Looking at the date of my last post makes me realize just how lax I’ve been in keeping this up! So, for now, another tall — but true, at least in my memory, of my time in the Badlands, doing archeology (archaeology isn’t used much now; personally I think if any word should keep its old spelling, it’s this one!)

Well, it was the late 1970s (yes, children, I am old) and there were a (small) handful of companies drilling for oil (as I write this, I think western North Dakota has more active oil drill rigs than any state in the lower 48). We were doing “cultural resource” surveys for proposed roads and drill pads on federal land out there (Bureau of Reclamation). If we found something, we recorded it (location, drawings, and the description and location of any material evidence. Then our fore-person would decide if it was enough to be called a site, and if so, it went up the line for “mitigation.” Sometimes that means a report. Sometimes it was a test “pit” (actually a very neat square hole, dug in 2-3 cm layers with trowels and sieved through a device made of wood and screen). Very rarely, it meant a full-scale excavation. And sometimes it meant that the company who wanted to use that land had to choose another route or another place to drill.

You may or may not know that western North Dakota is home to rattlesnakes — diamond-back rattlesnakes, to be more precise. They are a pit viper (not because they live in a pit, but because on their nasty little faces are very sensitve indentations — pits — that pick up vibration in the ground around them). They’re very sensitive to movement, a good thing for them because their vision isn’t very good, but not so great for people walking around in desert workboots. However, they don’t jump out at you or chase you; they only bother you if you bother them. Step on them, for example, or put your hand on a ledge that you can’t see the top of when you’re climbing, a ledge that just might be occupied by a rattlesnake trying to get some sun. (Not that they tan or anything; they’re cold-blooded, and they like to warm up.)

They do bother you if they’re angry. On one all-too-memorable day, I was doing survey in an area with several active drill rigs. Think about what a drill rig does to the land around it as it drills. If you’ve never experienced it, use your imagination and see how the ground is almost visibly shaking, and the rumbling is spread out around it for miles. Now imagine you’re a rattlesnake who is extremely sensitive to that drilling and those ripples of movement. Not very happy, are you? And no wonder! It would be like the loudest concert you’ve ever been to with the noise multiplied at least tenfold. Your ears! Their pits! Nasty! Angry!

So I’m walking along, with a light backpack, and with a USGS quad map in the other so I know I’m where I should be. I’m looking from side to side, trying to see if there’s anything there that shouldn’t be there. A hard stone that either has clearly been used by a human in some way, or is a flake from the making of a tool. And small changes in topography, possibly marking campsites used over and over through the past 1000 years or so. I searched so much around me that for a brief moment, I wasn’t looking in front of me. Big mistake.

I realized my mistake when I’d put one foot down and lifted the other to set it down ahead of me. Because directly in front of me was a rattlesnake, all coiled up, hissing and rattling. Oh dear. So I look to the left. Another one. I look to the right. ANOTHER one. This cannot be possible! Then, oh dear lord, I hear another one behind me, that I must have stepped over without even seeing it. I was in a rattlesnake den; there were at least 5 of them, probably more, and although in my memory they are huge to the point of genetic anomaly, I’m sure they were just rattlesnake-sized. But they looked ginormous at the time.

I stood there, on one foot, trying to balance, and terrified to the point of witlessness. Somehow, and I do not know how I was able to do it because I am not in the least coordinated or athletic, but somehow, I managed to leap backwards, off of the one foot on the ground, over the rattler behind me. Really. That part is amazing but true. I couldn’t do it again — unless maybe my life depended on it. It must have been fear and adrenaline, because I have trouble simply hopping these days. Then I backed quickly away. I wanted to faint, but I was honestly afraid they would come after me if I didn’t get away from their location!

Their anger was justified (I wasn’t too happy about the drilling myself, and I could just hear it, not nearly as loudly as they felt it), and I was there to take it out on. I could have been killed; I don’t know why I wasn’t. The grace of Someone. I was doing survey alone, and it would have been several hours before anyone realized I was missing, much less find where I was. One or two snake-bites could have killed me, and I will bet you that it would have been a lot more than that because more than one of those angry snakes would have bitten. Struck. Fanged me. Envenomated me. Pick your favorite verb. I know how lucky I was.

For the rest of that summer, I jumped every time I heard a rustle in the grass, a cricket, a grasshopper. I was on edge for a month and a half. The rest of the crew teased me relentlessly, but they had no idea what that situation whas like. I’ve never been particularly fond of snakes, although I will acknowledge that many are quite beautiful and they play an important role in whatever ecosystem you find them. But now I absolutely hate snakes. Most mammals do. Some scientists say that it is an innate and genetic fear that has helped keep us alive to become what we are today, both people and other animals too. I don’t know. All I know is that it really improved my ability to look where my foot was going to go down before I put it down!

I never saw that many snakes together again. For which I remain forever grateful. Not that I never saw another rattlesnake, no; I saw plenty of them. But I gave them wide berth (and didn’t poke at them with a stick, like one idiot in our crew did!) and they did likewise. And that’s a true story.

Author Tammy Hinton

It’s my pleasure today to have a visit from writer Tammy Hinton, a historian, genealogist, and writer.

Hello, Tammy!

Thank you for having me today.

1. You’ve said that the people in your book are loosely based on the structure of your family. What gave you the idea to write it? And where to set it?

I always loved stories about the west. As a youngster in the 1950’s I grew up on a steady diet of Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, and Gene Autry. Every Saturday afternoon you found my sister and me at the local Bijou, quarter in hand, to see a double feature and cartoon. Sugar Daddy stuck to the roof of my mouth, eyes focused on the screen, I sat transfixed willing myself back in time to the “Old West.” Week days I rode the wild open plains of the school yard playing cowboys and Indians. I always wanted to be the beautiful Indian princess. After all, I was part Cherokee. My mother told me so.

Bitten by the genealogy bug in the 1990’s, my goal was set to find my ancestors on the Dawes Commission Role, the census of the Five Civilized Tribes taken by the U.S. federal government from 1898 to 1914. What I found on this journey was more intriguing than I could have imagined: strong men and women, lawmen and outlaws, heroes and villains. What a ride.

Women’s historical fiction is my genre. You can also categorize Unbridled as a western. In fact the Western Writers of America named it one of the three top novels by a first time author. It makes no difference whether you are in Indian Territory, New York, or New Zealand, stories about men and women’s relationships are basically similar.

2. How do you go about the writing process? Are you a strict outliner, a seat-of-the-pantser, or somewhere in-between?

I start with good intentions. A synopsis comes first and then an outline. As I write, I find the story takes on its own life and leads me to completion. During the writing process I am constantly doing research on the time and place of the story, which also plays a part in straying from my outline.

A speaker at a writer’s convention mentioned that writing a screenplay was good training for an author. He was right. It definitely provides a different perspective on how to tell a story. It focuses the writer.

3. How much editing do you do? And follow that up with, when and how do you know that the manuscript is ready?

I am an edit freak. Changes and rewrites are a part of my daily life. Before anyone reads my words, even my critique group, they are edited by my in-house editor, my husband. Even after I’ve submitted a manuscript I think of scenes I should have added or things I could have said more cleverly. (Oh no, I used a “ly” adverb.)

4. Who is/are your mentor(s) and/or inspirations?

I belong to a critique group and they have served as mentors. When I joined in 2005, I didn’t even know what Point Of View meant. They offered suggestions that helped me become a writer. Often it’s hard to hear criticisms, but your writing always improves with their input.

I would like to mention two books I read as favorites of mine: Debbie Macomber’s Between Friends, and Nicholas Sparks’ Three Weeks With My Brother. Both books make you feel as if you are part of their experience, part of their conversation. Writing dialog is an art. They are the masters.

5. Aside from entertainment, what would you like people to take away from your book?

Each of us has ancestors that made a difference in the settling of America. Our country is the sum total of millions of interesting stories. My favorite part of marketing is doing book signings. The stories people tell you of their families are amazing. As a member of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) I was assisting a perspective member in finding her relative that fought in the American Revolution. My lady knew her family history back to a Texas Ranger and a devout clergyman who settled in Denton, Texas. When we finished with her family tree, we found out her ancestor had been the personal attorney of General George Washington. What a thrill.

6. What’s your favorite part of this writing process? The idea? The structuring/outlining? The writing? The finding a publisher or self-publishing? The marketing?

The research and writing are stimulating and my favorite parts of the process. No matter how much history you think you may know, every place has its own unique story. Readers are very savvy, and with the internet so available to check facts, writers have a lot of pre-writing work to complete before putting pen to paper.

7. Tell me what you need your surroundings to be like when you are actually writing (as opposed to editing) — in the creative phase?

I go into a room that we converted to an office and close the door. It has to be quiet. Plotting runs through my brain night and day. I even dream about the novel I am working on at the time.

8. What do you like to read, and what are you reading right now? Does your favorite genre influence your writing?

I have always liked biographies. My favorite woman in history was Queen Elizabeth I. What a strong woman. Her life reads like a novel. Sophia Loren also had a fascinating story. Being born out of wedlock in a Catholic country, and her experiences as a child during World War II Italy, made for interesting reading.

Yes, Unbridled reads like a biography of Sarah Cannon. Strong people winning over adversity has always appealed to me. My next book is set in the Civil War and ends in post-war Texas and Oklahoma. I had three great-great-grandfathers that were Georgians and moved west during Reconstruction. They’ve provided a wealth of story lines.
Thank you again, Lori.

Have you ever purchased an ebook (Kindle, Nook, Sony, whichever) and found, as you read it, that the text had short lines and long lines, or blank lines for no apparent reason, or short indents then long indents? And that the Table of Contents only shows you the number of chapters, but it won’t take you there?

Let’s face it: Neither the Amazon coding program nor the Smashbooks coding program are great. They are all in computer codes, and most of us writers aren’t all that into code. I’m certainly not. But if I do publish digitally, I’d like to make it look good. And I’ve found someone who can help.

I encountered Ian S. Rutter on LinkedIn, in one of the writers groups. He’s a former code-writer (or engineer? Please comment, Ian!) for Microsoft, so he knows code like I know grammar. And when he saw people advertising to pay $149 to “format” your precious books, and that probably doesn’t include inserting photos, or (gasp!) videos, he got upset and decided to do something about it.

So he wrote about it on his pages like my pages. In details.I’m having serious trouble inserting it so you can use it (this is my fourth try), so I’ll explain it instead. The address starts the way most do, with the h-part and the double-u’s, and the punctuation. Next is his name,(Ian, then s is for a middle name; then Rutter. ALl run together.) After that it says that it’s in a country, by using the first two letters of code, followed by where he is, the United Kingdom, but just the first letter of each word. Then there’s a nifty slash, and it says that it’s one of those things like you’re looking at, followed by how to make an ebook, with those words connected with dashes. That’s it. That’s all. Maybe I can get it into a comment. Sigh. But GO THERE! That takes you to the first part, and there are links to parts 2 though 4. I’m sure 5 will be ready in a few days, if his fingers don’t give up!

I’ve done the four chapters now, and to my amazement, I’m getting it. I’m starting to understand what the code means and how (and why) to use it! I can’t tell you here, but if you want to save yourself some trouble (and possibly some money), check out Ian’s blog. You won’t be sorry.

Oh, and up to Part 4 is primarily text with image inserts (.jpgs). He’ll get to putting in videos, and what you have to do to make it upload on Amazon, too. He’s a great teacher, and he incorporates videos into his blog and they help.

Fellow writers, I know you’re thinking that this is not for you, and if you have a great relationship with an agent and a publisher, maybe it isn’t. But don’t think that it’s something you can’t learn. You can. And Ian can help!

Welcome to my blog! Lucky readers, today I am doing an interview with Kansas author Eunice Boeve.

Lori: I understand that most of your books are historical, and most of them are westerns. Is that still true?

Eunice: Actually, only “Ride a Shadowed Trail” are “Crossed Trail” are westerns, but I classify all my books as historical fiction, even the westerns. I love historical fiction, which I define as make believe clothed in truth.

Lori: And how do you clothe your make believe?

Eunice: Like all writers I pick out the material to clothe my make believe from a variety of places, including books, newspapers, the internet, real life stories which sometimes includes overheard remarks a.k.a. eavesdropping, and wherever else a reference to life and/ or past history crossed my path.

Lori: It sounds like you must need research to build a believable “make-believe.” Do you?

Eunice: Yes. Tons. I start my books with a time, a place, and a main character. Then I start my research. The research gives the story the skeleton to build on and adds flesh to the skeleton as the book progresses and the other characters appear and I take them in. They influence the lives of the characters all ready in the story and so of course the story itself. But sometimes I pick a character, a time, and a place and research and research and then I don’t… or can’t…. write the story. It just won’t jell. But the research is never wasted.

Lori: So what do you do with the research that doesn’t fit the story you’re telling, whether it’s a place, a time, a character, or all of these?

Eunice: Well, it’s not always a new time and place, but always it’s a new character. Before I started “Ride a Shadowed Trail,” we were In Texas on a winter vacation, in the area of Port Lavaca, Victoria, and the Bay of Matagorda on the Gulf of Mexico. While there I heard about Margaret Borland, a widowed ranch owner who lived on a ranch near Victoria in the 1870s. She interested me and I thought she would be the subject of my next book. I liked everything about her and I especially liked that she took a herd of longhorns, about 2,500 head from Victoria to Wichita, Kansas and took along four kids: two teenage sons (about 14-16) and a daughter age 10, and a granddaughter age 6. She died after arriving with the herd in Wichita and was taken back to Texas for burial. I did extensive research and then sat down to write the story. But she wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t come to life, and finally I gave up.

Lori: My characters do that too — so glad I’m not the only one! So what did you write instead?

Eunice: I wrote “Ride a Shadowed Trail.” Same time, same place, but a different character. Although I didn’t actually pick the character, I think he picked me. That part is now kind of fuzzy in my mind. While in Texas we visited Indianola, a once thriving seaport town on the Gulf destroyed by a couple of hurricanes, the first in 1875, the final one in 1886. But it’s some ten years before the first hurricane when I find eight-year–old Joshua Ryder playing outside his Mexican mother’s adobe in Indianola, watching the man creep stealthy around to the door. Although he doesn’t quite understand the nature of his mother’s job, he knows she entertains men so he is not alarmed. He knows he can’t go into the adobe while a man is there, so after admiring the man’s horse for a time, he goes down to the bay and falls asleep on the sand unaware that the man has come out of his mother’s past to extract a brutal revenge and will leave her body, bloodied and broken, for him to find. And that’s how “Ride A Shadowed Trail” was conceived.

Lori: Does Josh Ryder have a father?

Eunice: His mother has always told him his father was a redheaded (white) man who died when Josh was a baby. After his mom’s death, Pete Waters, an old cowboy takes him in and teaches him the cowboy trade. Josh is 18 when Pete dies and Josh goes to Victoria and hires on to drive a herd of longhorns to Wichita. Ks. Remember my research on Margaret Borland? Well, she surfaces as Martha Rawlins, the widowed ranch owner who accompanies the herd with her son, Lee, who at 18 is Josh’s age, and her daughters, Belle age 16, and Kit age 11.

Lori: Aha! I see what you mean about research not being wasted! Did you add anyone else from your research on Margeret Borland to the story?

Eunice: I did. In the Victoria cemetery where Margaret is buried, I found a stone that read “Mammy, erected by the Borland children” and then her name and age at time of death; Louise Hardy Johnson, 102. She showed up as Lucy, a black cook and housekeeper in the story.

Lori:Do you have trouble choosing names for your characters?

Eunice: Not usually. Most of the time they pop in my head and they fit. But this time I did. At first I named the old black woman Belle and the teen age beauty Lucy. They wouldn’t do a thing for me and then on impulse and exasperated no end, I switched their names around and just like magic they came alive. I always say that I think they made a pact to refuse to divulge anything of themselves until I got their names right. Afterwards when I could see them and feel connected to them, I imagined how they must have waited, arms crossed and grinning at each other.

Lori: That must make for vivid characters! Any other surprises in the story?

Eunice: Not with names, but in other ways for the characters take over and live the lives they are meant to live… in the story… which is not necessarily how or what I think. Margaret Borland died in Wichita of what was called “Trail Fever.” I thought Martha Rawlins would die then too. She didn’t, but someone I’d not expected to did. Something else that came out in the story, unplanned, for I can’t plan a story, it just has to evolve, was how Josh learned to read and write on the cattle drive.

Lori: On a cattle drive? That doesn’t sound like the easiest place to learn, between riding all day and camping — but the did it?

Eunice: Yes they did. This also came out of my Margaret Borland research. A few years after her death, one of her sons hired on to help drive a herd of cattle to Wyoming. One of the hired drovers was an orphan boy name John B. Kendrick. Margaret’s son taught the boy to read and write in off hours during that long drive. The boy grew up to marry the boss’s daughter and later became the governor of Wyoming and its state senator. You can tour his mansion called Trail End at Sheridan. In my story, Mrs. Rawlins teaches Josh to read and write.

Lori: Does Josh ever find out anything about his father?

Eunice: Yes, he does. But that is best left for the reader to discover.

Lori: Titles often prove to be a problem for me; trying to show what’s in the story without saying too much. How did you come up with the title “Ride a Shadowed Trail?”

Eunice: When Josh is about 13 or so, I forgot exactly, he learns from a couple of hard-edged prostitutes about his mother’s occupation. He is embarrassed and angry. Pete, who is raising him, tells him in essence that a lot of folks have shadows back along their trail and until he knows those shadows he has no right to judge.

Lori: I understand you have a sequel to “Ride a Shadowed Trail” called “Crossed Trails” to be released in June. Can you tell us something about it and how you came to write it?

Eunice: I didn’t plan a sequel, but so many readers of “Ride a Shadowed Trail” wanted to know what happened next. I told them I didn’t know. That when I left him, he was thinking about going to Montana. Some speculated, asking do you think this or do you think that? And finally I began to wonder too, so I set out to find out. It took me a while. It was hard to get back into Josh’s skin and it’s hard when one needs to reveal some of the past story, but not too much. Several times I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it. And then it suddenly just clicked.

Lori: So did he go to Montana, and if so, why?

Eunice: I sent the following to the publisher for the back of the book. They may use it, or they may ask me to rewrite it, but basically this is the story.
“Joshua Ryder ashamed of his lineage and convinced he carries bad blood, leaves Texas in the spring of 1876 with a trail herd of longhorns bound for Montana. The following spring he heads west with plans to settle near the Pacific Ocean and live in solitude with just his books and his horses for company. But a Nez Perce woman and her baby change his plans and he ends up in Virginia City, Montana. There an old washerwoman, a small girl of white and Chinese blood, and a young woman with red curls further complicate his life. When he is framed for murder Josh weighs his options. If he runs far enough and fast enough he can probably shake the law. If he stays and tries to clear his name, undoubtedly he’ll hang. Either way, he will lose the respect of those he’s come to love.”

Lori: Sounds like a great storyline! I understand you do other types of writing; in fact, I heard you currently have a children’s serial story running in several Kansas newspapers.

Eunice: Yes. There are five Kansas newspapers in a program called Newspapers in Education aimed at the grade school classroom. The program features a story set in the past, accompanied by a teacher’s guide with questions and exercises for the kids to further understand the time period. Last year I wrote a time travel story for the program in which twins traveled back into Kansas history. I’ve since expanded that story, adding 10 more chapters and I’m currently working with a small Kansas publisher to get it in print as a children’s book. I plan to do the same for this year’s story. This new story titled Wishing You Home is set in the last months of WWII. Bobby, age 10, fears for his father who is fighting in Germany, especially when his best friend’s dad, who was also in Germany, is killed. The story deals with grief, bullying, German and Japanese Americans, and family love. Although I’m sure jokes (suitable for children) are hard to come by in the midst of war, Bobby’s dad sends a joke in each letter. Bobby gets a book of jokes from the library and sends one back in each of his letters. The jokes bring some levity to the seriousness of the story. Artist Michelle Meade who lives in Salina, KS illustrated both the time travel and the WWII stories.
I have also written four middle-grade historical fiction. My first book Trapped! (a girl with the Donner Party) is still in print. I’m working at getting the others back in print. They are: The Summer of the Crow (Depression era), A Window to the World ( 1850s Virginia, now West Virginia) and Maggie Rose and Sass, a fictional account of Nicodemus, an all black town in Kansas.

Lori: All those stories sound good! I hope you can get those three back in print. I would also love to read your WWII story. Will any of the newspapers carry it on line?

Eunice: It doesn’t appear so. The Salina Journal on line gives the NIE (Newspapers in Education) editor’s e-mail to contact her, but it appears one has to buy the newspaper to get the story. There is also information about the NIE, the Teacher’s Guide, and my bio. (One has to scroll down a ways to find the information.)

Lori: It seems there are all kinds of writers. Fiction, non-fiction, biographical, and so on. Do you see something similar in all genres, a common thread in those who write?

Eunice: The thread is emotion. Writers are emotional vampires. They seek the emotions of humankind and infuse that emotion into their story people, whether fictional or real. All writers want their readers to identify with their characters and they want the reader to feel that emotional tug. Otherwise the story fails. They want the reader to feel, to remember, to identify, and to understand why the character feels whatever he/she is feeling and why they then act as they do. Sometimes it’s a first love. Sometimes it’s the visceral angst of hate, but it is all emotions we as humans can relate to in one way or another. I love a story where the characters come alive and live so much like real people that I suspend belief and for that time my own world ceases to exist. Story telling is as old as time and if ever stories cease to be, it will be when the planet is devoid of human life.

Lori: I don’t see that happening any time soon, Eunice. My three-year-old niece is already a story teller — with characters, story-lines, and all! I’ll be looking forward to the sequel to “Ride a Shadowed Trail,” which is a wonderful book filled with the kind of detail that pulls the reader right into that place, the landscape, the scents, the food — so real, and it’s all there. Thank you SO much for visiting my blog, Eunice! I’d urge my readers to check out Ride A Shadowed Trail — if you like westerns, or just great characters, you’ll love it!

Eunice: Thank you, Lori. I appreciate your interest in my writing. I love sharing my stories and how those stories came to be. I’m so glad I found this wonderful world of writing. As most writers know (at least those of us who haven’t “yet” made the big-time) writing is not exactly a lucrative business and editors and publishers can make one crazy, but I love it and almost every day that a story awaits me inside my computer and in my head, I feel as rich as old King Midas.

Welcome, Velda! Let’s virtually sit down and talk about books and publishing. I hear you’re getting into E book publishing.

Velda: When I began working toward EBook publishing, I never dreamed I would put books so close together. Another is still on the drawing board, so to speak. It’s an exciting time to be an author.

Lori: I’ve been seriously thinking about EBook publishing myself, now that self-publishing doesn’t have the stigma that it did until recently; also, the “royalties” from EBooks are generally higher than those from books in print on paper. What drew you to the world of EBooks?

Velda: Lori, I was probably most fascinated by Ebooks when I learned I could republish all my backlist to Kindle. Once that became a possibility, I started thinking about what books I had that had circulated in New York, had some good feedback, but never sold. Why couldn’t I submit those to E book publishers and see what happened? I had no idea that two of them would sell within weeks of my submitting them. One is still under consideration.
What I like most about E books I think is that I can do almost all my promoting and marketing online sitting at my computer. I’ve been in this business a long time and am getting weary of book signings and personal appearances. Not that I don’t enjoy meeting all my fans, I love that part, but the physical effort is getting to be more than I can handle. I also enjoy the high royalties involved. Of course that varies between E book publishers and Kindle.
You should look into publishing some of your work through Kindle. There are plenty of good E book publishers out there as well, if you wanted to go that route.

Lori: I’m not sure if I want to go through an E book publisher, or self-publish through Smashwords or Kindle, but I am putting together several of my older stories (and revising them) that I intend to at least put on Kindle, although I don’t know when that will be, or how I’ll promote it! (Maybe a visit to your blog?) Can you tell me more about the E books that you’ve sold or have “in the queue” to sell, and about your published works? I know you’ve published a fair amount, and I’d love to learn more. How did you go about selling your two E-books so quickly?

Velda: Selling those first two E books was amazing for me. I had written a western historical romance which my agent didn’t like. I really thought it was good, so I did some more work on it and sent it to Rhonda Penders at Wild Rose Press. I met her at the Ozark Creative Writer’s Conference in Eureka Springs, Arkansas in October. I hadn’t even thought of submitting anything until a friend who had pitched her work to Rhonda came over to me and told me that they were looking and buying (in this case, that simply means contracting, as Ebook publishers don’t usually pay an advance) and if I had anything at all I should pitch it. So I dug around in my mind, thought of this manuscript that was gathering dust and pitched it to Rhonda. She asked for it and they accepted it in November. Said they were absolutely enthralled with the story. It will be out in February as Stone Heart’s Woman, just a bit over a year from the time they contracted it. It will also be in print.

The second book I sold around the same time, I had spoken to Rhonda about it and she asked to see it also, but it didn’t fit their strict guidelines for a romance. She told me to submit it somewhere else as a paranormal mainstream, which is precisely what I did. In this case I got online and checked out several Ebook publishers, picked SynergEbooks because I liked the books they were publishing a lot. They sent me a contract almost by return mail. We just today finished the final edits on it. My editor was concerned about one important point in the book and she helped me work out what we should do to fix it. I just Emailed the manuscript a few minutes ago. I really thought it would qualify as a romance, but I guess there was too much “other story” in it. The title is Wolf Song, and it has a mystery, a lot of shapeshifting, murder and the like. It would appear that it’s a cross genre, but they’re marketing it as a YA and Adult novel. I’m excited to see how it does. They’ve been taking pre-orders for a few weeks.

I am all over the map, so to speak, with my writing. I have five regional nonfiction books out about the Ozarks of Arkansas. My creative nonfiction, which is a biography that takes place in New Mexico, was a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards for Creative Non Fiction in 2008. I have six western historical romances that were originally published in NY and four are now on Kindle, with the other two ready to edit and format. I have three women’s fiction novels about middle aged women meeting some sort of crisis in their lives. I plan on self-publishing them to Kindle. And would you believe I have a horror novel that’s still with an Ebook publisher that is taking way too much time to decide. I may end up publishing it to Kindle as well.

Lori: I would believe it. The stories I’m hoping to put on Amazon are horror stories. I think everybody has a few nightmares that they can get out by writing, if they try.

Velda: And that about covers what I’ve written so far. I tried straight mysteries, but couldn’t keep everything lined up, and I don’t have the patience to write one of those big thrillers with their layers and layers of story line. What’s next? Once all of these are headed in the right direction, I’ve already started another western historical romance I hope to get published through Wild Rose Press. Did you know they were chosen for the fourth year in a row as the best E book publisher by readers through Preditors and Editors?

Lori: No, I didn’t know that. But I’ll certainly be visiting the Preditors and Editors website before I approach any publisher. I think many authors or would-be authors don’t know about that site; I hope this can help spread the word.

Velda: I think it’s a good idea for you to get something published on Kindle. Promoting and marketing is a lot of work, but at least you’re not stomping around trying to get a few people to pay attention to you at a book signing. Though I do enjoy that a lot because of the wonderful readers I meet.

Lori: Thank you for the advice. I did a lot of that stomping around with my first book, Spooky Creepy North Dakota, and I didn’t enjoy it — except for the people I met that way.
Thank you so much, Velda, for visiting my blog. I hope to be reading your new books very soon.

Velda: I appreciate you having me. It was tons of fun to converse with you this way. Sort of like having coffee together and chatting.

Today’s post isn’t about me or my life (imagine that!). Today I’m posting an interview with Meg Justus about her new novel, Repeating History, available in Kindle format on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005E8S8UM) as well as Smashwords (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/76672). This is the first stop on Meg’s blog tour, which I hope will be a long one. If you want to host a blog stop, you can contact her at mmjustus@nwlink.com. Her own website is http://mmjustus.com/ so stop by and check that out too!

Meg’s book doesn’t fit neatly into any genre, which to me is a good thing. The protagonist of Repeating History is Chuck McManis, 20 years old in 1959, a college drop-out, and taking a road trip to Yellowstone Park. While watching Old Faithful erupt, Chuck finds himself in the middle of a major earthquake, which throws him around and knocks him out. When he comes to, he realizes that he is no longer in 1959. He learns that, in fact, he is in the 1870s, and everything he knows can’t help him survive here — not only that, he is apparently his great-grandfather, and returning to the future means that he’ll lose Eliza, his great-grandmother from his time, but now the woman he loves.

1. I know we all get tired of people asking, “Where do you get ideas for writing?” but seriously, what inspired you in starting this book?

I actually like this question for this book, because I’ve never met anyone else who was inspired to write a time travel novel after watching a geyser go off. A few years ago I was in the middle of watching my first-ever eruption of Grand Geyser (not Old Faithful, but just down the boardwalk from it), the tallest predictable geyser in the world, when I suddenly thought, wow, this would make a terrific time travel device. I started researching Yellowstone’s history and things just kind of snowballed from there, especially after I found a firsthand account written by one of the tourists kidnapped by the Nez Perce.

2. Can you describe your experience with the setting? It’s clear you’ve been there, and love it, but tell us more!

At age four I was too young to remember my first visit to Yellowstone. I went back again as a teenager and as a young adult, but I did not fall in love with the park until I spent a week there as part of a solo 3-month cross-country road trip in the fall of 1999, when I saw that eruption of Grand Geyser and was absolutely enthralled. Geysers are said to play, and I’ve actually seen people applauding geysers because they’re so much fun to watch. Each geyser has its own personality, too. I’ve been back to the park numerous times since then at various times of the year, and have spent as much time as I could in the park archives doing research, as well as in other archives and libraries in the area. And, of course, I’ve spent a lot of time wandering in Chuck’s footsteps, and in the geyser basins waiting for things to go off.

3. How did you choose your protagonist? Is there a reason you chose to use a man rather than a woman? And do you feel that you’ve written a believeable male character?

Chuck started out as a military officer, on bereavement leave to bury his father. I keep trying to make characters into soldiers. I don’t know why that is, but Chuck rebelled almost from the beginning. For one thing, his voice kept sounding younger than I had originally intended him to be (mid-thirties, turned out he was twenty), and for another, I kept seeing him in my mind as a young blond Buddy Holly, gangly, glasses, and all. The reason Chuck is male, besides the fact that he absolutely positively couldn’t be anything else, is because in every other time travel novel I’ve ever read, either we have a man coming forward from the past to the present, or we have a woman going back from the present into the past. I’d never read one where a man went back into the past. And so that’s why I chose a male protagonist.

I like to think Chuck’s believable. I hope he is. I agonized more about him being believably from 1959 (the year I was born) than I did about him being male. I had a harder time writing Eliza, who is a very traditional woman of her time, than I did writing Chuck. But I think that’s more a function of me being about as untraditional a female as it is possible to be than anything else, which is probably one reason why it was easier for me to write a male character.

4. Who are your favorite characters in the book, and who was the most difficult to write about (and why)? And do you incorporate bits of people you know into your characters, or parts of yourself?

I’ll start with that question about the most difficult. Killing someone with gangrene resulting from a gunshot wound to the hip was not fun. I had to research it, of course, and I did, and the character really did have to die, but I didn’t have to like it.

I like all my characters, even the ones I’m not supposed to like, which sometimes makes things difficult. The character who turned out to be the most pleasant surprise was Lucy. She simply strolled onstage about two-thirds of the way in and started talking. She never tried to take over the book, but she turned Martin, who had been pretty much a pain in the neck up to that point, into a real grown-up. And she enabled plot point after plot point. I have no idea what part of my subconscious she came from, but I’m extremely grateful she showed up.

I don’t consciously incorporate bits of myself or other people into my characters, with two exceptions, one large and one small. The small exception is Chuck’s looks. The large exception is that Repeating History is based on real events. The Nez Perce did flee through Yellowstone in 1877, and they did kidnap at least one party of tourists along the way. Eliza is based on a real person. So are Martin and Anna Cooper, and William Byrne. Unconscious incorporation of bits from any source is another matter altogether.

5. Why did you choose first person over any of the other main types? (third person, multiple third persons, omniscient, etc.)

Because when I first started writing the story, I was working in single viewpoint tight third person because that’s what I’d been told sold easiest. The words had to be pulled out with pliers, and they sounded terribly stilted. So, on a whim, I started over in first person, thinking that once I had a draft I’d rewrite it in third, and it was like turning on a fire hose. The story just started running, and it didn’t stop. I never did do that rewrite. The sequel of sorts I am working on right now is also in first person, but it is not in Chuck’s point of view. It’s from the point of view of a !horrors! woman, which I fought for far longer than I should have. But she’s decidedly not traditional, which helps.

6. Do you start with a written outline of some sort(either with numbers or just a paragraph), or do you just get the ideas in your head and go for it? Will you use the same process in the sequel — if you’re writing a sequel and I hope you are?

For Repeating History I borrowed a system I had heard discussed by author Lois McMaster Bujold, who talked about plotting turning point to turning point, or, to use her term, to the next event horizon. I figured out where things were going until I couldn’t anymore, then I wrote to that point, then I figured out where things were going next and and wrote to that point and so forth, to the end of the book. The kidnapping and escape part was plotted for me, since I was writing a version of a story that really happened. For the sequel, and, yes, as I said there’s a sequel, sort of — one of the main characters in my work in progress is Chuck’s son/grandfather, and True Gold is about his adventures in the Klondike in the late 1890s with a young woman he rescues along the way, which I hope to have up on Amazon and Smashwords by June — I tried writing a full outline, using techniques I read about on author Holly Lisle’s website. At least I thought it was a full outline. It appears now, however, that I was just plotting to the first event horizon, so I am apparently using the same method I did last time, just coming at it from a different angle.

7. What is your favorite part of the writing through publishing process, including marketing, and what is your least favorite?

Call me insane, but I love revision. I feel about revising the same way I do hand quilting, which is my favorite part of making a quilt. The writing process (as I do it, at least) does have a lot in common with the quilting process, come to think about it. First I get the idea, then I figure out how to make it work, then I write the first draft/cut and piece the top, then I revise and layer in the rest of the story/do the quilting, then I proof and go over it one last time/bind the quilt. It helps to think of it that way, too. That way I don’t expect a finished story when all I’ve got is a pieced top. Because my most complete rough drafts are, to put it kindly, only about half of the finished story.

My least favorite part so far is marketing, but that’s because I have a lot to learn. This interview, I hope, is a good first step. Thank you for the opportunity.

8. Why did you choose self-publishing over the agent and book publisher route?

Honestly, if, in the seven or eight years I wasted submitting Repeating History to agents and publishers only to be told over and over that it was a good story but not something they thought they could sell, someone had offered to take me on, I would have jumped at it. But self-publishing suddenly became more acceptable and economically possible at just about the time I was ready to throw in the towel on traditional publishing, and I thought, why not? Besides, I have a fairly entrepreneurial spirit — I am an independent museum curator in my other life — so being in control of the entire process appealed greatly to me.

9. What is your favorite part of the book?

There are two, both have to do with Chuck’s realizing what’s happened to him and who he is. One is when the party of tourists he’s stumbled into tries to plug up Old Faithful (the early tourists did a lot of stupid things, but then I don’t think the early tourists had a monopoly on stupidity) and he recognizes what’s going on as one of the stories his great-grandmother told him when he was small. The other is when he and Eliza and Anna arrive at the Bottlers’ ranch and he’s standing out on the porch staring at the stars and realizing that if he really is his great-grandfather, he’s going to marry Eliza. And that he’s not unhappy about that turn of events at all. I know a lot of people look at the whole “I’m my own great-grandfather” storyline and roll their eyes (several agents certainly did so), but honestly, it’s my favorite part of the plot. What would you do if you had the chance to live the life of someone you idolized, only to find out that things didn’t happen the way you always thought they had at all? Second chances has always been the main theme of my writing, and Chuck’s story is the ultimate in second chances, so far as I was concerned.

Thank you, Meg, for providing us some insight not just into your book, but into the writing and publishing proocess!

Meg Justus clearly knows a great deal about subjects ranging from Montana history to geysers and anything in between, and I’m sure she’d be delighted to visit your blog to talk about them!

Battery Critical!

December 16, 2011

I finally gave in and joined the e-readers of the world; I chose a Kindle (which is now cheaper than I what I paid a few months ago!). Actually I chose it when I looked at the stack of books I intended to take with me on a trip. It would be like carrying a suitcase full of bricks!

So I got the Kindle. A few times the battery has gotten a little low, and I recharge it, then sensibly (and greenly) unplug the recharger’s cord. Other than buying a case for it, and occasionally using it to read in bed when my hands just don’t want to hold up a book, I haven’t paid much attention to it for at least a month.

Today I decided to download a free story on Amazon, written by a fellow member of Women Writing the West (shall I name you, Marla? Too late! I did!). I took my baby out of its bright pink cover (the only color they had in stock; I wanted dark blue but would have had to wait indefinitely for it. Sorry, I’m in the “immediate gratification” generation), and turned it on.

Instead of one of the images I’ve gotten used to when it’s turned off, there were two big words on the screen. BATTERY CRITICAL!!! Oh dear. Where is the battery emergency room? Can I get my Kindle there in time, or will it need major surgery like a battery replacement? Horrors!

I called Acme Batteries and they said I needed to get it to their ER, STAT. I jumped in my car, Kindle with Critical Battery in hand, and drove through the snow a little faster than I should have, but reached Acme’s ER in one piece.

As I rushed through the sliding glass doors of the ER, the receptionist stood up and asked what the nature of the emergency was. Slightly out of breath, I managed to say, “Battery Critical!” I was stunned as the techs, in green scrubs, ran out with a gurney. They snatched my Kindle from my hand and took it through a swinging door into the actual ER.

I followed, but a little more slowly, and by the time I got there, my Kindle was lying on a bed with drapes around it. I stuck my head in, and the Battery Doctor, dressed in a white lab coat with an ID and an electrical cord hanging around his neck, asked me if I was the nearest relative. I admitted that I owned it. He turned stern. “Don’t you know that if you wait too long, your battery may not survive? Now go sit in the waiting room! Your battery needs all my attention!” With that, I was dragged out of the curtained area by a tech who led me to the reception area.

The receptionist asked if I had insurance for my battery. I stammered that it hadn’t seemed necessary when I purchased the Kindle. She put her lips together firmly, then said, “Hmm Hmm, child, you takin’ a big risk not gettin’ the INsurance for an important battery like this one! I’ll put it on the paperwork, but you may be in for a world of financial hurt!”

After an hour and a half of drinking bad coffee and sweating about the life of both the battery and the Kindle, the doctor came into the reception area. He looked around the room, and seeing me (the only one there), he said, “You’re lucky. Your battery is in Intensive Care, but it’s no longer critcal; its status is now stable.”

“May I go see it?” I asked, and stood up, which caused me to spill the dregs of the bad coffee all over my new winter white pants.

The doctor snorted and left, which I interpreted as a no.

Oh, it seemed like I waited for hours. I knew that somewhere my Kindle lay, its Critical Battery connected via a computer cable and a mysterious white device to an electrical outlet, a connection that should save its life, if the doctor was right.

Finally another of those techs in green scrubs came into the room, with my Kindle (and its battery!) on a wheel chair. He shook his head, and said, “Well, it’s finally up to green. Coulda been a lot worse. Next time, pay attention, and charge it before it becomes CRITICAL!”

The receptionist shooed me out of the waiting room, telling me that this time there would be no charge. Financially, that is.

I drove carefully home, through the winter early darkness (it was 3:30 p.m.) and snow, my Kindle, in its case, nestled in a warm blanket on the passenger seat. When we got home, I took it in, and, holding my breath, turned it on. Oh, RELIEF! My list of items showed up! I went through the 75 or so books and stories on my Kindle (don’t mock; when you get them they’re empty, and a lot of those books were just 99 cents!), and nothing was missing. Now I can get that story, and read a book!

Let this be a lesson to you as well, dear reader! Please recharge your e-readers before the battery goes CRITICAL. You wouldn’t want to pay for a heart transplant, now would you? So make sure you keep it charged, and then unplug that cord to save energy!

This may be a good place to add some writerly ponderings. I’ve heard via cyberspace lately that many writers don’t write — or read — blogs, because it takes too much of their creative time and energy, which they prefer to keep focussed on their real work. Well, if you follow my blog, you haven’t followed very far, have you? I’m doing well if I blog once a month. But for me, when I look at the computer screen and crack my knuckles and think about writing a novel, the blog can act as a pump primer. You know, get a little writing done, then the well will gush. I hope. And thus I blog on.

November 17, 2011

I’ve been dealing with a number of health problems, none of them deadly but all of them life-altering, since about 1992. There are times when I indulge in pity parties (although I rarely wear a party hat to them; maybe if I did they’d be shorter!). One of my sisters has asked when I’ll be “fixed.” The short answer is never; I just manage, and sometimes it’s easier than others.

A woman I know through an organization, reading her book, and her blog, and the exchange of a few emails, has been living with her artist husband’s brain cancer for at least a year. Although initially they were very hopeful, his life is nearly at an end. She blogs each week about their journey through life, and she somehow always manages to see the positive in what she’s living. I have a deep respect for her; I don’t know if I’d do so well.

My maternal grandmother was a diabetic. She was an adult diabetic; I believe it started when she was about 40. Through the years I knew her, she managed her dis-ease (think about that word) with the help of my grandfather. He would help her check her bloodsugar (no handy bloodsticks then; it was pee and a paper strip), and give her insulin injections. It took me a few years to understand why she didn’t eat some things, and why she did eat others, and why she always had orange juice in her refrigerator (and we had it in ours when she visited). She never complained, at least not in the presence of her grandchildren, and was a wonderful grandma to us all, the best grandma any child could ask for.

When she was about 82 or 83 (my memory isn’t what it used to be), she had a stroke, related to her diabetes. It completely changed her life. She became immobile (though not paralyzed), and lost most of her memory. Her doctor suggested that my grandfather should place her in a nursing home so that she’d have around-the-clock nursing. He refused. He kept her in her home, in surroundings that were somewhat familiar to her, and not at all threatening to her.

He took care of her much as my friend is caring for her husband. He gave her spongebaths, changed her diapers, fed her, and continued her diabetes management. She couldn’t remember his name; she called him “Mister.” He had some home health care assistance, but he did almost everything for her, and continued to sleep beside her so that he’d wake up if she did, and could calm her when she was confused. He made sure that someone from the “beauty shop” came in every week or so to wash and set her still-dark hair.

Over a year or so she slowly faded away until her physical body was gone. My grandfather had, by then, lost most of his friends, and his home was a lonely place. My mother and her sister convinced him to move to Bismarck, where they both lived. He did, but refused to move in with either of them. Ever independent, he rented a small apartment.

I wasn’t living in Bismarck then. I was off somewhere else, Kansas, I think, going to graduate school and living my own life. When he died in his sleep, it was a long trip home to his funeral.

Neither of them were authors or artists. My grandmother taught before she married, and my grandfather held a variety of jobs, the last as the manager of the clinic in their town; he had that job for as long as I can remember — not bad for a man with an eighth-grade education. There is nothing to memorialize them except their gravestones, and the memories of those who knew them.

In my memory, there are car trips with my grandmother, and sometimes both grandparents, to the lake cabin they built in the 1930s (it’s still in the family, and I try to get there each summer). Grandpa always drove; he’d back (fast!) down the dirt road that led from the highway to the cabin so that he could back into the driveway. He drove backwards better than I have ever driven forward. He would tell us stories and take us fishing, and he loved to recite (from memory) the “story” poems by Robert Service. My grandmother taught us the songs from her childhood, and we’d sing them loudly in the car on the way back to Rugby, their hometown.

We always shared Christmas with them; when my sisters and I were young, our mother would pack the whole family into our car and our father would drive us to Rugby. I can vividly remember the thick pine trees they always chose as Christmas trees, the piney scent filling the house. Their tree was usually decorated by the time we got there, but every ornament had a story behind it, and each of us had an ornament with our very own name on it. Awesome when you’re six. I have some of those ornaments, as do both my sisters. I treasure them, although these days I rarely put up a tree. I tried, when I first moved back to Bismarck, but over the years it’s become too much work, and somehow the memories that are so happy as I write this become sad when I see a Christmas tree.

When we were older, they’d drive to our house, and stay with us for Christmas. My grandfather’s turkey dressing (or stuffing, or both) remains the best I’ve ever eaten. Despite having watched him make it so many times, I can’t even make it taste close to what he accomplished. And Grandma’s cookies and Norwegian Yulekage? Words can’t describe them! We inhaled the cookies, and the Yulekaga (a bread with colored fruit in it) was always the first stage of Christmas morning breakfasat. And we’d all sang Christmas carols around a piano, in Rugby or in Bismarck.

There are so many memories that I couldn’t write them all down if I tried. I will say that it was them who instilled in me a desire to garden, and what plants to put in that garden. My mother added to that desire, and although some years my garden looks more like a weed patch (they grow faster than I can pull them! And they grow faster than anything I plant!), I try to keep it in shape. (The bunnies who eat my hostas aren’t helping, either.)

One thing my grandparents did write: Letters. When they were courting, and were almost always apart as my grandfather traveled for a grocery company and my grandmother was teaching, they wrote almost every day. Some of the letters are, well, mundane. Others are true love letters. And those letters provide me, as an adult long after my grandparents have moved on to some other plane, some insight into how their relationship developed, and why so often they communicated by shouting. That they loved each other couldn’t be doubted by anyone who saw them together, or read their letters. But as a child I didn’t understand why they always yelled at each other. I get it now, and I understand my late mother’s frustration when, rather than argue with her, my father would leave the house (usually to golf or bowl), then return a few hours later and act like nothing had happened. And I laugh at myself when I realize my last husband did the same thing, giving me the same frustration my mother felt.

My grandparents didn’t just express their love of each other, or of us, in words. They were a hugging and kissing family, and my mother carried on that tradition as well. I think my father was a little baffled at first, but he gamely tried through his life to get a little more demonstrative. Some people are shocked to realize that we all always kissed on the lips, but that was our way. Hugs are tight and warm, and as a child, made me feel safe and loved.

But I’m digressing a lot. There are a few threads to this post. One is the comparision of my friend’s life right now to what my grandparents went through, although for them it was later in their life. One is my conviction that even if my grandparents left behind them nothing that can be seen, touched, or read (except those letters… there’s a book in there, if only for my family), they still left something of themselves behind, at least to their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Another is that perhaps compared to what both couples endured and endure, my own illnesses, and the way my life is now, are pretty inconsequential, although my doctors tell me never to compare — each human being is unique, and all our dis-ease matters. And eventually, we all move on from this life to whatever the next beginning will be.

I wish my friend’s husband an easy transition to that new beginning, and an amazing trip. I wish my friend the strength and courage to celebrate his life and his accomplishments, and the love they shared. I’m pretty sure she already has them. And I wish myself the courage to begin each day with the love from all these people in my heart and in my mind, and to make each day matter, even if it only matters to me.

First let me say that I’ve seen a lot of strange things in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen a “flying saucer” or any other unidentified flying craft that was obviously a craft. Nor have I seen little gray aliens or large Nordic aliens (although I’ve wondered about a few tall Nordic types, who seemed pretty strange to me). But once upon a time, in a hot summer in the Badlands of North Dakota, I saw something that I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain. And I wasn’t alone at the time.

We’d been camped out near a cattle tank, miles and miles of bad roads from our main camp, to work on — you know, I really don’t remember. Might have been a road, might have been a pipeline — but that doesn’t matter. What does matter was that our tent, which was co-ed, was one of the ones we called the “Custer Tents.” University of North Dakota lore says that when the 7th Cavalry headed out of Fort Abraham Lincoln, there were some tents that were in such bad shape that they were left behind, to be scooped up later by the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at UND. And ours was one of those giant canvas tents, with no floor, that reeked of must and mothballs, and leaked on the (very) rare occasions that it rained. For those of you who’ve heard my story about feeling so dirty that we bathed in a cattle tank, this was the place.

It was one of the hottest times in the Badlands that I can remember. The tent was stuffy and filled with the extra scent of sweaty men. I, and my bff Jeani, could not stand it anymore, and took our sleeping bags out under the stars. For those of you who live in cloudy places, or in large cities, I pity you. You can’t really see the stars. In the Badlands, and in the New Mexico desert, the entire night sky is filled with stars, more than city dwellers can conceive of.

So we lay there, comradely, (and no, not drinking beer — we left that to the boys), talking about the work, our love lives, and whatever came to mind. The moon was full, and it seemed so close that you could reach out and touch it. Near the moon was a round bright light. When I first noticed it, I thought it must be one of the planets, or maybe a satellite, because it didn’t twinkle like stars do, as their little light makes it through Earth’s atmosphere. Jeani and I said to each other, at the very same time (great minds truly do think alike), “Look at that!” We agreed we were looking at that bright round thing that looked like it was next to the moon, and I said it might be a planet, and she said it was too late for that, the planets had already set, or hadn’t yet risen. “Maybe a satellite?” I asked. No, she said, those usually are moving. I think. Suddenly the bright round light sped to our right, and the stopped as suddenly as it had started. “Did you see that?” we chorused. How could anyone have missed it? It was big, and it was obvious.

As we watched, it appeared to make a 90 degree turn, and sped off towards and behind us. We sat up to watch. It stopped again, as abruptly as it had the first time. It was still for about a minute (Jeani had a watch with one of those green light features), and then it did a 180 and and sped over us and out of view.

We were baffled. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it. The movement indicated that it couldn’t have been a star or a planet, and I don’t know of any satellites that do that, although it may be a possiblity (but bear in mind that this was pre-1980, and satellite technology has come a long way since then, so what they can do now may not have been possible then). I don’t know enough to say for certain that it wasn’t, but at the time, we didn’t believe it was. Satellites usually orbit, right?

So what was it? Not an airplane; no aircraft, with the exception of helicopters and Harrier jets, hover like that. And it was up much too high to be a helicopter, and the closest air base, in Minot, ND, didn’t have any Harriers. Besides, it was completely silent. Since it was an object, and it was flying, and we didn’t know what it was, we called it a UFO.

When we finally got back to our base, showered and dressed in clean clothes, we discussed it with the project manager, who hadn’t been with us in the Custer Tent. We (Jeani and I) wanted to report it; the question was, to whom? The county sheriff’s office would probably have laughed at us, so we skipped that option. We ended up calling the air base at Minot. A pleasant if slightly skeptical young officer took our call, and said he was making a note of our observation, and no, they hadn’t been doing any exercises in that area at the time. That was it.

We still talk about it from time to time. Neither of us have every seen anything like that since, although we’ve both spent plenty of time outdoors doing our different jobs. Was it a UFO? Well, yes, by definition, but was it an alien craft? I have no answer for that.

What do you think?

The Black Hills

When you think of “the fastest gun in the West,” do you think of Wild Bill Hickok, Billy the Kid, or the Earp brothers? Think again. The fastest gun in the old west may well have been Boone May’s rifle.

Boone May was born in Missouri in 1852, the seventh of nine children of Sam and Nancy May. Christened “Daniel Boone May,” he decided early in life to drop the first name, so history knows him simply as Boone. Sam May moved the family to Kansas some time before 1860, and Boone and his brothers farmed with their father, and learned to shoot while hunting. Perhaps because of the cost of bullets, Boone learned early to make every shot count. Boone was always described as a fearsome man; he was lean, dark-haired, and quiet, with unusual eyes of yellow, green and gray.

Around 1876, Boone May and two of his older brothers, Jim and Bill May, moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming, to work in freighting. Towns didn’t get much wilder than Cheyenne in the 1870s, and freight wagons and coaches were always the prey of “road agents,” the outlaws who held them up. Hostile Sioux and Cheyenne were also a problem in the Black Hills, raiding ranches and travelers for horses and weapons.

Despite the dangers, Boone did well in his business, and bought himself a ranch between the Platte River and Deadwood, then part of Dakota Territory. The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Company, a freight company that brought supplies into the Black Hills and took gold out, heard of Boone May’s reputation as an honest and hard-working man, and also of his prowess with the rifle he always kept sheathed at his side. In 1877, they offered him a job as a “shotgun messenger,” or coach guard. In four or five years as a messenger and the manager of a stage station, he killed at least 8 robbers, and arrested even more.

Despite the fact that he worked on the right side of the law, Boone was arrested, along with U.S. Department of Justice special agent W.H. Llewellyn, for the killing of Curly Grimes, a notorious stage robber. While out on bail and awaiting trial, Boone continued to guard the stages. One memorable trip was recorded by author Ambrose Bierce in his story, “A Sole Survivor.” May and Bierce, driving a wagon with $30,000 in gold, were stopped between Deadwood and Rockerville on a dark and rainy night. When an outlaw’s shout to stop the wagon and raise their hands came out of the darkness, May, with “the quickest movement… in anything but a cat.” threw himself across the seat, drawing his gun at the same time, and shot the robber in the chest before the robber could pull the trigger on the gun he held. May and Bierce continued to Rockerville, the gold still safe in the coach.

When the trial for the killing of Grimes took place, the jury didn’t even leave the courtroom to deliberate before declaring the defendants innocent. Despite the verdict, the outlaw friends of Grimes were determined to get revenge, but their attempts came to nothing but the deaths or arrest of more of them.

As the gold rush in the Black Hills slowed to a trickle, Boone May, always restless, went to South America. He worked as a guard at a gold mine in Chile, but rumors said he left in a hurry in 1891. He had fallen for the wife, or possibly girlfriend, of a Chilean army officer, who died quite suddenly. May re-appeared at the gold mines of Brazil, and is said to have died there of yellow fever. It took an illness to do what no armed men could. Rumor says that May’s rifle was buried with him.

Never as famous as he should have been, at least outside the Black Hills, Boone May was definiely one of the fastest guns in the West.

(Sources: Fifer, Barbara. Bad Boys of the Black Hills… and Some Wild Women Too. Helena: Farcountry Press, 2008. http://mayhouse.org/family/trees/may/JS1816SM7.html, http://www.wyomingtalesandtrails.com/deadwood3.html, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-boonemay.html, http://www.legendsofamerica.com/we-triggerfingeritis.html )