My first introduction to the American Old West was when my family briefly lived in Kansas. I don’t know exactly how long we lived there – I was three when we arrived and four when we moved away. The most important things that happened during our time there was I got a baby sister (who, to my surprise, was not up for playing games with me), I learned how much fun Slip ‘N Slides can be, and we took a trip to Abilene where I got a cowgirl hat and my first toy horse.
Like most girls I knew at the time, I loved horses. Loved, loved, loved them. My first horse was made of plastic, and sadly did not last long, but I still remember getting my first Breyer horses – and, thanks to Google, I can reminisce by looking at this image. Amazingly, I even recognize the box they came in. I named the stallion Favorite, and he was my favorite for years until one of his legs broke off for the zillionth time and was no longer able to be glued back on.
Of course, my horses didn’t look as pristine as the ones in this photo for very long. In the books I read, stallions fought each other – so naturally mine had to have skirmishes as well. I’m not sure how long it took me to realize this was a bad idea. I do remember that Favorite, who fought his rivals valiantly, ended up with some pretty unpleasant-looking scars. I soon had a whole herd of horses that ran back and forth across plains covered in red shag carpet.
When I was in third grade I got a copy of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. I read them over and over, just like I read the Sherlock Holmes books many times, and Lord of the Rings. I loved watching The Wild Wild West (the TV series, of course), but I loved watching Star Trek too. I took horseback riding lessons, then moved on to guitar, painting and other fun things. The Breyer horses became steeds for my Barbies. The old West was interesting, but not overly so.
Years later I started writing my first novel. It’s a ghost story set in the early 2000s, but the ghost, Emma, was murdered in the late 1800s. I wanted Emma to feel like a character from a different age, so I began doing research on what life was like in the western U.S. in the late 1800s. I initially thought that I’d get some basic facts, use them to make sure my story was realistic, then move on. Instead I found myself so interested that I now have a surprising number of books related to the time period, including everything from history books to memoirs to books about the clothing people wore. I love stopping at historical museums and ghost towns, and I even subscribe to True West Magazine.
I initially thought this fascination with the place and time would fade away after I finished my novel, but not only did it stick, I’ve found I really enjoy writing historical fiction set in this time period. I’ve written several short stories this year set in the late 1800s, and another appeared in my short story collection A Little Bit of Love. I’m currently doing market research to see if there are any short story magazines that might be worth submitting to. I also have at least one novel idea that’s set in this time period. I won’t work on it for a little while – I have plenty of things to finish first! But I occasionally get ideas and make notes about what I’d like to write when I do get to it.
My two doggies love living in the West, and while they certainly won’t ever have dogies to move, they do a great job keeping me movin’. 🙂