Thursday, December 31, 2009


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

When I was a little girl I’d watch many westerns, from Hop-a-long Cassidy, to Daniel Boone . . . Davy Crockett and Annie Oakley to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. In fact television viewing in the 1950’s, though only three network channels existed, was jammed packed on Saturday mornings with children’s shows. My all time favorite was The Lone Ranger (1949 to 1957), starring Clayton Moore in the title role and Jay Silverheels as his trusted Indian friend, Tonto.

In 1957 Clayton Moore came to my part of town and my father, knowing my admiration for the man and the show he acted in, took me to see the on-stage performance. However, at the end of the show, when all the children ran to get his autograph, I was unable to participate. Having been born in 1950 with a walking disability, I was unable to make the many stairs between Moore and I, in order to reach him. And with such a maddening crowd, my father was hesitant to carry me.

Disappointed, I rode in the front seat of the old Buick in tears. Then a large, black limo passed by our car and my father recognized the passenger sitting in the back seat. It was none other then Clayton Moore, on his way to the airport. My father beeped the horn, motioned for the driver to pull over, and to both of our surprise, the limo driver did just that. My father then ran to the driver’s side of the limo and explained the disappointment of his handicapped daughter. Clayton Moore then asked for my father to bring me to him.

Sitting next to Moore, my heart pounded with glorious excitement. Through the eye-holes of the black mask he wore, two very blue orbs peered down at me. And he told me to clean my plate, brush my teeth three times a day and obey my parents. Then he handed me a silver bullet with THE LONE RANGER inscribed on the bottom. I have that bullet still today, and the fond memory of such an thrilling time.

In 1987 Clayton Moore returned to my area to promote a local bank, the slogan being: THE LOAN ARRANGER. I, by the Grace of God, somehow was able to get in touch with Moore’s wife, Connie. After explaining my initial meeting with Moore, 30 years prior, Connie said she knew he’d want to see me again. This time our meeting was filmed by Channel 10 (WTEN/ABC) news and anchor-woman Marci Elliott. I showed Moore the silver bullet and he remembered the whole incident.

Down through the years The Lone Ranger and Tonto have remained with me, in fact my first historical, released by TWRP September 11th, 2009, entitled THE GOLDEN LADY, was created because of my love for Native Americans, which Tonto inspired. So this month I thought I’d dedicate my blog to the pioneer lawman, the Texas Ranger (which Moore portrayed in his series).

From my research using Wikipedia and DEA auctions/Police & Government sites this is what I found:

Texas Rangers, mounted fighting force, was organized (1835) during the Texas Revolution. During the republic they became established as the guardians of the Texas frontier, particularly against Native Americans. The Texas Rangers at first consisted of three companies of 25 men each. Said to “ride like Mexicans, shoot like Tennesseans, and fight like the very devil,” the rangers were unique as a police force in that they never drilled, were not required to salute officers, and wore neither uniforms nor any standard gear except the six-shooter. In their first decade of operation, the rangers effectively quelled lawlessness in Texas on frequent occasions, and in the Mexican War (1846–48) they served as scouts and guerrilla fighters, gaining a wide reputation for valor and effectiveness.

In the late 1850s the rangers fought vicious battles with the Comanche, and in the Civil War, Terry's Texas Rangers gained renown. In the Reconstruction era the Texas Rangers were engaged to control outlaws, feuding groups, and Mexican marauders and were responsible for keeping law and order along the Rio Grande. In 1874 the Texas Rangers were organized for the first time on a permanent basis in two battalions; one was assigned to arbitrate range wars on the frontier, and the other was sent to control cattle rustling on the Texas-Mexico border. The heyday of the great cattle business, with its feuds and shootings, its outlaws and rustlers, was also the heyday of the Texas Rangers.

In the 20th century the police responsibilities of the rangers, around whom much lore had built up, decreased, and by 1935 their numbers had diminished considerably. By act (1935) of the Texas legislature, the rangers were merged with the state highway patrol under the jurisdiction of the state department of public safety. The rangers now form an elite investigative squad within the Texas highway patrol. The first women rangers were admitted to the force in 1993.
Now based in Austin, the capital of Texas, the Texas Ranger Division, commonly called the Texas Rangers, is a law enforcement agency with statewide jurisdiction. Over the years, the Texas Rangers have investigated crimes ranging from murder to political corruption, acted as riot police and as detectives, protected the Governor of Texas, tracked down fugitives, and functioned as a paramilitary force at the service of both the Republic (1836–45) and the state of Texas.

The Texas Rangers are believed to have been unofficially created by Stephen F. Austin in 1823 and formally constituted in 1835. The unit was dissolved by the federal authorities during the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, but was quickly reformed upon the reinstitution of home government. Since 1935, the organization has been a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety; it fulfills the role of Texas's State Bureau of Investigation. As of 2009, there are 144 commissioned members of the Ranger force.

The unit has been called the oldest state-level law enforcement agency in the United States. The Rangers have taken part in many of the most important events of Texas history and were involved in some of the best-known criminal cases in the history of the Old West, such as those of gunfighter John Wesley Hardin (reputed to be the meanest man alive, an accolade he supposedly earned by killing a man for snoring. In May 1874, Hardin killed Charles Webb, the deputy sheriff of Brown County, for which the outlaw was relentlessly pursued. Officer Webb had been a former Texas Ranger). Also brought to justice was bank robber Sam Bass, and outlaws Bonnie and Clyde. Scores of books have been written about the Rangers, from well researched works of nonfiction to pulp fiction, making them significant participants in the mythology of the Wild West. During their long history, a distinct Ranger tradition has evolved; their cultural significance to Texians and later Texans is such that they are legally protected against disbandment.

Modern-day Rangers (as well as their predecessors) do not have a prescribed uniform, per se, although the State of Texas does provide guidelines as to appropriate Ranger attire, including a requirement that Rangers wear clothing that is western in nature. Historically, according to pictorial evidence, Rangers wore whatever clothes they could afford or muster, which were usually worn out from heavy use. While Rangers still pay for their clothing today, they receive an initial stipend to offset some of the costs of boots, gunbelts and hats.

To carry out their horseback missions, Rangers adapted tack and personal gear to fit their needs. Until the beginning of the 20th century, the greatest influence was from the vaqueros (Mexican cowboys). Saddles, spurs, ropes and vests used by the Rangers were all fashioned after those of the vaqueros. Most Rangers also preferred to wear broader-brimmed sombreros as opposed to cowboy hats, and they favored square-cut, knee-high boots with a high heel and pointed toes, in a more Spanish style. Both groups carried their guns the same way, with the holsters positioned high around their hips instead of low on the thigh. This placement made it easier to draw and shoot while riding a horse.

The wearing of badges became more common in the late 1800s. Historians have put forth several reasons for the lack of the regular use of a badge; among them, some Rangers felt that a shiny badge was a tempting target. Other historians have speculated that there was no real need to show a badge to a hostile Indian or outlaw. Additionally, from a historical viewpoint, a Ranger's pay was so scanty that the money required for such fancy accoutrements was rarely available. Nevertheless, some Rangers did wear badges, and the first of these appeared around 1875. They were locally made and varied considerably from one to another, but they invariably represented a star cut out of a Mexican silver coin (usually a five-peso coin). The design is reminiscent of Texas's Lone Star flag.

Although present-day Rangers wear the familiar "star in a wheel" badge, it was adopted officially only recently. The current design of the Rangers' badge was incorporated in 1962, when Ranger Hardy L. Purvis and his mother donated enough Mexican five-peso coins to the DPS to provide badges for all 62 Rangers who were working at that time as commissioned officers.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas, Western Style

Everywhere we look during this season, signs of commercialized Christmas are everywhere. The kids are begging for upgraded electronic gadgets, stores are overflowing with lit-up, cheerful Santas and penguins for the lawn, and the radio plays nothing but Bing and Elvis. If you attend church or have a spiritual life, at least the "true meaning" of the holiday is brought home to you. Folks out West certainly had a different view of Christmas than we do today. I can only imagine what a cowboy Christmas would be like: probably the same stew or beans, but maybe with a special treat later if the ranch owner was kind. Churches were scarce in the early days, so people would meet in homes or even outside. Depending on the environment and weather, snow or blizzards might interfere, so many families went without church of any kind.

One of my favorite Christmas stories of all times is the Christmas scene from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House On The Prairie. I read that chapter to my daughter last Christmas, which was the last time she believed in Santa. I encouraged her to close her eyes and imagine she lived in a little house in the middle of nowhere, whose nearest neighbor was an hour's drive away. Imagine the cold rain, the rising, freezing river, and the desolate, open prairie. Imagine eating only what your father could hunt, and having no entertainment of any kind but each other's company and Pa's fiddle. We talked about Laura and Mary waiting for Santa, going to bed so hopeful, even though they could hear Ma and Pa's worried voices discussing how bad the situation for any presents looks. Ma says, "there's always the white sugar." My eyes always tear up when I get to this part. I put myself in Ma's sturdy workboots and think about how hard their life was in those days that a little bit of sugar, so rare and precious, would have to suffice for a Christmas gift for two good little girls.

When Mr. Edwards sweeps into the house, covered in ice and snow, announcing he met Santa Claus, you know that Christmas has been saved. Laura and Mary are overjoyed and excited. My daughter shared their excitement, too - she knew that Santa was real, just as those two, long-ago girls did. When Laura and Mary discover their gifts (a tin cup, a penny, candy, and a little cake), we both felt their joy. Of course, those simple gifts are almost comical to us now - just try and give even something homemade or secondhand to a child today and see what happens. But, a hundred and more years ago, such gifts were hard to come by.

Christmas trees, even though a major part of the holiday in Victorian America, were scarce or impossible to find in some regions of the west. But if they were available and a family was lucky enough to have one, they were decorated with handmade ornaments such as cookies, dolls made of straw or yarn, or other things. Music would have been important, and caroling was popular. I imagine a group of cowboys sitting around a fire on a cold Christmas Eve, singing to their cows and maybe dreaming of Christmas traditions back home.

Christmas for many in the west was a difficult time. For those on the prairies, they were often barraged with terrible blizzards and savage December winds. For mountain men, forced away from their mining activities long before Christmas, in fear of the blinding winter storms and freezing cold, the holidays were often meager. But, to these strong pioneers, Christmas would not be forgotten, be it ever so humble. More religious folk would observe the holiday as they did every Sunday, with little work except the essential chores, and Bible reading or other quiet activities. Children have been hanging stockings for Santa for a long time, and the western child would have been no different, whether it was hanging on an adobe or peat fire.

As I pondered the celebration of Christmas in days past or in our own time, one thing always seems predominant, and it is the most obvious and precious - spending time with family and loved ones. Forget the glittering lights and piles of presents from Amazon and Ebay. Forget the china that is only rolled out once a year. Family, friends, and good health are still the most important things for anyone.

Merry Christmas to all of the Wild Rose Press authors, editors, artists, and others, as well as our readers, fans, reviewers, and loving families. May the New Year bring happiness and peace to all.

with acknowledgements to for the picture and information.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Christmas has always been a miraculous time for me. It still is.

When I was younger, it was because of the presents, and the anticipation that came with the season. My parents were not wealthy, but we had the necessities and a few of the luxuries. My mom was a great manager. She could make the smallest thing seem of the greatest value. She could transform our house into a marvelous Christmas haven with her decorations, wonderful cooking and a few well-wrapped packages. When I became an adult, the torch was passed, but the anticipation merely shifted. The excitement I felt was not for myself, but for my children–the joy I could bring to them.

Once I had written A Night for Miracles, I began to think about my heroine, Angela Bentley, and how I might have reacted had I been in her place. I would like to think that I would have done what she did–transformed her small cabin into a memorable Christmas castle that none of the children would ever forget, simply through a good meal, a warm fire, and a gift. But it was all of these things that made Angela’s “gift” — the gift of her heart — special. She put herself out on a limb, having been emotionally wounded before.

I thought about the old legend–that Christmas Eve is a “night for miracles” to happen. Angela was not a rich person by any means, but she gave what she had, freely. She took in the stranger and the three children from the cold, gave them warm beds and fed them. But then she went even further. She gave her heart to them, although it was a huge risk. She comes through with physical gifts, but the true giving was in her spirit. And that leads to a miracle.

A Night For Miracles is one of those short stories that I didn’t want to end. I love a happy ending, and this is one of the happiest of all, for everyone in the story.

Legend says that miracles happen on Christmas Eve. Can a chance encounter between a gunfighter and a lonely widow herald a new beginning for them both? On this special night, they take a gamble that anything is possible–if they only believe! Available now with THE WILD ROSE PRESS!

Angela placed the whiskey-damp cloth against the jagged wound. The man flinched, but held himself hard against the pain. Finally, he opened his eyes. She looked into his sun-bronzed face, his deep blue gaze burning with a startling, compelling intensity as he watched her. He moistened his lips, reminding Angela that she should give him a drink. She laid the cloth in a bowl and turned to pour the water into the cup she’d brought.

He spoke first. “What…what’s your name?” His voice was raspy with pain, but held an underlying tone of gentleness. As if he were apologizing for putting her to this trouble, she thought. The sound of it comforted her. She didn’t know why, and she didn’t want to think about it. He’d be leaving soon.

“Angela.” She lifted his head and gently pressed the metal cup to his lips. “Angela Bentley.”

He took two deep swallows of the water. “Angel,” he said, as she drew the cup away and set it on the nightstand. “It fits.”

She looked down, unsure of the compliment and suddenly nervous. She walked to the low oak chest to retrieve the bandaging and dishpan. “And you are…”
“Nick Dalton, ma’am.” His eyes slid shut as she whirled to face him. A cynical smile touched his lips. “I see…you’ve heard of me.”

A killer. A gunfighter. A ruthless mercenary. What was he doing with these children? She’d heard of him, all right, bits and pieces, whispers at the back fence. Gossip, mainly. And the stories consisted of such variation there was no telling what was true and what wasn’t.

She’d heard. She just hadn’t expected him to be so handsome. Hadn’t expected to see kindness in his eyes. Hadn’t expected to have him show up on her doorstep carrying a piece of lead in him, and with three children in tow. She forced herself to respond through stiff lips. “Heard of you? Who hasn’t?”

He met her challenging stare. “I mean you no harm.”

She remained silent, and he closed his eyes once more. His hands rested on the edge of the sheet, and Angela noticed the traces of blood on his left thumb and index finger. He’d tried to stem the blood flow from his right side as he rode. “I’m only human, it seems, after all,” he muttered huskily. “Not a legend tonight. Just a man.”

He was too badly injured to be a threat, and somehow, looking into his face, shefound herself trusting him despite his fearsome reputation. She kept her expression blank and approached the bed with the dishpan and the bandaging tucked beneath her arm. She fought off the wave of compassion that threatened to engulf her. It was too dangerous. When she spoke, her tone was curt. “A soldier of fortune, from what I hear.”

He gave a faint smile. “Things aren’t always what they seem, Miss Bentley."

A Night For Miracles is available here at The Wild Rose Press.
I also have another Christmas short story, a FREE READ, available here, Until the Last Star Burns Out

To find out more about my other books and short stories, visit my website at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Kissing under the Mistletoe

Mistletoe is one of the traditions of the Christmas Season. But did you know—

Mistletoe is an evergreen. The traditions of displaying evergreens at Christmas came about as a way to bring color and the green hope of spring into the home.
This plant however is a parasitic shrub. It grows on trees, living off the host plant. They are not full parasites, since the plants are capable of photosynthesis. But these mistletoe plants are parasitic in the sense that they send a special kind of root system down into their hosts, the trees upon which they grow, in order to extract nutrients from the trees.
Mistletoe has long been regarded as an aphrodisiac and fertility herb. It may also possess abortifacient qualities, which would help explain its association with uninhibited sexuality.
The unusual botanical history of mistletoe goes a long way towards explaining the awe in which it was held in the Norse myths. For in spite of not being rooted in the soil, mistletoe remained green throughout the winter, while the trees upon which it grew and upon which it fed did not (the European mistletoe often grows on apple trees; more rarely on oaks). The fascination this must have exerted over pre-scientific peoples is understandable.

Mistletoe was first hung in farmhouses and kitchens so young men could kiss the maidens while standing under it. Only they were to pluck a white berry each time they kissed and when the berries were gone so were the kisses. The berries are poisonous.

The Druids believed it was sacred and held medicinal and supernatural qualities. That is the mistletoe of oak trees. Other types of trees also have their own parasite or mistletoe but it is the Oak that was the most favored.

The Druid priesthood held a ceremony around Christmas time or five days after the New Moon following the winter solstice. They cut the mistletoe from a holy oak with a golden sickle, catching the branches before they hit the ground. The branches were divided into sprigs and given to the people to hang above their doorways for protection against thunder, lightning, and other evils.

The folklore, and the magical powers of this plant, spread through the centuries It was thought placing a sprig in a baby's cradle would protect the child from faeries. Giving a sprig to the first cow calving after New Year would protect the entire herd.

Celts believed that because mistletoe received sustenance from the host tree it also held the soul of the tree.

Ancient Scandinavia and the Norse mythology is where the tale of kissing und the mistletoe started. It was considered a plant of peace in Scandinavian history. If enemies found themselves under mistletoe in the forest they laid down their weapons and called a truce until the next day.

Most say kissing under the mistletoe is an English custom there is a story that dates back to Norse mythology. It is about an overprotective mother.

The Norse god Balder was the best loved of all the gods. His mother was Frigga, goddess of love and beauty. She loved her son so much that she wanted to make sure no harm would come to him. So she went through the world, securing promises from everything that sprang from the four elements--fire, water, air, and earth--that they would not harm her beloved Balder.
Leave it to Loki, a sly, evil spirit, to find the loophole. The loophole was mistletoe. He made an arrow from its wood. To make the prank even nastier, he took the arrow to Hoder, Balder's brother, who was blind. Guiding Holder's hand, Loki directed the arrow at Balder's heart, and he fell dead.
Frigga's tears became the mistletoe's white berries. In the version of the story with a happy ending, Balder is restored to life, and Frigga is so grateful that she reverses the reputation of the offending plant--making it a symbol of love and promising to bestow a kiss upon anyone who passes under it.

Is hanging mistletoe a tradition in your family


Friday, December 11, 2009

Tanya Hanson: An Alcott Christmas Poem

All of us authors have experienced The Moment we knew we wanted to write a book. For me, it happened when I read Little Women for the first time the Christmas I was eight years old. Unlike Jo, though, I waited until my kids were in college to take writing seriously, and of course wish I had started sooner.

You may already know that Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women upon the suggestion of a publisher, and based the characters on her own sisters. Indeed, "Meg's" wedding dress is on display at Orchard House, the family home in Concord, Massachusetts. There in Concord, the teenage Louisa May hung out with the Transcendental greats, Emerson and Thoreau.

Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888) was born in Pennsylvania and worked as a nurse during the War between the States. Her stories of strong values and American folkways have delighted readers for generations.

Not long ago, I had the almost mystical pleasure of visiting Orchard House and pondering at Louisa May's grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery down the road. At Orchard House, I bought a new favorite book, A Louisa May Alcott Christmas and couldn't resist sharing this delightful poem with you today.

Merry Christmas to you and yours, and may 2010 bring you every good thing.

Cold and wintry is the sky,
Bitter winds go whistling by,
Orchard boughs are bare and dry,
Yet here stands a faithful tree.
Household fairies kind and dear,
With loving magic none need fear,
Bade it rise and blossom here,
Little friends, for you and me.

Come and gather as they fall,
Shining gifts for great and small;
Santa Claus remembers all
When he comes with goodies piled.
Corn and candy, apples red,
Sugar horses, gingerbread,
Babies who are never fed,
Are handing here for every child.

Shake the boughs and down they come,
Better fruit than peach or plum,
'T is our little harvest home;
For though frosts the flowers kill,
Though birds depart and squirrels sleep,
Though snows may gather cold and deep,
Little folks their sunshine keep,
And mother-love makes summer still.

Gathered in a smiling ring,
Lightly dance and gayly sing,
Still at heart remembering
The sweet story all should know,
Of the little Child whose birth
Has made this day throughout the earth
A festival for childish mirth,
Since the first Christmas long ago.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Florida's 'Cracker Cowhunter and Cattle

Last month I wrote about the Florida’s ‘Cracker’ horse. I thought it appropriate to follow-up with Cracker Cowboys. Yes, there ARE cowboys in Florida. Real live rootin’ tootin’ roping and riding cowboys. These men and women have existed for over 250 years. In fact, Florida vies with Texas as the number one cattle producing state in the USA.

Hundreds of years ago, long before tourists or even cities, there was another Florida. When Ponce de Leon discovered it in 1513, Florida was mostly wide, green spaces. Approximately 1521, when de Leon returned, he brought horses and a few Andalusian cattle, the ancestors of the Texas Longhorns. It was the Spanish explorers who turned Florida into America’s oldest cattle-raising state.

By the 1600s, pioneer families later trickled down to Florida from areas such as Georgia and the Carolinas, taming the land and hunting out the wild Spanish cattle from among the palmetto hammocks and swamplands. Trading the cattle to Cuba for gold, those enterprising families were the early purveyors of America’s cattle industry.

The Florida ‘cowhunter’ or ‘cracker cowboy’ remains distinct from the Spanish vaquero and the Western cowboy. Florida cowboys do no use lassos to herd or capture cattle. Their primary tools are bullwhips and dogs. The use of the whip is how the nickname ‘Cracker’ was derived. I’ve often heard it said that in the early days the women would know to get the food set out on the tables as soon as they heard the cracking of the whips. “Here come the ‘crackers’,” they’d say.

The early cattle-raising days were rough for Spanish settlers. The St. Augustine missionaries who raised beef also fought Indian raids and mosquitoes. Despite the cattle fever ticks, storms, swamps and snakes, before 1700 there were already dozens of ranches along the Florida Panhandle and the St. Johns River.

By the 1800s, the Seminole nation possessed extensive herds of cattle. Most Florida settlers raised beef for food. As Native American and white settlers moved south, so did the cattle. They moved through Alachua County into the Kissimmee valley and on to Lake Okeechobee.

When railroads reached into Florida, trains were used to ship cattle, and Florida’s beef industry grew. New towns sprang up around the ranches, and more people arrived. There was work for blacksmiths, shopkeepers, and cowboys in these settlements. During the Civil War, Florida became a chief supplier of cattle to the Confederacy, both for meat and leather.

Florida’s old-time cowboys had a unique way of herding cattle. They used 10-12-foot-long whips made of braided leather. Snapping these whips in the air made a loud ‘crack.’ That sound brought stray cattle back into line fast and earned cowboys the nickname of ‘crackers.’ These men rode rugged, rather small horses known as ‘cracker’ ponies.

Even today, Cracker cowboys still count on herd dogs to move cattle along the trail. These tough dogs help get a cow out of the marsh (where ATVs can’t go) or work a hundred steers into a tidy group. For those rough riders of Florida’s first ranchers, a good dog, a horse, and a whip were all the tools a true ‘cracker’ cowhunter needed.

Today the term ‘Cracker’ or Florida Cracker is used informally by some Floridians to indicate their family has lived in Florida for many generations; and/or that they were born and raised in the state of Florida. It is considered a source of pride to be descended from ‘frontier people who did not just live but flourished in a time before air conditioning, mosquito repellent, and screens on windows. I, myself, am a fourth-generation Florida ‘Cracker.”

Thursday, November 26, 2009


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I think hats define the wearer and the era of the times. Growing up in a Catholic/Italian household, I remember wearing to church on Sunday the “chapel veil” during the 1960’s. The round, lacy hair adornments replaced the wide-brimmed picture hats of the 1950’s and the pill-box hats, which Jackie Kennedy made famous. So, with my thoughts on “hats” this month, I thought I’d do some research on the cowboy hat. At THE BEST COWBOY GEAR site (, this is what I learned:

A traditional cowboy prized his hat above all things - with good reason. It was often worth a month or two's wages - and that made it very expensive. The cowboy likely spent hours personalizing the hat with creases to the crown and molding the brim - that made it his. An old west cowboy would go to hell and back to retrieve a misplaced cowboy hat and it was seldom further than an arm's length away.

There were several styles throughout history, as well as the individuals or circumstances that defined them. Here are a few:

THE ROUGH RIDER (Crown: center trench/Brim hand rolled, Open hatband: 1" Satin with 1898 bow) was worn by Teddy Roosevelt, who called these short 4 months in 1898 the most exciting of his life; culminating in leading his "Rough Riders" up San Juan Hill in that storied charge. If you look at any picture of the US Expeditionary Force, you'll see almost as many brim and crown treatments of the same basic hat as there are soldiers. Teddy’s hat was based on the originals worn by the US Cavalry, which included the traditional military style side bow on the hat band.

THE 1898 CAMPAIGN HAT, the enlisted man’s issue (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Flat - Open Hatband: 1/2" Satin with bow). The Spanish–American War was a conflict between Spain and the United States of America from April to August 1898. It heralded the emergence of America as a world power and climaxed with Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill in Cuba.

THE TEN GALLON HAT is a legendary slang from the old west - this is a common term for a very large cowboy hat, the idea being you could carry ten gallons of water in it for your horse. Well, the 10 gallon hat doesn't exist - simple as that. This was a misinterpretation by Texas Cowboys of the Spanish word, "galón." that Mexican Vaqueros used to describe the narrow, braided trimming they used to decorate the crowns of their hats. In reality the largest cowboy hat crown would barely hold one gallon of water, and any hat that would hold 10 gallons, would be so large and unwieldy that it'd be un-wearable.

THE WASEY (Crown: Three Dent Modified SagebrushBrim: Open Hatband: 1" Satin with Bow) had a modified Sagebrush shaped crown and was one of the most common of the first few decades of the 20th century. Crown shape was first seen in the 1890s. Cowboys wore this hat while hunting.

THE HICKOCK (Crown: Texas Straight; Brim: Pencil Roll Bound Hatband: 2" Satin with Bow) is another version of the Boss of the Plains – and the best guess on what James Butler Hickock or Wild Bill circa 1875 wore.

OLD TEXAS (Crown: Texas Straight Brim: Kettle Curl OpenHatband: 1"multi-colored burlap). Some variation of this design was seen on almost all the actors, in the remake of John Wayne's "Alamo", starring Billy Bob Thornton, and others. This traditional Texas look for a Cowboy Hat was the precursor of the Boss of the Plains, and was well known in the Texas of the 1830s and onward.

DIRTY TROOPER (Crown: Creased and Pinched. Back has a "Mule Kick" indentation. Brim: Hand worked Open Hatband: Satin Ribbon) This cavalry hat is the classic look sported by the US Cavalry in the later quarter of the 19th Century. Originally the hat was a sand color, but the color faded from constant exposure to the sun (better your hat, then your skin and eyes).

NORTHWEST PEAK (Crown: 4 pinch peak Brim: Hand shaped Open Hatband: Braided Leather) This 4 pinch peak was first shown in the Northwest in the 1880s. Today most working State Troopers wear a version of this crown, and of course the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Up until the turn of the 20th Century most cowboy hats were sold in Mail Order Catalogues. In those days if the local haberdasher didn't have the hat you wanted - he likely had a catalogue to order one from. The first cowboy hats were all made from 100% beaver fur-felt, natural and undyed, and worth their weight in gold to working cowboys and most all other Westerners.

The Montgomery Ward Catalogue of 1872 was the first to offer a "Western Sombrero" for sale to the public. Most hats were shipped with un-creased crowns, and little shape to the brim. Manufacturers knew the cowboys wanted to personalize the hat themselves - so they shipped unfinished. Remember Hoss from Bonanza and his big dang hat? That was the most authentic old west hat any of the Bonanza cast wore.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


I’m blogging today about becoming a finalist in the EPIC Awards. Now wait, don’t go yet. This is not “all about me”—I promise.

Most people that I’ve met in the last half of my adulthood would never describe me as “shy,” but as a youngster, I was—horribly. That’s one reason I turned to writing. It was a great way for me to get my feelings out without actually having to say them. I could have someone else say it all for me.

I imagine that’s how many of my fellow writers started, too. I sometimes wonder what might have happened had we all known each other when we were younger. Would we have developed into the writers we are today, or would we have found our “niche” with one another and NOT turned so much to writing?

If you can relate to the “shy” part, then maybe you felt this way, too: I was never competitive. Not like so many sports contenders might be. The things I enjoyed, writing and music, were open to everyone, I felt. I am not a “joiner” and I am not one to enter a lot of contests. I entered Fire Eyes in the EPIC Awards, and something odd happened when I did.

From the moment I entered, my attitude about myself changed. BEFORE I entered, I thought, “I probably don’t have a chance.” But my mom always used to say, “If you don’t enter, you certainly are NOT going to win!” I remembered those words, and sent in my entry that very day. Once it was sent, I began to feel some confidence growing. As I analyzed WHY, here’s what I came up with.

Fire Eyes was a joint project. I wrote it, but I couldn’t have if I hadn’t had the cooperation and support of my family—my kids and my husband. While I was writing it, my oldest sister, Annette, was constantly asking about “how it’s coming” and she was the one I could bounce ideas off of. Once written, my business partner read it for glaring mistakes, and my best friend of 45 years read it for moral support. The Wild Rose Press accepted it, and my editor, Helen Andrew, was so phenomenal in helping me mold it and shape it into the story that was released last May. My cover artist, Nicola Martinez, did a superb job on the beautiful cover. With all these people behind me and my story, my confidence rose. Whatever would be, would be—and entering the competition was a win/win situation. Even if I didn’t make it to the finals, I would still have taken the chance and had the experience.

When I received the news Sunday evening that my book was, indeed, a finalist, I thought immediately of all the people who had helped me get to this point; people in my life who had faith in me, and in my ability, and in the story itself. I thought of that saying, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s true, even in the broader sense of our lives as writers. The experiences we had growing up, people who encouraged us even then, our spouses, our children, mentors and teachers we’ve had along the way, and peers that have helped and encouraged us. Editors, artists, publishers and organizations such as EPIC that give us a chance to compete and strive to be better and better.

Does anyone have a “special person” that helped them along the way? What about a “collection” of special people? With Thanksgiving drawing near, I’d like to say that my “collection” of special people in my life is the thing that I am most thankful for above all else. Without them, my dreams could have never happened. I could never have done it alone.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Gotta Love Reference Libarians

The last two days I've been googling and sending e-mails to librarians as my story takes different twists and turns. When I need to learn about things like how long did it take for a stage to get from Wallua, WA to Boise Idaho? What did the Old's Ferry look like? Where did the stage stop along the way? I need those answers so I can keep writing and meet my deadline.

I've been lucky in finding research librarians at several places who get back to me in short order. I don't mind waiting for information or a book when I'm in the beginning of a story and the research will develop the plot and story. But when I'm writing and the characters go a different route than I'd originally planned, then I have to find the 1800's travel agency ASAP.

My latest release, Miner in Petticoats, I had researched all I needed to know about stamp mils and the area where I set the story, but then as my heroine grew in the story and more of her background came out, I had to dig into more research.

My next book, Doctor in Petticoats, coming in 2010, again after I was about two thirds of the way through the book I had to research Pullman cars for a trip they were taking. My favorite research librarian hooked me up with a railroad historian and the rest was easy. I've also made another resource through that.

How about you? Have you become buddies with reference librarians or specialists while writing books? If you're a reader, can you tell when something has been researched or does it even matter to you?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Proud to be a Cactus Rose...

I couldn't resist sharing some good news today. First of all, my recent book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Encino, California, was a great success. Fifteen of us shared the stage so to speak, and I was very much honored to be a part of the event. Our chair Niki Chanel worked tirelessly to obtain books and make sure they arrived on time.

As if that wasn't enough joy, I received the book cover for the second in my "Paradise Brides" series, Marrying Mattie, to be released in 2010. I had requested the incredible designer Nicola Martinez and was completely overjoyed at the outcome.

Here's the blurb:

Caldwell Hackett knows everything about horseflesh and nothing about women, yet he's managed to snare beautiful Mattie Carter's heart. With their wedding coming up, he's nervous about his inexperience in the bridal bed, but his lovely fiancee manages to ease his worries in just the right way.

Mattie Carter is hopelessly in love with the handsome horse doctor and knows this marriage will be wonderful, unlike her first one that was fraught with her wealthy husband's infidelity. Eager to begin her new life with Call, Mattie is heartbroken when her former husband halts their vows, claiming to the whole church she's still his wife.

Can Mattie regain Call's trust? Can Call, whose livelihood is threatened when an epidemic hits the horses in Paradise, figure out the truth with Mattie's help? Or will these star-crossed lovers be destined to live apart?

I can't praise high enough the excellent editing, the caring attention, and the professional demeanor of everybody at The Wild Rose Press. Thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Florida's Offical State Horse-The Cracker Horse

(Yes, this is me taking a picture of the horses, and enjoying the entire two day event)
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to attend the Florida Cattlemen’s Cracker Cow and Horse Gathering. Being a fourth generation native Floridian, a former avid horsewoman and a cow-hunter, I am excited and pleased that Florida has adopted the ‘Cracker’ horse as their official state horse of Florida.

The Florida Cracker Horse Association was organized in 1989, and tasked with searching the remnant herds of Cracker Horses. A registry was established and foundation animals were registered based on their history and external type: 31 Cracker Horses were registered and blood typed for the foundation stock. A stringent application of rules has resulted in a very consistent breed. Today, the Florida Cracker Horse is promoted as a valuable and vital part of Florida’s heritage and is still considered quite rare. Today over 800 horses have been registered.

The ancestors of today’s Cracker Horses were introduced into what is now Florida as early as 1521 when the Spaniard, Ponce de Leon, on his second trip to Florida, brought horses, cattle and other livestock. By mid-1600 cattle ranching and horse breeding was well established.

First the Indians and later the pioneers began using the Spanish horses. These animals were hardy, had adapted well to the Florida climate and environment and excelled as work cow ponies. Although best know for their talents at working cattle, Cracker horses were frequently pressed into service as buggy horses, workstock, and in many instances, were the only horse power for many family farms well into the twentieth century. They are indeed a vital part of Florida’s agricultural heritage and are very deserving of a place in Florida’s future.

The genetic heritage of the Cracker Horse is derived from the Iberian horse of early sixteenth century Spain and includes blood of the North African Barb, Spanish Sorraia, Jennet and the Andalusian. Its genetic base is generally the same as that of the Spanish Mustang, Paso Fino, Peruvian Paso, Criollo and other breeds developed from horses originally introduced by the Spanish into the Caribbean Islands, Cuba and North, Central and South America. The free roaming Cracker Horse evolved over a long period of time through natural selection. It was molded and tempered by nature and a challenging environment into the horse that ultimately was to play a large part in the emergence of Florida as a ranching and general agriculture.

Cracker Horses are from 13.2 to 15 hands (or 54-60 inches) in height and weight from seven hundred fifty to over nine hundred pounds. They are known for their unusual strength and endurance, herding instinct, quickness and fast walking gait. A good percentage of them have a running walk and some have another lateral single-foot gait which, in true Cracker dialect, is often referred to as a “Coon Rack.” Cracker Horse colors are any color common to the horse, however, solid colors, roans and grays are predominant.

Over the years Cracker Horse have been know by a variety of names: Chicksaw Pony, Seminole Pony, Prairie Pony, Florida Horse, Florida Cow Pony, Grass Gut and others.
I came away from the event with a renewed sense of my ancestral roots; and while sitting around the campfire listening to real cowmen and women tell their tales, I collected a fodder of ideas for new stories. Yee-Haw!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dodge City Cowboy Band

Shortly before the Santa Fe Railroad arrived, Dodge City, Kansas was incorporated. The booming business was buffalo bones and hides. The town provided a social gathering place for the soldiers from nearby Fort Dodge. In 1875 the cattle days were born and for the next ten years Dodge City was known as the “Cowboy Capital” as well as the “Queen of Cowtowns”. Well known lawmen and gunfighters took their turn in Dodge- Wyatt Earp; Bat, Ed, and Jim Masterson; Doc Holliday; William Tilghman; Clay Allison; Ben and Billy Thompson; Lake Short; to name a few. Matter of fact, it was often hard to tell the good guys from the bad.

One of the only real bullfights ever performed in the United States was in Dodge City in 1884. Mexican Bullfighters were invited and a dozen longhorn bulls corralled in town for the event. Advertising across the nation brought people in from all around the state as well as a few neighboring ones. The event was proclaimed a success, but the sport never became legal so the event was not repeated.

Another highly attractive event for Dodge City was the Cowboy Band. Their musical abilities was high quality, however it was their manner of dress that attracted fans by the hundreds. The members wore flannel shirts, gray cowboy hats, leather chaps, spurs and pearl-handled revolvers, and the band leader used a revolver to keep time instead of a baton. The Cowboy Band also played in Denver, Chicago, Minneapolis, and in Washington, D.C., at the inaugural celebration of President Benjamin Harrison. Though known as the “Dodge City Cowboy Band”, not one of the ‘cowboys’ was from Dodge.

The Cowboy Band appears in Boot Hill Bride-The Quinter Brides Book 3 which will be released in July 2010.

Blurb: Howard (Hog) Quinter is hell bent on getting The Majestic, the finest hotel and restaurant west of the Mississippi, open by May 1st. The last thing he needs is interference from his family, but that's exactly what he gets when Ma Quinter strikes one brisk morning. Sound asleep, Howard rolls over to discover a lovely young woman lying beside him, however, standing at the foot of the bed are his mother, the girl's father, and a blubbering preacher reading wedding nuptials.

Randilynn Fulton runs from a forced marriage to her aunt in Dodge City, only to discover Aunt Corrine is one of Danny J's brothel girls. If she stays, Randi may become one as well, which would damage her father's chance at running for the Governor's seat. But it gets worse when she finds herself in the middle of what she ran from-a shotgun wedding, and she's the bride.

The second book of the Quinter Brides series, Badland Bride will be released this weekend from The Wild Rose Press.

Ma Quinter is at it again—using the double barrels of her shotgun to force some unsuspecting female to marry one of her boys. This time it's Skeeter and the young, pregnant girl he hauled home.

Escaping from her abuser, Lila Scott, crawls through a tunnel, and ends up in 1882. Even though her rescuer is the most wonderful man she's ever met, she must hold true to her mission of returning to the future where she can have her baby with modern medical care.

With the help of some rotgut whiskey and a few peyote buttons, Steven Quinter, aka Skeeter, participated in Buffalo Killer's ghost dance. When he wakes up there’s an adorable redhead staring down at him. Not knowing what else to do, he takes the girl home to his mother, but when Ma Quinter realizes the young girl is pregnant, another shotgun wedding takes place.

The first book in the series, Shotgun Bride was released in 2008. Like most girls, Jessie Johnson will never forget the first time she met her mother-in-law. After all who can forget a shotgun pointed at them? Bartered for a dead horse at gun point, she either agrees to marry one of the Quinter boys or her brother will hang for horse theft. Jessie knows nothing about being a wife- other than the wedding will likely put her new husband in grave danger. After being knocked unconscious by his brothers, Kid Quinter finds himself surrounded by his uncouth family, the sheriff, a preacher, and an adorable young woman. Tied to a chair, he's given no choice but to marry Jessie Johnson. And that’s just the beginning of his troubles- it appears his pretty little wife has quite a past, including a notorious gunslinger looking for retribution.

I'm still working on the younger two brothers and their stories.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's in a Name?

I remember when I first started reading romance, the characters’ names fascinated me. They were always different, exotic--and a bit unusual, yet memorable. Let’s see, Palmer, Templar, Trelawney, Tristan (lots of t’s), Chase (not so unusual now), Daffyd, Cholla, just to mention a few. Perhaps these authors had a superstition not to name characters after anyone they knew. Perhaps they wished to convey something of the character, for instance, Cholla was a prickly hero named for a cactus.

This topic came to mind after reading a blog on the Black Rose site, Vampire Legends. This blog mentioned the tale of Lilith, not a name you hear often. In fact, I have only heard this name used one other time. She was the wife of Dr. Frazier Crane. Was she named for this evil succubus? Probably.

The Puritans often named children for admirable traits, Patience, Mercy, Faith, and so on. I’ve always thought it was interesting how J.K. Rowling named her characters. Sirius Black, shape shifts into a dog, and Sirius is the Dog Star. Remus Lupin is named for one of the twins of Rome. The twins were said to have been raised by wolves and Lupin is a lot like Lupine. He’s a werewolf, by the way. Much like Melville’s use of the name Ahab in Moby Dick we can actually tell a bit about our characters from just their names. Melville’s captain was named for the evil King Ahab, husband of Jezebel. Atticus Finch, from to Kill a Mockingbird, is named for a bird himself, so there's a hint of sadness at the very beginning of the book.

Have you ever noticed there are certain names that are off limits, or at least regulated, to the bad guys? Granted, I have read a few where the character’s horse or dog or animal of some kind is named Lucifer. But to name a hero an unheroic name...the horror. And there are some names, while not taboo, that have been removed by notoriety. My grandfather’s name for example—Rudolph. Rudolph Valentino was the heart throb of many, but that blasted song about the red nosed reindeer swiped every bit of sex appeal from the name. It’s a strong name, a good name...It means wolf. I was so happy to see a derivation of this used in the upcoming Cactus release, Halfway to Forever written by Lee Scofield. The hero's name is Rudolfo.

Looking back I've named some characters for traits, my soldier was Joshua and shared his name with the Biblical warrior, another character, Jericho, had personal walls that needed to be broken. My heroine Eden, was temptation to the hero and ultimately his paradise.

So...what’s your favorite or most memorable character name?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Hoosier Cabinet

The majority of Victorian houses didn’t have built in cabinets in their kitchens. For homemakers, lack of storage to organize cooking supplies and staples was a major problem. For years free-standing cupboards made food preparation and storage somewhat easier. In 1898, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company of New Castle, Indiana, produced the first Hoosier cabinet. It put everything at the woman’s fingertips and remained popular into the 1920s when builders began to incorporate cabinets into their kitchen designs. Many homes used the cabinet much later into the twentieth-century, some until 1940s and 1950s. Today they are collector’s items. My aunt has one that still has the paper label. It looks almost identical to the one pictured to the left. 

As you can see in the picture, the Hoosier has a large base section set on casters. It has one door and several drawers and a slide out countertop for baking, with several thin drawers below to hold utensils. The upper section is shallower and has several smaller compartments with doors. One door has a roll top. Another holds a flour bin with a sifter attached and another bin to hold sugar. Shelves hold racks and other hardware to store spices, tea, coffee, and other staples. Special jars were made to fit suspended in a metal hanging rack. In the picture you can see the labels with measuring conversions, sample recipes, and household hints. Lucky was the woman who had a Hoosier in her kitchen.

In my novel, My Heart Will Find Yours, the kitchen my heroine Texanna found herself learning to cook in had a cabinet similar to the Hoosier, an earlier model not nearly as modern. Many antique cabinets are called Hoosiers but few are the real McCoy.


Fated lovers suffer the agony of loss only to be reunited to fulfill a greater plan.

TEXANNA KEITH doesn’t believe an antique locket is the key to time travel, but plays along, and to her horror, is zapped back to 1880 Waco, Texas. Her mission is to prevent Royce Dyson’s death in a shootout. Wounded, she loses what she longs for most — a life with Royce.

Marshall ROYCE DYSON’S wife disappeared in 1876. Now she’s reappeared, claiming she’s a time traveler from 2007. As he seeks the truth, he’s determined to keep Texanna with him, but it’s not destined to be.


She pumped water into the pan and washed her hands. Why didn’t Royce and Garrett wash up in here? Maybe it was a habit because if they worked outdoors, they’d be clean before coming in the house. She located bowls and plates and placed them along with spoons on the table. Now, where were the napkins? She found them in a drawer of the Hoosier. The supply was quickly dwindling. As the so-called lady of the house, she’d be washing and ironing a lot to keep them stocked. Yeah, like washing and ironing was her favorite thing to do.

She took another peek out the window. Here they came. Royce had folded his jacket over his arm. Texanna leaned forward to watch them approach. Royce’s shoulders looked so broad in that white dress shirt. She jumped away from the window. Oh, no. Surely he didn’t expect her to wash, starch, and iron those white shirts. If she remembered correctly, spray starch hadn’t been invented until the 1950’s. Drat! She didn’t have a clue how to make starch.

The food was already on the table when Royce and Garrett entered the kitchen. Royce carried in a pitcher of milk from the larder and placed it on the table. Stew was in their bowls, but they’d slice and serve the cornbread at the table.

Royce picked up all the napkins. “Don’t you want to save yourself some washing and ironing? Unless it’s Sunday or a special occasion, we share a dish towel.” He reached back and snagged the towel off the sink.

He’s a thoughtful man. And here she thought all nineteenth-century men were brutes who wanted to be waited on hand and foot. “Thank you.”

Royce nodded and reached for her hand, then bowed his head. Garrett’s hand felt so small in hers, Royce’s so big. Royce’s thumb stroked hers as he gave thanks. Texanna felt a chill. Seeing this man and child here at the table in prayer, reminded her of the simple pleasures in life, things taken for granted today. Well, in her time period.

Someone milked a cow this morning to provide this milk—milk she wasn’t going to drink. She liked milk, but not the raw kind fresh from the cow. But the fresh butter was a different story. Who’d churned it for Royce and Garrett?

“Texanna?” Royce had asked her a question. She looked up to see she still held their hands.

“I’m sorry. I was a million miles away. What did you say?”

“Pass the cornbread.” He cut it into squares and tried to lift a piece from the pan. It fell apart.

Texanna groaned. It wasn’t just overdone—it was a mess. “I’m sorry. I must have forgotten one of the ingredients.” Darn, why hadn’t she taken home ec in school and learned to cook?

“It’s fine. We can crumble it in our stew.” Royce scraped some out of the pan into Garrett’s bowl, then hers and lastly his. “Stir it up and it’ll be perfect.”

She took a bite. It didn’t taste bad at all.

Royce asked. “What do you think you forgot?”

Texanna looked at the Hoosier. “The egg.” How could she be so stupid? She’d been in a hurry to paint. “I’ll do better tonight. I promise.”

“It’s okay.” Royce patted her hand. “There’s enough left for supper tonight.”

Thank you, God. The thought of heating the kitchen again made her cringe. It was already so hot she’d begun to sweat. She didn’t know which she missed most—air conditioning or indoor plumbing.

“Be sure and keep water in the tank so I can wash when I get home. I’m filling in for Jason tonight and won’t be in until around midnight.” She groaned. There went any hope of the kitchen cooling off. “You don’t have to get the fire hotter, just add more water after you and Garrett have bathed.”

My Heart Will Find Yours is book one of The Turquoise Legacy. Book Two, Flames On The Sky, is now out. I hope you’ll take a look at both books.

Happy Reading and Writing,


Linda LaRoque ~Western Romance with a Twist in Time~ A Law of Her Own, Desires of the Heart, My Heart Will Find Yours, Flames on the Sky10-9, Forever Faithful, Investment of the Heart, When the Ocotillo Bloom

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When Truth and Fiction Collide

When I was researching how life on a ragtag ranch in the 1860s would be for my characters, I had no idea that the worst recession in the last few decades was about to strike. I went about my merry way (work from home mom with pocket money!) while pondering the hard life my character, Cassie, was about to embrace. How would it feel to live without running water, no store within four miles, no way to get a loan, and no other option for survival but to rely on the charitable assistance of a stranger? A handsome stranger, of course (this is a romance, after all!), but still, a stranger.

As writers, we get lost in the worlds we create and rarely do the two collide. Now, three years later, my own family, many friends and colleagues, and the whole country are locked in an endless battle with impossible-to-pay debts, plunging home values, and local mom-and-pop businesses closing up. Repossessions, lost assets, and depleted savings accounts are commonplace. Each episode of nightly news features another high percentage of job losses, sinking stock market rates, and foreclosures. There's no end in sight.

Like our western forebears before us, strong women all, I and others will pull through somehow. True, we don't have crops to worry about, raiding native war parties, or cattle rustlers on the horizon to show us wherein lies our strength. We can borrow from the ingenuity and gumption of our heroines and apply it to our own lives. Instead of buying a new dress that will only be worn for one special occasion, we can be like our fictional Old West sisters and make do with a dress that lay hidden in a trunk. Instead of wishing for fancy vittles, we open another box of pasta and make sauce from scratch. No expensive vacations are needed - on the prairie, a fictional miss would be happy to spend an evening watching for shooting stars, her head nestled on the shoulder of a strong cowboy (or sheriff, or rancher, or, even, a scarred outlaw with a misunderstood heart of gold!).

My novel and my own life got me thinking along the lines of, "if SHE can do it, so can I!" In my story, Cassie patched up her own house, planted her own garden, and learned to ride a horse. As hard as her life is in the first few chapters, she never whines or complains - even when it's beans and...well, beans - for the first few weeks. She even has to tote her own water from the river (which leads to a brush with a scandalously intimate encounter!) but doesn't kvetch. She's grateful when our hero offers her a place to stay, clothes on her back, and food in her stomach. Even though she's known a better life, she's making it on her own. Despite all the fictional odds I've thrown at her, she comes through stronger and better than I probably would in that situation.

Many people have said the recession has brought out the best in us. Potluck lunches at work instead of ordering out. Discussions of recycling at home (I have taken to washing out empty jelly jars and saving scrap paper for the kids). Offering a place to stay to a friend who's losing her home. And through all of this, the one thing I keep hearing myself say is, "it could be worse." When jobs and money disappear, we can only look at the irreplaceable in our lives. Good health and happy children. Aging, but still independent, parents. An enduring marriage in an uncertain world.

Cassie saves her husband's life (and her ranch!) with her inner strength and sheer determination of will. She never lets the environment or the bad guy get the best of her. True, three years ago I never dreamed I would be facing my own battles with an all too harsh reality. But Cassie did - and if a fictional heroine can do it, so can I. After all, I wrote the book on it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Steampunk and Weird Wild West

I have to confess a secret.
I love Steampunk

I haven’t discarded my intense attraction to writing Western romance, but my writing is morphing into a strange combination of Victorian age, alternate history with fantasy elements set in the post-Civil War era of the American West.

Try to say that to an agent or editor and watch their facial expressions. A few people do “get it” but more of them will say, “What’s Steampunk”?

So, here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Steampunk a sub-genre of fantasy and speculative fiction denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions like those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, or real technological developments like the computer occurring at an earlier date. Other examples of steampunk contain alternate history-style presentations of "the path not taken" of such technology as dirigibles, analog computers, or digital mechanical computers (such as Charles Babbage's Analytical engine); these frequently are presented in an idealized light, or with a presumption of functionality.

Various modern utilitarian objects have been modded by individual artisans into a pseudo-Victorian mechanical "steampunk" style, and a number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk. But often, when I’ve heard people search for a quick shorthand for defining the genre, they say, “Wild, Wild West” is Steampunk. Both the movie and the televison series clearly illustrate the elements found in a Steampunk. And both are set in the American West.

When I first discovered Steampunk, I was attracted to the reference to the Victorian era. Most of the books I’ve written have a setting between 1848 and 1888. I love the clothing, lifestyle, proper rules and etiquette of that age. When I’ve set my books, although they are in Montana, they are also clearly in the mid-19th century. So when I heard about a sub-genre of literature and an artistic movement that included fashion, music and other elements that focused on the era, I was fascinated.

That lead me to the Steamcon, the first gathering of folks in the Northwest who idolize Steampunk. It was a three-day event that offered workshops, vendors and music – but most of all, costumed participants, to celebrate all things Steampunk. It was a delightful introduction to an amazing genre.

How do Westerns fit into this technological age of steam? Easily, I think. Consider that the Victorian era coincided with the exploration and settlement of the West. There are so many possiblities for creating stories that are set in the wild, unexplored wilderness beyond the Mississippi. With Steampunk, a writer has the freedom to rewrite history, to include magic, technology and a fantastical world all in the same work. The possiblities are endless and they excite me.

So, while my book coming out in January 2010 is clearly set in the reality of a Montana mining town in 1873, my work-in-progress expands the horizons of possiblities to take a setting of historical reality and mix it with all the “what ifs” of fantasy and speculative fiction in a Steampunk world.

I have no idea what I’m going to end up with, but it sure is fun to write!

What do you think about Steampunk? Have you heard about this genre?

Deborah Schneider, 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year
Promise Me – January 2010
View the book trailer at:


Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

I loved actress Jane Seymour in her portrayal of Michaela Quinn in the television series, “Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman.” Each week she rose above new and different challenges. She boldly faced the odds of a prejudiced time, to bring medical help to a small frontier town. Thinking back on that show inspired me to do a bit of research about a real woman pioneer doctor, and my search led me to the Gale Cengage Learning site (Women’s History) where I found Elizabeth Blackwell, woman physician (1821 – 1910).

She was the first fully accredited female doctor and an ardent reformer of medical and social mores. Her sisters-in-law Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown were pioneers in the advancement of women's rights, and her friends and associates included such 19th-century luminaries as William Lloyd Garrison, Florence Nightingale, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Harriet Beecher Stowe, George Eliot, Dorothea Dix, religious reformer Charles Kingsley, and Julia Ward Howe, author of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Although considered ridiculous, even dangerous, for pursuing a medical degree in the 1840s, Elizabeth Blackwell forced open the gates of that profession. She later founded the first medical school for women, which resulted in both greater acceptances of female physicians and stricter standards for medical schools as a whole. By the time of her death in 1910, the number of female doctors in the United States had risen to over 7,000. Let me tell you more about a “real life” Dr. Quinn:

Born in Bristol, England, on February 3, 1821 Elizabeth Blackwell was the daughter of Samuel and Hannah (Lane) Blackwell. She was the third of nine surviving children in a close-knit, highly religious and moral family. Her father Samuel Blackwell was a prominent sugar refiner in the British port city of Bristol who saw to it that his five daughters received from their private tutors an education comparable to that of their brothers. This was no small achievement in a society that considered the proper education of girls to be one which left them, in the words of Noah Webster, merely "correct in their manners, respectable in their families, and agreeable in society." The highly esteemed Webster went on to note that "education is always wrong which raises a woman above the duties of her station"; Samuel Blackwell, an abolitionist and a vociferous dissenter from the Church of England, believed that the future duties of all his children included the reform of society.

As a child and an adolescent, Elizabeth Blackwell seems to have had little patience with actual sickness, once going so far as to lock herself in a closet to prevent her family from discovering that she had a fever. When a tutor used the freshly severed eye of a bull as an illustration for his physiology lesson, Elizabeth ran to the bathroom and was violently ill.

The Blackwells immigrated to America in August 1832 after a series of business losses convinced Samuel Blackwell that he would be better able to support his large family in the New World. Less than enthusiastic about the move, the large family nonetheless arrived in New York City after a grueling voyage of seven and a half weeks. There they became deeply involved in the American abolitionist movement, attending meetings and, for several weeks, hiding an escaped slave in their home who was on his way to Canada. Their financial affairs grew steadily more precarious, however, and in 1837, they moved to Cincinnati where Samuel Blackwell died the following year.
In the wake of his death, the family was forced to struggle for money, taking in boarders and giving music and English lessons to local children. Although this was a time when women married fairly young and were considered fit for little else, it appears that none of the Blackwell daughters, including Elizabeth, were ever particularly interested in that institution. In 1844, Blackwell visited a family friend who was dying of cancer and who told her how much she had suffered from the humiliation of being treated by male doctors. This woman also mentioned that Blackwell, who had such a "love of study," would make an ideal doctor; it was apparently this meeting which gave her the idea of pursuing a career in medicine.
Discreet inquiries to doctor friends concerning the possibility of acquiring a medical degree were met with incredulity or disgust, but she was not deterred. The following year, Elizabeth was able to secure a post teaching in Asheville, North Carolina, where she studied medicine privately with Dr. John Dickson; the year after, she taught music in Charleston, South Carolina, while continuing her studies with Dickson's brother, Dr. Samuel Dickson. By 1847, she was ready to begin applying to the leading medical schools, and they were ready to turn her down. Sixteen schools denied her admission before liberal Geneva College (now Hobart College) in upstate New York put her application to a student vote. Probably as a joke, the students agreed to the admission of this "upstart" female.
Today's frenzied medical student, interning for days on end and mortgaging the future to pay for school bills, bears little resemblance to the medical student of Elizabeth Blackwell's day. After only three years of private (but not particularly intensive) study with a practicing physician and 32 weeks of pass/fail college study, a young man was handed a medical degree. Doctors in bloodstained coats with dirty hands operated largely without benefit of anesthesia. While Elizabeth was applying to colleges in America, the Viennese Dr. Semmelweis was becoming the first doctor to insist that his attendants wash their hands before touching open wounds. It would be almost 20 more years before chemist Louis Pasteur would suggest the existence of germs and be viciously castigated by the medical community for his gall.
In November 1847, Elizabeth arrived at Geneva College, where the wives of the faculty and the women of the town thought her "either wicked or insane," and so stayed carefully away. Passing her final examinations at the head of the class, she was granted a medical degree on January 23, 1849, an occurrence so unprecedented that the English humor weekly Punch memorialized it in a set of verses. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell then returned to Philadelphia, where the formerly hostile hospitals now grudgingly permitted her further study. She was determined to become a surgeon.
After several months in Pennsylvania, during which time she became a naturalized citizen of the United States, Elizabeth traveled to Paris, where she hoped to study with one of the leading French surgeons. Denied access to Parisian hospitals because of her gender, she enrolled instead at La Maternite, a highly regarded midwifery school, in the summer of 1849. La Maternite's intensive course in obstetrics concerned both pre- and post-natal care, and often involved extremely ill infants. While attending to a child some four months after enrolling, Elizabeth inadvertently splashed some pus from the child's eyes into her own left eye. The child was infected with gonorrhea, and Elizabeth contracted ophthalmia neonatorum, a severe form of conjunctivitis which rendered her unable to "work or study or even read," and which later necessitated the removal of the infected eye. Although the loss of an eye made it impossible for her to become a surgeon, it did nothing to alter her intention of becoming a practicing physician--which was in no way guaranteed simply by her medical degree.
Unable to receive training, or even recognition, at Parisian hospitals, Elizabeth left France for London in October 1850. Partially through the intervention of a cousin, she was allowed to study under Sir James Paget in nearly all the wards of venerable St. Bartholomew's Hospital. While in London she became friends with the widow of Lord Byron and with Barbara Leigh Smith, who was one of the strongest proponents of the education of women in England and later the founder of England's first feminist committee. She also met Florence Nightingale shortly before that famous reformer defied convention and her family to study nursing; Elizabeth wholeheartedly agreed with Nightingale's belief that "sanitation was the supreme goal of medicine."
By mid-1851, the substantial amount of training she had received, in addition to her medical school studies, made Elizabeth more than ready for private practice. However, no male doctor would even consider the idea of a female associate, no matter how well trained. Her younger sister Emily had been struggling to become a doctor in America, and so Elizabeth returned to the United States with the intention of setting up a joint practice. The opposition Emily Blackwell encountered while trying to get a medical degree was, if anything, stronger than that which her sister had had to face. Even Geneva College refused to accept another female student, and when Emily was finally allowed to study at Rush Medical College in Chicago, that college was so strongly criticized by the state medical society that the college denied her admission for the second year of study.
Having determined to settle in New York City, Elizabeth Blackwell found it difficult to secure space for her practice; when a sympathizer finally allowed her to rent a boardinghouse room, all the other renters promptly moved out, scandalized at having to share quarters with a lady doctor. Forced to rent her own house, Elizabeth lived in the attic and used the main rooms as consulting space for the three liberal patients a week she'd managed to win over by the summer of 1852.
Less than two years later, Elizabeth opened the one-room New York Dispensary for Poor Women and Children in a slum area near present-day Tompkins Square Park on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It was some time before necessity gave the poor women and children the courage to go to the woman doctor's clinic, but when they did, the dispensary had to move to larger quarters. In the fall of 1854, Elizabeth adopted (although never legally) a seven-year-old Irish orphan named Kitty, who gradually became one of the family and lived with her until Elizabeth died.
The dispensary was doing well, and Elizabeth was beginning to have grander plans--not just an enlargement of her clinic, but an actual hospital where women doctors could treat poverty-stricken women and their children. She had managed to pull strings for the medical education of a German immigrant, Marie Zakrzewska, who had been chief of midwifery at the Royal Hospital in Berlin, and Dr. Zakrzewska returned to work in the dispensary after receiving her degree from Western Reserve Medical School (now Case Western Reserve) in Cleveland. In 1854, Emily Blackwell had also graduated from Western Reserve Medical School and departed for further training in Europe, where she studied under Sir James Simpson of Edinburgh, Scotland, and attempted to raise funds for her sister's dream hospital. After returning to America in 1856, Dr. Emily Blackwell joined her sister Elizabeth's clinic in New York, and on May 12, 1857, the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children was opened.
Liberal and reformers' groups from as far away as France and Boston had contributed funds towards the hospital's existence. Its beds were full within a month, although the first two times a patient died the hospital had to withstand attacks by neighborhood mobs convinced "the lady doctors were killing their patients." In 1858, Elizabeth, whose hospital had also served as a training ground for newly graduated female doctors, took a year's leave of absence to further the cause of women's education in England. While in London, she lectured extensively and became the first woman to have her name entered in the British Medical Register. It was one of these lectures that convinced Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, later the pioneer of English female doctors, to take up the study of medicine. Elizabeth apparently gave serious thought to remaining in England and possibly setting up a hospital similar to her own New York Infirmary, but at the end of the year she returned to America, where the infirmary soon moved to larger quarters.
In April 1861, the newly formed Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and the Civil War began. In New York, Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell set up the Woman's Central Association of Relief to train nurses for the conflict; the army at this time had no hospital units. This association soon became the celebrated United States Sanitary Aid Commission, officially appointed by President Lincoln. Fearing that their notoriety would hinder the project, the Blackwells withdrew from the organization as it grew.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in September 1862, and, though it declared free only those slaves in seceded states, many working-class Northerners took it to mean that freed slaves would appropriate their jobs when they were drafted to fight. Violent riots broke out in New York City for three days in July 1863, during which time hundreds of blacks were slaughtered. Buildings, including some a mere block from the infirmary, were burned to the ground. White infirmary patients demanded that the Blackwells discharge several expectant black mothers who had escaped the South, a demand with which the doctors refused to comply.
The Women's Medical College opened in November 1868, adjacent to the New York Infirmary, with Elizabeth as professor of hygiene. It was the first school devoted entirely to the medical education of women and to upgrading that education. It later became one of the first medical schools in America to mandate four years of study. The first black woman to become a doctor, Rebecca Cole, was also one of the first graduates of the Women's Medical College.
Elizabeth returned to England in 1869, leaving the infirmary and the college in her sister's hands. Certain sources say that disputes between the sisters were the primary reason for the departure, but in her autobiography Elizabeth notes that by that period "the early pioneer work in America was ended," and in England it was not. In addition to her private practice and her efforts for women's rights, she took up the fight against venereal disease or, more specifically, the fight to repeal the Contagious Diseases Act. This act required the licensing and regular physical examination of prostitutes in an attempt to stem the spread of syphilis and other diseases. Elizabeth, who was highly moral and considered herself more a "Christian physiologist" than a doctor, saw this law as tacit permission for men to behave immorally.
Her health was gradually growing worse. In 1873, she was forced to spend time in Italy to recover strength lost in several bouts of illness. The following year, while curtailing her private practice, she was made professor of gynecology at the newly incorporated London School of Medicine for Women, which had been organized by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and by Sophia Jex-Blake, who would later become the fifth woman to have her name entered in the British Medical Register. Elizabeth's most important work, Counsel to Parents on the Moral Education of Children, was written in 1876. A highly controversial book at the time, it openly discussed sexual matters such as masturbation (of which she strongly disapproved), and would probably strike a modern reader as ill informed and dated.
In her later years, Elizabeth was also a strong opponent of vivisection and vaccination and considered the fledgling science of bacteriology to be utter nonsense. In 1879, she moved permanently to the village of Hastings on the English Channel, where she finally gave up private practice and wrote her autobiography, published in 1895 under the title Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women. A final four-month trip back to the United States was made in 1906, but she was too ill to visit the New York Infirmary, which had moved to buildings on 15th Street in Manhattan.
Elizabeth Blackwell died in England on May 31, 1910, at the age of 89. Due to scarce funds and the increasing acceptance of female students at more established universities, the Medical College had closed in 1899. The hospital she founded, however, now vastly enlarged and renamed New York Infirmary-Strang Clinic, still operates on East 15th Street.
Elizabeth Blackwell, the “real life” Dr. Quinn, never deterred from her dream of working in medicine. Her determination to reach her goal, against all odds (even with the ability to use only one eye), paved the way for all women doctors. Today female physicians are accepted and respected in hospitals and communities world-wide, many specialists in their field.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


When we write a short story or a novel, that work is a “journey” from beginning to end in many ways.

Hopefully, our main characters will learn something about themselves and grow emotionally and in their personal values of not only each other, but the world around them. They must become more aware of their place in the world as individuals to be able to give of themselves to another person, the hero to the heroine, and visa versa.

The main conflict of the story brings this about in a myriad of ways, through smaller, more personal conflicts and through the main thrust of the “big picture” dilemma. I always like to use Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell as a prime example of this, because the States’ War was the catalyst for everything that followed, but it also remained the backdrop throughout the book. This generated all of the personal losses and gains that Scarlett and Rhett made individually, so if the War hadn’t been the backdrop, the main original conflict, their personal stories would have taken very different routes and their love story quite possibly would have never happened.

No matter what kind of story we are trying to weave, we have to have movement throughout—not just of the characters’ growth, but of the setting and circumstances that surround them.

Have you ever thought about how important it is to have travel in your writing? No, it doesn’t have to be lengthy travel, although that’s a great possibility, too. Even a short trip allows things to happen physically to the characters, as well as providing some avenue for emotional growth and development among them.

One of my favorite examples of the importance of travel is the short story by Ernest Haycox, “Last Stage to Lordsburg.” You might know it better as the John Ford movie adaptation, “Stagecoach,” starring a very handsome young newbie…John Wayne. A varied group of people are traveling on a stagecoach that is attacked by Indians, including John Wayne, (a seriously good-looking young outlaw by the name of Johnny Ringo) who is being transported to prison. The dire circumstances these passengers find themselves in make a huge difference in the way they treat each other—including their hesitant acceptance of a fallen woman and the outlaw.

If your characters are going somewhere, things are bound to happen—even if they’re just going to the store, as in the short story “The Mist,” by Stephen King. Briefly, a man goes to the grocery store and is trapped inside with many other people by a malevolent fog that surrounds the store and tries to come inside. Eventually, he makes the decision to leave rather than wait for it to get inside and kill them all. He thinks he can make it to the pickup just outside in the parking lot. A woman that he really doesn’t know says she will go with him. By making this conscious decision, not only are they leaving behind their own families (he has a wife and son) that they know they’ll never see again, but if they make it to the vehicle and survive, they will be starting a new chapter of their lives together. It’s a great concept in my opinion—virtual strangers, being forced to make this kind of life-or-death decision in the blink of an eye, leaving everything they know behind, when all they had wanted to do was pick up a few groceries.

In all of my stories, there is some kind of travel involved. In Fire Eyes, although Jessica doesn’t travel during the story, she has had to travel to get to the place where it all takes place. And Kaed is brought to her, then travels away from her when he is well enough. Will he come back? That’s a huge conflict for them. He might be killed, where he’s going, but it’s his duty. He can’t turn away from that. After what has happened to him in his past, he has a lot of mixed feelings about settling down and trying again with a family, and with love.

One of my professors once stated, “There are only two things that happen in a story, basically. 1. A stranger comes to town. Or, 2. A character leaves town.” Pretty simplistic, and I think what she was trying to tell us was that travel is a great way to get the conflict and plot of a story moving in the right direction. I always think of “Shane” when I think of “a stranger coming to town” because that is just such a super example of how the entire story is resolved by a conflicted character, that no one ever really gets to know. Yet, although he may have a checkered past, he steps in and makes things right for the Staretts, and the rest of the community.

In my upcoming release, Time Plains Drifter, a totally different kind of travel is involved—time travel. The hero is thrown forward sixteen years from the date he died (yes, he’s a very reluctant angel) and the heroine is flung backward one hundred fifteen years by a comet that has rearranged the bands of time on earth. They come together in 1895 in the middle of Indian Territory. But the time travel is just a means to bring them together for the real conflict, and that is the case with most of the stories we write. We aren’t writing to look at the scenery/history: we want to see the conflict, and the travel is just a way to get that to happen.

How do you use travel in your writing? Do you have any tips that might make it easier to describe the actual travel sequences? I find that is the hardest thing sometimes, for me.

Here's an excerpt from my upcoming Dec. 2 TWRP release, "A NIGHT FOR MIRACLES". In this western short story, a wounded gunman and three children seek shelter on Christmas Eve with a lonely widow. Not only is their travel important, but the timing of that journey. I hope you enjoy!

He sighed, his breath drawn up short. “I didn’t want to keep riding,” he said quietly. “No, that’s not right.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t keep riding. When I saw this cabin, it was like an answer to a prayer.” She raised an eyebrow, and he slanted her a rueful smile. “No, I’m not one to pray too much, but sometimes hope’s all there is. That, and believing maybe everything will come around right—for once.” He sighed and closed his eyes. “We’ve barged in on you, haven’t we? Gave you no choice but to grant us shelter. I’m sorry—”

“No.” She laid a hand on his arm and squeezed, cutting off the rest of his apology. She’d been prickly, and she was suddenly ashamed. It was time to put aside her own guarded feelings and do what she could to help Nick Dalton and the children. They were all counting on her. “Please, don’t say you’re sorry. I’m afraid I should be apologizing to you. I haven’t been as--gracious as I should have. You’re welcome here, for as long as you want to stay.” She was surprised to find she meant it.

He gave her a sardonic white grin that creased the lines at the corners of his eyes, as if he were laughing at the entire situation, himself included.

“My…reputation…hinders a fair amount of hospitality sometimes.” He paused before he went on. “The light inside here warmed me, even in that wind. I could tell the kids felt the same. They got so…hopeful all of a sudden. Like a glimpse of heaven in all that damn snow.”

“Somehow, I’m beginning to wonder how much of what they say about you is really true,” Angela said in a low tone. She leaned over the wound again.

The dancing laughter evaporated from his expression as soon as she spoke the soft words.

“You don’t need to be afraid. I’d never hurt you.” Their eyes locked, the air sizzling between them. He let his breath out slowly on a sigh. “Never.”

A noise from the doorway caught Angela’s attention, and she tore her gaze away from his to see the two younger children peering around the corner. They pulled back quickly out of sight as she turned.

“Go easy on ’em, Angela,” Nick said quietly. “They’ve had…a rough time of it.”
His concern for the children was not what she’d expected, and as she called to them, she wondered again what strange circumstances had brought them all together. They sheepishly came from the kitchen into the bedroom. Angela quickly pulled the sheet over the hole in Nick’s side to hide it from their view.

“Thanks,” he muttered, giving her a grateful look before he turned to the children again. “Where’s Will?” he asked, his tone rough with the suppressed pain.

Leah glanced toward the bedroom doorway. “He went out back to bring in some more wood…” She trailed off at Nick’s sharply indrawn breath.

“He shouldn’t be out there.”

The faint measure of worry in the gunman’s tone mystified Angela. But she recognized that he didn’t want to speak plainly in front of the youngsters. She stood up and took Charlie’s hand. “Come with me, you two,” she said. “I bet I can find something you’ll like. A surprise.”