Growing up, I dreamed of becoming a writer. I realized that aspiration first as a magazine editor, publisher and award-winning author. But I wanted to be a novelist, too. Now, finally, I’m fulfilling that ambition.
I grew up in Iowa farm country, the oldest of five children. I woke up every morning to a big, beautiful red barn outside my bedroom window, and the
song of meadowlarks at dawn in the surrounding clover field. I loved nature and history, walked the railroad tracks and woods looking for Indian arrow-
heads, explored pioneer ruins and old stagecoach traces, and communed with nature. Those experiences influenced me deeply. I saved my money doing farmwork and babysitting and, when I was thirteen, got an amazing horse named Sundance. He became a celebrity in my tiny Iowa town. I was a rodeo queen and led the Labor Day parade and rodeo grand opening on Sundance. Years later, when he died, our town
newspaper printed his obituary.
Pursuing my dream to be a writer,
I attended the University of Iowa and double majored in English and Journalism. In grad school, I taught Writer's Workshop pupils the centuries-old art of metal
typesetting and letterpress printing. In my classes, aspiring writers learned to print limited-edition books and chapbooks of their poetry and short stories.
I also designed and hand-printed posters for the Writer’s Workshop and the famous writers who taught and read their fiction and poetry. That rarefied exposure to the finest fiction writers and poets in the world fired my muse to write.
After graduate school, I went home to help nurse my dying grandmother. My first job was power-washing combines for farm foreclosure sales. :(( But I soon got a job writing feature stories at Iowa’s smallest daily newspaper. Then, my big break: I landed a staff editor position at Better Homes and Gardens publications as a features writer.
That was the beginning of my publishing career
as an editor for national magazines and a freelance writer for the New York Times, Connoisseur, the San Francisco Chronicle, Saturday Evening Post, and many others. I’m proud to say I won awards from the American Society of Magazine Editors, Women in Communications, and the Charles Weller Award for Journalism.
I also taught writing and publishing at Northwestern University and Marquette. Later, as a publisher of The Writer’s Handbook, I worked with iconic novelists and poets. That experience rekindled my dream once again to write fiction.
A chronic insomniac — publishing will do that — I began writing a novel in the wee hours of the night when I couldn’t sleep, my two dogs and my cat at my feet. In the meantime, my husband and I raised an amazing daughter — our magnum opus — a Middle East correspondent. By age 25, she had reported from war zones in Syrian refugee camps, Iraq, Afghanistan, and The West Bank for the New York Times and had appeared on CNN and MSNBC. (See her work at: www.sophia-jones.com).
Because I was born into a military family, I appreciate service and the struggles of others. I’m devoted to issues for veterans and the disenfranchised--especially women, children and animals--and have donated my writing to nonprofits and served on boards of organizations addressing those issues. You will find those issues in my novel and other writing. Inspired by horses and history, nature and Native American cultures, my
novel began to take shape.
Two childhood experiences in parti-cular sparked my inspiration. All through high school, I worked in a nursing home to save for college.
When I was sixteen and a rodeo queen, I cared for an old woman who had been the very first rodeo
queen 40 years before. She'd been thrown from a horse and suffered permanent brain damage. By her bedside, was a yellowed, black-and-white picture of her as a young woman on a horse. She was half Sioux Indian and still had pitch black hair in her 80s. Even
My two big boys, adopted English Setters, Howie and Reggie. They are my faithful writing companions, usually asleep at my feet while I write. Both bark and run in their dreams! My love of animals shows up often in my novel, Blood to Rubies.
as an old and very damaged woman, I could tell how strong and beautiful she
had once been. That bittersweet experience affected me profoundly.
My other inspiration: one of my favorite places to ride my horse was a
huge river valley with winding country roads. A gravel road opened into the valley and a breathtaking expanse. On a far ridge, a herd of horses grazed, a spectacular leopard Appaloosa stallion among them. I liked to imagine the horses belonged to the Indians before whites had settled the land. Of course, Appaloosas and the Nez Perce Indians who developed them were not native to Iowa, but Idaho and Washington. But a child's imagination is not bound by
Posing with Rosie, the Mammoth watch donkey. Rosie is a rescue donkey at Holyland Donkey Haven in Wisconsin (holylanddonkeyhaveninc.com). She protected livestock in the wilds of northern Wisconsin, where she fought off wolves, coyotes and a grown bear. My kind of gal!
by such details. That inspiration became the seeds for a novel.
After 20 years of writing and research, my first novel, Blood to Rubies, is complete. It is an epic tale about Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce tribe and a frontier photographer who witnesses their struggle. The Nez Perce saved Lewis and Clark from starvation 70 years before and showed them the Northwest Passage. But, by doing so, they also opened the floodgates of white invasion to the continent. Chief Joseph's story is one
of the saddest and most heroic in U.S. history, a heartbreaking tale of struggling against all odds, of bravery in the face of horrific
suffering, and of honor.
Intertwined with my Nez Perce saga is the story of an immigrant woman from Ireland trying to
escape her own demons. Blood to Rubies is about colliding cultures, one dying, one being born, clashing dreams, and the realm between justice and injustice.
I hope to publish Blood to Rubies. My next step is to find a literary agent. (For those of you who have tried to write and publish a novel, you know that writing it is only half the battle. The other half is trying to get it published!) I’ve created this author site to provide a forum for my work. I've also started a Facebook blog, “Notes from the Frontier,” that echoes the themes of my novel and is a forum for all who love Indian and Old West history, as I do.
Chief Joseph, born Thunder Rolling from the Mountains, was the iconic Nez Perce leader admired by the American people, presidents, and generals. My novel, Blood to Rubies, chronicles, in part, Joseph's amazing campaign to save his people and his land, then finally their 1,500-mile attempt to escape to Canada, fighting off and defeating the U.S. Army until the Bear Paw battle, just 30 miles from the Canadian border. The American press dubbed him "The Red Napoleon" and the brilliant tactics of the Nez Perce were taught at West Point. But that's only part of the story.
In addition to publishing my novel, I dream of riding the Chief Joseph’s Trail. Each year, riders on Appaloosa horses, including Nez Perce ancestors of Chief Joseph, honor the tribe legacy by retracing 100 miles of the arduous, 1,500-mile trail Chief Joseph and his people took trying to reach the Medicine Line—the Canadian border— and the freedom to live free.
More Americans should know this story.
I hope you'll join me retracing Chief Joseph's historic journey in my new novel, Blood to Rubies.