Turning Fact Into Fiction

Drina's Choice 2

(Drina’s Choice is a Mail-Order-Bride novel)

A writer friend of mine describes fiction as ‘what could have happened instead of what really happened.’ I think she pretty much nailed it. We all know good fiction comes from stories we see and hear and live.

In writing western romance fiction among the many things we depend on are the facts we have read about in history classes or have found on the internet or stories that have been handed down through the generations. We writers take these facts, give them a twist to suit our stories and make the situation fit the characters we’ve created. But we always try to make sure the real facts are correct. We wouldn’t dare set an historical fact such as the battle at Little Big Horn in Kansas or the fight for the Alamo in Nevada. We’d never sell another book if we used our ‘literary license’ in this way.

The truth is, we all know the west was at one time a lawless place where most men and some women carried guns for the own protection as well as the protection of their families. The towns were settled with hard work, sweat and tears and many lives were lost in the process.

At first there were few women in the towns that sprang up. Most of the people on the frontier were men. To ease their loneliness and to build families the mail-order-bride was born. Not only did men advertise for a wife, there were actually businesses set up to find wives for the lonely men who wanted to remain in the west and raise families there.

Though the following were a part of everyday life in the west, seldom are the dangers that plagued the pioneers mentioned in the books we read today. Some of these dangers were wild animals, outlaws, Indians, disease, starvation and the lack of medical care available. Also only mentioned occasionally is Prairie Madness, a disease many women faced from being so isolated and lonely because they would go for long periods of time without interaction with other people. Many women went mad and/or committed suicide when this malady hit them. Many women also died in childbirth because of the lack of medical care. Among the many other factors that took the lives of men, women and children, I’ll only mention a couple: snake bites and accidents.

Our forefathers where not only a tough and hearty breed who were able to take a hostile land, settle it and turn it into the thriving west we know today. They raised families, built cities, and formed good lives for themselves and those they loved. These men, who lived by their wits and their guns, were also accomplished in other ways. Because of the isolation, they were often avid readers, they wrote poetry, sang songs and taught themselves skills that were needed to survive.

Writers, and I’m one of them, have taken many of these facts and turned them into the romantic western fiction we see in the movies and read about today. So when you read a western novel, you will not only read about the history of our country, but you will see how we all wished that history had been for the brave men and women who settled the west.

Contact: Agnesalexander100@gmail.com

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Are There Taboos in Writing Western Romance


Lynn C. Willis

Winner of an autographed copy of an Agnes Alexander Book

(Lynn chose Fiona’s Journey as her free autographed book)


camillaCOVER          edwina1            Valissa's Home - WEB              Quinn2

People may think writing a western historical romance is easy. Some even think all you have to do is think up a handsome cowboy and a pretty maiden, thrown in a few gunfights and a rustler or two and have the couple fight and make up and all will end well. Of course, in the western historical romance you expect it to be set in the west and there is a romance. Otherwise, it would not be a book in this genre. But rest assured there is more in the western romance than gunfights, rustlers, (though they may be there) and romance, which we’ve already said has to be there.

When I started writing western romance it never occurred to me the number of topics I’d end up including in my novels. My first book, Fiona’s Journey touched on the horrible subject of child molestation and rape. Though I never graphically described either of these in my writing, it left no doubt in the reader’s mind what was being referred to.

In Valissa’s Home I discussed gambling. Not the regular kind of  gambling that takes place in a saloon as happens in most westerns, but I had one of my characters suffer a gambling addiction so bad that he not only lost all his fortune, but also that of his sister.

Prejudice was one of the topics in the book Amelia’s Marriage. A lot of people, including her father, were ready to fight when Amelia fell in love with, not only a bounty-hunter, but a bounty-hunter who happened to be half Lakota Indian. (Scheduled to come out this year.

In Quinn’s Promise I wrote about three sisters – city women from Philadelphia who travel west to find a long lost relative and with only their skills and instincts manage to survive in a part of the country that was strange and hostile to them.

Drina’s Choice addressed the mail-order-bride issue. Though many men in the west wanted a wife to ease their loneliness and to give them children as heirs, there were other reasons for using this service. In my book, the mail-order-bride was arranged to keep a cowboy from losing the ranch he’d worked hard to build into a profitable enterprise. (To come out this year from Prairie Rose Publishers)

Dealing with a heroine who was born with a withered foot and could never walk, but who had dreams and hopes of one day having a man to love and to love her was the premise of Hannah’s Wishes. Also I touched on how an unscrupulous relative could take advantage of someone with a disability. (Just finished and going though edits.)

The one time-travel I’ve written explores how an accomplished, savvy woman of today’s would cope if thrown back into the primitive way people had to live in the 1800’s. It also showed that men of that place and time could learn that women were strong and could hold their own in most any situation. This tale took place in Rena’s Cowboy.

Edwina’s Husband deals with a woman who has been raised by her not-so-religious preacher uncle who has a bible verse for everything that happens, though he sees everything in the world as evil, including his wife and his niece. Of course, he sees no wrong in himself.

Child abandonment is the first problem that crops up in Camilla’s Daughters. There is also the problem of child slavery and how a woman who never wanted children contends with having two girls thrust upon her – one an infant and the other an eight-year-old.

In some of the books I have sketched out I will tackle such things as: Remorse and loneliness in Zenia’s Guilt; Unwanted pregnancy and responsibility in Isabel’s Baby; Hate and acceptance in Belinda’s Battle; Family loyalty and revenge in Opal’s Agreement; and infidelity and forgiveness in Nelda’s Return.

After these books are finished, I’m not sure what, but I will come up with something else for my main characters to face. I hope it will be something I won’t be afraid to tackle or something that I’ll shy away from. I have learned that no subject is taboo when you write a western romance as long as it is written with tact and in a non-offensive way.

Leave a comment and be in a drawing for one of my autographed published books.














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On the Trail

Here is more of the partial list of supplies for a wagon train trip west  (See post: Would you make a good Pioneer? for more of this list)

Can you imagine going on a 5 month trip knowing you have to take enough clothing and groceries and other supplies to last the entire time? That’s what the pioneers faced when they headed out on a wagon train to Oregon or California. That fact caused wagon masters to come up with a recommended list of food and supplies that should be brought. There were few trading posts along the way so supply prices doubled or tripled if the travelers ran out of a necessity. The recommendations are based on a family of four.

Part of the list: 600 pounds of flour @.02 a pound, 80 pounds of cornmeal @.05, 400 pounds of bacon @.05  a pound,  160 pounds of sugar @.04 a pound, 60 pounds of Coffee @.10 a pound, 60 pounds of dried fruit @.06 a pound, 20 pounds salt @.06 a pound, 2 pounds saleratus (baking soda) @.12 a pound, 6 pounds pepper @.08 a pound, 200 pounds lard @.05 a pound, 8 pounds of tea @.55, 20 pounds rice @.05, 60 pounds beans @.06 a pound, Dried beef 100 lbs. @ 6.00, Vinegar @ .25 gallon and Molasses @.06 a pound. The average family carried about 1,600-1,800 pounds of supplies in just food alone.

Some people also brought whiskey or brandy, and medicines. Minimal cooking utensils included a cast iron skillet or spider, Dutch oven, reflector oven, coffee pot or tea kettle, and tin plates, cups, and knives, forks, spoons, matches, and crocks, canteens, buckets or water bags for liquids.

Clothing recommended: At least 2 extra Wool Dresses @ 3.00 each, 2 Buckskin Pants/Shirt @ 4.00 each, Rain poncho @2.00 (8.00 for each family member), Hat 1.25, Sun Bonnet 1.75, Shoes(women) 3.00, Boots 5.00 (It was recommended that each person bring at least 3 extra pair of shoes/boots because most people walked and they wore out quickly.) Also recommended was at least 3 changes of underwear @.50 to 3.00.

Wagons were packed with clothing, farm implements and food. Also bedding, tools, personal possessions and, occasionally, luxury items such as schoolbooks, a bible or a chamber pot. Travelers carried shoes and oxbows for the teams, chains to pull wagons out of muck, medical supplies and lanterns and tents for sleeping because there was seldom room in the wagon.

Weapons and Tools: Pistol 7.50, Rifle 10.00, Shotgun 10.00, Knife/Whetstone 2.50,  Professional tools used by blacksmiths, carpenters, and farmers were carried by nearly all. Shovels, crow bars, picks, hoes, mattocks, saws, hammers, axes and hatchets were used to clear or make a road through trees or brush, cut down the banks to cross a wash or steep banked stream, build a raft or bridge, or repair the wagon. In general, as little road work as possible was done. Travel was often along the top of ridges to avoid the brush and washes common in many valleys. Goods, supplies and equipment were often shared by fellow travelers. Items that were forgotten, broken or worn out could be bought from a fellow traveler, post or fort along the way.

The things I’ve listed are just an example of some of the things taken by the pioneers. Joining a wagon train was a big undertaking and many people died from sickness, accidents, snake bites, and several other reasons, but there were not as many Indian attacks as movies or books would lead one to believe.

Read Fiona’s Journey and see how Fiona Webb made the journey with her 8 year-old nephew, Clint and Rose Larson and the other families on the wagon train as she looks for a new life in the west. Fiona’s Journey available in ebook and trade paperback.







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World Wide Blog Hop

I’m participating in the World Wide Blog Hop this week with several other writer friends.

Thanks to Lynn Chandler Willis, a friend and fellow writer, for inviting me to take part. Please take a moment and check out her blog and books. She’s an excellent writer and you’ll find her books are hard to put down. Lynn Chandler Willis is the author of the best-selling true crime, Unholy Covenant (Addicus Books 2000), inspirational mystery/suspense novel The Rising, (Pelican Book Group 2013) and a private eye novel Wink of an Eye, releasing Nov. 18 2014 from Minotaur Books. Wink was chosen as the winner of the 2013 Minotaur Books/Private Eye Writers of America Best First PI Novel Competition. Her WIP is Nobody’s Baby, a story she can’t wait to share… She is the mother of two adult kids with great spouses who have blessed her with nine grandkids. She was born, raised, and continues to live in the heart of North Carolina – within walking distance of the kids and all the grands! She shares her home and couch with Sam the cocker spaniel, who sometimes reminds her it’s okay to sometimes just sit and watch TV.  Her website is:  www.Lynnchandlerwillis.com.


  Now as I was requested to do, I’ll tell you about my writing. I am the author of 22 books written under the name Lynette Hall Hampton. My debut novel, Jilted by Death was a mystery featuring a female Methodist Minister and came out in 2004 from Silver Dagger Publishing. Silver Dagger went out of business and I searched for other publishers for my writing. The second book in the Rev. Hinshaw series, Echoes of Mercy was published by Alabaster Book Publishing. Both of these books were picked up by Harlequin for their World Wide Mystery Series. As well as Alabaster, my other books have been published by Cambridge Books and Wings ePress.

In 2012 my first Western Historical Romance, Fiona’s Journey was published by Whiskey Creek Press under the name Agnes Alexander. It was followed by 5 more western romances.  In March, April and May my five books ranked 1 through 5 on the Whiskey Creek’s best seller list.  In June, three of my westerns were ranked 1, 2 and 3 with the company.  Whiskey Creek has been sold to Start Publishing in New York and they have 2 more of my books under contract, so I’ll see how this new publisher works out.

In the meantime, I have signed a contract with a new publishing company, Prairie Rose Publishers. The book they’ve bought is Drina’s Choice the first book in the Hamilton Sisters series and it will be out sometime this year. Currently, I’m working on a several western romances. Hannah’s Wishes is the sequel to Drina’s Choice.  A third book is planned for this series, but I haven’t started it.  I’m also working on Grace’s Dream, which is the second book in my Settlers Ridge series. The first in that series, Amelia’s Marriage, is scheduled to come out this year.

I have the beginnings of other westerns  and I plan to write 26 in all. Each book’s title will have a woman’s name beginning with one of the 26 letters in the alphabet, but I decided not to go in order. I write the book about the woman who seems to want her story told next. I love to write these books because I have so much respect for the people who risk their lives to settle this wonderful country of ours.

I will try to finish some of my contemporary books before I work on the other westerns that I’ve only sketched out. This year I plan to do the third book in my Ferrington Men Series for Wings Press and the fourth in the Coverton Mills Romance series for Cambridge Books. Since so many readers have requested it, I’ve started work on the third and last book in the Reverend Willa Hinshaw series.

Why do I write? It sounds simple when I say it, but it’s the truth. I mainly write because I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love to tell stories and I feel compelled to write them down. To me one of the most important things in writing is telling a good story. And for me, good stories start with characters that we can love or even hate, but not ones we feel indifferent about. To start my writing day, I always read what I wrote the day before, edit some and then go forward with it. After I have several chapters written, I’ll edit those then go on. By the time I finish a novel it has been written and re-written several times. My daily writing schedule varies almost as much as my books, but one thing I stick to is that I write most every day, even weekends. I might not write more than a few words, but I write. If I can’t get to my computer,  where I do most of my work, I will jot down good lines I think of or gather names for characters or even work out a plot that is giving me some trouble. Most days I’m able to get in five to six hours of writing, but going for as many as ten isn’t unheard of. I’m a night person so a lot of my work is done when all my neighbors have gone to bed. When the words are flowing and I’m typing as fast as I can, I sometimes haven’t realized how late it is and then I see the sun come up before I call it a day. Though rare, I consider these times gifts.

That’s about it for my writing and my work. Leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a free autographed book.

Now let me introduce you to three of my writing friends who I’ve asked to join me on this world wide blog hop.

Susan Whitfield is a native of North Carolina, where she sets all of her novels. She is the author of five published mysteries, Genesis Beach, Just North of Luck, Hell Swamp, Sin Creek and Sticking Point. She also authored Killer Recipes, a unique cookbook that includes recipes from mystery writers around the country.  Slightly Cracked is her first women’s fiction, set in Wayne County where she lives with her husband. Their two sons live nearby with their families. Susan’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Coastal Carolina Mystery Writers, and North Carolina Writers Network.  Her books are available in print and ebook formats. Susan is currently researching a medieval ancestor for an historical mystery. Learn more at www.susanwhitfieldonline.com

Sandy Bruney is a native of New York State, but has lived for the last 40 years in North Carolina.  A graduate of the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University where she majored in fine arts, she taught art in the public schools until moving to North Carolina. After the move, she worked in banking before entering the newspaper field as a reporter and then editor of a local weekly until she left to accept the position of administrative assistant at the chamber of commerce. A few years later, she and a former colleague combined their skills to form a media consulting company which they managed  until both retired to write full time. The two co-authored a novel, “Plotz” under the name Marshall Bruney. Sandy has since published  three additional novels (Angels Unaware, The Lunch Club, and  The Almost Bride) and is under contract for a fourth, A Question of Boundaries.  She and her husband Jim have three adult sons and three grandchildren. She enjoys reading, volunteering in her community and church, and visiting her family.  http://sandybruney.blogspot.com to learn more about Sandy and her work.

Ruth Zavitsanos: I began writing at the age of 12. Growing up outside of New York City, I attended many Broadway plays and musicals that served to stimulate my imagination. While attaining my Journalism degree at Marshall University I received numerous writing awards. After graduation, I maintained my desire to write by editing and writing for corporate bulletins, preschool/elementary school newsletters  and the local newspaper. As a stay at home mom, I am able to devote my mornings to writing, something that is now coming to fruition. enjoy Pilates and long walks with my dogs. I also enjoy cooking, reading, music, photography and travel. I am both fortunate and blessed to have a loving family and some amazing friends enriching my life on a daily basis. Check Ruth’s Site: www.ruthzonline.com/








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Turning Fact Into Fiction

Fiona's_Journey_COVER[1] (2)

Wagons West 

I have a lot of respect for the men and women who first made the trek across this great land of ours. I don’t know if I would’ve had the grit and stamina to take the chance of settling in a new life in a strange part of the country. Researching for my first western historical romance helped me understand the many sacrifices these pioneers made.

My first published western historical romance was Fiona’s Journey. It was the story of Fiona Webb, her young nephew, Joey and how they teamed up with Clint Larson and his wife to make the trek to Oregon.

To take a wagon train west was more costly than most people realize. The average was between $600 and $1,000. In that day this was a large amount of money and more than most people had. Many families not only used what little savings they had, but sold all their possessions and still some had to borrow from family and friends.

The wagon itself ran from $150 to $250. The wagon was 6’ wide and 12’ long and could carry around 2500 pounds of supplies. Some pioneers brought their own linen wagon covers and waterproofed them with beeswax or linseed oil. If converting a farm wagon for the trip the bows to hold the top covering were $3 a set.  To buy a wagon cover of heavy canvas sailcloth was $6 to $8.

4 to 6 animals were needed to pull the wagons. Oxen were the best choice and were often recommended since they required less water and had no trouble surviving on the different grasses. They cost $25 to $35 each. Mules were the next best selection. They ran $10 to $15 each and were often chosen because of the price, though it was recommended extra were to be brought along in the case of losing one on the trial. Horses were not recommended for the journey, but one was often brought along for the man of the family to ride in a hunting excursion or to use when serving as a look out. A prime horse sold for $100, but an acceptable one could be bought for $50. Many families brought a milk cow for milk and for the butter that could be churned by fastening a barrel to the side of the wagon. It would be jostled enough by nightfall to have made the butter. A good milk cow could run between $70 to $75.

Of course animals had to have riggings. An ox-yoke $8. Horse or mule harness $8. Also needed were 1 to 3 whips ($1 each). Other items suggested for the wagon were extra wheels since they often broke or came off on the trail, (Wheels sold at 2 for $50) and it was a good thing to have an extra axel ($75).

The above are the major things needed to get the wagon ready to make the trek across the wilderness, but not all. Of course it will give you a good idea of what went into getting ready for the trip.

 Next time we’ll discuss the food and some of personal the supplies our forefathers needed on their trek to their homes in the west.

My contact: agnesalexander100@gmail.com

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