Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wells Fargo and Company #western

Terry Irene Blain, author
 Wells Fargo and Company
by Terry Irene Blain

The story for Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold grew out of the location. Having driven through Durango on several occasions, I loved the place. Doing research on the history of Durango brought up the city’s connection with Wells Fargo. And reading about Wells Fargo I found that the company in the era of my story did in fact, have detectives. Many of the incidents that happened or are related to my hero as a Wells Fargo detective actually occurred (although I’ve used my hero, with changes in times and place).

The name Wells Fargo is intimately linked with the historical west. Wells Fargo were the dominate express company west of the Mississippi, although the founders were both East Coast men. Henry Wells, a leather worker at Batavia, New York, and William G. Fargo, a New York Central freight clerk at Auburn, New York were already involved in the express industry, as in 1850 the founded a company called American Express which did business in the Eastern United States. With the discovery of gold in California, they realized the west was wide open for exploitation. Wells and Fargo, while still running American Express, started a new company. In 1852 they founded Wells Fargo to do business in the West, and American Express would do business east of the Mississippi.

At that time, anyone with a wagon and team could call themselves an express company, but with their previous business experience, Wells Fargo by 1859 had 126 agencies between Canada and Mexico. In 1861 Wells Fargo has taken over not only the Overland Mail company but also the financially strapped Pony Express. The heart of Wells Fargo’s enterprise was the Express Department in the Parrott building on the northwest corner of Montgomery and California Streets. The historic building was constructed from stone blocks cut in China and assembled on the site by coolies. To communicate between office and various other business, they employed a cadre of boys to carry messages at twenty-five cents a message. Thus giving Wes his first job at Wells Fargo.

Wells Fargo carried just about anything you can imagine that qualified as ‘fast freight.’ They hauled ice to Los Angeles, Vermont butter to the Mother Lode area. They hauled food, tools, liquor, clothing, but the name is most connected with the transportation of what then was called ‘treasure.’ The treasure of gold dust, nuggets, currency, drafts and notes, coins, gold and silver bullion. This treasure was transported in the famous green painted box wooden box bound with strap iron and sealed with a hasp and lock – which became a trade mark of the company. Keys were kept by the company agent, so any road agent had to carry the box away and then pry it open. Several times Wells Fargo employees went after robbers only to catch them before they could open the box (as Wes relates to Kate).

So if there was trouble in the smelters in Durango, it would have impacted Wells Fargo who transported the minerals produced by the smelters. Much to my surprise I found that several Wells Fargo detectives while working undercover held jobs as deputy sheriffs, or even country sheriffs. So Wes’ job working for the smelters isn’t as odd as it might seem.

The most famous Wells Fargo detective was James Hume, responsible for the capture of Black Bart, the notorious stagecoach bandit know for leaving poetic messages at the site of his robberies. At what turned out to be Black Bart’s last robbery, he was wounded and fled the scene. One of the items left behind was a handkerchief with a laundry mark. Hume and another Wells Fargo detective went to over ninety laundries in San Francisco, and traced it the customer and his boarding house. The suspect confessed to the robber.

Wells Fargo eventually separated their express business and their banking business. By 1905 E.H Harriman, the financier and dominant figure in the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads, had gained control of Wells Fargo (the same E. H. Harriman whose men are chasing Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance kid in the film of the same name). There followed several other takeovers or mergers in the early 1900s.

The company lost its express business in 1918, as a wartime measure, the U. S. government nationalized the express business into a federal agency, the Railway Express Agency (which ceased to exist in 1975).

A firm foundation enabled the remaining banking half of Wells Fargo to survive the Great Depression of the 1930s. By 1962, the bank’s name officially became Wells Fargo Bank. Other first were in 1967 along with two other banks, Wells Fargo introduced what was to become MasterCard.

Eventually in the 1990s Well Fargo was merged with the Norwest Corporation. And while Norwest was the larger company, they kept the much better known name of Wells Fargo, keeping the link to the American West, the stagecoach and the heritage of the name. As recently as 2008, Wells Fargo is still growing, acquiring Wachovia.

The Wells Fargo stagecoach carrying the green box is still one of the enduring image of the West. Just for fun, a Wells Fargo commercial featuring the iconic stagecoach.

For more information on James Hume, see Wells Fargo Detective, a biography of James Hume by Richard Dillon.

Labels: Durango Colorado, Wells Fargo, bank robbery, stagecoach, smelters, San Francisco, Black Bart, Overland Mail, Pony Express, American Express
# # #

Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold
by Terry Irene Blain
Available from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, ARe

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.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Terry Irene Blain: Colorado Silver, Colorado Gold

Colorado Silver,
Colorado Gold
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.

Excerpt from
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.
# # #
Available from Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, iBooks, Kobo, ARe

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.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Camp Ford, Texas: The Largest Civil War Prison Camp in the West

Troy D. Smith, author and historian
 Camp Ford, Texas:
The Largest Civil War
Prison Camp in the West
by Troy D. Smith
Copyright © 2012 Troy D. Smith

[Note: be sure to visit Monday's interview with Troy and read an excerpt of Blackwell Unchained.]

During the Civil War, hundreds of thousands of soldiers on both sides wound up in prison camps. Conditions were, obviously, less than ideal –and they got worse as the war dragged on, especially in the South. It is estimated that more than 50,000 men died from captivity in Union and Confederate prisons. It was not necessarily a matter of deliberate mistreatment –by the end of the war, the Confederacy was having trouble providing food for its own troops, let alone prisoners.

The worsening condition of Union prisoners is demonstrated by the story of Camp Ford, near Tyler, Texas. It was established as a training camp in 1862, but became a prison camp in August of the following year. At first it was only meant for captured Union officers and naval personnel. The prisoners were kept in an open field, with Confederate troops on hand to guard them. There were only a few hundred inmates, and they had access to lumber and tools; New Yorker A.J.H. Duganne recalls the ten by ten foot log cabin which the other prisoners helped him build, and noted that tools were put to various good uses:

“In spite of all obstacles, Yankee ingenuity finds means to assert itself, and the long hours of our imprisonment are whiled away by many shrewd workers, with no small returns of pecuniary profit to themselves.”

After a mass escape attempt in November, 1863, the camp was enclosed by a palisadea wall made of sharpened wooden poles. There was also a guard-house, and prisoners had to contend with sadistic guards. Duganne recalled one instance where an especially cruel guard ordered a Union lieutenant to approach him, then shot the man fatally through the bowels for crossing the guard line.

The camp quadrupled in size in the spring and summer of 1864, after the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. The population peaked at over 5,000, most of them enlisted men. It was the largest prison camp west of the Mississippi River. While the imprisoned Union officers had their small cabins, the other 5/6 of the prisoners had to contrive whatever cover they couldmaking “shebangs,” or improvised shelters, out of blankets, tree limbs, leaves, cast-off odds and ends of lumber, and mud. The enclosure was expanded, but the captives still had the same water sources that had supported a fraction of their number before.

The prisoners resisted in whatever ways they could. Tunnels were attempted. Once a prisoner, having been struck by a guard, hit the Confederate in the head with a rock and then melted into the crowd. On another occasion a Confederate officer’s pipe was stolen, only to show back up in his own pocket the next day—with a U.S. flag carved into the bowl. Messages were passed back and forth to prisoners who were locked in the guard-house for various offenses by means of a “police telegraph—other prisoners would volunteer to malinger or show up late for roll call, punishable by a short stint in the guard-house, on which occasion they would deliver the messages.

Duganne told of one especially daring escape attempt. Fifteen prisoners stole into the courtyard in the dead of night, risking discovery by the night watch. Duganne and others who met regularly as a “musical club” started singing at the top of their lungs, attracting the guards’ attention—even taking requests from the Confederates, including “Dixie.” While the watchmen were thus distracted, the fifteen Union men worked together to pull one of the palisade stakes out of the ground and slipped, one by one, through the space. They were not missed until the next morning, whereupon the guards pursued them with bloodhounds. Thirteen of the fifteen were recaptured, while the other two escaped to Union lines.

The guards would sometimes whip naked female slaves within sight of the Union captives, to taunt them—as if to say “here is what you are allegedly fighting to stop, what can you do about it?” Local citizens also lynched runaway slaves and pro-Union Texans near the prison camp, often hanging them and sometimes burning them alive.

As Duganne reported, “Burning men and women at the stake is a relic of aboriginal amusement. A negro was thus executed at Tyler, while our prisoners tarried at Camp Ford. The occasion furnished a gala-day for all the good people of Smith County, our guards included.”

Kate Stone, a young lady from Lousiana who lived near the camp during the war and sometimes wrote about it in her journal, was occasionally moved to sympathy by the prisoners’ pitiable condition. But, she concluded, “we cannot help them. They should have stayed in their own bountiful country instead of coming down here to kill and destroy.”

The Camp Ford prison site is now a public park.
Troy D. Smith's Blackwell Unchained is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One commenter this week wins
a pdf of three short stories:

Small print: Winner will be drawn Aug. 25, 2012 at 9pm PDT.  Please leave your email address with your comment so we can contact you.  Otherwise, we'll have to draw another name.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Troy D. Smith: Blackwell Unchained

Blackwell Unchained
(The Blackwells series)
by Troy D. Smith
Copyright © 2012 Troy D. Smith

One of my favorite people in the writing business is Troy D. Smith, talented author of many wonderful works in a variety of genres. You can be assured of historical accuracy in his stories—he has earned a PhD and is a historian and history professor. The historical tidbits he brings to his stories are intricately woven into rich characterization and strong emotional conflicts so the reader internalizes the authenticity. Few writers have the chops to pull that off. Troy's history is so much more than a bunch of battles and dates because he delves into the hearts and minds of those who were there. You'll get a taste Thursday when his article on Camp Ford is published.

Romancing The West interviewed Troy earlier this year. Take a look at Troy D. Smith: Cherokee Winter, and the article he submitted, The Flight of Opothleyahola.

Before we get started, Troy has offered bribes! er, prizes! Yes, there's a
(Details after the excerpt)

RTW: Let's get down to business. Please tell us about your series, The Blackwells.

TDS: The Blackwells is a series of ebook shorts—they average about 5,000 words—that examines the American West through the experiences of one family. Last year Western Trail Blazer released the first five stories, and I have just released four more. Henceforth (isn’t that a cool word?) I plan to write a new one every month or so.

The story starts with four young brothers—all in their late teens to early twenties—leaving Tennessee in 1849 for the California gold fields. From there they go their separate ways: one becomes a soldier, one a Texas Ranger, one an outlaw, and one spends several more years as a miner before becoming a lawman.

RTW: When and why did you first decide to do this series?

Troy D. Smith, author
TDS: I actually wrote my first Blackwell story not long after I had my first short fiction published in 1995. I wanted to do an epic series that spanned the whole period of the “traditional west”—as you know, I love history... and I love epics, especially those that have a beginning, middle and end. Obviously, I was influenced by Louis L’Amour’s Sackett novels—and I think the greatly underrated TV series How the West Was Won did something very similar (I think I can get away with having my family also come from Tennessee, as that’s my home—half my characters in general wind up being Tennesseans!) Another saga I love is Robert E. Howard’s Conan—not a western, I know, although “Beyond the Black River” is very western-like. I am taking the same approach with the Blackwells that REH did with Conan—the stories are not told in chronological order, but jump around in time, each one completely self-contained. But eventually I will have woven a complex tapestry.

Those first four Blackwell tales were published in the late '90s in the magazines Western Digest, The Storyteller, and The Shootist. I sort of got distracted after that by other projects, although Texas Ranger Jake Blackwell showed up as a supporting character in many of my other works (including Bound for the Promise-Land, which to my great joy won a Spur award.)

RTW: Why did you choose to make the Blackwell saga a series of short stories?

TDS: Mainly because I wanted to write a lot of them, featuring several different main characters over a long period of time. Plus, I love writing short stories. I am pondering the possibility of later branching out into an occasional Blackwell novel, though.

RTW: I love short stories. How have the first stories been received?

TDS: The Blackwell series is the only thing I have ever done that has had both high sales and good critical reception. It’s really strange—when those earliest stories were published in low-circulation magazines in the 90s, I think the highest I was paid for one was $25. And yet in their second life as e-books they’ve sold very well— “Blackwell’s Stand” peaked at #4 on Amazon’s western list. And I was very pleased and honored when the first new one I had written in over a decade, “Blackwell’s Run,” was a finalist for last year’s Peacemaker Award from Western Fictioneers.

RTW: Where do you see this series going?

TDS: I have a lot of story ideas. I plan to do a story (or more) about Caleb Blackwell’s gold mining days in which he goes to Australia for the rush there in the 1850s. I’ve already branched out into the second generation, introducing Max Blackwell’s son Billy in the Klondike gold rush story “The Windigo,” and I plan to do more stories about him. I’ll eventually have Blackwells in 1920s oil boomtowns and maybe cousins on both sides of the law during the 1930s Dust Bowl bank robbery heyday.

RTW: What other stories are you working on?

TDS: If you like detective stories, I just released the newest of my Roy Carpenter mysteries, “Stomp Boogie,” and have another series beginning soon called Dead Rednecks!

And of course, I am extremely excited about being series editor and co-writer of Western Fictioneers’ new western novel series, Wolf Creek. The first volume is being unveiled on September 1, with a new one every three months or so thereafter—and it is really coming together well.

RTW: Tell us about this excerpt from “Blackwell Unchained.”

TDS: Jake Blackwell left the Texas Rangers to join the Union Army. He has been captured and sent to a prison camp—on Thursday I’ll be contributing an article here about Camp Ford, in Tyler, Texas, which I have renamed Camp Henry in the story. Here Blackwell is about to have a run-in with his nemesis, the sadistic guard Sergeant Tucker.

EXCERPT of Blackwell Unchained
by Troy D. Smith

The prisoners tended to segregate themselves according to their national background—there were “neighborhoods” of Norwegians, Germans, Irish, and Swedes. Some sections of the camp were organized according to region—the New Englanders here, New Yorkers there, people from the states that had been the Old Northwest Territory in another area—and others by regiment. Jake Blackwell had not found a sizeable group of pro-Union Texan prisoners.

Camp Henry’s “neighborhoods” became most evident on race day. In preparation for the races, prisoners tried to catch as many rats as they could. Preliminary races were held to determine each group’s swiftest rodent, and this was followed by a final round in which the groups’ chosen rats competed against one another for the championship. An area was cleared for the race, and individual lanes were created with scrap lumber. The prisoners did not have many possessions, but what little they owned was wagered—coats, blankets, and shoes were the most common items.

The Northwesterners’ rat, Charlie, had dominated the last several contests. Charlie’s official owner was an artillery corporal from Wisconsin, but all the soldiers from the Great Lakes states felt a sense of proprietorship in the critter—including Barton and Suffolk.

The final race had just begun when Sergeant Tucker approached the track. The guards had always stayed away during the festivities—but Tucker was apparently feeling especially vicious on this day.

“Here, now, what’s this!” he shouted as the rats were released. “Filthy vermin, contaminating the camp?”

He plunged his bayonet into the nearest rat, pinning it to the ground. It was Charlie, and the little fellow screamed piteously for a couple of seconds. Tucker pulled out his bloody blade, grinning broadly.

“One less rat—almost as good as one less Yankee.”

The entire assembly of prisoners seemed to be in shock. Charlie’s owner stumbled over to his pet’s still-twitching body and sank to his knees beside it.

More guards approached—the captain in command of the shift had seen what was happening and feared an impending riot.
Jake Blackwell heard a low growl from beside him. He turned and saw Suffolk—the Hoosier’s right eye was twitching and his clenched fists shook.

RTW: Wow, you really left us hanging, Troy. Excellent excerpt!

Blackwell Unchained is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

One commenter this week wins
a pdf of three short stories:

Small print: Winner will be drawn Aug. 25, 2012 at 9pm PDT.  Please leave your email address with your comment so we can contact you.  Otherwise, we'll have to draw another name.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Getting the Research Details Right by @MegMims

Meg Mims, author
Getting the Research Details Right
by Meg Mims
Copyright © 2012 Meg Mims

How easy is it to research? If you’re a diehard librarian or bookworm, it’s easy. Trawl the shelves, pore over bibliographies for even more sources—especially original sources such as diaries, letters, or books written in the past century. As a last resort, do a Google search for any details you may have missed.

But what if the idea of research is a four-letter word to you? What if you hate all that extra hard work? Ah, no big deal. Readers aren’t gonna know the difference, right?

Think again.

Readers are savvy. They’ve watched PBS series. TV shows such as Sherlock Holmes, Downton Abby, Upstairs, Downstairs, Ken Burns’ Civil War series and other documentaries, plus they’ve read an extensive amount. They have an uncanny ability to sense when something’s ‘hinky’ – and that will throw them out of the story in two seconds flat. Sorry about the cliché, but it’s true. And the truth hurts.

It hurts authors in reviews, for one thing. Call me crazy, but I would rather have a reader or reviewer criticize me for “not enough romance” over some minor detail like “they didn’t have modern plumbing on trains back in 1869.” And no, they didn’t. Trust me on that—I researched what train travelers would see when they lifted the commode lid. Train tracks flashing beneath, in fact. No wonder my grandmother and great-grandmother told their kids to never play on the railroad tracks! Ugh.

Now I do love research. Give me a stack of books or photo-studded websites and I’m there with bells on! I can’t explain that wonderful “Aha!” feeling when I stumble over a really fabulous and authentic detail I can utilize in my books. Call me crazy. Call me an old-fashioned library hound. I got caught up in the research for the sequel to Double Crossing, in fact, and was sidetracked for weeks! That’s another problem with research. Writers can either “fudge” their way around the research, or get hopelessly bogged down and never finish the book.

I try to walk the middle path – do some of the research, start writing, do a bit more, get back to the writing, and then do some minor detail checks as I make my way through the story. Some writers mark the spot with an “X” and get back to it later. That bugs me. I prefer knowing how the research will affect the story. If it’s a specific street or building, I like to trawl the web for images so I can describe the building (up to a point) and incorporate some of the history. The key is to know how much is just right, rather than too much or too little.

Another key is to take the time and do the research rather than take the easy way out by skipping or skimping. The devil is in the details, after all.

Thanks to Jacquie Rogers for hosting me this week!

Check out the 25+ five-star reviews of Double Crossing on Amazon!

EXCERPT from Double or Nothing, my WIP,
the sequel to Double Crossing…

On higher ground, I saw two men holding hoses that spurted water at the high bank. Two others sprayed quicksilver over the sluice. It didn’t look like anything but dirty water. This entire trip had been a waste of time. Uncle Harrison hadn’t needed me to take part in decisions. He resented the questions I’d peppered the foreman with and ignored my opinions on how much damage the operation was to the countryside. Why had he dragged me here in the first place?

I should have stayed back in Sacramento. My sketchbook drawings of the things I’d seen during the journey on the train needed work. Etta had brought my watercolor supplies from Evanston, and many of my books too. But I didn’t want to read or paint. A deep melancholy robbed me of energy. I was as useless as a broken pencil or paintbrush.

I trudged toward the shack. The foreman held a large piece of paper between his hands while my uncle pointed at various sections. Two other men argued with them. I overheard their heated words, although most of it was technical jargon that sounded Chinese to me.
Hydraulic Mining

“—haven’t made headway,” said a man in a tailored suit. He wore a gold chain looped across his patterned waistcoat that glinted in the sun. “I say we dig out the ridge.”

“I agree with Alvarez. You take that ridge down and we’ll never get any equipment to the furthest point of the claim, over here,” my uncle said and prodded the map. “He knows this land better than you. And Nate agrees with him.”

The foreman nodded. “I do. It’s safer to go slow—”

“I’m the engineer. Are you implying I don’t know my business?”

“I’m saying it’s stupid to undermine that ridge!”

Good heavens. I reversed direction and headed back toward the sluice. They were sure to argue for another few hours. I’d ride that horse, even if it meant hiking my skirts to my knees and baring my ankles. It had to be just as bored and probably needed exercise. I had to do something productive or I’d go mad.

Steering around the same patch of mud, I cut close to the sluice. A blood-curdling yell halted everyone. I whirled to see the entire bank of earth rushing downward, a huge avalanche of mud, rocks and two large trees root-first. The mass headed straight for me.
# # #

Leave a comment with your email address, LIKE my book on Amazon and LIKE my author Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy of Double Crossing!

Check out my book’s website and my author website, follow me on Twitter @megmims and on Facebook. I hope you enjoyed reading the excerpt from Double Crossing.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Meg Mims: I See Dead Characters

I See Dead Characters
by Meg Mims

I started writing traditional romance. Really? Just ask my long-time critique partner, who slogged through many manuscripts with me. Over the years, I snagged plenty of editors (from slush-pile submissions, no less) who loved my writing style. But they still rejected me. I couldn’t figure out what I was missing to jump over that last hoop to become a published author.

They did tell me I had plot-heavy manuscripts and not enough romance—and what was with all the dead bodies? Plenty of historical romances have dead bodies lying around, though, from wars or vengeful alpha heroes. I didn’t see the problem. Yeah, my historical style focuses on the plot. For years I tried to beat that down and failed. If one of my characters turned around, someone ended up dead. Blame them, not me! And besides, my characters didn’t have time for romance. They might think about it, or get distracted by their mutual attraction, but then they force themselves to refocus and solve the puzzle.

Trust me, I’m a slow learner. I never considered switching genres to mystery. Go figure.

But I’m not writing traditional mystery either. Really. It took me a few years to figure out I’m writing “blended genre” fiction, taking a bit of romance and a bit of mystery (puzzle, dead bodies) and a big chunk of suspense and a bit of inspiration – and a western setting. Not that it’s easy to market a western historical mystery, a “twist” of True Grit and Murder on the Orient Express, but it’s worked so far with Double Crossing. I wish I could get more comedy in there somehow, but I’m not as talented as Jacquie in that domain!
Meg Mims accepting the Spur Award for Double Crossing

I’m writing the sequel to Double Crossing now. Double or Nothing will begin where the first book left off, with Lily Granville in Sacramento. There's a bit more romance, but also some dead bodies and a bigger puzzle to solve. Oh yeah. It’s the same heavy-on-suspense, western mystery with romance and a bit of inspirational in it. I wrote a short story this summer (the beginning of a novel), a YA medieval-based fantasy called “Seafire,” for a charity anthology, Hazard Yet Forward. I plan to expand that into a novel at some point – blending romance and suspense into that as well. Blending genres gives “something for everyone” and an entertaining read.

Here’s to blended genres! May dead bodies continue to haunt my characters. Really!

Double Crossing

– When Lily Granville tracks her father’s killer across country to California, she soon realizes she is no longer the hunter—but the prey.

More than 25 five-star reviews on Amazon! Winner of the 2012 Spur Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers of America.


I needed something to make me forget the argument with Father. Capturing the lizard’s familiar form, I filled it in with dark cross-hatching and smudges. What a beautiful creature. My friends kept Persian cats or lapdogs, but lizards held a special fascination for me. Exotic, alluring with their patterned skin texture and independence from humans. Lucretia flicked her tongue and scuttled away, alarmed by some noise in the distance. The setting sun glowed dull red and orange past the shadowy trees, casting golden beams over the garden. The aroma of roast chicken, thyme and sage reminded me of dinner.

Rising to my feet, I groped for my mother’s necklace which held the tiny watch that Charles had given me. I must have left it upstairs on the dressing table. Tinkling water spilled from a cherub’s pitcher into the fountain. I sat down on the bench again and added ferns and shadows to my sketch.

Minutes later, a loud crack echoed in the air. The odd sound lingered. It reminded me of the revolver’s shot when I’d killed the badger. Had it come from the house? Closing my book, I hurried through the garden. Two shadowy figures slipped off the side porch and fled toward the street. The taller one wore dark clothing. I recognized the shorter man as Emil Todaro by his frog-like gait. Rushing after them, I witnessed their mad scramble into a waiting buggy. The team shot forward under a whip’s cruel lash.

Why had the lawyer returned? What did they want?

I climbed the steps to the side door and found it locked. Scurrying around to the back of the house, I tried the library’s French doors but they didn’t budge. My heart jumped in my throat. I picked up my skirts, raced around to the front door and flung it wide.

“Etta! Etta, where’s Father?”

The maid poked her head out of the dining room. “In the library.”

“I saw Mr. Todaro leaving with another man. Did you let them in?”

“No, Miss Lily. I did hear the Colonel talking to someone, though.”

“Didn’t you hear a loud bang?”

“I did, but I thought it was Cook with her pots. I was in the cellar fetching more coal.” Etta trailed me through the hall. “Is something wrong?”

“I’m not sure.” The library’s doorknob rattled beneath my fingers when I twisted it open. I peeked inside the dim room. “Are you all right, Father?”

An odd smell tickled my nose—gunpowder. I swallowed hard, my throat constricting, staring at how Father was sprawled over his desk, head down, one arm dangling over the edge. My head and ears thrummed when I saw papers littering the floor. The safe door stood ajar, the drawers yanked open every which way. I took a step, and another, toward the pipe that lay on the plush Persian carpet. His crushed spectacles lay beside it. Father’s hand cradled the small derringer he’d always kept in his desk drawer. Its pearl handle gleamed above a stack of papers, stained dark crimson.

A fly crawled over Father’s cheek. Etta clawed the air, one hand clamped over her mouth. I saw a tiny blackened bullet hole marking his temple, and wet blood trickling downward. Frozen in place, I heard a shrill scream—my own, since pain raked my throat.

Everything swirled and a dark void swallowed me whole.

Thanks, Jacquie, for having me here this week! I’ll share an excerpt from my WIP, the sequel Double or Nothing, on Thursday.

Leave a comment with your email address, LIKE my book on Amazon and LIKE my author Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy of Double Crossing!

Check out my book’s website and my author website, follow me on Twitter @megmims and on Facebook. I hope you enjoyed reading the excerpt from Double Crossing.

The Fun Side of Love

The Fun Side of Love
by Jacquie Rogers

People, both readers and writers, often ask me how I write humor. In fact, this issue arises in nearly every writing conversation and interview. I’m puzzled by the question and completely stumped by the answer, whatever it may be.

All of my books contain at least an element of humor.  So how did I end up writing this way? The first bit of fiction I endeavored to pen was a murder mystery set in the future. That was in 1997 and futuristics weren’t exactly the hot item then, but that’s beside the point. I have 32 first chapters. That doesn’t count the first chapters I revised and revised. It was dark and gritty. Oh, I was so happy to be lord over such drama!

Only there was a problem--my critique partners kept laughing at it. By the last half of the book, I made it into a pretty decent romance, except of course most of it took place in the Virtual Wild West Theatre. Then I had two elements I hadn’t ever bargained for: humor and western. (Westerns weren’t selling, either.)

My next venture into a novel took me to western historical romance. This wasn’t a stretch at all for me because I grew up in a sparsely populated county in southwest Idaho where the Old West still lives, sorta. But I knew westerns weren’t selling and humor sure wasn’t, so at least I could make it dramatic. Only I soon found that plopping a laced-up schoolmarm in a brothel with batch of color-coded prostitutes was . . . well, dang it, funny. And it finaled in the Golden Heart that year.
Neither of these books sold, nor did the next three. So westerns and humor aren’t getting me very far. Until I hit the short story market.

Some writers thrive in a shorter format. Me? I’d never tried to write a short story and didn’t think I was suited for it at all, but wanted to give it a try. So while I love to write full-length novels, my first success came in short stories.

Faery Special Romances was born. I decided to write ten stories chronicling the life of the lead character, Keely, a matchmaking faery princess with attitude. And the first thing I thought of was a four-year-old faery with not so good wing control and downright lousy faery dust control, not to mention a lack of understanding when it came to consequence. Made me laugh. Thus, the concept of writing ten short stories starting in 1199AD when Keely was a kindergartener and works to match the faery Shaylah with the knight Sir Darian, to the future when Keely gets her own HEA. It’s a fun book.

Situational humor tickles my funny bone the most. In fantasy, you can create nearly any situation you want. What if: Bill Shakespeare was a changeling? A servant girl’s faery godmother stranded her on a pirate ship? A Regency miss needs glasses? A faery woman singing in a speak-easy is committed to the wrong man?

I suppose another person could make all these into dark stories, but I see the humorous side.  Example: I was critiquing a synopsis for a friend of mine, Eilis Flynn and raved about her story idea, laughing at all the possibilities. She looked at me, puzzled, and said, “It’s not funny.” And when I protested she said, “I have no sense of humor.” Maybe not, but nearly everything she says cracks me up. I love clever wit.  That book is now published as Static Shock

Clever wit, ah, another vehicle for humor. Rowena Cherry is a favorite author of mine, and one of my favorite quotes is from the tyrant emperor’s sidekick, Grievous: “The problem with your bloody Great Djinn gene pool is that there’s no lifeguard on duty.” Knight's Fork is rife with clever nuances.

Unexpected roles is a good way to create humor. In Deborah Macgillivray’s Invasion of Falgannon Isle, The Cat Dudley (yes, an actual cat) plays poker every Friday night at the pub. And wins. I loved The Cat Dudley--a great character. Made me laugh many times. My contemporary western, Down Home Ever Lovin’ Mule Blues, features a cogitating mule named Socrates who has decided his human needs love and sets out to find him a woman. Socrates is assisted by an Australian Shepherd named Perseus and a skunk named Guinnevere.

I use unexpected roles and awkward situations to create most of the humor in the Hearts of Owyhee series.  In Much Ado About Marshals, I put an honest man in a situation where he either has to lie to protect his best friend's and his lives, or deceive a woman hellbent to marry him.  There's a good-hearted sidekick, a rambunctious dog, and a couple of ornery widows to spice things up.  I also have a lot of fun with patent medicines.

Situational humor is in the forefront of Much Ado About Madams, because the suffragist heroine is a schoolteacher whose students are not seven-year-olds, but six soiled doves.  Now you have the working girls and a suffragist, not to mention the hero who has to buy clothes for all the ladies and is color blind.  I had a blast thinking of ways to make the hero scramble in that book, but he was always game for the next adventure. :)

The city vs. country scenario drove the humor in Much Ado About Mavericks.  The hero is a Boston attorney and the heroine is the foreman on the Bar EL Ranch.  I loved writing this book because the heroine was everything I wanted to be when I was a kid--but wasn't.  And of course the hero is the one I would've picked, too--handsome and smart.  (Luckily, I got a handsome and smart hero in real life!)  The point of this book is that you can't assume you know what's in someone else's heart, because you can be very wrong.  And of course, that's where the humor lies.

My only advice for writing humor (and believe me, analysis of humor is very un-funny) is to let your hair down and don’t let your brain interfere with what your fingers type. And good luck!

About reading humor? Suspend disbelief as much as possible, because the more you do, the more open you are to ludicrous characters, situations, or events.  Example: The Apple Dumpling Gang isn't at all believable but it's one of the funniest movies I've ever seen.

Enjoy the ride!