I’m pleased to be chatting today with a prolific author who has burst onto the western scene in a relatively short amount of time. Her debut novel, Freckled Venom, was a Laramie award winner, and she recently signed on with Delilah‘s publisher, Dusty Saddle Publishing. The amazing part is she manages churn out all of her many books, while still holding down a traditional job outside the home, as well. Let’s see if she has any secrets to share. Please welcome western author Juliette Douglas.
Kaye: Your website says you are a new voice in the western genre, but it seems like you have written a lot of books. How long have you been writing western?
Juliette: I was a new voice 5 years ago, as I tend to have more grit in my novels then most women western writers.
I was 1st published in 2013, but the publisher was awful so ditched them and became indie and re-issued my books with new covers and re-edited interiors in 2014. So that’s when I like to say I’ve been published.
Kaye: What did you write before westerns?
Juliette: I have never written a thing before in my life. So I guess you could say I’m a late bloomer.
Kaye: Do you think it is more difficult for a woman to author a western novel and make a success of it?
Juliette: No I don’t. When I began to promote my novels at local events, I sold more to men then women. Since then I have all ages who read my books.
I personally feel it’s easy for me to write strong female characters in an old western setting then to write a contemporary western.
I love history, so it’s a good match for me. I’ve been blessed with my success. I know I am up against many good male western writers who have been around much longer then I have, but I’m making strides.
Kaye: What’s the biggest challenge in writing westerns for you?
Juliette: Making sure the things I want to happen are in the right time frame, I use the weapons for that era etc. For example: smokeless gunpowder did not appear until the 1890s.
Kaye: Your female characters are bold and brassy in a genre where women are typically portrayed as damsels in distress needing rescued by a big strong man. How do you write your heroines in a way that makes them believable, yet allows them to remain independent?
Juliette: I try to put myself into the situation. How would I feel, behave, emotions I might hide or display. Would I be angry or decide these are the cards I was dealt and how would I go about living my life with these secrets or circumstances thrown at me. Women who carved out a future for themselves in the old west had to be some of the strongest I have ever read about and I try to portray that with my characters.
Kaye: What can you share about your Freckled Venom Series?
Juliette: It was a great experience for me as a writer. I loved how my characters took over and I was just the messenger typing out their words and feelings.
The Freckled Venom Series is very different then most western novels out there because it has a gun toting rugged female who bounty hunts instead of the usual male filled westerns. I’ve reversed the roles you might say.
In Freckled Venom Skeletons I tried something different. I had two points of view going on. One from the children’s POV and then the adults and it worked very well.
There will be many more stories in the FV Series. This summer I will have Freckled Venom Vixen The Early Years and for Christmas, Plum Dickens of a Christmas. A reunion of sorts with all the characters brought together in this book.
Kaye: What do you consider to be the single most important element in a western?
Juliette: Good storylines & plots. Plenty of action and hair-raising adventures.
Kaye: Would you talk a little about Perfume, Powder and Lead: Holy Sisters?
Juliette: Hahaha…This was one of the most fun books I have written. The idea is so absurd that this would have happened, but a possibility in those days.
Three soiled doves are tired of that life and set out to the gold fields, but they need money to get there. They stumble across nuns killed by raiders, and the girls change their habits, so to speak and make plans to rob a bank dressed as nuns.
But there are deeper elements also allowing the reader to form a bond with these girls.
It’s raw, it’s gritty and it’s not for everyone to read.
Kaye: Are there any of your books which you’d classify as western romances?
Juliette: I have the teasing potential of romance in most of my novels and my readers seem to like that.
Kaye: One of your most recent releases, Bed of Conspiracy, sounds to me like an
historic thriller involving political conspiracy, assassination plots and cloak
and dagger action, all set during the Grant administration? Was it difficult for
you to stray outside of the western genre?
Juliette: Oh man, I had wanted to do this story for 3 years before I finally found time to write it.
Loved writing this one! Set in 1876 it wasn’t hard for me at all. I loved weaving actual events into the story. Looking at maps of Washington DC from 1876 to learn the layout of the city to include actual street names and places scattered about in the fictional story. It has ended up being one of my most popular novels and due to the high interest has spawned a series. Next one titled: Death Deals the Hand, A Ross & Sam Adventure.
Kaye: Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
Juliette: Every where. Everyday stories and situations that can be transported back in time to the old west!
Kaye: What’s the most fun about writing westerns?
Kaye: The first book in your Freckled Venom series was also your debut novel, Copperhead, which you won a Laramie Award. What is the Laramie Award and how does one receive it?
Juliette: The Laramie Award is the western division of the Chanticleer awards. I submitted Copperhead on a whim and won over very stiff competition.
For 2019 I will be entering Bed of Conspiracy in the Laramie Awards Adventure & Caper category. Will see what happens!
They also have a category for children’s books and I will be entering my 1st Children’s book: We Are Awesome Possums.
Kaye: Would you recommend aspiring authors attempt the western genre? Why or why not?
Juliette: You need to know the history of the old west for sure. There are still many untold stories out there to share, but it takes hard work to come up with a fresh idea with the old tales that would be marketable.
The American Old West is our history, no one else can claim it. It speaks to the hearts of men, women and children across the world. It is America’s claim.
Kaye: If you could have lunch with any author, alive or dead, who would it be? Why?
Juliette: Louie L’Amore. A fascinating man. His stories are based on a lot of his own actual experiences. It would be neat to visit and talk with him.
I want to thank Juliette for sharing with us today. It has been an absolute pleasure. You can learn more about Juliette Douglas and her work on her Facebook Author page or her Amazon Author page. I’m proud to share a publisher with Juliette. I hope you will join me next week on “Chatting with the Pros”, when my author guest will be another Dusty Saddle author, Scott Harris. I hope to see you then.
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My author guest today is a prolific writer, who must publish an average of at least six books per year, in numerous romance series. Patricia PacJac Carroll writes historical and western Christian romance at a rate that I find amazing. The books on her Amazon Author page scroll in what seems like a never ending flow. In addition to her own series, which are many, on occasion, she’s invited to participate in series with a collection of other authors, as is the case with her most recent release. Let’s see what she has to share with us today.
Kaye: In what ways is writing a Christian western romance different from writing a western romance?
Patricia: For me, saying it is Christian means at least some of the characters have a Christian world view. Faith and hope in the Lord are evident in their lives. No preaching or sermons or a lot of verses, only faith as it relates to the story and the characters.
Kaye: Your latest book was recently released, Sandra’s Journey. Would you like to tell me a little about the story?
Patricia: Sandra is struggling, she’s walled herself in away from others. Her little brother’s death and the fact that a fiance left for Calfornia the year before and she only received one letter from him, have stolen her courage. She meets a corporal who is escorting the wagon train, and he challenges her to dream. Romance blossoms along the California trail where by trails end she will have to choose between the two men. A story of courage rediscovered and dreams coming alive.
Kaye: Sandra’s Journey recently came out as a part of a historical western series with a wagon train theme, which includes your book and those of several other Christian western authors. Would you like to tell me about the Lockets and Lace series?
Patricia: The Locket and Lace series is made up of several different authors. I was asked to join in 2018 and wrote Oregon Dreams for the Locket and Lace series for 2018. And then this year again for the Locket and Lace series for this year with Sandra’s Journey.
Every book has a connection to the Bavarian Jeweler in St. Joseph, Missouri. They have a locket that was made in the shop and a piece of lace. We had 9 books last year and 10 this year. They are all wonderful books
Kaye: The Lockets and Lace series books are not the only books you’ve written, by far. You have written several other series, including the Mail Order Brides and The Law Keepers series. How many books have you written? How long have you been writing?
Patricia: I have been writing seriously for thirteen years and began publishing in 2012. I have 40 books out right now and plans for many more. I have several series ~ Mail Order Brides of Hickory Stick, Montant Brides of Solomon’s Valley, and several others.
Kaye: Tell me a little about your author’s journey, if you would?
Patricia: I began writing and attending critique groups in 2006. I loved it, but my friends would call me the book of the week person because story ideas would attack me. I love the thrill of a new story and still do. Finally, I decided I better finish a book and my first book was Liberty Belle that I published in 2012.
Kaye: Your husband is instrumental in your writing, so much so that you’ve incorporated both of your initials into your author’s name – PacJac. Would you talk about how he enables you to write?
Patricia: My husband is a wonderful prince of a man who gives me the time to do what I love. He let me retire in 2006 so I could write. And now, my writing has enabled him to retire. We are a wonderful team and are enjoying our lives. I added the PacJac to my writing name because I found there were other Patricia Carroll’s out there in the writing world. It works well though because you put PacJac in Amazon and it will pop up my books.
Kaye: Your female characters of the contemporary strong and independent variety, or do they follow the traditional damsel in distress variety of heroine?
Patricia: I’d say they are a combination. While I want to be historically correct, readers live in the 21st century. I do like spunky women, but I also enjoy writing about a character who grows in courage and strength, too.
Kaye: What part of writing do you find to be the biggest challenge?
Patricia: The self-discipline. I am a seat-of-the-pants writer, and I tend to live my life the same way. I enjoy fun, family, and friends as well as writing so at times the need to balance comes into play.
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
Patricia: The Lord. He gives me the stories. I am amazed at how He has made sure I understand that. One time I had the opportunity to put a Christmas story in an anthology and had a weekend to write it as it was due Monday at noon. Now, I had bragged that if you just give me a name and a place, I will come up with a story. Well, after my haughty attitude, my friends gave me a name and place and my imagination heard crickets. Nothing. Nada. No story. Now, that was a bit scary to me. A writer isn’t much without a story. So I figured I missed the anthology. But then at 5:30 Monday morning I woke up with a picture in my mind of a cowboy on a horse pulling a Christmas tree and knew I had a story. And I wrote it and turned it in before noon. You can find that story in my book Christmas in Texas. The Richest Christmas. So I will give the Lord all the credit for anything good that I do. Any mistakes are mine.
Kaye: Your books obviously are portrayed in a western landscape, based on historical times and events. What kinds of research do you find yourself doing for your books?
Patricia: Documentaries, books on the old west. I have always loved the west and westerns.
Kaye: Do you feel you draw pieces from your own life into your stories? How so?
Patricia: Yes, and I tell my friends anything may be used in a story. I know I often have my characters state “How hard can it be?” That is all me.
Kaye: What is the most fun part of writing western romance for you?
Patricia: I enjoy the characters and the things they get themselves into. Plus horses, I love horses and they have always been part of the draw to westerns for me. I also love the idea of the wide open wild country.
Kaye: What is something many of your readers wouldn’t guess about you?
Patricia: For twenty years, I owned and ran a pet store. Sea Horse Pets in Arlington, Texas. As you can guess I love animals. And people. I love to write, and my heart is that readers will enjoy my stories and be strengthened and encouraged by reading them. I enjoy making readers happy.
I want to thank Patricia for joining me today to share her thoughts with us. I don’t know about all my readers, but I am astounded by the sheer volume of her works. You can learn more about Patricia at the links below. Stop in and see if you too are not awed by the books she’s produced within the span of the past seven years.
Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-PacJac-Carroll/e/B008R9JCN2/
Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaPacJacCarrollAuthor/
Newsletter sign up http://eepurl.com/bpPmbP
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I’m talking today with fantasy author Laurel McHargue, a woman with a lot of energy. She’s written eight books including her Waterwight fantasy series and an adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth, she hosts her own podcast, Alligator Preserves, is a former teacher and active community member, networks and promotes her works online, and finds time attend writing events for face to face interactions with her fans and potential new readers, as well as other authors. Even through email the positive energy radiates from this author. I could give you a lengthy fanfare on how impressed I am with this lady, but I think it’s better to let you see for yourselves. So, without further ado, please welcome Laurel Mchargue.
Kaye: Would you talk about your author’s journey? How did you come to come to be a writer?
Laurel: When I was quite young, I learned I could get attention by telling stories. As the fourth of five girls, I was low on the proverbial totem pole when it came to feeling important, so I had to be creative. I think my wild dreams helped, though eventually, my parents would roll their eyes when I’d come down in the morning with an “unbelievable” dream I’d just have to share. Who knew a dream would launch my first fantasy series? I didn’t then, but hey, I was just a kid!
Fast forward through a lifetime of unique experiences that people were curious about—I was frequently told, “You should really write about that!”—and I finally made the decision to make writing my career. I always did well in classes that required writing, and there were teachers along the way who encouraged me greatly.
I think I always knew I’d write stories someday, but until I made the commitment, it was always a “someday” kind of dream.
Kaye: What can you tell me about your YA fantasy series, Waterwight, and specifically about your Waterwight Breathe which will be released on March 15th?
Laurel: Waterwight started with a dream in which I was running away from bad guys through a dilapidated town, and I came up against a large body of water. The only way across it was to fly, and so I flew. Halfway across, however, I doubted my ability to make it to the other side and started to fall. A flying frog appeared and said, “Grab hold!” and I grasped his leg. He got me to the other side and then died in my arms. The dream had other elements I was able to use in my story as well. Anyway, I shared the dream with my author friend Carol Bellhouse (because I wasn’t living at home anymore!) and she told me I needed to write a story around it.
At the time, I’d never written fantasy, and the thought of turning a dream into a story thrilled and terrified me! Over the course of a year my story unfolded chapter by chapter, and by the time I got to the end, I wasn’t ready to leave my characters. I knew there was more for them to do, and there were questions I needed to answer. So, Waterwight Flux answers questions, develops characters, and sets up more challenges for Celeste, the orphaned protagonist.
I chose to write Waterwight Breathe, the final book, in first person present tense perspective after reading The Hunger Games. I love the immediacy of the thoughts and actions, and having the last book narrated by the protagonist seemed like the perfect way to end the series. I know it’s unconventional to have different points of view in the same series, but my life decisions have frequently been unconventional, and I have no regrets!
Waterwight Breathe is available on March 15th, and it might be my favorite work yet. I couldn’t wait to get to the ending, the only part of the book I actually planned!
Kaye: You received three CIPA EVVY awards for the first book in the series. That’s quite an accomplishment. What is it about this book that makes it EVVY Award worthy?
Laurel: The CIPA EVVY awards are highly competitive, and each book is evaluated with a rubric—not against other submissions. The judges look at everything from cover design to editing to plot and character development. Waterwight is a fantasy adventure with mythical and mystical elements and a female protagonist; it received praise from Kirkus Reviews and many readers. I’d like to think those readers and the EVVY Awards judges felt compelled to keep reading at the end of each chapter. I had fun ending most of my chapters with cliffhangers!
The first book is also divided into three parts, so readers get to see what’s happening from different perspectives in each part. As a bonus, and because I’m a former English teacher, I added a synonym glossary and questions for discussion in the back of each book in the series. I don’t dumb down my prose for YA readers.
I used 99designs.com for my cover design and couldn’t be happier! The same artist created my covers for all three books in the series. Also, I paid a professional proofreader to ensure there weren’t any annoying typos or misspellings.
Kaye: Your novel Miss? is based on your own experience as a first-year teacher and earned the IndieReader Approved Award. Tell me about this book.
Laurel: I’m incredibly fortunate to have friends who are authors too. In 2012, one of those friends, Stephanie Spong, challenged me to do NaNoWriMo with her. I had never heard of such a beast! Well, being the competitive individual I’ve been told I am, I looked into it, and after thinking the 30-day personal challenge was ludicrous, I signed up on October 31st!
This was about six years after my first year of teaching 7th grade English in a doomed middle school. As a resigned Army Major, I honestly thought teaching 7th grade Language Arts would be a breeze. Oh…Em…Gee! I was very wrong.
Because I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing each day, at the end of the day I’d create a bullet-point list of everything that happened. I walked into NaNoWriMo with a year’s worth of those bullet points and had all the material I needed to write my first novel.
I remember telling my students, “Someday, I’m going to write a book about you all!” I said it as a humorous threat, and every class would be filled with hands going up and exclamations of, “Oh, Miss! Can I be in it?”
Although I couldn’t put all 130 students in “Miss?”, I meshed together many of them and included actual events from that year. I say it’s “loosely fictionalized” because of that, and because I added some romance and a scary situation that didn’t actually happen, but could have.
Kaye: Could you talk about your adult fairytale, The Hare, Raising Truth?
Laurel: The same friend who challenged me to NaNoWriMo challenged me to a 3-Day Novel Writing Contest! Stephanie Spong discovered the contest and really wanted to do it, so what choice did I have? (smiley face).
I sent my husband away for Labor Day Weekend (official contest dates), stocked my house with food and beverages, and set up little workout stations around the house. Stephanie came to my house ready to write for 72 hours and we agreed on rules: She could have the dining room, I had the “Red room” (that may have influenced my writing!), and no talking unless we happened to bump into one another in the kitchen.
We were very good girls!
As I enjoy challenging myself with different genres (and contests with crazy time limits), I decided to try something completely different for this contest. “I’m going to write it in 2nd person perspective,” I told Stephanie, and she warned me about the difficulty. Bonus, I thought. I also thought I’d write something light and funny.
Something happened, however, when I heard Rod Serling’s voice from The Twilight Zone in my head (in the Red room). My story turned darkly comedic quite fast, and there was nothing I could do about it . . . I had to see where it would take me.
I completed The Hare, Raising Truth—a Grimm’s Fairy Tale/Twilight Zone mashup—in about 38 hours. It’s novella length, and it was an absolute blast to write. My husband read it when he returned from his banishment and said it’s the best thing I’ve written so far, and I’ve had many people ask, “How did you get into the head of a horny teenage boy so well?”
Well…it wasn’t that difficult!
Kaye: You have a podcast called Alligator Preserves. What is that about?
Laurel: I started my podcast Alligator Preserves—which is about storytelling and the human condition—for several reasons. I wanted to be able to narrate my own books, so my husband set me up with the equipment I’d need to do that (even after I banished him that Labor Day weekend!). Also, friends had suggested that many of my blog posts should be recorded, since blog posts tend to get buried and lost once they’re posted. I wanted to be able to “tell” stories as well as write them.
When I started recording, I realized I had a great set-up for interviewing other people who’ve “done things” too, so I started asking racers and Reiki practitioners and authors and challenge seekers if they’d like to share their stories. The response was overwhelming, and now I have a hard time figuring out how to fit them all into my own schedule while still having time to do my writing.
Recently, I’ve gone to a pay-for-service model for anyone with a book or product they’d like to promote. Creating a podcast with another person is a lot of work. I value the time I spend reading and researching (prior to the interview) and editing and posting to social media (post recording). I provide all the links to the audio and video I create to my interviewee for use on their social media as well. For authors, it’s another plank to add to their author platform!
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing fantasy?
Laurel: I can visualize scenes in my head so clearly, and most of them are fast-paced. The challenge is in slowing down my writing to help readers see what I’m seeing. Also, sometimes my writing is dream-like, and I have to find ways to convey that not-quite-real feeling.
That’s how multiple drafts help. I may blast through several chapters, totally believing that I’m conveying what my mind is seeing, and then I’ll have someone read them and they’ll say, “Huh? What just happened here? I don’t get it”!
My challenge is usually in adding more to a scene rather than deleting. There’s always more an author can do to make their writing sing more clearly!
Kaye: What’s the most fun part of writing for you?
Laurel: I think many authors might say that writing “The End” upon completing a project is the most fun, and I won’t lie—a happy dance always follows—but really, the fun is in the little surprises that happen along the way. It’s the unexpected character that pops into my head while I’m walking the dog or the funny thing a character will say. I’m more of a “pantser” than a “planner,” so I’m surprised all the time!
Sharing my work and having a fan say, “Wow! I loved that!” is another obvious fun part, but that’s after the writing is published. I brought my work to the 2018 Denver Comic Con and was blown away by the interaction I experienced with readers. I’ll attend the 2019 Denver Pop Culture Con (new name) this year with my completed trilogy and a new graphic novel! Now, that will be fun!
Kaye: Fantasy isn’t the only genre that you write in, and you hope to explore as many genres as possible throughout your writing career. What is your favorite genre to date?
Laurel: I’m horrible when it comes to “what’s your favorite” questions, but I’d have to say that I’m really enjoying short stories right now. I’ve entered several “flash fiction” contests with very short time limits, and being able to complete a project in a week or less exhilarates me!
I’m putting together a short story collection now. I’ve promised my Patreon patrons a new short story every month (which I narrate on my podcast Alligator Preserves) and when I’ve created enough, I’ll publish them and acknowledge my partons.
That said, many of my fans tell me they love my nonfiction blog posts. Once Waterwight Breathe is launched, my next big project will be a nonfiction piece based on my dad’s WWII letters. I hope to have a draft completed by the end of 2019!
Kaye: Where does your inspiration come from?
As Neil Gaiman said when asked where he got his ideas, “I make them up . . . out of my head.” (http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/Where_do_you_get_your_ideas%253F). But how does inspiration get into my head? It gets there from every sensory experience throughout my days and from the Technicolor dreams I’ve had since I was a child. Someone said dreams are your brain’s way of dealing with all the things bombarding your senses during the day, and when I remember my dreams, I can often link them to something that has happened, or something that’s been “on my mind.”
Real people and creatures inspire my characters as much as imaginary ones (and who says the bizarre creatures in my dreams aren’t “real”?). Old Man Massive, the mountain spirit in my Waterwight trilogy, was inspired by an outcropping of stone on Mt. Massive that looks like an old, bearded man. Names and superpowers were inspired by real people I’ve known or met while writing the series. Zoya, my tragic octopus, was inspired by a paddleboarding experience on Twin Lakes, as was Noor, my fire-breathing dragonfly. The whole series started with a crazy dream I shared with a friend. I see and find inspiration all around me.
People have asked me where I get my imagination from, and all I can say is that it must be a gift from the universe! It’s certainly not a “thing” you can buy, and I’m not even sure it’s a “thing” you can learn. I consider myself quite fortunate that I was born with an imaginative brain.
Kaye: What do you do when you’re not writing?
Laurel: When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing or I’m marketing my writing (sure wish I could clone myself for that task) or I’m reading or I’m recording a podcast episode or I’m cooking a yummy dinner or I’m brushing a pillow’s worth of hair from my German Shepherd or I’m cleaning out my sock drawer (because, where do all those socks come from?) or I’m swimming (several mornings per week, and not very fast) or I’m chatting with my friends or with one of my four sisters or I’m worrying about my sons (because I’m a mother) or I’m wondering how the day has passed so quickly. And other things, too.
Kaye: Hunting for Red Meat is a collection of memoir-style essays based on your own adventures hunting elk. When did you get the idea to make them a published collection?
Laurel: Several friends have told me how much they enjoy my blog posts, and one of them, Erin Sue Grantham (who also hunts), suggested I put them into a book. When I looked at putting them all in a book, I was overwhelmed by how many stories I had, and realized a book containing them all would be too big. So I thought about segregating them into topic areas.
After three years of hunting (and never filling a tag), I had plenty of hunting blog posts, so I decided to start there. Our oldest son, Nick, suggested it would be a “blook” a blog book, and I had fun coming up with the title.
I really thought I’d have a lot more sales by now with a title starting with “Hunt for Red…,” but alas, no. I honestly think many readers would enjoy it as it’s far more of an appreciation of the majesty of the wild outdoors than it is about hunting. I share my awe and my suffering, my adrenaline and my poetic moments.
My next “Blook” will probably be about our camping adventures.
Kaye: You have also published two books on Haiku. Do you have a special love for that poetry form? What is it that draws you to it?
Laurel: I love Haiku because—like a short story—they finish quickly. You have only seventeen syllables to play with, and it’s like completing a puzzle. Five-seven-five. That’s it.
Teaching grades 7-12 also gave me an appreciation for Haiku. When the word “poetry” comes from a teacher’s mouth, it’s generally followed by groans. Once a student learns how to count out syllables, though, and fit them into a “puzzle,” or a “math challenge,” for those more inclined toward that side of the brain, poetry suddenly becomes fun.
I was always amazed by the final products my students would create, boys as well as girls, and what fun it was to watch them tap on desktops or count on fingers while figuring out the syllabic pattern.
Haikus Can Amuse: 366 Haiku Starters “happened” after I dropped my cell phone into the ocean. Cell phones don’t like salt water. Anyway, I had a few weeks to kill before getting a new phone (I was away on vacation when it happened), and it was Leap Year, so I figured, why not come up with 366 first lines! I put that together as a gift journal for people who like filling in blanks and journaling just a little bit.
Hai CLASS ku is a spinoff of my cell-phone-debacle book, and it’s designed as a classroom workbook with a semester’s worth of haiku first lines (90) and space to draw a sketch and write a bit about inspiration. It’s also a great tool for substitute teachers.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with? Why?
Laurel: Dead? Steinbeck. Why? Because I love his writing. Alive? Margaret Atwood. Why? Because I love her writing. So many tremendous authors, so, so, so little life to experience them all.
I want to thank Laurel for joining me and sharing a little about experiences and her work. You can learn more about both at the links below.
SoundCloud (Alligator Preserves podcast): https://soundcloud.com/user-564361489
Stitcher permanent show link: http://www.stitcher.com/s?fid=165314&refid=stpr
(this link is optimized for mobile and Twitter posts)
Amazon Author page: https://www.amazon.com/Laurel-McHargue/e/B00INB9OO6
Blog link: http://leadvillelaurel.com/
LinkedIn: Laurel (Bernier) McHargue
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After writing an excerpt of Delilah for an assignment in grad school, I remember thinking, ‘this could be a book’. But I also remember thinking that a western by a female author probably wouldn’t sell. Women weren’t supposed to write westerns. After all, the western frontier was for rugged men. I knew there were women in the west, but I guessed that they weren’t protagonist material. Then, I wrote and published Delilah anyway. It was a story that wanted to be told. My character, Delilah spoke to me and the writing of the tale was too important for me to let the idea that it might not be a best seller stand in the way.
In the meantime, I was happy to learn that there are other female western authors out there. I’m pleased to have one as my guest today. Her books are set in the historical New Mexico landscape based on factual historical people and places. Western fiction author Loretta Miles Tollefson will share her thoughts on the matter of gender in the western genre and other aspects of writing and her books.
Please welcome Loretta Miles Tollefson.
Kaye: Would you share the story of your own publishing journey?
Loretta: When I was fifteen I won a writing contest in a Sunday School paper and that triggered a deep desire to continue to see my words in print. I published a couple more pieces in that same paper, then branched into short stories and poetry in my 20s and 30s. I had a few things published and received a co-publication offer for a novel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the financial resources to follow up on that. I continued to write and had some poetry published in my 40s and early 50s. I self-published a couple novels in my mid-50s and then The Pain and the Sorrow was published by Sunstone Press in 2017. I was frustrated by the lack of opportunities to advertise a novel that had been traditionally published and went back to the self-pub route with Not Just Any Man.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Loretta: I was 15 but, because I come from a very practical family, I chose to take the pragmatic approach of going into newspaper and magazine work instead of stepping into the uncertain waters of fiction. Eventually, I became a Special Projects Manager for a regional planning organization here in New Mexico, a job which utilized both my writing and research skills. I didn’t realize my dream of writing full time until I retired about five years ago.
Kaye: What is the most enjoyable part of writing westerns for you?
Loretta: For me, the most enjoyable part of writing is finding ways to bring the historical details, my characters’ personalities, and the storyline itself together. It’s like weaving a tapestry. And then there’s always the sudden inspiration that seems to come out of nowhere, when my characters seem to be telling me what they want to say. Although I, as the author, always have control, I’m sometimes surprised at where the story takes me.
Kaye: What is the biggest challenge of writing western fiction for you?
Loretta: I think my biggest challenge in writing historical fiction set in the West is feeling like I need to double check all the details. Even though I grew up on a small farm and we had horses and cows and chickens and hung the clothes on a line and pretty much all the rest of it, there’s a great deal I don’t remember or took for granted at the time. And, of course, I didn’t actually live in the early 1800s. I have to be careful not to assume certain ways of doing things or specific pieces of equipment were common back then. I’m always concerned that I’ll slip into an anachronism.
Kaye: You follow the old adage “write what you know”, setting your books in areas where you have lived and are familiar with, yet you must envision those settings in another time period. It seems perhaps your own setting acts as inspiration for your stories?
Loretta: It does. Very much so. I’ve lived in New Mexico almost thirty years and was fortunate enough to travel all over the state in connection with my job. Then, after I retired, we moved to Eagle Nest, New Mexico, on the northern end of the Moreno Valley. We lived there five years and that experience really brought together my love of history and my desire to write full time. There’s so much history here in New Mexico that I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. We recently moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and that will continue to inspire me and to provide me with great resources for my research.
Kaye: Your novel, Not Just Any Man, was recently released. Would you like to tell us a little about that book?
Loretta: Not Just Any Man is about a black mountain man in 1820s New Mexico named Gerald Locke, Jr. It’s an adventure story, as Gerald traps in Northern New Mexico and then joins a fur trapping expedition across the Arizona desert and up the Colorado River. The group includes Enoch Jones, the only mountain man in the West who seems to have an issue with Gerald’s skin color. Jones has a few other issues as well, and the conflict between the two men is a crucial plot element.
But this isn’t just an adventure story. Gerald has met a young woman in Taos who seems far above his station in life and he can’t stop thinking about her. Even if he can survive the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the Mohave Indians, and the arid rim of the Grand Canyon, as well as Enoch Jones, can Gerald prove to himself and the girl he loves that he is, after all, not just any man?
Kaye: Do you think western readers are more receptive to male protagonists?
Loretta: There certainly are a lot of male protagonists in the western genre. I think this is because the traditional Western initially reflected the cultural assumption that only men played an active role in events in the West. As we broaden our understanding of the historical West, both before and after the United States was the primary actor there, we’re realizing just how often women played critical roles on the frontier. Life was harsh. Any family that was going to survive needed everyone in it to be fully engaged. Women had to take on roles they hadn’t necessarily played before. If anything, I believe their experiences on the frontier helped to begin breaking down the barriers that we’re still disassembling today. As we do that, I suspect Western readers will become more and more receptive to all kinds of protagonists.
Kaye: You have wonderful covers with beautiful landscapes that cry out ‘western’! Where do you get your covers?
Loretta: Well, thank you! I’m glad you like them. I worry about my covers. Other than The Pain in the Sorrow, I’ve designed them all myself and created most of them using a combination of Publisher and Gimp. The pundits’ advice is to have someone else do them, but I tend to have very specific ideas about what I want, and I haven’t yet discovered anyone who can quite catch my vision.
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was strongly inspired by New Mexico history. Its characters actually existed and the primary incidents in the story are based on historical artifacts.
The plot of Not Just Any Man is also strongly situated in actual events. While the protagonist and villain are both fictional, most of the mountain men in the novel, are based on actual people—Old Bill Williams, Milton Sublette, Ewing Young, etc.—and much of the story line is based on their first-hand accounts.
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow has historical basis, as do all your books as I understand it. And it’s obvious that you strive to make your details as accurate as possible. Do you weave the history into your stories or is it the New Mexico history that inspires the stories?
Kaye: The Pain and the Sorrow is based in New Mexico history and a historical figure of legend, but the story about your female protagonist. Not all of your novels have female protagonists though. Was the female protagonist easier to write since you have a natural female perspective?
Loretta: The Pain and the Sorrow was a very difficult story to tell because of the abuse my teenage protagonist suffers at the hands (and other body parts) of her husband. I think that writing Gregoria’s story may have been more difficult for me precisely because I am female. My emotions were very raw during the entire process. I might have found it easier to tell Gregoria’s story if I didn’t have a “natural female perspective” and felt less connection with her.
Kaye: Do you think it’s more difficult for a female to make it in the western genre than it is for male authors?
Loretta: I think it’s difficult for any author to break into any genre today, regardless of their gender. However, it seems to me that more women are writing Western-style stories and getting them published than has been true in the past. For example, of the fourteen authors showcased in Five Star Publishing’s recent The Trading Post and other stories, four or five are women. In early December 2018, the twenty top-sellers in Amazon’s Western category included at least two women. There may have been more, publishing under a male pseudonym. We’ll really know that women have made it in western fiction when no one finds it necessary to use a male, or male-sounding, pen name when they do so.
Kaye: My publisher slapped Delilah into the romance category, listing it as a frontier romance. While there is a romantic element to the story, I didn’t make it the major focus of the story. I guess they thought it was more marketable as a romance, and I do think that because my protagonist is female, the book might have a stronger appeal to a female audience. Do you think western readers are more receptive to stories with a male protagonist?
Loretta: That’s hilarious. I really liked Delilah and I enjoyed the romance element in it, but classifying it as a frontier romance seems to me to diminish its marketing potential. I never search for frontier romance. As a result, I would have missed Delilah entirely if that’s the only place it could be found. I feel strongly that the current way the market is being sliced into finer and finer categories does us all — readers and writers alike — a disservice because it makes it more difficult to find the well-written, well-conceived books like Delilah that transcend easy categorization.
Kaye: Do you feel that it is harder for women authors to be taken seriously in the western genre?
Loretta: To a certain extent, this may be true. After all, as I mentioned above, some women authors of Westerns apparently feel that it’s necessary to use pseudonyms to obscure their gender. But I think that as we persist, this will become less and less of an issue.
Kaye: You are also a poet and you have out several poetry books. Would you talk a little about what inspires your poetry?
Loretta: My poetry is very personal, especially But Still My Child, which contains the poems I wrote after a miscarriage over thirty years ago. The poems I wrote during that time and afterwards helped me process that grief and I hope publishing them will support others in that same process.
My other volumes of poetry were the result of an attempt to blend my interest in poetry with my love of story. For historical stories, now that I think of it. The poems in But Then Moses Was There and Mary At The Cross try to get inside the heads of Biblical characters to express what living their experiences might have felt like.
Kaye: You’ve also written other non-western novels. What other genres do you write in?
Loretta: I’ve written an urban fiction about coming of age/homelessness in 1980s Seattle and a chick lit novel about a New Mexico couple who wins the lottery. I’m not working in either of those genres now. I’m focusing my energies exclusively on historical fiction set in Old New Mexico.
That focus on historical fiction has also resulted in two short story collections set in New Mexico: Valley of the Eagles and Old One Eye Pete. Valley is a collection of micro-fiction. The stories are all 500 words or less. Old One Eye Pete contains longer pieces, with stories featuring the mountain man Old One Eye Pete acting as the narrative thread.
Kaye: What is the working title of your next book?
Loretta: It’s called Not My Father’s House. It’s a sequel to Not Just Any Man and (spoiler alert!) focuses on Suzanna’s struggle to adapt to living high in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo mountains. I’ve just finished the second draft, so it should be out by the middle of 2019.
Kaye: Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?
Loretta: I research material for my upcoming books — or at least I tell myself it’s for my upcoming books. Hah! And I read fiction: historical, mystery, suspense, Westerns, and pretty much anything else that looks interesting to me at the moment. I review most of everything that I read, unless it has 100 reviews or more. I would love to review more historical fiction set in 1800s New Mexico and Southern Colorado, since Southern Colorado was part of New Mexico at one time.
Kaye: Would you tell us a little about your blog? What will readers find there if they visit?
Loretta: My blog is at http://www.LorettaMilesTollefson.com. About once a week, I post a short piece about a historical event or a flash fiction story set in Old New Mexico, which I define as anything prior to statehood in 1912. The site also includes news about, and links to, my books.
Kaye: Which author or poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?
Loretta: I have so many favorites. This is a hard question to answer. I think right now, given the work I’m doing, the person I would most like to have lunch with would be Paulette Jiles. I really enjoyed her News Of The World and the way she brought actual events to life in that book.
Kaye: What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Loretta: I read and explore the region with my husband. Ultimately, it’s all research.
Kaye: Is there anything unique or unusual about your writing process?
Loretta: My writing process consists of writing the first draft, letting it sit a month, revising, letting it sit a month or so, then revising again until I feel it’s really ready. This process seems to be becoming more unusual in today’s fast-paced writing environment.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (research, marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), do you do yourself for your books?
Loretta: At the moment, I’m doing all my own research, marketing, promotion, book covers, and so forth. I’m stretching myself pretty thin with all these different activities, but doing it all gives me a lot of control. I may have to start farming some of the non-writing work out as I move along in my journey.
Kaye: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Loretta: To tell you the truth, I watch so little television and so few movies these days, that I’m not sure who would be the best actor to play Gerald or Susanna in a movie based on Not Just Any Man or Gregoria or Charles Kennedy in The Pain And The Sorrow. I’d love some input from your readers on this question.
Kaye: I can and will reach out to readers for input on who should play your leads were your story made film, but now you have to answer another question: Since many of my readers may not have read your books, can you tell us what characteristics these characters would have so they can better imagine who would be a good fit?
Gerald: square forehead, gray eyes. Half black/half Irish. Late 20s.
Suzanna: slim, tall for a woman (about Gerald’s height). long black hair, dark brown eyes. Half anglo (WASP), a quarter french, a quarter Navajo. About 16.
Alright readers. Here’s your chance be heard. Who do you think would be good for the roles of Gerald and Suzanna? Please comment with your suggestions. Loretta and I would both love to hear the possibilities.
Kaye: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Loretta: In a nutshell: read, revise, revise again.
If you plan to write fiction, read fiction. Especially classic fiction: Hemingway, Steinbeck, Austen, Dickens, and so forth. Also, read contemporary fiction, and not just books in your genre. Some of my favorite authors right now are Louise Penny and Donna Leon. They teach me pacing and character development. I’m especially fascinated by the way their protagonists develop over the course of the series. Everything’s research, even the books you don’t like. And don’t be afraid to express your opinions and trust your instincts. It’s okay to not like a book even if everyone else is saying how wonderful it is.
Most of all, revise! As Anton Chekhov said, “rewrite everything five times.” Well, maybe not that many, but you see what I mean. I would add “but not immediately” to that advice. Take the time to let your work rest, and then go back and look at it again. When you start changing sentences back to the way you had them in a previous version, that’s when you should stop. But not until then.
Revise it, let it rest, then revise it again. There’s a popular saying that “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I am uncomfortable with that statement. While no work is going to be absolutely perfect, rushing to publication is the enemy of quality work. Try to get your story as well-written as possible. Producing quality work is what will keep your readers coming back for more.
I want to thank Loretta for joining us today and sharing a glimpse into the world of western writing from a female author’s perspective. I have admired her work since I reviewed The Pain and the Sorrow last May, and it’s a thrill to have the privelage of interviewing her. It’s a real treat to hear from another female author in the world of western fiction.
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Being a newly published author is a big deal. At least it is to me. Now that I have a book to promote, that’s where I’ve been spending a lot of my time. After all, I want to send my book off right. So, for the past few weeks, that’s all you’ve heard from me, talk about Delilah.
I’ve learned that promoting my book is even more work than I had anticipated, which is not to say that I’m not relishing every bit of it, even though I moan and groan about most marketing activities. I’ve promoted my heart out, appealed to readers for reviews, applied for a Goodreads author page, (next, I have to figure out how to do the same on Amazon), contacted people about release parties, and I’m doing an author interview with Dan Alatorre.
You can read my author profile, which includes that interview on Dan’s blog today, so I hope you all will check it out. You can read my author profile here. And don’t forget stop in here and read my interview with Dan, which will be posted here on Writing to be Read next Monday.