By Sarah McNeal
How an Easterner Writes A Western
When I write paranormals, I’m usually creating a fictional world, maybe combined with places I really know like Wilmington, North Carolina or Central Pennsylvania. Westerns present, on the other hand, need research. Although I’ve been to most of the western states and lived for a year in Nebraska and a year in Texas, there is much I don’t know about the western part of the United States. So, when I began writing westerns, I chose the state of Wyoming because it was wild, filled with independent thinkers and the first state to give women the vote. I had been there once on a trip with friends and fell in love with its rolling hills and wide open spaces. I remember getting out of the car and sitting on the hood of the car looking at the untamed landscape. A few wild buffalo were grazing nearby just below a bluff that overlooked the flat plains. I felt a kind of wild freedom mixed with fear. There I was, exposed to everything nature had: wolves, a buffalo stampede and, if I had lived a hundred years or so ago, Indians, perhaps Lakota.
I had to investigate everything about Wyoming except for the visual impression it left on me. I got out my trusty road atlas and found just the right spot in the hills on the western front that sat right against the Great Teton Mountains. I put my fictional town of Hazard beside the Green River, that runs parallel to the mountains and cradled in the hills right where I needed it to be.
I also had to study the great Lakota Indians and learn their beliefs and culture. Two of my characters are part Lakota.
The more I learned, the more I grew in respect and admiration. I went to a Lakota website, Lakota Prayers and Ceremonies (White Deer of Autumn) , and found some very useful ceremonies. Here is one of about smoking the ceremonial pipe:
Chanunpa Wakan (sacred pipe)
Connects the physical world with the spiritual world—the link between Earth and sky. SMOKE is our words, the fire in the pipe is the fire of the sun which is the source of all life. Tobacco is used because the roots go deep into the earth and its smoke rises into the sky.
“The ceremony invokes the relationship of the energies of the universe, and ultimately, the Great Spirit, and the bond made between earthly and spiritual realms is not to be broken.
The healing ceremony is intended to call upon and thank the six energies. (the four directions, the sky and earth—and the Great Spirit.
I used this ceremony in For Love of Banjo when he returns from the war in Europe and becomes acquainted with his uncle.
Another Lakota ceremony is smudging, a ritual that continues today.
A mixture of sage, sweet grass and tobacco in the sacred pipe and blown over the person and fanned with an eagle feather. The prayer is carried to the Great Spirit on the wings of the Eagle. It clears out negative energy and brings peace and relaxation—allows the person to put spiritual difficulties to rest.
(From “Secret Native American Pathways” by
Information for the ceremonies obtained from Native American Ceremonies and Prayers.
I also had to study the time period of each of my works in progress. Harmonica Joe’s
Reluctant Bride takes place in 1910. To be honest, I was very surprised to learn that industrial advancements had already begun by that time. Automobiles, although not mass produced, did exist and so did electricity. Wyoming had not become part of the grid yet, but New York City had electric street lights and more and more homes were converting to electricity on the eastern seaboard. My western characters had heard, or maybe even seen some of these modern conveniences even though they didn’t own them. Of course, my heroine, Lola, came from the future in a mysterious old trunk and was well acquainted with the modern world, but not so Joe Wilding. Being a man of science, Joe was very curious about the advancements around him and read about some of these marvels.
When I wrote the sequel, For Love of Banjo, many things had advanced. During this WWI story, planes were introduced as well as armored tanks. Clothes and social norms also changed dramatically between 1916 and 1918 in which my story took place.
1918 clothing and WWI Fighter Plane
An older character, Joe’s father, Ben Wilding, is enamored with modern things. He buys a tractor for the ranch which proves to be an important factor in a particular scene.
My father was born in 1912 and his history both in pictures and words helped to give me a perspective of this time in American history. I’m grateful for these memories he shared with me.
From my personal history handed down by my dad to my research of these time periods, I built a fictional world that I hope conveys the way life truly was from 1910 to 1918. Making an historical story believable takes time and effort, but so very worth it. Readers should be transported to the time and place in a story so they can experience it almost like actually being there. That’s half the fun in any historical, but even more so in a time travel story. Readers want to feel what the transported person feels when first discovering that have arrived back in time.
HARMONICA JOE'S RELUCTANT BRIDE
A haunted house, a trunk and a date with destiny.
FOR LOVE OF BANJO
Deceit stands between Banjo Wilding’s love for
and his search for the father he never knew. Maggie O’Leary
Banjo Wilding wears a borrowed name and bears the scars and reputation of a lurid past. To earn the right to ask for
’s hand, he must find his
father and make something of himself. Margaret
Will either of them find happiness?
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