Author’s Blog Chain

I’ve been asked to participate in an Author’s Blog Chain this week, which gives me the opportunity to tell you more about my writing.

Juliet Kincaid, a Kansas author and member of the local Sisters in Crime chapter, tagged me on her blog, Juliet Kincaid, Writer. Juliet has recently written a series of cozy mysteries featuring Cinderella, P.I., as well as January Jinx, the first book in her new series of historical mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900. These are all available on

Please check out Juliet’s blog or follow her on Facebook to find out more about her writing.

This author’s blog chain asks me to answer four questions.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently editing my two novels on the Oregon Trail. I have edited the first novel pretty thoroughly, but it probably needs one more edit to slim it down a little. I am spending most of my time now on the second novel in this series, and I’m just part way through this re-write. I’m working hard with a critique group and I’m focusing on plot development.

There is a third novel in this series, but it is still in my head. I may also write a novella about two of the supporting characters in my Oregon Trail series.

Family Recipe front cover finalI also plan to publish another anthology of my short stories, essays, and poems this spring—a follow-up to my Family Recipe anthology published in 2012.

Meanwhile, last October, I published another novel under a pseudonym—a contemporary thriller. It is completely different from my Oregon Trail books.

How does your work differ from others in the same genre?

In my first Oregon Trail novel, which focuses on a wagon company traveling the trail in 1847, I tried to be historically accurate, down to where the emigrants camped each night. I relied on old diaries of real emigrants that year to determine how far they traveled, where they stopped, and what they did along the way. Some of them went on sight-seeing trips away from the wagons to avoid another boring day of walking the trail. Some of those day trips made their way into my novel.

cropped-mc9001498821.jpgI used terrain maps to find the gullies and hills mentioned in the old diaries, but I’ve had to allow for the development of the land over the last 160+ years. Still, it is amazing how much one can learn from Google Maps! Many of today’s urban routes are still named “Emigrant Road” or some other designation showing that the pioneers passed that way.

The second book in my series has a broader sweep—encompassing events from 1848 through 1850 in both Oregon and California. My challenge in this book has been to make sure my chronology depicts accurate times for letters to reach from one territory to the other. At the same time, I have to be careful not to bore today’s audience used to instant communication through emails and texts. What else can happen while I wait for one character to learn what the other has been doing?

My novels are suitable for any audience from high school through adult. They could be used as an adjunct to a high school level American history class, as well as (I hope) telling a good story.

Why do you write what you write?

I am in awe of the courage it took our ancestors to travel thousands of miles to unknown lands, hoping for a better life for themselves and their children. The challenges of the Oregon Trail have caught my imagination because I have lived at both ends of the trail—now in Missouri, but I grew up in Oregon and Washington. I have traveled the trail backwards!

whitman_missionGrowing up, my family took several day trips to the Whitman Mission over the years. The frightful massacre of Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and others at their mission scared me as a child. As I have researched and written these books on the Oregon Trail, I have discovered how complicated history can be when seen from multiple perspectives.

How does your writing process work?

The main characters in my novels have been in my head for over twenty years. But I find as I write their stories that they are not always who I thought they were. They put their own voices in my head, and sometimes move in directions I do not anticipate.

Because these books are historical fiction, I am bound by history. One of my main goals is to be historically accurate. But I also want to tell a good tale, to make my readers care what happens to these fictional emigrants.

When I began writing the first novel, I knew where and when in 1847 they left Independence, I knew when they would arrive at the Whitman Mission (before the Whitmans died), and approximately when they would arrive in Oregon. I knew the general route they took, but I had to make some decisions about particular short-cuts available in 1847—which route would they take?

Beyond that, I let the characters develop their conflicts. Some characters took over at certain points, and I let them run with it. Any time you put a group of people together, there is plenty of conflict!

For the second book, kind of like Forrest Gump, I had certain places I wanted one of my characters to be at a certain time—like when gold was discovered in California in 1848. I am working the plot around those incidents, but it is still a work in process. Sometimes it’s easy to set the chronology, and other times I have to really work at it.

* * *

Thank you for taking the time to read about my forthcoming novels. I’ve been blogging about them for two years now. Someday they will be ready for prime time, and you will be the first to know.

I am tagging another author to continue this author blog chain—Beth Lyon Barnett, author of another historical novel, Jazz Town, who blogs at Beth’s Everything Blog. I know she is hard at work on her second novel, and I hope she will tell you about it soon. Hop over to her blog to find out more about her work.

A Novel Blog Hop: Lead Me Home

J.G. Burdette, who blogs at Map of Time: A Trip into the Past, tagged me to participate in a Blog Hop for authors.  What’s a blog hop? This one is an interview with ten questions posed to a writer about the novel he or she is writing. The author answers the ten questions and then selects five more writers they would like to interview.

This gives all our readers an opportunity to learn what we – and our writing friends – are working on. I appreciate the opportunity J.G. has given me to write about my book. I hope you enjoy reading about my work in progress, and please go read about the writers I’m tagging at the end of this post.

1.      What is the working title of your book? 

MC900149882Lead Me Home

2.      Where did the idea come from for the book? 

I’ve had the idea of a novel about a couple traveling the Oregon Trail in my head for more than 20 years. Given the nature of the story, it had a definite beginning (Missouri) and end (Oregon), though I had to research the route they traveled mile by mile.

As I wrote, the characters shaped their path more than I anticipated.

3.      What genre does your book fall under?  

Historical fiction. It is aimed at adults, but many young adults will appreciate it also. It is history with fictional characters, it is story with historical grounding, so read it as either.

4.      Which actor would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? 

Wow. This is a hard question to answer. Mac and Jenny are both young characters, so by the time we are ready to film we will have to look to an unknown crop of actors for casting. Therefore, I’m not naming current young actors for the roles.

For the hero, Caleb “Mac” MacDougall, think Michael Landon as he appeared in Bonanza, but with straight hair. Mac is in his mid-20s and a proper Easterner when Lead Me Home opens, but he soon adapts to life on the trail.

My young heroine, Jenny Calhoun, is only 14 when the story begins. She looks like the young Jennifer Garner on the cover of the Rose Hill DVD, but with lighter hair. My Jenny has faced great tragedy in her short life. She comes across as docile, but has a spine of steel, and holds her own on the way West.

5.      What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book? 

Caleb “Mac” MacDougall, a young Boston attorney, and Jenny Calhoun, a teenage girl with no friend except Mac, confront disaster, duplicity, death, and their own ignorance and fears, as they travel by wagon to Oregon in 1847.

6.      Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

Uncertain. I’m leaning toward self-publishing. I self-published Family Recipe to learn how that process works.

7.      How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About a year. I’d done a lot of research before I began writing, but had to stop frequently to do more research as I wrote. What were the banking procedures in 1847 anyway? How far up the Missouri River did steamships travel? When was Fort Kearny built? Every day brought a new question.

8.      What other books would compare to this work within your genre?

Westerns such as Lonesome Dove or True Grit.  Francis Parkman’s classic account, The Oregon Trailcovers much of the same territory in the same time frame, but his book is a travelogue without the character-based plot my novel has.

9.      Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Whitman Mission

Whitman Mission

As I’ve written before, I’ve always been intrigued by the courage of the emigrants who traveled the Oregon Trail. I grew up near the Whitman Mission, and my family took several day trips to visit the museum there when I was growing up. I now live near Independence, Missouri, one of the jumping off places for Oregon Trail. Both Independence and the Whitman Mission are important settings in my novel.

Also, my own family history included settlers in Oregon in the 1840s.

10.  What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

There is a sequel involving Mac and Jenny, tentatively titled Now I’m Found, that deals with the California Gold Rush of 1849.

I’ve completed drafts of both books. Lead Me Home needs another edit to take out about 10,000 words. Now I’m Found has only been through one draft, so it still needs substantial work.

But because I have another project in the works ahead of these two novels, it will be into 2014 before Lead Me Home is ready to publish. I’ll keep you posted!

* * *

Here are the writers I have tagged.  All of them have blogs and/or websites, and they all have recent publications.

  • Pamela Boles Eglinski – Author of a new historical novel, Return of the French Blue, you can find out more about Pam at her website,
  • Sally Jadlow – Author of several books, including the historical novel The Late Sooner and the recent inspirational series beginning with God’s Little Miracle Book, Sally’s current blog is God’s Little Miracle Book, and her website is
  • Linda Joyce – Author of a new romance novel, Bayou Born, published by the Wild Rose Press, Linda blogs at Linda Joyce Contemplates.
  • Norm Ledgin – Norm has written several books, fiction and nonfiction. His latest is Sally of Monticello, a historical novel about Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. Follow Norm at Norm Ledgin, Author/Speaker

Thank you, J.G. Burdette, for tagging me to write about Lead Me Home.

Did you enjoy this post? If so, please share it! And check out the authors I’ve listed. If you have any questions about my work in progress, please comment below.

P.S. to my five “tagees”:

  • Use a format similar to this post if you want to share information about your work on your blog or website
  • Answer the ten questions about your current work
  • Tag five other writers/bloggers and add their links so we can hop over and meet them. 

Family Recipe: A Good Christmas Present

It’s about time to start Christmas shopping, if the store windows are any gauge.

Have you enjoyed this blog? Then consider buying my book, Family Recipe: Sweet and saucy stories, essays, and poems about family life, for the people in your life who might also enjoy my stories. The book would make a good stocking stuffer, or a nice addition to a basket of teas or cookies.

Family Recipe is available in paperback through CreateSpace or Amazon. The ebook is available in two formats – Kindle (MOBI) and Nook (EPUB). For sample essays from this anthology, click here or here.

And if you’ve already read Family Recipe, I would really appreciate you posting a review on Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble.

Many thanks for your support – of this blog, and of my book.

P.S. I have a new short story being published in A Shaker of Margaritas: A Bad Hair Day, an anthology by Mozark Press.   My  story is entitled “Twenty-Four Hour Bugs.” This book of humorous stories would be another good stocking stuffer.

I have another post up on Write Brain Trust, listing all the books that this wonderful writing group has published in the past year, including my own Family Recipe.

Check out these books by Kansas City area writers.

Arachnophobia and Love Revisited

The spiders are back already. After a mild winter and a hot spring and start to summer in the Midwest, they are creeping out of the attic earlier this year and bigger than ever.

So I thought I would post my essay, Arachnophobia and Love, from my Family Recipe book.

I hope you enjoy it.

P.S. No pictures in this post. If I included a picture of a spider, I wouldn’t be able to read my own post. I never could read page 26 of Charlotte’s Web.

* * * * *


“If you want me to marry you, you have to promise to kill all the spiders,” I demanded of my fiancé.

I have always been deathly afraid of spiders. One good reason to marry was to have someone to dispose of unwanted nasties. If he wouldn’t make this promise, he wasn’t the right man for me.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” he responded.

“Seriously,” I said. I wouldn’t let it go. I nagged him till he agreed.

Of course, he’s broken his commitment many times in our thirty-four years of marriage. He sometimes was away when the arachnids crept out. He was more worried about staining and denting walls and ceilings than about disposing of the critters efficiently. Over the years, he pursued his duties as spider assassin with indifference.

But I still considered it part of the marriage vows. And, to give him credit, he often abandoned his book or TV show – albeit with deep sighs of disgust at my fright – to exterminate the spiders.

Until a few months ago, when he broke his ankle and had surgery to mend it. In the middle of a Midwestern heat wave.

Something about temperatures above 85 degrees brings spiders out of our attic and into the rooms below. This summer, with temperatures exceeding 95 degrees for weeks on end, even the granddaddy spiders left the security of the attic for the comfort of air-conditioning.

My husband’s immobility meant I had to kill them. I didn’t respond well to my new responsibility.

As disabilities go, we were very lucky. His ankle healed. But it gave me the opportunity to reflect on many aspects of disability and caregiving.

First, I discovered the instantaneous disruption that injuries and sudden illness can cause. Our schedule came to an abrupt halt with his accident, and was further disturbed after the surgery. I became valet, cook and chauffeur, in addition to spider slayer, with no warning. We had to cancel two vacations, one of which was a long-anticipated trip to a remote wilderness – impossible when he could not walk.

I also learned about my lack of patience. I was easily frustrated by minor inconveniences, even though I loved the man making demands on me. I wondered as I toted and fetched for him, trotting up and down the stairs more times than I thought possible, if he couldn’t do a little more for himself – at least put on his own sock, for goodness sake. If his injury really required all the moaning and groaning and constant twitching at night. If he had to give me detailed instructions on how to water the yard and clean the kitchen and take over all the other chores he had done for years. And if he couldn’t phrase his requests for help with just a little more gratitude and a little less entitlement.

When I was on crutches many years ago, I said “thank you” so many times to so many people every day. I learned that people were very willing to help, but it was important to show my appreciation. Why couldn’t my husband learn the same lesson? Especially when I reminded him.

In addition, I was humbled when I compared myself to the couples I know who have faced huge health crises in their marriages. My father has adapted to my mother’s dementia. My mother-in-law has coped for years with my father-in-law’s blindness and increasing immobility. Even after his move to a nursing home, she visits him almost every day. A friend has handled her husband’s care since his stroke over two years ago; he is still in rehabilitation, which may last the rest of his life.

These caregivers face long-term debilitating health issues with courage, endurance, and generally good humor. They must feel the emotions I felt magnified a thousand times – irritation at demands from those who cannot help themselves, resentment at the disruption to their lives, fear of confronting new responsibilities. Yet they continued to provide care. Because what other option did they have?

Finally, I learned the importance of caring for one’s self along with the loved one in need. One day shortly after my husband’s surgery I volunteered all day in a customer service role, and then came home to take care of him. I was frazzled. Before I could cook his dinner I needed solitude and silence. I left him alone for another half-hour while I read the newspaper.

I told my husband what I was doing, and he said, “So you’re putting your oxygen mask on first.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“The flight attendants say to put on your mask before helping your child. Is that what you’re doing?”

He was right – that’s what I was doing. And it was important. Caregivers face responsibilities that seem endless, which is why it is vital to have interests and escapes apart from caregiving.

So I learned a lot while he was laid up. I am sorry my husband was in pain, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to reflect about caregiving.

But I’m not glad I had to deal with spiders. I will never make that adjustment, no matter what the future brings.

Family Night Casserole and Other Hashes

My mother and her friends exchanged recipes when I was growing up.  From Dorothy Walker we got the wonderful Italian Spaghetti Sauce recipe featured in my book Family Recipe. From Nadine Spanner we got a decadent chocolate fudge cake with gooey frosting that is rich and moist and tastes like heaven. I made it just this past weekend to feed a crowd. It’s more trouble than cake from a box, but worth it.

But sometimes dishes our friends ate readily didn’t suit my family at all.  Family Night Casserole was an example.

Mrs. Jones (not her real name) had six children, and therefore made a lot of casseroles.  The Jones family visited our house one evening when I was in high school for a potluck supper.  Mrs. Jones brought Family Night Casserole, a vile concoction of hamburger, noodles, corn, cottage cheese, and a variety of spices, including green peppers.

I hate green peppers. They smell disgusting and taste worse. I must be allergic to them, because I puke if I eat them in any quantity. Even a small amount makes me queasy.

But Mother required me to be polite. I had to eat the Family Night Casserole so Mrs. Jones wouldn’t be upset. (Mother felt it best not to upset Mrs. Jones; maybe she didn’t want to hear about my picky eating at every bridge club meeting for the next year.)

I ate the casserole, and was sick all night.

Mother had a regular weekly repertoire for dinner.  Meatloaf on Monday was followed by a predictable procession of entrées all the way through tuna on Friday and oven-fried chicken on Sunday.  For a time, Mother worked Family Night Casserole into the line-up.

I tried to skip dinner when Family Night Casserole appeared.  When I couldn’t, I picked out the green peppers. But I protested every time Mother served it.

“It makes me sick,” I whined. That didn’t seem to make a difference.

After a few appearances of Family Night Casserole, my father chimed in when I complained. “I hate green peppers, too,” Dad said. “Do we have to serve this stuff, just because Jill Jones does?”

Mother listened to him, though she hadn’t listened to me, and did not serve it again.

I went back to complaining about the glazed carrots served on Mondays with the meatloaf.

“How can you not like glazed carrots?” Mother asked. “They’re so sweet.”

“They make me gag,” I said. To get dessert, I would sit at the table for an hour after everyone else was gone, choking down the carrots.

Before I got married, Mother brought out her recipe box and asked which recipes I wanted her to type up for me.  We went through the box, card by card.

She tried to talk me into taking Family Night Casserole.  “You might need something that will serve a crowd cheaply,” she said.

I refused. I’d go broke before I made it. Or just serve them Nadine Spanner’s cake.

In the early years of my marriage, my husband’s female relatives also tried to foist their recipes on me.  Some I liked, and some were failures.  Godetta, a Mexican dish that surprisingly does not include green peppers, is the only good casserole to come from this side of the family, though some of their soups and stews are excellent.

One recipe we got from my husband’s side of the family was Baked Rotini, which called for green peppers.  I only made it once to be nice, and picked the peppers out of it, too.  My husband has fixed it a few times, but I refused to eat it after the kids left home.

He asked me once why I didn’t like it.

“It’s got green peppers,” I said.

“What’s wrong with that?”

You’d think he’d learn a few things in thirty-five years of marriage.  “I hate green peppers,” I informed him for the umpteenth time.

President George H.W. Bush declared he wouldn’t eat broccoli. I’ve declared I won’t eat green peppers.  No more Family Night Casserole or its ilk for me. I’m old enough to know better.

“Family Recipe” — a good Mother’s Day present

If you’re looking for a small Mother’s Day present, try my book “Family Recipe: Sweet and saucy stories, essays, and poems about family life.” Click here for links to where you can buy it.

Enjoy! And Happy Mother’s Day.