"My Writing Process" Blog Tour

I want to thank Nancy Jardine one of the incredibly talented romance authors at The Wild Rose Press for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Nancy is the author of several fantastic romance novels. She writes both contemporary and historical, with a dash of mystery tossed in, just for good measure. 
Without any further ado, let’s get into it.
The first question I’m supposed to answer wants to know what I’m working on now. Currently, I’m working on a few things: one of which is the final edits for a western historical romance set after the American Civil War. The hero in this novel was a Confederate cavalry officer. A.J. Adams is probably the most honorable hero I’ve ever written but because he was accused of liberating a lot of Confederate gold, he’s been forced to don the mantle of a “bad boy.” Complicating matters for him is that he suffers from what would be termed PTSD if he were in a contemporary. The War did a real number on him. Fortunately for A.J., he’s got his equal at his side in the form of one Allison Webster.
I’m also working on the story for Marshal Harrison Taylor and the love of his life, Rachel. Harrison and Rachel made an appearance in The Devil’s Own Desperado and make an appearance in my soon to be released novel Smolder on a Slow Burn, A.J. and Allison’s story. I’m also tinkering around with a time travel romance and a romance set during the American Civil War.
I’ve often been asked why I write what I do and the simple answer is I write romance because I’m a hopeless romantic. Why do I write what I write is the second question in this blog tour. I write romances set in the American West, during the period of westward expansion because in a figurative sense, that’s where I grew up. I cut my television viewing teeth on syndicated reruns of shows like The Rifleman, The Lone Ranger, The Sisco Kid, The Virginian, and Rawhide. My mom was a huge fan of the television show Bonanzaand both my parents were dyed in the wool John Wayne fans. If it was a John Wayne movie and it was on the television, it was being broadcast into our living room. I also grew up with the tales of the Knights of the Round Table, so to see the transfer of that code of honor from Arthurian England to the American West wasn’t that hard a stretch. I grew up with the belief that there was a code of honor among these knights of the high plains because I saw that code lived and acted on in all those syndicated Westerns I watched and in most of the John Wayne Westerns. A man’s word and a handshake were as binding as any contract. Respecting others (as far as the good guys went) was the norm. Women, children, and the elderly were treated with deference and accorded a greater degree of respect. A man was careful with his words. He took care of his horse. He did a full day’s work for the wage he was paid. These are all still good ideals to strive for.
Another question for this blog tour is to write about my writing process. Oh, dear…My writing process isn’t pretty. I usually bounce around in the manuscript, and I certainly don’t write in a linear process. Usually, a story takes shape with one pivotal scene that keeps playing in my head until I put it “down on paper.” And, from there, I have to create the rest of the story. Smolder on a Slow Burnactually started life as a contemporary romance, many moons ago. That didn’t work out so well, so I picked the hero and heroine up and dropped them into the middle of the Nebraska prairie, on a train, and the rest, as they say, is history. The Devil’s Own Desperadostarted life with one scene in Amelia’s kitchen, when Saul has found Colt’s Peacemaker and he’s pointing it at Colt’s heart. I build forwards and backwards from those pivotal scenes.
The one question for this blog that really made me think long and hard was how does my work differ from others of its genre. I think what I bring to the table that is different are two things: my complete love for the American West, namely Wyoming, and the accuracy that I use in the descriptions and in adding in historical detail. I have a master’s degree in English, but as an undergrad, even though I have a BA in English, I was also three credit hours short of a BA in history as well. I’m a historian. I love to research. It’s the small details that bring a story to life and authenticity to the story, allowing the reader to suspend disbelief while immersed in the world I’ve created in the pages of the novel. And, if I can share my love of Wyoming through the written word, so much the better.
Because this is a blog tour, let me introduce you to a few bloggers you need to check out.
The first is Christy: Originally from Southern Indiana, Christy Effinger now lives near Indianapolis where she teaches English at a community college.  She earned an MA from Indiana State University with a creative writing emphasis. Her novel Say Nothing of What You See is coming soon from The Wild Rose Press. Christy can be found on the web at: christyeffinger.tumblr.com.
Second is Maggie Wheeler: Maggie is a graduate of the Butler University MFA program and has had fiction published in Punchnel’s, Word River, and Indiana English.  She is an Instructor in the Department of English at Indiana State University where she teaches Advanced Composition and Creative Writing. Maggie resides in Terre Haute, Indiana with her “ultra-supportive husband” and three rescue dogs. She is also currently putting the final polishing touches on a novel she hopes to have published very soon. Maggie can be followed on the web at: http://maggiewheeler.me/
Last, but certainly not least, is Mindy Mymudes. Mindy has worked in a hazardous waste lab, where under the sign for the Right To Know law, was added: if you can figure it out. She’s been a metals tech, a bakery clerk, a professional gardener, taught human anatomy and ran two university greenhouses. Along the way she picked up a Master’s Degree in Biology, specializing in the population genetics of an endangered plant. She is also a top breeder, handler, trainer of English springer spaniels, with three in the equivalent of the National Club’s (ESSFTA) hall of fame. Every time she thinks she knows dogs, another dog comes along and proves her beliefs are totally wrong. Mindy’s YA novel George Knows features an egotistical magical basset hound named George who believes it’s his duty to train and protect his 12-year-old Girlpup, a greenwitch named Karly. He and his Girlpup must solve a murder as well as save their park from being developed. George is the perfectly designed familiar for the job. Mindy can be found on the web at http://mudepoz.wordpress.com/.

Thunderstorms, Victorian houses, and ghosts

What a night! We hit 65 warm, wonderful degrees today—which in March or April would be just fantastic, but in February in central Indiana, it’s never a good thing. We had a line of strong storms come barreling through here right about nightfall. There were tornado warned storms all around us. Yes, tornadoes in February, in Indiana. Like I said, not a good thing. And, by morning, we’ll be at 30 degrees…much more like February weather.
We survived. The only damage that we seemed to have sustained was a few downed tree limbs. The power flickered for a moment but we never lost it. All the critters were battened down for the storm. The collies were all in the basement in their crates…all the wet, muddy, happy collies. We’ve had above normal temps for the past couple of days, and all that snow we’ve gotten in the last couple of weeks melted. Melted into big puddles…and most of the collies loved it. I have one who makes her own mud puddles in the summer by splashing the water from her bucket onto the ground, so she was in heaven with all the puddles in her kennel. (Dang, Dixie…do you have any idea how hard it is to maintain your coat if you’re constantly applying a layer of mud to it?)
On the other hand, I have a few collies that will go twenty feet out of their way to avoid even getting their sparkly white paws damp. Snape and Vander are the first two who come to mind. Snape is a gentleman and would NEVER splash in puddles. I’m still trying to figure out how it is that his grand-daughter Dixie is such a mud puppy. And Vander get his feet wet? Dear Dog, he might melt…There is a reason that Vander’s nickname is “Lavender Larry Princess Paws.”
Anyway, I was sitting in my office in the basement (in the dungeon, as my grand-daughter says) when the power flickered. I’ve been tinkering with an idea for a new line that The Wild Rose Press is shortly going to announce (and I’m not telling anything, so I’m not spoiling anything) when a scene to that idea I’ve been tinkering with flashed in my head.
Imagine a huge old Queen Anne style Victorian home, perched on a rugged cliff on the sea coast of Maine. She presents a very austere face to the world, built of local limestone and a dark slate roof. Her widow’s walk is on the third floor. She’s been turned into an upscale bed and breakfast, and on the first floor is one of the best mom and pop places for seafood for one hundred miles. The woman who has considered this grand old Victorian home all of her life is facing losing this place. And, the person who saves The Widow’s Walk (the name given to the B & B) is the one person that Victoria would rather never see again—the one who got away.
Originally, this was just going to be a straight up contemporary. Well, my Muse has other ideas—including a ghost or two. It was the storm outside that triggered this scene—with a ghost throwing things at the hero, including a few carving knives from the kitchen.
I’ve put myself on a deadline for this WIP. I’ve given myself until April 21st to finish the first, rough draft. We’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, I need to figure out what the ghosts want…because one of them isn’t very happy.

Lad a Dog

Just when I’m ready to throw the towel in on humanity, I’m very pleasantly proven wrong.
About a week ago around Owensboro, Kentucky, a dog was shot in the face. Shot three times, to be exact. He should have died from his wounds—from being unable to eat or drink. The brutal cold we’ve been having should have killed him. In the face of incredible odds, he survived long enough to be picked up and taken to an emergency veterinary hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. The Arrow Fund is assisting with his medical expenses.
No one knows who this dog belongs to and he was dubbed “Lad” because he’s a beautiful, sable and white collie. Collie people like myself who have seen him have speculated that this dog has a strong show pedigree behind him and that someone loved him very much because despite being shot, his coat was not matted. None of that matters to “Lad.”
What matters to him is that he is warm now, his wounds are being treated, he’s being fed (albeit with a feeding tube), that the humans he trusts aren’t hurting him, and in the face of the unspeakable abuse he suffered at the hands of another human that trust in humanity was not destroyed. He is still able to respond affectionately and positively to his caretakers, as exhibited by his willingness to put his paw into one of their hands. Granted, while this footageshowing how damaged his jaw was from the gun shots is very hard to view, the trust and gentleness Lad shows softens that blow.
Right now, because of the damage to his lower jaw, he had to have it amputated. His recovery will be long, but there is hope that this brave, trusting, and sweet boy will make it. He can relearn to eat and drink. Collies are very resilient. And, this boy has a strong will to live. The latest report is that almost a day after his surgery he’s sitting up, trying to drink, and even wants to play.
When this story first hit my newsfeed on Facebook, the call went out to the collie world and we have responded—from all over the world. People that I know involved in this breed have opened their hearts, lifted Lad in prayers, and we’ve opened our wallets. I know some people who survive on what they make with a small business through PayPal have literally emptied their account for Lad and his medical expenses.
This is a breed that is sweet, trusting, loyal, and very generous. So are the vast majority of the people who love this breed and who share our lives with collies. That someone could so harm “one of our own” hurts all of us, and I know it’s made me hug my “furkids” a little tighter.

I know just yesterday I posted about the Last Chance Corral, a wonderful organization that saves as many nurse mare foals as possible. I’m not going to ask anyone to help with Lad’s expenses. Just go to the links. View the footage. Follow your heart. And, if you have “furkids”, give them a hug. 

Last Chance Corral

I love horses almost as much as I love my collies. I follow Thoroughbred racing, not as avidly as I did some years ago, or even when I was a teenager, but I still follow Thoroughbred racing. Because I write western historical romance, and I own a horse that I trained by myself, I have to know a bit more than the average person would know about horses.
Even though there is a lot of glamor in what the public sees in Thoroughbred racing, there is a very ugly, dark underbelly to this industry. I’m not talking about the “catastrophic breakdowns” that occur on far too regular a basis where a green sheet is drawn around the fallen animal on the track and a merciful, humane end is achieved with a massive overdose of barbiturates, either.
I’m talking about the “nurse mare” industry and the foals that are left behind. A nurse mare foal is a foal which was born so that its mother might come into milk. The milk that its mother is producing is used to nourish the foal of another mare, a more “expensive” foal. Primarily these are thoroughbred foals, though certainly nurse mares are not limited to the thoroughbred industry. The foals are essentially by-products of the mare’s milk industry. A thoroughbred mare’s purpose is to produce more racehorses. A mare can give birth to one foal each year provided she is re-bred immediately after delivering a foal. Because the Jockey Club requires that mares be bred only by live cover, and not artificially inseminated, the mare must travel to the stallion for breeding and may be shipped as soon as 7-10 days after giving birth to a foal, but a period of 3-4 weeks is generally allowed.
In general there are a number of reasons why a nurse mare may be called upon.  Traveling is very risky for these newborn racing foals, and insurance costs are prohibitive for the foal to accompany the mother to the stallion farm. At this point a nurse mare is hired to raise the thoroughbred foal while the mother goes and gets re-bred. In order to have milk, the nurse mare had to give birth to her own baby. When she is sent to the thoroughbred breeding farm, her own foal is left behind. Historically, these foals were simply killed. Orphaned foals are difficult to raise and no one had tried to raise large numbers of them. These foals do have value, however, their hides can be used as “pony skin” in the fashion and textile industries, and the meat is considered a delicacy in some foreign markets (copied from http://www.lastchancecorral.org/foal-rescue).
Last Chance Corral is a non-profit rescue organization that tries to save as many foals as possible from the nurse mare industry. The only way to save the foals is to purchase them, and the foals cost between $200 and $400 each. Then, there is the cost of milk replacer, veterinary care, transportation costs, stabling, bedding, and later—feed costs.
Several of my friends on Facebook have had fund raisers to help Last Chance Corral. You can help, too. Go to their web page, found at Last Chance Corral. Read up on the work done here. If you feel so moved, help out with a donation. Even a donation as small as $5 can help.
I’m calling on all my fellow western historical romance writers and western historical writers to go check out Last Chance Corral. If we’re writing westerns, we’ve got horses in our novels. Even if we never name a single equine in our novel, we have these magnificent animals in our works. They carry our heroes, pull the wagons and stage-coaches and buggies of our characters. Let’s give something back to the animals that have so influenced our characters.
Support Last Chance Corral.

That green-eyed monster…

So, I was at a dog show this past weekend, a collie specialty show, to be more precise, and I got to thinking about a few things. I started thinking about how long it’s taken me to get to where I am in my dog show career and how long it’s taken me to get to where I am in writing career.
Even though on first glance there aren’t many similarities in both chosen careers, there really are a lot of parallels.
Jealousy seems to be pervasive in both. Jealousy can do a lot of nasty things to your ego and psyche.
I remember when I first got serious about a writing career and I joined a romance writer’s group over in Illinois. There was one member who was so desperate to see her name on the cover of a book that she went the self-published route. (This was a long time ago—when being self-published was NOT given a lot of respect.) This was the same author who told me that what I was writing wasn’t romance. Those words hit hard and they hurt. But, after getting over the pain of being told what I was writing wasn’t romance, I stepped back and looked at what I was writing. I asked a few friends whose opinion I trusted to read what I wrote and give me their honest opinion. Nope…I was writing romance, even in those early years. I could have allowed those hurtful words to shoot down my dreams, but I didn’t. At least, not initially…
Another time, very shortly after this, I was a critique partner of another budding author. We hooked up in the AOL chat rooms (shows how long ago this was). As I understood it, being a critique partner meant finding the good things in a manuscript and also finding what didn’t work, helping to brainstorm ways to fill in plot-holes, and making suggestions to improve the overall manuscript. To this day, I cannot remember that author’s name, but I will never forget what she said when I offered a suggestion to fill in what I saw as a plot-hole in her contemporary romance. She told me that the only thing she wanted and needed from a critique partner was someone to find typos and grammatical errors, that the rest of the manuscript was perfect, and that she “had a hard time choking down” the “garbage” I was asking her to read. To quote her: “Unless you step up your game, you’re never going to be more than a hack writer, churning out the same kind of crap they publish at Harlequin.”

OUCH!

Those two events combined to make me walk away from the keyboard for over three years. I didn’t write. I didn’t think about writing. I didn’t want to write. I didn’t even go back and look at anything I wrote. And, then I started to think…Harlequin authors make darn good money! I doubt any of them see themselves as “hack writers.” So, I made myself go back to the keyboard. I made myself write.
I made myself step up my game, not because I was afraid I was going to end up being a “hack” but because when I’m angry, I step it up. I’m one of those people if you tell me I can’t do something, most of the time (unless it involves defying the laws of physics), I’m going to prove you wrong. I will make you eat your words and I have yet to find a recipe that makes crow taste good.
And thinking about those things lead me to thinking about this crazy journey I’ve had in dog shows. I was told, years ago, by a person I was smart enough to remove from my life, that I would never amount to anything in collies, that I couldn’t handle a dog well enough to win, and when I did win, it was because the dog was good enough to overcome my shortcomings as a handler. This person also told me that I’d never breed a single champion and he was going to be the number one smooth collie breeder of all time. (Some of you are laughing while reading this, because I think you can guess who this person was.) As of last count, I have been the breeder or co-breeder of more than 20 champions and that other person—ZERO. As to being able to handle a dog—I think my record in the show ring speaks for itself.
I don’t go to a lot of shows. I’m very selective about where I go and who I show. I don’t want to be the person when I walk into the building, other people say, “Oh, crap…she’s here,” because when that happens, complacency sets in. I want that edge. I want to walk into a building, size up who’s there, and think to myself, “Well, this was a wasted trip,” and then go on and win.
But, it all boils down to jealousy. Do I allow that very human emotion of jealousy to overcome what I know I do and I do well? Or do I shove that ugly, green-eyed monster back into a far corner, turn out the lights, and refuse to listen to it? I know what I’ve chosen. I honestly believe the very hurtful things that were said to me about my writing and about the dogs I show and my ability to handle were said out of jealousy. And, I won’t let that ugly emotion stop me from doing what I enjoy.