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 have fulfilled 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 arrowheads,
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 the rodeo grand opening on Sundance. Years later, when he died, our town newspaper printed
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 Yorker, New York Times, New York Times Magazine, 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 as an old and very
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 run in their dreams! My love of animals shows up often in my novel, Blood to Rubies.
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, Oregon and Washington. But a child's imagination is not bound by such details. Those childhood inspirations stuck with me and became the seeds of inspiration for my novel.
Reggie, one of my beloved rescued English Setters, helping me write my novel. I guess you could say he is a dogged editor!
My buddy, Rosie, the Mammoth watch donkey, a rescue
at Holyland Donkey Haven in Wisconsin. She protected livestock in northern Wisconsin, where she fought off wolves, coyotes and a grown bear. My kind of gal!
to the western
story is one the
most tragic and
most heroic in U.S.
history, a heart-
breaking tale of struggling against
all odds, of bravery
in the face of
and of honor.
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
Intertwining with the 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.
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.
Recently, I had the thrill of a lifetime when I signed with a leading literary agent, Mark Gottlieb, at one of the best literary agencies in the world, Trident Media. (Trident is THE leader in bestselling books to film.) For those of you who have tried to write and publish a novel, you know that writing it is only half the battle. Finding an agent is the other half. And landing a leading agent is like winning the Powerball jackpot. I am so thrilled!
ANOTHER BIG DEVELOPMENT: I’ve created this author site, as well as an historical blog on Facebook and this .com site as a forum for my work. My historical blog echoes the themes of my novel and is a forum for all who love Indian and Old West history, as I do. I'm proud to share that, after a year and a half and more than 300 posts later, I have hundreds of thousands of readers. My most popular post, "Stagecoach Mary," has been read by nearly a million readers! (976,732) You can
visit my blog on Facebook at Notes from the Frontier, or my dot-com site at:
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 their sacred life ways.
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.