After a long career in magazine publishing (see BIO), I’m starting a new career as a fiction writer. I feel very much as Thomas Jefferson must have when he wrote: “Though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” I do feel young, diving into this adventure and trolling the memory banks of my life and my muse for fresh inspiration. It's just like starting a garden, except with words instead of seeds.
Like all those born to write, stories have simmered in my psyche since childhood. (And, I guess like seeds, they've been dormant, just waiting to sprout.) Growing up in farm country and small-town Iowa, I knew many “characters.” I also worked in a nursing home through high school and was exposed to many stories of hardship, immigrant tales, generational folk tales, even family secrets. Those experiences were grist for my imagination. I was also inspired by the remnants of Native American and pioneer life that could still be found on the Iowa prairie when I was growing up: arrowheads, tomahawks, Indian burial mounds, buffalo wallows, old Indian trails, defunct stagecoach trails, old mine ruins, pioneer cemeteries, even an old jailhouse!
Because I loved horses, I became intrigued with the Nez Perce horse culture and their Appaloosas. The Nez Perce saved Lewis and Clark from starvation and freezing to death, then led them to the Northwest Passage and the Pacific Ocean. By doing so, they opened the floodgates to white invasion of the continent and eventual loss of their beautiful
land. The Nez Perce would be one of the last tribes to capitulate to white invasion after a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds.
Those childhood inspirations turned into a novel. The result, Blood to Rubies, is a sweeping western about the cataclysm between Manifest Destiny and native Indian sovereignty, telescoped through the intimate stories and photographs of frontier photographer, Frederick Cortland. Frederick grows up in St. Joseph, Missouri, the starting point for westering pioneers. Thirsting for adventure and steeped in the tales of Lewis and Clark, he longs to see the wilderness and Indians in the flesh. To escape serving in the Civil War, he joins a wagon train on the Oregon Trail and photographs pioneers, Indians, and frontier life. He chronicles, too, the lurid underbelly of humanity, freak shows and circuses, hangings and death, soiled doves and the Oriental slave trade. He begins to feel more a voyeur than a photographer.
In the Bitterroot Mountains, he spies a naked Irish immigrant woman, Sorrel Lanning, in a lake and secretly photographs her. Frederick settles in nearby Spotted Horse, Idaho, and starts a photography business. He becomes obsessed with Sorrel and keeps her clandestine nude photographs in a secret Chinese box. He befriends the local Nez Perce and their venerated young leader, Chief Joseph. Strangely, Frederick's role as photographer—and voyeur—becomes pathological. He witnesses the lives of both Sorrel and the Nez Perce tribe unravel in tortuous irony. And he feels complicit in the fates of both.
Because my main character is a frontier photographer and so much of my novel research involved perusing old photographs, I begin each chapter with an archival photograph that mirrors Frederick’s experience, as if he himself had taken the photographs. (Many of these photographs are public domain, the source of some lost to history. But I am careful to credit the photographs at the back of my book and also include a bibliography, so readers can further explore.)
DRUM ROLL: BIG NEWS!
I am ecstatic to report that I recently signed on with one of the top literary agencies in the country: Trident Media. Trident represents Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award and Booker Award winners--and two of the writers I admire most: Michael Ondaatje (The English Patient) and Marilynne Robinsoon (Housekeeping). AND, they are the leading agency for bestselling books-to-film!! My lifelong dream of becoming a novelist just became much more real. My book is not published yet. But it's now in the starting gate and pawing to run!
This site, as well as my Facebook blog, Notes from the Frontier, and my dot com site, NotesfromtheFrontier.com, were created to generate interest in my work. (As any one who's tried writing a novel can attest, writing the damn thing is only half the battle. Getting it published is the other half.) I am also happy to report that, after only a year since I have launched my historical blog, I have nearly 40,000 wonderful followers who love frontier and Native history. I've been sharing my writing adventures with these good folks. If you haven't joined me on my journey yet, please do. It’s sure to be a wild ride. Giddyup!