Friday, June 27, 2014

Stay Tuned.....

I have been on vacation for the better part of three weeks. No writing or blogging, only sight-seeing and picture-taking. I lost 200-400 images from my camera, but between my camera and cell phone I still saved 1,800 plus images to my computer. Not all are high quality, but enough are that I should have blog material for months to come.
Locomotive in from the Ogden, Utah, Union Station
Ogden Union Station today

Old Caboose in front of Ogden Union Station


What I did do this week is update my website and my blogs as far as format goes. I may come up with something better, but the train I added to the banner was taken on our trip.  It was in front of the Union Station and museum in Ogden, Utah.

My website I updated can be found at

     www.robynechols.com
Inside the Ogden Union Station
 Here are some other images from that station. I love the interior.

Why Ogden?  Ogden is the closest sizable city to the Golden Spike location at Promontory Summit, Utah, where the First Transcontinental Railroad was joined in 1869. Since one of my great-grandfathers, Edwin Brown, was hired to work for the Union Pacific Railroad once it reached Utah, I have been interested in this event in history for some time. He was present at the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Mural depicting the building of the Central Pacific Railroad

Mural depicting the building of the Union Pacific Railroad

The first train station in Odgen

Sunday, June 1, 2014

New Nom de Plume

I have taken the big plunge -- or plume, as the case may be. I have decided to write my historical novels using the pen name of

Zina Abbott

For more details on my decision, read my post on my Zina Abbott blog:
http://zinaabbottbooks.blogspot.com/2014/06/new-nom-de-plume-zina-abbott.html

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Cowboy Conversation and Clothing

 It was almost like Christmas the other day when I received four packages in the mail. Even though the Postal Service regards them as flats, not parcels, I'm sure my rural carrier would have loved to have seen these show up during the mail count.

I recently ordered four books for research. One is Cowboy Slang. The other book on western speech patterns, Cowboy Lingo, I received a day or two before these three. I have the book about life in the 1800s, but these books focus on the West. Of the two, I prefer Cowboy Slang. It is organized in a manner that pleases my brain more.

The other book is titled I See by Your Outfit. It shows photos of working cowboys from the 1870s up through about the 1920s. I gleaned a few interesting facts from this book:

1. Back when most stirrups were thick and still made of wood, cowboys wore regular work boots or shoes. The development of the two inch high cowboy heel on what we today recognize as cowboy boots did not come about until around around the mid-1870s. Stirrups became narrower and the higher heel was needed to prevent the cowboys' foot from slipping.

2. The pants of choice for years were made out of wool. Although the farmers and miners liked canvas and denim pants, it took a long time for those fabrics to catch on with cowboys. As for overalls--very few cowboys wore them. They were considered farmer garb. Only when  the cowboys were desperate for new pants and the only thing available at the mercantile was overalls did most cowboys buy them.

3. Many cowboys preferred to wear Army clothing that they bought as surplus from the Army or off of a soldier who needed the money. They believed Army clothing held up better than most of the commercial clothing available. So, for those guys who think buying from an Army-Navy surplus store is a new thing....

This little jewel, How the West Was Worn, I did not order through the mail. I think I picked it up from a bookstore on one of my forays to either Yosemite National Park or Mariposa. It has a lot of good photos and descriptions of clothing worn by men, women and children living in the West.

Oh, and F.Y.I.--I tidbit I picked up from my internet research: most early cowboys, railroad workers and westerners preferred a narrower-brimmed hat. Hats with a wide brim got caught by the wind and blew off their heads too easily. Although a lot of men wore the slouch hats that were popular during the Civil War (Many military units wore slouch hats instead of forage caps.), what was called the bowler in Britain and the derby in the United States was a very popular hat in the West.

The Stetson "Boss of the Plains" first became available in 1870. It did become quite popular in the next few decades and was offered in the mail order catalogs. Since most cowboy photos I've seen are from the 1880s and later, this style of hat shows up in them quite often. But, look at your photos of westerners taken in the earlier decades, and you will see hats with narrower brims.

A Short History of Reconstruction I ordered for research for another novel set post-Civil War, but not necessarily in the west. As for the splash of blue in my top photo, that was some fabric I ordered for a nautical youth quilt. No relation to the topic of this blog post.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Serendipity- The Indiana and Kansas Connection


I am partial to making connections that help make my novels believable if not exactly historically correct. Serendipity connections, such as the one I experienced when writing Aurora Redress (See my post under my Aurora Rescue blog: http://aurorarescue.blogspot.com/2010/02/i-love-it-when-things-come-together.html) add joy to my writing experience.

Yes, in Abilene Gamble I could manufacture a connection out of blue sky to explain the hatred Harry Bradford has for Wilfred Osprey. I probably could be like many writers who give no background at all, but just say, okay, here's my villain. However, I like to make believable historical connections when I can.

I placed Harry Bradford in the 10th Indiana Cavalry. Wilfred Osprey served in the 13th Indiana Cavalry. Those two regiments formed about the same time around December of 1863 and on occasion served in the same general region. What is so special about that?

The 13th Indiana Cavalry was partially made up of 84 former members of the Independent Scouts Indiana Company. I find it interesting that this regiment was formed not in Indiana, but in Leavenworth, Kansas. The mission of the Independent Scouts: "assisted the provost marshal in arresting deserters, enforcing the draft, and guarding river border against invasions from enemy cavalry and guerrillas." I don't know what that says to you, but it screams GUERRILLA FIGHTERS to me.

That is connection number one.


Then my good friend and fellow genealogist, Joe Powell, who has a family connection to William Quantrill, the infamous Missouri guerrilla fighter, loaned me a couple of books. The book to the left was published in 1959, long before the internet. It contains many interesting accounts of not only Bill Quantrill, but of other bushwhackers, Jayhawkers, Union and Confederate soldiers and generals including a Union general named James Henry Lane.

This photo of General Lane was taken from the book, Quantrill and his civil war guerillas written by Carl W. Breihan. Before the Civil War, James Lane was a leader of the Jayhawkers, a Kansas guerrilla group that fought against Missourians striving to bring Kansas into the Union as a slave state.   



During the Civil War, Lane raised the Kansas Brigade, also known as a strong brigade of Jayhawkers, made up of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Kansas Volunteers. His brigade fought to return Missouri to the Union. He is known for the sacking of Osceola in 1862. Nine men were killed and the town pillaged, looted and then burned. Criticism about how he handled this military action eventually led to him being discharged from the Union Army.

It was in retaliation to this incident that Quantrill's guerrillas attacked the city of Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863 killing 164 men and destroying the city. One of the goals of the guerrillas was to find and kill James Lane who was in residence there at the time. Lane managed to flee and hide in a nearby cornfield.

What is connection number 2? 

James Henry Lane was born in Lawrenceburg, Indiana in 1814, He studied law under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1840. He served as a U.S. Congressman from Indiana from 1853-55, after which he moved to Kansas to become involved with the leadership of the Jayhawkers which was part of the Free-Soil movement.

Would it be any wonder that Wilfred Osprey, son of a poor, abusive, alcoholic part-time dock worker in Lawrenceburg, Indiana (Lawrenceburg was a port along the Ohio River) escaped his family circumstances by following a local hero to Kansas where his tendency for lawless violence was encouraged among the Jayhawkers serving under Lane? Isn't it reasonable that he fought under Lane in the Civil War until the general was discredited? Needing a place to go to continue his proclivities for violence, what better opportunity for the Indiana native might there have been than to join another unit from his home state being formed in Leavenworth, Kansas, a unit where his history was not known and where he might be welcomed to continue the kind of fighting he relished against those he had for years viewed as his enemies?

Did I need to put together this kind of background for this character? No. Much of it came about because of serendipity while doing basic historical research, not because I spent a lot of time searching specifically for a plausible explanation. But, I like the depth created in my novel when I can make these connections to explain why this particular villain became the man he was who commited the crimes he did.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Explosion of the S.S. Sultana - From Back Story to Prologue

For Abilene Gamble, I have often planned a certain scene. In anticipation, I spent quite a bit of time researching the explosion on the S.S. Sultana that took place on 27 April 1865.
S.S. Sultana on April 26, 1865

This steamboat was built in 1863 for the lower Mississippi River cotton trade. During the American Civil War, it was often commissioned by the Union Army to carry troops.

Toward the end of the war, the problem of how to feed and guard prisoners of war became desperate. In particular, the Confederacy was having a difficult time finding enough food for its own soldiers. It did not have enough to feed its Union prisoners of war in all the many prison camps. Because of this, talks had started in March regarding releasing prisoners of war and sending them home to be paroled on the condition that they would no longer fight in the war.

Artist rendition of the Cahaba Prison Camp
Much as been written about  Andersonville and the great suffering in this prison. Some paroled survivors from Andersonville were on the Sultana. Most of the soldiers on that boat at the time of the explosion were from Ohio.

For Abilene Gamble, I placed one of my main characters, Harry Bradford, in Alabama's Cahaba prisoner of war camp which opened in 1863. Several soldiers from Indiana regiments ended up in that camp. Some of those who survived the prison camp were sent home on the Sultana.

Once the soldiers arrived in Vicksburg, Mississippi, the Union Army prepared to send them up the river by steamboat. For many men suffering from disease and malnutrition, the excitement of finally going home prompted them to quickly board the Sultana. Officers packed as many soldiers on the boat as possible, planning to account for the men who boarded once the boat started upriver. There were approximately 2,400 people, mostly paroled Union soldiers, crammed into a steamboat designed to carry 376 passengers.
Sultana on fire from Harper's Weekly

In the days prior to the explosion, the Sultana had been experiencing problems with leaking boilers. Twice efforts were made to provide quick, stop-gap repairs in order to keep the steamboat going so it could meet the demands of the Army.

At approximately 2:00a.m. on 27 April 1865, the top-heavy weight of the boat coupled with the swift spring run-off of the river proved too much for the poorly repaired boilers. Three of the four boilers exploded, blowing much of the structure apart and catching the rest of the boat on fire.

Some passengers were killed instantly. Some were blown into the freezing water where they either drowned quickly, or were overcome by hypothermia and then drowned. Only a relative few were fortunate and found something on which to hold that kept them afloat in the darkness long enough for the few rescue ships that arrived within hours of the explosion to pull them out of the water. Some ended up in trees along the banks. Some were crushed by the collapsing decks and, if not killed immediately, burned to death by the spreading fire.

Many of the survivors, including some with horrible burns, were taken to Memphis, Tennessee. Citizens there rallied to help them the best they could, even though these Union soldiers had recently been their enemies.

It is estimated that between 800 to 900 people survived. An estimated death toll of approximately 1,700 makes the explosion of the S.S. Sultana the biggest maritime disaster in United States history, bigger even than the sinking of the Titanic.

However, this event did not get much attention in the press at the time. General Robert E. Lee had surrendered on April 9th, General Joseph E. Johnston had surrendered the day before the disaster and President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated thirteen days before. The country was tired of hearing about the horrors of war.

Living through bloody battles, only to spend months fighting starvation and disease in a prison camp and then suffering through a disaster like this explosion is the stuff of which post traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, and scars--visible and not visible--are made. Abilene Gamble is set in 1871, but I planned to add these experiences of my hero, Harry Bradford, as part of the back story/flashback so the readers do not think his life began as a whole, fully-developed adult person in 1871. I have not reached the point in the story where it was time for me to write this as back story.

This morning I awoke with the impression that I should use this scene as a prologue instead of back story later in the book. Not to worry--there will be other back story in this novel. But, too much back story in a novel is, well, too much. So, between my other obligations today, I started writing my Sultana scene.

The jury is still out on whether or not I will keep this as the prologue or go  back to "Plan A." But, in the past I have found it beneficial to pay attention to impressions I receive as I first wake up. Therefore, I am not writing any more chapters until I complete what I have to tell about Harry and his experience with the S.S. Sultana explosion.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Abilene Gamble

I finally finished a novel completely outside of the historical western romance genre, so now...I'M BACK!

My novels that will follow the Union Pacific Railroad will just have to wait awhile.

I started another novel set in Abilene, Kansas in 1871. The working title began as A Question of Consent, then changed to Abilene Connection before it evolved into Abilene Gamble.

The Chisholm Trail, which started across the river north of Texas and ran through Indian Territory, met up with the Kansas Pacific Railway in Abilene. From there, the railroad transported the longhorn cattle from Mexico that had multiplied unhindered in Texas during the Civil War to the beef-starved states in the North and Midwest.

The KP, as the line was known, was the railroad that brought Harry Bradford, fresh from Indiana Law in Bloomington, to the adventure and escape to be found in the West.

It was also the railroad that brought Stella from Indianapolis, who, following the few clues in her possession, searched for her brother in order to bring him home.


I am up to Chapter 5, but woke up this morning with the "hook" running through my mind. For you non-writer readers out there, that is the blurb on the back or on the flyleaf of a print book, or the description you find online at your favorite digital booksellers. It may be modified before all is said and done, but this is what I have so far:

"Harry Bradford is a lawyer and sometimes detective. Some call him a bounty hunter. With half of his face torn to pieces toward the end of the Civil War, people turn away from him in aversion. He fled his native Indiana, hoping to find among the drovers, stock yards, railroads, homesteaders and trouble-making drifters pouring into Abilene, Kansas during the hey-day of the Chisholm Trail cattle drives enough work to provide a reason to keep living.

"Stella Schoenfeld, raised in the well-to-do merchant class of Indianapolis, tracks her runaway brother as far as Abilene. Desperate to settle their father’s estate so she can move forward with her life, she comes to bring him home in spite of the warrant out for his arrest related to the incident that left her visibly scarred on her cheek and neck and in other ways not visible.  

"While Harry guides Stella around Abilene, he realizes they have a connection neither would have guessed. Driven by revenge, Harry pursues her brother on his own and, over Stella’s protests, drags him back to Indianapolis to face trial. Harry risks everything in the ensuing court battle, knowing that it will probably cost him the only woman he has ever dared to love."

So, what do you think? Are you barely waiting to read this novel? Sorry, but I only have about 18,250 words written and 3-4 times as many left to go. I started on February 21st, and, although much of this writing time was devoted to research, I am still looking at several months before I type "The End."

But, you hang in there, pardner. This novel has started down the trail and will reach its destination.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Like a Fungus

Like a fungus, this series keeps mushrooming.

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to develop a worksheet for my characters in Nebraska Sunrise in order to develop the romantic interests and develop the plot. Between army forts and Indians trying to save their lands, travel from the east to Oregon, California and Utah across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains, the gold rushes of the 1800s, the Civil War, the development of the stage line, the telegraph and the railroad, there is a lot of neat stuff that can show up in western novels of the 1860 through 1880 era, just in the Overland Trail/Union Pacific Railroad territory.

So much, in fact, that as I developed this worksheet, I realized it called for even another book to get it all in. Ah, the curse of research and finding out some more neat historical incidences and facts.

The deciding factor was the time issue. I felt I could only cover so much ground time-wise before the novel got too cluttered. So the first book will not be Nebraska Sunrise. What will the title be? Still working on it. But, I know who the leading characters will be and what they will be doing.