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!)