Wednesday, August 10, 2011


Our guest author is Dr. Debra Holland, author of the sweet western romances WILD MONTANA SKY and STARRY MONTANA SKY. In addition to writing romances, Debra is a professional psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, California and the author of numerous non-fiction books. You can learn more abut her at her

Here's Debra:


Unlike a lot of people who have written for this blog, I don’t have pioneer ancestors. My mother’s parents came from Germany, and my father’s from Norway. Therefore, Western stories aren’t part of my heritage. However, as an American, growing up in the United States, I absorbed history taught in school, as well as Western television shows, movies, and books. Somehow the rich culture of the West seeped into my blood becoming part of who I am. I’m sure this is true for many Americans.

My German grandmother, Martha, grew up on her father’s estate, and even though she had a governess, she was allowed to run wild, getting herself into plenty of adventures. As a young teen, I was fascinated with her stories, and resolved to write about them when I grew up. Once I’d finished my Ph.D (and spent several years recovering) and was ready to write again, I turned to my grandmother’s stories.

By that time, my grandmother was in her mid eighties, and had forgotten a lot of the details I want for a book. So I just wrote down what she remembered and turned some of her individual escapades into short stories. Along the way of learning to write fiction, I discovered Romance Writers of America, which changed my life because I started to write romance--sweet historical Westerns.

I put children into my stories, and by the second book found my grandmother’s experiences served as rich fodder for the kinds of trouble that children could get into. Even though her escapades had taken place in Germany (about 25 years later then the time of my books) I could easily adapt them to Montana.

In the first story I chose, Martha had been spending the summer at her aunt’s estate. Her older cousin was getting married that day, and Martha was all dressed up. One of the wedding guests was a girl her age, and Martha took her on a tour of the stables. In the back of the barn, were several hay stacks and the girls started jumping on them. (I’m sure it was my grandmother’s idea.)

Martha jumped on one that turned out to be a hill of manure covered with straw. She rapidly sank, and, when she couldn’t immediately free herself, was afraid she might suffocate. Luckily, it only came to her chin, and she was able to escape. Her aunt was enrage when she caught sight of Martha covered in manure, only a little while before the start of the wedding. Martha was popped into a tub, and her aunt welded the scrubbrush so hard, it hurt.

I took my grandmother’s experience and wrote it into the second book. The children played on a haystack, and one of them unknowingly jumped into the manure pile.

Many American children in the 19th and 20th centuries grew up fascinated by cowboys and Indians. That interest wasn’t just confined to American children.

Great grandfather's pipes

Another of my grandmother’s escapades that I used happened because she’d been hearing or reading about the Indians in America. She was taken with the idea of passing the peace pipe with one her friends. So she stole her father’s pipe and led the boy behind the barn. She lit the pipe, and they smoked it. Of course they became sick.

My grandmother had plenty of other adventures, some of which I intend to use in future stories. There are others that, unfortunately, I can’t adapt to Montana in the 1890’s—for example running off to see the gypsies to have her fortune told, or climbing onto the roof of the barn to investigate the stork nest built on top of the wagon wheel.

Whether or not I used my grandmother’s stories in my books, encouraging her to tell them to me and writing them down has given me a treasure trove of family history. (She even told me stories that her great-grandmother shared with her.) With my grandmother’s passing, I’ve become the family historian.

I encourage you to record in some manner your family history. You never know what future generations will do with it.

Here's an excerpt from STARRY MONTANA SKY. Let me explain that Mariposa is Jack's horse: 

Jack ran to the nearest haystack, scrambling up its slippery side. There was a trick to the climb, involving shoving the toes and hands deep into the hay. The blades scratched and tickled his hands, and he breathed in the dusty-sweet scent. Ever since he’d arrived here, he’d been wantin’ to jump on these stacks, but he’d always been too busy with school and chores. But they’d been there, beckoning.

The other boys scampered right behind him to the top, then juggled next to him, trying to stay in a bunch. Sara struggled with the climb, hampered by her dress. As she leaned forward, her long brown hair trailed, picking up wispy spikes. He snickered. Soon she’d look like a yeller porcupine. Lizzy settled herself on a hay bale near the barn, seemingly content to watch.

Which first? Leap to the next mound, or skim down like an otter on a mudslide and climb back up again?

Daniel solved the problem for him. Flinging his arms behind, then forward, he dove to the next haystack. Popping to his feet, he balanced on the top, flailing his arms, and laughing.

Jack ground his teeth. I’m first. Not waiting, he bounded across, pushing Daniel aside when he landed. "Out of my way."

Losing his grin, Daniel flopped onto his back. Before he had time to get up, Tim sailed through the air. Jack caught a glimpse of the mischievous look on his brother’s face. Then Tim shoved him, and Jack fell across Daniel’s stomach. With a wuff of expelled air, Daniel’s chest caved.

"Hey." Daniel punched Jack in the side. "Get off me."

With a grin, Jack rolled off.

Tim thrust his arms in the air. "I’m king of the hill."

Jack reached over, hooked Tim’s ankle, and flipped him down. "Ain’t no more."

From the other stack, Mark called, "Make room, or I’m landing on you."

Jack bounced to his feet. Ignoring Daniel, he grasped his brother’s hand, pulling him up. "See if ya can," he called to Mark.

Mark jumped, lunging into Jack. They grappled for position. Daniel’s feet slid over the side, dragging Tim down, but by clinging to Tim’s leg, Daniel managed not to slip off.

In his fall, Tim jerked at Jack’s arm. At the same time, on his other side, Mark pushed at Jack. As he fell, Jack stubbornly clung to Mark’s shoulders, taking him down with him. Laughing, they all lay sprawled over each other like a litter of puppies. Jack felt funny inside, like a lantern had been lit in his chest, and he couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off his face.

He glanced over at the other stack. Sara stood with her hands on her hips. That mule look settled on her face. "My turn."

Jack jostled the other boys aside to get to his feet. "No, ya ain’t. Ain’t no room for girls over here."

With a few pushes, the other boys shuffled to their feet.
"No girls. No girls." Daniel chanted."No girls. No girls." As all the boys joined in, the chorus swelled.

Sara’s face turned as red as his old winter longjohns. She shook her fist at them.

A gang. He and Tim and Daniel and Mark. All together. For the first time ever, Jack felt the power of belonging, of not being on the outside. In a heady rush, he raised his voice even louder. "No girls."

Sara stuck her nose in the air and turned away from them.

Jack laughed, feeling triumphant.

With a swift movement, she gathered up her skirt with one hand, flung her other arm back and forth and hurdled toward the other mound.

Oh, Lordy. Jack opened his mouth to yell a warning, but it was too late. Sara landed feet first on top of the straw-covered manure pile. She twisted to face them and swiftly sank. Her eyes bulged in horror.

Jack couldn’t help the snicker that burst from him. Sara sure looked funny up to her knees in manure, her formerly clean white dress bunching up in the top of the muck.

"Don’t laugh at me!" she screamed.

Jack chortled. He’d never seen anything so hilarious in his life. She was goin’ to stink to high heaven.

"I’m sinking."

She was. Up to her hips. Jack’s amusement sizzled up faster than water sprinkled on a hot skillet, replaced by a bolt of terror. That manure pile was a lot higher than Sara. In a minute, she’d be over her head. She’d drown in shit, and it would be all his fault.

His heart thumping fit to burst, he plummeted down the haystack.

Apparently realizing her danger, Sara screamed--piercing shrieks that normally would have made him clamp his hands over his ears. But instead, he frantically dug his way into the smelly muck.

She sank, already mired to her shoulders. He knew he had only seconds to reach her. As he worked, her body lowered more, her neck covering up. Her eyes bulged with fear, and the screaming changed to whimpers that tore at him with the sharpness of a bear’s claws. On either side of him, the other boys joined him, each burrowing like a dog after a bone.

Sara plunged down farther. She tilted her chin back, straining to keep her face free. The whimpering cut off. Jack knew she didn’t dare move her mouth.

His tunneling hands struck something. Sara’s arm. "I’ve got her!" he yelled. He pulled. The mound refused to release her. He thrust his arm in deeper, his face pressing into her shoulder.

Breathing in the stench, he wiggled his fingers across her back until they curled around her side. Like a draft horse, he pulled. Her body shifted a few inches toward him. His ear pressed to her chest, and he could hear her heart fluttering like a bird caught in a trap. At least she wouldn’t sink any deeper.

"I’ll hold her. You guys dig her out."

Mark scooped dung from around her front; Tim and Daniel tackled her backside. As she loosened, Jack pulled her out a few inches more. Looking up at her face, he saw tears streaking down her sludge-splattered cheeks.

"Got you," he whispered to her. "Won’t let ya go."

She swallowed and gave a slight nod, as if she were afraid to move.

"Be all right." He spoke to her gentle-like as if she was Mariposa. "Have ya out in a hog’s breath."

The terror in her blue eyes changed to trust, and it stabbed into his gut deeper than a knife. No one had ever looked at him like that. And he didn’t deserve it now. His teasing had gotten her into this, but he wouldn’t let her down.

By now the boys, covered in muck themselves, had freed Sara to her waist. Jack wrapped his other arm around her shivering body squeezing her in his embrace.

Bracing his feet, he yanked her out. With a sucking sound, she shot free, the unexpected momentum carrying them backwards and down to the ground. With a thud that knocked the wind out of him, Jack fell flat on his back, Sara jarring on top of him. For a moment, he lay there, hearing his own harsh breaths and feeling her safe in his arms.

She drooped her head onto his chest, her back shuddering with her sobs. Protectiveness rose in him. Awkwardly, he tightened one arm around her and patted her shoulder with the other hand. "Got ya safe, now. No need for that there cryin’."

Mark dropped to his knees beside them, his freckled face pale. "Sara, Sara." He added his pats to Jack’s. "I’m sorry, Sara. I’m so sorry."

Lizzy crouched down by Sara’s head, fluttering finger touches on her sister’s head and crooning. The concern on the tiny girl’s face made Jack feel lower than a snake’s belly.

Sara rolled her head to look Jack in the eyes. The drenched blue of her gaze melted the walls he held around his heart. "You saved my life."

Uncomfortable, he loosened his arms. "I ain’t no hero."

"Yes, you are," she insisted, laying her head back on his chest.

For more information about Debra, go to her website, The buy link for the two books mentioned above is 



  1. Debra, I loved both books and look forward to the upcoming one with Harriett as the heroine. Thanks for stopping by the Sweethearts of the West.

  2. Debra--welcome to Sweetheart of the West. Caroline and I enjoy having you today as our guest. Your books sounds wonderful. I have few memories of my grandmothers, and I only wrote one short piece comparing the two. I'm saving it for Grandparent's Day to post on my blog.
    I wish for you a joyous day--and congratulations on your success. Celia

  3. Caroline,

    Thanks for the lovely compliment about my books!

    Celia, posting a grandmother's blog on grandparents day is a great idea. I'm going to borrow it.

  4. Debra, twhat a fun way to use your family history. My dad grew up on ranches in Nebraska and Texas. I've been tucking away his stories to use in future books.

    I'm enjoying Wild Montana Sky. It's taking me forever to get it read because of company. But they're gone now so I can get back to it.

    Thanks for guesting here.

  5. Clover, it is a funny story. :) However, my grandmother told me she was terrified. Can you imagine being in her aunt's position.

    Paty, I hope you enjoy Wild Montana Sky. For those reading this blog, Paty and I exchanged chapters to put in the back of our books. I think it's working quite well!

  6. What rich memories your grandmother left you, Debra. You must have been delighted to have been able to put your own twist on them and share her memories through your writing.

    It was great to get to know you today. Your stories sound wonderful.

  7. Thank you, Paisley. I like connecting with my grandmother though my writing.


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