When I wrote “I’ll be Home for Christmas” for the boxed set LOVE, CHRISTMAS, I envisioned a soldier trying to get back home to enjoy a Christmas meal with his family. Things happen along the way to delay him, and make him wonder if he will get back in time. This was my initial idea when I put him in a rowboat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Toss in (literally) a romantic interest, and I was on my way.
One of the things Lee Trahern and Sofia Morgan enjoyed was a turkey dinner. I’m giving you my recipe for slow-cooked turkey, which is a way I’ve fixed turkey for at least forty years. I do it for many reasons, but one is that it is sooooo easy. The original recipe was in an Adele Davis book. This is how a whole pig is cooked in Hawaii at luaus, when they roast it in the fire.
If turkey is frozen, remove plastic wrapping, slather it in vegetable oil, set it into a roast pan, and follow roasting instructions. If fresh, wash it clean, dry, slather in vegetable oil and set it into a roasting pan and roast. The advantage of using a frozen turkey is that ALL the moisture stays in the meat. A cheap frozen turkey comes out just as good as an expensive fresh one.
- Put oil over the entire turkey.
- Put turkey into a roast pan with tray, so that air will circulate around the turkey.
- Cook turkey at 300 degrees for one hour. This is so that all bacteria is killed before you start slow roasting.
- Turn the oven down to 175 degrees. Let it cook for 18 to 24 hours. That’s right. All night. I start a 22 pound frozen turkey around 3 in the afternoon and cook it all night and have it ready around noon to three the next day. It depends upon the size of the turkey and if it is frozen or fresh. The neat thing is that if someone is late getting to your dinner, you can leave the turkey in the oven for a few more hours and all it does is get more tender.
- How do you tell if your turkey is done? Take hold of the drumstick and “shake hands” with it. If it is stiff and resists, cook longer. Don’t poke it with a fork.
- If you want stuffing, make a stovetop stuffing and pour some of the turkey juice into it as you cook it.
- If you cooked it frozen, don’t eat the skin, since you had no chance to really clean it. Just peel it away and put that moist, juicy meat on a platter for all to enjoy.
You can slow roast all types of meat. Always cook it first for 300 degrees for one hour. Then look at a meat table, see what temperature you want your meat to be when you are done, and set the temperature there. If roasting beef, you may want it rare, at 140 degrees. Just remember to give it a long time to cook, and don’t worry about cooking it too long. If you are going to be out most of the day, you can slow cook your meat, then turn the temperature up if you need to to finish it off.
What do you do with all that free time while the turkey is roasting itself? Well, grab a copy of LOVE, CHRISTMAS and sit back and enjoy reading. It is a USA Today best seller, and the price is still fantastic for 20 all-new novellas.
Independent authors often collaborate to write stories with a theme. The collection is then sold as a boxed set. This year a group of 20 authors I am with picked the theme of Christmas Songs. Each story uses the title of a Christmas song taken from reader’s suggestions. My song was, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Since I write the Trahern series, I thought at first that I would write it as a Civil War era story, of a soldier trying to get home, who keeps stopping to help strangers as he goes. One of the people he helps is a woman he falls in love with, and when he does get home he brings her, too.
But that was very close to the plot of a story I had already written, “The Quietest Woman in the South.” In that book, young Cade Trahern heads home at the end of the war, riding a cantankerous mule, General Wheezer, who becomes part of the story. While helping people, Cade falls for a woman who doesn’t say much, but when she does, she makes it count.
So I switched to modern times with our dangerous world, and put Lee Trahern in a rowboat in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. He has told his family that he would be home for Christmas, but he gave up his seat on the last plane out of the country being invaded, so is rowing back. Now all he has to do is row hard. All I have to do is get a young woman in the boat with him.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas
by Nancy Radke
Dedicated to Delene Yochum
The ship, an old steamer, almost a derelict, looked like it was about to swamp, joining the many others at the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea. Paralee Trahern could see people everywhere, covering it in the same manner in which they piled on top of the cars and other vehicles in the third world countries, not considering that a boat was different, and overloading it could cause it to capsize. If there was any room at all, they climbed aboard.
He watched as it approached him, then rowed closer. “I can take a few of you here,” he called, first in Aramaic, then French, and then in English. “Send three over.” It would almost swamp him, but if just a few came…
About forty jumped off the sinking ship and swam towards him. He hastily turned his rowboat around and started rowing like he was at Henley. If he let them come aboard, or even grab hold, he would be capsized and sunk along with them.
He rowed hard and fast, making the little boat jump. If he hadn’t rowed so close to start with, he might have made it. But the first one to reach his boat acted like an anchor. Then the rest came, flailing their way through the water.
Several grabbed the stern, their faces desperate. They were the ones who had rid themselves of their heavy clothing, enabling them to catch him, at the same time slowing his boat enough that the others reached it. Seeing the inevitable, he yanked both oars out of the oarlocks and stood up, holding them.
They tipped it sideways, trying to get in. As it filled with water, Lee simply walked over their bodies and out into the Mediterranean. Then he swam away from the rowboat a short distance and turned around.
Placing the oars under his arms, he waited, patience being one of the things a SEAL learns early on. The saltwater wouldn’t do his prosthetic leg any good, but he couldn’t take it off and maybe lose it. He felt thankful that he was in the warm Mediterranean and not the North Sea.
He watched while his rowboat went completely under. When they realized the boat was gone, the men swam back toward the steamer, which wasn’t doing much better, but which had not slowed down.
With their weight gone, the rowboat was still submerged, while his group of plastic water containers, tied by a rope to one of the thwarts, floated next to it.
The men paid it no attention, as they were intent on getting back. Some did, most didn’t. Those on the ship ignored them, leaving them in the water. They waved and screamed, but the ship continued on, and soon there were none.
It was growing dark and he kicked underwater to keep his movements hidden, while he maneuvered himself back to where they had sunk his rowboat. For a few minutes he couldn’t see it, then he stuck his head under and looked around. He had passed it on the right, its shadowy form suspended just below the surface.
He swam up to the boat and over it, then rested his body on the seat, which was about a foot underwater. Once the other ship steamed far enough off into the distance, he let go of the oars and laid sideways across the boat, his legs hanging over one side. In position, he reached across and grabbed the other side of the rowboat, and turned it on edge, letting it drain as much as possible while shoving it up into the air. Then he dropped it right side up.
It wasn’t completely void of water, but enough had gone out that the bow and stern were clear, and the gunwales a few inches above it. He retrieved his oars, flipped himself over the side and reentered the boat.
He worked for a while to get more water out, bailing with a small can he had kept for that purpose. Thankfully, the desperate men hadn’t tried to untie his bag of provisions, as they were too intent on keeping afloat. Once he had the water down to a few inches, he turned his back to the north and started rowing again.
Sofia Morgan stiffened as she hit the cool water, going down in a swirl of bubbles and clothing. After the searing heat of the sun, increased by the pressure of too many bodies jammed close together on the deck, the water shocked her, making her gasp for air.
Her friend’s husband hadn’t even allowed her to take her enveloping cloak off, before pushing her over the rail to join the men in the sea. His hand had thrust hard between her shoulder blades, sending her out into the air, as well as over the side. Did he want to get rid of her, that much?
She knew he hadn’t been happy, having her around, with her American ways. She was too independent, and made her college friend want to do things that were forbidden.
Once in the water, the cloak tangled around her, and she had to fight against a rising panic. She held her breath and pulled it off, one sleeve at a time. It was overly large, and she held it away from herself as she resurfaced.
The side of the steamer loomed over her, and men were thrashing all around in the water. They turned, almost as one, and started swimming toward the lone rowboat.
She looked up at the side of the ship and realized there were no ladders or anything hanging from the side. No way to climb back on unless someone lowered a rope. It was moving away from her. It hadn’t stopped when the men jumped off. She swam hard to make sure she was clear of the propellers.
Once at a safe distance, she looked around to where the rowboat had been. It would soon be sunk, unless the man rowing it got away in time. She swam back to where her cloak still floated on the surface, and grabbed it. Tying the arms together at the wrists, she whipped the wet garment through the air, catching enough air to create a small bubble that she could rest against.
When she looked again, the rowboat was turning on its side as the men tried to climb aboard. She watched as it sunk beneath them and they frantically tried to climb on top of one another.
What had become of the Good Samaritan? She figured he hadn’t expected such a reaction.
Then the men turned and started to swim back toward the ship. Not toward Sofia, as the ship had moved on, so the swimmers swam toward it and not to where she was, but she remained quiet in the water, not making so much as a splash. Desperate swimmers would try to climb on top of anything, so they mustn’t see her.
That had looked like a wooden rowboat. It should still be there, even if underwater. The men had all left it by now, swimming hard to catch the boat. Most were swimming with their robes still on, and the weight was pulling them under, causing them to grab their companions and pull them under too. A few had shed their clothes, and actually were catching up to the steamer, but no rope was thrown to them and they were left in the middle of the sea. Soon all but two were gone and she could no longer see the ship from her position in the water.
Would they try to get back to the rowboat? Then they too disappeared from sight, below the sparkling waves. Everything took on a serene, unreal quality, as if never disturbed by the floundering men.
She had tried to picture the location of the rowboat in her mind. It would be hard to judge distances, and she might swim right on past it, but there was no stopping. Nowhere to go but toward where she had seen the boat sink.
Now Sofia kicked hard for the rowboat, hanging onto her improvised flotation device. As she got nearer, she saw it flip on its side out of the water, and realized that the man must have gotten away from the mob, and had returned to claim his boat. He had invited a few, and probably hadn’t expected what happened. Maybe he would still be willing to take on an extra passenger. It wasn’t like she had an option.
She adjusted her direction. She would have missed it by ten feet or more, the way she was headed. She could see the man bailing out the water and kicked harder. She had to reach him before he started up again.
The stranger was her only hope. It wasn’t like there were ships aplenty around, for although the Mediterranean did have a lot of traffic, it was sporadic. She couldn’t count on another boat coming by before she drowned.
The man occasionally glanced toward the departing steamer, but he wasn’t looking her way. Even as she decided to leave her cloak behind so that she could go faster, he picked up the oars and started to row. “Help!”
He didn’t hear her. The noise of rowing must have covered her cries. Why hadn’t she yelled sooner?
“Help. Help!” The boat moved sluggishly, but way too fast for her to reach.
“Help!” She screamed, then waved her hand and hit the water, making as large a splash as she could. No use.
Still, it was not in her to give up. She yelled again and started swimming.
I just finished making around three gallons of yoghurt, and decided that people who like yoghurt might be interested in how you can make all you want, using your oven.
Some ovens have a low “warmer” setting, but mine doesn’t, so I use a light bulb on the end of a cord as the heat source. Making yoghurt depends upon temperature. If the milk gets over 118 degrees, it can kill the starter. So, before you do anything else, you need to put a pan of lukewarm water in your oven and check it after two hours to see what the temperature is. 110 is getting too cool. Try turning on the oven light only. Mine is too hot, which is why I use a light bulb. In Hawaii, I used a 30 watt bulb. In Seattle, I use a 40 watt bulb. Whenever I buy a new oven, I have to figure out what watt to use. Some of the new energy lights don’t give out much heat, so factor that in.
1 light bulb that will hold the oven to a constant temperature
A good cooking thermometer (instant read)
Containers, VERY clean, with lids. (Pottery is too porous, and can’t be cleaned well enough. I use stainless steel. I’ve used stainless cookware and stainless canisters.)
__Milk (You can use all you want. IT MUST NOT HAVE ANTIBODIES IN IT, FED TO THE COWS, OR THEY WILL KILL THE CULTURE. Check the cartons, they will tell you if the cows were given antibodies.)
__Plain yoghurt (Once you’ve made a batch, keep some of it for a starter for the next batch.)
__Probiotic capsule, opened and sprinkled over the top. (Optional, but wow, does it make it sweet and good and healthy.)
__Plain gelatin (Optional. I sprinkle this over the cold milk before I heat it.)
Using a pan larger than your containers, boil some water. Pour cold milk into the containers, add gelatin if desired, stir, then set the containers in the water until the milk is around 115 degrees. If it gets too hot, ladle out some of the milk and pour in cold milk, or just take it out of the hot water.
When the temperature is between 112-118 degrees, remove from water. Stir in a ladle full of plain yoghurt. Sprinkle with probiotic if desired and stir.
Set in oven, as many containers as you wish, or are able to, turn on light bulb.
Close door. In four hours your yoghurt is ready. Refrigerate. If this is too mild for you, leave it in for five to six hours, and it will become tangy. I eat mine with fresh fruit and granola.
Many folks think that any horse will chase cows, pull a cart, and also be a good parade horse, but they are trained different ways, and the breeds have different personalities. So some either refuse or just can’t do certain things. In my Trahern story, The Quietest Woman in the South, I wrote about a Civil War mule, General Wheezer, who would pull a wagon or a plow, and would let you ride him, on his terms. He was a truly multi-purpose mule. My dad had one of those, a mule he rode and who also pulled wagons.
For many years I rode a mountain-bred horse, Flicka, who was half Morgan and half Quarter horse. She was a working companion, much more than a pet, and loved to eat my peanut butter sandwiches. She would come up behind me and steal a bite if I wasn’t paying attention.
She was sure-footed on the mountain trails, and would chase a cow full speed down the hillside. All I had to do was lean back and give her her head. I used this experience in my book, Appaloosa Blues, as I knew what it was like to “fly” on a horse. I would ride in the mountains from sunup to sundown…and later, especially during the long summer nights.
I rode Flicka in parades, but it bored her, and she fought being loaded in a trailer. She did fine in the performances my drill team did at a run, although I had to make sure she missed the other horses, as she was used to pushing cows around and would run right into a horse and rider if I didn’t steer her away.
My last year of high school I was chosen as one of the Rodeo fair court. All the other girls had sorrels, while my mountain horse was a Palomino. So they looked around for a sorrel for me to use as a parade horse, and to ride in the fair.
One of the fair officials found an Arab called Ali, and brought her out to the ranch for me to ride. They mentioned that she was owned by a woman who rode her once, was bucked off, broke her arm, put the horse out to pasture, and never rode her again.
I saddled her up, and she immediately tried to put her hind foot into the stirrup to keep me from tightening the cinch. I was still on the ground, so spun her around, backwards, and tightened and loosened the cinch many times, then got on and off her, spinning her about whenever she tried to hook her foot into the stirrup. Finally she gave up trying.
Next I galloped her out into the fields, doing fine until she stopped abruptly and put her head down. She caught me unprepared, and I flew over her head and landed on my feet, facing her, as I always did when thrown off. So I remounted and galloped her again. This time when she full stopped, I was ready, and made her run full tilt again. Next she started spinning fast to try to throw me off. After all morning doing different things and not succeeding, she stopped trying to throw me. Never tried again.
I rode her all summer, along with my mountain horse. Ali was the perfect parade horse. She loaded quickly into a trailer, was calm in the parades, and let people pet her. But she stumbled on the mountain trails, sometimes shaking with fright, and did not know one end of a cow from the other, getting her feet all tangled, so I still used Flicka for work and mountain riding.
During the rodeo Grand Entry, Ali would gallop right up to the other horses and slide into place. For the Grand Entry, everyone rode into the arena one at a time, and stopped abreast in front of the grandstand. It was to introduce the court and present the flags. Ali was the only horse who would run full bore right up to the end of the line, and then slide to a stop, so they had me come in last. She seemed to thrive doing it. She was a great parade horse and good for riding on flat land, even if she didn’t know how to stand upright on a steep slope.
Please join in the fun at the Authors’ Billboard August Giveaway!!!
Prizes and free books…
WINNERS: AUTHORS’ BILLBOARD BOOKS IN BLOOM PIN TO WIN CONTEST (MAY 2015)
GRAND PRIZE WINNER: Patti Baldwin (10 books)
2ND PLACE WINNER: Tammy Richardson (5 books)
THIRD PLACE WINNERS, ONE BOOK EACH
We did not have very many entries. I think the directions were too difficult for those of you who hadn’t been on Pinterest before. We plan to have another contest soon, and will try to make it easier this time.
The 13th Trahern story has an evil stepmother in it, like in Cinderella. When I was young, I used to think that no mother would ever treat a daughter, or stepdaughter, like that. A mother’s love wouldn’t let that happen. Then my husband’s grandmother told me about coming over from Germany in a boat, and how sick everyone was on the trip. They loved America. Then her mother died and her father married again. Her new mother hated her, and made her cook, clean, scrub floors, do the laundry and the mending. The woman was never satisfied, and made her life miserable. She treated Grandmother well whenever her husband was around, so there was no way to get him to believe what was happening.
Grandmother was miserable, but when she was a young woman, she met and married Grandfather, and her life changed completely. She told me how wonderful it was to do those same chores for a loving husband and three sons. Love made all the difference, and she willingly worked and sacrificed for them.
She came to visit my husband and I when we lived in Hawaii. In her nineties, she could barely climb up the stairs when she arrived. She sat out in the sun every day, and when she left, she could do two flights easy. She bought some bright-colored muumuus, with huge floral prints, and once she returned to the nursing home, she wore them to dinner. The elderly women there immediately stopped wearing black, and wore their most colorful outfits, cheering that place up.
Once I returned to the mainland, I took her great-granddaughter in every Thursday to visit her. There is nothing quite like a happy child to bring a smile on the faces of folks in a nursing home.
Just think of all the joy Grandma’s stepmother missed by being so mean to her stepdaughter. Anyway, recalling Grandma’s account of how badly her stepmother treated her, helped me imagine the wicked Mother-in-law for my next story.
Now enjoy a short excerpt from “The Sunniest Gal from Tennessee,” and see how I wrote about a woman who let meanness rule her heart to the point that she drove away her daughter-in-law. The time is right after the end of the Civil War.
Four women in black. Black silk dresses, black hats, long black gloves, all looking like they had just eaten sour pickles on top of their griddlecakes. I was one of the four in the picture, Mary Trahern Dawton, the sourest-looking of them all.
My mother-in-law and her daughter stood beside me, and the grandmother sat in front. Four sour women in a huge depressing house. Would I take on that expression permanently, as the other three seemed to have done? Was I expected to stay in mourning the rest of my life, now that my beloved Charles was gone?
Charles, the light of my life, who refused to adhere to his mother’s dictates, had married a southern girl right after the end of the Civil War. We felt love at first sight, had a whirlwind romance, and were married before I could think about what we were doing. We were in love, and that would surmount any opposition. Including Charles’ mother, a contentious woman, who wanted her own way.
Why should she not want me as a daughter? I was always welcomed into any house I entered. They used to say that I brought the sunshine with me, even into a house of mourning. My happiness overflowed to everyone around me, and I refused to be sad, even in times of trials. During the war, I found that a smile and a happy “Hello” was sometimes the best medicine I could offer a wounded soldier. Sometimes, it was the only thing I could give him.
I had sung and danced down the hospital corridors, spreading my sunshine as far as I could. My songs lifted the spirits of both doctors and patients, and sometimes most everyone would join in, especially with songs of “Home! Sweet Home!” and “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
Charles brought me here to this barren New England house as a happy young bride straight out of the Tennessee hill country. I felt a stranger to life here on the edge of the ocean, so dampened down some of my enthusiasm while I adjusted.
Still, it must have shocked Julia to the core as soon as I opened my mouth and she heard my accent. And expressions. I wouldn’t even know I was saying them until her horrified face would warn me that I was getting in way past hip-deep waters.
Charles spent a month home, getting his ship ready for his next three-month voyage, while I tried my level best to adjust to my mother-in-law. A Yankee trader, he had sailed all during the war, bringing goods over from England and Paris. This time he planned to sail to Spain and Italy, bringing in a variety of goods from those countries.
I begged to go with him, as I had a glimmer of what life could be like in my mother-in-law’s home. He said, “Next time.”
There was no next time.
As soon as his ship sailed, Julia began her constant correcting. Nothing I did satisfied her. I wasn’t used to being bossed around like that, and rebellion stirred within me. That is until I found out Charles was gone.
When we heard his ship had been lost in a storm, I changed into black mourning, attended a funeral without a body, and for two years obeyed my mother-in-law’s dictates as to how I should speak, what I should wear, and why I should always be silent. That included no singing.
Toes were not to be tapped on the floor, the voice should never be raised, and no one danced on the balconies, as I had done when I first arrived, sending Julia to her bed.
When Charles died and the joy left my life, it took it a while to resurface. But it finally did one spring morning in late May, 1869, on my twentieth birthday. I popped out of my oversized bed and wrapped a white sheet around myself, and spun, barefooted, around the room.
I detested black. I had worn white cotton muslin back in my Tennessee hills, decorated with a colorful ribbon. Here, even the maids were dressed in black. The seamstresses who came to the house only brought black cloth. No ribbons, ever, except some black ones.
Right now my thoughts were black. I was not going to bury myself in this house. I was not going to wear black. Never again.
Today, for my birthday, I would go into town and order a blue dress and a white one with a bright purple sash. And I would sing as I was being measured for them. The mourner had awakened.
For now, I would wear the lovely blue traveling dress from Paris that Charles had bought me. I had worn it on my honeymoon. Charles said it had brought out the sparkle in my eyes, but I knew that love for him had caused them to shine, making them glow more than normal.
Such a short time we were together. It had been the love of a lifetime. I doubted I would ever find a love like we had, which saw the good in everything, including each other. I was so happy, and cocooned in that happiness, that every day brought intense joy. Life with Charles was such a contrast to the army hospital where I worked during the war, that I was almost giddy with relief.
But the hospital was where I met Charles, so in a way it was the source of my greatest sorrows and my greatest joys. He brought in one of his sailors who had taken a bad fall from a horse and broken his neck. Charles said the sailor wasn’t that good of a rider and shouldn’t have been on that horse in the first place. He was lucky not to be paralyzed.
I took care of the man while he was healing, and Charles visited him, at first for an hour every day, then, when he had completed selling his cargo, he spent the entire day there. With the sailor, and with me. He would wait until I had my breaks, then walk with me into the courtyard, where we would sit and talk. And talk. I had never talked so much in my life, and I was a talker. The sailor was puzzled at first, then figured out why his captain was visiting him so often.
As a ship’s captain, Charles promised that the world would be our playground. We had intended to live together aboard the ship our first few years, once some modifications were made to the ship’s cabin. He wanted to raise most of the ceiling, to make it more comfortable. Both he and I were too tall to stand upright in the cabin, except for a small square raised area in the middle, which had an opening on one side, so that the captain could stand there and look out across the ship.
The height didn’t matter to him, as he mainly used the cabin to sleep in or to sit at his desk and write. He spent the rest of the time out on deck, but during stormy weather, I would want to be inside for most of the day and not knocking my head against the ceiling every time I tried to straighten up—unless I was in that one spot.
When Charles died, Julia had ordered all black dresses made for me. I was in a state of shock when she did it, so by now I didn’t remember where she had put my Paris dresses. They weren’t in my room, so I expected she had them stored in a trunk in the attic.
I pulled the cord to ring for my maid, Amber, who curtsied as usual when she entered my room. I couldn’t break her of that habit, and she insisted on doing it, even though she was only a few years younger than me.
“Goodness, Ma’am. What are you wearing?” She couldn’t have been any more shocked than if I had been standing there in my birthday suit.
“A white sheet, for now. I’m not putting on another black dress. It’s my twentieth birthday and I want all my dresses brought out of storage. The ones Charles brought from Paris. I don’t know where Julia stored them.”
Her face went as white as the sheet, and she put both hands up to her mouth. “Oh, but…she didn’t, ma’am. I thought you knew.”
“She sent them to the store, to be sold. I expect they fetched a pretty penny.”
“My Paris dresses?” Dumbfounded, I couldn’t believe it.
“And my wedding dress, too?”
Knees weak, I sat down hard on the edge of the bed. Those were mine! Why had Julia presumed the right to sell them? They were beautiful dresses, fit to wear in any company.
My thoughts swirled in complete chaos. It was unbelievable. My Paris dresses were both stylish and comfortable, which was a rare combination those days. Julia should have known that I would not mourn forever, that I would want to wear those dresses again. Even my wedding dress, which I had added a colorful sash to, and transformed into a ball gown.
“Yes, Ma’am. Everything. They didn’t even look worn.”
They weren’t. “My shoes? My boots!” The boots were brown, lovely things Charles had picked up in Madrid. I had never worn anything quite so comfortable.
It made me sick to lose those boots. Of the things Charles had given me, all I had left was my ring. It was as if Julia had tried to strip me of every joyful memory I had.
And so the story goes, of how Mary rebels against her mother-in-law’s rule and strikes out westward to find her own happiness. Like my husband’s grandmother, she finds a man, love, and a family, but not until she has some harrowing adventures.
Get Mary’s story at http://www.amazon.com/Sunniest-Tennessee-Trahern-Western-Traherns-ebook/dp/B00TE7POKQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1423589191&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Sunniest+Gal+from+Tennessee
How can so many writers take one topic, for example “Cinderella,” and come up with so many variations? Well, part of it is imagination, but a larger part is past experiences, either gone through or experienced vicariously. Little parts of us get dropped into our books, so that our characters think and act and get into situations that involve some of our past experiences–physical or mental.
To develop experiences is why authors take weird vacations, snoop around in unexpected places, interview police detectives, and are just plain curious about everything, including what makes folks tick. Who else would sit in a bus terminal, or a mall, and write down descriptions of the way different people walk? And yes, people do walk differently when they are in certain places. Or sit in a coffee shop and make notes on how people talk? Not the content, but the speech patterns and general impression each speaker gives.
For example, I have a notebook that is just for ideas, and it includes methods of speaking and walking and how people use their hands. It includes lines from movies that impressed me, and bits of scenes from movies where I describe what was happening in detail. Like the scene in Michael Keaton’s Batman, where he is trying to tell her who he is. He practices several times. Never gets it done, but it’s an ideal example of what a man goes through when he’s trying to get up nerve to ask a woman to marry him.
I write sweet romances, thrillers, and westerns. My books are always clean of sex and swearing, and have been read by kids as young as 13. My westerns pull ideas from research, from my great grandmother’s journal that she wrote after coming west on a wagon train, from other books and movies, but a lot of it comes from first-hand experience. I grew up on a wheat and cattle ranch, rode horses from three years old and onward, often from sun-up to sundown, herded our cattle to and from the mountain pastures, helped in the branding, cooking, milking, pig chasing, varmint shooting, tractor driving, and fence fixing. Later I took an outward-bound course and learned survival swimming and mountain climbing. These all provide little nuggets of detail that I put in my stories, such as the swimming scene in Spirit of a Champion, making them more authentic.
I got the idea for The Bravest Woman in the Town through research. During the Civil War, the southern women smuggled guns and boots and other items out of Union controlled Nashville, by hanging them on hooks worn under their petticoats. I cast my Trahern man as a spy, and got them both into trouble. Research is also why I’ve had people ask me if I came from Texas, which I didn’t. I’ve lived in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii. Other places I’ve visited, like Puerto Rico, helped me write Songs for Perriand Height of Danger. The web is full of detailed, sometimes eye-witness, information.
My great-grandmother’s journal was the basis for the first Trahern story, and I’ve used information from it in other stories. I just finished the 13th book of that series, which takes different members of the same large Tennessee family (and their cousins), and brings them west. I’ve had them travel by wagon train, horseback, stagecoach, train, ship, farm wagon, and walking part way. In my most recent release, #13, The Sunniest Gal from Tennessee, Mary Trahern goes west on the train, which was just united (almost) to reach from coast to coast. I say almost, because they had to get off the train at the Missouri River and cross the river on boats. Of course, she only has enough money to get to Cheyenne. Doesn’t know anyone. Doesn’t have a job. She can shoot a gun. Let the fun begin.