumped into that WIP with both feet.  When I’m working on a new manuscript, I immerse myself in the time period, the mores of the day, and even the speech patterns.  (Can I say it drives my DH mad when I do this?)  I rediscovered the joy of historical research, because even though I knew a lot about the American Civil War, it wasn’t detailed enough for the current WIP.  A lot of what I learned about the prisoner of war camps run by both sides was distressing.  Reading about the acts of heroism (on both sides of the Mason/Dixon line, I will add), the acts of self-sacrifice, the sense of honor and chivalry that defined that war, as well as the complete and utter destruction of a whole generation of the best and brightest that both sides had to offer was humbling and uplifting at the same time. 

Appealing to that romantic in me was the history of the famed 1st Kentucky Cavalry, part of the “Orphan Brigade” under General Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee.   In a passage of self-discovery, I realized that no matter what I learn about the American Civil War, my heart will always be with the men who donned the grey.  Perhaps it’s the romantic in me who buys into that “Lost Cause” mythos of those men who swore allegiance to the Confederate States of America.  Or perhaps, even though more than a century and a half have passed since the end of the American Civil War, the issue of states’ rights still has not been settled.  Some things never change…

I spent part of the year showing a dog who is near and dear to my heart, Bronze GCh. (Grand Champion) Bandor’s The Wyching Hour.  I love to show Vander.  He makes dog shows fun, because for him it is fun.  He’s the type of dog who believes that life is a party being thrown just for him.  As much as my attitude moves down the lead to him, his attitude creeps up the lead to me.  That’s the way it should be.  We should complement one another. 

I was honored to show a very promising young champion collie—Ch. Cliffstone’s Dreams of Thunder—to an award of merit at the Collie Club of America, while his incredibly proud owner watched.  I don’t know who was more proud of Thunder, me because he can be a “princess” and decided on that day he was a show dog, or Nikki, the young lady that Thunder owns.  Another honor for me this year with the show dogs was to put a championship title on Genny (Moosebrook’s Any Dream Will Do) for her owner, Nancy.  And, I apologize here and now for not adding all of Genny’s performance titles to her name, and she has a very long string of them.  Genny is a very versatile champion. 

I’m looking forward to the new show season and want to wish all of my readers a very blessed and safe New Year.  May 2013 bring you all that your heart desires.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Traditions

So many of the traditions we enjoy and embrace during the Christmas season come to us from the Victorians: kissing beneath the mistletoe, Santa, exchanging gifts, caroling, and giving to charity.  The Nativity has been celebrated since the 4th century.  In the beginning, the Colonies were slow to embrace the idea of Christmas, as the celebration of a Father Christmas in his long fur trimmed robes was seen as a heathenish notion but by the Victorian Era, Father Christmas was widely embraced by the Americans.

The Victorian Christmas is a joyous occasion.  First and foremost, it is a religious holiday, but giving and family were important themes.  Most were handmade, so were started many month before.  Mufflers, embroidered handkerchiefs, bookmarks, pen wipers, and other useful gifts were lovingly stitched, glued, and colored for family members and friends through the fall and winter months.  Wrappings of colored paper, tissue, and cloth were chosen with ribbons to compliment.  The exchange of presents, of ancient origin, symbolized the good luck, prosperity, and happiness wished for friends.  The Victorians began planning their presents many months ahead.  Most cherished were handmade, needlework, or something useful.  People exchanged remembrances with family and friends.  Children made their gifts as well.  

The air is filled with the smells and sounds of the approaching holiday.  The scent of roasted chestnuts from street vendors wafts through the crisp air, the sharp scent of evergreens draped around some doors, wreaths give a festive look to doors and windows.  Not all, some cling to the superstition that says you must not put up greens until Christmas eve.  On street corners, street musicians are singing traditional melodies.  Carolers stroll along, stopping to sing for people and selling a sheet of music. 
Busy shoppers hurry along on foot or in carriages getting last minute gifts, a trip to the shop to match a bit of thread, the bakery to order some little cream horns . . . so much to do!

The Christmas tree has been a German tradition since as early as the 17th century, but many ancient civilizations held evergreens to be a symbol of life during the long winter months and decorated trees as a symbol of eternal life.  In 1841 Prince Albert, German husband of Queen Victoria, introduced the charming custom to the royal family.  In 1850 a tinted etching of a decorated tree at Windsor Castle was published and the Tannenbaum became a necessity for every fashionable Victorian home.  It was a tradition quickly embraced by Victorian England.  Live trees were set up for the Christmas season decorated with lighted candles, draped with tinsel, ribbon, paper chains, cookies and candies.  (I’m just shuddering with the thought of lit candles on a live tree.  I wonder how many fires started in just that manner.)

On Christmas Eve the last of the relatives arrive for the holidays.  Not only the immediate family, but aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, it was a holiday devoted to one of the most important aspects of Victorian times, the family.  In the afternoon, a long awaited event, the doors of the parlor open and the children finally get to see the glorious Christmas tree with its candles, tinsel, beautiful ornaments made of colorful scrap art, ribbons, baskets of candies hung from branches.  Ropes of popcorn and cranberries ring the tree.  Hung from branches are small wrapped gifts, and under the tree the larger ones.  Christmas Eve is the time for gift exchanges and everyone has a gift.  After the grand unwrapping, the children play with their toys, thoughtful handmade gifts are admired and the best gift of all is used, Papa's gift to the family was sometimes a phonograph, a game, a sterioscope, or maybe one of the new magic lanterns with amazing pictures that enthralled the whole family.  Next came the program.  Everyone has a part.  Shy children mumble recitations and poems while older children and adults perform short plays and scenes from history.  Musical performances and group singing fills the house.  After, sleepy children are sent to bed as well as tired adults. 

Christmas day starts with a Christmas Mass or church service.  After a quick trip by some to the bakers to pick up the Christmas goose or other meat, a flurry of cooking takes place.  The Christmas dinner is resplendent with all manner of foods.  The meat being served depends on the area you live in.  Many rural houses have beef.  Chicken and goose is popular.  Turkey is popular in America, but not usually used for Christmas in England until in the late 19th century.  The Christmas pudding was mixed on Stir-up Sunday, the Sunday before Advent.  A Christmas pudding is made of beef, raisins, prunes and sugar all packed into a pudding cloth and dropped in the pot to cook, often with other food.  It is served, with great ceremony, with a coating of brandy set alite and a sprig of holly in the top.

After Christmas dinner, cleanup, and afternoon naps, the festivities continue with visits to friends.  Most shops are open.  It is unusual for any of the trades to take a day off.  Charity is an important part of the Christmas season: sharing with your fellow man.  The streets are filled people wassailing (going from house to house at Christmas time, singing carols and greeting people), the less fortunate going from door to door hoping for donations of food, drink, or money as they invite others to share a drink from their wooden bowls.  Families also walk door to door caroling to entertain their neighbors.

The custom of caroling is a purely English tradition which was quickly taken up by America.  In cities, the approaching holiday season was marked by strolling carolers, usually in groups of three, one caroler to play violin, one to sing, and one to sell sheet music.  Holiday shoppers would pause to purchase music, joining in the trio for a few stanzas, before hurrying homeward.  Carolers would stop at houses to sing, hoping to
be invited in for a warm drink.
  
Christmas decorations began appearing well before the holiday for many.  The favorite plants were the berried evergreens, mistletoe, holly and ivy.  During the Roman Solstice Ceremony known as “Saturnalia” holly was exchanged as it was believed the red berries would ward off lightning and evil spirits.  It had to be carried in the house by a male, as the berries are only on the male plant.  Ivy was twined in the holly as a symbol of the two halves of divinity.  Mistletoe was not allowed in churches because of its pagan origins.  In ancient times, Druid priests harvested it from sacred oaks on the fifth day after the new moon following the winter solstice.  Norse warriors who met under the mistletoe declared a truce for that day.  The Victorians used mistletoe suspended from the ceiling.  Those who met under it could claim a kiss.  The number of kisses allowed under each plant depended on the number of berries.  Each time a kiss was given, a berry was taken off.  No more berries, no more kisses!   

Although the Victorian idea of Christmas was not commercial, having more to do with food, and the exchange of handmade gifts, New York soon saw the commercial advantages of a holiday full of the exchange of gifts.  By the 1880s Macy's department store's windows were filled with wonderful dolls and toys from Germany, France, Austria, and Switzerland.  Another window boasted scenes with steam driven moveable parts.  Homemade cornucopias of paper filled with fruit, nuts, candy, and popcorn were hung from branches of trees in America and England.  Beautiful shaped cookies were hung for treats on Christmas day.  Often the gifts were also wrapped and hung from branches.

With the growing popularity of Christmas trees manufacturers began producing ornaments around 1870.  Also popular were molded wax figures of angels and children.  Many ornaments were made of cotton-wool wrapped around an armature of metal or wood and trimmed with embossed paper faces, buttons, gold paper wings and "diamond dust", actually powdered glass.

The first Christmas card, designed by J.C. Horsley, was sent by Henry Cole, who decided to send his many acquaintances something different from his usual Christmas letter.  They sold for one shilling each, and only one thousand copies were lithographed.  It depicted the charities of clothing and feeding the poor, with the middle section depicting a well-to-do family toasting to Christmas and the year ahead.  It proved to be a very popular idea.

Santa is a mixture of many different figures from many different cultures.  The Dutch St. Nick, England’s Father Christmas, and the German Kris Kringle.  In ancient times Norse and German people told stories of The Yule Elf who brought gifts during Solstice to those who left out offerings of porridge.  When Clemment Moore's poem “The Night Before Christmas” became enormously popular, the “Jolly old elf” was adopted as the ideal Santa.  Years later Thomas Nast illustrated him as a round-bellied whiskered figure in tight red leggings and coat.  Coca-Cola's popular advertising changed the concept of Santa to a cheerful full bearded man with the now popular red suit, black boots and wide belt.

Our Christmas celebrations owe much to the Victorians.  What’s your favorite Christmas tradition?   



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Smolder on a Slow Burn--not really a WIP anymore


I typed “The End” on my WIP that I started for NaNoWriMo.  When I first started writing it, I asked for some ideas for a title from my Facebook friends.  I got several that were very good and I couldn’t decide which one to use, so I combined a couple into one.  The WIP is now entitled Smolder on a Slow Burn—or that’s what it will be called as long as my editor is okay with that title.   It was rather liberating to type those words.  Now, I can walk away from it for a day or so and let it all set in and then go back and start fixing plot holes, shout at those two to stop the blasted head hopping, and tighten the writing.  I also have to be wary of my bias on the side of those who detested the interference of the federal government in their lives.  Some things never change…

CSA Cavalry Captain's frock coat
I also realized while writing this WIP that I was using skills I hadn’t used since my undergrad days—namely historical research skills.  I used as many facts as possible while crafting this novel.  While researching uniforms for officers of both the Union and Confederate cavalries, I quickly realized the Union cavalry had absolutely nothing on their Confederate counterparts.  Those men in grey must have cut quite a dashing figure with the gold sleeve braid, bright yellow cuffs and collars, and in some cases, yellow piping along the outside front seams and on the tails of the overcoat, added to a yellow stripe running down the outside of the trousers.  And, then there were the Union uniforms…sigh…a little plain. 

The hero in Smolder, A.J. rode with the famed 1st Kentucky Cavalry.  The flag of these men was as impressive as their service record: a red cross with thirteen stars in it set on a background of royal blue. The men of the 1st Kentucky Cav were the first Kentuckians to respond to the call to arms for the Confederate States of America, mustered into service on October, 28th, 1861 and they were there until the last, serving as Jefferson Davis’s bodyguards when he was captured in Georgia on May 10th, 1865.  They were some of the very last troops to admit defeat and to finally lay down their arms.  "The First Kentucky did its duty... It was true to its colors under all circumstances." (quoted in E. Porter Thompson's History of the Orphan Brigade.) They were considered an Orphan Brigade as Kentucky never seceded so supplying those men became problematic.  Part of A.J.’s back story is at the Battle of Tullahoma (south of Franklin, TN and a few miles north of the Alabama State Line) he was captured by his long-time friend and neighbor and then sent to the prisoner of war camp in Elmira, NY. 

Major Henry Colt was, depending on the source, either the commander or second in command at the POW camp in Elmira, NY.  Henry Colt was the brother of the famed Samuel Colt, the man who invented the Colt revolver.  For the purpose of this story, Henry Colt is the second in command.  Every account I could find of life at Elmira and Henry Colt’s time there, the men respected him and felt that he was as fair as he could be under trying circumstances.  Elmira not only rivaled the worst of the Confederate prisoner of war camps (namely Andersonville, GA), it surpassed every camp--North or South in its death rate, over 24% of the Confederates who walked through the gates at Elmira died there.

By 1878, when this story takes place, the Republicans had effectively destroyed the vast majority of the terrorist group known as the Ku Klux Klan, using the same Union forces that had driven the South to her knees fifteen years before.  However, small pockets of those cowards continued to wreak havoc in parts of the Deep South.  Jack Dupree was butchered by men in the South who refused to accept defeat and refused to ever see a man of color as an equal.  For the most part the names of many of the children who were also killed by these cowards is not available; however the accounts of their deaths can be found in the historical records.  These children were killed simply because they dared to better themselves through education.

Allison’s back story is she was a teacher for these children.  While writing of her recount of some of the horrors visited on “her students,” the news broke about the agonizing tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  For several days, I could not force myself to go back to the keyboard.  I told my Muse to take a hike, that I was not writing a novel where children were murdered just because they wanted an education.  Or, where a young boy, a regimental drummer who was captured by Union forces, was also shot and killed when he ventured too close to the “dead line”—often an arbitrary line drawn in the dirt by the stockade walls of the prison camps.  I truly debated just deleting the whole file and hanging up the idea. 

After three days, my Muse whispered that the story had to be told.  So, I sat down at the keyboard again.  I’m glad I did.  I know there will have to be rewrites, but I have typed “The End.” 

On to the next…

Friday, December 14, 2012

What have we come to?


I am posting this blog with an incredibly heavy heart.  Today such an unspeakable evil reared its head and destroyed so many families.  My heart aches for the family and loved ones of the small children who were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary and also for the family and loved ones of those brave adults who truly gave their lives attempting to save children and in several cases, did save the lives of many.  My heart is also heavy with grief for the family of the young man who perpetrated this horrible evil.

I truly cannot—nor do I wish to—imagine the agony the families of these victims are suffering.  There are truly no words to express the sorrow, the grief, and the sympathy I feel for these families. 

I’m a western historical romance writer.  Guns and weapons are a part of the stock and trade in this genre.  I will state up front that I own several weapons, ranging in caliber from a .22 up to a 30-06.  That said this will not be a blog about whether or not we need more or less gun control laws.  The wounds are much too raw, much too painful to even begin a rational discussion on gun control laws.  Just let me state—for the record, the young man who slaughtered all those lives did NOT have possession of those firearms legally.  They were stolen from the legal owner—his own mother.

Gun ownership is a right.  Period.  It is guaranteed to us by our Constitution and it has nothing to do with hunting but everything to do with the citizenry protecting themselves from a tyrannical government.  Yet, all rights assume responsibility.  I’m reminded of the line from a movie that with great power comes great responsibility.

Owning a gun carries the highest responsibility.  Holding a firearm means that you now literally hold the power of life and death over another living, breathing being in the palm of your hand.  Keeping that weapon secured with a child-proof gun lock and hopefully in a locked gun safe is a part of that responsibility.  Teaching any child or children in the household how to fire those weapons and teaching them a healthy respect for those weapons must be a part of that responsibility. 

Both of my kids were fascinated with weapons when they were younger.  Realizing this, I set up a time to take them to the firing range and let both of them shoot the shot gun.  After my daughter picked herself up off the floor where she had been knocked by the recoil, she swore she was never going to touch another gun again.  Well, she’s now an expert shooter, but she never touched another gun until she was more prepared, both physically and mentally.  She also hunts and says she sheds a tear every time she takes down her prey, but she is also very proficient.  The respect for the power of that weapon was taught to her at a young age when it knocked her flat on her butt.

For his job, my son must qualify on a firing range every so often.  He is now teaching his son to not only respect but to be responsible with firearms. 

We are teaching our grand-daughter how to shoot and to both respect and be responsible with firearms.  She’s getting a smaller stock .22 rifle for Christmas.  When she is not on the firing range, her weapon will be secured with a gunlock and secured away in a gun safe.  It is our responsibility to assure that she will be safe around weapons and how to responsibly handle a weapon. 

Handled with respect and with the understanding that this is a weapon which can and will take the life of the target it is aimed at must be taught.  But before that, the respect for life must be taught.  That seems to be the hardest lesson to teach and learn.  We have learned the wrong lesson about life.  It is much too cheap now.  And that is the most gut-wrenching, agonizing lesson from today’s tragedy.  We have not taught our children that life is the most precious and priceless gift there is. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

self promotion


Christmas is just around the corner and then comes the official, hard-copy release of The Devil’s Own Desperado.  I’ve been blogging, have purchased an ad on one of the larger review sites to push the novel, and I still feel like I’m not doing enough to promote myself.  I can honestly say I’ve never liked to blow my own horn.  This is quite an adjustment, bragging myself and the novel up.  I was raised to do a good job, praise others, and recognition for my hard work would come to me on its own. 

Ummm…okay…

Unfortunately, that isn’t how it works in the real world, and especially not in this era of publication.  Most publishers don’t have the time, the staff, or the budgets to do the all-out media blitz as they used to do.  That media blitzing is now up to the author.  We make or break our own novels. 

With that in mind, I’m announcing that I’ve been interviewed on two different blogs.  The interview appearing on Sarah Hoss’s blog is today and it’s at http://www.heart-of-romance.blogspot.com/.   Sarah was gracious enough to share her blog space with me for this interview.

The other blog I’ve been interviewed for is at MK McClintock’s space.  She is a host for several blog-hops for readers and writers.  Can I just say that I love the design of her blog space?  I’ll be at the following link on December 13th. http://mkmcclintock.blogspot.com/

Check out the blogs, leave a comment, shout “howdy” and share the links.  Please.






Monday, December 10, 2012

Civil War POW camps and romance novels????


For my current work in progress, I’ve been doing some research on prisoner of war camps during the American Civil War (or for those who prefer: either the War for Southern Independence or the War of Northern Aggression).  The hero spent time at Johnson's Island, north of Sandusky, Ohio when he was taken prisoner by the Union forces.

War brings about many evils, the worst of which, in my opinion, is the cruelty that man perpetuates on his fellow man.  The American Civil War was no different.  At the beginning of the conflict, captured soldiers were often paroled and sent home, with a promise not to take up arms again.  It quickly became apparent that wasn’t working, so the issue of what to do with captured soldiers arose.  Prisoner of war camps began dotting up behind lines for both sides of the war.

Andersonville
Andersonville in Georgia was beyond a doubt one of the worst of these prisoner of war camps.  Starvation, forced labor, death by disease from deplorable living conditions and from blunt force trauma administered by the guards were the norms at Andersonville.  The camp commander, Henry Wirtz, was captured at the end of the war, and then tried and executed for war crimes in what was probably the first trial of its kind.  To be fair, most of the conditions in the camp were completely beyond Wirtz’s control as the South was heavily blockaded by the North at the time when the greatest concentration of deaths occurred in the camp and food stuffs and medicine were extremely difficult—if not impossible—to procure.  The conditions within his control, he was totally responsible for—the brutality of the guards to the prisoners, the forced labor, summary executions.  At one point, the conditions were so horrendous at Andersonville, that Wirtz allowed five men to leave and go North with a written request for assistance for the Northern prisoners.  That request was denied.  Those five men then returned to Andersonville to continue to wait out the war in the camp because they had promised their fellows in arms they would return.  A man’s word was worth something then.

Johnson's Island (Union prison for CSA officers) Sandusky, Ohio
When word reached the North of the conditions in the Southern camps the Northern forces retaliated and began to treat their Southern brethren with the same cruelty and utter disregard for humanity that they perceived to be happening in the Southern POW camps.  Rations were cut for the Southern prisoners, medicines denied, and brutality became the norm.  In camps in the far north like Elmira many Southern soldiers froze to death in the winter. 

Elmira, New York housed the Northern equivalent of Andersonville.  The death rate in Elmira matched that of Andersonville and for all the same reasons.  Life in any POW camp during the American Civil War was a literal hell on earth.  Thousands of men were crowded into camps often less than five acres in total area.  Housing very often was whatever the men could find to make a shelter against the elements. The only water sources for these places were often small streams or ponds—and that water was used for drinking, cooking, bathing, and even as latrines.  It was no wonder that so many men died of dysentery.  Small pox often ran rampant in the camps, as did measles.  Both were often fatal. 
           
One of the very good things to come out of the atrocities committed by both sides in these hellholes was that the United States determined after the war that never again would a US prisoner of war camp be run as any of the camps were during the Civil War.  Long before the Geneva Convention and the rules governing how prisoners of war should be treated, the United States stepped up and made the decision that within a prisoner of war camp, we would never again stoop to such depravity.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Trains, conflicts, and talking to myself again...


There are times, if anyone really listened to me talking to myself, I’m certain the people eavesdropping on my seemingly one-sided conversation would suggest at the minimum psychological help and at the other end of the spectrum a nice, safe, round rubber room where I couldn’t harm myself.  The thing is, as a writer, I talk to myself quite often.

I was talking to myself the other day.  The new romance I started for NaNaWriMo (which, by the way, I did not get 50K words done in the month—not even close) was going nowhere fast.  Oh, I had my two main characters hurtling down the tracks at the astronomical speed of about 50 miles an hour (for the 1870s, that was an astronomical speed) and safely ensconced in a fairly deserted passenger car, and that was the problem.  They were safely ensconced.  So I backed the story line up and asked my characters what I missed. 

Most authors can tell you that when an author asks a character (or characters) a direct question, the author may not like the answer.  A.J. has always been one of those characters who has honed sarcasm into a weapon.  Allison is a bit more blunt.  I could clearly see the both of them in the passenger car, A.J. leaning up against a door, Allison on the bench seat in the back of the car.  A.J. stated, drawl firmly in check, “I’d be inclined to hazard the guess that you missed getting us off the train back at the last station and with your keen sense of observation, you still managed to completely miss the rather unsavory sort who’s been following Allison.”

Really?  Where was he mentioned?  And why do you two have to get off the train? 

“Don’t tell me you forget to write my suspicions in the scene where you introduce me.  You made it a point to put me in those ridiculous heeled boots that made it nearly impossible to run after the train you made sure I missed.” 

Sorry, Allison, guilty as charged.  I did put you in the fashion of the day and I don’t recall you telling me anything about a man you thought was following you.  Just as much your fault as it is mine.

So rather than listen to A.J. demanding to know if he needed to go tell the engineer that the train had to be stopped and backed up about 20 pages or if I was going to do that, I went ahead and stopped said train and backed it up.  Added in the afore mentioned unsavory sort following Allison in the scene where I introduced her and now I have them off the train. 

Things are rolling along now.  At least where the plot is concerned.  Those two, on the other hand, have just hit a major snag.  Something about a wanted poster, aliases, and murder...

Monday, November 26, 2012

How do you measure a horse's life?

Dipper and my daughter, Indiana State Fair, 1996


How do you measure a horse’s life?  Is it in the 29 years you were blessed and honored to be trusted by such an exquisite animal?  Is it the 10585 days that you were greeted every time you went to the barn or pulled into the driveway with a hearty whinny?  Is it in the 15,242,400 hours that you spent learning how best that horse learned what you attempted to teach him? 

Do you measure that life in the things that the two of you accomplished?  Or do you measure it in the accomplishments that horse helped several young riders to attain?  Do you measure that life in what that horse taught you?

Dipper (known to the Arabian Horse Club as Dastardly Dip—not my choice of a registered name for him but he came already registered) came into my life when he was six months old and my son was seven months old.  I had always wanted a horse, preferably an Arabian.  I saw an ad in the local paper that was advertising a weanling three-quarter grey Arabian for sale at a ridiculously low price.  I dragged my then husband with me to go see this baby.  The paper said he was a grey.  The only baby in the small paddock near the house was a screaming strawberry, with black stockings, and cream colored mane and tail.  What grey he had were hundreds of tiny, tiny flecks of grey spattered in the strawberry.

We walked to the paddock and this baby walked over to us and he promptly put his head in my chest.  Those huge, liquid black eyes half closed when I started to rub his poll.  I stroked his face and slipped a hand under his chin and he immediately started to suck on my fingers.

His owner walked up, introduced herself and I asked where the baby was she had advertised.  She told me I was petting him.  The expression on my face must have said it all because she assured me by the time he was two, he would be grey—flea-bitten—but a grey, none the less.  We started to talk about this baby and why she was selling him.  She was getting out of horses and he was one of three she had left, but because he was so special to her, Dipper had to go to the right home. 

I’d already lost my heart to him, so I was doing my best to convince her that I was the right home.  During this conversation, the baby wandered off.  My husband put Jason down.  After a few moments, I realized that husband wasn’t holding Jason and looked for him.  He was under Dipper’s belly, using Dipper’s front legs to pull himself up to stand.  And, all this Arab baby was doing was turning into a pretzel to twist his head far enough under himself to see this tiny human. 

Dipper came home with me.  I knew NOTHING about training a horse, but I could read.  I never forced him to do anything.  Time and patience were my best training tools.  And I talked to everyone I knew who had ever owned a horse, ridden a horse, trained a horse.  What I didn’t know, I figured common sense would take us a long way.  And, baby, what a long way we’ve come.  

I taught Dipper how to be a western pleasure horse, because the then ex-husband said I could never teach him to pick up the correct lead and be competitive.  I taught Dipper to be an English pleasure horse because after a while, being a western pleasure horse wasn’t a challenge for him anymore.  I taught Dipper to pull.  I taught Dipper to first level dressage.  And then, because I had learned from this horse so very much about how to be a horsewoman and I realized that he was bored to tears, I taught him to run barrels.   

Who knew hidden within a horse with more sense and sanity than a lot of the humans I know there was a high octane contesting animal just waiting to turn and burn around three barrels?  Where he floated in a trot for English pleasure, rode like a rocking chair in a western pleasure lope, he turned a set of barrels as if he was a quarter horse spinning on a dime and leaving nine cents change.

Dipper taught both of my kids to be riders.  He had more patience than a herd of horses combined.  If an inexperienced rider was on him, he was the most placid beast on the planet.  A plow horse had more spark and fire than he did.  But, put an experienced rider up on him and he turned on the juice.  He took my daughter to State Fair.  He took two other riders to State Fair. 

Shortly after I married my DH, we had a fight.  I went to the barn where Dipper was stabled to clean his stall, but I picked up eight bottles of Budweiser before I went.  I don’t like beer, but I was so angry I was willing to drink it.  Well, one and a half beers later, I was plastered and Dipper finished the second bottle for me.  Who knew he’d like Bud so much—so I gave him another one, and then another one.  To this day, I couldn’t tell you who was more wasted.  I can tell you that neither one of us could walk a straight line.  I saddled him up to do some work on the flat.  At one point, Dipper stopped in the middle of the arena and I started laughing.  A moment later, I realized horses can laugh, too.  He stood with his head down, ears falling off his head, and his whickering was slurred. 

He loved to go out for long walks in snow storms.  He also enjoyed to go for walks at night.  A lot of horses don’t like to be ridden in the dark.  He liked those long rides and I think it’s because he trusted me not to let him walk into trouble.  I know I trusted him to keep me safe on those rides. 

He still puts his head in my chest, wanting his ears rubbed.  He still sucks on my fingers.  When we were done working or riding, he always put his head in my chest and I would rub his ears for several minutes, letting him know he had done a good job and he was done for the day.  He put his head in my chest today, after he choked for the second time in as many days, and wanted me to rub his ears.  He sucked on my fingers.  I know he is asking me to tell him he’s done a good job and that he’s done working.

In the morning, my DH will give Dipper the last shot to ease him from this life.  Before he does that, I will rub his ears again, and I know he’ll drop his head into my chest one last time.  One last time, he’ll suck on my fingers.  And, I will tell him that he’s done a good job.  He can stop, now. 

I know how I measure a horse’s life.  It’s measured by the size of the hole that will be in my heart after tomorrow and it’s measured by what I have learned about patience, and love, and gentleness.

Rest in peace, Dipper.  You have done everything I have ever asked of you and so much more.  No one could have ever asked for a better friend, better mount, or better first horse.  Rest in peace.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Saying "Thank you."


Thanksgiving has come and gone.  Turkey leftovers are d’rigour for the next couple of days—turkey casserole, turkey sandwiches, turkey soup.  Black Friday—that peculiar custom which is distinctly American—has been moved into Thanksgiving Day as retailers attempt to lure more and more shoppers into the stores and malls.  In a lot of stores, the Christmas decorations were out and on display by Halloween.  Sigh…

On Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, I found myself asking why in the world I do this every year—prepare a feast that will leave everyone moving away from the table like bloated ticks—for lack of a better description?  Why do I put myself under this kind of pressure and stress?  Why do I clean the house within an inch of its proverbial life?  Why do I stay up until all hours of the night on Wednesday, baking up the treats that everyone in my family seems to expect for Thanksgiving—pumpkin, apple, cherry, and pecan pies, sweet breads, and even cookies?  Even though I have severe insomnia, the stress makes it worse. 

To try to justify this kind of masochistic behavior, I started listing the things I was thankful for.  The usual suspects were on that list: a DH who loves me, grandkids I would walk through fire for, kids I love beyond reason (even though there are times I would like the strangle one or the other of them and sometimes both at the same time), a roof over my head, family that keeps my life interesting, my doggies who keep me grounded, friends that I can share laughter and tears with, a published book and reviews of that book that make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Those reviews are the point of this blog, even if it took this long to get there.  As someone who has written reviews—both for popular literature and for a literary magazine—I have an idea of the time that goes into writing a review, even if it’s only a sentence or two.  Someone took the time to commit to reading and then time out of a busy day to write those reviews for The Devil’s Own Desperado

I know how thankless it can be to take the time to write a review.  The literary reviews I’ve done seemed to only be met with comments of “What in the &*^% were you thinking when you wrote this?”  Ummm, okay, then.  Just because I didn’t write a glowing review of those works, claiming said work was the next incarnation of ____________________________ (fill in your choice of your idea of a literary classic), apparently I didn’t think when I wrote those reviews.  When I wrote a review of a work of popular literature, the silence was deafening.  (At least I wasn’t pilloried and then run out of town on a rail, after being tarred and feathered.)  However, one review that I did of a work of popular literature is now being used on a regular basis in a class on popular literature and the mass media at the university where I teach.  Seems I made such a compelling argument against the piece of drivel being taught as a “romance novel” that the instructor for that class uses it as a counter argument and then allows the students to make up their own minds as to whether or not that work is a romance.  I’ve heard from several students who have taken the class that were thankful that someone laid it out as to why that novel was NOT a romance.  (Yes, my work there is complete.  I have rebelled against the establishment and gotten others to also rebel.)

All those reviews though for The Devil’s Desperado on Amazon got me to thinking about those people who wrote those reviews, even the one that had me scratching my head, and asking the same question that was asked of me when I wrote literary reviews.  How often have these people written reviews for books they’ve purchased and read?  Quite a few of them have.  And, how many of them actually got any feedback from the author?  So, I decided that I was going to acknowledge those people who took time out of their day to leave a review for me.  Even if all I did was say “Thank you,” I was determined to leave feedback.  Even if I had to duct tape my fingers together so I didn’t type something along the lines of “What the *&^% were you thinking when you wrote this review?”, I was going to acknowledge those reviews and thank each one for taking the time to write a review.

If you’re an author and have a review of your book, how often have you thanked the people who reviewed it?  Think about it.  Reviews and word of mouth drive a lot of sales now.  Friends sharing responses to books they’ve read…sharing posts on Facebook about a book they really liked…ranking those books on Goodreads…Most of the time, a review isn’t acknowledge other than the author announcing “I got a good review from XYZ.” 

Try the personal touch.  Thank the people who reviewed your book, even if you aren’t happy with the review.  Someone took the time to read your book and then review it.  Tell those people you appreciate it.  Such a gesture may not sell more books, but think of the good karma you’ll be sending into the universe.  Karma—good or bad—always comes around.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Crazy...


I’m crazy.  It’s that simple.  I’m flippin’ insane—certifiably, round the bend, toys in the attic CRAZY! 

November is always crunch time for the fall semester at the university where I teach freshman English, so what did I do?  I decide to do NaNoWriMo.  Yep…I’m crazy.  For those of you reading this blog who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it is National Novel Writing Month.  In other words, committing to NaNaWriMo means I’ve committed to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days.  I should be committed!  Crazy…said to the tune of the Patsy Cline hit…

I’m about 20K words into a work in progress.  It’s rough.  Really, really rough, but that’s the beauty of NaNoWriMo.  Shut the internal off and start writing.  A long time ago, I wrote a contemporary romance that I know will never be published—aside from the fact the thing is so incredibly dated now it’s not funny.  But, I love the hero.  And the heroine.  Love them both so much they still haunt my dreams.  If you look up “alpha male romance hero” in the dictionary, you’d find my hero’s picture there.  But, despite being an alpha, he is broken.  Incredibly broken…shattered and damaged and so full of self-loathing and recrimination it’s a wonder the man can function at all.  And she is more than his equal.  She’s tough as old shoe leather when it counts, but full of belief in him.  She literally pulls him out of the depths of a hell he’s allowed others to create for him.

So, for NaNoWriMo, I decided that as an author, and therefore the Great Creative God in my hero and heroine’s world, I was going to pick them up and transport them into an historical romance.  I toyed with the idea of a time travel.  I mean if I was going to pick them up and plop them down in a train careening westward across Nebraska (NEBRASKA????) to the Wyoming Territory, maybe it should be a time travel romance. 

Nah.  That wasn’t working for me.  So, 10K words into that, I pitched that idea out the window of that rapidly moving train (when it wasn’t stopped about every 90 minutes to take on more water and fuel for the steam engine) and started playing the old “who, what, where, why, and what-if” game. 

I’ve always had an affinity for those men who donned Confederate grey and homedyed butternut.  Not the generals, or the politicians involved, mind you, but those men who fought out of a sense of duty and patriotism for their home states.  (Robert E. Lee turned down the command of the Union Army and said he had to be faithful to his state of Virginia.)  I read somewhere that more than 90% of the men who donned the grey never owned more than five acres and never owned a single slave.  They were fighting for State’s rights.  Like Rhett Butler, when he leaves Scarlett so he can go off and join the Southern Cause, I find my heart belongs to lost causes and underdogs. 

So, my hero became a Confederate.  And she’s a Yankee…damned and all.  Well, maybe not damned.  I’m still trying to figure out if I can get a dragon into this whole mess. 

At any rate, here’s a small blurb from this work in progress:
Allison Webster ran out of the train station, cursing herself.  How had she managed to miss the porter’s call for everyone to board?  The train was belching black smoke from its massive diamond stack and pulling away from the station.

“Wait!”  Allison ran as fast as her heeled boots would allow her, small carpetbag banging against her leg.  “Please, wait!”

She caught the caboose, but the train was picking up speed.  Allison gave a burst of speed and closed on the last boxcar.  A man poked his head out of the car.  Even running for all she was worth, she caught his grin. 

“Toss that bag up here and give me your hand,” he shouted, holding his hand out to her. 

Without thinking of the consequences, Allison tossed her little bag into the car and grabbed the offered hand.  With one pull, he lifted her into the air and swung her into the livestock car.  Momentum carried her forward, and she fell to her knees in the straw.  At least the bedding was clean, she comforted herself, and she hadn’t landed in anything distasteful.  She knelt in the straw for a few moments to catch her breath.

After several gulping breaths, she pushed herself to stand and turned to the man who had rescued her.  He stood in the open doorway, leaning a shoulder against the frame, his back to the landscape beginning to move faster past them.  He wore a threadbare grey greatcoat, the elbows patched, the cuffs frayed.  The remains of gold braid spiraled along the collar and cuffs.  A battered, sweat-stained cavalry styled hat covered his head and shaded half his face.  Even though she couldn’t see his expression, Allison had the most uncomfortable feeling she was being looked over and sized up.  Self-conscious, she ran her hands down the front of her skirt.  “Thank you,” she managed.

He dipped his head.  “First time we stop to take on water and wood, you can go on up to the passenger cars.”

The train lurched as it picked up even more speed and Allison stumbled forward, falling into him, the length of her upper body pressing against the wall of his chest.  She grabbed his upper arms to steady herself and looked up into his face.  Eyes the color of cobalt Italian marble bored into her.  Dark beard stubble covered his lean, hollowed cheeks and hard jawline.  She couldn’t look away from his face and seemed frozen in place.

A muscle clenched in his jaw and something icy filled the depths of his eyes.  His hands closed on her waist.  She couldn’t stop the small squeak stealing from her. 

Without any seeming effort, he lifted her and set her down a foot or so away.  “Go sit down over there on that hay bale, before you fall out the door, or worse, knock me out the door.”

Allison nodded vigorously and cautiously walked to the hay bale in a corner of the car.  She sat down, then dropped her head to the wall behind her and shut her eyes, all the while trying to recreate a semblance of order to her hair where several strands had escaped the chignon at the back of her head.  A few moments later, she glanced over to the opened door.  Her brusque rescuer had his back to her. 

“Do you know how long before we stop to take on more water and fuel?”

He twisted his head to look at her over his shoulder.  “Probably about an hour.”

“Thank you, again, sir.”

“Try not to make it a habit of missing the train.”

When the train stopped to take on water at the first jerkwater little town, Allison admitted to herself that it had been the longest hour of her life.  Her attempts at any conversation were met with silence at the worst and at the best, noncommittal grunts.  He grabbed her bag and set it next to the door and waited for her to walk to the wide door.  Allison slid down from the car, took the strategically placed bag and before she could offer her thanks, he stepped back into the shadows.  A moment later, the door slid shut.
****
A.J. watched the little slip of a woman make her way from the boxcar with as much dignity as it appeared she could muster.  The memory of that tiny waist in his hands and the slightness of her build had startled him.  When she met his eyes, he’d been taken back.  Eyes the color of melted chocolate widened and her slender, feathered brows lifted.  Bright color flooded her cheeks when he told her to have a seat on the hay bale. 

He had watched her discreetly tuck several strands of gold kissed walnut hair back under that ridiculous hat perched on her head.  Realizing he had been staring at her, A.J. turned his back, letting the rapidly moving landscape occupy his gaze.  She was lovely, he had to admit that.  And, it had been a very long time since he had looked at a woman and not compared her to Cathy.  He had sworn, as he knelt at Cathy’s grave that there would never be another.  Now, a little slip of a thing had gotten in past his carefully constructed battlements and stirred something in him he would have sworn an oath to be long dead and buried beneath a live oak in Kentucky.

 Sliding the door shut in her face hadn’t been the most gentlemanly thing he could have done, but he had long ago given up being anything that might even resemble a gentleman.  Hell, he’d given that up somewhere in upstate New York, in a hell on earth called Elmira.  If he’d harbored any hopes of regaining anything that came close to gallantry after watching men fight one another like animals for a scrap of moldy bread, egged on by not only their captive brothers in arms but by the guards who placed bets on the winners and losers, all hope died when he collapsed to his knees at the graves of his wife and daughters. 

Yep…crazy…

Monday, November 12, 2012

Frozen Winter-wonderland



We’ve been in Wyoming in the late fall and early winter, experienced a very early season blizzard, but we’ve never been there when it is full on winter.  That’s on my bucket list, to experience Wyoming’s winter.  Some people may tell me at this point that I need my head examined, that winter in Wyoming can be dangerous, cold, dark, and dreary.  And, how is it different from winter in other parts of the Midwest?

I keep telling DH that we need to make a trip to Wyoming sometime in the winter to experience Yellowstone.  No, Yellowstone doesn’t close for the winter, even though most of the roads going into the park are closed.  Even a few of the famous lodges are open and often aren’t booked years in advance.  There are ways to get in—one is the famous Snowcoach.  I mean, really, how cool is this?  There are even night excursions for what has to be arguably the most intense star-gazing experience of a lifetime (short of actually taking flight in a rocket ship).

What I can tell you about Wyoming’s wild open spaces in the winter is the silence is so intense it is frightening if you’re not expecting it.  But, during a snowfall, something magical happens.  That enveloping silence changes with the sound of falling snow, a shushing sound as flakes drift through the air and fall to the ground.  If feathers truly could have a sound as they settle to earth, it would be the sound of snowflakes slowly surrendering to the pull of gravity.  That falling snow muffles all other sound, filling the air with its own music and overwhelming the awesome silence of a slumbering landscape.





Yellowstone in the winter is transformed, the landscape mantled in shades of stunning whites, icy silvers, and shadows populated with deep blues, purples, greys, and black.  The tourists are gone for the season, so the park does now belong to the wildlife and those hardy enough to brave the shattering cold.  Portions of the landscape never freeze, because of the thermal activity so close to the surface.  The geysers still bubble and percolate, Old Faithful still hisses and spews her magnificent fountain of super-heated water and steam into the air, and sections of the Yellowstone and Firehole Rivers steam with heated water re-entering the rivers.  These “hotspots” in the ice attract the wildlife, offering year round drinking holes and the rising steam offers places to warm shivering bodies. 
 
Now, I just need to convince the DH that I have to mark this one off my bucket list.  

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Women Voting? Are They Insane?


If I said I was sick to the death of politics, I’m sure most people in the United States would agree with me.  As someone who voted in the general election just the other day, I have a right to vent about the process.  Twelve years ago, when we elected George W. Bush (and, yes, for inquiring minds, I voted for him and voted to re-elect him), I said at the time that the archaic system we have here of the electoral college needed to be scraped and actually allow the American population to vote for the President—not the electors who would then vote for the President.  I knew at the time, if we had a “one man one vote” system for the Presidency as we do for EVERY OTHER elected position in this country, that election would have ended very differently.  Al Gore would have been our President.  The thought of Al Gore as our President nauseated me, however, the system seemed inherently unfair to me at the time.  It still seems inherently unfair and outdated.  Before anyone starts calling me names here, I will note that if we had a “one man one vote” system in this election for the office of President of the United States, nothing about this election would have changed.  We would still have the incumbent returning as President of the United States.

I had a history major in combination with my English major as an undergraduate and I still don’t understand what this country’s founding fathers were thinking when they decided that for the office of President, the American voting public would not vote for the President but would vote for an elector to then vote for the President.  I’ve often thought the reason the founding fathers did that was because they were certain that the average voter just didn’t have the intelligence to make the right choice when it came to who should be President.  (And, no there will not be a snarky comment here about whether or not that opinion has changed in light of the just ended political campaign and election results—all though, I think I just did make a snarky comment…oh, well.)

In keeping with the theme of voting and staying in Wyoming, here’s a brief history of voting rights for women (gasp!) in Wyoming. The Western suffrage story began when Wyoming transformed a dream into reality in 1869. That year, the twenty-member Territorial Legislature approved a revolutionary measure stating: “That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote.” William Bright, the bill's sponsor, had come to share his wife, Julia's, belief that suffrage was a basic right of American citizenship.

Esther Morris
There was no organized suffrage campaign, and not a single parade, debate, or public display. But women kept vigil outside Governor John A. Campbell's office until he signed the bill into law. Eliza A. “Grandma” Swain of Laramie claimed the honor of casting Wyoming's first female ballot in 1870. Esther Morris of South Park City and Caroline Neil gained fame as the nation's first female justices of the peace. The next year Wyoming's women sat on juries, another simple but revolutionary inroad for women's rights.

Why would a western backwater like Wyoming, where there were more antelope than people (still are, actually), challenge the nation to embrace such a controversial experiment? Was it a publicity stunt to attract more settlers? A political ploy to advance partisan causes? A panicked effort to counteract the votes of newly enfranchised African American men in western territories? (The last is the least probable, as Wyoming has usually embraced the notion that a man be judged on the content of his character and not on the color of his skin and the American Civil War and the politics involved with that fiasco were far removed from the thoughts of the average Wyoming citizen.) There were many reasons offered in 1869, and no one explanation satisfies historians even to this day. It is clear, however, that Wyoming women embraced their right to vote and staunchly defended it against all threats.

The news spread rapidly in 1869. Although Susan B. Anthony's call for eastern women to migrate en masse to Wyoming went largely unheeded, she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton traveled to “the land of freedom” on the newly completed Transcontinental Railroad in 1871. Tourists and journalists made regular pilgrimages to the territory, like anthropologists observing an exotic tribe. Some were on the lookout for that “pestiferous freelove doctrine,” which eastern critics of women's suffrage feared so heartily. But they were hard-pressed to find anything that shocking in Wyoming. By 1888, national suffragists were still anxious to tout the therapeutic effects of suffrage in practice, hanging convention banners declaring that “the vote of women transformed Wyoming from barbarism to civilization.” Harper's Magazine ran a story describing Cheyenne women in their Sunday best, politely registering voters door to door as if promenading through Central Park.

Life for Wyoming women went on, despite the exaggerated eastern publicity. Town women organized small schools and churches and tried to keep saloons under control (good luck with that!). Hardy ranch women survived the labors and wild adventures of raising cattle on dry windy prairies or in the snowy Rocky Mountains. Horsewomen rode astride in trousers, tracking and shooting elk, bobcat and pronghorn. Families crowded into dusty sod houses for shelter during blizzards. A handful of African American women found work in Cheyenne as laundresses. For most women, the right to participate fully in their community's politics became a fact of life as necessary as working, eating or breathing.

Nellie Tayloe Ross
Wyoming statehood, in 1890, brought the frightening prospect that opponents of suffrage would rescind the right in the new constitution. Women lobbied hard against such threats. Two-thirds of the voters (all male) approved the proposed constitution with suffrage intact. The suffragists' powers of persuasion held up even when statehood was threatened in the face of congressional opposition. When the U.S. Congress, strongly opposed to women's suffrage, threatened to withhold statehood from Wyoming, Cheyenne officials sent back a  staunchly worded telegram stating that Wyoming would remain out of the Union 100 years rather than join without women's suffrage. On July 10, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed the bill approving Wyoming as the nation's “Equality State.” Wyoming voters went on to make history in 1924, when they elected Nellie Tayloe Ross, the nation's first woman governor.

(source for this entry: http://theautry.org/explore/exhibits/suffrage/suffrage_wy.html)

Friday, November 2, 2012

Winter in the Medicine Bow and Snowy Ranges

early snow in the Medicine Bow

We had a hard freeze the other night and that got me thinking about my next blog entry.  I want to continue to take you on a virtual tour around this state I love so much but I also want to connect it to The Devil’s Own Desperado

Colt and Amelia’s story is set in the town of Federal, but Federal isn’t a town any more.  It’s little more than a wide spot on a north-bound spur of the Burlington-Northern Railroad.  Federal has an impressive view of the Medicine Bow and Snowy Ranges of the Rocky Mountains. 

Centennial Peak
Winter in this part of the country has an annoying tendency to arrive early.  Two years ago, the DH, darling grand-daughter, and I were in Wyoming the first week of October and already there was a lot of snow up on the Snowies.  (There is a reason they are called “The Snowy Range”—and it’s just as much from the snow and glaciers that cover the heights as it is from the sugary white quartzite that the peaks are made of.)  Darling grand-daughter said she wanted to go up to the top of Centennial Peak and play in the snow.  DH and I suggested that she might not want to do that, because it was going to be very cold up there and windy.  She was adamant about it, so being good grand-parents, we bundled her up in her winter coat, pulled her gloves on her, and headed up Highway 130 into the Snowies.

We stopped at the observation area of Libby Flats and let her get out.  The first words out of her mouth were, “It’s cold up here!”

No kidding.  Really?

She played in the snow for oh…thirty five seconds before she had enough and wanted back in the car and was begging me to turn the heat on. 

The Medicine Bow and Snowy Ranges are truly a year ‘round outdoorsman’s paradise.  Crystal clear alpine lakes and mountain streams afford trout fishing during three seasons.  Spring and summer invites hikers, bicyclists, and horsemen into the Medicine Bow and Snowies.  Cattle are moved into higher pastures to graze on the alpine grasses.  Fall brings in the hunters and those who want to see the mountainsides lit with the golden light of turning trees.  In preparation for the deep snows of winter, the cattle are rounded up and brought down to lower pastures.  Winter sees people on snowshoes, skiers, and snow-mobiles enjoying glistening powder.

early snow storm near Centennial, WY
This is the backdrop where I set Colt and Amelia’s story—the rugged, harsh, beauty that rises into the south-eastern skies of Wyoming. 

I’ll extend the invitation to come visit Wyoming.  It is forever wild here.  

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wild Rose Haunted Garden Halloween Blog Hop


Because Halloween is rapidly approaching, it’s time to share a haunted spot in Wyoming.  This time, we’re going to Sheridan, Wyoming and visiting the historic Sheridan Inn.  Once home to Buffalo Bill Cody and though it has long been closed for sleeping rooms, it remains home to a ghostly spirit by the name of Miss Kate Arnold.

This historic inn, now on the National Register of Historic Places, opened its doors on May 27, 1893 complete with electrical power which ran from a coal-fired threshing machine engine. A whistle would be blown at midnight to remind everyone that the building’s 200 lights should be turned off. Buffalo Bill Cody, who was involved with the Inn from its inception, led the grand opening celebration into the dining room on June 27, 1893.

Sheridan Inn circa 1900
 When it was opened the Sheridan Inn was said by many to be the finest hotel between Chicago and San Francisco. It immediately became the social center for the Big Horn country area which, at that time attracted many big game hunting parties, including notables from all parts of the United States.

George and Lucy Canfield were the Inn’s first managers, catering to people who stayed at the Inn when their homes were being built, and the area ranchers who would spend their weekends at the Inn. Some even kept their good clothes at the Inn for the next party that would be thrown. Early prices at the inn were $1.00/day for a room, 25¢ for breakfast and 50¢ for lunch or dinner. A stagecoach made regular stops at the Inn so a meal ticket could also be purchased for $7.00, which included 21 meals.

In 1894 Buffalo Bill purchased the business, but not the building, and kept it until 1901, retaining the Canfields as managers. Across from the Inn, Bill Cody operated the W.F. Cody Transportation Company, the stage that ran from the Inn to Deadwood, South Dakota.

When Buffalo Bill was in town he lived at the inn and held many parties for his traveling companions. Later he designed and built the Irma Hotel in Cody, Wyoming, naming it after his youngest daughter. He and his family then lived in Cody but continued to visit the Sheridan Inn often.

Kate Arnold 
In 1901, Catherine B. Arnold, familiarly known as "Miss Kate,” came to Sheridan from Virginia with her parents. At the age of 22 she started working and living at the Sheridan Inn and continued work there for the next 64 years as seamstress, desk clerk, housekeeper, hostess and babysitter.

Miss Kate was well-loved by both the staff and the many guests of the hotel. Flowers from her garden behind the Inn decorated the dining room tables every day. She stayed at the hotel until 1965 when it was closed and sold to a developer, who planned to tear it down and use the land for other purposes. However, the Sheridan Historical Society started a "Save the Inn” campaign that lasted for the next two years. Finally, a newcomer named Neltje purchased the structure and she began extensive restorations on the first floor. The Inn reopened in 1967 for dining and dancing and Ms. Neltje operated the Inn for the next twenty years.

In 1968, Miss Kate passed away and her last request was to return to the Sheridan Inn. Her remains were cremated and her ashes were interred in the wall of the room that she occupied on the third floor for so many years.

Bar area circa 1930s
In 1990 the Sheridan Heritage Center purchased the Inn from bankruptcy court with the help of a $100,000 loan and an additional $100,000 in grant monies from the State of Wyoming. The Inn was reopened to the public in June, 1991. The Wyoming Rib and Chop House is the "Keeper of the Inn,” serving both lunch and dinner, and provides banquet and party services at the Inn.

Currently there are no sleeping rooms available for rent at the Historic Sheridan Inn; however, the Sheridan Heritage Center has plans to continue restoration and eventually offer more than twenty rooms for overnight stays.

That being said, Miss Kate’s room has been fully renovated by the Preceptor Tau Chapter of Beta Sigma Phi Sorority, who took on the room as a community project. Miss Kate’s favorite chair has been place next to the wall where her ashes are buried. Today, legend has it that Miss Kate continues to act as guardian over the Inn.

According to staff, Miss Kate’s presence is felt on an almost daily basis. She is known to repeatedly turn lights on and off and open and shut doors. Her presence is very strong in her third floor room often felt by moving cold spots. Cold spots also randomly appear near the front downstairs windows or in the ballroom. At other times, many have reported hearing the sounds of footsteps throughout the old inn. One person reported driving by the inn at 2:00 a.m. to see the third floor windows dark with the drapes closed. However, thirty minutes later, they drove by again and the lights were on and the drapes were open. The inn was obviously closed at that time of the night and according to staff, there would not be anyone on the third floor during these wee hours of the morning.

The Inn was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on May 7, 1964. Over the years, many famous people have stayed at the Inn including Earnest Hemingway, President Hoover, Will Rogers, Bob Hope, and many more.

Guided tours of all three floors are available or a self-guided floor for the first floor only. Reservations should be made for group tours.  The tour is on my bucket list for our next trip to Sheridan.  I’ve driven past the Inn several times and fell in love with both the classic charm of the building and the gorgeous bronze statue of a dancing couple on the front lawn.  Somehow, I can envision one of the couples in my western historical romances as that couple. 

The Historic Sheridan Inn can be accessed from I-90, exit #23 (Fifth Street). Travel one mile west on Fifth Street, just past the railroad tracks and you’ll be there. The town of Sheridan is in northern Wyoming, at the junction of I-90 and U.S. Hwy 14.


Contact Information:

Sheridan Heritage Center Inc.
c/o Della Herbst
856 Broadway Street
P.O. Box 6393
Sheridan, Wyoming 82801
307-674-5440

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