by Terry Irene Blain
August must be the month for history teachers! This week Romancing The West welcomes Terry Irene Blain, storyteller and history teacher, which she insists are one and the same. I agree. You can find out more about her at her website. So let's delve into the mind that created Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold. Terry, please give us a short blurb about your book.
TIB: Julie Lawson steals documents and flees Philadelphia to ‘visit’ her uncle in Colorado. She hides evidence implicating her pregnant sister in a crime, determined to shield her sister until after the baby is born. For Julie family is all important, but it means nothing to Wes Westmoreland. An undercover agent for Wells Fargo, Wes grew up in the saloons and brothels of San Francisco. For Wes, he sees his job as the only redeeming feature of his life. What happens when two people begin to fall in love, while each have a secret they must keep from the other?
Win Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold
Details at the end of the excerpt
RTW: What aspect of life in the Old West intrigues you the most? Did you work that into Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold?
TIB: I think the part at appeals to me most is the way men and women worked together (each in their own area) to make a home and family. The other aspect is how they spent a lot of time together as a family. I really enjoy my contemporary life, but while raising our sons, life was constantly on the go – soccer, music lessons, cross country, track, school band, Boy Scouts, homework, both parents working, etc. One thing we did do while the boys were in school that helped the togetherness was to eat dinner every school night together.
|Terry Irene Blain, author|
Often today women are pressed to be Super Woman – doing it all, work/profession and home. In the story Julie is doing some book work at her uncle’s smelter, then back at the house she's working in the kitchen. I have Wes think about how hard she’s working as she’s doing essentially two jobs. Eventually one of the benefits Julie and Wes have is that each has their own sphere of duties, so that the two halves make a whole.
Once the hero and heroine in my books get together, they’ll get to spend a lot more time with each other as they build a home and family together. I think that’s the true HEA.
RTW: If you lived in 1889 what modern convenience would you miss the most?
TIB: Since this story was set in 1889, life as wouldn’t have been too different. Most folks had stoves, there were even washing machines (ones that still took a lot of manual work). What I would miss most in any historical period would be water and hot water on tap. When our sons were growing up, we were active in Scouts, so we did a lot of family camping. Living in a tent for a weekend makes you appreciate hot water on tap. Hauling and heating as much hot water as needed would be a real time consuming job. I’d miss stuff like paper plates, cream rinse for my hair, fast food and permanent press clothes. All those things that are things that make our life easier (so we have more time to try to do everything!).
RTW: Are there any common errors in westerns that bug you? If so, please set us straight.
TIB: As you can tell, this is a hot button for me. It’s the history teacher in me, I guess. I think one of the goals of the historical writer is to bring the past alive for those in the present. I remember a comment a friend of mine made after reading a very inaccurate western historical novel. She said there ought to be a rule that you can’t write a western historical novel unless you’ve been camping at least once. Most mistakes come from not having any hands on experience, not doing enough research, or not putting your imagination in the time frame you're writing in.
One mistake is not considering the social mores of the time. I read one western where the hero (the sheriff) and the heroine (an unmarried ‘good’ girl) ended up spending the night together in the town’s hotel. And nobody said anything about it – and it had no consequences. This strikes me as what I call a costume book – nothing is historical/western but the costumes.
The other mistakes I’ll mention come from not thinking things through with a historical mindset. For example, your western heroine is cooking over an open campfire. Think about it (pause for thinking – come on, really think about it for a moment). OK, now that you’ve thought about it, did you have her feel the heat on her face? The breeze will blow smoke in her eyes no matter where she stands and she’ll have to watch out for her skirt tails as she squats. And that night, her hair will smell of smoke when the hero hugs her. And you know all those cowboys sitting around the campfire drinking coffee out of tin cups – you know how hot those cups can get when you pour hot coffee into them (ouch!).
If you’re going to write about the west, you have to ‘think’ western. One western I read, the hero, a Texas Ranger and the heroine are hiding out in a Mexican village during a fiesta. So the heroine gets the Ranger a Mexican peasant’s outfit of sombrero, white tunic and pants, and sandals. They walk around all day enjoying the fiesta. So what’s wrong with this? If a cowboy who has worn boots all his life walks around in sandals all day – how badly are his feet going to be sunburned?
In one of my western ms. I have the hero teach the heroine (from back East) how to ride a horse. Just to make sure I got a good feel for those scenes, and how long it might take to learn to ride as much as I needed her to know for later in the story, I took riding lessons.
I can now brush, bridle and saddle a horse, and of course tell it to go where I want him to go, and not just around and around the corral. Lots of fun, and I figure if an old lady like me can learn to be fairly proficient, the my hero, who is not only great with horses, but a great teacher, can teach the heroine to ride well enough and soon enough to fit my ms.
I’ve been lucky enough to come from a large mid-western family with a great oral tradition, so as a child I heard stories from my grandparents about their childhood, and the childhood of their parents. In Kentucky Green, when the heroine churns butter, I have her say the rhyme that my grandmother said when she was a little girl and had the job of churning the family butter.
My story for Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold came from the setting, as I was always struck by the clean, high mountain beauty of Durango each time we went through there. And my visit to the Molly Brown house in Denver gave me not only the feel of house of the period, but useful information for this story.
RTW: The Molly Brown house is fabulous--I enjoyed my visit there, too. You have an excerpt so I'd like you to set it up for us.
TIB: Since Wes was injured while working for Julie’s Uncle Frank Lawson’s smelter, Frank brought Wes to the Lawson house to recuperate from a concussion and some broken ribs. He’s been staying in the currently unoccupied cook’s small room off the kitchen. Yesterday, during a few moments alone, Wes gave into temptation and kissed Julie. Both of them are trying to resist the temptation of their attraction. Clare is the day maid at the Lawson house, her brother a Lieutenant at the local fort.
Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold
by Terry Irene Blain
The late Monday morning sun streamed through the kitchen windows, shining on piles of clothing and tubs of water as Julie and Clare attacked the weeks’ worth of laundry. Her sleeves rolled up to her elbows, she ran one of Uncle Frank’s white shirts up and down the corrugations of the washboard.
She glanced through the screen to where Wes sat under the cottonwood in the backyard, casually rolling a cigarette. Uncle Frank had carried a kitchen chair out to the shade before he left for the smelter, telling Wes he’d be safer out of the kitchen during laundry day. There had been nothing in his behavior yesterday afternoon or this morning that even suggested he remembered kissing her.
“Isn’t it exciting?” Clare asked.
Confused, she stopped scrubbing and looked at Clare as she rinsed another shirt. “What? Laundry?”
“Of course not. I meant him.” Clare nodded her head in the direction of the open kitchen door. “Don’t you think it’s the least bit scary, having a gunman in the house?” Before she could answer, Clare leaned over and whispered confidentially, “Do you suppose his picture is on a wanted poster somewhere?”
“Clare,” she admonished. “He’s certainly not wanted.” At least she’s didn’t think he was wanted. Of course it was possible for a person to be exciting and trouble, without actually being wanted by the law. Still she felt compelled to defend him.
“He’s working for Uncle Frank,” she rationalized. “Just because a man goes from place to place to find work doesn’t mean he’s an outlaw.”
Clare sighed in what sounded like disappointment. “I suppose you’re right. Mr. Frank’s a good judge of character. He wouldn’t hire an outlaw.” She brightened and went back to vigorously rinsing shirts. “I bet he’s a gunman, though.”
Oh yes. She looked out to where he leaned back in the chair with his long legs stretched out before him. Though just in shirt sleeve this morning, she recalled the gun he usually wore under his coat.
She’d have to remember that. She shook her head and said to Clare, “You’ve been reading too many dime novels. What would your brother say?”
“He’d agree with you,” Clare giggled.
A few minutes later Julie carried a split willow basket of clean shirts out to the three strands of clothesline which ran from the side of the stable to a cross bar nailed to the cottonwood tree. A row of white bed sheets billowed gently from the farthest of the three lines.
Out of the corner of her eye she watched Wes stand and crush out his half-smoked cigarette with his boot heel. The sight of those boots had her mentally shaking her head at male stubbornness. At breakfast this morning, she’d been worried when he’d come from his room, his face pale, a sheen of perspiration on his forehead. But then she noticed he’d not only tucked in his shirt tail, but wore boots. Apparently being caught en dishabille by Clare and her brother yesterday had bothered him. Today, he obviously hadn’t intended on looking like an invalid, even if he did move very carefully when he sat at the table.
Carrying her basket to the stable end of the clothesline, she started hanging shirts on the closest of the three strands, leaving the inside line vacant for the moment. After shirts, blouses, and skirts, she would hang the unmentionables on the inside line so as to be modestly unobservable.
As she hung the second shirt, Wes came to stand beside her. Her emotions ambivalent, she said nothing as he reached up and took the sack of clothes pegs from where it hung on the line. Instead of handing her the bag, he reached in and offered her one. “Here.”
She took the peg, giving him a tentative smile, unsure of how to react after he’d virtually ignored her since yesterday morning. She pegged the shirt tail to the line, and he handed her another peg. “Thank you,” she said, and received a shrug in return.
She hung two more shirts with Wes handing her the pegs. He must be trying to be helpful, she decided. He’d probably have offered the pegs to Clare if she’d been the one hanging clothes. She was his employer’s niece after all and perhaps he felt he owed them for the care after his accident.
Having him help her should be no different than having anyone else help her. Only there was a difference. As much as she tried to dismiss it, awareness of him gripped her. His strong, tanned hand that handed her the clothes peg, his worn but polished boots that nudged the basket along as they worked their way down the line.
The silent partnership continued until the willow basket was empty and a line of white shirts waved in the morning sun. She picked up the empty basket, balancing it on one hip, meeting his eyes directly for the first time. Surprisingly, he looked deep in thought, his eyes slightly narrowed, his mouth unsmiling beneath his blond mustache as he returned her gaze.
With poise she didn’t feel, she nodded and said, “Thank you for your help.”
He nodded again, then still without a word, headed back toward his chair in the shade.
How peculiar. She walked back to the kitchen, accompanied by the rueful knowledge that his presence had a definite effect on her.
As she exited the kitchen with the next load of laundry, she glanced in his direction, wondering, or was she hoping, if he’d assist her again. From his seat under the cottonwood, he merely glanced over at the squeak of the screen door. But he didn’t offer to help with this basket. Oh well, perhaps he felt he’d done his duty by helping with the first basketful. She should be relieved. She began pegging the clothes to the line. Yes, that was relief, not disappointment.
When she left the kitchen with the final basket of laundry, she went straight toward the clothesline. She maneuvered her way through the gap between two shirts to get to the inside line where she hung two pair of pantalets on the line. She held her chemise in her hands when a shadow fell across the basket. A moment later, Wes stepped into the cotton cavern created by the two outside lines of laundry.
She smothered a gasp. The area between the two lines of gently swaying laundry grew suddenly smaller and the air a whole lot harder to breathe in his presence. He glanced at the pantalets, then the chemise in her hand. She felt a blush stain her cheeks but resisted the temptation to hide the garment behind her back.
Gathering her scattered wits, she said, “I don’t need your help. Thank you, anyway.”
He shook his head. “I didn’t come to help.” After another glance at her reddened cheeks and back to the laundry basket at her feet, he said, “And I’ve seen women’s under things before.”
Not mine, she wanted to snap at him, but bit her tongue in time to keep the incautious words unsaid. As casually as she could manage, she dropped her chemise back in the basket. Then was sorry as her fingers trembled without something to clutch.
“This isn’t proper. You have to leave.” If he left, maybe the air would come back and she could get her breath.
“I’ve never been proper.” He took a step closer. She thought about running but stood her ground. Slowly, as if giving her a chance to protest, he reached one hand toward her, the way a man might reach to touch a stove, uncertain whether or not it was hot. Gently, he laid his hand at her waist. The heat of his touch made shivers run up the backs of her legs. She felt the flex of his fingers, and the shivers turned from cold to hot.
“Damn,” he breathed his eyes half-closed as he gazed at where he touched her. “I was right. You aren’t wearing a corset.” He lifted his head, his sea-green gaze intense.
She took a quick breath, and then another one, seeking enough breath to answer. “M-my brother-in-law,” she stammered.
A frown creased his forehead.
“H-he’s a doctor. Very progressive. He forbade my sister and me to wear one when we do laundry or other heavy work. It’s not healthy he said.” But maybe not wearing a corset was even more unhealthy. Without the barrier of a corset, the heat and strength of Wes’s hand radiated a warmth that made her heart beat too hard, too fast. Made breathing an effort.
With a sigh, he dropped his hand. Without his touch, thinking became possible again. She clutched her hands together, wondering at the outrageous conversation. She should have fainted, or wept, or something.
Her heartbeat calming, she noticed Wes run a hand through his hair. The intense look faded and he gazed at her quizzically. Whatever could he be thinking?
With a look of bafflement he asked, “Why did you let me kiss you?”
Astonished, she blinked. “You surprised me.”
“Maybe at first. But why didn’t you slap me afterwards?”
Again, the heat of embarrassment flooded her cheeks. She looked down. Her honesty and impulsiveness had her answering without thinking. “Because I liked it.”
He groaned as if in pain. “You’re too damn honest,” he said with a shake of his head.
Her chin came up. “You think people should lie?”
“People do lie. Some tell lies as easily as they tell the truth.”
“Honesty is the best policy,” she quoted.
He snorted. “Honesty is for people who can afford it.” She started to protest, but he continued, “In some cases honesty can be downright dangerous. It can get a man shot or killed. Or it can get a woman in trouble.”
With a look of total exasperation, he took a step forward. “You’re not supposed to say you liked it when I kissed you. You’re supposed to slap my face to keep me from trying again.”
Her heart did a double thud at the thought of kissing him again. Her hand went to her throat as if to keep her heart from jumping out. “Why would you want to kiss me again?”
“Because,” he practically growled, his voice suddenly low and rough, “I liked it, too.”
Her heart jumped in delight. She wet her lips and tried to think. He took a half step closer and put his hands to her waist. Across the smallest of spaces that separated them, she felt the heat and tension radiating from him. Her ragged breaths drew in the mingled scents of soapy laundry and warm male.
She saw his pulse beat in his throat. Her gaze dropped a few inches lower, to the spot where the open button of his shirt revealed the golden hair on his chest. She wondered what the coarse curls would feel like and impulsively put her hand against his chest.
His face took on the hard, intense look that should have frightened her, his eyes narrow and his lips compressed beneath his mustache. But she couldn’t seem to pull away from his touch, not even when he lowered his head. Her face tilted up to his, her heart wild with expectation.
# # #
RTW: What’s next?
TIB: I’m finishing up the third of three interconnected stories about Texas Rangers set in the late 1870s. The set up: At the end of the Civil War, former Texas Ranger H.T. Rocklin returns to his ranch. Since during Reconstruction the Rangers were disbanded, when Rocklin returns to his ranch he heads a cattle trail drive north. Three of his trail hands are young men (If this made you think of the movie Red River or The Cowboys – then your right!).
The three are Johnny Comanche, a white boy raised by the Comanches and forcibly repatriated to the white world. Clay Yarbourgh who father was killed by cattle rustlers resulting the loss of his family’s ranch. And Tom Stewart the younger son of a well to do family wanting to get out from under thumb of his older brother who’s now head of the family.
At the end of Reconstruction, the Texas Rangers are re-instituted, and Rocklin made a captain. Johnny, Clay and Tom all become Rangers to work with Rocklin. And, of course, each man finds, much to his surprise, just the right woman.
RTW: Sounds great! Anything else you’d like to add?
TIB: While I love the western, my critique group and I sold a series of novellas, so I’m writing a contemporary novella, but the hero is a stunt man working on a western movie. So I still have a cowboy to write about.
Thanks for letting me ‘talk’ to your readers. Writers would be no where without the readers.
RTW: And thanks for stopping by! We look forward to your article on Thursday, as well.
Win Two Free Books!
One lucky commentator will received a digital copy of Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold and a print copy of Kentucky Green.
Drawing will be held September 1, 2012, at 9pm Pacific Time. All comments on either of Terry's articles this week are eligible (Terry has a terrific article for us Thursday!), but be sure to include your email address so we can contact you. Because Kentucky Green is a print copy, USA addresses only, please.