When I was a young mother, the war in Vietnam raged. Daily men were slaughtered on the bloody killing fields. I never forgot the images that were broadcast daily on television. The first war Americans had a front seat for. After all, I had a young son and a not so young husband. Thankfully neither have ever had to go to war.
Eventually those images and the aftermath of that tragic moment in our history spawned my first novel, which I called Beyond the Moon, from a poem by Emily Dickinson about the darkness of war.
Some thirty odd years after I finished that novel I've found a publisher eager to get it out there. And I'm so pleased because it is the story of a strong nurturing woman and a man so wounded by nine years of torture in a cage in Vietnam that he might never have recovered had it not been for her. Love heals, despite anything cynics may tell you. I hope readers enjoy reading this story of love and hope as much as I enjoyed writing it.
GRANDMA ALWAYS SAID I was reminded this morning of something my grandmother always said and did. In Heloise someone wrote in that they once burned baby teeth to keep the witches from putting a curse on the baby. My grandmother also cut her nails onto a sheet of paper and burned them for the same reason. When someone in the family got a haircut, and those were usually homegrown then, she collected all the hair and burned it too.
Though a devout Southern Baptist, she was very superstitious, knocking on wood, and throwing salt over her left shoulder if she spilled it. She believed that unborn babies could be marked by something the mother saw, and when an owl hooted someone had died, which is pretty possible.
Anything dropped on the floor was a portent of something to come. Forks, spoons, knives, all manner of things had a special meaning.
A few weeks ago I received a call from a friend in my hometown of Mountainburg telling me that my grandparent's house had burned to the ground. I'm told that it was originally a log cabin that had been resided and covered inside, and was one of the oldest houses in town.
Last week I drove by to see only a few jagged blackened walls reaching toward the sky. I suppose it's true that all things past will sometime come to an end, but the memories will always remain. There's no sign left that we ever lived there, with my great grandparent's home razed to make room for a church expansion.
The Washington County Historical Society has chosen Velda as a Distinguished Citizen for 2010. This is a great honor. The celebration will be held in October at the University of Arkansas.
Old Buddies at Ozark Creative Writer's Conference
After 26 years Dusty and I are still friends and co-workers. It's been a rough, rocky road, but quite a lot of fun. I wouldn't trade my time in the writing business with anything else I could have chosen. The best people in the world write books, edit books, publish books. And I love being around them.
The year was 1983, and I entered the convention center at the Best Western Inn in Eureka Springs, Arkansas on shaky legs. This would be my very first writer's conference and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that I wanted to mingle with writers and learn more about writing. Recently I'd finished a book, or thought I had. Those two days I would find out just how much I had yet to learn. But I'm jumping ahead of myself.
All eyes turned toward me when I entered the crowded room, or so I felt. I've never been an outgoing person, especially with strangers, so I smiled and crept through the gathering searching for a corner in which to hide. Then a large man in a cowboy hat approached, asked my name and introduced himself. That man, as unpublished as I at the time, was Dusty Richards, today the author of 96 westerns and two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America.
That night and the following two days, he saw to it that I was introduced around. Though this was his first conference, he'd already made plenty of friends. As shy as I am, he's just that outgoing. To my delight, he lived not far from me. Through the years we've spent a lot of time attending conferences and sharing what we learn with our growing critique group. It wasn't long before we founded our own writer's group when we couldn't find one that suited us. It's been in business now for 25 years or so, and its turned out several published writers.
Dusty and I went on to see our first published books come out within a few months of each other. He is one of the most prolific writers I've ever met. Me, I've plodded along and saw number 11 and number 12 published in 2010. Soon 13 and 14 will be released as E books and paper backs.
If anyone is interested in reading some of my first western romance novels, they can be found online at Kindle. More information on the Montana Trilogy and Dream Walker is on the Works Page here. Elizabeth Gregg and Samantha Lee wrote those six novels, two of which will be uploaded to Kindle in 2012. It's a real pleasure to give birth to them once more for a new audience.
Dusty and I are at Ozark Creative Writers every year. I haven't missed but once since that first conference, and that was due to back surgery. My first published book came out of a first place win in the western category at OCW, and I've always been grateful. It's also interesting that my first nonfiction published book came from attendance at Ozark Writer's League in Branson, Missouri, which isn't a conference per se, but rather a quarterly get-together which features guest speakers from around the country, including New York agents and editors. The two latest nonfiction books were sold at conferences, as well. One at OWL and the other at Women Writing the West. I can't stress enough how important attending conferences and pitching your work is to writers.
An interesting note here: Stone Heart's Woman was also sold at a conference, OCW, in fact, when editor Rhonda Penders of The Wild Rose Press visited and took pitches. She asked for mine immediately and I had a contract within a few weeks.
Oh, I know, pitching to editors is scary and you don't know what to do with your hands, or what to say. But you'll get through it and you'll practice for the next time, and one day you'll be asked to send in a full manuscript to that agent or editor and you'll know it was all worth it.
My experiences should teach you something about networking. If you don't get out and mingle with writers, editors and publishers, your chances of selling are nearly nil.
Now that E books are beginning to play such an important role in our lives, it's time to consider that as a viable place to publish your work. Authors need to be wary of a few things: Have the book edited before uploading it; study the craft of formatting carefully; take some courses in promoting online and join in this fabulous new opportunity for authors.
While visiting a friend and researching for my latest book, The Boston Mountains: Lost In The Ozarks, at one of the small county libraries, I learned that my great-grandparents home in that small town had been torn down. I lived there with my parents in order to start to school, across the highway. When we finished at the library, I drove down to take a look. All that is left is the old well that was outside the back door.
If I close my eyes there's the small child I was, riding her tricycle round and round that old well on the wide concrete walk. She has white blonde hair, this child, and it's straight and cut in a bob. Until the move she lived in a log cabin in the remote woods, a first grandchild much loved by aunts, uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers.
I can see my great-grandparents even today. She posed in a long black coat with fur up around her throat, he standing stiff in a pinstripe suit. They were tiny people, both of them, and she didn't have to change her name because it was already the same as his.
They came from Kentucky and they were my grandfather's parents. Soon after we left Arkansas when the war broke out, they returned to Kentucky. We never saw them again. My grandparents continued to live in the same town, just up the road from that old house that is no more. We visited often after the war.
It seems the church next door bought the land where the old house stood, and want to use it to expand. I guess that's as good a way as any for the land to be used. I don't think my greats or grands would mind in the least. I'm pleased I took a photo and posted it here several months ago. Sometimes I'm so busy recording other people's history that mine falls by the wayside. I'm trying to rectify that.
Being born in a log cabin probably started my journey toward historical writing. My Dad being a storyteller mapped out that journey. The tales he told of his growing up following his Dad throughout Texas. My Grandfather Goodgion worked as a powder monkey, which meant he went anywhere that blasting was needed for roads or other building projects. At sixteen, my Dad came to Arkansas to help his Dad in the blasting out of rocks to build Jefferson Highway through the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks. Here he met my mother, one of the beautiful Smith girls, and that led to my being born in a log cabin in the beautiful Ozark mountains.
Have I wanted to write since the age of three? Not hardly. But I did begin to read and write very early, and so Mother insisted we move to town (Mountainburg) in a house with my great-grandparents across the highway from a public school. Then she promptly dragged me by the hand at the tender age of five and insisted that I begin first grade. Since I could read and write, and under a great deal of pressure from my indomitable mother, I started school with the dire warning that I would fail before I reached sixth grade. I didn't, and for the remainder of my schooling I was a year younger than my peers. Nothing too unusual about that. Only that this little Arkie girl born in a log cabin and raised up to the age of five by parents who had neither one finished school, was on her way to becoming a writer, whether she knew it or not.
Needless to say, I didn't "fall back" even though I attended schools in Missouri, Colorado and Kansas before we settled down in Wichita after World War Two. I attended East High there and graduated three months after my 17th birthday. I married that December. We moved to New York when our two children were three and five. In 1972 we returned to Arkansas where we have lived ever since.
That's where I began to paint and write and teach piano, not simultaneously. I also raised a huge garden, canned produce and fruit, helped hubby tend a few head of cattle and milk one which meant I learned to make cheese and butter from my mother, who lived near us. We've had a wonderful time here in Arkansas, and I've made lifelong friends in the writing field.
Writers are some of the nicest, most intelligent, down- to-earth people in the world and I wouldn't trade my time with them for any other life. I've made no trips to Paris, taken no cruises or safaris, nor have I climbed any mountains. But I have done all that in my writing and accomplished exactly what I wanted. A full life with friends and an interesting and compelling profession. That of writing, in all its forms.
My biggest problem, I think, has been trying all types of writing. Maybe if I'd stuck to one I'd be famous and/or rich by now. But I wouldn't have had near as much fun.
Here I am enjoying a visit with an American Saddle Horse on a ranch high on Pinnacle Mountain in the Boston Mountains of the Ozarks.
Dick Courteau owns the ranch and raises the horses, which are direct descendants of those ridden by Ulysses Grant and Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. This story in its entirety will be in my next book, The Boston Mountains: Lost in the Ozarks due out in 2010 from Old American Publishing.
In visiting many of the lost communities hiding deep in the shadows of time, I often wandered so far I couldn't retrace my steps. Being lost in the Ozarks is a common enough occurrence for me as I don't know north from south, east from west. It makes for an interesting trip each time I venture from our driveway into the wilderness, which is just at my back door. Check out my blog for accounts of some of these journeys.