This month, I'm going to be featuring the authors of Sweetwater Springs Christmas in a series of blog posts, excerpted with permission from an article by E. Ayers in the December issue of HDR.
We have E. Ayers, Linda Carroll-Bradd, MJ Fredrick, Paty Jager, Jill Marie Landis, Linda McLaughlin, Trish Milburn, Bev Pettersen, Tori Scott, and Cynthia Woolf as contributors to this anthology with us, and a slew of questions for them.
Have you ever written short stories? If so, what have you written?
Tori Scott: I've written novellas--The Satisfaction series, Chemical Attraction, The Christmas Wish. A Promise for Christmas, in this anthology, was my shortest work so far.
MJ Fredrick: I’ve written a few short stories after Linda Carroll-Bradd challenged me to try it. Paring down story elements until all I had to focus on was the hero and heroine was hard at first--I always had other elements like a suspense plot n my books. But focusing JUST on the romance was fun and liberating. I’ve written Taking the Bull by the Horns and Sanctuary with the Cowboy, two contemporary westerns.
If you've never written a short story, how difficult was it to write something short?
Bev Pettersen: This was my first short, but Debra’s town was so inspiring. The story was surprisingly easy to write. I loved the setting.
E. Ayers: This was my first short story and I knew to strip out all the details. I stripped too many, then had to go back and add them. I would have liked to have added another twenty thousand words. It's all a learning process.
What is your preferred length for writing?
Trish Milburn: I’m pretty flexible, anything from short fiction to novellas to full-length novels. It depends on how much space a particular story needs.
MJ Fredrick: My natural length is around 60,000 words. One of the things I LOVE about e-publishing is that there are no word limits--you can write short, you can write long, and you still have a market.
Linda McLaughlin: I’m not a fast writer, so I actually prefer shorter works, but I’ve done everything from 8,000 words to 97,000 words.
Do you normally write historical westerns and if so what time period and what drew you to that time period?
Trish Milburn: I don’t, although the first book I ever wrote was a western set along the Oregon Trail. I still love and adore historical romance, particularly westerns, but the cowboy stories I write now are contemporary. I write about a fictional town in Texas called Blue Falls, and one of the off-page characters in my Sweetwater Springs story (Mrs. Teague, who has left her position as the ranch cook to head to Texas) is an ancestor of the Teague family in my series for Harlequin American Romance.
E. Ayers: I'm normally contemporary, but in my book, A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming, I mentioned a diary of Clare Coleman. She and her husband were early settlers (late 1840's) in Wyoming. I'm writing that diary because my readers have asked for it. So for this anthology I used their grandson, Frank, which has spurred another story, A Rancher's Woman.
Jill Marie Landis: I started out my career writing western historical romances and historical Americana from 1800’s to 1890’s. I loved western stories for as long as I can recall. I think the most memorable influence on me and my story telling was the John Wayne film The Searchers. If you haven’t ever seen it you should take the time. It’s a classic. I have a B.A. degree in History, not English.
Paty Jager: I started my publishing career with historical westerns, set usually in the Pacific Northwest in the mid to late 1800’s. I also have a historical paranormal trilogy that is western in nature because it is set among the Nez Perce tribe of NE Oregon. The first book is in the 1700s, the next two are set in the 1800s. I like that while there were restrictions, legally and morally on what a woman could and couldn’t do, in the west most looked the other way. Everyone helped one another survive and it took strong-willed and inventive people to thrive under unique conditions. Researching for historical books is one of the best parts of writing them.
Was there anything about writing in 1895 time period in Montana that really struck you as you researched and or how did it differ from what you do write?
Cynthia Woolf: There were no cowboys. At least in my story, the cowboy plays a very minor role. I guess the cowboy era was coming to an end by 1895, at least the era we knew. The railroad was branching out everywhere and cattle drives, the thing that brought about the cowboy, were really no more. Oh there were short ones to the railheads but none like those from Texas to Kansas City.
Linda Carroll-Bradd: The year of 1895 was the latest in the 1800s I’ve set a story. Plus these characters were the most worldly in that they’d traveled to big cities for the World’s Fair and the heroine was current on woman’s issues like education and suffrage.
Paty Jager: I’ve had a book and a short story set in Montana already and the time period was right in my wheelhouse. I only did a little bit of research because the fictional town of Sweetwater Springs is set not far from where my own book was set. The only thing I had to research were stagecoaches and if they did run from Helena to the area of Sweetwater Springs.
What made you choose to use certain characters from Debra's stories? Was there something about them that drew you to them? Or were they just there and what you needed?
MJ Fredrick: I used Mrs. Cobb from the mercantile. It’s always fun to use a judgmental character in a story to help the main character see the truth more easily.
Linda McLaughlin: The characters in my story are in transition because of economic setbacks and I knew they couldn’t afford to stay in the fancy new hotel. I was happy when Widow Murphy’s boarding house became available on Christmas Eve. Though she is often an antagonist in Debra’s books, I have some sympathy for her as a lonely widow forced to take in boarders to make ends meet. My great-grandmother did the same thing after her husband died.
Jill Marie Landis: I chose to have quite a few of Debra’s characters make cameos in my story Upon a Midnight Clear because I think her vast readership loves her novels and the characters she’s created. I used the characters living in Sweetwater Springs to show their depth of caring for and loyalty to each other. A close-knit community is the foundation of small town life.
Cynthia Woolf: I fell in love with Lily Maxwell and her family in Painted Montana Sky. It was a natural for me to have a friend of Lily’s come to Sweetwater Springs.
Debra, who is your favorite character from your series?
Debra Holland: This is a difficult question. Jack Cassidy, one of the twin orphans in Starry Montana Sky, almost took over the story. His voice was so unique. I kept thinking, where is this coming from? He was so fun to write.
I love Nick Sanders, the hero from Wild Montana Sky. I had a chance to write him into Mail-Order Brides of the West: Trudy, which is set earlier in time than Wild Montana Sky. It was fun to write Nick as an eighteen-year-old!
In Sweetwater Springs Christmas, the idea for little Ike Tannerson from my story, A Family for Ike, came to me one day while I was out for a trail run. He stole my heart.
Considering everyone was writing during the summer months, did you do anything special to get into the mood to write, such as Christmas music playing in the background, or turn the AC to freezing and wear your favorite holiday sweatshirt?
Trish Milburn: No, not really. I’m used to writing stories that are not set at the time of year I’m writing them.
Cynthia Woolf: Living in Colorado, I didn’t have to do much special. Just remember last winter and the snow we had. It was pretty easy to get the Christmas spirit. I did play Christmas music. It always gets me in the mood as thousands of retailers can tell you.
Jill Marie Landis: Unfortunately I can’t wait to “get into the mood” to write anything. When there’s a looming deadline, a writer writes. Since I live in Hawaii I have to use my imagination to write about anything that’s not set here, which is pretty much everything else in the whole world.
Linda McLaughlin: No, to the Christmas music and paraphernalia. I generally write to music, but prefer movie soundtracks. For The Best Present, I chose the soundtrack to Miss Potter. It seemed appropriate for a story with a ten-year-old protagonist.
MJ Fredrick: My air conditioner is always on freezing in the summer months, especially since I’m in Texas! It was odd when I’d walk outside after writing about snow on the ground!
Do you now live or have you ever lived in a cold climate where snow and ice is a normal thing?
Cynthia Woolf: All my life. I’m a Colorado native.
Tori Scott: I live in North Texas. Snow is rare and usually only lasts a day or two. Ice is occasional and usually gone by noon. But I lived in NY for a couple of winters as a child and I remember deep drifts, snow ice cream, making snowmen, and ice skating on the canal in our backyard in Amityville.
Trish Milburn: I have to laugh at this question. As I sit here in Tennessee, I have three quilts over my legs and the heat is running. And it’s only November. I’m the coldest person in the world! I saw my sister’s photos of the current snow in Montana and wanted to hop in my car and drive to Key West! I grew up in western Kentucky, and we did have snow and ice there. Probably one of the coldest, snowiest winters ever was when I was in first grade in 1977-78. It snowed and snowed and snowed some more. We were out of school almost the entire month of January.
Jill Marie Landis: My husband and I lived at Mammoth Mountain, California, in the High Sierras one ski season. He loved it. I hated it. Now we live in Hawaii. I hope I never see another snowflake except in the movies.
To be continued...
Sweetwater Springs Christmas: A Montana Sky Short Story Anthology (Montana Sky Series) by Debra Holland and Friends, namely E. Ayers, Linda Carroll-Bradd, MJ Fredrick, Paty Jager, Jill Marie Landis, Trish Milburn, Linda McLaughlin, Bev Pettersen, Tori Scott, and Cynthia Woolf.
Come celebrate the holidays in 1895 Sweetwater Springs, Montana, as ten Western Romance authors join New York Times Bestselling author DEBRA HOLLAND in telling SHORT STORIES of love and laughter, heartbreak and healing, and most of all, Christmas joy.
Available at Amazon in both e-book and trade paperback format.