Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Cowboy Tough-make that Cowgirl Tough

I’d like to tell you today about a young woman who is one of my heros. Her name is Amberley Snyder, and she’s as tough as they come.

Amberley started riding horses when she was three and has been rodeoing since she was seven. She worked hard and became good at it, really good. She’s qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo as well as the National Little Britches Finals where she won the Finals and World All-Around titles as well as finishing in the top 6 in Pole Bending, Goat Tying and Breakaway Roping. 

Becoming the best in your sport, not to mention three sports is something to be proud of, but that wasn't enough for Amberley. She had her sights set on the National Finals Rodeo.
Her dreams changed in an instant. January of 2010, on the way to Denver for the rodeo, she looked down at her map, lost control and was involved in an accident. 

She'd unfastened her seatbelt because her stomach was upset. With nothing holding her in, she was thrown out out window and hit a fence post breaking her back and paralyzing her from the waist down. 
After a five-hour surgery, the doctors broke the bad news. She’d never walk again, and she’d never rodeo again. Apparently, they didn’t convince her. Using a seat belt, Velcro and other straps, she’s figured out how to ride, rope and barrel race and she’s winning again.

Sharing her positive attitude has become Amberley's new career. When asked how she keeps a positive attitude when things get challenging, she explains, "Even on hard days, look for one thing that is positive. It can be anything-like your favorite song-and if you appreciate that, your mood will change."
Last year came another challenge. Amberley’s horse fell on the second barrel at a Utah rodeo and broke her leg right below the knee. Not just broke it, but shattered it. Not a year later, just a couple of weeks ago, I  met Amberley at the Rancho Rio barrel race in Wickenburg, Arizona. When I asked her how she'd done, she smiled. She didn't win, but her time was respectable and it was the first time she'd ever been on the horse.
She hasn't given up on her dream of making it to the National Finals Rodeo and I, for one, am not betting against her.

This young woman epitomizes the words Try, Tenacious, and Tough.
Who’s your tough hero? 
Who encourages you to try harder and not give up?

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Hope chests

I'm doing research for new series of stories based on a familiar item in my home. I'm not sure how familiar this item is in the present, but growing up it was a link to my past and a hope for my future.

This piece of furniture, is wonderfully handcrafted. As a child, I would take my blankets and books and crawl up to read or to gaze into the yard. The wooden box was created to hold such items as clothing, linens, blankets, and other items created for married life. Some called this wooden chest, dowry chests, cedar chest for the wood that lined the inside, trousseau chests, glory boxes, or, as in my case - the hope chest.

The crafting of these boxes are really quite old. Ancient Egyptians used such boxes to hold jewels or scrolls of value. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Europeans carved such boxes as a show of wealth. But, as families began to journey to the new world, these chest contained all the important items for their survival.

In my part of the south, you received your hope chest at the coming of age, usually sixteen. From there until the age of twenty-one, you would sit at your mother's knee and learn skills such as embroidery, quilting, crochet, or knit and carefully stow your items inside in preparation for your next stage of life as a married woman.

I had always grown up with my grandmother's cedar chest in my bedroom. At the age of sixteen, it was given to me entrust to keep the legacy from the past and to create new hope for my future. My grandmother was given her chest before 1900 by her father and mother. She brought it to Norfolk in 1922 when my grandfather moved the family here to gain employment in the shipyards.

It was always wonderful to open and gaze upon the legacy pieces inside. My grandmother's china doll she'd had since childhood. Complete with the original clothing, corn husk hair, and bonnet. One foot has a flat toe where she drug it across the floor. Beneath that, was her father's Confederate uniform carefully folded. It lay in state until 1970 when we opened it and found it finally was reduced to tatters. A satin blanket covered all the items. It was the blanket that my grandmother had across her bed until her death two months before my birth. My mother placed my baby sweaters and one white blanket with embroidered pink flowers that she used for me, that I used for my daughter, that I passed to my granddaughter. I placed my wedding veil inside on top of my box of horse ribbons and trophies won when I showed professionally.

The giving of the hope chests waned in the 1960's due to the feminist movements. I admit, I did not give my daughter one at sixteen, but when I die, she will receive the chest and the items inside. I hope that my granddaughter will open and explore with wonder the treasures that lie inside.

Be looking for the Hope Chest Series in 2019. It will be a collection of sweet romances that follow the generations of one family highlighting their hopes, dreams, and disappointments.

Until next time, happy reading,

Nan O'Berry

Monday, February 26, 2018

Cats...Cats and More Cats

Cats...Cats and More Cats!

How They Helped Settle the West!


I once saw an episode of the old Maverick western TV show with James Garner where a girl needed money. So in talking with a steamboat captain she found out he was buying cats to take upriver to resell to settlers, miners and whoever else needed cats for rodent control. Of course, Maverick had to get in on the deal and they both made quite a bit of money as did the Captain.

For some reason that episode stuck in my head and I used a similar scenario in a novel I have coming out Fall of 2018 titled Bed of Conspiracy.

Turns out, this was quite the lucrative money making venture for anyone willing to take the risk of getting scratched, bitten and clawed while rounding up and herding these wild four-legged critters for a few bucks.

Back then, cats were considered priceless to the miners, homesteaders and newly sprung up towns across the blossoming west.

Rodents had moved in with their diseases and fleas, chewing through wood walls and floors, grain bins and multiplying at an alarming rate.

What was the solution? CATS! But how to get them from the more populated towns on the Big Muddy who had too many to further out west where there were no cats? Freight them in...stick them in a sack under the bench seat on the stage coach? With several groups of wildcat freighters that’s all they transported for a while. Cages and cages of yowling, meowing cats made their journey across the wild west sitting in freight wagons, stage coaches and prairie schooners. Then upon reaching their destination each cat might be auctioned off to the highest bidder or sold for a set price. Most cats could bring as high as $25.00 or more. The reasonable and average price was between $10.00 - $15.00.

And there you have it…folks! How cats helped settle the west!

Until we meet again…Happy Trails!


Friday, February 23, 2018

Railroads, St. Joseph, Missouri and the Pony Express

As the name suggests, the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad completed on Wednesday, February 23, 1859 connected the city of Hannibal in the northeastern part of Missouri with St. Joseph in the northwestern part of the state. The two cities are the second and third largest in the state of Missouri, and the east-west route proved to be crucial for economic development and postal communication.

Map of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On March 31, 1860, the first Pony Express mail had been dispatched from Washington and New York by a messenger on board trains to St. Joseph. Unfortunately, the messenger missed a train connection which caused him to be two hours late leaving Hannibal, Missouri. However, men of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad met the emergency with one of the most famous mail train rides in history.
Engine, Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad
The main track was cleared and all switches closed. Engineer Addison Clark highballed along for a famous "fast mail" run that was to stand as a record for 50 years, covering the 206 miles from Hannibal to St. Joseph in 4 hours, 51 minutes, an average of 40 miles an hour.

The mail for the first westbound Pony Express was carried on the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad from Hannibal to St. Joseph, Missouri, on April 3, 1860. The name of the locomotive was the "Missouri."

In St. Joseph, a rider, generally believed to have been Johnny Frey, mounted a pony in the Pike's Peak stable and started westward, thereby inaugurating the Pony Express. This first relay race to the West required 10 days.

During the Civil War, this railroad also was important for troop transport and moving supplies for the Union Army. The line suffers periodic attacks by pro-Confederate bushwhackers, but it remained active throughout the Civil War.

The arrival of the railroad in St. Joseph further assured that city its role as a distribution point for the west. St. Joseph remained the westernmost point in the U.S. accessible by rail until after the Civil War. Additionally, St. Joseph’s proximity to the Missouri River added to its phenomenal growth.

Zina Abbott recently published two books as part of the multi-author series, LOCKETS & LACE. 

The first, the prequel to the series, is titled The Bavarian Jeweler.  

The other, book 3 in the Lockets & Lace series, is Otto's Offer.


Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Remington: An Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

'Standing Off Indians, illustration for T. Roosevelt book, Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, ca. 1888 
Name an American artist whose work specialized in the American West and most likely you will think of either C.M. Russell or Frederic Remington. It was my good fortune to recently visit a Remington exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
'On the Headwaters--Burgess Finding a Ford' illustration for Policing the Yellowstone, 1893, Harper's
While Remington came from upstate New York, connections to the west were certainly in his blood. He was distantly related to George Catlin, portrait artist of Native Americans, to the Remingtons of rifle fame, and to mountain man Jedediah Smith.  These connections did not seem to have particularly inspired him early on; he was something of a dilettante and highly unfocused, preferring football to his art classes at Yale, and subsequently going through several unrelated jobs upon his father’s death.  The brief stint at Yale, along with some courses at the Art Students’ League in NYC, were his only formal art training.

illustration for Owen Lister's book, 'Lin McLean' published 1898
Aged nineteen, in 1881, Remington finally headed west to Montana. He eventually bought an interest in an unsuccessful sheep ranch in KS, but it was upon his marriage in 1884 that he finally opened a studio, initially in Kansas City, MO.  His first published sketch, of a Wyoming cowboy, appeared in Harper’s Weekly in Feb. 1882. After extensive travels throughout the west, Remington returned to NY where his career took off.
The Old Dragoons of 1850, modeled 1905, cast 1907
Remington’s illustrations appeared in forty-nine periodicals, predominantly Collier’s and Harper’s.  He also went on to illustrate books by such acclaimed authors as Owen Wister, Longfellow, T. Roosevelt, and Francis Parkman. He began exhibiting paintings in 1887, but it was when he studied under sculptor Frederick W. Ruckstall that his talent for modeling came to light. The Bronco Buster, copyrighted in 1895, was an instant success. NY foundries cast more than 275 authorized bronzes of that alone during his lifetime, and there were twenty-two different bronzes in total, almost all of western subjects.
illustration for The Song of Hiawatha' by Longfellow, 1891
Remington had moved to New Rochelle, and eventually to Ridgefield, Conn. where he died in 1909, aged forty-eight, from complications following an appendectomy. There is a Frederic Remington Art Museum in Ogdensburg, NY, housing numerous works and memorabilia.
'On the Southern Plains' oil on canvas, 1907 (originally titled, 'Cavalry in Sixties')

I may have missed Valentine's Day, but love is still in the air with these seven novellas by seven award-winning and best-selling authors.  What's more romantic than a sexy cowboy? Treat yourself for a belated Valentine's Day to a best-selling contemporary western anthology with 53 Reviews and 4.5 Stars, only $0.99. A COWBOY TO KEEP is at . Go catch a cowboy . . .. and keep a cowboy!


Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Though she be but little, she is fierce--Shakespeare

I so love writing my stories around REAL women who lived in, settled, and survived the West. My newest release, Hell-Bent on Blessings, is a special treat. Or at least it was for me writing it.

Harriet Pullen--my heroine--ran a reasonably successful and highly respected horse ranch in Oregon in the early 1890s. She and her four children. Her husband didn't seem to do much other than drink and add debt to their accounts. Eventually, the debt outweighed the money coming in and Harriet's man conveniently disappeared. She was forced then to make a brutal choice: start-over in Oregon at grub wages or follow the gold rush to the Klondike alone.

She placed her children with one set of neighbors, her horses with another, watched the sheriff nail a foreclosure sign to her front door, and then she hopped a boat to Skagway. Standing on the shore there, newly arrived--literally--she was offered a job cooking for a man whose "chef" had just abandoned a crew of eighteen hungry men. Harriet rolled up her sleeves and jumped in.

Ferociously driven to get back in control of her finances and her life, she cooked all day and then baked mouthwatering pies all night and sold them by the dozens. Before long, she'd saved up enough money to send for her boys AND her horses. All that baking had given her time to formulate a business plan. Harriet was going to open her own shipping company--an unheard of goal for a woman, much less for one in the rugged Alaskan frontier.

And I'll leave it there. Here's a snippet from Hell-Bent on Blessings. Hope you enjoy getting a glimpse of what set Harriet's destiny in motion.


“Momma, the sheriff’s in the parlor.”
Something in her thirteen-year-old daughter’s voice sent a chill of foreboding up Harriet Pullen’s spine, but she didn’t stop her work. She slapped the whip on the ground and shook the lunge line. “Gidup, boy.” The bay gelding on the other end of the rope picked up his pace to a trot and circled around her in the corral. “Good boy. Good boy.” Over her shoulder to Katie, she said, “What’s he want?”
“I don’t know. We ran into him coming home from school and he rode on out with us. Just said he had to talk to you.”
Harriet had much too much work to do to stop and fix another mess her worthless husband had caused. That was the only reason the sheriff ever came out here. 
She sighed and slapped the whip one last time. Ricco was a good horse. Harriet was pleased with him. Willing and strong, he had heart and he liked pleasing her. When his training was done, she would hate parting with him.
Ignoring problems didn’t make them go away. Harriet lowered the whip and slowly pulled the horse around to face her, but she didn’t reel him in. “You got any homework, Katie?”
“Only a little.”
“All right, well…” She turned and walked the lunge line and the whip over to her daughter, who was draped over the corral fence. “Work Ricco here another fifteen minutes then put him up. Don’t forget his peppermint stick. And don’t get your dress dirty.”
“I won’t.” The girl took the tools from her mother, but held her gaze as their hands met. “Pa’s been gone a long time, you don’t think he’s—”
“I’m sure he’s fine.” The drunk’ll probably outlive me. “The sheriff just needs us to settle a debt for him or some such.”
The girl’s blue eyes cooled, and the crease in her brow said she wasn’t convinced, but she nodded. “All right. And I won’t forget the peppermint.”
* * *
Out of habit, Harriet grabbed an apron off the stove’s hook as she passed through the kitchen. Tying it behind her back, she marched into the parlor. Jason Meredith, Sundown’s unofficial sheriff—unofficial because the crossroads wasn’t incorporated—sat in her parlor tapping his fingertips together. A handsome man, he often wore a well-worn cowboy hat that he’d folded straight up in front, giving him an almost comic look. It sat beside him now on the settee.
Jason was certainly no man to laugh at, however. He was ridiculously tall—at least six foot six—sported a shock of hair blond as sunshine, and wielded a devastating, white, toothy smile that made most women swoon. 
Harriet was immune to his soul-searching blue eyes and strong, straight jaw, however. She was immune to men. Period. Henry had used up all her passion and kindness. 
“What’s he done now, Jason?” Not the politest way to start a conversation, but she was in no mood. Wrong. She was in a foul mood and didn’t feel like dallying with niceties.
He stood slowly, much like a behemoth rising to the sky, and offered her a sad, almost embarrassed smile. “Yeah, I’m here about him.”
She dropped her hands on her hips. “Do I need to bake something?” Her way of coping. It kept her from throwing things. 
“Might not be a bad idea.”
She stopped a worried flinch—barely—and motioned for him to follow her. “Come into the kitchen with me.” 
* * *
She poured a cup of coffee and handed it to him. “Sit down. I hate looking up at you. Makes my neck hurt.” He obliged, and she went to work gathering up ingredients around the kitchen for an apple pie. “Go ahead and spill it.” 
He glanced at the coffee. “Nah, I’d rather drink it.”
She hit him with a stink eye as she plucked four eggs from a bowl on the counter and set them next to a clay crock marked sugar. “You know what I mean.” She pulled a paring knife from the drawer, clutched another bowl to her side, this one full of apples, and joined him at the kitchen table.
He watched her hands warily as she set to peeling. “I’m not sure I want to talk to you with a knife in your hands.” 
Harriet didn’t look up from the apple she was peeling. “Jason, I’m tired—” Unexpectedly, a lump tried to constrict her throat. She was plain worn out. Henry took her and the children two steps forward and then three back, day in and day out, and had for years. Every time they got a little ahead, he somehow managed to foul up their plans. He’d gambled away their extra cash, practically given away a good horse she’d been training, gotten arrested for drunken behavior over and over, incurring fine after fine. The last time, she’d had to bake a dozen pies for the sheriff and judge over in Whitney to cover court costs. 
And this had been going on for sixteen years. She should be used to it by now, but she couldn’t forget all the love and promise Henry had once shown. The early years of their marriage had been filled with planting dreams and watching them blossom. Then Henry had fallen into the bottle. “I’m tired of the mystery. Just tell me,” she said flatly
Jason took a sip then set the cup down. “Henry’s dead.”
Harriet’s first thought was of the children. How would they take this? Surely they would be sad. He was their father. But he had never been a very good one, drunk more often than sober. The children were aware of the struggles the ranch endured because of his less-than-reliable behavior. So, they would be sad, yes. Devastated? She didn’t think so. She certainly wasn’t. She wondered what that said about the state of her conscience. Maybe she was just in shock. “How,” she heard herself ask.
“Near as anyone can tell, he drank himself to death. I guess he wandered down to the Willamette, a bottle in his hand. Just died, sitting there beside the water. But seeing as how he’d been there a while, there wasn’t much to—I mean, well, identifying him took a little work. This was the clue.” He pulled a gold wedding band from his breast pocket. “That is yours?”
Harriet took the ring and examined it. Engraved on the inside, it read, To my darling Harriet. Love, Henry. Yes, it was hers. She’d lost it a month ago, but suspected all along he’d taken it to pawn. 
“Are you aware he hasn’t paid the mortgage in six months?”
This news hit her harder than Henry’s death and froze her hands. 
Oh, Henry. 
She squeezed her eyes shut, despair and rising anger gripping her heart. She couldn’t do everything. She kept up with the ranch. She raised the children. Did the shopping. Did the cooking. Balanced their ledgers. The only thing Henry had to do was literally pay two bills—the feedstore and bank. 
Oh, Lord, please don’t tell me
She looked up and saw the sympathy in Jason’s eyes. It made her feel ashamed, but not of her pragmatic thoughts. Of the man she’d married.  Of her poor choice. “I counted it out every month for him. Put it in an envelope. All he had to do was walk in and hand it to the clerk.”
“I guess…” He swiped a hand over his stubbly chin. “I guess he couldn’t pass up the saloons. O’Dell at the bank talked to him repeatedly about it, Harriet—”
“Why didn’t someone talk to me?”
“Because you’re—”
“A woman?” She spat out the word, sick to death of it being equated with weakness and stupidity. “But you’ll talk to me now?”
“Yes and no. I mean, you’re Henry’s wife but he’s legally in charge—”
She waved the knife at him. “Was legally in charge. You said he’s dead. Before that, I hadn’t seen him in almost a month. So I’m here to deal with things. How much does he owe the bank?”
“Well,” Jason rubbed his neck and a sinking feeling lapped over Harriet like a rising tide. “It’s more than the bank. He owes the feed store and a couple of merchants in town. I’ve been trying to put this off for you, Harriet, thinking he might come back—”
“How did you know he was gone?”
“When Henry Pullen misses more than three nights at Pauline’s Parlor, everybody in this valley knows. And nobody had seen him in a month. If you’d asked, I would have looked for him.”
“He came and went like he wanted. We never knew…we never knew when he was coming back.” Harriet set the apple and the knife down and pressed her fingertips to her forehead holding back a headache. “How much?”
“Unless you’ve got three thousand dollars, the bank is foreclosing in three days, and Bill at the feedstore is making a claim, too.” He flinched a little. “And the saloon.”

Come along for the ride as Harriet fights for her place in the wild, gold rush town of Blessings, California! Find out why I chose the Shakespeare quote, "Though she be but little, she is fierce," as my tagline! You can get your own copy here!