Authors, Writers, Publishers, and Book Readers
Many times I'm asked where I get ideas for my western historical romances. It's simple, really. In fact I have enough stuff scribbled down to write these books for another twenty years or so. I prefer to write about the 1860s through the 1880s, though that's not a set rule. Each time I go on a trip through that era in my research the most fascinating thing happens. Characters begin to appear and talk to me. Tell me what it's like to live in the time and place I've stepped into. They speak to me of amazing feats, how tough life can sometimes be, how enjoyable certain facets of that life are. First it's the women who visit with me, but it isn't long before some strong heroes show up and give me the lowdown on being a man who sticks by his woman. Soon I begin to ask questions. Where does she live? What sort of family does she have and are they close? Sometimes I find myself hoping she is alone, because for my type of book that works out best. I need a heroine who has overcome many barriers on her own to get what she wants. Then she meets the man of her dreams and up pop more barriers that they must overcome together. Women were second class citizens, and I have to remember that. They weren't much more than slaves to some men. So perhaps she's trapped in this sort of situation. But because it's a romance, she's not married unless it was arranged. Her "master" may be her father or an elder brother who's now the head of the family. He might be the man she works for, as in cooking, cleaning, washing. Or she could be an innocent girl caught up in the life of a "soiled dove," or a widow battling being alone again. Consider the set-up of several of my books to see how these women are situated: In IMAGES IN SCARLET, an original from Topaz and now available from Kindle, my heroine, Allison Caine, lives in Missouri. It's 1866. Her father, a photographer during the Civil War, has died. Trained by him in his craft, she sets out alone with her camera equipment in what was known as a "what's it" wagon to go to Santa Fe where she wants to set up a photography business. Oh, I forgot to tell you, she's armed with a Navy Colt, just in case. In Goldspun Promises, also from Topaz and now available through Kindle as MONTANA PROMISES, seventeen-year-old Tressie buries her mother and a stillborn child and is left alone on the prairie. She is obsessed with getting revenge on her father who deserted them to go hunt for gold. The only way she can do this is with some help. And in rides Reed Bannon, badly wounded and in bad trouble. She has to save him before he can help her out of her dire situation. Moonspun Dreams from Topaz, is now available through Kindle as MONTANA DREAMS. Our heroine Dessa Fallon travels from Kansas City to Virginia City because her parents have learned that her brother, missing since the end of the war, may be alive. During a horrendous stage ride, she is kidnapped by a gang of robbers. Unknown to her at the time, the mercantile her parents own has burned down and both died in the fire. Now she's in a pretty fix, huh? Except for the reclusive Ben Poole who may be the answer to her prayers. I think that's enough to give you an idea of how to place a heroine in a precarious situation to kick off a book about the wild West and the people who lived there. There are many ways to get better acquainted with our heroes and heroines. Have them write letters to you telling about their lives in intimate detail. Interview each one of them as if you were a newspaper reporter. Or make charts. I prefer the first two, and seldom make charts. I get to know them better during the writing of the first draft and am ready to use what I've learned during the rewrites. Once you're ready to start writing, remember that the harder your hero and heroine struggle, the tougher barriers you throw up, the more your reader will cheer for them. Some writers are afraid to be mean to their characters. In other words, they want everything to work out all the time. The best books are those that put up road blocks every time a character appears close to reaching a goal. Action, plenty of dialogue, a good sense of place, sympathetic characters and conflict will produce a book your readers can't put down.