Outtakes #5 – A Place of Her Own

The following is part of a scene that originally opened the Oregon Trail chapter of A Place of Her Own, and now becomes a part of this Outtakes series of scenes cut from the book. The segment shows Martha with her oldest brother Ambrose, who moved from Illinois to Missouri sometime before the 1850 census. It’s a pleasant scene and tells about the preparations for that amazing trek west to Oregon. But altogether it’s over 1,900 words, and it didn’t move the story sufficiently to hold its place. This was the cut that convinced me I could actually trim the book by the necessary 22,000 words. Yay! Clip…..

Note: I’m dividing the scene into Part I and Part II because it’s so long.

464.two wagons


Garrett built a wagon like this for their family, and Martha sewed the cover.

Photo taken by the author at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Baker City, Oregon.


Oregon Trail Preparations – Part I

Ray County, Missouri, April 1849. Their small Missouri cabin echoed with quiet as Martha sat next to her oldest brother Ambrose before the low fire. Only the steady whisk of the rockers sounded above the soft snap of coals as Ambrose leaned back in Martha’s rocking chair and moved slowly back and forth, while she perched on the edge of a stool and poked at the fire. The homey scent of the hearth wafted through the room.

Garrett had left for town with Larry and Newt, while Ambrose stayed behind with her. “They didn’t need me,” Ambrose said. “I thought this was a good chance to visit with you.”

Garrett and the boys went to talk with some folks who were trying to put together a company from Ray County to travel together to Oregon. Martha was glad Ambrose rode over from Carroll County with the younger two. Although she regretted Doc didn’t join them, she appreciated a chance to spend time with her oldest brother.

Larry and Newt had come to Missouri early this spring, still full of excitement about Oregon. A veritable land of milk and honey, to hear them tell it. Garrett wanted to sell the Missouri place and get on his way. But it wasn’t that easy.

Ambrose and his wife Polly had finally moved to Missouri the year before and lived with their family in the cabin Simpson built for himself on Doc’s second forty over in Carroll County. Oregon fever hadn’t quite hit Doc or Ambrose, but Martha had trouble imagining her next step west without Doc.

Garrett had been working on him. “The future’s in Oregon, Doc. Too many people in Missouri.”

“Well, there’s California.”

Last December when President Polk confirmed rumors about gold in California, Martha had seen the sudden glint in Garrett’s eyes, as if reflecting a bit of that gold.

“Not the best place for families, though,” Doc had said.

Now, glancing at their new baby Louisa in her cradle, born that very month of December, Martha remembered wondering if Garrett might just go without her and the girls. But his talk still focused on Oregon.

She smiled at Ambrose. A soft-spoken man, he exuded a kind of self-assurance that put her at ease, a trace of gray in his beard and hair giving him a distinguished look. “I’m glad you’re here,” she said, meaning it more than she knew how to say. He’d been like a pa to her these last few months, now that their own pa was gone. Heaving a sigh, she stood and looked out the gleaming glass window of her cabin to the pasture where her mare Sugar grazed, Howard’s gift. “I wish I could have been there when Pa went. And Ma, so soon after. Do you think they ever forgave me?”

“They loved you.”

A heavy band seemed to tighten across her chest. “I know, but did they forgive me?”

She turned to see her brother’s gentle expression, the warmth in his eyes, the slightest curve of his lips as he spoke. “It’s hard to say with them. You know they never said a lot about things like that. But you can’t change it now, Martha.”

She looked out at Sugar again. “No.”

“I’ve no doubt Doc thought he was in the right to give your consent. Pa did tell him he had full responsibility for you. I heard him. Now, Pa may not have thought through what that could mean, but he said it.” Ambrose got up and came to her, setting a tender hand on her shoulder. “It isn’t easy to get through life without some trials with those you love. But when it’s done and you can’t do any more about it you can’t dwell on the trials–just the love. Somehow I think they understand now.”

Martha batted her eyes, moist with tears. “You boys all scattered soon after, didn’t you? You came here, now Larry and Newt.”

“And Simpson followed Stephen to Scott County. I don’t know what Ben will do.”

Lifting her shoulders high, then dropping them, Martha turned and grasped Ambrose’s arm. “Let me show you what we’ve done to get ready for Oregon. It’s going to be an amazing trip, Ambrose. I wish you’d think about it.”

He laughed, a hand on his soft beard. “I’ll think about it, but I hear they need a Justice of the Peace in Carroll County, and I think I’ll give that a try for now.”

“Justice of the Peace?” She smiled. “You’d be good at that. Come on outside. I’ll show you the wagon.” She tiptoed over to where the girls were napping–Louisa in the cradle, Nora on the small mat beside. Sleeping soundly. Nodding to Ambrose, she slipped out of the cabin to lead him to the shed out back, leaving the cabin door open so she could hear if the girls woke. “They should sleep awhile longer. Come see. We’ve done a lot of work already.”

Part II next week…


Outtakes #4 – A Place of Her Own

Today’s post continues my series of scenes that were cut from the book A Place of Her Own before its publication. In each of the scenes from my point of view I always started at a particular special place on the farm, where my thoughts would lead me to Martha and her situation. Then I would open Martha’s next chapter in the same location with her remembering back to her story. The editor found this too contrived, which it was. We changed that format. But I still like some of the descriptions of the places, like this one, and I believe my traipsing across the farm to these places, and thinking of Martha at each one, helped me get closer to her, even if many of those descriptions were cut. Clip…..

Janet and William


My kids’ good old dog William resting with me on the bluff.

Photo by Robin Loznak



The bluff, September 2010. I hopped onto the outcropping of large flat boulders overlooking a steep drop to the valley floor. Moss formed a patchy carpet on the stones, tufts of grass filling the crevices. I smiled. The bluff brought back memories of games my sister, Nancy, and I used to play. We would lie down at the edge of the overhang and keep watch on happenings below, filling our minds with imagined danger and excitement.

My daughter Carisa, with me today, stepped up beside me. An entire summer had passed since last I wandered the hills and fields of the farm seeking special places Martha might have walked in order to know this new land of hers.

Now it was fall. The first fall rains had come, but it was supposed to be clearing again, heading into the usual warm Indian summer. Dark gray clouds boiled overhead with a few bits of blue offering promise. Our coats still felt damp from the shower that caught us on our way here. I thought about Martha and the wanderlust that brought her to this place–her husband’s, but probably hers as well. What kind of danger and excitement did she face?

The soft, moist air wrapped around us as we stood on this hillside overlook, screened by the oak and myrtle trees that enclosed the bluff, giving it a pleasant feeling of seclusion, as if we could see out but might be comfortably hidden from any watchers outside. A young twisted oak stood directly out from the rimrock, offering glimpses between its branches of the lower fields and the wide green river flowing gently past. A grassy bench of land swept up from the bluff to the right, while a bank rose sharply behind, adding to our sense of enclosure.

In years past my sister and I used to take a trail to get here, a narrow animal trail that bit into an almost perpendicular hillside on our left. This time Carisa and I had taken the newer, easier route from the other direction, coming up a steep logging road, the Tree Farm Road, where a sign on the gate marked our designation as a certified Tree Farm.

In fact, before I could start the rough draft of this book I had to stop and write a new timber management plan and have the operation reviewed in order to be certified as my father had been. More than once, farm needs would pull me away from this story focused on the farm.

Did Martha come up here? Did she stand on these mossy rocks and contemplate the journey of her life that brought her to this lovely wilderness so terribly far from home? Whatever happened to her parents, Thomas and Maxy Poindexter? I doubt she ever saw them after that trip to Illinois for the birth of Leonora, a birthplace recorded by multiple census records that let me know Martha made the trip to have the child there. . . .

Questions haunted me as I plunged forward with this project. With other books, I’d often had the eerie feeling that stories were coming to me from somewhere–or someone–outside myself. I would set up a framework and ideas would flood in. That feeling hit much stronger this time, as if the messenger were closer to me. I wished whoever was sending these messages would refrain from flooding me with them at four in the morning. But I knew well that state of openness on the edge of sleep before the doubts of an awakened mind rose, letting the stuff of dream and spirit enter in.


Outtakes # 3 – A Place of Her Own

In the third outtake from Martha’s story, A Place of Her Own, the scene takes place at the end of Chapter 5, “Home and War,” showing Martha’s visit back in Illinois with her parents. It’s the good-bye scene with the parents, which I found had many similarities with the greeting scene for that visit, the wording so alike I was struggling to show the difference, then realized I could simply summarize the scene at the beginning of the next chapter and cut 559 more words. And no more struggling over pesky words that wouldn’t come together for me. So, clip…..

Book cover - A Place of Her Own


The horse and rider at right will look familiar to folks who’ve seen the book jacket of A Place of Her Own. I pulled this out of the old photo on the cover. It shows Martha and Garrett’s eldest son Cap outside Martha’s house at the farm, and I put it here to reflect an image. In my research I found no photo of Garrett, although military records and family legend describe him well enough that I can easily imagine him resembling Cap. And both men were known to be excellent horsemen. As Martha rides away with Garrett in the scene below, I draw from this image to envision him.


Garrett could not be held back more than a day and Martha had to face the wrenching pain of separation again, this time with her family, who’d grown even more dear to her during this visit. After tearful good-byes all around to her siblings and their families, she walked with Garrett down the little trail to the small cabin in back, holding Nora tight in her arms.

When Ma opened the door, Martha smiled, wishing for a smile in return and seeing only a flicker. “We have to go now, Ma.” Her mother wouldn’t quite look at her, wouldn’t reveal either warmth or coldness in her clear gray eyes.

“Mam-ma,” Nora said, waving her arms, and Ma reached out to take the child, holding her close and nuzzling the feathery blond hair. Ma took the child to Pa, who was sitting on the bed, and let him hold her.

“How’s my girl,” he said, pulling a handkerchief from his pants pocket to wipe the corner of his eye.

When he looked up at Martha, she sought the flash of warmth she’d seen from time to time, when he seemed to forget how angry he was with her, but like Ma he appeared to be hiding behind a mask, making his face difficult to read. She would have reached down to embrace him, but he held the child as a shield. Finally she took Nora in one arm and patted his shoulder with the other. “Good-bye, Pa.” He looked so weak. Would she ever see him again? But Ma was strong. Maybe another day they’d have time to put their differences behind them.

Garrett spoke up finally, his voice taut. “Good-bye, then.”

Martha gave her ma a one-armed hug, still seeking her eyes, but Ma kept her focus low. For the briefest moment she did look up, and her pain struck Martha. Tears glittered. Martha leaned forward to press a cheek against hers, then drew away. “I love you, Ma–and you, Pa. I . . . really have to go now.” Her voice broke on the last words, and she turned away, following Garrett out to where Newt held their horses.

Garrett mounted first and reached for Nora, perching her on the saddle in front of him. “She’ll be safer here.”

Nora’s shriek rent the air. He tried to soothe her, but she reached for her mother, tears washing her bright red face. She wasn’t having a bit of this arrangement. “I’d better take her with me,” Martha said.

Garrett’s jaw tightened, but he waited for Newt to help Martha onto her sidesaddle, then handed the screaming child to her. Martha did her best to tuck the child on the saddle in front of her. This was going to be a long ride.

They bid Newt good-bye, waved to the others waiting on the porch, and rode out, Nora still shaking with soft sobs. Martha could scarcely contain her own emotions. With every step the horse took, she was moving farther and farther from her beloved family. She looked back once, and blinked at the tears. Would she ever see them again? Ever heal the breach with her beloved ma and pa? Or had time ended all chance of that? She turned and glanced at Garrett, then Nora, ahead to her future, and didn’t want to answer those questions.


Fort Umpqua Finale

Fort Umpqua Days in my hometown closed out last night with the second and final presentation of this year’s pageant, Echoes of the Umpqua 2015: History Comes Alive.

2015 pageantDon’t look now, but those characters on the stage are from dioramas at the reconstructed Fort Umpqua, and they have apparently come to life, unbeknownst to the students in front who are trying to put on a homecoming dance. Or so the story goes. The audience got into the act, and we all had a great time. I have the distinct privilege of serving on the writing committee for the pageant, and it’s always fun to see what the actors do with the scenes you write. They had me laughing.

2015 pageant 2And the dioramas were pretty lively–with local tribeswomen, a pioneer woman, animal pelts, Hudson’s Bay Company men, including the historic yarn spinner Tom McKay telling a tale in the above shot–as well as a bust of President Polk and a portrait of Queen Victoria, who all had their say. You can see Queen Victoria a little better in the upper photo, to the far right.

A great weekend! I truly enjoyed my time in the booth too. Sold some books. It’s a great venue for me. Also talked to many friendly people and enjoyed hearing a lot of their stories too. Fun!


Stepping into History

Mt. ManI was selling books outside Fort Umpqua today when a mountain man appeared. He’s one of our local mountain men from nearby Drain, Oregon, Ken Putnam. I had to admire his fancy fringed buckskins, and he agreed to have his picture taken by my booth.

Meanwhile, a few shots rang out from the black powder rifles other mountain men were shooting next to the fort.

It’s quite an event, giving locals a chance to step back into history for a couple of days to imagine what life must have been like in the days of the fort, back in the mid-1800s. And some like Ken get right into the spirit of it.

I especially find all this interesting, given the settings of my books. In Shifting Winds, which comes out in April, a couple of mountain men play significant roles, including one real-life character, the legendary Joe Meek. I do have fun portraying Joe with his storytelling and bravado.

Today was a fine day with perfect weather, the world nicely washed after yesterday’s rain, and we’ll be back at the fort again tomorrow, Sunday the 6th, looking into our wild and woolly past.


Tasting Local History

DSCN0429It’s time for Fort Umpqua Days again, an annual event in my hometown of Elkton, Oregon, when we honor our past and have some fun doing it. It’s Labor Day weekend, Saturday and Sunday, September 5 and 6, pretty much all day, at the Elkton Community Education Center just west of town.

The photo above shows the massive gates for the reconstructed Fort Umpqua, which was the southernmost fort of the British Hudson’s Bay Company in the 19th century. Thanks to the dedication of local people this fort was reconstructed with an eye to authenticity so folks can get a glimpse of life back then.

I’m particularly interested in the period because I write about it. In my first book, A Place of Her Own, my great-great-grandmother comes to Elkton near where the fort stood. The fort has fallen by the time she gets there and the British have left the area following the 1846 settlement of a boundary at the 49th parallel. However, conditions haven’t changed dramatically. It’s a part of her immediate history. And in my next book, a novel called The Shifting Winds, the story opens in 1842 when Oregon was still contested territory between the British and the Americans, and tensions stirred rumors of war. In my story a triangle romance parallels the conflict, when two young men, a Hudson’s Bay Company clerk and an American mountain man, vie for the protagonist, a young pioneer woman who never wanted to leave her New York home in the first place.

So I revel in events like this that help bring history alive. Also, I serve on the writing committee for the annual pageant that’s performed both nights of the event, where we bring out a little history with a bit of humor and music and dance and a whole lot of fun. During the day there are games for the kids down at the fort, crafts for sale, food, black powder demonstrations by our own mountain men, and more.

I’ll have a booth both days where I’ll be selling and signing copies of A Place of Her Own, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you’re in the neighborhood, welcome to a dip into our past.


A Visit of White Hawks

white hawk

Photo by Robin Loznak

If you’ve read A Place of Her Own you know what the white hawk means to me. So I want to share today’s thrill. I am sitting in my office, laptop on my lap, composing another blog post when I look up and see white hawks soaring above the field below me. Two white hawks! They must both be males, because the female marsh hawk would be gray. What are they? Nest mates? Sons of the white hawk who visited me when I was writing Martha’s story? The one that seemed always to be a harbinger of good news?

I watch them for a while, lifting together in synchronous flight, parting, sweeping high, darting low to the ground, together again, rising as one, until they fly out of my sight. Then I sit down to write this.

I’ve seen them more than once in the last week or so. A couple of days ago I saw three. Three! Whatever it means to see them visiting again, they do lift my spirits, as if letting me rise on their wings.

The photo above, taken by my son-in-law Robin Loznak, appears in the book, A Place of Her Own. It almost failed to make the cut. He’d been trying for some time to capture this one on camera so it could go in the book, but it kept eluding him. Deadline came and no hawk picture. Then a few days after the deadline it appeared when he had his camera in hand. Thankfully my editor agreed to add the picture, deadline or no.

This morning I feel lightened by the hawks’ return.