Friday, August 16, 2019

Writing the Old West ~ by Kristine Raymond

It was no surprise to anyone, including me, that the setting for my first book was 1800s Arizona Territory.  From as far back as early childhood, I've been a fan.  I remember sitting on the floor next to my dad watching western movies.  Maybe I was too young to understand the plot, but the action and wildness and lawlessness stirred something inside that I didn't quite comprehend.  All I knew was when that opening theme played and a mounted cowboy rode across the screen, a spark lit deep within my soul that burns to this day.

So, imagine my delight upon discovering Saturday Afternoon at the Westerns.  Now, growing up, my siblings and I were not allowed to sit around in front of the TV all day, so I had to get creative.  Brokering a deal with my mother, she agreed to let me stay indoors and watch television as long as I was 'domestically-occupied'.  Translation - I had to iron my dad's work shirts for the week.  It took me years longer than it should have to realize which one of us got the better end of the bargain, and, to this day, I despise ironing - though I still love my westerns.  Hmmm...maybe I did come out ahead on that one.

© Levy-Gardner-Laven/Four Star Television

The Big Valley was, and is to this day, my favorite.  (I own the entire series on DVD).  I never tire of watching the Barkleys and wanted desperately, as a kid, to move to Stockton, CA.  While I haven't made it that far west yet, the wide open landscape and scenic vistas in this show, and others I watched, are what prompted me to move to Arizona in my early 20s.  But, that's a story for another time.

© Xanadu Productions Inc or its successors

The High Chaparral was my next favorite.  Even as I type this, I can hear the opening theme.  The energy.  The excitement.  The anticipation.  A siren song to a kid with wanderlust in her veins, long before I understood the meaning of the word. 

There were others shows that held a similar appeal.  Alias Smith and Jones, The Rifleman, and Bonanza, and a few years later, Guns of Paradise and The Magnificent Seven.  So, when I sat down to write my first novel, I envisioned a dusty town, a sweeping ranch, and the thundering of hooves.  The backdrop of any great western.  Next came the six-shooters, the hats, the boots and swagger.  In other words, the cowboys.  The story is a romance with a touch of suspense like so many others out there,  but, for me, it's the setting that elevates it to a new plane.

© Kristine Raymond

Writing about the Old West isn't easy, especially for a gal who grew up near the ocean and had only the likes of the Barkleys and Cannons and Cartwrights for reference (okay, yes; I also had books and Google, but for the sake of this post, I'm relying on my television viewing experiences 😉 ), but it gave me a great excuse to pop a disc into the DVD player and revisit my childhood for a few hours.  Without the iron and ironing board!      

Oh, and I always rooted for the horses.

Excerpt from Here to Stay (Book One in the Hidden Springs series)

          Ryan’s Ranch was four hundred and fifty acres of scrub brush and arroyos, trees and grassland.  There was a large stream that ran through the property, a tributary of the Verde River.  Stands of cottonwoods grew along its banks.  Ten miles to the west, the Black Hills loomed, their peaks rugged and uninviting.  It was easy to get lost in those mountains and an ideal place for bandits to hide.  The landscape on the ranch was varying; there were native grasses for pasture and dry, dusty areas that seemed to grow nothing but rock.  Closer to the mountains were abandoned gold and silver mines, Cooper’s mine among them.  Streams and creeks flowed randomly through the property, in some areas forming deep pools that made excellent fishing holes.  During the monsoon season, dry creek beds would fill with fast moving water and flowers brightened the landscape with brilliant color.
          The day broke clear and bright.  It’s warm for this time in April, thought Kate, as she brushed her hair from her face.  She had been up since four, making biscuits and checking to make sure that they had everything they needed to start putting up the fence.  Carly was going to make dinner for everyone each day so that was one thing Kate didn’t have to worry about.  She didn’t need any delays.  Each day put her that much closer to seeing her dream become a reality.  Her own horse ranch!  Her father would have loved it.  She smiled, and then the smile faded as she thought about her father and Christopher.
          No! she thought to herself, you have too much to do.  You can’t think about them right now.  She shook her head as if to clear the unhappy memories and put another pot of coffee on the stove to boil.  She would need plenty of coffee this morning to keep the men fueled up and working.  Besides herself and Daniel, there were the three men she had hired yesterday, plus two she had talked to earlier in the week.  Rusty Flanagan was just a kid, no more than sixteen or seventeen, and worked part-time in the general store.  Simon Archer wasn’t much older and apprenticed at the blacksmith shop behind the livery, with Lars Jensen.  Even though they were young, they both seemed like hard workers and they could use the money. 
          “Riders coming,” she heard Daniel call.  Kate grabbed the pot of now boiling coffee and made her way outside.  She had set up a table earlier with plates, cloth napkins, tin cups and utensils, plus a tray of biscuits, kept steaming hot under a towel.  There was also honey and jam for the biscuits and sugar for the coffee.  She set the hot pot down next to the one she had brought out earlier, just as the riders were dismounting.
          “Morning, Miz’ Ryan,” Jack said. “You look lovely this morning.”
          Sam made a wry face behind Jack’s back and Kate bit back the smile that threatened to appear.
          “Thank you, Mr. Tanner.  Help yourselves to biscuits and coffee.  It’s going to be a long day so I want to get started as soon as possible.”
          Kate turned and walked over to her horse.  The gelding was already saddled and waiting patiently for her to mount.  She patted him gently and he nuzzled her in return.  She noticed Sam watching them.  “Isn’t he beautiful?” she asked.  “His name is Ciarán.   It means ‘dark one’ in Gaelic.”
          As she swung herself into the saddle, Sam couldn’t help but admire the rider more than the horse.  He wondered where her family was; how she came to be on her own.  She seemed to hold herself away from the others, not that she was unkind but her body language said ‘stay away’.  Sam wanted to be the one to make her say ‘come here’.  Crazy, he thought to himself, I don’t know anything about her.  But he was drawn to her in some inexplicable way.  He vowed to make sure he worked alongside of her to try and get her to open up.  He was more than willing to tell a few tales about himself in order to make that happen.
          “Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to do some work?” Jack asked as he rode by, churning up as much dust as possible.
          “I’m coming,” coughed Sam, “I’m coming”.

Get it here 


Julie Lence said...

Great blog, Kristine! I grew up watching The Big Valley and High Chaparral. I always loved Audra's clothes and hair and make up, had a crush (and still do) on Nick Barkley, and Uncle Buck on H.C. always made me laugh. He was such a great character. Some of my heroes have Nick's toughness and Uncle Buck's humor. I Hugs!

Kristine Raymond said...

I'm going to have to fight you over I bet a lot of cowboy characters are based on him ;)