history, research, Uncategorized, US history

The Old West’s Most Interesting Woman

People are sometimes surprised to find out that I never studied writing formally. Instead, I majored in history – both for my undergraduate and graduate degrees. Why? Because history is nothing but stories. And you know the saying: truth is stranger than fiction.

So it is that while researching mountain men for one of my freelance projects I came upon the story of an amazing woman in the Old West: Stagecoach Mary. This 6 foot tall, 200-lb woman picked up and moved into Montana at the age of 52 years. There, she first worked for the Jesuits and next for a convent, where she chopped wood, dug holes, tended as many as 400 chickens, and grew vegetables for the nuns. Though she was devoted to the nuns and their Indian students at the mission, she was well known to have “the temperament of a grizzly bear.” She smoked, swore, and engaged in rounds of fisticuffs with her fellow hired hands. These behaviors got her banned from the mission in 1884 despite the protestations of the nuns.


Yes, indeed, Stagecoach Mary could kick ass and take names with the best of them. She smoked homemade cigars and was once attacked by wolves while alone on the prairie. I guess you know who got the bad end of that deal. After the nun debacle she tried to run a couple of restaurants, but because she kept giving meals to the down and out, she couldn’t make a go of it. In 1895, at the age of 63, she got a job delivering mail for the post office. As a job interview she and a dozen young cowboys had to hitch a team of six horses to a stagecoach as quickly as possible. She won to become the second woman – and the first black person – to manage a mail route. For eight years she carried mail back and forth to Montana pioneers. With the help of her mule, Moses, she braved icy blizzards and heat waves in the remote land.

Stagecoach Mary, also known as Black Mary, was christened Mary Fields when she was born into slavery in 1832, in Hickman County, Tennessee. After the Civil War guaranteed her freedom, she worked for a time as a chambermaid on a steamboat named the Robert E. Lee.  She witnessed the steamer’s race against Steamboat Bill’s Natchez in 1870. During the race, the men tossed anything they could get their hands on into the boiler – from barrels of resin to slabs of ham and bacon. Other men sat on the relief valves in order to increase the steam pressure.

At 71, she gave up her postal route to run a laundry – and famously punched out a customer who hadn’t paid up the $2 he owed her. Reportedly, she spent more time drinking whiskey and smoking cigars than washing clothes. So she took up babysitting the local kids. One of those local kids was actor Gary Cooper, who visited her hometown of Cascade, Montana from nearby Dearborn. He wrote a story about her for Ebony magazine in 1959.


The only black resident of Cascade, she had plenty of friends in the townfolk. One was Kirk Huntley, who, when he sold his hotel in 1910, stipulated that she was to be offered all the meals she wanted free of charge. Her house burned down in 1912 and the town pitched in to build her a new one. She was also a baseball fan who sponsored the Cascade baseball team and made sure that each player had buttonhole bouquets of flowers from her garden.

At the age of 82 she grew ill, and stole away to die in the tall grass near her home. But children who she had babysat found her and she was spirited off to the hospital in Great Falls, where she died a few days later, in 1914.

inspiration, photography, travel, Uncategorized

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I loathe taking people to the airport. Not because I find it an inconvenience – I’m happy to do favors for friends and family. The reason I dislike it so intensely is because they are going somewhere and I am not. Jealousy, you green-eyed monster, you!

A lot of travelers hate flights in general. My husband is one of these. The cramped conditions, the noise, the germs from crying babies and coughing adults, all of it combines to make flying a thing of dread. I don’t mind it, though. I always load my mp3 player up with audiobooks and music, and make sure to bring paper and pen for uninterrupted writing time. I enjoy charting my flight progress on the interactive maps some airlines have. Looking out the window at the earth below is a favorite activity as well. Sometimes I’ll even snap a picture or two. This one was taken on a trip to Europe, as we flew over the Arctic lands. How beautiful and mysterious it looks from above.


Recently, I took a work trip to Jackson, Mississippi. I was only there for one night and was so busy that I had absolutely no time to see anything other than the (admittedly beautiful) hotel. On the trip there, though, I saw this out the window.

crop circles1

I think we were flying over Texas at the time, although I can’t be sure. The circles looked somewhat eerie. I assumed that they were farming plots, but now I’m not so sure. Do you know? Here’s a better shot:


The lights of Dallas Fort Worth, on a connecting flight home, glittered like jewels on a sea of black velvet. The low lighted conditions and the shuddering of the plane didn’t make for ideal photography, but nevertheless, here is a shot:

night flight

The next time you are on a plane heading out into the great unknown, spend a few moments enjoying the beauty and mystery of the world beneath. You might just come away with wonderful memories from that alone.

Uncategorized, writing

Infographic: Do You Know The Difference Between Literary, Upmarket and Commercial Fiction?

It is good to know the categories of fiction you are writing in. Mine lies firmly in the commercial fiction camp.

Carly Watters, Literary Agent Blog

Knowing how to categorize your work is one of the most important skills a writer needs to know–especially while querying. Here’s an infographic to help.

Fiction Category Infographic

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reblogged, Uncategorized, writing

3-step Formula for Writing Blurbs

A nice simple formula that will help you write a blurb.

a day in the life of patootie

xrory3.jpg.pagespeed.ic.NKcnIrcztY3-step Formula for Writing Blurbs

Technically, a “synopsis” is the summary you write about your book. A “blurb” is an endorsement usually written by someone else, singing your praises. But, neither here nor there, we know what we’re talking about. We want a short, snappy, sales pitch that makes our book sell. We want a summary that calls to the right readers. We want a description that makes money!

Where to start…

Let’s start with a simple formula:

Plot, Problem, Possibility.

1) What’s the plot of your story? We need a general description of the situation.

2) We need a problem (usually following the plot and proceeded by the word ‘but’ or ‘however’).

3) We need the possibility that our hero may overcome the problem.

Let’s insert a book we all know into this formula. How about Green Eggs and Ham?

Plot: Sam tries to get someone to eat…

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Cover reveal, fantasy, literature, Uncategorized, writing

Kindle Scout for Epic Fantasy?

I’m trying something for my latest book, an epic fantasy novel. Please nominate it over on the Kindle Scout website (it uses your Amazon login info) which may result in it being published through this imprint. The first pages are listed here as well so you can see what you’re getting into. Apparently, you can get free copies of books when you nominate ones that are published, even. Pretty good deal. So, clicky click please!


travel, Uncategorized

Fear and Loathing on the Camino de Santiago

I had no more booked the airline ticket for the Camino de Santiago, filled with excitement, when it reared its ugly head: fear. And by fear, I mean:


First, I became certain that I would die. Why? Well, the son in Martin Sheen’s movie on the Camino, The Way, died en route. Certainly I would, too! Sure, there were all these statistics and assurances that it is a very safe endeavor. And sure, the son somehow died “in a storm” (what does that mean, anyhow? That he was struck by lightning?) but that could still be me. I mean, hadn’t I just proclaimed to myself that I would prefer to die not wasted away from old age, but on some adventure or another? What if God was listening? What if I have months to live instead of years?

Okay, God, if you were listening, I wish to make this public: yes, I would like to die on some adventure, but NOT this one. Not even the next ten adventures. Really. I think I still have some good years left and I would like to experience them. Please?

After a day or so this whole death fear passed. Next came the physical weakness fear. Who was I kidding? I am a flabby middle-aged woman. I’ve just spent 2 years coaxing my bad back to health. Sure, I love to walk and hike, but I do that in 3 or 4 mile increments, not 500 mile increments! Oh, what have I set myself up for? I am going to stumble down the road for 6 steps and my feet will explode into a shredded mass of agony. My spine will crumple after 8 steps and leave me lying in a helpless blob on the trail until wild dogs scent easy pickings and eat me alive.

But if, perchance, the dogs are busy devouring some other hapless pilgrim, I will still need to be trotted into the local hospital where they all speak Spanish. Undoubtedly, these doctors will quickly decide – without consulting me and without anesthesia – to hammer a two-foot long steel beam into my back to “fix” me. Then they will shove me out the door  and pelt me with rocks until I stumble back onto the trail, weeping piteously the whole time.

You see what kind of imagination I have. It’s not really a blessing.

Still, after a couple of days this fear passed. And guess what? Another was waiting in the wings.

Mainly, the jet-black, spider-like, odiferous specter of money. Oh, this fear I know well, having met it many times in the past. Yet in this incarnation I became convinced that this jaunt into Spain would bankrupt my husband and I. I’d no more get back into town than my husband would meet me at the door of our repossessed house. He would hand me a single satchel filled with rags and maybe some dried pinto beans and half a roll of toilet paper. We would wander the streets of our quiet suburban town like zombies from the Walking Dead, crying out for brains. At night we would huddle in the trash next to the storm drain. We would find scraps of cardboard and write sad messages on them for passing motorists. Life would be awful and it would be ALL. MY. FAULT.

Hold on. It is true that freelance pickings have been slim for me lately, but my husband is still gainfully employed and we are not behind on our house payment. I also was able to find a great deal on my airfare to Spain. And the albergues set up along the pilgrim’s route are very low cost. Still, that cost adds up.

I put up a GoFundMe page and then left it languish for several weeks while I agonized or whether or not to let friends and family know about it. I mean, who was I to ask for money? Everybody has expenses and obligations and they need their money. Why would they want to support my pilgrimage? After all, is this desire of mine a worthy cause? Would their support of me hurt other, more worthy causes, like, say, blind orphans or three-legged dogs? Or blind, hungry orphans living atop garbage heaps with their three-legged dogs?

Remember what I said about my imagination? It’s not a friend sometimes.

I posted about my fears on the American Friends of the Camino Facebook page and received so many messages of kind support that it overwhelmed me. How sweet and loving they were!

Yes, these fears are normal. Still, they are illusions.

You can do it.

You are following your intuition and it won’t lead you astray.

Go. You won’t be sorry.

These people did not even know me and they bolstered my faith. They reminded me that I am not crazy, that faith triumphs over fear, that if I was called to go – and I really believe I have been – then my needs will be provided for. They posted inspiring images and quotes like this one that are so beautiful that they make me shiver:


My friend Janet Loftis heard about my trip and jumped aboard. She seems to have bypassed all the dramatic fearmongering that has gone on in my brain and instead pledged so unselfishly to be there for me in person, and experience this great and wonderful journey with me. What a courageous soul she is! And so kind, generous, and supportive! It’s difficult to accept such open-heartedness. She doesn’t seem to care that I don’t deserve it. And where are my tissues? Allergies, you know.

I screwed up my courage to let people know about the GoFundMe page. Peering out my window afterward, I looked for the villagers waving pitchforks, but they weren’t waiting to chase me out of town. Maybe the Spanish doctors got to them? Instead, wonderful, generous friends rose up with messages of support – even donating to the cause. How kind and loving they are! I’m beside myself when I think about them. They make me feel like I can do this. Like I will do this. Like they are waiting along the route to cheer me on.

Sure, I’ve been feeling fear. When it comes up its loud and awful and it makes me quake. But on the other side of it lies faith and assurance, friends and mentors, and deep, glorious assurance.

Courage is not the absence of fear, someone once said. It’s feeling the fear and doing it anyhow.

So. This is me, doing it.

Catch you later, fear. I know who has my back now.

Uncategorized, writing

Dubious Math and a Work in Progress

Happy Wednesday! Today is the day that our most excellent monkey maven, K.L. Schwengel, has designated as WIPpet Wednesday, which involves posting a date-related snippet of one’s work in progress. I’m working on an alternate history of sorts which takes place in a slightly different version of the world from 1880-1930. The theme is that it involves icy regions of the earth – the Antarctica and the Arctic and other desolate and fascinating places and the people who inhabit them (thus, the series is called “Icebound”). Here is the beginning from volume 2, “All Mouth and No Trousers,” currently in progress. My math is suspect, but involves: 27 lines (11+19+2+0+1+4-1)

Commandant Gorge Elderbatch didn’t actually read the letter from his wife until two days after receiving the bundle of mail. He was sitting in his office, laboriously attempting to compose and inspiring speech after delivering the latest round of orders to attain the impossible, create triumph out of disarray, and endure the unendurable for the sake of God, glory, and Shepherd’s Pie. A waft of Mrs. Elderbatch’s perfume rose from the crisp, neatly handwritten letter. She had told him the name of the perfume countless times, but he never could remember it. Something like Athena’s musk or St. Brigid’s Rose Arbor or maybe it was Henley’s Delectable Concoction. Whatever the name actually was, he conjured in his mind and image of his stately, rather prudish, carefully manicured, and pleasant smelling wife. He read the letter all the way through, blinked, wiped at his eyes – for they seemed to suddenly blur everything – and sat for a moment staring at his office wall before reading it again, slower this time.

Dear Gorge,

It is with little regret and great satisfaction that I pen this letter to you now. By the time you receive it, I will have left behind our modest home at 10 Will Bury Ln. and arrived at the sprawling veranda of Rodrigo Rodriguez Scardina’s cattle ranch in Brazil. You and I will have at last ended this farce of a marriage officially – for the vicar Williams assures me that your desertion of me and the children to that God-awful southernmost post is more than cause enough to file for divorce. If it is not, however, adultery on my part should seal the deal entirely. I warned you that if you left you would live to regret it. I imagine you assumed that threat was not something I was prepared to enact.

Miss Electra Yellowsmile appeared in the doorway, her luminous blue eyes attentive. “What was that, sir? I didn’t understand what you were saying.”

It was at that moment the Gorge realized he had been reading the letter aloud. There seemed to be something wrong with his vision, which blurred and sharpened at irregular intervals. And there was a most tremendous throbbing in his temples the likes of which he had never experienced before. A voice rasped out:

“Mrs. Felicia Elderbatch has filed for divorce.”

The voice was a man’s. Since only he and Miss Electra occupied this room, logic told him that the voice was his. It got louder.

“She has taken Phebe, Edward, Maurice, Andrew, Prudence and even Methuselah the dog to South America to live with some bloke named Rodrigo! Do you hear me, Miss Yellowsmile? My wife has left me and filed for divorce!”

“Oh,” Electra responded, a dimple appearing in her pixie-like chin as she frowned, lips downturned in a perfect half-arc. “How very unwise of her.”

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