Author Cindy Huff on Fascinating Facts about Life in the Old West

So excited to welcome author and friend, Cindy Huff, whose debut novel, Secrets and Charades, releases today! I read and loved this historical romance which is full of action, surprises, and a very touching romance. Be sure to check out how to win a free copy of Cindy’s novel at the end of this post.

Before Cindy shares some of the fascinating  research that helped to bring her novel alive, here’s the back cover copy to give you a bird-eye view of her story’s characters and plot.

Jake Marcum’s busy ranch leaves him no time for courting, and his wounded heart has no place for love. When battlefield nightmares disturb his peace and his tomboy niece, Juliet, needs taming, somehow a mail-order bride seems like a logical solution.

Dr. Evangeline Olson has no idea her niece is writing to a rancher on her behalf, and she sure isn’t interested in abandoning her medical practice for a stranger. But when an inheritance threatens to reveal a long-buried secret, she travels west to become Jake’s wife.

Jake soon realizes Evangeline is more than he bargained for, especially when her arrival causes a stir in the community. As the two try to find their way in a marriage of convenience, their fragile relationship is further tested by cattle rustling and kidnapping. Can their hearts overcome past hurts to create a real marriage?

And now … here’s Cindy!

Beth, I’m delighted to be back. The timing is perfect for sharing interesting the things I learned in my research. I love Jake and Evangeline and the crew of the Double M. But their story would be so flat without the research that helped to build my story world.

Beyond the internet

Before I created my story, I spent a few months reading books because the internet is not as detailed. When I googled female doctors in the 1800’s, I found some information. But the library, used books on Amazon, and my friend Chris’ extensive library offered far more interesting information. Chris is a Civil War reenactor and history buff. These resources also helped me create Evangeline’s backstory.

1800’s Women fought for education

In the 1800’s, educated men believed women’s brains were too frail to understand weightier subjects beyond what finishing school provided. Professors in medical schools did all they could to discourage women from attending. And those women who did were often excluded from cadaver dissection. The instructors insisted it was unseemly for a single woman to view a naked male body, even a dead one. Women had to work harder to prove themselves.

Naming the town

My story’s town of Charleton is fictitious. It took a lot of digging to create a town name not found anywhere in Texas. Google helped here.  Surprisingly, many names I made up were actual towns and each in the wrong part of Texas.

“Soldiers heart”

Jake and most of the Double M crew are Civil War veterans. The trauma of war affected each of them differently. Many who survived dealt with Soldier’s heart. (PTSD today) Strong, brave men became frightened, irrational, or violent at the least provocation. Some spent the rest of their lives in insane asylums. Others acted out and became outlaws. The James gang is an example. Bart, one of the secondary characters in Secrets and Charades, exhibits the negative attributes of soldier’s heart. This adds an unexpected twist to the story.

Horses

Jake served in the Confederate Army and, like his fellow-soldiers, admired General Lee. This is evident by the naming of his personal mount. The stallion resembled Lee’s steed, Traveler, who was both intelligent and loyal.

I was surprised to learn most ranch horses had no name. They were just tools of the trade. Most cowboys owned a saddle but not a horse. A few of my characters have horses with names. Being named made them more than just a horse.

Dishes and decorum

Evangeline brought trunks and crates with her. One special item was her grandmother’s china. Fine dishes could be found even in soddies and dugouts. New settlers built homes by cutting large sections of sod into bricks. Others dug holes in the side of hills. The interiors had carpet on the dirt floors and maybe a few nice furnishings and even curtains. These along with china represented civilization to the settlers. Mr. Farley, Jake’s wealthy neighbor, even takes his china on a cattle drive. He has a portable table covered with a cloth and china dishes for every meal. Families came west with at least a few pieces of china they used as everyday dishes.

Sewing and fancy work

Sewing machines might cost a few months’ wages, but the peddle-driven contraption was a wonderful time-saving device. Still, women prided themselves in their fancy work (embroidery, needlepoint, and tatting) and neat hand-sewed stitches. Bertha Wood, another secondary character, weaves wool into linen and dyes wool thread into a variety of colors for knitting. The description of the dying process got the ax in the final draft of Secrets and Charades.

Jesse James influence

Evangeline practiced medicine in Missouri before her adventure west. The James gang robbed banks and trains in Missouri. I ran across a story about them that made me laugh. Roadside inns with dormitory style rooms were places weary travelers stayed the night. The story goes Jesse James dressed as a woman while fleeing with bank loot. He stayed at one of these inns. Everyone thought it odd the woman insisted on sleeping with her valise under her head. This gave me the idea to have Evangeline carry cash hidden in her petticoat when she traveled west on the train.

Wild west chivalry

An outlaw refused to steal a woman’s horse. Instead, he rode past the female rider and continued until his horse gave out and he had to walk. At which point, he was arrested and hanged. The outlaws in Secrets and Charades are not as nice.

Former slaves populated the west

After the Civil War, many former slaves immigrated west. They ranched, farmed, founded towns and pursued other occupations. The blacksmith on the Double M is a former slave.

Gunfire

I discussed the types of guns available during this period with my friend, Chris. He explained how the Winthrop sniper rifle could hit its mark from a mile away. Unbelievable.

The one description I was constantly fighting not to get edited out of my story was the firing of this rifle. Bullets travel faster than the speed of sound. A victim fell before the report of the gun was heard. And yet, editors and critique partners unfamiliar with weapon fire wanted my character to hear the shot then see the victim fall.

Of course, most of my research never found a place in my novel. Some are destined for the sequel. And yes, I’m working on a sequel and have ideas for a third in the series.

To celebrate the release of Secrets and Charades I’m gifting a copy to a lucky commenter. Beth will choose the winner, and I’ll send them either a paperback or Kindle version. You must have a United States address to be eligible to win.

To be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Cindy’s novel, leave a comment responding to her post here. I will post the winner here next week Wednesday. You will then have a week to claim your free book.

Thank you Cindy for sharing such interesting facts about life in the West, and congratulations on the release of your first novel.

More about Cindy:

Cindy Ervin Huff is the winner of the 2014 Editor’s Choice Award from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is a contributor to Splickety Publishing Group’s anthology and has been featured on Christian Communicator, Suburban Dog, ChristianDevotions.us, and Splickety Lightning Blog. Cindy is President of the Aurora, Illinois, chapter of Word Weavers. She and her husband make their home in Aurora, Illinois.

Visit Cindy on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cindyehuff, follow her on http://www.twitter.com/CindyErvinHuff, or connect with her at www.jubileewriter.wordpress.com.

Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946016144/

Amazon author page:  https://www.amazon.com/author/cindyervinhuff

Like my Facebook Author page: https://www.facebook.com/author.huff11/

14 Murder, She Wrote Tips for Balancing Your Writing Life, Part One

Actually, all but one of the 14 Tips came from the beloved TV series featuring fictional mystery writer, Jessica Fletcher. I know–a strange source of wisdom. But when the flu hit, I was so sick I couldn’t read. So I resorted to watching re-runs of Murder, She Wrote and was surprised to pick up some hints on balancing my writing life–a subject I had been pondering lately anyway. So here is Part One of my …

14 Tips on Balancing Your Writing Life

Let’s start with daily life–things we often crowd out in the busyness of our lives. No wonder we get frazzled and bored! Something that never plagued Jessica. So let’s see how we’re doing in taking …

  1. Time to exercise and eat right–Okay now, don’t boo and hiss. You know we need to do these things–like it or not. And I noticed Jessica not only rode her bicycle around Cabot Cove a lot, but she also jogged regularly. I kinda prefer walking outdoors, a half hour of gentle exercise to a CD indoors, and working out at Planet Fitness. Now–if I could just get myself to do those things on a more consistent basis! (One of my goals this year.)
  2. Time for family–Like Jessica, I’m a widow. So family time is now relegated to visiting, attending weddings and funerals, holiday celebrations, camping, birthdays, and the like. Sometimes, like Jessica, it means boarding a plane to do these things with out-of-state family. At home, I host holiday celebrations and enjoy visits from my sons and their families. Family gives a sense of connection and belonging that we sorely need for good health.
  3. Time for friends–Busy as we are, it’s easy to feel we don’t have much time for this, but Jessica always made time for her friends. Whether coffee and dessert around her kitchen table, her famous clam chowder and lobster dinner for a dining room full of friends, or dropping by to visit Doc Haslett or the sheriff. And she always made time for a friend who stopped by for help or advice. Friends are a precious gift that enrich us emotionally. We need to make time for them. This is Susan Engebrecht and me enjoying a fun time at Green Lake Conference Center in WI.
  4. Time for neighbors–Where would I have been without my neighbors when Jim died? They were totally outstanding in providing meals and helping me prepare for out-of-town family as well as coming to his funeral. They watched over me in the weeks and months to come, helping with every need they noticed–even told me to call in the middle of the night if I needed them. But this didn’t happen by accident, anymore than it did for Jessica. It was the result of developing relationships through the years. Getting together for meals, helping with each other’s needs, taking time to chat and visit–even if only for a few minutes. Taking care of each other’s yards and homes while the other was away. Helping to celebrate special occasions. I’m so grateful for the blessing of wonderful, caring neighbors.
  5. Time for home and yard care–Oh, yah! Being a widow does not excuse me from these duties. I neither have a maid nor a yard man. Though I have to say that my sons help me a lot with my one-acre yard and doing house repairs as needed. Friends and neighbors help out at times, too. But, like Jessica, I do all I can to keep my house and yard neat and clean as well as decorate for holidays. (Right now I have my Christmas tree decorated for St. Patrick’s Day!) In warm weather, I like to putter in my flower beds and small garden, too. In winter, I snow blow my driveway and shovel my sidewalks–just like anyone else. Physical work is good for the body and mind. It always feels good to look on a finished job with a cheerful, satisfied heart.
  6. Time for hobbies–Oooo! This is hard for me. I’m more likely to cut back on time for this than any of the others. How about you? Spending time on hobbies totally unrelated to writing feels non-productive. But I’ve noticed Jessica often took a break from writing to go fishing. It’s not likely I’ll ever take up fishing–though I have no problem with someone else doing this, but I do like working jigsaw puzzles and singing while accompanying myself with my Q-Chord. We all need refreshing breaks that carry us with delight into a totally non-work activity each day. And I’ll keep reminding myself of this until I get it right. LOL
  7. Time for community events–All right, let’s get out that lawn chair and head for the Memorial Day (or other) parade that celebrates our country and community. Jessica even showed up for hometown political rallies, dedications of new firetrucks, charity efforts, and more. Being an active part of community events gives us a sense of belonging and is anything but boring. Especially when shared with family, friends, and neighbors. What can be better than allowing out minds and hearts to be stimulated by new sites and sounds that we’ll never experience at home?

And this ends Part One of my “14 Tips.” But come back in two weeks to see what Jessica and I share in Part Two which covers the “writing” side of a balanced life. You won’t be sorry!

In the meantime–Did ideas for balancing your own life surface as you read this post? Please share. (We can all use good ideas!)

 

 

Suspense Sisters Review: Bayou Paradox by Robin Caroll

I love reading  romantic suspense novels by Robin Caroll. Right now The Suspense Sisters is carrying a review I wrote about Bayou Paradox. Take a peak.

bayou-paradox

You might become a fan of her novels, too!

“It can cure you. Or it can kill you.

The untamed Louisiana bayou is not for the faint of heart. But until now, Tara LeBlanc has always considered it a sanctuary, its lush foliage a source of medicinal healing. What evil has infiltrated her haven? Two elderly women she loves lie near death, and Tara knows their illnesses are no accident.

Only one man can save Tara from the same fate: Sheriff Rene “Bubba” Theriot. The strong-willed lawman throws his all into protecting her, laying his heart on the line as well as his life. Now they both stand to lose it all as a killer gets ready to pounce….”

Writer’s Life: A Funny Thing Happened

Does God have a sense of humor? Of course he does! But always in a kind way and for our good. Here’s the true story from an earlier writing year where the Lord played …

A Joke on Me!

“You called me to write, Lord, but nobody wants my stuff. I guess I’m just not good enough.” Releasing a heavy sigh, I pushed my manuscripts aside and grabbed my car keys. Maybe hanging out at the Christian Book Nook would cheer me up.

read-ing-a-bookUnfortunately, my downcast mood followed me to the store and dampened my usual enthusiasm. I drifted wistfully past the novels and began picking half-heartedly through the devotional books before one pierced my blue funk. I read the first devotional, sampled one in the middle, and turned to the end of the book. The last piece quickly pulled me in. I devoured it.

“Wow, Lord, if only I could write as well as this author, I’d really be getting somewhere!”

I flipped back a page to the byline. My eyes widened. I began to chuckle. The joke was on me. I had been admiring my own piece!

Yes, I still have a lot to learn about writing and marketing manuscripts. However, these days when I’m tempted to feel depressed about my progress, I remember how God once encouraged me with—of all things—my own writing. After all, if the God who called us to write believes in us, who are we to doubt?

Lord, thank you that you are the God who encourages us, who has great plans for us, who leads and guides us to success as we trust and obey you.

“Those who trust in the Lord will never lack any good thing” ~ Psalm 34:10, TLB

***

Dear Reader, maybe you, too, are guilty of being discouraged from time to time. About your.writing. About something else. Please know that as we trust in the Lord and continue to persevere, the God who called us also believes in us.

~ Beth

“A Joke on Me” first appeared in The Christian Communicator (August 2012).

he devotional book referred to in this piece is Sing a New Song complied by Mary Beckwith (Evergreen Publications, 1991–now out of print).

Debut Author: 5 Basics for a Successful Book Launch

dsc04050No matter how well prepared, you can easily be overwhelmed when your debut novel releases to the public. Suddenly you’re swimming in the deep, exciting, and unfamiliar waters of promotion. Not sure you can sustain the frantic pace. But absolutely certain you must keep up if your book is to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace.

Over time, I noticed the following had the greatest impact on the launch of Her Deadly Inheritance.

5 Basics for a Successful First Book Launch

Blog Tour: When my novel debuted on January 2 last year, the usual week-long blog tour had already been scheduled with a guest blog or review and book giveaway appearing each day. Either you ask or volunteer to be a guest on someone’s blog, or they ask you. The blogger gives you a topic to write on or interview dsc04063questions to answer. It’s fun, but be prepared. You may find, as I did, more and more requests and opportunities coming in.

Guest blogs have a big impact on sales and are a great way to connect with readers and fans. You not only write these blogs but follow up with any responses to them left on your host’s site. Though a lot of work, I didn’t refuse any and was astonished to find my first blog tour continue into February and beyond–every one a blessing. So I encourage you to “go for it.”

Facebook Book Launch Party: Just as Paige Boggs (assigned to me by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) helped me with setting up the blog tour, she set up and oversaw and advised me with this online launch party. She also ran the prize giveaway portion. bubbles-fbGuests accrued points to win prizes. I couldn’t have done it without her.

My job was to:

  • invite the guests
  • come up with several fun discussion questions
  • set up the prizes for participation
  • and emcee the event.

The party became so lively that Facebook kicked me out three times, thinking I was spam. The last time I couldn’t get back in, so Paige took over and awarded the prizes while I stayed tuned in by e-mail. The 3-hour party went on without me for another hour-and-a-half–well after the prizes had been awarded. SO … make sure you have help and be prepared for surprises.

dsc04058dsc04053Local Book Launch Party: What an amazing event. This time family and friends pitched in to make it a success. My friend Deb Zarter helped me brainstorm the theme (“Fourth of July in January” because of the novel’s setting), and gather door prizes and decorations. I picked up ideas on how to run a party and what refreshments to serve by participating in one. Another friend, Susan Baganz, held a party six months earlier to launch Pesto & Potholes.

I designed and purchased a large poster for our church foyer, sent out announcements in my annual Christmas letter, posted info on Facebook, and let all my friends and family know.

Five days before the party, I fell horribly ill for three days, but the Lord provided. My dear friend Jackie Kotloski drove me around on Friday to order the cake and pick up other items I needed. On Saturday, flowers arrived from Sue Marlene Kinney and Becky McLafferty. I received them not only as love from these two dear and thoughtful friends, but as if the flowers were also a gift from the Lord & Jim in heaven. I cried for joy all the way to my hair dresser.

dsc04075Back home with the last of the needed refreshments purchased, I wondered how I would ever get the 100 star cookies frosted, the fruit and veggies cut … and again the Lord provided. The phone rang. My sister Shelly Zraik and her daughter Nicole had driven from the Toledo, Ohio area to surprise me. Before we went to bed that night, everything was ready.

The party itself was a great success. Even with 30 degrees below zero windchill factor, about 100 people showed up to celebrate and buy books. Everyone who received a door prize was delighted with it, and I was blessed to have someone from each of my family and friend groups represented. God is good. Expect him to help you prepare and celebrate, to bless and even surprise you

Social Media Scramble: In the midst of all this, I scrambled to answer every Facebook and e-mail message. Each of those who sent them was excited and encouraging. Acknowledging them was a privilege.

dsc04056Speaking & Book Signing: Not everyone enjoys speaking but it is a great way to connect in person with readers and fans. Yes, I get nervous before each event. Ask Deb Zarter or whoever else acts as my helper. But once I start sharing my heart with my audience I’m fine. I think it helps, too, to arrive about an hour ahead to set up my book table, freshen up, and then reserve the last half hour to greet guests as they arrive.

I usually speak and answer questions for 45-60 minutes and then Deb or another helper sells the books while I visit with guests as I sign their books. A helper can also act as a traveling companion–much nicer and more fun than driving alone.

***

Dear Reader, what fun, huh? And what a lot of work! But every bit of it is worth the time and effort invested. I hope I didn’t overwhelm you, and if you have any questions, I’d be glad to answer them if I can. God bless you all.

~ Beth

Debut Novel: Preparing for Launch

Congratulations! You’ve sold your first (debut) novel to a publisher who loves it. But wait! Your work has only just begun. A long–and sometimes bewildering–road looms ahead as you and your managing editor and other staff prepare to present your novel to highwaythe public!

It’s sort of like the biblical story of Esther. Chosen along with other beautiful maidens in the empire, she endured a whole year of preparations–beauty treatments, etc.–before the person in charge considered her fit to present to King Ahasuerus. And that year was time well-spent.

Just as a year or preparation for your novel will be time well spent. May I share my story?

Preparing Her Deadly Inheritance for Publication

With the contract signed and a projected release date in place, I was suddenly thrust into edits. My managing editor, Rowena Kuo, assigned me to another editor, J. Christine Richards, to help professionally polish my novel. For the next three months, we sent my novel’s manuscript back and forth between us by e-mail. Chris pointed out problems and made suggestions. Then I reviewed them and decided which would work. I was smart enough to realize that at least 99% of them were necessary. I made the needed changes, and every one improved the book.

Next came the proofreader–another editor hired to help catch as many grammar mistakes as possible. Again the manuscript came back to me to approve each of those changes.

In the meantime, I also worked hard on improving my Internet presence–web site, Facebook, blog, and many others. How else would readers get to know me and realize I had a book coming out? Lots of study, trial and error, but I made steady progress. Though, actually, I’m still working on that. Well, and having fun because contact with readers is one of the best things about being an author.social-media

Back to the preparations. Every book needs a cover, and toward the end of summer cover design began in earnest. When asked, I suggested using my heroine and her house on the cover, and after a tweak or two, the design team came up with the most marvelous cover. I will always be grateful for their dedication and skill.

Next came the back cover copy. Color me totally embarrassed because my every try was a bust. Finally, my publisher threw it open to other LPC authors. Fortunately, one of them came up with the exciting copy we needed, I only had to tweak it a tiny bit to more nearly natch the story..

Another need for the back cover cropped up. I hired a local photographer, and we held a photo shoot in my backyard. Crystal did an amazing job, but then she photographs models. What a blessing to have a friend whose daughter has such talent.

Next came the beta readers. Friends–both writers and readers–agreed to read advance e-copies of my novel. They kindly pointed out other trouble spots. Some wrote endorsements while others wrote reviews ready to post  on my novel’s release date.

The pre-launch sale on Amazon opened in December–one month before the novel’s January 2 release date and the race was on to be ready for my novel’s debut to the public.

Crunch time during that last month. I scrambled to set up a blog tour, an online book launch party, and a local book launch party for January. My publisher gave me a lot of help through another staff member. Without my publisher’s help I don’t know what I would have done.

Preparations for a book’s release can overwhelm, but a good and caring publishing house like Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas can make all the difference.in your books success. As the old saying goes …

Many hands make light work!

***

Dear Reader, I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at book publishing. Next week I’ll share the tumult and excitement of releasing your first novel. Until then, may the Lord bless you!

Aspiring Writer: Breaking Through to Publication

Not many writers receive “the call” by phone anymore. These days the coveted call usually arrives by e-mail, yet breaking through to publication is still the longing of every writer’s heart …

The Breakthrough

Monday night. Rushing around, trying to leave on time for my Word & Pen critique group meeting, I quickly gathered the printouts of my next chapter and reached out to shut down my computer. Oh, maybe just a quick peek at my e-mail.

fireworksA message from my agent? I stared at the subject line: “Lighthouse of the Carolinas offer for Deadly Inheritance.” (Later titled Her Deadly Inheritance.)

My heart skipped a beat. I held my breath.  A respected traditional publisher wanted to publish my novel? Had the soon the Lord had promised actually arrived?

I scanned the brief message, “Hi Beth, Lighthouse has offered you a contract for Deadly Inheritance. I’ve attached it for you to look at … if you have any questions … Jim Hart.”

Quickly printing the contract, I grabbed it and left for the meeting–not to read it to my critique group, but to hold it in my hands while I told them the amazing news. Excitement erupted as they cheered and congratulated me. It was a victory for all of us.

Two days later on December 11, 2014—with my questions answered and having prayed to know God’s will—I signed the three copies of the contract. As I mailed them to the publisher that day, I realized that a year ago in 2013, the Lord had first indicated that my novel would publish soon.

Days after signing the contract, I was still stunned. Though deeply grateful to the Lord, my agent, and the editor who had brought me to this place, I had not told anyone except my critique group. But now was the time to share the good news with family and friends.

God had kept his promise at the right time and with the right publisher.

***

Dear Reader, as impossible or far away as it may seem now, one day you, too, will share the good news of your novel’s breakthrough. You can count on it because our ever-faithful God always keeps his promises. Work hard and believe!

~ Beth

Copyright 2015 Beth Ann Ziarnik