Friday, January 24, 2020

Romance in the Old West

As someone who has always lived in the western part of the United States, I have been a fan of stories set in that part of the country all my life. I've always particularly enjoyed western stories. Even my books are set in the West. So naturally when I heard about author, Susan Payne's Mail Order Bride series, and her latest book, I wanted to know more.  Susan is my guest in My Writing Corner today.

        Callie St. Michaels, an orphan from New York, felt her only hope for the future was to leave her sous chef position in St Louis.  Finding a job as cook for a group of ranch hands in Sweetwater, Kansas, seemed both prophetic and serendipitous.  She can continue to practice her recipes while feeding a sizable number of hungry men.  Everyone is happy with the outcome except for one man – Seth Harrison, the owner of the ranch and Callie’s employer. 

Callie bonds with her new home – her possibly forever home if the man living in the big house can see her as anything besides a lame woman too young to be doing the job she was doing.  But she was growing to love the ranch, the people who lived there and, she feared, the man who was her boss.

Seth isn’t sure why, but he feels uncomfortable around the young woman his attorney hired as the ranch hands’ cook.  She hasn’t said anything improper, or is unable to do the work required, or is off-putting in any manner.  In fact, she is well liked by all the other employees including his own housekeeper.  So why does he get so unsettled around her?

Susan was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.  Have you always wanted to write fiction? 

I have always had ‘stories’ in my head.  Possibly like young children have imaginary friends, I had whole stories flowing.  When they were finished, I sometimes thought of the characters as if they had moved away and we couldn’t play any longer but I knew who they were and they knew me.  Later I realized I had added to their lives.  They became adults, parents and had children I would take pride in as if I had something to do with their growth and life.  Now before you write me off as more than a little odd, I do know they are fictional but like Jo in Little Women or Dopey in Snow White – these people, their foibles, wants and desires are known to me.

·       What are the challenges of being a writer?

      To leave a character hanging or longing when my own husband needs dinner or my children need counsel.  I don’t put off the real for the fictional but must wear a different hat for a while.  My stories are my escape just as I hope they are for my readers.  I want my readers to find solace or humor or a feeling of comradeship with the characters I write about. Take away some information, knowledge or wisdom without feeling they have been preached at.   

  Tell us about your road to publication. 

      Like most writers I was an over-night success after years of putting words on paper.  As I wrote earlier, I always had stories going but I never put them to paper until I was over forty.  Then my life became very busy with five children and husband who I worked beside.  We did amazing things together that I know will keep the nurses in the old folks’ home laughing.  Even I have trouble listing everything we did.  Everything but write.  Then things calmed down and I joined a local RWA chapter.  So many talented women that I talked myself into not trying since I knew I would never be as good as they were already.  I would never catch up.  I was wrong about myself.  I rejoined when I was over sixty-five and wrote five years before getting enough nerve to send anything in to be published.  I was under contract in less than a month.  So see, I was an over-night success.
           How do you come up with your characters?
      Hmmm, if you promise not to think I’m nuts, I don’t come up with my characters.  It’s more like they are there waiting for me in my mind and jump out fully grown and formed.  Usually coming to me as couples with both telling me some of their story.  How they felt, how they met, what their problems are.  I often feel like a stenographer trying to keep up with their words and descriptions.  But they stay until I do know what they want and need and then it gets all put down.  Often not as I thought it would end – although I can only think in romantic terms and they always end in happily ever after.  After all, that’s why they come to me.  To help them reach that warm, cozy place even if there is blood, sweat, and tears getting there.
    How do you come up with your plots?

–   Sometimes I hear or read about a place or activity and then someone will visit me from that place.  The smallest thing can set me in the desert hearing a mother curse the ever-blowing sand as she buries her child or a man wracked with remorse for taking his family into the wilderness and unknown.  Not all are angst filled but it is the reality of my character’s world that everything was far from safe.

Tell us about your latest book.  What made you write it? 

     Harrison Ranch is the first of a series of a fictional Sweetwater, Kansas.  Callie came to me.  An adult orphan who was trying to make it in a man’s world while her strengths and worth were diminished by the men surrounding her.  She only had herself – and the words of the Sisters of St. Michaels Founding Home in New York City – to make her way.  She not only makes it she helps bring others along with her.  I like her.  She’s got grit and inner courage and vulnerability that she never uses to make others feel sorry for her.  She’s a little bit of several women I have known.  Women who did fight every step of the way to end higher than anyone would have thought.  This is really Callie’s story and I’ve simply put it into print.

What are you working on now? 
       More historical with westerns in the forefront.  I find people who helped our country grow had to be so strong mentally and physically it seems beyond what a simple human could do.  Despite Daniel telling Emily he wasn’t the kind to marry, she was so in love with him she couldn’t help herself.  An independent woman working as a telegrapher with the railroad, she didn’t need a husband to make her life worthwhile.  But she did need a husband for the child she was carrying.  Daniel refused to marry her and knowing it was over between them she accepted Daniel’s father’s proposal of marriage in his son’s stead.  Her job and the accompanying room would be gone as soon as her employer realized she was unmarried and with child. Emily needed to make a decision.  The best decision for her child.  Nothing runs smoothly and these three will need some guidance along the way.
     What advice do you have for beginning writers? -

      Don’t hesitate to write if it’s in you to put stories down.  Even short ones.  I love flash fiction.  Stories of 500 to 750 words or so.  Many people ask me where should they start a story.  Start where ever you find it – you can always add onto it in either direction as you go along.  Things the reader needs to know or you merely want them to know.  Even professionals argue about where a story begins.  The main point is to put it down – on a note pad, computer, edge of the book your reading.  Where ever you can find it again.  If there are stories in you, they will come out.  Just don’t wait as long as I did.  You don’t want to end up with – “I will write a book” on your bucket list.

      How can readers find your book?

How can readers get in touch with you?

Thank you, Susan, for being my guest and introducing us to Harrison Ranch!  Do you have any questions for Susan?

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