Thursday, November 3, 2011

Ann Charles: Go West, Young Wo-man!

Ann Charles
 by Ann Charles
Copyright © 2011 Ann Charles

When the lovely Jacquie Rogers asked me to contribute an article for Romancing the West, I wasn’t sure what I would write. While I’m a huge fan of westerns, I was born and raised most of my life on a farm in Ohio. I grew up daydreaming about cowboys and living out West.

Then, when I was in 7th grade, my mom and stepfather moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota, getting a place in Deadwood. Finally, I was “out West,” and began soaking up the history and lore while walking the same streets as gunfighters and lawmen of old. I learned all about Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, Seth Bullock and Charlie Utter.

In addition to the characters of old, I learned how the wind makes the pine trees whisper; how sunshine on flower-filled mountain meadows can create a sweet perfume in the air; how fresh, cold mountain spring water can make your teeth ache; how a baking hot day can turn into a crispy cold night in just a couple of hours.
Book 1 of the
Deadwood Mysteries

More importantly, I learned all about mining. I hiked deep into the hillsides, brave only due to my naivety on the dangers of old mines. I reveled in tip-toeing through where men a hundred years prior had sweated, cursed, and cheered at the rewards of their toiling … or moaned about their loss of investment and wasted energies. I found rusted pick-axes, homemade gloves, and the odd spoon or small tool here and there.

Little did I know while I was enjoying my “out West” adventures in the Black Hills that I’d someday use all of these details in books about a single mom trying to raise two kids on her own in Deadwood. [Deadwood Mystery series]

The same thing happened ten years later when I moved to Arizona and began scouting out ghost towns, cacti groves, and ancient cave dwellings. I soaked up the sights, smells, and tastes of the landscape, falling in love with the rugged desert landscape. While visiting gorgeous vistas, I daydreamed about who might have stood in that very same spot. Had it been a Navajo, a Spanish Monk, a grizzled prospector?

I read Louis L’Amour books about the land, adding to the fictional story possibilities in my head. I watched Westerns, old and new, that were supposed to be set in Arizona, paying attention to the background to see if the filming was done on a Hollywood Studio backlot, in Old Tucson, or actually on location. Movies like The Gauntlet, How the West Was Won, The Outlaw Josie Wales, McLintock!, Oklahoma (yes, it was actually filmed in Arizona), Rio Bravo, Rio Lobo, and more.

Book 1 of the
Jackrabbit Junction series
I hiked and explored and pretended I lived a century earlier, trying to imagine how frightening it would be to find myself stranded in Apache territory in the dark of night. I spent an incredible day experiencing a Hopi pow-wow firsthand, took back-country tours of Monument Valley and studied ancient cave paintings. I have so many rich memories and experiences, a wealth of sensory images from my past that I draw from when writing my Jackrabbit Junction mystery series set in a small fictional town in the southeastern Arizona desert.

So, now that I’ve blathered on about my experiences and memories, I’d love to hear more about you.

Tell me some of your favorite places out west to visit and favorite western movies to watch. Is there a ghost town you go back to time and again? A canyon you love to hike? A mountain stream you roll up your pant legs and wade through each time you pass through the area?  [Editor's note: see contest below!!!]

Before I say Adios, I’d like to thank the colorful and funny Jacquie Rogers for inviting me to join her here on Romancing the West. I love this blog and the articles inspire a lot more daydreams for me.

One commenter this week (that includes the article on talented horror artist C.S. Kunkle) will win an autographed copy of Optical Delusions in Deadwood, book 2 of the Deadwood Mysteries series by Ann Charles. (USA mailing addresses only, please)  Be sure to leave your email address in your comment or we'll have to choose another winner.

Thank you, Ann, for visiting Romancing The West today!


  1. Great post! I'm so jealous of all your wonderful memories. I grew up on TV westerns - Wyatt Earp, The Big Valley, Rawhide, etc. etc. I haven't been lucky enough to travel west of the Mississippi yet. It's on my bucket list, though.

  2. Margery, I was fortunate to have a mom with the Go-West bug just like me (inherited that one from her). She first took me out West when I was a six and I wanted to move there from then on. I hope you have a blast when you make it out there and take weeks to explore the canyons and ghost towns and more. There is so much beauty in the landscape. Thank you for stopping by and saying "Howdy." :)


  3. I have a Navajo brother. When I was young and a newly minted filmmaker, I wrote and directed an educational film for Hanna Barbera titled "The Navajos Water The Desert", a story about how my blood brother, a geologist/hydrologist, found and drilled water wells on the reservation. We had some marvelous and even thrilling adventures, including nearly losing the rig over a cliffside when driving into Monument Valley, but my favorite sidetrip was into the rugged hills in South Utah where the Navajos still clung to a way of life almost unimaginable in that time (1970's) and certainly in our roads, no cars, the people lived isolated and proud, mostly sheepherders and hunters, bartering their supplies from trading posts, living in traditional hogans and raising their families in a stark wilderness commanding in its grace and fulfilling the native prayer, I will walk this day in beauty...

  4. John, what an amazing-sounding experience. Memories to treasure in so many ways. It's always great to hear from you. :) Thank you for stopping by and sharing.


  5. Being from Seattle, we had to travel east to get to the "West". but we spent weeks each summer of my childhood and youth touring every state west of the Missouri river on circuitous routes to visit family in Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Texas. Bless Daddy's heart, he made sure we saw it all.

    Of course, my favorite memory is of the gorgeous Native American teen I fell in love with on sight (and never saw again) the summer I was twelve. He was working (wearing a breech-cloth)at a road-side attraction that displayed what life was like living in teepees on the plains. Still makes my heart go pitter-pat after 52 years.

  6. I grew up on a farm in Idaho near the Oregon border and our playground was Graveyard Point, a hill leading into the foothils. It never occured to me that the arrowheads we found there meant that people were actually lived there or that the agates its known for (to rockhounds) would be sacred to anyone.

    And it didn't dawn on me until I was a teenager that we lived where the wild west really was, even though it didn't get a lot of publicity. As with Jody, we had to go east to get to Wyoming and Texas, which are on the "Old West" A-list. And what about southern California, settled in the 1700s? It's west, and its older. New Mexico and Arizona are on the A-list, though, and Montana is close to the A-list, maybe a B+.

    None of that made sense to me, frankly. And I'm still puzzled by why books tend to rehash the same people (Wyatt Earp) and the same places over and over (and yes, I love reading books set in the standard locations--really it's all about character and story) when there's so many more choices.

  7. Grew up on TV and movie Westerns too, but we made a trip to Montana in '02. I was FLOORED - totally - by the sight of the Rockies. And scared out of my wits to sit in the back seat as my hub drove up to the top of BearTooth Pass. AUGH! Preferred Wyoming's flat land, despite that bristling heat. Just standing on the prairie was amazing, seeing for miles and miles. And the BADLANDS!! Of all places, that astonished me the most. :-D

    I agree with you and Jacquie - let's make our western adventures, both contemp and historical - into MOVIES!! LOL

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  9. What an excellent post Ann! I loved reading about where you draw your ideas from. You're a fantastic writer and I can't wait for more :). I love the movie The Outlaw Josie Wales! Fantastic and my favorite! Love old Clint movies. He was so handsome *ahhhh*

    Please don't enter me I own the Deadwood Series already (because Ann ROCKS)

    Keep on keepin' on!

    BK Walker

  10. What a name for a town, Deadwood. Isn't it amazing how often fate takes a hand in our lives? I loved reading about your adventures that led to your mystery series. I wish you every success. The Deadwood mystery serious sounds just wonderful.

  11. Great post Ann. You probably know the place I'm going to mention as my favorite. Montana. I love the eastern part of the state, and Yellowstone is so amazing, I can't wait to go back. I grew up in NY state, but in college I read, "Wilderness and the American Mind" and kept dreaming about moving West. In 1979, I finally did it.

  12. Hey everyone--great comments! I'll be back in a bit to reply after my youngest, Chicken Noodle, goes to sleep. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. @Jody--What a great dad! I, too, had a Native American I fell in love with when I was in my teens. He was a Cherokee I met briefly while on a vacay with my mom in North Carolina. I still have a picture of him somewhere.

    @Jacquie--I wish I had your Idaho "twang" and writing voice. You open your mouth and sound like you came right out of a Louis L'Amour book. Your stories always crack me up, too. On the Navajo reservation where we visited when I was a kid and my mom was a missionary, we got to play in a horse graveyard. That is still one of me and my brother's (CS Kunkle) favorite memories.

    @Meg--I love the Badlands. So much fun to hike in, but watch for those snakes! After I finally made it out west to live, I never wanted to go back. I miss my family a lot, but I can't handle that humidity and lack of scenic views.


  14. @BK--I have a big pencil drawing of Clint as the Outlaw Josie Wales on my bedroom wall (not kidding). He's so good-looking and tough in it. One of my favorite lines of all time is from that movie, "Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining." Awesome! You and I are just made to get along well, plus you get my sense of humor. Love that!

    @Sarah--I know, Deadwood, go figure. But through the years of memories, I've come to love that little town as if I was born and raised there. I love sitting on Main Street looking at the old buildings and imagining the chaos of days of old with horses, buggies, outlaws, lawmen, miners, and more.

  15. @Deborah--I'm with you about daydreaming of moving out west, and I think Montana is gorgeous (even the flatter sections because I love being able to see so farrrrrr. I love how you incorporate setting in your books and even the book video.


  16. Wow, I love your book covers. I enjoy visiting ghost towns and learning about the history of the place. There is something about walking the street or boardwalk of the men and women who were brave enough to venture west and create a life there.

    One of my favorite ghost towns is Bodie, CA. It's been years since I've been there, but the place still remains vivid in my mind. So much so, I knew I had to write a story there. Storm Riders was born, a Steampunk tale set in the Wild West of Bodie. What I blast I had going back there through the pages of my tale.

    Another ghost town I'd like to visit again is Tombstone. My family and good friend of mine and her family ventured into Tombstone, AZ a few years back. We had plans to take a midnight ghost tour and had hours to kill. We walked the streets of the town relishing in the fact we were walking where the Earp brothers had stepped. How awesome is that? We pretty much had the town to ourselves. It was a full moon that night and my husband took some fantastic photos,too.

    I have a question: With your Deadwood series, do you need to read the books in order?

    Jacquie and Ann, I enjoyed the post.
    Ann, I wish you the best with your books. They sound perfect- a good mystery and cowboys. Yep, my kind of book. :) Take Care.


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