History Lessons

WyomingI was schooled in Pennsylvania; I raised my children in Virginia. I know the histories of these two states. Now I’m learning the history of Wyoming as I’m writing The Diary of Clare Coleman. And why would I take on such an impossible task? My readers have asked for the diary in reviews and in emails.

When I wrote A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming, I eluded to the diary of Clare Coleman. Clare and her husband, Jessie founded the ranch. They survived because they had befriended the “Indians.” But I also reference an unrequited love between Clare Coleman and one particular Native American.

Shortly after I published that book, I started getting requests for the diary. Of course I can do this! I’m a novelist. My mind is fertile, and words flow freely from me. The problem is I’m not a historical writer. So to write this, I’ve had to learn the history of Wyoming.

Okay, I can now tell you the history of Fort Laramie, and more about wagon trains then I ever wanted to know. I already knew how to “make” yeast. And thanks to my research, I now know how to preserve an animal pelt. Don’t you think that’s got to be a skill that will come in handy at some point during my lifetime?

Twenty years ago, this information would have taken a year or more to compile via interlibrary loans, but thanks to the Internet, it’s pretty quick. My granddaughter asked how I know that information I’m getting is accurate. Good question. I’d say because I’m going directly to certain sources. If you want the history of a fort, go to the fort.

But then I hit a brick wall. There’s not much information about the Native American tribes. There’s some, but not much. History has been written by the White men who invaded the West.ย  I’m certain it’s because the Native Americans weren’t writing it all down. I can’t find a single account of where they setup tepees in the spring of 1846 and where they went after that.

I wanted the name Coyote in their language. The closest I could find was wolf. Seems they weren’t very particular, as it was a dog-like creature. Apparently they used wolf and coyote interchangeably. In general, I think it’s sad that we don’t know more about these people, but I’ve learned quite a bit more about them these last few weeks.

The other problem with writing historical fiction is the words. I have a tall, sexy, Native American hero. And guess what? I can’t say sexy. That word didn’t exist back then. Simple, basic words that we use everyday weren’t part of our language 150 years ago. Yikes! I’m living in the dictionary double-checking when words came into use.

The other thing I’m coping with, is writing in first person (I), rather than third person (she). Because it’s Clare’s diary, it’s forcing me into writing first person. I’m not used to doing it, so I slip. Then I must go back and fix my words.

It’s tough work, but in the end, it will be worth it. My readers will get a few hours of cheap entertainment from a book, but I’ve gained much more. I’ve not only learned more about English words, I’ve learned some Crow words. I’ve learned about people who lived back then, who opened the West, and survived or didn’t. I’ve made friends along this journey in my quest for information. I’ve learned about plants native to Wyoming and the animals that ran freely. I’ve learned about Kentucky rifles, and where you must hit a Bison in order to kill it. So when The Diary of Clare Coleman is published, it really won’t matter if I never sell a single copy, because I will be a richer person for writing it. The wealth of knowledge can never be measured in money.

A Snowy Christmas in WyomingExcerpt from A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming:

“Where’s Sarah?” Caroline asked as she came through the back door.

“Sleeping,” her grandmother answered. “I put the monitor in my room so I’ll hear her.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll sleep in there.”

Barbara’s eyes twinkled as she grinned. “You’re in love with him.”

She looked at her grandmother and smiled back. “I know. Does that bother you?”

Her grandmother laughed. “Why, because you’ve fallen for a tall, dark, handsome man with a broad set of shoulders and tight butt? I might be old, but I know a good thing when I see it. That man packs a pair jeans.” She laughed. “Ain’t nuttin’ wrong with finding a good man and going after him. He is a good man, Caroline. He might not have money, but there’s nothing wrong with him marrying it.”

“You’re serious?”

“I certainly am.” She got very quiet. “I’m not as invincible as I thought I was. Don’t let this ranch get sold. Our roots are here. Our blood is in this soil.” She leaned back in her chair. “Andy’s blood is here too. Go read that diary one more time. This land was stolen from the Indians, but Jessie and Clare Coleman made peace with them. They shared food and allowed the Indians to hunt. Do you really think Jessie took a pail of milk to them everyday because he was a good Christian man? Think about it.”

“What are you saying?”

“It was payment. And so were the chickens, the eggs, the corn, and everything else. What belonged to Jessie and Clare belonged to the Indians, too. Jessie and Clare tried very hard and willingly gave, but it was also taken from them. There were a lot of Indians that didn’t want the white man and didn’t like their fences. Read that diary again, not as an idealistic teen, but as a grown woman.”

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21 Responses to History Lessons

  1. Very interesting…cant’ wait to read the book!

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  2. E. Ayers says:

    Thanks, Pepper. The diary has become an adventure.

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  3. Cute post. Oh we writers are pips aren’t we? Even the vastness of the internet doesn’t give us enough access to words when we want them!

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    • E. Ayers says:

      And many, many thanks for your help with the Native American research. I know you hold their history very dear to your heart. With books we can keep it alive so that the world learns the truth about these people.

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  4. leighmorgan1 says:

    What a great tie-in to your other story. Sounds like an interesting adventure ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Jill James says:

    I love hearing why a writer writes something. The diary somes awesome. Oops, bet that wasn’t a word back then either. LOL

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  6. stephaniequeen says:

    E., next time I find an animal pelt, I’ll send it over!
    Great post!
    Stephanie Queen

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  7. E. Ayers says:

    I have a better idea, I’ll send you the animal brain that you can rub into that pelt. Gag!

    Can you see me on the phone with some mail-order meat company?

    Do you have a large animal brain? Cow or pig will work. It must be fresh. Okay, yes, I understand you ship them frozen. That will work. Yes, it’s a gift to Stephanie Queen. Yes, that Stephanie Queen, the author. Yes, she writes romantic suspense. No it’s not research for her latest manuscript. This comes under life skills. She’s got a pelt that she wants to preserve. Do I want to write anything? Surely. Um, Tear pieces off and rub into the skin side until it foams. Best of Luck!
    E. Ayers. Hello, is anyone still there? Hello? Hello?

    I wonder who wants my recipe for making starter (yeast) from scratch?

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  8. Excellent, Elizabeth! I’m delighted to hear you are writing Clare’s diary – I expected it to loom larger in A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming – which I loved, so here is another eager reader lined up ready and waiting for it.
    And yes, isn’t the internet wonderful for quick research? I know you can’t be absolutely sure about anything but you can probably save years of your life rapidly cross-referencing until you feel happy enough to pass something off as fact (and then there’s always the disclaimer…)
    Lovely post. Thanks;
    Lynette

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  9. E. Ayers says:

    Thanks, Lynette for crossing the pond to visit us here on Main Street! I’m so happy to hear that you enjoyed A Snowy Christmas in Wyoming.

    Yes, the Internet has made it so much quicker, but it’s still work, and there’s a lot of information to digest. I’m writing fiction, but in a way, I’m writing the story of so many women who went West with their husbands to settle into a new land and forge a new life. The tough survived.

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  10. Carol says:

    E., I can’t wait to read Clare’s diary. You’re working long hard hours researching its history! I’d love the yeast recipe. I have one, but would like to compare the two. ๐Ÿ™‚ Good luck.

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  11. E. Ayers says:

    Well, yeast apparently is airborne. So simply mixing warm water, flour, a dab of sugar, and a tiny pinch of salt into a slurry is sufficient to get things going. If you’ve ever proofed yeast, you know that it bubbles. Once you get it going at room temperature, you can keep it in the refrigerator. Every time you use it you must replace it with more flour, sugar, water and a pinch of salt.

    The next time you make mashed or boiled potatoes, save the liquid. Mix it with flour, sugar, and salt, and you have another yeast concoction. (You can even add a wee but of mashed PLAIN potato to the yeast mixture.) These airborne yeasts feed on the flour and sugar. The salt keeps it controlled. I decided I didn’t need to use salt and found my mixture flowing over the counter and onto the floor one morning. I use a tall glass jar and I never mix more than a third of it.

    These yeasts are never as gassy as what you buy. It’s much easier to get them going in the summer than it is in the winter, if you keep your house on the cool side. So put the mixture where the winter sun will warm it. .

    The funny thing about it is – the yeast that you will make in Georgia, USA, is not the same as the yeast I’d make here in Virginia. And both will be different from California and Michigan. It will make a difference in the taste of the bread. (I happen to love that yeasty taste in homemade bread.) Today, we cheat and often add a pinch of the commercial yeast to get things going. But I like knowing that I can bake bread without it. But I’ll be honest, there’s a BIG package of yeast in my refrigerator.

    Bread baking is not an exact recipe. I’d suggest that a newbie uses a recipe until they are familiar with the texture, etc. Then feel free to experiment.

    I told my children to NEVER buy me a bread machine. Part of the fun of making bread is working the dough. My husband always said he knew when i was upset as I made more bread, There’s something very calming about kneading; it’s also very rewarding.

    My kids, when they were little, thought that getting commercial white bread was a super treat. I had bread baking down to a science. I could make bread for less than twenty-five cents a loaf and it was better for them than what could be store bought.

    BTW, rolls are just bread made into tiny balls.

    I use a cookie sheet and sprinkle some corn meal on it to keep the bread from sticking if I’m making a round loaf.

    If you let the bread rise too long, you wind up with big air pockets in the bread. It only need to double in size.

    Can you tell that I love to make bread?
    ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. What a task! It all sounds so interesting and I can’t wait to read the final product. It’s funny that 1st person is hard, I have the opposite problem. Whenever I start a first chapter or jot down an idea I always start in 1st person naturally, and then have to change it around. It seems I always want to BE the character, which I am not sure is more a reflection of narcissism or love for my characters! LOL Good luck with all the history and what an accomplishment it will be when you can say “the end”! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • E. Ayers says:

      I’ve been trying to help a friend with her first book. It was bland – cute story but flat. I got to the end, and she’d written something in first person. The lights flashed! I asked her to write two paragraphs in first person. Yep! Her voice is first person. She’s rewritten the whole novella in first, and now it’s a great story. I’m a natural third person so the challenges are great in this story.

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  13. monarisk says:

    Hi E. I’d love to read that diary too. Grandmother is a fun character. I love secondary older character. They’re often so alive.

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    • E. Ayers says:

      Thanks, Mona. I think Barbara played such a wonderful supporting role in that book. If they had Oscars for books, maybe we could nominate her for best supporting character?

      Secondary characters often bring out things that the main characters can’t. I love the old ones and the young ones, especially teens. They add an extra dimension to the story, plus they often tell the truth.

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