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.
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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!

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?

Since March is Women’s History Month, I thought it was time to write about another woman in my family whose history deserves to be known. She is my paternal grandmother, Anna Moen Orser. The photo shows her seated, surrounded by her adult children. I think it’s from the 1990s; Anna passed in 2006.

Before I start with Anna’s life, I need to provide a little backstory (don’t worry, it’s interesting and I’ll try to keep it short!). Anna’s father was Sivert Sivertsen, following the Norwegian custom of using your father’s name as your last name. However, he changed it to Moen, the place he spent most of his life in Norway. He was born in 1862 in Surnedalen, near Trondhjem. He married his first wife, Mali, in Norway and they had four children: Mikkel, born 1889, Ida, born 1892, Marie and Selma, born around 1893. In 1894, the family emigrated to the US, settling in Minnesota. Mali was extremely unhappy, and she and Sivert divorced. She left the older two children with him, and returned to Norway, telling everyone that she was a widow.

Sivert wasn’t much of a farmer; he was better at talking and at carpentry. He started leaving his two children with friends and traveling around the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, preaching and singing, and taking whatever people gave him. He apparently had a silver tongue. In his travels, he met Christine Thompson, a young woman who was living with a foster family in Abercrombie, ND. He convinced her to marry him, and they settled for a while in Windom, where their first child, Anna (also called Annie) was born in 1898. But Sivert got itchy feet and started traveling again, hauling his growing family with him from job to job, until he finally settled near Grand Forks, ND, where he worked for a building company. By then they’d had four more children, Sarah (1901), Alfred (1902), Waldimer (born and died in 1904), and Ingeborg (1906).

In 1907, Sivert died of typhoid, leaving Christine with his two older children, and their four living children. Mikkel may have left around then to go out on his own, and Ida seems to have married about that time. Christine took the rest of the children, from 9 year old Annie to baby Ingeborg, and bought a house in Edinburg, ND, which she shared with her brother Albert (“Uncle A.C.” to her children). Albert worked at a store in town, and Christine used the house to board teachers. She and Annie also started working then, cleaning other houses and doing laundry for other families, Annie working after school, as she belatedly started first grade (the delay was not because of her intelligence but because she was needed at home). Summers, Annie worked in a “cook car” with a threshing crew that started in Texas or Arkansas and worked its way north with the harvest. She earned $4 a day, a large amount in 1908!

Annie took some extra classes in 8th grade (while still working) so that she could finish her “high school” in 3 years instead of 4. She went to the Walsh County Agricultural and Teacher Training School in Park River. Since that was far from Edinburg, she had to board; to pay for her room and board, she cleaned the home she was staying in, and did laundry, ironing, and cleaning for other students. She also sent money home to Christine and her siblings whenever she could.

She graduated in the spring of 1917, and went to work in a country school. She boarded with a town family (paid by the school district to house and feed her) and traveled to the school with a horse and buggy. Because of northern weather conditions, and the not exactly weatherproof condition of the school, her school year ran from April through December. Typical for Annie, she worked doing cleaning and laundry from January through March. At some point in her life, she learned to play the piano and the organ; we don’t have a record of it, but once she graduated and started teaching, she played piano or organ in whatever church she was able to attend. I remember listening to her play her piano when I was a child, and I was amazed at the beauty of the music as her fingers were gnarled with arthritis. She told me she kept playing so they could keep moving.

After two years of teaching in rural North Dakota, she took a teaching job in a remote area of northern Minnesota, near International Falls, now part of Koochiching County. She started in 1919. Back then, there were no decent roads in the “big woods” of northern Minnesota, and few people or towns. The road she took to work was a “corduroy” road — stripped logs laid side by side, long sides touching, to keep from sinking into the swamp that was the undergrowth of this very wet forest. She also had to carry a lantern to be able to see in the mornings and evenings, and a gun to fend off wolves, which were much more numerous then than now.

At some point, she met a man named Oscar S. Melson. On the 1920 census, Oscar is reported living with his family in Odin, Watonwan County, Minnesota — over 350 miles from Greaney Town where Anna was working. We have no records for that time, but we believe he was probably working on the railroad that was being built through that part of Minnesota, and that he may have met Anna at church or a country dance. However they met, she fell in love with him. He was offered a job with the Northern and Chicago Railroad in Wyoming, and he told her that he’d go work there, and save up his money, then return and marry her. But apparently their relationship went a little beyond kissing, because in January of 1921, after the school year ended, little Oscar Vernon Melson was born.

Sadly, in March of 1921, Oscar S. Melson was killed in a stupid railroad accident — he and some other men from the railroad camp had been to Lander to see a movie, and went back to the camp in a “speeder,” a car designed to run on railroad tracks. It hit a deer, throwing three men from the car. Oscar was seriously injured (it was a neck and spine injury) and he died the next morning; one other man was also seriously injured and in the newspaper report from Lander, it was reported that he was not expected to survive. Oscar’s brother Alfred, younger than Oscar by a year, had a minor hand injury. He filled in the personal information on Oscar’s death certificate, and listed Oscar as single. He escorted Oscar’s remains to St. James, MN (nearest railroad stop to the Melson home in Odin, MN), and his obituary was published in the Butterfield paper (another small town in Watonwan County, as Odin had no paper). In that same paper, his parents and siblings thanked those people who had come to the funeral. Nothing of Anna was mentioned. Apparently Oscar never told his family about her.

Because of her condition, Anna was not asked to stay in Koochiching County. Her mother came to help her, and the two women, with baby Vernon, moved to Colgate, ND, where she started over. She called herself Mrs. Melson, a widow, and took a job teaching. In Colgate, she met Loyd Orser, then a good-looking veteran of WWI, with plenty of medals to prove his courage, and a large hard-working familyor brothers, sisters, and cousins. They married, and he raised Oscar Vernon Melson (always called Vernon or Vern) as his own.

The rest of her story is perhaps not as exciting as scrubbing floors to get to school, fighting off wolves in the North Woods, and making a life for herself and her illegitimate child (did you know that in 1921, there was a box on birth certificate labeled “Legitimate” that needed to be filled with a “yes” or a “no?” Anna filled in the “yes,” but she listed her son’s father as Oscar S. Melson, who never did get to see his son). However, she never quit trying to improve herself and her children. She went back to school, and eventually became the first woman county superintendant of schools in Steele County, ND — possibly the first woman with that post in any county in the state.

She also made sure that all of her children were educated, and all of them were successful in their chosen fields, largely due to her insistence that they make something out of themselves, doing whatever they were best at. And as far as I’m concerned, that makes her a woman worth remembering.

Seven Random Things

March 11, 2011

I was pushed by a fellow blogger, who manages to post weekly, to get back into blogging. So here is a start: my list of seven random things. If I’m doing it wrong, I’m sure I’ll hear about it!

1. I hate March. It’s nice, then it sleets and snows, and the wind howls, then it’s warmer and sunny, but the wind is still howling and streets and parking lots are filled with slushy ponds and my car’s color is unrecognizable. Spring? I think not.

2. I get catalogs from flower and seed companies every single day, starting in November. Seriously. Some of them I’ve bought from in the past, so I can sorta understand, but some are from places I’ve never heard of. Maybe they think showing me beautiful flowers (that only grow in zones 8-10 and I’m in zone 3…) will make me think of spring and planting my garden. They could not be more wrong.

3. A confession. I’m a process knitter. I LOVE choosing a pattern, finding the perfect yarn, casting it on, doing the first three or four rows — and then I’m ready to start again. This is probably the reason that right now I have 6 “UFOs” (UnFinished Objects, in Knit-Speak) just in my living room. I won’t mention the number in my yarn/stash room. However, I believe I have enough yarn to survive the apocalypse and make scarver — excuse me, START scarves — for the other survivors.

4. I’m really, really afraid of zombies. I know, they aren’t real. And in old movies, they weren’t particularly scary (although how running people could be captured by shuffling zombies did and does baffle me…). Have you seen the AMC series “The Walking Dead?” Even if you weren’t afraid of zombies before, you will be if you watch it. I taped them, and watched the first two episodes during the day (I am prone to nightmares). They terrified me. The story was good, but the special effects were really, really amazing. They didn’t look like effects; they looked real (which is, after all, the point…). And they run (if they still have legs; otherwise they drag themselves by their rotting arms…). OMG. I couldn’t watch anymore, even by daylight. Nightmares? Still having them.

5. My dog, Kimiko, loves to play in the snow. However, she is appalled and offended if snow falls onto her. I can’t understand the difference between getting snowy because you’ve been rubbing your big furry head in it and rolling in it, and getting snowy because it’s falling on you and sticking to your outer coat, but apparently in DogLand it’s a huge difference. I’m baffled.

6. I’m a “what’s that song????” junkie, for TV background music. Whether it’s part of the background in an episode of a favorite show, and I think, just maybe, I sort of recognize it, or I don’t but I think I want to download that song; or if it’s in a car commercial or an insurance commercial — I run to the computer to Google “what’s the song in…. [fill in the blank]” and if I get the answer, I find it and download it. If I don’t get an answer, I’m totally bummed. There was an ad last summer for a TV show that came back in the fall, and it had a line about “I love you enough for the both of us” or words to that effect — but I couldn’t find it. Not nowhere, not nohow. I am STILL haunted by it. I want to listen to it 10 times a day!

7. Apparently I talk about my dog more than most parents talk about their children. What can I say? I don’t have a husband or boyfriend or children, I don’t get out much, so it’s just the two of us. And I love that song I heard on NCIS — The Dog Song. “I’m just a-walkin’ my dog…” — about a poor sad lonely girl who decided to give up on men and get herself a dog, and now she’s happy. (It could be autobiographical had I written it…)

So, that’s my seven things. I dare any blogger reading this to do your OWN Seven Random Things blog — at least seven of you! Please!

I never did finish my Sioux Falls trip, and now have forgotten much of it. Downtown Sioux Falls is remarkably alive, for a prairie town. While I was there, there were several sculptures placed throughout the shopping/business area, part of a contest in which visitors could vote for their favorite. My favorite was hard to choose; there was a rather abstract dog, but its dogginess and spirit was very clear; there was a sheep with two lambs, one black and one white; there was a mermaid, I think, and of course a bison and an eagle, and many many more. I don’t know if Sioux Falls is always that welcoming to the arts, but I hope so! The downtown area also offered several “green spots” with seating and, at least in summer, flowing water.

The shopping in the downtown area was mainly of the small boutique variety, but the stores were all delightful. My favorite was Mrs. Murphy’s Irish Gifts. Found a lovely Celtic Cross necklace (silver) and Trinity Knot earrings.

The falls for which the City is named isn’t far from downtown, and is the centerpiece of a large park and recreation area. Atop a building next to the ruins of the old mill (it burned, so only the outer stone walls remain) is a restaurant that has outdoor eating with a great view of the falls, which are not one big waterfall, but a series of falls that have been carving the rock since, well, probably since the last ice age ended. Past what I think was a hydroelectric plant was a still pond with a little island. There were plenty of water birds in the pond, and a lovely mallard couple swam over to get a good look at my sister and me before going about their business.

The opera house in Sioux Falls has been restored beautifully, and houses an active community theater. It is alleged to be haunted, according to the Internet and some book entries, but no one could (or would!) confirm or deny those rumors to me.

Outside the city is a wooded area through which a fast stream has dug a deep canyon, about 20 feet across. It’s a park called Devil’s canyon, and there’s a wobbly plank bridge over the canyon. A sign tells visitors that at that point, the canyon is over 60 feet deep, and that at its deepest part, they were unable to find a bottom. The canyon walls also have several small caves in them. According to Devil’s Gulch lore, Jesse James went there on his escape from robbing the Northfield bank in Minnesota. When he reached the gulch, they say, the pursuers were close behind, so he and his horse jumped the gulch. Skeptics say that even a fresh horse couldn’t have leapt that distance, and James’ horse would have been anything but fresh at that point, but believers cling to the legend. Of course there are rumors that Jesse James haunts the gulch, but seriously, why would any reasonable ghost haunt a place he visited exactly once in a long and excitement-filled life? Who knows? I didn’t see any ghosts there, nor did I feel anything but the thousands of no-see-ums determined to suck all the blood from my body.

On the way home we visited a county museum said to be haunted. It wasn’t hard to debunk the “proof” offered in a certain book about haunted places in South Dakota, and I promised the county historical society that if I included it, I would be sure to tell people that it was NOT haunted at all, but rather a great place to see what the lives of the first white settlers in the area were like.

North of there, we ran into bad weather, of course. I have yet to take a trip into South Dakota and encounter only good weather. The clouds filled the sky, the wind picked up to about 30 mph, gusting to around 60, and it started to rain (mixed with snow. In late June. Humph.) We spent that night in Fargo, skipping some of the sites we’d meant to visit (do Ma and Pa Ingalls haunt their graves? I have yet to find a graveyard that’s haunted, other than St. Patrick’s in Dickinson, and that’s a residual haunting, not an intelligent one!). So I didn’t feel bad missing them. I was cold and wet from trying to take photos in the rain and wind (that wind nearly blew me over, and I have a fair amount of ballast!), and I just wanted to go home! We had a good dinner in Fargo, spent the night, and had a pleasant drive home the next day. Leaving just one more trip — that turned into two or three, but you have to do what you have to do when you must illustrate each of the 160 or so pages of the book (even when the contract states 10 to 20 photographs…)

And now it’s January, and I’m still trying to organize and write. Wish me well. Or wish a premature burial of the book. I’m not sure which I’d prefer at this point!

South Dakota, Trip 2

June 6, 2010

The Historic Mellette House, Watertown SD

Goss Opera House, Watertown SD

On May 20th, I set off to explore the haunted, and not-so-haunted, spots in eastern South Dakota, accompanied by my sister, who is my driver, my first reader and picky editor (a much-valued skill, believe me, since I seem to see what I meant to type, not necessarily what’s actually there), and the chooser of hotels and restaurants. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good (mall food court food, for example).

We set off on a very breezy day, to put it mildly. We didn’t take any back roads (sigh. but the driver picks the route) so we flew east on I-94, with limited traffic and a speed limit of 75 (and despite that high limit, people were passing us like we were at a dead stop), then turned south on I-29. After stopping for lunch at the Granite City Brewery in Fargo.

South Dakota’s first rest stop, as you’re heading south on I-29, is a wonderful place. Not just restrooms and vending machines, but real people and racks of brochures, maps, booklets, and so on, about pretty much everything in South Dakota. Without the help of the very pleasant man who welcomed us and overwhelmed us with suggestions about where we should go, we would have missed a lot. Like Watertown.

Now Watertown isn’t exactly a booming metropolis. but with a population of just over 20,000, it holds its own against larger cities. The downtown area was alive and blooming. Lots of fun little shops, places to eat, and only a few empty store fronts. But the real prize of Watertown (if you don’t count the enormous art center with it’s incredibly beautiful park, right off the highway) is the Goss Opera House. If I’m remembering correctly, it was built in 1888, and held its first performance in 1889. It’s a 3-story brick and stone building, and after being empty for many years, managed to make it onto the National Register of Historic Places, and with help from the local population, it’s gradually being restored.

The building sits on a corner, and on one street, you can enter via a coffee shop, with wonderful coffee and pastry smells wafting through the air and tempting us to sit down and enjoy a snack. But from the coffee place, you can go into the store that fills the corner. It’s filled with jewelry, knick-knacks, books, humorous items, Native American items, and more. If you turn left after entering from the coffee side, you’ll walk into a room defined more by racks than walls, where clothing and accessories are sold. From there, you can enter a restaurant that is open for dinner, although it appeared that the bar might open a little earlier. I found it interesting that the only way to get into the store was through one of the two eateries. Hmm.

As we wandered through the first area of the store (where Shari found a few things to buy!), I talked to the clerk there and told her the reason for our trip, and asked her first, if they’d be interested in stocking my book when it’s out, and second, if there were any spooky stories about the opera house (the top two floors are still being renovated; at some point, it will, they hope, be an opera house and live theater again). She gave me the card of the woman who does the buying, but said that she really couldn’t talk about whether or not there might be haunted (or haunting?) stories. My sister figured that meant that there probably were, but who really knows?

I do know that in the coffee bar area I felt welcome and comfortable. I was less comfortable in the main room of the store, but I put it down to the sheer volumer of stuff that filled the room. Then I walked into the room where the clothes were hanging. Immediately, the hair on the back of my neck rose. I don’t know, dear readers, if you’re aware of the effects of electro-magnetic fields on humans. EMF can come from any electrical device, from your refrigerator to a computer, or from poorly grounded wires. And the effect can be that rising hair, feelings of paranoia, nausea, and headaches (there’s a copper pipe over my laundry area that has a ridiculously high EMF level, probably it’s a conduit for wiring, but I know that I always feel like I’m being watched when I do laundry. Now I know it’s just the high EMF, so I’m not as nervous about it). I didn’t see anything in that room that could be giving off EMF. Nada. I passed rather rapidly from the first feeling, that feeling of being watched, to a headache and a growing nausea. I walked across the room and stood by the large window in the sunshine, and felt a little better. But I didn’t stay inside to wait while Shari paid for her purchases; I went outside and waited on the sidewalk. Haunting? Natural EMF? I don’t know. I do know that I tend to be overly sensitive to both, but I couldn’t tell you what caused that feeling. Shari and the clerk were both oblivious to it. Hmmm.

Our next destination in Watertown was the Mellette house. It was built in the early 1880s by Arthur Calvin Mellette (up until then, the family had lived in a tent next to a nearby lake, then in the apartment over a store Mellette owned; imagine Mrs. Mellette’s delight in having this huge house for the couple and their four growing boys!). Mellette was the last governor of Dakota Territory, appointed by his old friend, President Benjamin Harrison, then in 1889, was elected the first governor of South Dakota. He served two terms before retiring, in part for health reasons. While he traveled the territory mainly by train, Mrs. Mellette and the boys stayed in the house. It’s a large beautiful brick and wood house, with gorgeous woodwork in the interior. Built on Prospect Hill, Watertown’s highest point, its outstanding feature is a three-story tower, in which a spiral staircase leads you to a platform at the top, where you can see about 3 miles in every direction. I started up the stairs, gripping the beautiful wood railing, but the spiral and the height overcame me, and I let Shari go up to see what she could see, while I stayed at the bottom of the stairs, enjoying the sunlight that came through the round stained glass window in the tower’s front side.

Outside, lilacs were blooming, birds were singing, and it seemed like a wonderful place to be. Honestly, I could have spent the night there (no, you can’t spend a night in the Mellette house; it’s a museum with guided tours, sadly). The house doesn’t seem to be haunted at all, although it had fallen into almost irredeemable ruin over the years since the Mellette’s had left it behind. The County and State Historical Society held many fundraisers and applied for grants left and right, and the house is now restored to its former glory. There is a rumor that frightens the children of Watertown (or at least, used to, according to our tour guide who grew up in Watertown); it’s said that during the unoccupied years, a “bum” (their word; I’d say homeless man) got into the house one night and hanged himself in the tower. There’s no documentation for the story, in newspapers or books, so it’s probably one of those things that children make up about the spooky decrepit house on a corner in any town. The house still seems to belong to Margaret Mellette, and she wants it clean, shiny, and filled with happy visitors. And that’s just what it is.

Stay tuned for part two of Trip 2! And Trip 3 (the final trip, I hope…) will happen in a couple of weeks, as I write along.