Much as I love learning about other writers, from where they came, and what motivates them in their writing, when it comes to write something about myself, to introduce myself to those who don't know me, I freeze up. What to tell? What is interesting? What matters?
Many times, I've written about living on a sheep and cattle operation in the Oregon Coast Range with my husband of 53 years. Our home is on the banks of a creek and where we raised two children to adulthood and enjoy having four grandchildren visit when they aren't too busy with their activities. I've written less about from where I come and how that has impacted what I write today.
My parents' story probably influences some of that. Mom, born in Oregon, was a professional musician who traveled around the country including Mexico, with all girl orchestras where she played bass and sang. Dad, born in South Dakota but moved to Oregon with his parents, was a stagehand at the Portland theater where her band was playing. He was a carnie, a guy who dropped everything to travel with the carnival through the summers. They dated. Then, leaving without a word, he stood her up. One of the hands told my mom that he'd never amount to anything for her. He returned at the end of the summer. By May, he'd changed her mind, and they were married. A little older, they weren't sure children were in the cards but turned out two were.
A WWII baby, as I became a child, the United States was coming off a major war, and we were under the threat of a nuclear holocaust. If we could forget that, our schools had bomb shelters where we were supposed to go in the event of an attack (exactly what those were supposed to benefit us, I'm not sure as we all knew about the dangers of radiation).
Despite the Cold War and a hot one in Korea, I consider it a rich time in which to grow up. Much of that was influenced by where I grew up-- an old farmstead at the end of a gravel road in Washington's Cascade Mountains. Its eighty acres were in the shape of a rectangle, with rutted dirt roads leading to the back, a plum orchard, and a spring from which our water was piped down a hill, probably half a mile. That spring was half covered and half open to the critters. How we avoided getting giardia, I have no idea-- or maybe we did.
Growing up, as I did, in Sasquatch's backyard, at the mouth of the Columbia River Gorge, my brother and I could run over the hills-- never did see Big Foot, but I did see long claw marks on tall plum trees, which meant black bears had been there before us (maybe Big Foot was less noticeable in how he/she got the fruit). My mother canned all the fruit we would eat for the winter, and we had a thick-walled storage room for the colorful jars.
In my home, we had radio programs at night, music from vinyl records (I can't tell you how many times I listened to Vaughn Monroe sing Single Saddle, but it was a lot). There was no television until I was in grade school. At first, it was black and white with one channel. Our phone was on the wall. The first of them had an operator, who you told the number you wanted. There were eight families on one party line. We only heard four of the rings. That meant you knew when half the potential callers were on line. A few liked to eavesdrop, and more would tell someone to get off when they wanted the line.
Our home was not unusual for its time in that it was two cottages pulled together to make one house. In the winter, the second part was curtained off until spring.
The big barn had been a small dairy. It held stanchions, a big hay storage room, sheep shelter, sturdy corral, and small barn for a bull. For some holidays, the Trueax family would gather for big meals. My cousins, brother and I would take turns swinging off a kind of trapeze rope that my father created. We'd yell something important, of course. A loft above the large space held old furniture and for a while was a clubhouse of sorts-- until the spiders took it over.
To get to my first grade class, I had to walk a mile and a half to a two-room school. Usually it was with the neighbor kids, who lived below us, but sometimes alone. I think now how I was only five, and it amazes me. For those times, it was normal. By the time I was ready for second grade, the school consolidated with the town school and a bus came to the bottom of our hill to pick us up. I am the one with my mouth wide open...
The land behind our property was a mix of wilderness and unique people-- like the house that had a bear cub chained to its front porch and broken glass strewn over its driveway. Then, there was the goat lady, with more than a couple of burly sons, who lived in a very private valley, farther into the wilderness. One year, roaring out of the mountains, a forest fire took some of our land, only stopped by the men, including my father, starting a backfire to turn the flames back to the wilderness.
Watching our sheep be killed or return to the barn torn up by dogs, at 12 years old, I asked for a .22 as a Christmas present. I took pride in that rifle, caring for it after target practice and then going out to patrol the property. Never did see the dogs. A pack of wild dogs treed one of the country women-- a good reason to have a gun and know how to use it. Eventually, my parents gave up on raising sheep there.
The first thing that opened up my world beyond the farm was the city library. I graduated from the little kid loft to the children's section, and finally to big people's books. That's when I discovered Zane Grey, who would have a lifelong influence on my understanding of western values. Grey wrote stories of action, love and the land. Those three elements are still key to me for the books I write and the ones I love to read.
Although I read a lot of authors, Steinbeck, Buck, Hemingway, etc., westerns were my favorites. Besides Grey, there was Louis L'amour. Many western authors of that time have been mostly forgotten. Well, except by me. Years later, I frequented used bookstores to find them. To be honest, today I laugh at some of the plots, but I keep them because they represent my first influence as a writer of western romances.
Of course, it wasn't just books, as more television stations came along and with them a slew of westerns. If you are old enough, you watched them. It began with Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. then it graduated to Cheyenne (my favorite as I intended to marry Clint Walker); Gunsmoke; Rifleman; Wagon Train; Have Gun Will Travel; Wanted Dead or Alive; Death Valley Days; The Range Rider; Sugarfoot; The Rebel; and I could go on. Those were the days theaters were also full of westerns. For many girls like me, the stories opened up a world of heroes and heroines, lots of adventure as the stories revolved around some sort of unfairness or evil.
Barbies didn't exist back then, but I drew, colored and cut out adult appearing paper dolls with increasingly elaborate outfits, mostly historical where I could make up stories for them to live out. Sadly, at some point in high school, I felt I had grown up too much-- well, I have to admit these paper dolls were also nude (I had to guess some on that part), which meant I found them a little embarrassing to have and burned them. Maybe that's for the best as they might not have been as good as I remember them. They were though a great opportunity for creating elaborate plots, which quickly became love stories.
Very close to a younger cousin, on family gatherings she and I would go for walks and make up stories. There was one in particular about two young people, heading west on the Oregon Trail with their respective families. The two had been longtime friends but he wanted more. At first, she and I would take turns telling their story, then she wanted me to tell it all. A few years later, that first version was typed on an old Royal to become my first manuscript. It would be written again and again as I learned more of the story of Matt and Amy.
Their story was to be the first of many. Mostly, I wrote for myself, did not share my writing or books with anyone. I kept refining my skills, worked one year with a consulting writer to develop needed craft. On two or three of the books, I sent off query letters, got the manuscripts read, but the changes the editors wanted would no longer have fit my story.
It was in early 2011, when I first considered bringing my books out as an indie writer. I read through them and saw they needed a lot of editing before I wanted them to be seen by anyone else. I created covers, which I thought would not be a problem since I painted and had taken quite a few art classes in college... I was soooo wrong on how that would go, but that's another story.
In December, finally, with more than a little trepidation, I brought out the first one, a contemporary western set in Arizona. That year, a month or so apart, I brought out most of the books I'd written-- with a big exception, [Round the Bend]. The first book I had written, I held it back, like we do with worrying about our children-- how they'll fare in the big, sometimes cruel, world. In 2015, by the time I was emotionally ready to risk it, I'd written more in what was to become a four book series of Oregon historicals following one family and Oregon's early history.
Today, I have eight Arizona historicals, four Oregon historicals, five contemporary paranormals, and nine contemporary suspense. All of my books involve Western Americana whether contemporary, paranormal, or historical. I call my books Romances with an Edge because they always have an element of danger along with falling in love-- often at an inconvenient time. I love the western philosophy of life, its can-do attitude, and the belief that we must live with honor. I think that is what formed my own soul, growing up as I did. It is still at the heart of my books. Whether one of my heroes is a high school principal or a US Marshal, they live with the western ethos at their core. Sometimes reluctantly, hero and heroine always face what must be done. The following quote kind of sums it up in a typically western way.
"It's the man who knows how to die standin' up that keeps a'comin'."
from Savvy Sayin's.
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