Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Advice for the newly married...

I’m often asked where I get the ideas for my stories. (A very common question for authors, it ranks up there with “You should write a book about me.” To which I respond, “I write ROMANCE novels.” Sorry, I regress…) Stories come in as many ways, shapes, sizes, and intensity as canines.

Last year, I was stumbling around the internet, researching for my WIP, when I came across the below article by Ruth Smythers.

Instruction and advice
for the young bride.

On the Conduct and Procedure
Of the Intimate and Personal Relationships
Of the Marriage State
For the Greater Spiritual Sanctity
Of this Blessed Sacrament
And the Glory of God
by Ruth Smythers
Beloved wife of The Reverend L.D. Smythers,
Pastor of the Arcadian Methodist Church
of the Eastern Regional Conference
Published in the year of our Lord 1894
Spiritual Guidance Press, New York City

Instruction and advice for the young bride

To the sensitive young woman who has had the benefits of proper upbringing, the wedding day is, ironically, both the happiest and most terrifying day of her life. On the positive side, there is the wedding itself, in which the bride is the central attraction in a beautiful and inspiring ceremony, symbolizing her triumph in securing a male to provide for all her needs for the rest of her life. On the negative side, there is the wedding night, during which the bride must pay the piper, so to speak, by facing for the first time the terrible experience of sex.

At this point, dear reader, let me concede one shocking truth.Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude! A selfish and sensual husband can easily take advantage of such a bride. One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDGINGLY. Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.

On the other hand, the bride's terror need not be extreme. While sex is at best revolting and at worse rather painful, it has to be endured, and has been by women since the beginning of time, and is compensated for by the monogamous home and by the children produced through it. It is useless, in most cases, for the bride to prevail upon the groom to forego the sexual initiation. While the ideal husband would be one who would approach his bride only at her request and only for the purpose of begetting offspring, such nobility and unselfishness cannot be expected from the average man.

Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency.

Feigned illness, sleepiness, and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding, and bickering also prove very effective, if used in the late evening about an hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.

Clever wives are ever on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage.

By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband. By this time she can depend upon his love for the children and social pressures to hold the husband in the home. Just as she should be ever alert to keep the quantity of sex as low as possible, the wise bride will pay equal attention to limiting the kind and degree of sexual contacts. Most men are by nature rather perverted, and if given half a chance, would engage in quite a variety of the most revolting practices. These practices include among others performing the normal act in abnormal positions; mouthing the female body; and offering their own vile bodies to be mouthed in turn.

Nudity, talking about sex, reading stories about sex, viewing photographs and drawings depicting or suggesting sex are the obnoxious habits the male is likely to acquire if permitted.

A wise bride will make it the goal never to allow her husband to see her unclothed body, and never allow him to display his unclothed body to her. Sex, when it cannot be prevented, should be practiced only in total darkness. Many women have found it useful to have thick cotton nightgowns for themselves and pajamas for their husbands. These should be donned in separate rooms. They need not be removed during the sex act. Thus, a minimum of flesh is exposed.

Once the bride has donned her gown and turned off all the lights, she should lie quietly upon the bed and await her groom. When he comes groping into the room she should make no sound to guide him in her direction, lest he take this as a sign of encouragement. She should let him grope in the dark. There is always the hope that he will stumble and incur some slight injury which she can use as an excuse to deny him sexual access.

When he finds her, the wife should lie as still as possible. Bodily motion on her part could be interpreted as sexual excitement by the optimistic husband.

If he attempts to kiss her on the lips she should turn her head slightly so that the kiss falls harmlessly on her cheek instead. If he attempts to kiss her hand, she should make a fist. If he lifts her gown and attempts to kiss her anyplace else she should quickly pull the gown back in place, spring from the bed, and announce that nature calls her to the toilet. This will generally dampen his desire to kiss in the forbidden territory.

If the husband attempts to seduce her with lascivious talk, the wise wife will suddenly remember some trivial non-sexual question to ask him. Once he answers she should keep the conversation going, no matter how frivolous it may seem at the time.

Eventually, the husband will learn that if he insists on having sexual contact, he must get on with it without amorous embellishment. The wise wife will allow him to pull the gown up no farther than the waist, and only permit him to open the front of his pajamas to thus make connection.

She should be absolutely silent or babble about her housework while he is huffing and puffing away. Above all, she should lie perfectly still and never under any circumstances grunt or groan while the act is in progress. As soon as the husband has completed the act, the wise wife will start nagging him about various minor tasks she wishes him to perform on the morrow. Many men obtain a major portion of their sexual satisfaction from the peaceful exhaustion immediately after the act is over. Thus the wife must insure that there is no peace in this period for him to enjoy. Otherwise, he might be encouraged to soon try for more.

One heartening factor for which the wife can be grateful is the fact that the husband's home, school, church, and social environment have been working together all through his life to instill in him a deep sense of guilt in regards to his sexual feelings, so that he comes to the marriage couch apologetically and filled with shame, already half cowed and subdued. The wise wife seizes upon this advantage and relentlessly pursues her goal first to limit, later to annihilate completely her husband's desire for sexual expression.

Copyright 1894 The Madison Institute.

This article is posted on many sites. I copied it from this site

Various resources (here and here) have confirmed the article couldn’t have been written in 1894 for numerous reason (lucky for Mr. Smythers) and was most likely written during the ‘sexual revolution’ (1960’s-1970’s).

HOWEVER, it made me wonder if such an article could have appeared, especially since periodicals, magazines, newspapers, as well as books were coveted by pioneer women. (These pieces of paper were not just a connection to the outside world, a pioneer woman found thousands of uses for every page.) Well, that’s how my latest release, Kendra’s Choice, came to be.

Back Blurb:
Kendra Parker needs a man-it's research for Widow Swanson's article, "What Every Woman Needs to Know about Her Marriage Bed." But the sparse population of Eastern Colorado in 1883 doesn't offer many choices, until Major Marlow arrives.

Sterling Marlow rode into the Parker farm in time to celebrate the wedding of one of Kincaid Parker's daughters. But it was the Pastor's older daughter, Kendra, who caught his attention. Her seductive body wanted him, and who was he to deny the needs of a young woman?

Thursday, September 24, 2009


By, Roberta C.M. DeCaprio

My mother visits Wal,art daily, and most of the time she hasn’t anything to buy. It’s become the local haunt for senior citizens in my area, many meet for coffee, do a bit of 'power walking' while browsing the isles for sales. She knows all the cashiers and sales people by name and has made tons of friends.
The convenient, finding-everything-under-one-roof type of store has also become an easy stop for the younger generation, who haven’t the time or patience to scout around various shops for their needs. The Super Walmart has an optical store, a nail salon and a pharmacy beneath one even carries food, as would a grocery store. The first time my daughter called to say she bought a real nice cut of sirloin steak at Walmart, I did a double take.
As always, my writer’s curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to do a little research on the Walmart of the pioneer days . . . known to the shoppers at that time as THE GENERAL STORE.

Thinkquest Jr. 2000 explains THE GENERAL STORE, as not having a big variety of food and clothes. The size of the store was not very big, maybe about the size of a classroom. The stores would have a backroom where they kept extra supplies especially during the winter.

Some of the things the pioneers might have bought at the general store were: coffee grinders, rugs, clothing, bedding, cooking stoves, baby cradles, sets of dishes, candles, lanterns, butter molds, and food.

They also might have purchased tools there like animal traps, anvils, hoes, hammers, hatchets, shovels, axes, grinding stones, ropes, and other tools.

The general store would also have items for children like toys, dolls, jump ropes, marbles, family bibles, books, cloth, ribbons, buttons, and more.

The general store was like a gathering place for people in the town. They would meet there to talk about things, to find out news, and maybe to even play a game of checkers with the storekeeper or a neighbor.

Laura Ingalls Wilder explains THE GENRAL STORE as follows:

Every town had a general store, and they were all much alike. The general store was a place where things could be purchased that was not produced at home. It sold groceries, dry goods and hardware items. There were no unfilled spaces in (or out of) the store. Items for sale were stocked in bushel baskets, barrels, bins, glass cases, canisters, cloth sacks, shelves, and even overhead on wires strung across the store.

On the Mast Store History site I learned the first MAST GENERAL STORE of Valle Crucis, North Carolina was built, at least the first of its many rooms, in 1882 by Henry Taylor and opened in 1883. Henry had run a much smaller store across the road for many years previous to the building of the new structure. In 1897 half interest in the store was sold to W. W. Mast, a member of a pioneer family that settled in the valley. The store was known as the Taylor and Mast General Store up until 1913 when the remaining half of the enterprise was purchased by W. W.

For the next 60 years, the store was owned and managed by the Mast Family. During that time, W. W. and his family tried to carry all of the items their neighbors might need - from plows to cloth and "Cradles to Caskets," which led to the popular saying, "If you can't buy it here, you don't need it."

Credit was extended to all who needed it and payments were often made in trade (a chicken for a sack of flour, and so on). If you wander back in the store, you can see the chicken hatch door in the floor. "In the floor?" you may ask. "That seems like an awfully funny place to put a chicken coop." As the story goes, a couple of young boys took a chicken to the Farthing Store, a competing general store just two tenths of a mile down the road, and traded with them for merchandise. Their chicken was duly weighed and put out back in the chicken coop. When the storekeeper wasn't watching, they took their just-bartered chicken back and brought it to the Mast Store to trade it again. Therefore, the hatch at the Mast Store was put beneath the floor and secured from the outside to prevent those individuals who wanted to get more than they bargained for.

In addition to being the community gathering place, the store also served many other needs over the years. It provided an office for Dr. Perry - one of Watauga County's first doctors. It was a place for wild crafters to bring their roots and herbs in exchange for store credit. And in the aftermath of the '40 Flood, it provided a site for mourners to gather to honor the memory of their lost loved ones.

Operation of the store was passed from W. W. to his son Howard, who continued to run the business in the long-established manner of providing for the needs of the community. Howard passed it along to his son, "H."

The store was sold by the Mast Family in 1973 to a doctor in Atlanta and a professor at Appalachian State University. Around about that same time, the site was named to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the finest remaining examples of an old country general store. In November of 1977, the doors were closed presumably just for the winter season with hopes of reopening in April of 1978. However, plans did not pan out. Many residents of Valle Crucis banded together in an effort to save the old store and Exxon even helped with the drive to preserve the landmark.

John and Faye Cooper purchased the Mast Store and reopened it in June of 1980. Since that time the store had regained its reputation as "the store that had everything." The Valle Crucis Post Office reopened in October of 1980, thus giving the valley back its identity.

There is an interesting story about the post office. It was said that the post office changed locations - from the Farthing Store (staunch Republicans) to the Mast Store (dyed-in-the-wool Democrats) - depending upon what political party was in power. How would you like to get up in the morning after an election and not know just exactly where to go get your mail?

The operation has expanded in much that same manner as when W. W. Mast was operating the establishment (several Mast General Stores were located in the area and operated by brothers and other family members). The Annex was opened in 1982; the Old Boone Mercantile was opened in 1988; the Little Red Schoolhouse was opened in 1989; the Waynesville store was opened in 1991; the Hendersonville location was opened in August 1995, a store in Asheville joined the Mast Store family in 1999; the first location outside of North Carolina is located on Main Street in Greenville, SC and opened in March 2003. The newest "old" location, which opened in August of 2006, is in Knoxville, TN on Gay Street.

THE GENERAL STORE is alive and well . . . Walmart beware!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Buffalo Gal

I just had the opportunity to travel to Montana and Wyoming, to do some research, take photos for my book trailer, and enjoy a few days of vacation. We visited Yellowstone National Park, and I’m ashamed to admit that this was my first visit, despite living in the Northwest for thirty years.

It won’t be my last visit. I was enthralled with the landscape, wildlife and hydrothermal features. We had the chance to see elk, beaver, coyote, pronghorn, deer, badger, hawks and wolves. But, my favorite animal was the buffalo, also known as the American Bison.

We visited the National Bison Range in the Flathead Valley of Montana a few years ago, and it was my first opportunity to see these magnificent animals up close. Watching them run, seeing their shaggy heads, and observing the males protecting the females as they crossed the road turned me into a true “Buffalo Gal”.

On this visit I had a chance to see herds grazing across the plains and the sight was awe-inspiring. I try to imagine what it was like when these animals covered the land from Canada to northern Mexico, and east to the border of the Appalachian Mountains. It’s been estimated that there were between 60 to 100 million buffalo in the mid-19th century. By 1902, they were nearly extinct. Greed killed them, with many hunters taking only the hides and the tongue. The Lakota people called these hunters – wasichu – which means bad medicine and white man. The tatonka (buffalo) were not only sustenance for these plains Indians, they were also sacred and important to their spirituality.

A few years ago I had the
opportunity to spend two days with Michael Blake, the author of “Dances with Wolves” and he talked about filming the movie with Kevin Costner. One of the things he mentioned was assembling the herd of buffalo for the movie and the way the entire crew stood transfixed that first day of filming when the entire herd stormed across the plain.

It’s not a sight we’re ever likely to see again, even in Yellowstone National Park where the herds are carefully managed to be maintained at approximately 3000 animals.

I think we're diminished by this loss, because for me, buffalo make a landscape more beautiful.

In the coming weeks, PBS will be showing a new Ken Burns documentary, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”. Because I’ve been working with our local station to help promote this series, I’ve had a chance to see some clips from the film. I encourage you to turn on the TV, because this is an event not to be missed.

And then get out into one of “our” parks. The scenery is amazing!

Deborah Schneider
Promise Me – January 2010

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Victorian Era in america:1837-1901

After the Civil War to the turn of the century, wealth increased all across the nation. By 1870, an enormous building boom increased the number of millionaires to one hundred. With the advent of new money, the call for more of everything reigned among the wealthy. “Too much is not enough” became the mantra, as the rich constantly sought out new ways to display their prominence in society.

From New York to the West coast, a woman of means threw her heart and soul into creating a home befitting her status. This meant building a home that was as festooned as a Christmas tree—inside and out. She stuffed every room with spindly, feminine furniture, until it overflowed with excess. She decorated with abandon, creating grossly decorated rooms, filled with every knickknack and gimcrack imaginable. A person might feel stifled and claustrophobic in the room.
The ladies, young and old, dressed in the fashions of the day. The outfits were as ornate as the homes in which they lived. Pronounced bustles, unnecessary and odd-looking, was part of every well-to-do lady’s dress. One dress might contain as many as twenty yards of silk and satin, and rows and rows of lace and fringe and ruffles decorated the necklines, hems, and bustles.

A lady strived for the most extravagant hairdo she could manage. She piled it high on her head, tortured it into masses of curls and ringlets, and above all, draped it with all manner of gewgaws to frame her face. All in the name of elegance.

In my first release, All My Hopes and Dreams, a Western Historical set in the Victorian era, 1880 Texas, Miss Cynthia Harrington lives in a big, white house in Nacogdoches, Texas with her banker father. As she says in the novel, “Nacogdoches is not exactly the social and fashion center of Texas.” However, she strives to be the best-dressed young lady of the small East Texas town. With her loveliness and poise, she manages to attract the attention of visiting horse-buyer, Ricardo Romero. Of course, they marry, and she soon learns that the Romero ranch on the far Western edge of the Texas Frontier most certainly differs in all ways from her usual lifestyle—and that includes dress. By the third day, she finds herself wearing boots, split skirt, blouse, and gaucho hat.

Read about their adventures and how they fall in love. Purchase the eBook here:

Or purchase the print here:

Thank you, Celia Yeary

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


We’ve talked some in the past about backstory, but I thought it would be interesting to look at why we choose the backstory we do to create our “front story”—or what the main thrust of the novel is about. A backstory does lots of things for our setting, plot and characters.

Why do we choose the particular backstory we decide to use to create our setting? For me, the backstory must bring the setting to life to show why the characters were so affected by what has happened in their pasts.

A male character, our protagonist, that is “tall, dark, and handsome,” could be one of any type of characters in any time period—until we create his backstory. Of course, the backstory shapes his character in the plot of the book, but the setting is such an integral part of the equation that it would be hard to say what’s more important to your character’s development: where he came from, or where he’s going.

Let me show you what I mean. In my novel, Fire Eyes, the hero, Kaed Turner, has been denied a family by one twist of fate or another since he was a small boy. His parents were killed when he was eight by the Apache, and though he was kept with his sister and brother by first the Apache, then the Choctaw, they were so much younger than he that they quickly forgot what he felt compelled to remember—the deaths of their parents, and their lives before.

He loses his young Choctaw wife and their two children, ironically, to a group of white men who don’t want Indians to settle in the community where he’s built his house.

So, there is no room in his heart to totally embrace the ways of the Indians, but he is being shown physically that he is unwelcome now in the white world. This is further illustrated when Fallon’s band captures him and tries to kill him, but he is saved by the Choctaws. Where does he belong?

Could Fire Eyes have happened the way it did if Kaed’s backstory hadn’t included these incidents? No. The entire feel of the character would have been changed if he had not had these experiences. And to show his growth in the "front story," we have to show what happened to him before. The setting is indispensable in shaping all the other elements of the story, in this case. Kaed has come from rough beginnings due to the things that happened to him that were beyond his control. Now, what kind of man will it make him?

Could these things have happened to him in any other setting? No. When we begin to delve into the history that is pertinent to a particular area and/or time period, there are certain events that have happened that are unique to both time and place. Just as the events of history shape the setting your story takes place in, those same happenings also shape your characters both directly and indirectly.

How much description of the setting do we need in the backstory to set the scene? And how do we deliver it?

In Fire Eyes, we know none of the facts about Kaed’s upbringing at the beginning of the story. In chapter one, when he sees he must give himself up to save the two Choctaw girls, we begin to realize that he knows them, and therefore, has an affiliation with the Choctaws. It isn’t until later, even after the Choctaws rescue him, that it comes out as to why he knows Standing Bear, the chief, and what happened to him as a child. Even later in the story, we learn of the tragedy that happened to his own young family ten years past.

In creating a world we are not familiar with, such as in science fiction or fantasy writing, more of the backstory must be told in the beginning. The stage must be set, and in order to let us know about the world that has been created, more description has to be given toward the front part of the book rather than waiting.

Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series would have made no sense without some description of the world and customs, the people and landscape he created. The same with Tolkien’s world, and even the Harry Potter books, which are a mix of a created world and one we are familiar with.

Letting the setting affect your character is easier than you might think—it’s really inevitable. Even if your novel is set in contemporary times, the city, state or country and even the matter of picking a rural or urban setting will make a huge difference in your characters and your story overall. Was your hero raised on a ranch or was he a city boy? This will definitely determine his reactions the first time his new love interest suggests they go riding next weekend.

How much should your reader know? Not as much as you, the author, does. The art of backstory and description of the setting is in doing it interestingly and seamlessly. Dumping all the information on the reader at once will prove overwhelming.

The saying goes, “The devil is in the details.” Blending your setting, characters, and plot successfully in the backstory of your novel proves the truth of that statement!

In the excerpt below, Kaed talks to Jessica about what happened to his parents and his brother and sister. He is showing us why he feels like he does now, his fears at trying to hold on to family of any kind, after what happened. What we don’t know yet, is the rest of the story about what happened ten years ago, to his wife and children. This is a kind of turning point for Kaed. Will he let events, the setting of his life in the past, shape him? Or will he try again—will he be strong enough to risk everything one more time and shape the setting that is yet to come, the future?


“Family seems to be a hard thing for me to hold on to.” He shifted, and Jessica moved to lay her head on his shoulder. Her long hair trailed across his bare chest, and he felt her breathe slowly, relaxing in his embrace. “I lost my parents when I was eight.”

“It still hurts, doesn’t it?” Jessica laid her hand across his side, tracing his ribs.

He drew a long breath, and spoke quietly. “Yeah. I guess it does.”

“What happened?”

“My father was determined to have some bottom land to farm. Never mind that the place he selected was unprotected, away from the rest of the small settlement there in Cale Switch. The land was good, and it was what he wanted. But the Apache saw an easy target. They came in the night and took us. My younger brother, Kevin; my sister, Marissa; and me.”

“They killed your parents?” Her voice was hesitant, and Kaed was silent for a moment before he responded.

“My father tried to stop them. He just couldn’t defend us against so many. They killed him, then my mother, and took their scalps.”

At her sharp intake of breath, Kaed stroked Jessica’s long hair. “Barbaric?” he asked, reading her thoughts easily.

She nodded her head against him. “I’ve been afraid of the Indians ever since we came here.”

Kaed smiled at this admission. “Standing Bear won’t hurt you, sweetheart. The Choctaws aren’t as—”


“Taking scalps was a practice the Indians learned from the Europeans, Jess. Barbaric, cruel—yes. But remember, they only fought back using the methods the white men used first.” He cupped her chin and she raised her eyes to his. “You can trust Standing Bear.”

“That’s what he told me about you.”

Kaed grinned. “He knows me pretty well. After the Apache had had us for a year or so, he bartered for the three of us. We lived with the Choctaw after that. I left when I was seventeen. Kevin and Marissa were so young, the way of the People is all they knew.”

“They stayed with the tribe? Even when they had a choice?”

“It’s how they were raised. Kevin was only five when we were taken; Marissa was two.” He was silent a moment. “I was the only one old enough to remember.”

“Do you ever see them?”

“I walk in both worlds, Jessi. I come and go freely in the Choctaw camp. Kevin and Marissa are married and have families. They’re both more Choctaw than white by the way they’ve been raised. I lost them to a way of life I couldn’t fully embrace. I guess it’s harder for me, because I remember our parents, our home.” He shook his head and felt her fingers moving gently, absently, over his bronze skin.

“I wondered how he knew you. Standing Bear, I mean.” Jessica lifted her head and met his eyes. “You’re like a son to him, aren’t you?”

“I’ll never think of him as my father, but he saved us from the Apache.” He smiled caustically. “They’re a pretty rough bunch. The Choctaws are reasonable, at least. I owe him for what he did. Can’t ever repay that.”

“He’s a good man. He raised a good man.” She kissed his side. “Whether you want to think of him as your father or not, it seems he did what he could to do right for you.”

Friday, September 11, 2009

Tanya Hanson: The Legend of the Yellow Ribbon

I never liked the song much, Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Old Oak Tree, but that doesn't mean I can't sing it at will all these years later! And I remember wearing a yellow ribbon during the Iran Hostage Crises of 1981-82. These days, I see frequent reminders to pray for our troops on yellow-ribbon car magnets.

But not until last week, visiting Old Sacramento, did I learn the origins of the yellow ribbon. For almost 150 years, displaying a yellow ribbon is a sign of loyalty to family, friends and loved ones far away from home in difficult situations such as war or captivity.

According to legend, the custom of a yellow ribbon showing support for a loved one far away began during the Civil War. At this time, the United States Cavalry wore yellow piping on their uniforms. Women who were married or promised to a Cavalryman wore yellow ribbons while waiting for their soldiers' return. Supposedly the practice kept prospective suitors at bay as well as warned of reprisal by the soldier if his lover was harmed.

Another version of the custom traces its origins to the horrific Andersonville Prison. Officially known as Camp Sumpter, Andersonville was one of the largest, most notorious Confederate prison camps. During its 14 months of operation, more than 45,000 Union soldiers were confined, 13,000 losing their lives from disease, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure.

Supposedly a member of the Ninth Ohio Cavalry who had been a Confederate prisoner there for several years, wrote to his wife with the suggestion that, rather than wear her ribbon, she tie it to a signpost near the train station so he could see it upon his return. The tale soon became part of Civil War lore.

The following song spread throughout the North, its words set to an old British drinking song:

Around her neck she wore a yellow ribbon
She wore it in the Springtime and in the month of May.
And if you ask her why the hells he wore it,
She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away.

Far away, far away.
She wore it for her soldier who is far, far away

During the 1991 Gulf War and following 9/11, the yellow ribbon symbol has gained widespread popularity as it sends our service members the message that they are never far from our hearts.

Sincere thanks to the Old Sacramento School House Museum for this information.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

History of Western Dancing--Cowboys did it their way.

The cowboy was not the most limber of creatures. The long hours in the saddle and strenuous work produced dancers of questionable finesse. He was not of a temperament to master intricate dance steps or to gracefully lead a fair maiden across the floor to the strains of a fiddler's reel. Rather he would join a dance with a wild whoop and a goat cry.
Joseph McCoy, the first great cattle baron, wrote in 1874 that the cowboy "usually enters the dance with a peculiar zest, his eyes lit up with excitement, liquor and lust. He stomps in without stopping to divest himself of his sombrero, spurs or pistols." This dance style was not so much original as it was a spontaneous adaptation of traditional moves brought west by various immigrant cultures.

The open unexplored spaces of the West both shaped the character and determined the interaction of its settlers. People organized barn dances, husking and quilting bees, cowboy balls and get-togethers. Invitation was by word of mouth and those who heard usually came to dance. To prevent chaos from dominating the dance floor (few people knew the same steps), a figure who soon became legendary emerged; this hero was the caller and it was his job to orchestrate the ranchers, ranch hands, cowboys and ladies into harmonious movement.

Working with the steps of formal quadrilles and folk dances, the caller added a "cowboy waltz" position and helped promote the square dance. This new dance was considerably more casual in that the traditional dances where bodies didn’t touch, but still inhibited the young who were ready for a dance that would add a more intimate hold on their partner.

A new dance called the Polka started moving West. Having "the intimacy of the Waltz and the vivacity of the Irish jig", the Polka was embraced with enthusiasm.

The western population included such groups as Poles, Germans, French, Irish, Jews, Scandinavians, Czechs and Russians and each still enjoyed their own folk dances, but many found common refuge in the polka. New hybrids were also developed, creating offspring such as the Varsouvianna and the Two Step. German settlers in El Paso, Texas developed the Schottische and line dances which were important precursors of modern western dances such as the Cotton-Eyed Joe.

Folks gathered just about anywhere to dance -- on ranches, in barns, in the wide open spaces under the stars. Slowly a dance that was specifically "western" began to evolve. Novelty moves and styles popular in Appalachia and the South came west and were absorbed by the new settlers. The most important influence came from the cowboy!

The cowboy paid little attention to traditional dance forms. One observer commented in 1873, that "some punchers danced like a bear 'round a beehive that was afraid of getting stung. Others didn't seem to know how to handle a calico, and got as rough as they do handlin' cattle in brandin' pens."

The swing of the leg when dismounting from a horse became a mighty Polka gallop. Women were handled as if the cowboy were throwing a beating calf to the ground to be branded. Heavy army issue boots contributed to crude footwork. The habit of wearing spurs even on the dance floor forced the cowboy to keep his feet apart and shuffle as he moved to the music. Several of these cowboy mannerisms, although tamed, survive in today's modern western dance. The "double arms over" move is reminiscent of the final "tying off" of a calf's legs prior to branding. The basic "push pull" position recaptures the rhythm of grasping the reins.
All I can say is, "Yee-haw." Way to go--cowboy!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Western Heroes or, What I Learned from Russell Crowe

In planning this blog today, all I could think about were the two main characters in the movie 3:10 To Yuma, starring my favorite actors, Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. I have seen this film probably 10 times, since DH also loves it, though for different reasons. At first, I watched it because of the Western background, costuming, storyline, drama, etc...but, by the 7th time, I watched it as a historical romance author and saw something that helped me with my own writing.

The basic plot is: "a small-time rancher agrees to hold a captured outlaw who's awaiting a train to go to court in Yuma. A battle of wills ensues as the outlaw tries to psych out the rancher." This plotline made me think it would just be a shoot-em-up good guy/bad guy type of story. Ho-hum. Never heard one of those before!

In the story, Dan (Bale) is a struggling rancher about to lose the farm when the opportunity arises to ride with a posse who've captured murderer Ben (Crowe). Dan asks for $200 for his trouble; it will be enough money to save the ranch and buy medicine for his sickly son. Simple black hat/white hat theme. Like the good guy, cheer when the baddie is caught. As the story progresses, however, these two characters show deeper, different sides that makes this more a study of characterization and GMC, than a showcase for two hunky actors who make sweaty brows and scowling eyes look good.

Dan is not just a struggling rancher. He's a Civil War veteran and his sons consider him a great war hero. The family story is that he lost his leg in battle. At the end of the film, he confesses to Ben that one of his own men shot it off accidentally, but he was too ashamed to admit that to his sons, who admire him. Through added digs by Ben and others, it's also hinted that Dan feels like less of a man with his frustrated wife, who resents that he cannot make the ranch work. His older son thinks him a coward when he won't shoot one of the bad guys. With just a few insights, the story becomes more an internal battle in each man than a simple chase story.

Ben, the heartless killer, is a lover of Shakespeare and quite the artist. He also shows a knack for reading people and becomes more and more sympathetic toward Dan and his plight. When he finds out that Dan needs the money his capture will bring, Ben is determined to make sure he is on the train (taking him to Yuma Prison where he will be hanged). But his gang has other plans, and will kill everyone in their path to release Ben. One of my favorite scenes is toward the end, when the worst of his gang fatally shoots Dan. Without hesitation, Ben kills the rest of his men, then gets on the waiting train. Dan's son leans down and whispers, "He got on the train." And Dan smiles, knowing that Ben is the unlikely reason his family and ranch will go on without him.

That two unlikely heroes can become friends despite their backgrounds and occupations made me want to explore their characters even more. I studied how their interractions brought them closer; the private secrets they reveal to each other. Secrets their own friends and families don't know. Dan speaks of the war and his shame while Ben reveals he once read the Bible cover to cover when his mother abandoned him, as a child, at a train station. These revelations, simple at first, reveal more of the man beneath the label. Dan just doesn't need the money - he wants to redeem himself in his wife's and sons' eyes. And Ben admits he can always escape again from Yuma, even though he is risking his life by getting on the train. There is still the chance he will be hanged, but he wants Dan's family to go on.

There were so many levels to this story that sets it apart from most. It reminded me that our characters are not one- or two-sided, but multi-faceted, like real people. Even though the men started out as good guy/bad guy, by the end of the movie they were very similar - both had positive and negative traits, both were sympathetic, and both were capable of loyalty and honor.

And both could scowl a hole through the darkest cloud any time!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Bone War

The Wild West went deeper than outlaws, buffalo hunters, Indian raids, wagon trains, and cattle drives. For over twenty-years a race to uproot fossils raged across the western plains—THE BONE WAR.

Sometime around 1864 two men, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, became acquainted in Germany at a time when paleontology was at its forefront. Cope was from a wealthy Quaker family in Pennsylvania and thought Marsh was too uncouth to be a scientist. Whereas Marsh (though his family was not well-to-do, he had considerably rich uncle) thought Cope was simply dabbling in the field and not really serious about the fossil evidence uprooting itself around the world. The BONE WAR became a feud between Cope and Marsh as they each fought to gain notoriety as the world’s greatest paleontologist. Their war resulted in hundreds of fossil finds, but also in trickery, theft, and overall corruption.

It all started in 1868 when Cope attempted to reconstruct a fossil sent to him by one of his ‘diggers’ in Kansas. (At the time, no one had any idea how out of proportion historical reptiles were.) Mistakenly, Cope placed the skull at the end of the animal’s short tail instead of its long neck. When Marsh unearthed this mistake, he pointed it out in public, thoroughly humiliating Cope.

The Bone War was kicked into high gear when increasing numbers of reports came from the American west. The railroad, surging its way across the country, unearthed bones as the tracks were laid. A school teacher in eastern Colorado wrote to both Cope and Marsh, sending them samples of a fossil he’d found. Marsh immediately offered the man $100 to keep his find secret. When Marsh discovered Cope had heard about it, he dispatched an agent to ‘protect’ his assets. Soon both men were sending troops of prospectors westward.

Soon it was common knowledge the men were in a race to find the most and best dinosaur fossils. Boxcars of fossils were shipped eastward, and both men had barns full of bones. Both Marsh and Cope relocated to the west and over the next few years they deliberately destroyed each other’s finds, hijacked shipments, spied on each other, bribed employees, and outright stole one another’s bones.

By the 1880’s it looked as if Marsh was winning the war. Thanks to his rich uncle he could hire more men, make larger bribes, and open more dig sites. Cope continued with the discoveries, but soon started to focus on publishing information about the findings. Marsh would scour through every one of Cope’s papers and exploit every mistake he could find.

Cope had kept a journal during all his excavations. In these diaries he’d listed all of Marsh’s discretions, transgressions and unlawful behavior, and in the late 1880’s provided them to a journalist at the New York Herald. Marsh of course published a rebuttal, accusing Cope of the same deeds.

The airing of dirty laundry didn’t help either of them. Marsh was asked to resign from the U.S. Congressional Geographical Survey Division and Cope soon took ill. By the time of Cope’s death in 1897 both men had squandered their fortunes. A large number of their finds were not unpacked and re-constructed until after their deaths.

In Shotgun Bride—The Quinter Brides Book One, I introduce the readers to the Bone War when the second brother arrives home after visiting the Kansas Badlands with a pocket full of sharks teeth. The second book of the series, Badland Bride, has the Bone War as a subplot.

There are several fossil museums in Kansas. My favorite is the Keystone Gallery It is in the middle of no where (I can say that because I grew up there) and is housed in a 1916 limestone church building.

Badland Bride—The Quinter Brides Book Two will be released in November 2009.