The Value of Those Voices in the Night

A few nights ago I woke up with a great idea for a blog. By morning, I forgot it! I am so upset that I didn’t write it down. That in turn gave me a different idea for a blog, so I’m writing about the value of remembering to write down a good idea RIGHT AWAY! Those voices in the night are simply the product of your writer’s brain offering up ideas. 


How often have you dreamed something or had a great thought in the middle of the night? It was so real and so vivid that you were sure you would remember every detail in the morning. Then morning came, and you wanted to tell your hubby or a friend about it … or hurry and write it down … and alas! It was gone! You could remember only a tiny bit of it – and sometimes none of it! 

Sometimes it isn’t even a dream. It can simply be a great thought that has come to you in the middle of the night when you are staring into the darkness, eyes wide open, whether with worry, or because you have been struggling with how to solve the mess you’ve written your characters into without knowing how to get them out of it. Even then, by morning, that great idea can be completely gone.

As a writer, these dreams or deep thoughts can be valuable. You soon learn that you had better keep a note pad beside your bed and hope you actually wake up quickly enough from your dream to preserve it, because it just might make a great story plot. Or, if you are lying awake and come up with just the right answer for whatever you need for your story, you can quickly write it down then and there. Believe me, even though you are awake, the thought can still be gone when morning comes.

I have learned that even when a good idea strikes in the middle of the day, I had better quickly make note of it because life gets so busy that thought can go away as fast as it came to me. If you don’t have pencil and paper on hand, remember your cell phone. Almost everyone has their cell phone with them all the time, including by the bed stand as they sleep. I have often used the “Notes” section in my cell phone to jot down an idea. The last time we drove west, I took notes in my phone as we passed through certain areas out west. I wanted to remember the landscape in those particular areas. I took pictures and also kept notes because pictures don’t always do justice to particular details you want to remember.

Of course, I come from a time when there were no cell phones or even computers! One morning while getting ready for work, a thought came to me that I just knew would make a good story. I had no cell phone to quickly make a note with – and no paper and pen ready. I was drying my hair and was running late, so I wrote the idea down on the back of my check book with an eyebrow pencil! For some reason I always remembered that moment. The idea turned into one of my all-time favorite books – OUTLAW HEARTS – and 20 years later I wrote the sequel plus two more and it became a 4-book series. I want to write a fifth book, and also a story about the hero’s grandson. And it all came from an idea written down with an eyebrow pencil on a check book. I would give anything to still have that note to look at just for the fun of it – and to show to other writers.

Don’t underestimate the value of those voices in the night … or even those quick ideas that come during the day. WRITE THEM DOWN by any means possible! I am one of those people who is constantly daydreaming, so I have to be ready at all times for that new idea. A writer’s mind is always spinning with ideas and characters, no matter what else they are doing at the time. Pad and paper, or that good ole’ cell phone, are a must 24/7! Listen to those voices in the night and you just might come up with a best seller!


Riding The Outlaw Trail …


I am currently reading THE OUTLAW TRAIL by Robert Redford (yes – the actor). In the early 1970’s he actually rode the old Outlaw Trail so that he could experience what it was like and then write about it. The trail runs from Canada to Mexico. Mr. Redford started at Hole-In-The-Wall in northern Wyoming, and traveled mostly by horseback to south of Robber’s Roost in southern Utah. There couldn’t be more spectacular pictures of the fantastic landscape involved along the Outlaw Trail than in this incredibly beautiful book. It’s a big, roughly 9” x 11,” hard cover, with a great sexy picture of Mr. Redford on the cover and pictures and conversations with some very crusty and rugged characters inside the book. I can already see in this book the nostalgia Mr. Redford had for the “Old West,” which I am sure prompted his starring in the movie THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN, where he steals a beautiful but doped-up show horse out of Las Vegas and rides the horse into the wild plains, where he turns it loose and lets it run free with mustangs. 


My reason for reading this book is to prepare to write my three new books for Sourcebooks, which will all be set against the Outlaw Trail in one way or another. Each story will bring in a cameo of sorts – of various characters from other books I’ve written – characters who also visited the Outlaw Trail at some point in their story. My new heroes will have short encounters with these other characters, like with Moses Tucker from LAWLESS LOVE, Sage Lightfoot from PARADISE VALLEY and Jake Harkner from my OUTLAW series. I am going to have to study these older books in order to get my time frame right in the new stories, but most of all I want to drench myself in the landscape and history of the Outlaw Trail, where famous outlaws like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid hung out at times. I am hoping to have my new heroes not only meet some of my other characters, but also some “real” outlaws of the time.


I have loved America’s Old West all my life, probably because I grew up watching westerns, both in movies and on television. My “hero” when I was young was Matt Dillon from GUNSMOKE, and of course my movie heroes were Clint Eastwood, John Wayne and Tom Selleck (who starred in a lot of movies based on stories by Louis L’Amour (my mentor) and in QUIGLEY DOWN UNDER, set in Australia’s “West,” which is very much like America’s). PALE RIDER is my favorite Clint Eastwood movie, and ROOSTER COGBURN my favorite John Wayne movie, although his movie THE COWBOYS was also so realistic, wonderful, yet so sad, as was THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE. And saddest but most realistic of all was THE SHOOTIST.

I loved Kathryn Hepburn’s description of John Wayne’s character in ROOSTER COGBURN. He wore a patch over one eye and was a rough and rugged old lawman who killed a lot of men who all “deserved it,” much like my Jake would say of most of the men he killed. Katheryn’s description in the movie actually fits John Wayne himself …

“Rueben, I have to say it … living with you has been an adventure any woman would relish for the rest of time. I look at you with your burned-out face, and your big belly, and your bear-like paws … and your shining eye … and I have to say you are a credit to the whole male sex and I’m proud to have you for my friend.”

Sounds like most western heroes – and certainly like my Jake Harkner, except he didn’t have a big belly or wear a patch over one eye. Be that as it may, that description so envelops the western hero, whether a lawman or an outlaw, and that ruggedness is what it took to survive the Outlaw Trail. I am so excited to be writing about this era and the several historic locations along that trail, like Hole-In-The-Wall, Brown’s Park and Robber’s Roost.

America’s western landscape is absolutely spectacular. “Big Sky Country” hardly does justice as a description for such an immense world, where there are places you can see for fifty miles or more. Such is the landscape along the Outlaw Trail, incredibly endless grassland walled by mammoth red cliffs, snow-capped mountains, and places where caves and crevasses once hid wanted men – places where lawmen dared not go for fear of never returning.


A couple of the things printed in Mr. Redford’s book really touched me. From the book’s Forward are these words from Mr. Redford:

“… From 1870 to 1910 it (the Outlaw Trail) was a lawless area where any man with a past or a price on his head was free to roam “nameless,” provided he was good with a gun, fast on a horse, cleverer than the next man, could run as fast as he could cheat, trusted no one, had eyes in back of his head and a fool’s sense of adventure. No holds were barred on this trail, and old age was a freak condition.” … Robert Redford, THE OUTLAW TRAIL, Copyright 1976, Grosset& Dunlap, NYC.

There is also a beautiful excerpt from the song, OLD COWBOY (October 31, 1938), by Matt Warner, who was once sheriff of Price, Utah and a former outlaw:

… From the range forever your voice is still. No more does its echo resound from the hills – Old Cowboy.

Lula (Parker) Betenson with Robert Redford & Paul Newman

The ending of this book is so touching. Mr. Redford visits with Lula (Parker) Betenson, the 94-year-old sister of Butch Cassidy, whose real name was Robert Leroy Parker. (This visit would have taken place around 1975). There were 13 children in the Parker family, and Lula was younger than Butch, 6 years old when he left home. She saved all his letters and some of his personal belongings. Mr. Redford describes her as still beautiful, with eyes that showed her to be young at heart. They met at the old Parker cabin near Circleville, Utah. It’s kind of sad how he describes the old cabin at the end of his talk with Lula.

“The house is old. Gray-splintered sagging wood. The window frames are bleached, and vandalism and target practice have left smashed panes. The rooms are small, like all the rooms in all the buildings of this kind we have visited. In the back are the corrals – gray, shaggy, tilting against the burnt yellow and gray hills beyond. It’s all that’s left. Lula and the corrals and the hills. There’s no more.” …Robert Redford, THE OUTLAW TRAIL, Copyright 1976, Grosset & Dunlap, NYC.

That description hit me as applicable to the Outlaw Trail itself. Much of it is gone now, buried under towns and asphalt, coal strip mines, high-wire electric lines and steam rising from power plants. The buffalo and most mustangs are gone. Too many ranchers have been forced out of business due to taxes and regulations, land grabs and big corporations that wiped them out. Some of the peace of dead silence is gone, but in the wide-open places between the scattered towns and away from industry and windmills and humming electric lines, the dead silence is still there. I’ve been to some of these places – places where the silence is so penetrating it almost hurts your ears. You literally strain to hear something.

And there was a time when most of the American West was just that … total silence, except for the occasional howling of wolves, the snorting and rutting of buffalo, the prayer song of an Indian, the ripple of a mountain stream, the thunder of a herd of mustangs, the cry of an eagle … and the soft groan of an almost-constant wind. And those are my words, not Mr. Redford’s.

I think you will enjoy my Outlaw Trail books once they are written and published, and I hope you rent or buy some of the movies listed here, most of which also beautifully display America’s magnificent western landscape in many of the scenes in the movies, especially PALE RIDER and ROOSTER COGBURN. Watch my web site for news of books to come … and you just might want to re-read LAWLESS LOVE, PARADISE VALLEY and my OUTLAW series, because some of those characters will show up in my new stories!

Nostalgia

We all get a case of nostalgia once in a while - you know, another one of those “diseases” they are always talking about on TV. If your ear itches, it’s a disease. If your eyes get a little dry, it’s a disease. Used to be a disease was something serious that you usually died from. Now the drug industry wants you to think a mosquito bite is a disease. 

Writing – A Joy, Not A Job

I was answering someone else’s blog a couple of days ago, and I ended with saying writing should be a joy, not a job. Soon as I wrote that, I realized it was a great topic for my own blog!


I write every chance I get, any time of day, deep in the night when I can’t sleep, often while my hubby is watching a movie. I just put on my ear phones and listen to my favorite “mood” music and shut out the TV.

I just sold three more books (still to be written) to Sourcebooks, which, when finished, will bring my total published books to 72 over about 39 years. Those years have gone so fast. I have no memory of even writing many of those books. It’s all kind of a blur. But I do remember the plot of every book. Sometimes I have to look at the blurb on the back to remind myself of the names of the characters, but most of the actual story quickly comes back to me.

I squeezed most of those books into my life while working full time and raising two active boys, then spending a lot of time with grandchildren. I’ve always led a very, very busy life, and when working full time, I often sat up after everyone else went to bed and wrote until 1 or 2 am – then got up at 5 am and put in another long day.

Yes, it was hard. Very hard. Yet I enjoyed every word I wrote because I love writing and have loved every character I’ve ever written.

And that’s what writing should be to any writer – a JOY, not a JOB. You should be so “into” your characters that you can’t wait to get back to them and continue their story. In my case, I want to see what happens to them, because even I don’t know until I go into the “next” chapter. I don’t use an outline and don’t plan out my books. I just start one and let the characters take me where they want to go.

Too often I talk to other writers who have been working on the same book for years. I don’t understand that. If you aren’t interested enough in your book to finish it and start submitting it, then don’t write it at all. Start a different story, something that keeps you so excited that, like a reader who can’t put down what she’s reading, you can’t stop writing your story!

I can tell those writers who look at their writing as more of a job than a joy. They struggle to find the time to write and come up with all kinds of excuses not to sit down and keep going. My problem is usually finding time to do everything else, but I never have trouble finding time to write. My stories and their characters are with me 24/7, 7 days a week. When we stay at our condo in Vegas winters, while my husband plays poker, I sit at Starbucks and proofread my daily writing. Why waste money gambling when I could be making money on my writing?

A true writer never sees her work as a job she dreads or struggles to find time for. A true writer can’t wait to get back to the computer, and she not only works on the story at hand, but she also has more stories in her head just itching to be told. A true writer never runs out of ideas, and she is so excited about the story she is working on that she gets in as much writing time as possible every day. She doesn’t sit watching TV for 3-4 hours every night. She sits and writes 3-4 hours every night. If you have time to do nothing but watch TV, then you have time to write. Once you get into the groove of working writing into your day, it gets easier and easier.

If you let writing be a JOY and not a JOB, you’ll find you can produce a lot more books in a lot less time. That joy has allowed me to produce an average of two big books a year for the last 35 years, and all those older books are still selling, a lot of them having already been reissued two and three times over the years. That’s how you build your name, which in turn builds your sales.

Write! Write! Write! You don’t get published by wishing it, and you don’t get published by working on the same book for years. I’ve heard some writers say they don’t want to “work” that hard. Honey, if you’re calling it work, you aren’t a real writer. Let it be a JOY!

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Birds of a Feather Flock Together

This weekend I’ll be attending a small weekend writers’ retreat, and I can’t wait! (See details at the end of this blog.) Writers love hanging out with each other, because only other writers can counsel each other on our own unique problems. Only other writers understand where we’re coming from when we talk about our characters like they really live(d). Another writer once asked me how I make my characters so “real.” My answer was because they are real … to me. They are people from the past, speaking to me in spirit. And the more “real” I write my characters, the more real they become to my readers. Only another writer would understand how “alive” our characters are to us. 

Becoming History

Our area newspaper has a “Local History” section, where it reprints news from 100 to 75 to 50 years ago and so forth. Recently, there was a section under “35 YEARS AGO,” and it was about my first publication, SWEET PRAIRIE PASSION, Book #1 of my SAVAGE DESTINY series. Apparently, I am now a part of “history.” Well, being born just five months before WWII ended, I guess I qualify, but I’m not terribly happy about the fact that that was 73 years ago! 

The After-Book Let-Down

The theme of this blog refers to how I feel when I am done with a book and I send it in. When I finish a book, and probably because my books are so long, I feel a big let-down and am depressed for several days afterward. After writing a 400-500 page book, usually 100,000 to 110,000 words, it’s hard to let go of the characters and “send them away” to the publisher.


Imagine packing up your own children and sending them off to a stranger who will then manage their lives from then on (i.e. edit your book and do things to it to make it even more marketable) – and knowing once you send your children away, they will never be returned to you. That’s kind of how it feels to work on a big novel and then send off the finished product.

Writing a story doesn’t involve just sitting down to the computer and putting an idea into words. That idea might have been brewing for months or even years, the characters living in your heart and mind all that time. Jake Harkner from my Outlaw series has lived in my heart and mind since about 1991, when I wrote down the idea for his story on the back of a check book with an eyebrow pencil because it suddenly came to me and I didn’t have a pen handy. That first book was published in 1993 and it took me 20 years to convince a publisher to let me write a sequel, which of course turned into four books and now I want to write a fifth. Part of the reason I want to write that fifth book is because I DON’T WANT TO LEAVE THESE CHARACTERS! I want to keep them alive for me and for my readers.

And now I know why it has taken me so long to even begin writing the contemporary Native American romance I talked about on Facebook a few days ago. The characters have been inside my heart and head for about 20 years now – maybe longer – and I know that if I write this book and actually sell it, I will have to “let go” of these characters. They won’t be just mine any more. Sounds strange, I’m sure, to non-writers, but I suppose as a reader who might love my characters as much as I do, they get the same feelings when the finish reading a book for which they have waited months to be able to read, especially books that are part of a series. They get done and they wish there was more because they don’t want to leave those characters.

Back to my comment about writing not being about just sitting down and getting it into a computer. Any well-written book takes weeks or months (sometimes years) of research before you even write it. So you go through all of that, and then you write the story – which normally takes 3-5 months for me. Sometimes, though, as with DO NOT FORSAKE ME and with my recent new book LOGAN’S LADY, the story is so real and already written in my head that it just pours out of me. I’ll sit for hours and days and weeks on-end doing almost nothing else but write – in which case I can turn out a 400-500 page book in about 6 weeks.

Either way, that first draft is not the finished product. I print it out – read and edit – go back to the computer and enter the edits – print it out again – read it again to check those edits, in which case I find even more things that need to be “fixed” – go back to the computer and enter all the new edits – read it again for even more edits – go back to the computer and enter those edits – then print it out once more and read the whole thing before I send it in to the publisher. So overall, you are with the characters night and day for weeks or months.

Then you send in the book. It’s like popping a balloon. Your elation at finishing a big book lasts only a day or so and then it’s – “Now what?” I want to go with my characters to the publisher and “protect and defend” them. “Don’t mess with my babies,” I want to say. The publisher has ripped them out of my arms. Plus, I feel like someone just took away my job and now I have to find a new one. “What do I work on now?”

My husband says I deserve a break, and I suppose I do, but I begin to panic. What if this book bombs? What if I never sell another book? I need to start another story and work on more ideas and make sure my publisher will take more – or make sure I have new stories ready to publish on Amazon so that my readers always have yet another book to look forward to.

If I had my way, I would continue my series books on and on into the children and grandchildren. I would stay with those families or couples I created for as long as possible. And if it was physically possible, I would publish a new story every month to keep my readers happy. Alas, there is only one of me and this old body can only sit for so long without aches and pains. Still, I try to ignore them because I want nothing more than to keep writing and keep turning out new stories.

Yet through all the 67 books I’ve now had published, so many of my characters will live with me forever and ever – most notably Zeke and Abbie Monroe from SAVAGE DESTINY – Caleb and Sarah Sax (from my BLUE HAWK trilogy) –Maggie Tucker and Sage Lightfoot from PARADISE VALLEY, Sunny Landers and Colt Travis from THUNDER ON THE PLAINS, Gabe Beaumont and Faith Kelley from TAME THE WILD WIND, Addy and Parker Cole from UNTIL TOMORROW, Lettie McBride and Luke Fontaine from WILDEST DREAMS, Two Wolves and Claire from CAPTURE MY HEART and A WARRIOR’S PROMISE, and of course Jake and Randy Harkner from my OUTLAW books. There are so many more! If you go to Amazon.com and type in my name, you will find pages and pages of my titles.

Sometimes I scan all my books and I wonder what will happen to all those characters after I am gone. Who will love and cherish them as I do? I’m so glad to realize that my readers will. And if they keep recommending those books to their family and friends, most of my books will continue to sell for a long time after I'm no longer in this world, which means my characters will live on for a long time to come. As far as I am concerned, they did live once for real and they told their stories to me from the past. I guess that’s why most of my books came out of me so easily. Those characters just visited me for a while and whispered their stories to me. I simply wrote down what they told me happened and how they felt about it. And yes, I’m just crazy enough to think that I just might meet some of my characters in another world, another life.

Can you tell I’m feeling sentimental? I hope Sourcebooks takes good care of my new “baby.” They are already working on a cover!

What’s In a Name?

Recently I eMailed my local writers’ group (Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America) and joked about how sometimes we writers get our characters’ names mixed up. For the last two months I’ve been writing almost constantly to finish my newest book for Sourcebooks – LOGAN’S LADY. In the midst of that, I had to stop and work on edits to my March book for Amazon, A WARRIOR’S PROMISE. The heroine in WARRIOR is named Claire – and in LOGAN’S LADY the heroine is named Elizabeth.


Fiction vs Reality

Writers are often asked if their characters are based on someone they know. I have realized that my reply to this always seems defensive – “Heavens, no! I don’t want my friends or people I know casually to think I am writing about them! They might be offended, and I live in a small town. My characters are purely fictitious.”