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Endorsements of The Summer Son have begun to roll in from authors and critics whose work I deeply admire.

Among them:

“Lancaster has crafted a novel that offers readers the most valuable gift any work of fiction can offer: an authentic emotional experience. The Summer Son will grip you with its pathos and insight, propel you mercilessly forward with its tension and suspense, and then wow you with an ending you won’t see coming. And when the experience is over, The Summer Son will stick with you.”
Jonathan Evison, author of West of Here and All About Lulu

Jon is having the kind of career I can only dream of. His first novel, All About Lulu, won rave reviews as a funny, deeply felt coming-of-age story. His latest, West of Here, will release on Feb. 11, 2010, and is already being hailed as one of the great books of the coming year. Chuck Adams, Evison’s editor at Algonquin, has called it the best book he’s worked with in four decades of publishing. I’m lucky enough to have an advance reader copy of it, and I can tell you that the multigenerational sweep, the sense of place, the writing all are beautifully rendered.


“Lancaster’s characters drill into the earth in search of natural gas, and so too do they burrow into their pasts, hunting for the pockets of explosive angst that define who they are today. A compelling dose of realism and a vicious reminder that ancient history is always close enough to kiss us.”
Joshua Mohr, author of Termite Parade and Some Things That Meant the World To Me

Josh is the kind of writer who makes me wonder if the rest of us simply don’t have sufficient imagination. Consider the premise of his latest, Termite Parade: Three narrators — a woman, Mired; her boyfriend, Derek; and his twin brother, Frank — carry us through a story that starts with Mired’s being pushed down stairs, intentionally, by Derek (who, by the way, believes he’s being eaten from the inside by termites). And his much-heralded debut, Some Things That Meant the World To Me, centered on a 30-year-old man named Rhonda who is led through his troubled past by his own inner child. Some Things, published by tiny Two Dollar Radio, was selected by O Magazine as one of its “10 Terrific Reads of 2009.”


The Summer Son is a superb and authentic exploration of family ties and the delicate relationships between fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the past and present. Lancaster writes from the heart in clear and powerful prose, exposing his characters flaws and strengths in heartbreaking detail and giving readers exactly what we want from contemporary fiction: characters we believe in from the first page, laugh and cry with throughout, and, finally, deeply understand at the end.”
Kristy Kiernan, author of Catching Genius and Between Friends

In a book world that demands that everything be classified, Kristy’s work often gets labeled as women’s fiction. While that’s certainly not a knock, it also misses half the picture. What she really writes is human fiction — beautiful, complex, redeeming, heartbreaking human fiction. All of her work — Matters of Faith, Catching Genius, Between Friends — probes relationships and choices and consequences with a deft eye and a hopeful heart. Fabulous stuff.


“Craig Lancaster’s magnificent novel, The Summer Son, travels straight into the realm of broken hearts and hurt souls only to discover miraculous things at the core of each of us: grace and love. This is one of those rare novels that will live from generation to generation, offering sunlight to those who think the human race lives only in a stormcloud.”
Richard S. Wheeler, author of Snowbound and a six-time Spur Award winner

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Dick Wheeler, for my money, is our greatest living writer of Westerns, and along the way, he became simply a fine novelist, no qualifications necessary. He’s also a man after my own heart: a former newspaperman who stumbled into a literary career. (That he is married to one of the finest people on the planet, Sue Hart, essentially makes Dick the most enviable man I know.) Check out his latest, Snowbound, for a terrific example of Wheeler’s exhaustive research — the tale centers on explorer John Fremont — and his elegant prose.


The Summer Son made me laugh, made me feel and even made me love a scoundrel.”
Kristen Tsetsi, author of Pretty Much True …

I love when great things happen to deserving people. Kris’ self-released debut novel, Homefront, was loved by nearly everyone who read it, and after years of shopping it to publishers, she’s found one who sees the possibilities for the book that all of us who’ve read it so clearly grasped. It will be re-emerging soon as Pretty Much True … and you pretty much should read it when it does. Check out her blog here.


“Part family saga, part mystery, The Summer Son will grab hold of you and not let go.”
R.J. Keller, author of Waiting for Spring

I love when great things happen to deserving people, Part 2. R.J. originally released her debut novel through CreateSpace, priced it to move on Amazon’s Kindle platform — and reaped the rewards of her own good work and readers’ word of mouth. Waiting for Spring — women’s fiction for women who don’t live Carrie Bradshaw’s existence — has consistently been one of the best-selling novels on the Kindle, and sure enough, AmazonEncore took notice: It will re-release the book to a much wider audience next spring. A success story well-earned.


“In this novel of power, psychological insight, suspense, and healing, Lancaster takes the reader on Mitch Quillen’s search with courage and emotional honesty. Moving and unforgettable!”
Carol Buchanan, Spur Award-winning author of God’s Thunderbolt and Gold Under Ice

What can I say about Carol? She’s one of my best friends among the Montana writers I’ve met, she’s a whip-smart writer and possibly even better editor (The Summer Son benefited greatly from her advice), and she wrote a self-published debut novel (God’s Thunderbolt) that won a Spur Award. She’s such a gifted writer that it was a no-brainer for me to team up with her and launch her follow-up, Gold Under Ice, as the first release of my small literary imprint, Missouri Breaks Press.


“Craig Lancaster really knows how to tell a story. And in this deeply felt, keenly observed, beautifully structured novel he tells one older than Sophocles, about the tensions between fathers and sons and the secrets that shape — and threaten to destroy — their lives.”
Charles Matthews, former books editor, San Jose Mercury News

Charles and I go way back, although it would be a stretch to say that we really knew each other before the advent of Facebook. We worked together at the San Jose Mercury News several years ago, but that was back in the days when that newspaper had 400-some editorial employees (as opposed to the 120 or so it has now), and so I’m not sure we ever even had a conversation. But no matter. Charles knows his stuff, and I’m greatly pleased that he liked what he read from me. Check out Bookishness, his brilliant blog.

So there they are — eight testimonials that I hope will persuade you to give The Summer Son a try. But even better: I just gave you at least a dozen good reading recommendations. Check these authors out. You won’t be sorry.


Carol’s follow-up to the Spur Award-winning God’s Thunderbolt was just released by Missouri Breaks Press, my small (very small) literary press.

Carol was kind enough to field some questions about Gold Under Ice and the continuing adventures of Dan Stark:

Q: Your first novel, God’s Thunderbolt, was an unqualified success, winning a Spur Award and a raft of devoted readers. What did you learn from the experience of writing, publishing and marketing that book, and how did you apply those lessons to Gold Under Ice?

A: In the course of writing God’s Thunderbolt, I found my voice, that nebulous thing new writers are counseled to search for. It can’t be put on like a pair of socks because it comes from inside someplace, and I certainly can’t define it. It’s just how you write that’s different from how another author writes, like Faulkner and Hemingway. In publishing and marketing it, I learned about finding the niche market, which means to define your audience. I was taught that in 8th-grade English class. I write for Montanans, those who live here and those who don’t, and for those who are Montanan in spirit. Those who think “cowboy” is good. Former Governor Blagojevich said, “I’m not some cowboy….” And he’s right. He couldn’t qualify.

Having defined my niche market and found my voice, I just kept on. Regarding publishing, one thing changed. You asked if Gold Under Ice could be the inaugural book for Missouri Breaks Press, and I was honored. I don’t feel as if I’m writing in an empty room now.

Q: What awaits readers who dive into Gold Under Ice? What is Dan Stark up to in the second book?

Gold Under Ice is far more wide-ranging than was God’s Thunderbolt. Half the novel is set in Virginia City, and half in New York City. The tying thread is gold, Montana gold that Dan Stark brings to New York to pay the debt his father left. He doesn’t have enough gold, so he decides to repay the debt in greenbacks, the currency that the Lincoln administration printed to pay the Union Armies and buy supplies. That leads to trouble because speculation was considered disloyal, if not downright treasonous. Dan’s autocratic grandfather is beside himself about it, because he thinks paying debts with paper is dishonorable.

Q: The book, in part, explores an aspect of the Civil War years that isn’t necessarily covered in depth in history textbooks (disclaimer: I was educated in Texas public schools, which seem to be dismissing Thomas Jefferson, so what do I know?). What was the role of money in the conflict, and how does that entangle Dan Stark?

The role of money, either gold or greenbacks, isn’t well studied and it certainly doesn’t find its way into history textbooks much. When I began to research Gold I discovered a lot I didn’t know about money during the Civil War. It’s a fascinating subject, and I had to fight to keep from writing nonfiction. For the first time, the federal government printed money, the greenback, because there was not enough gold to pay for everything. Gold reserves began to run out, so at the end of December 1861, the banks closed. They refused to honor demands because they hadn’t enough gold to meet them. The first Legal Tender Act was the nation’s first declaration that paper money would be accepted in payment of debts already incurred. Congress passed two more acts, each time allowing for the printing of more paper.

Then, of course, many saw a speculative opportunity and began to trade in gold against the greenback. Fortunes were made and lost on the Gold Exchange, which was barred from the Stock Exchange because the directors thought it was treason to trade in gold. As gold rose, the greenback lost value, and the greenback was the Union’s money. Therefore, to cause the greenback to lose value was to be disloyal. That’s a conflict within Dan, who is a radical abolitionist and supporter of President Lincoln.

Q: Where can readers get a copy?

On, from Montana Borders stores, Hastings stores, and from independent booksellers. Also from your website and mine: and

Q: Your intricately, lovingly written historical fiction requires a good deal of research. What were some of the challenges in writing Gold Under Ice?

The math! Luckily Dick, my husband, is a math whiz who built a spreadsheet that let me enter the amount of raw gold, the purity, the premium (the current price of gold in the Gold Room), and come up with the current value of gold and the greenback. At one point (in the 1970s) I held a NASD securities license, so I’d had some (very rusty) background. Besides, a good friend who is a financial analyst read the whole book, especially the trading scenes, and corrected some things. And Google Books, with its marvelous scanning, enabled me to located books on economics and banking written in the late 1860s and the 1870s and a couple of contemporary accounts of gold trading and what it was like in the Gold Room.

Q: I was struck by some of the universal themes in Gold Under Ice — the tension between responsibilities to family and the desire to make one’s own way in life, yearning, conflict. From your perspective as the author, what’s the overarching theme of the book?

I don’t know. Theme, I believe, comes out of story, and I truly never gave a thought to theme as I wrote either book.

Q: Start to finish, how long did it take you to write Gold Under Ice?

I wrote a truly awful first draft for NaNoWriMo in November 2007, threw 95% of it away, and let it sit while I marketed and then self-published God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. In 2008 I went back to Gold, so I guess the really intense work took 18 months – two years.

Q: Can you describe your work process? Are you an aggressive plotter and outliner, or do you let the story carry you along as you write it?

I use sticky notes on a long piece of butcher paper to plug in scene ideas and move them around. When I know what order the scenes fall in, I begin a scene outline in a Word table. I always know how the book starts, what happens, and how it’ll end before I write. Then come the intervening scenes, the ones that get us there, in a detailed scene outline. But as I write, things change. My understanding of each scene deepens, and I understand larger implications, see new aspects of characterization, let the characters direct more. I write in scenes, not chapters, and people said about God’s Thunderbolt that reading it was like watching a movie. I see the scenes and events as if I were watching a movie, and I write them down. In draft after draft after draft after….

Q: What sort of pleasure reading do you engage in?

I can’t relate to some genres (sci/fi, horror, fantasy, paranormal, zombie stuff), so my reading is mostly limited to very well written thrillers (James Lee Burke), mysteries (John Dunning, Craig Johnson), and literary novels (E. L. Doctorow, Kim Edwards), and some western fiction whose writing is outstanding (Howard Cobb). And poetry. I love Jane Kenyon, Shakespeare (of course), Billy Collins, John Donne, T. S. Eliot, and Mona Van Duyne. (I might also mention a great new Montana author named Craig Lancaster, whose 600 Hours of Edward is one of my favorites.)

Q: For an author, it’s a dance between the current book and the next book. We’ve heard about the current book. What’s next?

Gold III (working title) set in Virginia City, again with Dan Stark as the protagonist, amid the beginnings of a judicial system at odds with the Vigilantes.

Gold Under Ice, Carol Buchanan’s follow-up to her Spur Award-winning debut, God’s Thunderbolt, is now available on In a state brimming with literary talent, Carol is one of the most graceful writers we have. Her debut gave readers a fascinating piece of fiction set during Montana’s Vigilante period and a new hero in Dan Stark. Dan is back again, this time facing trouble back home in New York.

Carol announces the book’s arrival here.

From the back cover:

Money. Greenbacks vs. gold. The Lincoln administration prints greenbacks to pay the Union armies, and in the Gold Room off Wall Street traders pit the greenback against the gold Double Eagle. By January 1864, the greenback loses nearly half its value. An angry President Lincoln wishes gold traders – traitors all – were “shot in the head.”

Far to the west, in Alder Gulch, Montana Territory, millions in gold lie under the ice of Alder Creek. Gold-seekers pray for spring. When the ice breaks, Daniel Stark rescues a man hurled into the frigid water, only to learn that his autocratic grandfather sent the man to bring him back with gold to pay his family’s debt.

But Dan does not have enough gold to rescue the family from their financial burden. If he joins the gold traders, he could make enough to pay the debt and secure his family’s future. Or lose everything and be branded a traitor to the Union.

On a related note, I’m pleased to be able to announce that my new venture, Missouri Breaks Press, is the publisher for Gold Under Ice. Carol’s lovely book is the imprint’s first title, and I couldn’t be more proud. I launched this boutique publishing house because I wanted an outlet to work with projects and people that interest me. Carol qualifies on both counts. We both know all too well how perilous and uncertain publishing is right now, and we both know there’s never been a better time to swim through the currents of indie publishing.

Make no mistake: This is Carol’s book. I say that not to distance myself from the project but rather to ensure that I don’t take any undue credit for it. She pushed God’s Thunderbolt to its position as a regional and national success, and she’ll do the same for Gold Under Ice. I’m providing some editorial support and some cheerleading, and together we’ll see what that amounts to. I can’t think of a book I’d rather see as the initial Missouri Breaks release.

My blog book tour wraps up today at novelist Carol Buchanan’s site. There, I tell about how I built the protagonist of my novel, Edward Stanton.

Finishing up with Carol, who wrote the beautiful God’s Thunderbolt, is fitting. She’s become one of the best friends I’ve met in this publishing journey, a fellow Montanan and a monumental talent. I give her my thanks for hosting me.

If you cruise over and drop in a comment, you’ll be in the mix for a signed copy of 600 Hours of Edward. Don’t miss out!

If you’d like to check out my previous blog stops, just click the links below:

Day 1: NaNoWriMo and the birth of 600 Hours.

Day 2: Misadventures in self-publishing.

Day 3: Landing a publishing deal.

Day 4: On writing a character with mental illness.

Day 5: Q&A with Jim Thomsen.

Day 6: Writing the West into a story.

It was all great fun, and I met some wonderful people. I’m looking forward to a fresh round of experiences with Book No. 2. Thanks for riding along.

I’m afraid this will be a rather meager moving of the chains. Much is going on, but none of it is particularly earth-rattling. I’m trying to create a temblor with a thousand tiny leaps.

Some notable things:

  • I continue to line up events related to the launch of 600 Hours of Edward. The latest: I’ll be at Borders Books in Billings on Saturday, Nov. 7, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to sign copies of the novel. This will be the first week of the book’s release, so come on out and get a copy.
  • I’ve finished the writing of blog posts for my virtual book tour, which begins on October 28th (a week from tomorrow) at Blood-Red Pencil. Here’s the complete list of blog spots: A signed copy of 600 Hours will be given away every day of the tour, so get in there and mix it up with me in the comments sections of the host blogs.
  • Kudos department: I finally finished reading Carol Buchanan’s lovely debut novel, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. My delay in reading it had nothing to do with the book, which is excellent from cover to cover, and everything to do with my own crazy schedule. Carol won a Spur Award for this book, and it’s easy to see why: She has the era, the characters and the dramatic arc locked cold. It’s just a wonderful piece of writing, and fans of fine literature would do well to add it to their to-read list.

More soon. I promise.

When I answered a friend’s question — how do you do it? — by blog post, Carol Buchanan asked if I would like a guest to weigh in on the question.

You bet your sweet bippy I would. (I know not what a bippy is, or whether it is, in fact, sweet. But I do like the phrase.)

So here, then, is the 2009 Spur Award winner for best debut novel (God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana), with her own answer to how a writer gets started — and, just as important, how she finishes.


By Carol Buchanan

Carol Buchanan

Carol Buchanan

Beginnings and endings. Simple, I thought. Oh, yeah? The more I’ve thought about it, the more complex it becomes – the disadvantage of too much thinking, I suppose. For some novelists, a story begins in the mists of their subconscious, or as Carl Jung might say, in the collective unconscious of our shared experience of what it means to be human.

Rest easy. I won’t go back that far. The simple answer is that it begins at the beginning of the story, but sometimes a writer isn’t exactly sure where that might be. A few days ago, I lopped off the first 12,000+ words of the new novel, Gold Under Ice. It really begins with the third scene. Maybe. As I’m in the first draft, Gold hasn’t finished telling me all it wants to say about itself.

God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana began as a shiver up the spine when I stood in the Hangman’s Building in Virginia City, Montana, and heard the dry creak of ropes over the beam where the Vigilantes hanged five men all together. Nearly 50 years later, I quit writing nonfiction and turned full time to fiction. So began the research and then the writing of God’s Thunderbolt.

During the mid-sixties I finished a draft which is truly abysmal. Sometime in the 1980s I did another draft that’s only slightly less awful. Now, at last, there is the award-winning novel which begins with a saloonkeeper driving a wagon with a corpse in it. He hopes he can find someone who knows who the “poor bastard” was.

Eventually, the corpse is identified, and the story swings into the main action, and the saloonkeeper, having served his purpose, fades out of the novel.

Recently I read a blog on “What Agents Hate.” Among the items listed was any beginning that didn’t have the main character in the midst of the story. However, I also read another blog titled, “There Are No Rules.” In God’s Thunderbolt, the protagonist, Dan Stark, does not appear until the third scene, when the corpse is identified and people’s anger begins to build over one more murder.  I began the novel with the wagon bringing in the body because it’s important for people to understand the setting of that part of Montana. The setting functions almost as a character. How the mountains lie, how narrow Alder Gulch is, where the various stage stops were, how Alder Creek flows into the Stinking Water River (renamed the Ruby River) – all matter to the story. Nowhere did I want to stop the story to explain where the characters were or much about the terrain unless it was germane to that scene. The cold comes in frequently, because everything takes place during a Montana winter, which can still be pretty challenging even with electricity and cars and cell phones to summon help when stranded on a back road. In 1863-1864, all Montana roads were back roads. Or trails.

The ropes’ creaking that I heard all those years ago stayed in my mind. I see the beam as I saw it then, and I remember how dry is the sound of rope across wood, especially weighted with men’s bodies. But when I came to write about those executions, they came at the end of the novel.

cover-spur-350To begin with the executions would have taken away much of the suspense and put most of the story in flashbacks. The trouble with flashbacks is that they loop the story from now to back then to then from now, or more plainly, present-past-future.  I like to write a story from front to back, as we live our lives. Because we all have backstory, which is that part of a story that occurs before the story proper begins, the characters’ memories explain some things about the novel, but just as memory flashes into our own minds, I’ve tried to make it flash into the characters’ minds. Memory carries backstory both to illuminate and to motivate the present.

In writing God’s Thunderbolt, I wrote a novel that many people have already read, in a sense. It is based on Montana’s early history, and in most school districts here, Montana history is taught in eighth grade. Because I don’t believe in twisting history, I faced the fact that the story is well known. Thousands of people have seen or been in the Hangman’s Building. Historically, hanging the five men did not end the Vigilantes’ hunt for the other members of the gang. They hanged 22 men by the end of February 1864.

All through the writing, I asked myself: Where to end the book?

In answering that question, I had to face the knowledge my audience has about the Vigilante story. They know how it ended, historically speaking. If I had not stopped the historical main plot where I did, it could have had a very different (and less satisfying) ending that dribbled on from hanging to hanging. In another book, that could be dramatic, considering that the actual Vigilantes rode horseback more then 300 miles in January–February 1864. Snow on the ground was measured in feet, not inches, and freezing temperatures during the day dropped below zero at night. Some of them did not escape snowblindness or frostbite.  

A novel, however, is not history. It’s an art form, with a beginning, a middle, and an end, so I could not end it as I would had I been writing history. The subplot rescued the ending. The main plot is historical with a few fictional characters, but the subplot is entirely fictional, without historical characters. Being fictional, and set against a historical main plot, the subplot could end however it needed to. As a result, when the main plot ends, the subplot is still to be resolved. With its resolution, the novel ends.  

It’s the fashion these days to end stories and novels on a downer, but after so much killing, God’s Thunderbolt needed to end somehow on a brighter note. Granted, the bad guys got their comeuppance, which is a happy ending of sorts, except that Dan Stark, the protagonist, isn’t the type to take killing lightly, either when someone else kills or when he does. So the subplot ending lightens things up for the reader.

Maybe it’s somewhat unusual for a novelist to be so aware of the audience when writing a novel, but I believe a novel is a shared experience between writer and reader. I aim to give readers the best experience I can.

So far, so good.

head-cb-spur2If you’re a writer intent on independent publishing, you would have hard time finding a better model than Carol Buchanan. The Montana-based writer’s debut novel, God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana, scored a major coup this year by being selected for a Spur Award by the Western Writers of America.

A better-late-than-never success story, Buchanan is hard at work on the follow-up novel, Gold Under Ice.

Q: Your debut novel, God’s Thunderbolt, came well into your career as a writer and a student of literature. What was the breakthrough, if any?

I quit writing nonfiction for a living. It paid well, but I had had the story of the Vigilantes in mind for fifty years and decided now was the time to write it if I were ever to do it. The genesis of the novel came during a family vacation to Virginia City (MT)  just before I started the eighth grade. After supper I walked up to the Hangman’s Building, where the Vigilantes hanged five outlaws at once, and went inside. I stood looking at the beam and heard the ropes creak. Remembering that still raises goose bumps for me.
Learning to write fiction after so many years of writing nonfiction (journalism, scholarly writing, and technical writing – airplane and software manuals) was not easy. The first step to becoming a fiction writer was to read my old stories and realize how bad they were. The second step was to find out why they were so awful. (Trust me. They were truly bad.) That took a year or so, while I was researching God’s Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana. I had to track down a reliable person who would level with me without being afraid of hurting my feelings. I didn’t care if my feelings were hurt; I just wanted to be as good a writer as I could be, and I sensed that I could write better.
I took a couple of online classes, and learned a great deal from both of them, and I took classes locally. And I read everything I could find on the art of writing fiction.
 The breakthrough came as I was writing the second draft of God’s Thunderbolt. (Second draft or 22nd – they all blend together.) I was priming the pump one morning, doing one of the writing exercises in Brian Kiteley’s wonderful book, The 3 a.m. Epiphany, and it hit me how much fiction is like poetry. Suddenly the idea of “distilled narrative” came into my mind, because I had been reading the poems of Jane Kenyon and Billy Collins, and some of my long-time favorites such as Shakespeare’s Sonnets, and the poems of John Donne. And of course, William Wordsworth. I did my dissertation on Wordsworth, and my book Wordsworth’s Gardens was a top ten finalist in the Washington State Book Awards. Each scene in a novel is, for me, like an image in a poem that builds toward a complete whole. (I’m saving the details for an essay in my blog.) At that moment I became a writer of fiction instead of nonfiction.
Q: God’s Thunderbolt is a meticulously researched and written novel of historical fiction. Walk us through the process. How long did it take, start to finish?

cover-spur-350On that same vacation trip I bought Thomas J. Dimsdale’s The Vigilantes of Montana, a nearly eyewitness account of the events during the winter of 1863-1864, and read it. Then I joined the Montana Historical Society in high school and bought all the back copies of Montana: The Magazine of Western History that had any articles about the Vigilantes. By the time I actually had the time to write GT (starting in 2001), the revisionist historians were turning their story inside out. I began by wondering if there were any truth to the revisionists’ allegations that the wrong people were hanged and the actual criminals were the Vigilantes, but as I dug further into contemporary accounts and read as many of the eyewitness accounts as I could find, I realized that the revisionists are just plain wrong. More than that, they falsified the evidence to support their claims. They cherry-picked what would support their theory and ignored what wouldn’t. They never mention Conrad Kohrs’s account of a run-in with Henry Plummer. Nor do they acknowledge facts of early Western mining such as the sovereignty of each mining district. Their research is incredibly sloppy—at best. 
For a year or two I wavered between writing history and writing historical fiction. I decided to write historical fiction because when you write history, you can’t write about how it felt to live in a place without law* and with access to wealth beyond belief. I read an estimate that between May 1963 when the Alder Gulch placer deposits were discovered and 1866, when they played out, more than $20,000,000 in gold was taken out of Alder Creek. This at a time when hazard pay was $3.00 a day for hardrock miners, and a cowboy made $30 a month and found. (Meaning board and room was included.)
Besides, to write history I’d have to mess with all those footnotes and their proper forms and the bibliographical forms, where the commas are, and the semicolons, and do the pub dates come before or after the issue numbers. Scholarly writing is enough to make a person crazy. Me, at least. J I wanted to get it right without the nitpicking formats. (I had enough of that in graduate school, both in my MA thesis and my PhD dissertation.) I put the bibliography for God’s Thunderbolt on my Web site (
If I had written a history, I would not have been able to imagine how it felt to be a Vigilante, how it felt to put the noose around the neck of another human being, someone you knew. I would not have been able to imagine how it felt to be a woman, a mother with children, in that place, at that time.
And after I decided to write historical fiction, and nail it as close to the history as I could, along came the definitive history of the entire Vigilante era (not just the beginnings of it as I have written of). Frederick Allen’s A Decent, Orderly Lynching came out just as I began the first draft of the novel. It was tremendous help to me because he had found things I hadn’t and he included an exhaustive bibliography and notes. And he told the truth without blinking or apologizing for it. A very fine book. I’m glad I didn’t have to compete with it.
All in all the research took five years and the writing took two years, but they overlapped quite a bit.
* When I say without law, I mean that literally. Montana had not been split off from Idaho Territory then, and  Congress had forgotten to attach the U. S.  Constitution to the Territory when they created it, so there was no governing body of law. The Idaho legislature did not meet to rectify Congress’s mistake until January 1864, and Lewiston, then the capital of Idaho Territory, is some 500 miles west of Alder Gulch, over the Bitterroots, mountains so rugged that no highways yet go through there. Communication went from poor to rotten to nil in our winters.  There weren’t even any federal mining laws until 1866. The only laws the miners had were the ones they made themselves. And the Ten Commandments, of course.
Q: You’re one of the indie publishing success stories, someone who pushed her own book into print to much acclaim, winning the Spur Award for best debut novel. What led you to the indie path?

Sheer impatience. Probably a factor of my age. I don’t have time left, literally, to wait years for agents and editors to get around to responding. Or to bring it to the public. A book can take two years to go through the traditional publishing process.  I tried that route, but after the book sat on people’s desks for six months – when they had asked to see it – I said, “Nuts. I don’t have time.” (Then again, though, maybe I will have time. My mother lived past 106.)
Another factor is that the book gets classified as a “Western.” And Westerns have been (a) declining in popularity, and (b) ignored by agents and publishers alike. They aren’t even listed in many lists of genres. It seems that if historical fiction is written with a setting east of the Mississippi it’s “historical fiction.” If it’s set west of the big river, it’s a “Western.” There are signs that the popularity of Westerns is rising; I don’t think a major writer like Robert B. Parker would bother writing Westerns if he didn’t think it worth his while to do so. Nor do I think his publisher would publish them, but then again, Mr. Parker probably has enormous clout with his publisher.
However, God’s Thunderbolt is not a Western. It does not end with two men or two groups of men shooting it out with pistols. One reviewer called it a “literary Western,” and I like that label. (Sorry, I digressed.)
 I researched self-publishing options for 4 months and about the time I realized I was wasting time with agents and publishers, I decided to sign with BookSurge. My account rep, Whitney Parks, was very good about answering all my questions forthrightly and honestly. She was a major factor in my deciding to go with them. I also checked them out with Better Business Bureau, and found no outstanding disputes. In business, disagreements are bound to arise, and part of the measure of a company is how the company deals with them. (Like Tylenol. Trust in that company rose because of their handling of the product tampering.) Whitney still is available to answer my questions.
Q: What is your writing process like? What sort of environment do you need?

Quiet. I early adopted Virginia Woolf’s saying, that in order to write a woman needs “a room of her own and 500 pounds a year.” When Dick and I married, I told him I was a writer and needed a room in the house to write. I’ve had my own writing room everywhere we’ve lived, with one brief exception, and we don’t live there any more. I don’t like writing fiction in short bits of time, but a person does what they have to do. The secret of making use of small time spaces is discipline. Another secret is to believe in the subconscious, though I do check in with mine throughout the day when I have to leave a scene unfinished or am about to start another one.
Q: You’re an active reviewer of others’ works, particularly those who have published independently. What mistakes do you commonly see in self-published books? 

Oh my. Most of the mistakes I see appear to stem from the writer’s belief that because “I” wrote it, it must be wonderful. Not so. The horrid truth is that we can pour our hearts into a piece of writing and have it turn out to be junk. Writing fiction, especially, is so incredibly scary it’s a surprise that anyone does it, when you think of it like that.
Mistakes I see are these (not an exhaustive list, by any means):

  • Poorly developed characters, especially historical characters who are merely modern people dressed funny.
  • Impossible coincidences in the plot.
  • Careless research for historical fiction.
  • Sloppy editing that misses homonyms. No spell checker will catch those. (Grizzly remains rather than grisly remains.)
  • Generally poor writing.

I think people believe that anyone can write, because we’re all taught in school how to put one word after another, and besides, we speak English, don’t we? But writing well takes so darn much work that I wonder anyone wants to do it. It’s like music in a way. I took years of piano lessons, got to be pretty good, but I could never be a concert-level pianist. I just didn’t have whatever it takes. And no way could I compose music. I don’t hear music like I hear words, or see people in my imagination. (Sometimes, writing a scene is writing what I see and hear.)
We owe it to our readers to write the best we can. When people buy God’s Thunderbolt or Gold Under Ice (next year), I want them to have the best work I can do because they are investing their time and their money in my work. I don’t want them to waste either. Some people haven’t liked the book because they are offended by the swearing in it, but those were rough men and I called it as I saw it. I can’t help if someone has a problem with something in it, like a sex scene. (More about that later.) If I know I did my best work, got the history right, and wrote it well, I can live with criticism. I owe everything, all the success God’s Thunderbolt enjoys, to the readers who bought it, read it, loved it, and told their friends. And that includes the judges of the Spur Awards.
Sex scenes are boring to read about. I don’t like to write them as a technical manual: “Put this here. Put that there. Press this.” These days, nearly everyone who’s old enough to read my book knows how that’s done. I write sex scenes as metaphors for how the people feel about each other. 
Q: You’re in the midst of writing a sequel to your novel, called Gold Under Ice. Are you intent on independently publishing again, or has your success prompted overtures from larger publishers?

I’ve had no overtures from larger publishers. Except that I signed a contract with Books In Motion for it to be made into an unabridged audio book, I remain firmly obscure. 😉 My three nonfiction books were published by reputable publishers, but I’d have to take a good look at what a regular publisher could offer. “Show me the money,” in other words.
Q: What’s on your nightstand? What sort of works do you read for pleasure?

Thrillers: Craig Johnson,  James Lee Burke. Mysteries: Tony Hillerman, Margaret Frazer, Ellis Peters. Michael Connelly (Does he write thrillers or mysteries?) Robert B Parker’s Westerns. (I also enjoy his minimalist style.) Literature: E. L. Doctorow: The March. Kim Edwards: The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. Louise Erdreich: The Painted Drum. Jane Kenyon’s Poems, Shakespeare’s plays (currently Henry VI) and Sonnets. The King James Bible above all. I love the music of the English language, and its richness.
Q: What’s a question you would ask of other independent authors trying to make a go of it?

Why are you doing this?


God’s Thunderbolt, printed book

God’s Thunderbolt, Kindle edition

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