As with many writers, I dreamed of writing as a child. 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 twelve, got an amazing horse named Sundance. He became a celebrity in my tiny Iowa town. I was a rodeo queen of our nationally-recognized rodeo 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 at Iowa's Center for the Book. In my classes, aspiring writers learned to print limited-edition books and chapbooks of their poetry and fiction.
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 long 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, Marquette, the University of Iowa, Mount Mary College, and Alverno College. Later, as a publisher of The Writer’s Handbook, I worked with iconic novelists and poets. That rarefied experience rekindled my dream 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). Sophie is now a Stanford Fellow and the Founding Executive Editor of Starling Lab, a journalistic endeavor to track war crimes and world conflict with the world's leading journalists using cutting edge technologies.
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. I'm especially proud of my work for Milwaukee Homeless Veterans. You will find some of 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 damaged woman, I could tell how strong and beautiful she had once been. That bittersweet experience affected me profoundly.
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
My other inspiration
also related to horses:
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.
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.
the Nez Perce
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.
AN INCREDIBLE HONOR!
Recently, I had the thrill of a lifetime when I reached out to the most respected Nez Perce elder alive today. Allen Pinkham, Sr., is a highly respected Nez Perce elder, scholar, and keeper of the Nez Perce flame. He is also the great grand-nephew of Chief Joseph. Among his many honors too numerous to name, he is a founding trustee of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and co-founder of the Chief Joseph Foundation.
Allen very graciously agreed to review my book for cultural accuracy and I spent nearly 20 hours on the phone with him going page-by-page. It was an incredible honor to work with a Native icon who is the keeper of Nez Perce stories and a modern-day protector of the tribal culture and history. It is such an awesome responsibility and I was truly amazed by how incredibly knowledgeable and wise Allen is. Allen is also the author of a highly respected historical book, Lewis and Clark Among the Nez Perce, with co-author Dr. Steven Evans, a leading scholar and author of several Nez Perce history books who taught Nez Perce history for 35 years at Lewis & Clark College. Dr. Evans has also reviewed my book, especially the last chapters of the battle scenes between the Nez Perce and the U.S. Army. I cannot thank these two fine scholars enough for their generous support and help with my book.
A HUGE STEP! I recently began soliciting literary agents and signed with a leading agency in the industry, Trident Media. And, this is exciting: Trident is one of the leading agencies for best-selling fiction and novels to film! These days, landing a leading agent is like winning the Powerball jackpot. The chances are about that remote. I'm encouraged. Please keep your fingers crossed for me...
Reggie, one of my 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!
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 frntier photograer 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 flood-gates of white invasion to the western continent.
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.
ANOTHER BIG MILESTONE: 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. Two years and more than 400 posts later, I now have hundreds of thousands of readers! My most popular post, "Stagecoach Mary," has been read by nearly a million readers! (976,732, to be exact) You can visit my blog on Facebook at
or my dot-com site at: www.NotesfromtheFrontier.com
It is my hope that, when my novel is published, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Chief Joseph Foundation. I have begun volunteering my fund-raising experience; in the last year I have landed $300,000 in grants for the foundation. Each year, the Chief Joseph Foundation sponsors Nez Perce children, including Nez Perce ancestors of Chief Joseph, to ride the annual Chief Joseph Ride, by retracing 100 miles of the arduous, 1,500-mile trail Chief Joseph and his people took in 1877 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 heroic journey in my new novel, Blood to Rubies.