Excerpt Wednesday – Our Little Secrets gets another look

Excerpt Wednesday! How about another little taste of Our Little Secrets? It’s currently still free, soooo….

Our Little Secrets

The alley was almost as busy as the main street, but with housewives hanging laundry in their yards and children playing rather than town commerce. Charlotte received a few curious smiles and nods. She waved back, feeling entirely satisfied with her choices. She hugged her carpetbag.

She sighed as she turned onto the side road that lead back to Main Street where the bank was. Could she do it? Was she really mad enough to marry a stranger in a frontier town?

Of course she could, she answered herself. Michael West presented her with the opportunity to start over with everything she wanted, a job, a home, and a purpose. It was more than her step-father had ever tempted her with.

As Charlotte reached Main Street her glance fell on a man crossing towards the saloon. She gasped as her heart dropped to her stomach. It was him. Even with the distance she recognized his scruffy beard and stocky build. She clutched her carpetbag close and jumped back to press against the wall of the nearest shop. In an instant she was trembling from head to toe.

What was he doing here? The man had failed to rob her in St. Louis, but the terror of those desperate minutes when she had fought him off in the dark still haunted her. He wouldn’t have followed her this far, would he? It wouldn’t be worth the effort. She didn’t have that much.

Unless he was after more than the contents of their carpetbag.

She gulped and took a breath before inching her way to peek around the corner.

The man was gone. The few people who walked in the street appeared to be townspeople. Charlotte dropped her shoulders and let out a breath.

She hadn’t imagined him, had she? Maybe? But no. She’d fought off the would-be robber in St. Louis. She was certain she’d seen the same man again in Denver. That was most definitely him just now.

Someone was following her.

Like I said, Our Little Secrets is still free. You can download it on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and everywhere else.

Starting next week, I’ll be featuring excerpts from the next book in the Hot on the Trail series, Trail of Longing, Emma and Dean’s story!

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How Old Are Jigsaw Puzzles?

It’s Monday! And usually on Mondays I talk about history. Lately it’s been history that informs on whatever novel I’m working on (like the Oregon Trail, for example). But over this past long weekend, I fell headfirst into a small obsession, and it’s taken over my brain. I’m talking about jigsaw puzzles.

If you look closely, you can see this clever advertisement is actually a wooden puzzle. Courtesy of JJPuzzles via Flickr

If you look closely, you can see this clever advertisement is actually a wooden puzzle.
Courtesy of JJPuzzles via Flickr

So being the nerd I am, as I was puzzling away this past weekend, I caught myself asking myself, “Hmm, I wonder how old jigsaw puzzles are?” So of course I had to find out.

Turns out, they’re pretty old. The first jigsaw puzzle is credited as being a creation of London-based engraver and mapmaker John Spilsbury in 1760. Yep, puzzles are an 18th century invention! What I found particularly interesting is that the first puzzles were Spilsbury’s maps, mounted on wood and cut into pieces. His aim was to have people learn geography by putting the maps together. So those wooden map puzzles where each state was a piece that I loved so much when I was a kid were actually staying true to the original purpose of the puzzle.

Puzzles continued to grow in popularity through the 19th century. During that era, they were usually pictures pasted onto plywood with the design of the pieces traced on the back in pencil. The puzzle-maker would use those pencil lines to cut out the pieces with a fretsaw (not actually a jigsaw). I think it would be reasonable to assume that some of my characters, both in the Montana Romance series and in my Hot on the Trail series, would have passed the time putting together puzzles.

But the height of puzzle popularity came with the Great Depression. It makes perfect sense too. By that time, most puzzles were made of cardboard. They were no longer cut out by hand, but rather die-cut. That basically means they were cut by a giant puzzle-shaped cookie cutter. They were the perfect form of cheap entertainment in an era where money was tight. They were time-consuming, recyclable, and they could bring people together.

My current obsession

My current obsession

I always remember having puzzles around in our house growing up. They were the kind of thing that we did on summer vacation or on a rainy day. This was before video games were invented. Yes, for all you young people out there, now you know what we did to entertain ourselves before we were glued to an electronic device. We enjoyed puzzles at our house, but I’ll never forget going to visit my cousins when they were in the middle of doing a puzzle.

My cousins’ dad, Tom, had a rule for doing puzzles in his house. First you would lay out all of the pieces, face up. Then, no matter how big the puzzle was, you weren’t allowed to touch a piece unless you knew exactly where it fit. If you were wrong, you were done. If he was being generous, he would let you put together the border pieces first and then the rule would only apply to the middle. Oh, and you weren’t allowed to look at the picture on the front of the box either. This was some serious puzzling!

So did your family have any rules about doing puzzles? Do you still do them? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Except Wednesday – Our Little Secrets

It’s Excerpt Wednesday once again! I thought this week I’d mix it up a little and highlight a book from my backlist, namely Our Little Secrets. So here you go!

Our Little Secrets

He shook his head, laughing. “I really did make a bad first impression if you would think—”

“Oh no, you made a very good first impression,” she rushed to cover yet another flub.

He shook his head. “In spite of Cold Springs’ abundance, Miss Baldwin, I am not in the habit of hiring company.”

“And no suitable young lady has offered herself up for the position?” Her cheeks were hot with embarrassment. “I find that hard to believe.”

He stared at her as if she was a jewel in a curiosity shop. “You wouldn’t if you knew the town and its gossip better.”

Her heart and mind raced. One leap of faith and she could change her life. As long as she could keep her past in the past.

“So I take it you would be looking for someone who could help run both a general store and a home.” She set her fork down and looked him in the eye.

“Well,” he mirrored her gesture and set his own fork down, “only if she knew what she was doing.”

“Someone with a college degree, perhaps, and a head for figures?”

“Yes, precisely.”

“Someone with a bit more sophistication than the locals? Who might be able to carry on a decent conversation over dinner or with clients even?”

A grin spread across his lips and his shoulders relaxed. “That would be a decided advantage.”

“Perhaps someone who wouldn’t ask too many questions about the past as long as not too many questions were asked in return?” Again she tapped her carpetbag with the toe of her boot to reassure herself it was still there.

He smiled in earnest. “Yes, exactly.”

She returned his smile and picked up her fork with an, “Oh,” and took another bite of her lunch.

He was silent as he watched her eat, his eyes dancing with deep consideration. He was struggling with his thoughts, debating with himself. She didn’t blame him. It was one thing to toy with an idea as outrageous as marrying a stranger, no questions asked, but it was a whole different kettle of fish to actually commit to it.

She let him consider, let him think it was his idea. For all she knew it was. He was the one who had invited her for lunch and he had mistaken her for one of Miss Helen’s girls. Miss Helen had insisted that her girls were brides not whores. It could have been the luckiest mistake of her life.

“Miss Baldwin, will you marry me?”

She glanced up to catch the puzzled, triumphant, expectant expression flushing his face. She could practically see his heart hammering in his chest at his gamble. Or maybe that was her own heart.

“I…I think I will.” She forced herself to be cautious, as much as she didn’t want to be. “But would you mind giving me the afternoon to think about it?”

“Not at all.” He nodded, once again the businessman considering a deal. “I’ll arrange for us to have supper at the hotel to talk more in depth. And I can reserve a room there for you if you’d like.”

“That’s very thoughtful of you, Michael.”

Impulsive or not, the facts were the facts. Life as Charlotte Baldwin was a disaster. Life as Charlie West would be a whole new world.

There you have it. And you’re in luck. Right now, Our Little Secrets is free on Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and everywhere else. =D

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Trail of Hope – Release Day!

It’s Release Day! Trail of Hope is finally here!

TrailofHope

You can pick up a copy at Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.

I keep telling people that this installment of the Hot on the Trail series is different than anything I’ve written before. It’s different because it deals with slightly more serious topics, namely death. Both our heroine, Callie, and our hero, John, have recently experienced the death of someone close to them. This story is about coming out of grief and moving on with life.

I did a fair amount of research about death on the Oregon Trail before I wrote Trail of Hope. I know a lot of people have the idea that folks died on the Trail all the time and that your chances of survival were perilous at best. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Possibly from the difficulties of playing that wonderful old school video game Oregon Trail and trying to make it through to the end. The truth is that in the entire history of the Oregon Trail, only about 4% of people died along the way.

That’s not too bad when you stop to consider how many people die in everyday life for one reason or another. So what killed settlers on their way to start a new life in the West?

Another misconception is that Indian attacks were the biggest problem and that pioneers had to constantly be on the alert. While it’s true that in the very early days of the Trail and, ironically, in the later days of the Trail during the Civil War, there was a greater danger of attack, the truth is that Native Americans weren’t as big of a threat as stories have painted them. There was some trouble, but for the most part, once the trail was established, the U.S. Army was able to stop most attacks before they happened.

The exception to that was once the West began to be more and more populated by pioneers from the East. Many of them encroached on Native lands, which were then defended. When certain parts of the Trail became too dangerous to travel for these reasons, other routes were tested. If you think about it from a Native American point of view, it must have been really frustrating! All these foreign people who don’t understand your ways coming and coming like waves drowning a shore.

But I digress.

dysenteryThe single greatest cause of death on the Oregon Trail, and the cause of death I explore from Callie’s point of view in Trail of Hope, was disease. Fatal trail illnesses accounted for almost half of the deaths on the Trail. So many of these were caused by bad water, close conditions, and the lack of comprehensive medical care. The Platte wasn’t exactly the best water source around, and after so many people traveling west crossed through the same area, digging latrines that became overused and burying their dead too close to the river, problems arose.

Actually, one of the details that I chose not to include in Trail of Hope because it felt a little too gruesome to me was how people were buried if they died on the Trail. Much of the time, because there was no time to sit and wait for people to mourn, when someone died, they were buried right away. A grave was usually dug right in the trail itself, and then all the wagons and oxen would be driven over it. The purpose of this was to make it more difficult for wild animals or anyone else to dig up the deceased. Yeah, I left that out on purpose.

But really, Trail of Hope is, as its name suggests, about finding hope after great loss. It is about the fact that life goes on, which is what the whole Oregon Trail is about. I hope you enjoy Callie and John’s story!

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Words Like Raindrops – Revisited

So I was sitting around yesterday having a really bad day, trying to recapture the feeling of something that would make me happy again. I was at work, and all around me I heard the sound of typing. Not only did it settle me, it reminded me of this blog post that I originally wrote more than three years ago. I thought I’d resurrect it today for you….

My mom, very little brother, and me

My mom, very little brother, and me

Last week in my blog about Goals, Guilt, and Writer’s Remorse I mentioned that I have a daily word count goal of 2000 words. To me that seems like a modest goal, but I had a few comments from people about how amazing it was that I could write that much in one day. I’ve been thinking a lot about that, trying to get a handle on what it is about words that allows some people to be more speedy or prolific than others. I’m sure there are a thousand different answers to that question, as many answers as there are writers, in fact. But one of the conclusions I came to involves an old fashioned skill that I was forced to learn in eight grade: typing.

To me the fascination of typing began in a deep, emotional part of my childhood. My Mom was a secretary. Old school secretary. She was also a single mother raising two kids without a lot of money. There were times when I had to hang out in her office until she could take me home or find someone to watch me. This was, of course, made a thousand times easier by the fact that she was the secretary of the elementary school that my brother and I attended. Hanging out in her office was what a bunch of kids did while waiting for their parents. I, of course, loved it. Most of all I loved and was fascinated by the sound of her typing.

My Mom typed like the wind. She typed like the rain. This was the mid-80s we’re talking about. She had one of those old electric typewriters with a ball of letters thing in it. The sharp drumming of words being struck onto paper at a thousand miles per hour filled me with a sense of peace and amazement in a world that was shifting under my feet. Sometimes I would stand where I could watch the letters spilling out through the raindrops of keystrokes just to see the miracle of words being created. As technology advanced she moved to a word processor and one of the old clicky keyboards, but somehow the magic continued. My Mom could produce words as fast as I could read them.

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

© Photocritical | Dreamstime.com

That was the key. I used to insist on writing all of my stories with pen in a notebook. My handwriting deteriorated the longer and faster I wrote, but I was convinced that it was the only way to keep the flow. Because I couldn’t type for beans. Well, eventually I reached the point where I knew that wasn’t going to cut it. I had to learn to type like my Mom. I had seriously old fashioned typing classes using manual typewriters that looked and smelled like they came from the 1960s when I was in eighth grade, but it wasn’t until I was in college really that I got serious about typing.

Mario taught me to type. I was working as a teacher’s aide in the special ed department of my old high school. We had a Mario typing program that we had the kids use when they had some free time. I took the discs home after school for a while and buckled down. The idea of the program was that you, as Mario, had to hit the right letters or numbers to defeat the bad mushrooms, or whatever they were, that came at you with increasing speed. At least I think that’s how it worked. I played that game for hours! And I got really good at hitting the right key without looking at the keyboard. I did not, however, learn to hit the right keys with the right fingers. To this day if a typing purist were to watch my hands while I type they would probably have a coronary. But it gets the job done.

I can now type at the speed of my thoughts. Well, maybe not that fast, but pretty close. Certainly far faster than I can write things out by hand. It comes in incredibly handy when I’m in the throes of a particularly deep scene. There are times when I start typing so fast, when the ideas and images and dialog are coming so fast, that I forget I’m even typing. I’m just creating. I also have Word set to auto-correct all of my typical stupid misspellings. So off I go, thoughts spilling out onto paper at miracle speed!

My Mom passed away ten years ago this last April after an eight year battle with breast cancer. I will never be able to type as fast as she could. But when I sit down at my computer with my relatively soft and quiet keyboard and really get going I can feel a hint of her and her rainstorm typing. The sound of my keys reminds me of her, just like the image in the mirror as I get older bears more and more of a resemblance to her. She didn’t live long enough to see my silly scribblings turn into pages and books that people actually want to buy. But I know that she’s proud of me nonetheless, sitting up in Heaven typing miracle words like raindrops.

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Like what you’ve read? I love the fact that you read it! I’ve got more for you too. Sign up for my newsletter to receive special content, sneak-peeks, and treats that only subscribers are privy to. And thank you!