Descriptions for heat levels in book list

------holding hands, perhaps a gentle kiss
♥♥ ---- more kisses but no tongue-- no foreplay
♥♥♥ ---kissing, tongue, caressing, foreplay & pillow talk
♥♥♥♥ --all of above, full sexual experience including climax
♥♥♥♥♥ -all of above including coarser language and sex more frequent

Sunday, March 29, 2015

why we write

Naturally, I cannot speak for all writers but will say where it comes to me, every time I bring out a new book, I am uneasy. Is now the right time? How will it be seen by others? That was never more true than with this last one, Round the Bend. It is the book of my heart. How objective can you even be with something that close to you? 

My edginess, where it came to this book, was why I had waited so long. I have mentioned that it took finding the right image for the hero, who had so long been in my imagination. It took something more-- my recognition that win or lose, the book deserved its chance. Books come from so many things. They aren't just created out of the writer but out a whole host of experiences, people, and yes the muses (which might not be the same through a creator's lifetime). I decided I could not stand in its way out of my own fears. This book deserved its chance, these characters deserved their chance, this story of the Oregon Trail deserved its. 

This might be hard to understand, but, as I see it, the story is always more than the writer. Once an artist creates something, painting, photograph, poem, it has an existence also. I don't mean I see it as human, but it is real. I had created a story that had a right to be seen-- rejected or liked.

There are writers where every single book goes into the stratosphere, as they have street teams and fans eager to read every word they write. I am not in that league. I have no street team. It's not that I'd object to giving out a lot of copies ahead of a book's release for reviews. It's that I don't know who would even want them. In view of that, I did all I knew in the way of getting the word out to those most likely to want such a book. Previously, I had joined two writer/reader groups oriented to the type of book I write. It's not easy for me to go out with a blurb, but I did it. I tweeted, blogged, commented, and posted everywhere I had the right. 

When the book came out the 21st, I started editing the book which will come next (Where Dreams Go will be out June 21st). It takes the story of some of these characters farther into Oregon's development as a Territory on its way to statehood. Communities were growing into towns and the people were trying to decide what they wanted them to look like. Working on it was a way to distract myself from worrying about how Matt and Amy were being seen by readers.

With happiness, from the start, the sales were the best of any of my books since I stopped offering them for free days. The only one that had come close was Arizona Sunset. Now these results weren't the spectacular ones of some authors, but for me, they were good. Book One was not immediately falling into Amazon's black hole.

Then I became uneasy when no reviews showed up. Now, I've had some books that never got a review... not one. But I was hoping that this one would get a few. Reviews are supposed to be for the readers, but they mean an awful lot to writers-- even those who have had a ton of them. For me, it would be my first chance to see how readers felt about a book that probably is as dear to me as any I ever wrote-- given the length of time it's been in my life.

Then the first review showed up. Nervously I looked down to read it.
"This is my first experience in reading one of Ms. Trueax's books and I wasn't disappointed. The story was exciting and never got boring. Amy and her family were traveling to Oregon along with Matt, his brother Morey, and father. It was a large wagon train so the storyline had many characters. I just loved St. Louis the Wagonmaster. He was the salt of the earth with so much experience in leading and understanding people. St. Louis had healing experience which was invaluable to those who traveled with him. I've never read a book like this with so many avenues that kept me fascinated. Amy and Matt were lifelong friends but he started feeling more than mere friendship. Amy actually began being courted by Adam, the Wagontrain Scout, but found out "the feeling" just wasn't there and soon realized her love for Matt was more than being a friend. Matt's brother, Morey, was disturbing in this book and led to the violence in Matt's life. The father was also part of the lies and deception that led Morey to hate his brother, Matt. I don't want to spoil this story for you so I won't go on. However, if you want an exciting, adventuresome and mysterious book, this historical western genre is for you. There is some violence and sexual content but the author did a great job in making all actions part of the story itself. I loved it!"
Wow, I was so happy-- a new reader and she loved the book. She saw the things I had hoped others would see in it. I've read how some resent it when a writer calls their book their baby, but it does feel like you sent off your kid into the world, hoping the world will appreciate all their qualities but worried it won't work out that way.

After that, there was another review from a longtime reader. Again I hoped the reader had liked it. Nobody wants to disappoint those who have been reading all you wrote.
"Rain Trueax is at her best from the first sentence. Each phase of the plot and characters are richly developed.
The Oregon Trail experience, physically and mentally grueling, either built character in the hero Matt or caused dangerous psychopathic mental breakdown in Matt's brother Morey. The wagon master St. Louis Jones' experience went beyond previous trips on the Oregon Trail. He had lived with Indians and trappers. He had a depth of understanding of humanity. He was a believable mentor for Matt's amazing growth. Through him Trueax revealed insights to the Indian and emigrants' points of view and their conflicting interests. Obviously Trueax's writing reveals extensive research with exact details of folk and Indian medicine, cooking, weapons, and geography. On fly fishing I thought didn't exist until after the civil war but I was wrong and Trueax was correct to have dry flies and a bamboo rod. I am eager to read more of the series to find out if Loraine finds her true love and the destiny of Scout Adam Stone. Will they eventually get together?"
Her in depth review doubled my happiness. I never know what people will think of my work until they tell me through an email, comment somewhere, or best of all, a review. Writing is pretty much a lonely game, but promoting and talking to readers about what they thought, that's where it becomes less so. This was a book that I knew some might not know what to think. So the fact that it got a pretty good launch made my week brighter.

The map at the top was drawn years ago by my archaeologist daughter when she was still in college. She gave it to me as a gift because she knew I had been writing this book. I appreciated it then and now when I can finally share it with others.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

living with history

For my once a month blog for Smart Girls Read Romance, I wrote about the Oregon Trail and setting a romance on it. For anyone interested in the trek west, my piece there may be of interest.

Pretty much, I grew up with history as a physical part of my life-- a lot of that due to my age and the years in which I grew up. The farm my parents bought in Washington got its water from a spring that was piped almost a mile to our home. Anytime the water stopped, my father had to go back and find where a deer had kicked out the pipe. The spring was partly protected by a cover and partly open, which means I probably had pretty good immunity to giardia-- at least back then. Fortunately, there were no homes above it and so cholera or e coli were not a risk.

Walking to the back of that property had two possible dirt roads to an orchard of plum trees, where we competed with the bears to get the fruit. My first school required walking off our hill and a mile and a half on a gravel road. The school was two rooms and my first grade teacher taught three grades in hers. It enabled students to proceed at their own pace-- which meant when the school consolidated, with a larger town school, I had to reread all the readers I'd read the year before.

The home I grew up in had been two smaller houses that were pushed together and made into one. In the winter, we would close off that other part with a curtain because it was too expensive to heat the whole house. That wasn't unusual back then and neither were phones where you dialed an operator to make a phone call.

Fern Prairie, yes, that's what it was called, was a pioneer kind of community with a grange hall a few miles from the house where there were country dances and potlucks. There were two country stores not too far from our home and one had a locker (for those younger or who never lived in the country, it was a large room kept at freezing temperatures with rental lockers for nearby families to keep their deer or bear meat through the winter-- nobody had home freezers big enough in those days.

I grew up with history as part of daily living. I grew up with the freedom to run over hills, to get my first .22 when I was twelve, to see some things a person would rather not have seen but also live a life that isn't so commonly lived today.

My parents sold the farm, and we moved to the suburbs of Portland where I went to college and met my husband. He had grown up pretty similarly to me. As soon as we could, we set out to find the kind of land and life, which we had experienced. Moving out here came danged close. The original house was gone, but the owners had themselves built the home in which we live today.

The property had the original harness shed, which we have maintained with a lot of old tools in it. In front of our home here was the crossing for the community as the sandstone was hard enough to bring a wagon across it. Years before that, this was one of the locations the Luckiamute Indians used for some of their seasonal migratory living. Finding grinding stones and arrowheads didn't used to be unusual.

This area was not too far from what had been Fort Hoskins. Moving here, we again had a country store where the wood floors were cleaned with kerosene, yep it's how they did it. It burned from a probable arson (some rough folks live out in these hills). In what used to be a nearby community, there had been a popular dance hall. I met people when we first lived here who had gone to dances in it. It had been burned many years earlier because the locals weren't happy that the soldiers from the fort were coming down to whoop it up. Easy to solve problems if someone doesn't mind a little violence.
 summer 1978

When we first bought this farm, there was a barn, which had been built in 1904 by that homesteading family. Walking into it was like walking into history with handhewn beams and big handmade nails. Unfortunately, the kind of barn needed then with milk stanchions and feed bins, hay storage in a loft above was not the kind of barn that worked with ranching today where hay bales weigh nearly a thousand pounds and need a tractor to feed them out. Through the years, we put some money into maintaining the barn purely based on its beauty, history and aura. To keep it standing simply was not feasible (even if we had had it) considering the level of expenditure that would have been required. Tall, as it was, it was dangerous to work on it or around it as it was set on big stones and the beams below were slowly rotting from the moisture.

summer in 2003

In 2006, it just collapsed. I heard the sound from the house, like a big sigh. There had not even been any wind. When we went out to look at the damage, we learned it had served its farm one last time as the sheep had tended to be under it for coolness. One had been there, but lying between heavy beams, it was protected in the collapse. Farm Boss got it out, and it ran off.

It is interesting to wade up our stream, find broken bits of pottery from earlier kitchens, old tools, and see the heavy metal cables that were once used by the loggers to dam up the stream enough to float logs down to the local sawmill. I think history is wonderful, exciting to read about, and hear the stories of what it was like. I enjoy setting my books into it. Living in it, not so much.

Finally--- there is another good reason to not live with our own history even. I was looking for an old photo of this place. I could probably find it in an album and scan it, but I thought I could find it the lazy way on my hard drive. I didn't, but I came across the first blog I ever did, which incidentally was in 2005. That blog ended up being cancelled by me as I decided to not continue-- but then started another blog with a name slightly altered (when you close down a blog, the name gets grabbed by someone-- do not ask me why because I had deleted everything from it). Anyway, I came across photos of me in 2005 (like the one below)... Talk. About. Depressing. Definitely-- do not even live with your own history! Live right where you are and make the most of it...

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Round the Bend

Round the Bend is available as eBook and paperback. 
For the rest of March and all of April, the eBook will be $2.99 before it goes up to $3.99 the first of May.


In 1851, Independence, Missouri, a big wagon train waits to begin the 2200 mile trek to Oregon. Seventeen year old Amy Stevens shares her excitement at the journey with her best friend-- only to face disappointment at his less than enthusiastic reaction. When he kisses Amy, who has fancied herself a bluestocking, she angrily tells him he is ruining everything. Changes are coming, but surely not for the two of them.

Three years older, with too many hard experiences, Matt shares none of her illusions as to what lies ahead. He also has seen how the train’s scout, Adam Stone has looked at her-- and it's not as a friend. He’s torn as to what he can do about it. 

Matt has worked hard to earn enough for the supplies needed for the westward trek. His father and brother, both damaged by alcohol and hate, begged him to take them. His brother claimed he wanted a second chance. Except, what exactly does Morey mean by a second chance?

Round the Bend, book one in a series of four, is the story of the way west told through two families-- the Stevens and the Kanes—families as different as light and dark. It is a story of the purest of love and the most driven of hate. Most of all it is the story of how a man’s highest ideals can change his life and that of others. Heat level (with 1 least and 5 most) is ♥♥♥♥.

The Oregon series is four books following the Stevens family through sixteen years, four romances, and the settling of Oregon; each novel stands alone. 


The following is a snippet showing the dilemma Amy is facing as she tries to work out what will make her happiest.
    The moon still shone through the narrow opening of the tent, where she and her sisters slept, lighting up the area, making it hard to sleep. At best Amy slept restlessly when the moon was full. Tonight, her thoughts were bursting. She gave up and by moonlight wrote in her journal.

    ‘I left things in Missouri home, friends, all the life I knew but that was nothing to me. What lies ahead will be opportunity, adventure, new ideas, new places, new friends, new freedoms. Leaving my books was hardest when Father said I could only bring four. How does one narrow all beloved books to four? I chose small volumes by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Browning, and Shelley. Can anything soothe one’s soul better than poetry?’

    Restlessly, she bit on the end of her pen before she added, ‘More than my books, I realize I left my childhood there.’ There was another thing she'd left there, one she refused to write about, as it would make it real. Only in Missouri was her friendship with Matt. The tears the laughter, all gone. He had ruined everything.

    Although her own ambivalence over marriage and the limitations it would entail didn't leave her eager to accept the courtship of any man, if there had been a man, Adam Stone would have been the perfect one. He was Lancelot and Apollo rolled into one. Mentally she listed his qualities-- his confident way of talking, kind manner with people, the square jaw, the black curly hair, the soft buckskins, which emphasized his muscular frame. He was a man who would fit any girl's dreams. He had told her what he wanted. Why did she feel so miserable?

    There was one reason. To be happy, she had to make peace with Matt, make him see their friendship was more important than his silly ideas of... well, something else. She'd grown up believing there was nothing she couldn’t do by confronting it directly. It was intolerable to have someone she loved angry with her.

    She put away the journal and lay back on her cot. She did love Matt-- like a brother. She would talk to him, and it would be all right. After that, she could consider Adam's courtship more seriously... Matt could find a girl to love and— She stopped at that thought, unable to finish it, unable to face her feelings if that did happen. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


One of the challenges when trying to describe a complicated story like Round the Bend is to tell the potential reader enough to get them interested but not go into aspects that might ruin the unfolding of it. There is much, in any book, where the reader should discover it as they go-- right along with the characters.

One of the things I like to do in my writing is put in what might be called red herrings. Real life is full of them. We meet someone. They are very interesting to us. They could be a potential friend. We never meet them again. That's what life is all about. Readers, however, get to expecting that anything interesting in a story must be a clue to what is coming. I don't write that way. I prefer the reader to learn along with the characters what is going to happen.

I do though always want the characters' actions to come out of their personalities. It should be believable even if it was not predictable. This is a goal with all my books whether they are epic or not. I don't think there is a way to tell the story of the westward migration without it becoming epic-- but I didn't want it to overpower the human side of the story.

Round the Bend has always been a tough book for me to categorize. It is definitely a romance but also the story of the Oregon Trail, healing, growing into adulthood, dysfunctional families, and what love is really about. 

There are a core group of characters, some of whom go on to appear in the next three books. But when I am describing this one, I can't get caught up in the next three. I've thought about putting together a character list and might when I get to the next book.

The secondary characters in Round the Bend were (as they usually are) fun to write. Four proceed to their own romances. Yep, even though there are only three more books in the series, there are four characters in Round the Bend who do end up with a romance. 

To me, one of the powerful parts of the story West, well actually of any of my books, has to be nature. What these people saw was a critical part of their experiences. 

They faced a lot of problems as they went west, and it wasn't so much Indians. They traveled generally 14 to 15 miles a day. Some of the way was boring. Some of it miserable. 
"Dreary times, wet and muddy, and crowded into the tent, cold and wet and uncomfortable in the wagon no place for the poor children. I have been busy cooking, roasting coffe & c today, and have came into the wagon to write this and make our bed--"    Amelia Stewart Knight
Knowing that the pioneers kept these journals, reading so many of them, gave me an idea for sharing transitional information through my heroine keeping a journal. One thing you don't really want to do as a writer is throw information at the reader, but some of it is an important part of what this journey really meant to those making it.

There were a lot of books I used as references; but for anyone interested in the personal side of the story, I recommend Women's Voices from the Oregon Trail by Susan G. Butruille. It gives a very personal look at what the women experienced and how they felt even once they got to Oregon. Remember, their work was not done once they reached Oregon Territory. In some ways, it had just begun.

Where I was setting all of that into a romance, the story of my young couple was paramount. I chose secondary characters for how they enriched understanding of the hero and heroine. A writer cannot fill their story with grace notes or they lose the melody. They do, however, serve a valuable purpose as the main characters bounce off them.

Although this book has a long history with me, when I edited it for the last time the first of March, I had more faith in it than I ever had. I don't think it's exactly a traditional romance but for those who enjoy character driven dramas that end up making them feel good, I think it will be a good read. I know I enjoyed my time with this hero and heroine-- and have for the 57 or so years since I first came across them. Maybe letting them go is why it's been so hard to actually publish the book. 

When I do a book, I like to create a discussion that kind of gets into aspects I won't put into a blurb. Finally, this week, I got that together for Round the Bend. It's really a discussion about writing an historical romance set in something that has become almost mythic for my part of the United States-- if not other places. It is about three and a half minutes-- stop it when it's finished, as I don't know why that play all is there-- but I am suspicious about Youtube!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

the main course-- distaff

It's a bit ironic that romances, which are read most often by women, have at their heart a hero. That does not mean, however, that the heroines are not important. If they are obnoxious and frustrate the reader, they can end up ruining the book. Still, if they are perfect, without a flaw, they seem unreal. So writing a heroine who can carry the story forward is as challenging as getting the right hero.

In the past i have written about how in a romance, one of the characters is mythic and the other represents the rest of us more ordinary folk. Most often, it's the hero who is mythic although it can go the other way. Heroines though generally represent a version of the reader and through their experiences, the reader gets to share in a world they will never know any other way (nor would they want to).

To some level, this is true of all really good writing. It takes you inside the head of someone else and lets you experience an alternate life. Anybody actually want to live The Life of Pi? But feeling like you did through words and imagination, that's just fine.

With my wagon train story, my heroine is the youngest I've ever written. Amelia Stevens is not yet eighteen. She is the only heroine I ever wrote that young. My average heroine is in her late twenties or mid-thirties. Amy Stevens had to be not much more than a girl to suit the story. Of course, that was how old I was when I first had her come to my imagination.

Amy, not unexpectedly, has a lot of growing to do. The story in Round the Bend will give her plenty of opportunity on multiple levels. She begins her journey full of naive (but understandable) concepts about life-- most of which she has gotten from her extensive reading. Coming from a well-off, loving and protective family, she has had every opportunity to explore learning. 

She fancies herself a bit of a bluestocking or maybe a bluestocking wantabe. In Amy's time, the term was regarded rather insultingly to be intellectual and frumpy women. Bluestockings came out of the era where such groups, which sometimes included intellectual men, met to discuss ideas and critique work. The literary society that had so intrigued and formed many of Amy's early ideals had been founded in England in the 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu.

Amy also admired the female poets, of her time, women who wrote about social conditions and were early feminists. With a few exceptions, their work was not widely known then or today, but their fiery way of speaking their minds and leading unconventional lives inspired some women-- not to mention worried men.

As Amy saw it, before the big wagon train headed out, this might be only the beginning of adventuring. She could visit places she'd only read about like the Sandwich Islands. She could write and put her thoughts forward for others to consider. Up until this time she had written poetry but shared it with no one-- except her best friend, Matt. She did not see herself marrying. Although she admired and loved her mother, she had no intention of giving up her dreams for any man. What she doesn't understand, in Missouri, is the power of love; and how when a woman truly loves a man, it will impact all else that she does.

Amy has two possible suitors on the wagon train. One looks much like those fictional heroes she's been reading about. She loves the other. He has been her best friend since childhood, but she could never see him the role as a suitor.

The trip west will both challenge her notions and force her to face physical reality. It's an irony that while she is eager for change, she also fights it tooth and nail. The girl she is when she leaves Missouri will not be the woman she becomes by the time she reaches Oregon. This transition doesn't just come through a man but through the things she sees and comes to understand about physical reality. Words can only take it so far.

For book trailers and an eventual cover, her face was easier to find as she was beautiful with long black hair. Harder for me was to keep her interesting and make her changes believable. Having gone through that age myself, remembering how my set ideas didn't often end up the final ones, helped a lot.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The main course

What makes a hero in a book? How does he come alive to the reader?  When I was a girl and first saw Matthew Kane in my imagination, I recognized him as a worthy hero for a story. Matt would, of course, not agree. He saw himself as someone who only did what was needed. Time and again though, he reached deep and did what heroes do. 

Fictionally, from all the way back then, until I refined the draft that became Round the Bend, he stayed true to who he was. Although I am no fonder of the word hero, than Matthew would be, there are qualities to the men who become heroes in novels. Some would call that the ultimate man-- or the sacred masculine. I liked the following words I came across several months back in Facebook from the The Goddess Circle:

"The Sacred Masculine is not a look, an age, a body or a type. It is the ability to be present of body and heart, to be open in spirit and feeling, free in soul and mind. It is kindness merging with strength, passion blending with purpose, sexuality joining with expression, emotion meeting truth and imagination combining with intelligence. He does not hide from what his heart speaks; he listens with open ear embracing his intuition, knowing that as warrior his instincts are sharp. He does not run from conflict, knowing that resolution is the traits of Kings. He will not wall off his heart from the Divine Feminine, feeling that within the flow of her love is eternity.

"The Divine Masculine does not play games for he holds all others as equal to himself. He is open and honest in speaking his truth for he knows to hide his voice is to veil his purpose. He has no shame for the love in his heart for he knows to feel is sacred. He owns his mistakes and his past, but is not a prisoner to it's chains.

"The Sacred Masculine is a force of nature and as a part of nature, has a reverence for the natural world and all the creatures in it. His power is purposeful but not harmful, and wields a double edged sword of strength and compassion in equal measure. His love is a sacred space for himself to grow alone and with a companion in a place of trust, respect and soul connection . He would never lessen another to make himself more. He is a man that acknowledges his desires, his dreams and his deep emotions. He needs no lineage to be crowned King."   ~Ara

Matt Kane is such a man. He came from a background that could have made him into a monster. Sometimes families do that to their offspring. He rose above it. 

I have known men like him, who had every chance to become dishonorable but rose above it.  One of them stands out in mind as a good example. He was the husband of a friend of mine. He shared my last name as he was a relative but distant one. When we moved to the farm, I knew that the family was out here, but we didn't really grow close. Well, I did to his wife. When he got cancer, she and I were together quite a bit as I tried to help in what small ways I could.

I remember her telling me once about a full moon when he told her that the two of them should go for a walk. They lived on a mountain where it was wilderness all around, and the walk he suggested was up a gravel road. She described it to me; and her moment became a special one to me, even though I only shared it in words.

This man was a loving father and a devoted husband. He had been to Vietnam and maybe it was there that he got the seed of what would kill him-- a particularly virulent leukemia. He fought to live but sometimes even heroes can be defeated.

The reason I thought of his story now is his upbringing had not been good. Not as bad as my hero in Round the Bend, but not the kind of thing that you'd expect to teach a man how to be someone everyone admired and who knew how to love fully. His childhood wouldn't explain the kind of man, who when he was dying of cancer, would ask his beautiful wife to go for a walk in the moonlight.

It's because of real men like him that I know people can overcome horrendous beginnings. It's what my hero had to do in the book coming out March 21, 2015. Matt saw himself a simple man who worked hard. He didn't do it to make people like him. He did it because he instinctively knew it was the right thing to do. He could have become like his brother or father, but instead he became a man all would come to admire. He was the kind of man they say-- he's one to ride the river with. Nothing had come easy for him, but with every difficulty he faced, he stood up to it and fought for what was right.

Finding a picture for Matt was nigh unto impossible. I wanted one for the cover of the book but blond, strong, young men are in short supply in model images. Many of them might be strong men, but they look like models. I can't count how many faces I looked at and even bought. Nothing was right; and then one day, I saw the face. It was the one I had seen all those years before. It really was after I had bought that image that I finally decided to bring out the Oregon historicals.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


The oldest form of storytelling is oral. Through oral mythologies, histories of cultures were saved for the next generations. Along with petroglyphs (rock drawings and carvings), a history of a people were preserved. It's easy to imagine the community sitting around a fire and listening to an elder tell the important stories of their gods, demons, and the travails, which took them to where they now were-- in short, their stories of what had made them the unique and important.

 from Ben Kern wagon train photos

In some ways, the book I am bringing out March 21st, is the most organic of all my books for how it grew from oral story telling, back when I was probably 15. It will have traveled through my lifetime, never been forgotten, to finally be a paperback and eBook.

My cousin and I were close growing up (she's the blonde in the photo below and I am the one with glasses). When the family got together, she and I were a set. We played, took walks, and sometimes took turns making up stories. On one such walk, when I tried to turn the story over to her, she said--you tell it all. And I did.

My story was a romance set on the Oregon Trail. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I knew the basics of the Trail, but the heart of my story was two young people, who had grown up as friends. One wanted it to stay that way. The other had decided 'uh uh.' Even in the first oral telling of the story, the trip challenged them as did holding onto their relationship. What would it be? Big changes lay ahead on a physical and emotional level. Orally, I took them there.

When I was in my early 20s, I used a Royal upright typewriter to put that story onto paper-- white-out, carbon sheets, and stacks of paper. By then I had done more research into what going west on the Oregon Trail meant. It still was probably the length of a novella today. The characters though stayed true. They were the heart of the book.

Years went by and I read more books about the trip West. When a computer first came into my life, it was an Atari-- also a game machine. My husband told me its word processor would be better for writing. I thought no way. How could I write without seeing paper in front of me? For some writers, this is a truth; a few still hand write their books for the rough draft. For me though, where typing let me put down ideas as fast (almost) as I think them, I took to the new technology immediately. One feature alone sold me on it-- the ability to rearrange blocks of text-- well, and no more white-out. From then on I wrote on changing computers as I typed all my previously written stories onto hard-drives, with in the beginning floppy drives as insurance, then CDs and today jump drives of increasing capacity.

When I worked with a professional consulting writer, the story had a different title-- Taopi Tawote. Over a number of months, I spent a lot of money mailing pages back and forth. She taught me so much as she highlighted and sent back extensive notes. It felt like being back in school. Taopi Tawote is Lakota for the plant yarrow and means wound medicine. In the bigger sense, my story was about a wound that needed to be healed-- physically but even more emotionally. 

The problem with that title was it sounded like a Native American story. It is not. Sometime in the 90s (how I wish I was more anal about keeping notes as to when I write this or that), I wrote another novel following this family forward a few years to after they got to Oregon. It had another complete romance. For awhile, I thought I could keep my plant titles (Native American confusion or not). Rose of Sharon was perfect for the second romance. Then in around 2010, another of the Stevens had their romance and Goldenrod had arrived. 

When I began bringing books out in the winter of 2011, I held back on these. I loved these books but couldn't let them go. Along came a fourth, which I got the idea for in 2013 but didn't actually write until the fall of 2014. There simply was no fourth plant. I wanted four titles that would seem like a series, that would tell the essence of each book. When I came up with those four titles, I had my first one named-- Round the Bend.

My Oregon Series travels from 1851 in Missouri to Oregon and eventually takes the Stevens family to 1868. Background for each of the romances is the changing world that Oregon was as more people arrived, and the culture shifted with the changes in the growing nation. You might think, since the war wasn't fought there, that the Civil War would little impact a state this far west, but it did. Oregon also had a lot going on that made for interesting storytelling from its own Trail of Tears, shanghaiing, cultural rifts, and even Indian wars.

Now I had four books but was still undetermined as to whether to bring them out. I even debated trying to find a publishing house that might like Oregon historical romances. Except I had gotten used to having the freedom to tell my story my way-- and fall on my sword if readers didn't agree. I liked being an indie writer and had no desire to try and please an editor by changing things, which I felt were critical to my stories.

Still, what to do with them? It was the winter of 2015 that I decided to bring out all four-- three months apart. The first will be March 21-- date chosen because it's my brother's birthday and the first full day of spring.

It wasn't until I had made the decision that I realized the four books will be coming out on Spring Equinox, Summer Solstice, Fall Equinox, and Winter Solstice. I didn't plan it that way (maybe the muse did), but I like the idea.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

grammar is perfect or not

After a lot of editing, and I mean a lot, grammar is much on my mind. Perfect grammar doesn't always 'sound' right. Imperfect grammar can lead to confusion in meaning. English is complicated...

there are three lamb faces in this photo-- find the third!

In conversations, people don't talk with grammar in mind; so dialogue is a time out, where I ignore Word warnings, despite it going tsk tsk. Dialogue has each character with different education levels and way of talking. Cannot use a 'big' word for someone who wouldn't know it-- unless there is a special reason for their knowing it.

Prose is where grammar is more of a factor-- transitional, descriptive, and point of view sentences. In point of view, the character is thinking or observing. I don't feel it's needful that it sound like they talk, but it shouldn't have words that don't fit what that character would observe and know. If a character is the type to enjoy a sunset, the descriptive words should fit their nature. Poets sound like poets. Most other people do not. Fixing all of that, making it sound and feel right, is what editing is about.  

My first draft will always be written fast without a lot of concern for the nuances of grammar. Because I grew up when diagramming sentences was part of learning to write, I generally put my sentences together with most of them correct. There are always some where my mind is ahead of my fingers, and the words prove it.

When editing comes along, I read for meaning and feeling and use Word underlining. I like the option of having it check what I most need. Sometimes, even in prose, I ignore the underline. More often I change it-- if not literally as they would suggest, but with a rewrite that avoids the underline. Sometimes it'll start with part of a sentence underlined and the suggestion it needs a comma. As soon as I add the comma, the whole sentence is underlined with a new complaint. Luckily Word isn't a person where we could get in an argument over it.

One of their interesting grammar warnings is-- you're too wordy. Most writers can definitely be that way. Seeing that warning is when I decide if the whole sentence is needed. If it is, I usually break the thought into several sentences. That can lead to a new warning.

The main problem I have with them is when something sounds right but is grammatically incorrect. Dangling prepositions are one example. When we talk, we don't worry about them. In dialogue I don't either. But when I'm writing a transitional or descriptive paragraph, they generally need to go-- not because they bother me, but because they might some readers.

There are some places Word isn't good at catching, and I really have to watch myself. An example is worse and worst. Theoretically, it's simple. Worse is in a chain of bad. Worst is the absolute most it can be... except sometimes either one just does not sound right even when it probably is. When that happens, I grab my thesaurus for an option to avoid fighting with myself over it or annoying a reader where that very word is their pet peeve.

Another place English can get confusing is for the verb was, which must fit its noun. Was is generally used with a singular noun, which means you don't write 'we was going to town' that is unless your character is uneducated and from the hills. But was isn't always correct for a singular noun. It changes when it's in certain clauses, which means were is correct for a singular noun-- even when to me it sounds worse worst worse wrong... If we were going to town, I'd take you along... If I was going to town, I'd take you along. See it sounds right only the second sentence is not. It should be-- If I were going to town, I'd take you along-- if you want it to have proper grammar. Don't ask me why. 

The first times I came across this correction to was, I argued with the program and assumed it was wrong. It was not. In fiction writing, I still though won't use what sounds awkward just to make my grammar pass an English teacher's red check.

Another one, that Word regularly catches, but in a rough draft I often write incorrectly, is the split infinitive. I don't really know why it's so bad (it always sounds fine to me), but I change it when I see the warning. It might bother a reader. As you may have already deduced, editing is really about the reader. I already know what I intended to say.

Word is a great program for helping the editor. Some buy more complicated programs, but I've tried a few. They aren't always better. In fiction, correct isn't always best. If it comes across as awkward, it's not best even if it's most grammatically correct. Who and whom come to mind for that. I get it when whom is the right word to use, but not if it is too highfaluting for a character whose point of view is simple.

I can't emphasize enough how important it is to get point of view right for the character. A simple woman, in her thought life, won't use words she would not use talking to a friend. Writers generally have quite wide vocabularies, but where it comes to point of view, they can't use them all no matter how tempting.

This has recently been my world as I went over my Oregon historical to make sure it passed muster-- which is very important to me. I want my book to go out with zero errors. I am not sure they ever do.

Editing is about a lot more than Word's warnings, but they force me to look at a passage for a clearer way to make my point. I recognize though that sometimes a round about way of saying something is better, when the goal is create a word picture for the reader.

If you didn't get enough grammar yet, give this article from the New Yorker a try--

Sunday, March 1, 2015

a horse in your story

Until the early 1900s, unless someone took a train, horses were required for most land transportation whether a wagon, buggy, stage, or horseback (oxen, mules and donkeys were also used but just not as frequently). Before the first automobiles found their way into popular use, it's probably difficult today to realize how much horses were a necessity. They are though still an important part of the American psyche-- especially where it comes to the West or cowboys (although the ATV does a lot of their work today). 

When you put your hero or heroine on a horse, besides many breeds, there will also be the question of gender: colts (uncastrated males) and fillies (females) under four years of age; mares (over four); stallions (any uncastrated adult male); and geldings (castrated male). 

Some issues are surprisingly hot button to romance readers and writers-- one of them being whether a hero would logically ever choose to ride a stallion given their temperament. Well, the same thing could be asked about choosing to ride a mare given she will come in heat. For those who want to know more about what that means, here's a bit on [how to manage the mare in heat]

In this discussion on horses, I should start with saying that while I know a lot about horses, I am not a horse woman. I've ridden horses off and on since I was a girl but never was that good on them. I am no horse whisperer. I have never had an interest in English riding, dressage, or in competing. My interest has always been in trail riding, and it's the only kind of riding I've done. 

Twice, I have experienced going off a horse (both of them geldings). The first time, I was a girl and heading back to the house when the horse started to run. I pulled on the reins, which stopped him quickly. I went right over his head. Fortunately it was a dirt road-- no harm done other than startling him and me. My father was badly allergic to horses, and not long after that, the horse had to go.

The other time, years later, when I went off a horse, I chose it. My husband and I had been on a trail ride in Central Oregon. The horse was barn sour, which means he started to run toward the barn as soon as we turned that way. I had not expected it and knew I didn't have a steady enough seat. Although we were riding on a dirt road (luck again), ahead was a paved road. I figured, with the horse needing to make an abrupt right turn to get to the barn, I was going off-- it was only a question of where. I literally dismounted the running horse and rolled with the only damage being done to a shoulder (wearing a sleeveless blouse) where I got a scrape and had to run into town for a tetanus shot as mine weren't up to date. 

Otherwise though, I know a lot about big animals, having raised cattle for almost forty years, having been around horses a fair amount, and having a lot of books about them, their value, and techniques for riding. I find horses beautiful animals and enjoy watching them. Although we have had a few horses on this place, this is a cattle and sheep ranch. Horses need to be constantly worked, and neither my husband nor I have had the time or inclination. You can take a good horse and ruin it if you don't know what you are doing. 

Horses, for all their romantic and almost mystical feeling to people, are big animals and potentially dangerous ones-- even those that are not stallions. They are prey species with the same tendencies of self-preservation-- which explains how they can startle. They each have their own personality. Some breeds are known for this or that characteristic but even within that, there will be different qualities-- some due to how they were raised. 

Stallions are the ones with the bad rep-- not totally undeserved, although a lot of it comes from people trying to be around them without the skills to do it. Choosing a horse is like choosing any animal. You want the right temperament, and you need to be the alpha animal. If you are not, I don't care if it's sheep, cattle, or a house pet, you are in trouble. 

My husband worked on a ranch when he was in high school where they had an Arabian stallion, who was temperamental-- around some people. But there were those who could do anything with him-- one of them being a tiny woman. Yes, a stallion will be excited when he's near a mare in heat. A mare in heat has her own set of dispositions at that time as the above article indicated. 

Recently I had reason to look up riding a stallion. I've written quite a few books where horses were ridden. Two of them (one to be published in September) had the hero on a stallion. After reading complaints that stallions were a poor choice (ignoring the fact that Roy Rogers rode a highly trained one), I decided I better research it again.

In the Civil War, the generals mostly rode stallions, but the rest of the cavalry rode geldings. Throughout time, stallions had been considered a requirement for war horses-- until after the Civil War when the cavalry came to believe geldings could be just as good at endurance, training, and not have the temperament issues of a stallion. Not sure many soldiers would have chosen a mare for assorted reasons-- one of which would be if they had to ride long distances.

A few years ago I also learned that it's not good for anyone over 200 lbs. to ride a horse-- too hard on their backs. Romance heroes are often big guys and likely weigh that or more. 

The distance you can ride a horse without a break is another debate that has many opinions. I researched it for one of my books and came up with numbers that made sense to me-- but again a lot would depend on the person riding it. Also the cavalry when they rode long distances did walk part of the way to give the horses breaks.

Below are a couple of interesting articles I came across on stallions. The first is in regards to one of George Custer's that he rode into battle during the Civil War. Custer always favored stallions, but this one had a rather unique story-- as well as a good example of how dangerous such a horse can be.
The famed [Lippizans] are always stallions.
This is one of many on what one should expect if they want to train and ride a stallion:
[Riding a stallion]

One of our neighbors used to breed Appaloosas. He rode his stallion in parades where he'd wear full Indian regalia. The horse had a wonderful temperament. The man though had to have the stallion gelded when his son wanted to compete in 4-H, as they would not permit a stallion in the shows.

The idea that a western hero would never ride a stallion is, in my opinion, wrong. Okay, maybe a beta hero never would *s*. But a hero would ride the animal that best suited his own temperament and needs. I've written heroes who rode geldings more often than stallions-- but twice I was convinced the hero would have ridden a stallion. Nothing else would have suited his personality and need. These men though were not cowboys working on ranches. Ranches will usually stick to geldings, unless they are also breeding horses. They will use all geldings or all mares. The mare coming in heat and upsetting the geldings isn't what they want either.

Whatever animal your characters choose, it should suit their personality and feel like a real animal of that type. Don't give your character a cat if you don't know cats. You don't have to own one. You just have to know what their personalities are like. 

Saying that, I have learned, after reading the strong opinions of romance writers/readers, there can be a price for choosing to put your hero on their idea of the 'wrong' horse. Same thing happened to me when I wrote a story where my heroine chose her own path in the 1880s. Some readers had a hard time with that too. They could accept mail order brides or women being forced to run from an abusive relative, but absolutely could not accept a heroine, of that period, who didn't follow the prescribed path and instead chose an adventure. They needed to read a few more memoirs is what I think...

Anyway, as a writer, if you have your hero ride a horse that irks some readers, they'll be finished with the book. You can instead follow the stereotypes that are acceptable... if that's the kind of writing you want to do. Yahoo!