A Chat About Frontier Travel With Gar LaSalle, Author of the WIDOW WALK Saga

Last summer I had the opportunity to chat with Gar LaSalle, who, like me, writes historical fiction about the West. Scott James of Solipsis Publishing moderated our conversation, and the audio and transcript are now available on Gar’s blog. The audio will give you the flavor of our conversation more accurately, but if you’d prefer to skim the contents, read the transcript, which will take less time.

It’s odd how different people find their way to writing novels. Gar started as a physician, and as we talked he related how his early experiences as a doctor led him to become interested in writing about the Pacific Northwest.

By contrast, I started as an attorney, although I can’t say that my legal background led me to write about the Oregon Trail—that was because of my family background.

Gar has a new novel out, The Fairness of Beasts, and the ebook version of his first book, Widow Walk, was available for free on Amazon the last time I looked. Widow Walk has recently been optioned for the screen, so read the novel now before you see it on film.

I hope you will check out Gar’s books, as well as my new novel, Forever Mine. Surely you know someone who would enjoy one of our novels. (International Book Giving Day was last Wednesday, but in my mind, every day is a book giving day.)

If you are interested in history (and you probably are, if you follow my blog regularly), what in your background brought you to that interest?

FOREVER MINE is now available!

As I announced last week to subscribers to my newsletter, Forever Mine is now available—just in time for Valentine’s Day!

If you have a Valentine who likes to read love stories, family sagas, or American history, I encourage you to send them a copy. You can find Forever Mine at the following sites:

Amazon:

Paperback
Kindle ebook

Barnes & Noble (website only, not in stores)

Paperback
Nook ebook

In fact, you can find all my books on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

For more information, see the new Forever Mine page under Books on this website.

My thanks to you for your support as I wrote and published this book!

P.S. I’ve started a new project. More to come.

Six Years of Blogging: A Measure of Time and an Assessment of Life

I launched my blog “Story & History: One writer’s journey through life and time” in January 2012, publishing only three short posts that month. It took awhile to find my rhythm (stepped up to publishing twice a week) and my voice. For five years, I published on WordPress.com, and last year I moved here to my own website.

I find it hard to believe that it was six years ago now. Sometimes six years seems like nothing, and sometimes it seems like forever—a lot has happened in those six years (and I’ve only written about some of it).

My husband was working full-time in January 2012. Since then, he’s retired, then been called back for two stints at his law firm to fill in for another attorney on maternity leave. He bought a boat and has become comfortable with it, using it primarily to patrol with the Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Our son had not yet met his girlfriend (I don’t think) six years ago, and in this time period, he’s had at least one move from city to city. Our daughter had begun work as an associate for her law firm a few months before January 2012, and now she’s been promoted to the firm’s next level up. Both kids have acquired dogs, and our daughter has also bought a house. They’ve matured considerably in the last six years.

Six years ago, my mother still lived at home with my father. She didn’t move into assisted living until a year later in January 2013, and died eighteen months after that. Six years ago, my father was still alive and active. He was on a homeowner’s association committee, he did a lot of volunteer work with his church and with a small college in Washington State, and he cared for my mother. He died suddenly three years ago in January 2015, so I can think of my six years of blogging as being bifurcated by his death. For a year after his death, much of my time was consumed by dealing with my parents’ estates.

My working (proof) copies of my three historical novels

I launched my blog about the time I published a short anthology as a test foray into self-publishing. Since then, I have published four novels—one under a pseudonym and three historical works under my own name. While I’d already drafted the first three novels by January 2012, they were not nearly in final form yet, and I didn’t publish them until 2013, 2015, 2016.

By contrast, I didn’t even start the newest book until October 2016, and it was ready to publish this month. Am I getting faster or better or was this book just easier? Probably all of the above. Maybe the next six years will answer the question.

This six-year period is a little less than ten percent of my life. Do I feel good about this ten percent? Yes. I’ve begun to see the fruition of my decision eleven years ago (18% of my life) to retire from the corporate world and to start my life as a writer. Although one can always wish that success came sooner, I can see the progress I am making as a writer and feel good about it. Although I would have liked for my parents to have seen me publish my Oregon Trail historical fiction, both of them were able to read the first book in the series, and my dad read a very early draft of the second.

And although I might want a better integration between my writing life and other aspects of my world (meaning, I want more time to write), I have managed to carve out an existence that I enjoy and that holds me accountable primarily to myself and to my family. I have a good life.

My father said many times to me in the last few years of his life, “We [my mother and he] had a good life.” He said it after she’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, after she’d moved into assisted living, and even after she died.

I sometimes have to remind myself that I and my family also have a good life. We have been blessed in many ways. Blogging allows me frequent opportunities to reflect on life, my accomplishments, and the passage of time. I do so today with gratitude.

What milestones and measures do you use to assess your life?

Updates to LEAD ME HOME: The Fremont Expeditions and Pheasants

In addition to putting the finishing touches on Forever Mine this month, I have also made a few updates in Lead Me Home, the first novel I wrote about travel along the Oregon Trail. These two novels both involve characters traveling in the same wagon company in 1847, so part of my challenge was making sure the plots jibed. One of the advantages of self-publishing is that I can make updates on my own when necessary.

One of the Preuss maps of the 1842 Frémont expedition

In Lead Me Home, I had two of my fictional characters, Mac McDougall and Captain Franklin Pershing, referring to maps from the Frémont explorations of the West. In the initial printing of Lead Me Home, I wrote that Captain Pershing had been on Frémont’s 1843 expedition, in part because there is evidence of Army personnel accompanying Frémont that year—a small artillery unit hauled a field cannon for Frémont in 1843. The personnel on the 1842 expedition consisted primarily of fur trappers and other mountain men.

However, the maps created by Charles Preuss and published by Frémont with his report actually depict the 1842 exploration, which more closely followed the route that became the main Oregon Trail. Therefore, as I drafted Forever Mine, I made the decision to change my references to Frémont so that my fictional character accompanied the explorer on his 1842 journey. It’s more important to have the Frémont route accurate than that I match the personnel on the expedition.

Then, so that my two novels about the 1847 wagon company would mesh, I updated Lead Me Home to change all references to the 1843 Frémont journey to 1842. Now both books refer to Frémont’s travels in 1842.

While I was at it, I made a few smaller changes to Lead Me Home. One change that might interest readers relates to pheasants. In the initial publication of Lead Me Home, I referred to the men in the wagon company shooting pheasants. One astute reader told me that he didn’t think there were pheasants in the United States in 1847, because they had not yet been imported from Asia. That was one fact I hadn’t thought to check—I grew up around pheasant hunters, so surely the birds must have been there in 1847!

But a little research proved me wrong.

Although McFarland Pheasants, Inc., reports that pheasants were brought to North America in 1773 (other accounts put the date at 1733), the birds did not survive well in the rugged new continent.  Pheasants were not successfully introduced to the western United States until 1881.

HistoryLink.org Essay 8444, by Kit Oldham, states:

“On March 13, 1881, around 60 Chinese ring-necked pheasants arrive in Port Townsend [in Washington State on the Olympic Peninsula] aboard the ship Otago. United States consul general Owen Nickerson Denny [and his wife] . . . shipped the pheasants, along with other Chinese birds and plants, from Shanghai in hopes of establishing a population in their home state of Oregon. Most of the pheasants succumb as they are transported from the Olympic Peninsula to Portland. A few survivors are released on the lower Columbia River, but accounts differ as to whether this population survives. However, the Dennys ship more pheasants in 1882 and 1884, successfully introducing ring-necked pheasants into Oregon’s Willamette Valley and on Protection Island in Jefferson County near Port Townsend. The colorful game birds prove prolific and popular. Ring-necked pheasants spread throughout Oregon and Washington and are introduced in states across the country, becoming so common that they seem more a native species than one first established in the United States in 1881.”

For more on the introduction of pheasants to the U.S., see here and here.

It’s an interesting coincidence that, although I was wrong about when pheasants were introduced, they were in fact introduced into Oregon and Washington—the part of the nation I wrote about in my novels.

When have you been corrected about some odd historical fact?

Sick Days in Retirement: If a Woman Sneezes at Home, Does Anyone Hear?

This is a self-pity post. I’ve had a cold or the flu for the last week, and I’ve been miserable. If the news reports of the flu epidemic are true, then many other people out there are sick also, and many are sicker than I am. But at the moment, I’m pitying myself, not others.

I got my flu shot, so I shouldn’t be sick. I breezed through Christmas without any exposure (that I knew of) to illness.

But on New Year’s Eve I awoke with a scratchy throat. For the next two days, I didn’t feel well, but I didn’t think it was too bad. I kept up with my normal activities, even going to the gym on Tuesday. I took some cold medicine to help me sleep, but I figured the flu shot would do its thing and I would improve quickly.

This isn’t me, but I have a blue robe like this that I’ve been spending a lot of time in.

Then Wednesday hit. Congestion. Coughing. Fatigue. The proverbial freight train slammed into my body, and I didn’t want to move.

Ditto Thursday. And Friday, though Friday was a little better than Thursday. And Saturday a little better still.

Nevertheless, since my gym visit Tuesday, I haven’t left the house, and I don’t plan to until a meeting scheduled this coming Tuesday.

It has been a long time since I was sick enough to decide to cancel all non-home-based activities for a week.

Of course, while I was working, I generally couldn’t cancel everything. I never took a full week off for illness in twenty-seven years of corporate life. I don’t think I ever took more than two days. There were too many bosses and judges putting meetings on my calendar and imposing non-negotiable deadlines, too many people requiring input and output from me. Too much peer pressure to keep going strong even after the freight train struck.

So I think of taking sick days as a luxury. As a self-employed writer and community volunteer, I can decide for myself whether my presence at meetings is necessary or whether the risk of infecting others outweighs the contributions I could bring to a discussion. I can be self-pitying, and no one can chastise me.

Not me either. This woman looks how I feel, but I don’t have a teddy bear to keep me company.

But the ability to take sick days also means I’m expendable. No one relies on me for anything that can’t be postponed. Even my husband could manage to feed himself if I didn’t fix dinner (though I have been doing that through my illness).

I’m fortunate that I am currently at a point in my writing project that takes very little creativity. I’m doing a final polish on Forever Mine, which doesn’t require much more than the ability to spot typos. I’m pretty good at that, and even my fog-filled brain can handle that mindless activity.

Still, I wonder if I will regret this lost week, if it will set the tone for the coming year. And, in my self-pitying mode, I wonder who besides myself would care if I don’t meet my self-imposed goals.

When have you wallowed in self-pity? What got you out of it?

Happy New Year!

Here’s a link to my January 1, 2018, newsletter. I send this out monthly with updates on my writing. I hope you’ll check it out. If you like it, I hope you’ll subscribe (if you haven’t already). I provide different content in the newsletter than on this blog, so there are reasons to follow both.

This month, the newsletter announces the launch date for my next novel, Forever Mine.

I hope your 2018 begins well and improves through the year.

Happy New Year!

The Charles Preuss Maps of the Oregon Trail

In Lead Me Home, and again in my about-to-be-published novel Forever Mine, I make frequent mention of what my characters call “the Frémont maps.” In fact, these maps were created by Charles Preuss, a German cartographer who accompanied John Frémont on his explorations of the West in 1842 and 1843. The maps were first published in Frémont’s reports to Congress in 1845 and 1846, so my fictional characters could have obtained copies by early 1847.

Preuss’s seven maps are available online

On the 1842 expedition, Frémont, Preuss and their companions followed what would become the main route to Oregon—along the Platte River through what is now Nebraska and Wyoming, crossing to the Sweetwater River, then to South Pass where they crossed the Continental Divide, and then searching for the Snake River, which they followed as far as the Columbia River. Preuss’s maps stop at Fort Walla Walla, where the Snake joins the Columbia. That’s where the 1842 Frémont expedition turned around.

Preuss created seven maps depicting their travels on the 1842 trek. These were later published with Frémont’s report to Congress, and the maps became guideposts for many travelers to Oregon.

Here is the first of Preuss’s maps, showing the trail from Westport to the Little Blue River in Kansas, where the emigrants headed north toward the Platte.

I used the Preuss maps extensively in my research about the Oregon Trail. I often triangulated Preuss’s maps, pioneer journals, and Google Maps to decide where to have my fictional wagon train camp each night along the way. I had to be realistic in how far oxen-pulled wagons could travel (compared to the lighter Frémont convoy), and I had to make sure I thought about what changes to the terrain might have occurred between the 1840s and when Google’s satellite images were prepared. Many of the rivers have been dammed in the intervening 170+ years.

Here is an image from Google Maps reflecting my research into where my wagon train camped in Missouri and Kansas. This private Google Map shows all the waypoints I identified along the trail. I used this as a guide for where to place the emigrants each night of their journey.

Writers, what are some of the unusual research techniques you’ve used?