Volume XIII, Issue One | March 2018 The last couple of years have been tough for me as a writer. I spent two years on a book that didn’t pan out. I was about to give it all up and take up knitting or learn to play golf. I even wondered if I should start smoking pot. After all, Colorado was the first state to legalize marijuana. Then my agent called with an idea: Write a book about a runaway bride.
Easy for you to say, I wanted to tell her. You don’t have to come up with a plot. Besides, I don’t write romances. Maybe not, I thought after considering the idea. But I do write love stories. I’m not sure what the difference is, but Favio would never appear on the cover of one of my books. So I got to thinking about it and came up with The Patchwork Bride, which is not only a runaway bride story but two additional stories that bookend it.
I had a wonderful time writing this book. I love my main character, Nell. I don’t outline. I know the ending of a book but not how to get there. Ideas come when I’m sitting at my computer, writing. So each day, I was curious about what Nell would do, and I could hardly wait for her to tell me. (It sounds coy, but your characters become real people, and they tell you their secrets.) Moreover, I got to do research in one of my favorite places—New Mexico. I felt I had to go Santa Fe--again and again and again—to make sure I had the New Mexico setting right. I also set part of the book in an 1890s restaurant in Denver, and I love writing restaurant scenes. I just realized that I have restaurant scenes in several of my books, and the first book, Buster Midnight’s Café, is even centered on a restaurant. Restaurants are among my favorite settings. There’s also a bit of quilting in the book, of course; hence the name.
So I’m back in the saddle (part of The Patchwork Bride takes place on a ranch, so excuse the cliché) with a book that I enjoyed writing and I hope you enjoy reading. Here’s how St. Martin’s Press describes it.
From the best-selling author of A Quilt for Christmas comes an irrepressible story of a runaway bride
Ellen is putting the finishing touches on a wedding quilt made from scraps of old dresses when the bride-to-be—her granddaughter June—unexpectedly arrives and announces she’s calling off the marriage. With the tending of June’s uncertain heart in mind, Ellen tells her the story of Nell, a Kansas-born woman who goes to the High Plains of New Mexico Territory in 1898 in search of a husband.
Working as a biscuit-shooter, Nell falls for a cowboy named Buddy. She sees a future together but she can’t help wondering if his feelings for her are true. When Buddy breaks her heart, she runs away.
In her search for a soul mate, Nell will run away from marriage twice more before finding the love of her life. It’s a tale filled with excitement, heartbreak, disappointment, and self-discovery—as well as with hard-earned lessons about love. Another stunning emotional novel from a master storyteller.
*The Patchwork Bride* is scheduled for publication June 6. The promotion schedule isn’t set yet. I’ll let you know later about appearances and book signings, and you can also check my Events page for updates.
Praise for Hardscrabble
Hardscrabble, my fourth young adult book, was published this month. Here’s the first review, from Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2018:
A close-knit family endures the rough life of farming in Colorado in the early 20th century. Hail, snow, locusts, sickness, death—the list of setbacks encountered by the Martin family as they try to earn their homestead by farming the dry ground of Colorado is a long one. But they can depend on one another for love and support, and they rely on their friendly neighbors for everything from food when times are especially tight to a helping hand in a snowy emergency. And it's not all hardship. There are fun parties, plans for college, and holiday celebrations. Told from the point of view of 12-year-old Belle, who is pleased to discover that their nearest neighbor is a woman on her own, proving that women can be independent homesteaders, the details of rural American life are rendered with care and precision in Dallas' third novel for children. The story occasionally offers events that feel too convenient and even saccharine, as when neighbor Hans Kruger saves the children from a snowstorm and thus proves himself to be a kind and generous soul, far from the dangerous German immigrant most thought him to be. A white cast of characters populates this book set in the 1910s, with obvious parallels to the Little House series. A traditional addition to the genre of frontier living.
I just redesigned my website, and in going through an old album looking for pictures to accompany blurbs on my books, I came across these photographs of when I was young. The childhood pictures were taken on our farm at Burke, Virginia. I can’t believe I had such curly hair.
Montana Writers Project. Hastings House.
In the 1930s, the government’s Works Projects Administration initiated a make-work program for unemployed writers. Under the auspices of the Federal Writers Project, each state put out a state guide. It included history, folklore, travel information, and anything else deemed relevant. Today, these guides are period pieces, produced when the times were less politically correct and when legend was as important as historical accuracy.
Once the state guides were finished, the states produced a variety of books—a Colorado ghost town guide and a book on nursing in Kansas, for instance. Some of the finest are the slave narratives in which writers interviewed former slaves, then in their 80s and 90s, about their experiences in bondage. I have picked up a number of these books over the years, and my hands-down favorite is Copper Town: Stories of the World’s Greatest Mining Town, Butte, Montana. I used the book extensively in researching my first novel, Buster Midnight’s Café.
Copper Town is a collection of tales--rowdy, bawdy, and heart-warming—about Butte in its heyday. At the turn of the century, some of the richest men in the world made their fortunes in copper. William A. Clark literally bought his way into the U.S. Senate, declaring he never purchased a man who wasn’t for sale. When a hack driver complained after Clark tipped him a dime that Clark’s sons generally tipped a dollar, Clark replied, “I don’t have a rich father.” Clark’s reclusive daughter Hughette, by his second marriage, by the way, died recently, and her death unleashed a fight over her estate.
Copper Town includes wonderful stories about the bums and characters, such as Nickel Annie, who approached people with, “Give me a nickel, please,” and Shoestring Annie, who sold shoelaces but berated paying customers when they expected her to give them laces.
I reread Copper Town recently. I have to say it’s racist and sexist, but it’s still an engaging tome.
Both Sides of the Bullpen
By Robert S. McPherson. University of Oklahoma.
When I was a kid, my folks took us to the Navajo reservation, and I thought one of the greatest vacations in the world was driving through the rez, stopping at trading posts to drink strawberry pop and shop for old pawn. Mostly, I bought dime buttons—for a dime each, of course. The posts seemed like the heart of an exotic culture where women wore long calico skirts and velveteen blouses and men tied up their long hair with twine to form squash knots. I visited the reservation many times when I was at Business Week, and that’s when I started acquiring Indian jewelry. The first concho belt cost $135.
For a hundred years, trading posts were the economic lifeblood of the reservation. Traders provided both goods to the Indians and an outlet for their sheep and crafts. Both Sides of the Bullpen tells about the interdependency between traders and Indians.
The importance of trading posts has declined significantly in the past generation as Indians have become more mobile and sheep raising has declined. Today the Navajos drive to Gallup or Farmington to shop, and the posts are little more than convenience stores and gas stations. My favorite post, the Shiprock Trading Co. is now a dollar store.