Friday, January 20, 2017

The Setting For Your Western Romance

Where can you set your Western Historical Romance? The quick and most logical answer is that it can be set in any state west of the Mississippi River. But…and this is a big But, your book may or may not start in the west, but it does end up there. Since I am familiar with my own work, I will show examples of this from my published books.

The mail-order-bride book is an example of the life of the heroine beginning in the east and her accepting the hand of a man located in the west. In DRINA’S CHOICE, Drina Hamilton lives with an abusive father on his run-down farm in Georgia. She knows she needs to get away from him. To do so, she accepts the proposal of Aaron Wilcox, a rancher in Arizona. After her trek west, the rest of the story takes place in Arizona.


Another type book is when the entire family moves west for another reason such as wanting to start a new life, hoping to strike gold or any other reason you can come up with. In OPAL’S FAITH, Opal Barnett’s father lost his job because he tried to report his unscrupulous banking boss. It isn’t long until the family has lost everything they have in Memphis, Tennessee. Though he knows nothing about ranching, father inherits his brother’s ranch in Arizona. Feeling he has no other choice, he moves his wife and four daughters there. With the help of Jace Renwick, a wondering cowboy with his own agenda, the family survives.


The third is when an easterner goes west for an unusual reason. In XENIA’S RENEGADE, Xenia Poindexter and he sister are lured from their home in Virginia by a vicious lie that their uncle is in trouble. They go to Arizona to help. On the way, Xenia’s sister rescues an orphaned baby who happens to be a half-breed. Faced with prejudice they are forced to accept help from two cousins, Ty and Wilt Eldridge, who also happen to be half Indian. These men are accepted in the area because they happen to be the richest ranchers in the area.


Some books begin in the west and stay in the west. AMELIA’S MARRIAGE, the first in the Settler’s Ridge series, is an example of this. Amelia Donahue was born and raised on the huge Double D ranch in Wyoming. She is kind of a rebel and her father thinks the only way he can settle her down is to force her to marry his foreman, a horrible man who has the elder Donahue fooled. Amelia goes into town and hires Jed Wainwright, a bounty hunter, to marry her for six months so she won’t have to marry her father’s foreman.


Occasionally you will come across a book that takes place in different places. BELINDA’S YANKEE, is one of these. Shortly after Belinda Babcock sees her father murdered and their home in Alabama burned by Yankee troops, she finds Victor McKay, a wounded Union Yankee officer. She nurses him back to health. In turn he helps her get to her relatives in Louisiana. He goes home to New York to resume his life and finds his life there is not what he expects it to be. He decides to find Belinda again, but she and her relatives have moved to Colorado. The book concludes in Colorado.


Once in a while you’ll find a western book set in the east. HANNAH’S WISHES is an example. Most of the book takes place in Savannah, GA. Hannah Hamilton, confined to a wheelchair because of a birth defect, has been raised by an aunt that has her own sinister reasons for letting the girl live with her. Because her sister in Arizona is concerned she sends western detective, Jarrett MacMichael to Savannah to check on Hannah. In the last chapter, Hannah does move to Arizona to be near her sister.



Then there is the different western such as paranormal or time-travel, etc.  RENA’S COWBOY (a time-travel) is an example. Rena Dumont, a present day, widowed, Atlanta, GA police officer. Caught in a cave-in in the west, when she comes to she finds herself on the ranch of Jake Haywood in the year 1876 and has to cope with living in a different century.


As you can see, you can use the setting of your novel to your advantage. You are the author and you have the power to set it anywhere you want to. But there are a couple of things you must remember. First be sure to know the state you’re using in your novel. If you don’t live there or have never traveled there in person, make sure to research it. Most states and cities have great websites. They also have lots of information in historical writings and photos. There is no excuse to set you novel in North Dakota if you have the action located near the Grand Canyon, an Arizona location. And if you mention the Rio Grande River, be sure you’re using Texas as a setting, not Kansas.


Agnes Alexander




Wednesday, January 18, 2017


If you’re stopping by Cowboy Kisses,  most likely it’s because you’re interested in the historic west.  And if you’re interested in the historic west, most likely you know a reasonable amount about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp and his brothers, Doc Holliday, and Tombstone, Arizona. Tombstone, of course, was made famous by that gunfight; had it not been for the O.K. Corral and Wyatt Earp, most likely Tombstone would have gone the way of many old mining towns and become a true ghost town, or possibly it would be some artists’ enclave like nearby Bisbee.  But the gunfight did take place, and it took place at a time when Tombstone was a thriving metropolis, as difficult as that is to envisage now.

If you need a quick refresher course on the gunfight behind the O.K. Corral and are reluctant to head to Wiki or grab a relevant issue of ‘True West’ magazine, let me briefly recount what happened.  At approximately 3 p.m. on Wednesday, October 26, 1881, town Marshal Virgil Earp along with brothers Wyatt (a former Kansas lawman from Dodge City) and Morgan, as well as pal Doc Holliday, faced down the brothers Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne, and had a shoot-out in the most historic 30 seconds of the Old West.  And why did this occur?  In 1881, tensions from the War Between the States hung on.  In Tombstone, antagonism between the lawmen—representing the Republican north, capitalists and upright townspeople—and the Cowboys (giving them a bad name much to my personal consternation!), who were mostly former Confederates and Democrats, not to mention cattle rustlers, all boiled over, along with personal animosities. Thirty bullets later, Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers lay dead, three of the lawmen—not Wyatt—were wounded, and Ike Clanton the coward and Billy Claiborne had taken off. 
In the representation shown here, based on a sketch Wyatt drew some years before he passed, one can see at what close quarters the shoot-out took place. Ike Clanton is not represented because Wyatt refused to acknowledge the presence of the “coward.”  But whoever was there, those 30 seconds tossed Tombstone into eternal recognition.
So, what was Tombstone like at that time?  Was it worth the attention the gunfight seems to have merited?  Tombstone was then the county seat of Cochise County, created in February of that year out of part of Pima County, Territory of Arizona.  Settled in 1877, by 1879 it  was prospering and well on its way to producing the forty plus million dollars worth of silver bullion it would present.  From a population of around one hundred, it soared to over fourteen thousand, and with that populace came the amenities to entertain, feed, and service the people.  Night spots such as The Bird Cage vied with an opera house for the upper crust.  Dance halls and gambling joints, brothels, soiled doves’ cribs,  and one hundred ten saloons sat alongside a bowling alley, an ice cream parlor, a school, two banks and four churches.  Society was fluid:  a miner one day might be a millionaire the next.  And there were three newspapers. 
If you read the copy of The Tombstone Epitaph from the day after the shoot-out, the most interesting items are not necessarily the statements from so-called witnesses, but the advertisements in the margins that indicate the kind of town Tombstone was. Yes, there are things that we'd expect:  Tuttle’s Tombstone Corral with accommodation for 100 horses; Spagenberg’s Gunsmith and Locksmith; Risdon Iron and Locomotive Works for Engines and Boilers; the Tombstone Carriage Shop; Hibbard, Spencer & Bartlett Hardware; and Fish Bros. Wagon Company, along with the Arizona Mail and Stage Line; Watt & Tarbell Undertakers; and Mme. LeDeau’s, which asks you to “ask any man.” But there is also Pioneer Baking Powder, Mooney’s Fashion Saloon, 4-Paws Monster Railroad Circus,  a Tonsorial Palace, and Estey’s Pianos.
Of course, as the silver ran out, so did the population.  In 1929, the County Seat of Cochise moved to Bisbee where it is today, and Tombstone would have become one more true ghost town near the Mexican border—except for one thing, and we know what that was.  As I drove down from the ever-growing Tucson, through windswept open spaces punctuated by towns not much more than trailer settlements, the feeling that civilization was being left behind was intense.  Now that the main thoroughfare of Tombstone is pedestrianized, it more resembles what it once was, except for the different uses of the buildings.  The saloons are now family eateries with live music—and the one we attended, the Crystal Palace, had the worst live entertainment I’ve encountered anywhere, anytime.  The usual southwestern shops are there: native American jewelry mixed with western souvenirs.  And the fact that there is a six dollar charge to stand on the hallowed ground of the O.K. Corral, see their museum, and pick up a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph from the day after the shoot-out, rather detracts from the whole experience. 

But as the wind howled and moaned, banging saloon doors and sending signs clattering with ghostly whines, tumbleweed rolling down the dirt streets, and a stagecoach lurching through town, Tombstone stepped away from its Disney-like existence, and for one brief moment the desertion and silence of the residents' prior to the gunfight became real.  Maybe it is a ghost of itself, but Tombstone, for now, isn’t dead nor dying.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Daddy, Dotty, and Judging Books

by Heather Blanton

My daddy was a Florida cracker. And before you dash off an email eviscerating me for using the politically incorrect term, know that I mean exactly what I say.

A Florida Cracker was a cowboy who herded cattle with his horse and his whip. A bullwhip makes a distinctive sound that carries for some distance and isn’t mistaken for anything else. Hence, the moniker.

Daddy owned his own horse, Dotty—a pretty, tall pinto he’d bought at a livestock auction with money he’d earned working on cars. He knocked around a few central Florida ranches in the late 30’s and early 40’s, until he was old enough to enlist for the war.

I have to admit, every time I look at the picture of Daddy and Dotty, I think of that old saying you can’t judge a book by its cover.

One day not long after Daddy acquired Dotty, instead of taking her for a pleasure ride out in the field or off to chase a herd of cattle, he decided to ride her into town. And as young boys are wont to do, he put the pedal to metal, so to speak. He hunkered down in the saddle and kicked her up to a wide-open run. They were galloping along the dirt road at a breath-stealing pace when suddenly Dotty skidded to a stop like she’d seen a rattler in the road.

Daddy said the next thing he knew, he was lying in the road looking up at his horse, reins dangling in his face. And he hurt. Everywhere. Bloodied and cussing a blue streak, he got up, quickly checked himself for broken bones, and looked around, fully expecting to see a snake, maybe even a gator on -the side of the road. But ol’ Dotty was merely standing stock still, as if she was waiting on something. Cursing the confounded animal under his breath, Daddy swung up in the saddle, nudged her…and nothing happened. He nudged her again. Still nothing. The horse stood as if glued to the spot.

Glue. Livid, Daddy had to admit the idea was growing on him to turn Dotty into some Elmer's.

He said he pleaded, cursed, eventually even dismounted and tugged on the reins as if his horse was some stupid, in-bred mule. Dotty was having none of it. Nothing Daddy did convinced the horse to move a hoof. He tried once more from the saddle. Nothing. He couldn’t believe it. He’d never seen a horse act this way and was utterly flustered by it.

Just about ready to have an apoplectic fit and take the dysfunctional animal to the glue factory, he noticed something.

A mailbox.

And Dotty was standing right beside it. A simple arm’s length away for a rider.

An idea dawning on him, he reached out, opened the mailbox, and then closed it. Instantly Dotty’s body relaxed. Suspicious of what might happen next, Daddy gave her a cautious kick. The horse started walking again as if nothing had ever happened.

Of course, my dad was not surprised to learn upon asking that Dotty had carried the mail for the United States Postal Service for over ten years. She had been trained to stop at any and every mailbox along her path.

Of course, after this, Daddy and Dotty stuck to trail riding and herding cattle.

Friday, January 13, 2017

War Knows no Color

Taken from his home, his identity stolen from him, his family torn apart, Strong Eagle Grey faces an uncertain destiny. Sold into slavery, he has a choice. He can conform, do what the overseers ask of him, follow the example of all the others who were captured, or he can fight. Born the son of a Chief, he doesn’t feel the choice really exists.
There is a lot of myth surrounding the relationship between Blacks and Native Americans. The first recorded contact dates back as far as 1502 in Hispanola. It was not as romantic as some people may think. Early Natives in fact had a system of slavery before the arrival of Colonial settlers. The type of slavery the Natives believed in, however, often did not include the exclusion of the slave from a family unit.
Slaves of Natives were taken in as family members or replacements for loved ones lost in battles as well as servants. As the land was settled by white colonists, raiding parties did not differentiate between blacks or whites. All were fair game in their eyes. If you were captured or sold to them, then you belonged to them. Rumors and fright spread through new settlements about the intentions of any approaching Natives they met. Slaves learned to fear the Natives as much as their masters did.


Struggling with his identity as a man of color, even when he was among the people, Strong sets out with the belief that the slaves are a dishonorable people, unwilling to fight for their freedom. Though his mother had been a captive among the people, being married to his father made her a queen, not like these blacks. Though his skin was dark like theirs, he feels he will never cower before the white man the way the slaves do.
He quickly discovers, however, that the enslaved blacks have their own system of survival and rebellion. Taken under the wing of a strong capable blacksmith, Strong learns how the blacks care for each other, watch out for each other, teach each other. He is taught map reading and blacksmithy while under the blacksmiths tutelage.
Taking the example of his mentor, Strong begins to share what he learns with others he encounters, regardless of their race or gender, as long as they are teachable. When an opportunity presents itself for him to escape to freedom, he takes it, using his mapping skills to become a guide through the hills. When a job leads him into Indian Territory, he is once again faced with an internal conflict. He is a guide, he is a blacksmith, he is a black man, but he is also a Native.


When the stirrings of Civil War begins he has the choice to join in or remain an impartial guide and translator in Indian Country, or join in to fight against those who took him from his family in the first place. The choice is a clear one. Once the decision is made, however, Strong discovers he can no longer fight simply for vengeance, not simply for the loss of his own family. He must learn the true meaning of brotherhood as he fights alongside whites and blacks alike. War Knows no color.  

Book Three of The Destiny Series, "Destiny's Legacy", will be available this year. In the meantime, please feel free to get caught up with my first two title, "Destiny's Porpose" and Destiny's Legacy at or

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Turn The Lights On

On January 5, 1883, Cheyenne, WY became the first town in the West to install electric lights. After the first electric lamp was constructed downtown in January of that year, the wealthy citizens and more affluent businesses began lighting their homes and places of commerce using battery power. Frances E. Warren, who would later become Wyoming’s first governor (and for whom Warren Air Force Base was named) when the territory entered into statehood was the first to install electricity in a private residence. Later in 1883, the city of Cheyenne contracted with the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company of Cheyenne to wire electric poles across the downtown streets. Brush-Swan was the only commercial electricity plant in the region. By February of the following year, every intersection in Cheyenne was lit after dark by “arc lights.” The Brush-Swan Electric Light Company was sold about fifteen years later to the newly formed Cheyenne Light, Fuel, and Power Company. CLFP continued to illuminate the capital city of Wyoming for over 100 years.

Wyoming’s fascination with electricity began about 1878 when Thomas Edison and a group of scientists conducted an experiment near Rawlings Springs (modern day Rawlins). According to the local legend, Edison advanced his idea for the electric light bulb while fishing at Battle Lake, near the town of Encampment.

One of those first homes with electricity is the Nagle-Warren Mansion, located in downtown Cheyenne. The home is still standing, has since been restored to her Victorian glory, and now serves as a highly-rated bed and breakfast.

Friday, January 6, 2017

So Far Away...Communicating Long Distance with Loved Ones Then and Now

Smoke signals: One way to send a message a long distance when you're short on time

For the next six months I will be separated from my daughter by almost four thousand miles, an ocean, and a six hour time difference. This got me thinking how recent this ease of communication has become and how much that one thing has changed in my lifetime.

The pain of separation is lessened by knowing two things: My daughter will have a great time, and I can talk to her almost anytime I want--for free, thanks to computers and smartphones. There are so many ways nowadays to keep in touch with far-flung loved ones, it makes my mind spin: email, Facebook, Skype, Messenger, and texting. Changes are coming so fast, probably a few new ones have been developed in the time it took me to type this sentence.  Not to mention via social media you can see what your loved ones are up whether they like it or not on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook to name a few.

On Tuesday night we put our daughter on a plane to London where she's going for a semester. At three in the morning I got a text from her informing us she'd landed. Okay, fair enough, we did tell her to let us know when she got there. But then at 4 a.m. I got another text. "I think I left all my money at home."
I rolled out of bed and sure enough found the envelope full of pound notes still in her room.

Then came a series of increasingly panicky texts from Heathrow. "I don't know where I'm supposed to go! I don't see the bus from school." My husband threw the covers over his head and said, "Let her figure it out."
With visions of my daughter falling victim to human trafficking or being persuaded to join a terrorist cell, I made my way down to the computer and went to the website for her college. I learned the buses left from the airport every two hours and sent her that information from my phone. There continued a number of texts, which I won't document, but the upshot is apparently there are no employees, information desks or security guards at Heathrow! Unbelievable! An airport that runs itself.

While I was trying to talk my daughter down from jumping in a taxi for a hundred dollar ride, I emailed a friend of mine who I knew would be up early doing yoga or meditating or something else that would be good for her. She had recently told me the story about her own twenty-something year old son and his plan to travel by himself to Thailand. To start off his journey he left his passport two states away. But because we live in modern times, they were able to get someone to send his passport overnight. So, off he goes passport in hand. Later when she was at work she got a text from him. "Mom, I'm in China. Where do I go from here?" By the way, did I mention her son is deaf? And alone.

Between clients at her office my friend frantically tried to access her son's itinerary which he had left at home. Searching through her emails, she was able to find his next travel step from China to Thailand and texted him the information.

Anyway, that morning she replied right away to my email with the following advice: "Take a sleeping pill and turn off your phone."

But, no, I didn't do that. I stuck to my cell phone and computer, sending emails to staff at Queen Mary University alerting them to the fact that one stressed-out American student was wandering around the airport. I also found a help number which I texted to my daughter. When I at last got a message from her that she found the bus and was on her way, I let out a big sigh of relief and forgot how annoyed I was with her over the leaving her money here thing. I also got an email from someone at her school telling me they'd found her.

Because my daughter had a friend leaving for London that night, I was able to message that friend via Facebook and arrange to give her my daughter's money to bring over. Crisis averted. My point here being, we have so many avenues in 2017 to cut through long distance complications without even leaving home. Now if these kids would have figured it out on their own or learned from their mistakes is another question.

Me (in the purple) and my roommate, London, 1980

It's easy to communicate now, but when I did my year abroad in Britain, it was a different story. It wasn't that long ago, but the only tools available to me back in 1980 were telephones and airmail. When I landed in Heathrow back in the dark ages, my parents would have no way of knowing I got there safe and sound until they got my postcard telling them so.

I had a blast that year, but now I think of my poor parents rarely hearing from me for an entire year, and as a parent myself now, I feel for them. The phones were hard to use and expensive. Besides having to work out the time difference and hoping someone was home to pick up, we had to continually feed coins into the phone in order to have a conversation.

 Mainly, we wrote letters to each other. Letters written by hand on thin blue airmail paper. If I had a problem--and believe me I had more than a few--I was on my own.

Cut back a hundred years to 1880. My great grandfather and his cousin left Evanston, IL to seek their fortune in the silver mines of Leadville, Co. I have a picture of the two men on their western adventure. I don't know much, except his cousin died while there, and my great grandfather brought his body back home. He stayed put in Evanston after that.

My great grandfather (seated) and his cousin, Colorado 1880

I can't imagine having to handle an emergency on that scale in 1880. On top of everything else, my great grandfather must have felt so isolated in a communication desert. Telephones weren't common yet, but they did have the telegraph. I imagine he sent a telegram to their families back home alerting them to the death of their relative. Maybe he wrote a long, detailed letter as well, which would travel with the speed of stagecoaches, trains and mail carriers.

America has had a postal service from almost the very beginning. The first postal system was a private enterprise, but the U.S. government bought it months after it's inception. The postage was due when the letter was received--by the recipient. They quickly figured out this wasn't the most efficient method, and in 1842 the first postage stamps were issued. The cost of sending a letter was three cents.

I was surprised to read that the first air mail delivery was in 1870, decades before the first airplanes. Over five hundreds pounds of mail was sent off attached to balloons. There is no record of any of these airmail letters reaching their correct destinations. It was an idea way ahead of its time and probably best left on someone's drawing table.

Hordes of people made their way to California during the gold rush. The expansion left many folks miles away from the reach of the railroad or stagecoach. The Pony Express was developed to tackle this problem. Riders could deliver mail to remote outposts, often having to travel through hostile Indian territories. I was almost as surprised to learn that the Pony Express only ran for 18 months as I was about the first airmail deliveries.

The big development in communication was the invention of the telegraph. The first message sent in 1844 by Professor Samuel F.B. Morse said, "WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT."  Interesting first choice.

The telegraph brought on a revolution in communication. For the first time delivering news was not limited to how fast man or machine could move. Think of how this instant exchange of information over great distances was a game-changer.

But, still for the average person in their daily lives snail mail was the way they kept in touch. My thoughts go back to families that were separated by long distance for long periods of time, and I wonder how much information was lost--or how many people were lost to each other. I can't imagine the heartbreak of seeing loved ones go off for distant parts and not knowing if you'd hear from them again. My daughter can wake me up at 3 a.m. anytime to tell me she's safe. Do you have your own stories of separation in your family history?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Happy New Year!

We’ve ushered in 2017 and bid farewell to 2016. Some may be sad to see 2016 end. Change is often hard. And some may be thrilled to welcome a new year. There are different goals to work toward, resolutions to be made (and broken), and more opportunities for success. Hard work nets that feeling of satisfaction gained by a job completed and completed well.
Here at Cowboy Kisses we’ve gone through some changes in 2016 and welcome the challenge of success in 2017. Our first change comes in the form of the Cowboy Kisses founder. As some of you may know, Ginger Simpson has retired. Selfishly, I took over the blog because I didn’t want to see it disappear. Neither did the Cowboy Kisses team, as we all share a great love for all things western. It’s been a crash course learning the necessary steps and procedures to maintain the blog, and I couldn’t have done it without the help and support of the Cowboy Kisses authors. Their encouragement and generosity is most appreciated and has often brought tears to my eyes. I value each of these ladies, not only in a business sense, but their friendship. All are truly special to me.
Our second change centers around our roster of authors. We lost some contributors last year but have gained some new talent; Patti Sherry-Crews, Letisha Stanton, Andrea Downing and Heather Frey Blanton. Please give a warm welcome to them, take a peek at the schedule for their dates, and visit their author pages to get to know them better. They bring to the team fresh voices and blogs meant to entertain and share.
The overall theme of Cowboy Kisses has not changed. We each have our days to blog and try our best to meet this schedule. Life sometimes gets in the way, but rest assured, if you’re a fan of western romance, Cowboy Kisses remains strong and intact. To further keep you engaged with the blog and our authors, I invite you to check out our Facebook group page. There you can gain insight to upcoming western releases and chat with the Cowboy Kisses team. We also host a Round-Up party in the fall, so be sure to check the group page later in the year for more info.    
I look forward to serving you and our authors in 2017. Let’s make this a great year and put the Cowboy Kisses blog to the top of the charts.
Julie Lence

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