Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Virtual Blog Tour: Velda Brotherton

Today we have a special treat. My blog is a stop on writer Velda Brotherton’s Virtual Blog Tour. She’s promoting two of her books, a novel and a non fiction work, both dealing with the American West. Commenters along the tour will be entered into a drawing for her books. Velda gives more details below. Be sure to comment today and get in on the drawing!

A native of Arkansas, Velda Brotherton has been writing for 20 years. Her first articles appeared in local newspapers, then she became features editor for a weekly paper near her hometown. Out of that grew a weekly historical article, "Wandering The Ozarks," which she continues to write today for The White River Valley News in Elkins, Arkansas.

Her first non fiction book was published in April of 1994 and her first novel under the pen name of Elizabeth Gregg was published in October of that same year. She has a total of six novels and four non fiction books published.

Recently, one of Velda's early western historical romances, Images In Scarlet, published under the pen name of Samantha Lee, was issued through the back-in-print program with Authors Guild and iUniverse. It's a story of love and adventure on the Santa Fe Trail. Read an excerpt here.

Fly With the Mourning Dove is the true story of Edna, a young girl growing up on a homestead in New Mexico after WW I. Read an excerpt here.

This is in Colorado where the narrow gauge railroad heads out for Chama, New Mexico, from May through September for tourists. After that, the snows in the San Juan Mountains prevent it running.

This closeup of a train is one of the steam engines that makes the run. This would be similar to the ride that Edna and her parents made when they went to their homestead in New Mexico.

Velda has provided me with an article that fits very well with what I do. Take it away!

Writing Historical Fiction and Nonfiction
by Velda Brotherton

Today I stepped off my deck here in the Ozarks, and onto a boardwalk lining a street in Victoria City, Kansas, circa 1875. Wind caught at the camel’s hair overskirt of my London-smoke toilette. Its weight threatened to topple me into the dusty street. The noise of hammering and sawing, the aroma of new-cut lumber, fills the hot summer air. My, what busyness there is here in this new American city where we have chosen to settle with our Victorian ways.

During the year-long trip from Scotland, I dreamed of what the wild west would be like. My dreams came nowhere near the truth. Men wear guns on their hips, women are attired in calico dresses without hoops or drapes. They wear dowdy sun bonnets. But our founder George Grant promises that the ways of these colonists will not usurp our Victorian settlement. For the families have brought their silver, their damask cloths, their fashionable clothing, their bob-tailed ponies. These will surround us. Forever.

On this day I was taking a break from my current book, but could not leave the scene so easily. Writing the historical calls upon the author to immerse herself within the life about which she writes. To crawl into the very body of the character, develop a sense of place, internalize the five senses and the emotions of those long ago days. Remaining true to voice, attitude, politics and the morality of the time are important in historical fiction, vital in historical nonfiction.

The language of the time and place is sprinkled through the dialogue. To expect our modern day reader to accept the actual speech is asking too much, but no modern slang or speechifying belongs there either. If we aren’t sure a word or phrase was used then, we either don’t use it or get a dictionary that dates the first use of words and check it frequently. We can't assume we know when we may not. Nothing turns off a sophisticated historical reader quicker than incorrect language.

The real characters who take part in the story can and would have been there. After immersing ourselves in research, we characterize them as they were and make sure we have it right. Custer was a womanizer and a narcissist, but wife Libby did her best to immortalize him. Jesse James quoted Shakespeare and liked to have his photograph taken. When researching, consult three or four sources that do not all use the same basic source. Beware of the Internet and triple check any information you find there unless it’s posted at a reliable source.

The Devil’s in the details is oh so true. We can spend all our time researching dates, and forget to find out when a certain flower blooms, or if buffalo still roamed the plains when the story takes place. Or if a plant or animal there today was there in the past.

Writing both fiction and nonfiction history is equally difficult. Both require a huge amount of research about every single happening. If you think the Civil War actually ended when Lee surrendered, then it’s back to the books. The final battle took place out west at Palmetto on the Rio Grande almost a full month after the surrender.

I enjoy research almost as much as writing the book. It’s so easy to get caught up that weeks and months can go by before I settle down to the actual writing. So I get to know my setting and characters and complete the research for them. Then I write my first draft, marking places where I need more information. It’s a fine feeling to know the story is written before I begin to dig deeper into my research.

You are a creative writer, and you create your plot, conflict, characters and the voice of the story that will carry it through to the end. And each time you sit down to do this, you must transport yourself into that story so deep that you are no longer sitting at your computer, but walking the dusty streets; riding the wagons or horses; smelling the smoke of campfires or a rotting stack of buffalo hides; hearing the conversations of men and women of the western movement; seeing a crystal clear sky with no contrails or smog; tasting wild game, feeling the calluses on your hands. The real trick here is to completely remove yourself from modern day.

Because both of my books on this tour are western, one fiction, one nonfiction, I’ve concentrated here on that segment of our history. But what I’ve written holds true of any historical writing, be the books romances of any time or place, Americana, literary fiction, straight westerns, family stories, memoirs and biographies. The most important thing to remember is that people want to read good stories about sympathetic characters. Stick to that and you’ll turn out great books.

Here’s a tried and true way to set up your book: Draw a circle and divide it equally into four parts. This is the Hero’s journey circle. A story, be it short or a novel, will have four paradigms. You may divide by pages or chapters and each quarter can vary in length a bit either way.

In the first quarter, the character is lost, a wanderer who isn’t sure what he wants or how to learn what he wants. In the second he is an orphan and can’t get anyone to help him resolve his problems. In the third he is an emerging hero or warrior. He knows what he wants and is willing to go after it even though he may fail a few times. In the fourth he is a hero and a martyr, a person strong enough to accomplish what he wants but also a person who puts the needs of others before his own.

This is not mine. I learned it first from the great award winning short-story writer Pat Carr in a workshop. I heard it later from best selling author Jodi Thomas, who swears by the journey circle and uses it to plot her books, so don’t credit me with it. Good friend, western writer Dusty Richards, winner of double Spurs from Western Writers of America, writes his many books using the hero’s journey circle. Obviously it’s a reliable and oft-used method.

Velda continues: "Remember, this is just like a book signing in a bookstore, only much easier. You can sit at home, as can I, saving gas and lots of energy in this warm weather.

"Copy and paste the schedule below in your computer. Each day link to the blog that is hosting that day, enjoy the post, then leave a comment. Why leave a comment? Because at the end of the tour the name of everyone who leaves a thoughtful comment will be placed in a drawing. Four winners will each get an autographed copy of the book of their choice from the two I'm promoting. One lucky winner of the four will also receive a silver and turquoise ring from New Mexico. So don't forget to read and comment each day beginning July 21 through July 31. We'll hold the drawing August 4 and the winners will be posted on my blog. Winners will have to contact me with their snail mail address so I can send their book . . . and don't forget that beautiful silver and turquoise ring."

July 21 -- An Interview with the author
July 22 -- History of photography
July 23 -- Writing the Historical fiction/nonfiction
July 24 -- History of Women in Photography
July 25 -- A photo array of New Mexico
July 26 -- Where Do Ideas Come From?
July 27 -- Sunday--Take the day off
July 28 -- Dance at the Sagebrush Inn, Taos
July 29 -- Edna's story/Fly With The Mourning Dove
July 30 -- John Dunn, Entrepreneur of New Mexico
July 31 -- Interview with the author


  1. Wow, Velda! What a great stop on your book blog tour.

    I especially enjoyed hearing, again, the processes of writing historical fiction and the research entailed in order to give the reader a taste of true history. I don't know how many times I've delved overly long into my research and almost forgot to write! Thanks for the reminder, as well as the tidbits for writing historical non-fiction. And the Hero's journey circle. What an amazing tool -- thanks for sharing.

    See you next stop.


  2. Anonymous1:46 PM

    Velda, this is a great post with lots of good comments. Thank you. I'm going to try setting up a book in four parts one of these days. A hero's journey circle is a great evocative catch line to keep the set up in mind and sounds much simpler than a lot of outlining.


  3. Thanks for the great post, Velda! I needed the reminder today to use the five senses and tell the story instead of spouting facts.

    Marsha, thanks for hosting Velda!

    Gayle Gresham

  4. Penelope West2:20 PM

    I enjoyed the excerpt on the woman photographer on the Trail. It was just like being there. Congratulations on a fine job of writing.
    I particularly related to your discussion of writing the western novel. When I sit at my computer, the modern world fades away, and I am in the story, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and feeling the west. I even prepare meals from my stories so I know how they appeared to my characters. When the phone rings, I nearly jump out of my skin. They didn't have phones in the 1850s and 60s!
    Thanks for your comments on how you write your westerns.

  5. Anonymous5:15 PM

    Hi, Marsha.
    This is quite a useful posting. Thanks to you and Velma for insights that reinforce what I'm doing with my current project.
    And thanks for keeping me on your list.
    debbi Weitzell

  6. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Hi Marsha and Velma,

    Great posting. I've got a historical piece in mind for the future, although it doesn't take place in the west. Rather it will be novel surrounding a tornado that almost wiped the town out. The story is true, the characters aren't. I really appreciated hearing how Velma approaches her work.


  7. Velda Brotherton8:27 AM

    Hi everyone, I left a comment here last night, but blogger said it wasn't available. Thanks to all who've read the post and commented. I love writing history and writing about researching history. It's great to see so many who enjoy the same. Catch more posts on this tour by checking my blog at

  8. Velda,

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. It is so rewarding to hear that other people are taken over by there desire for authenticity in their work. As a reader as well as a writer it is that sense of realism that keeps me reading. You have put into words what most of us think and feel as we create our own worlds.

    Doris McCraw

  9. Anonymous9:57 AM

    First time I've "attended" a blogspottour. Now, I'll go visit the others! Velda, I liked your description of the hero's journey. I've read other pieces about same, but yours was the clearest. I'll try it. I, too, get lost in my characters' worlds, most of which are in Idaho, where I spend lots of time anyway. Research is important, but I find I can convey at least part of my character's world by stepping out my door in Idaho--into deep snow, into blooming wildflowers, into sage and bitterbrush, into rivers and streams, and then reliving those moments in my mind and on the page. Thanks! This was fun!


  10. Dear Velda:
    Great Blog. This is the first time I've heard of a blog tour. Interesting. I'll be forwarding the info to my daughter. I think she'll be interested also.
    Thanks Marsha,
    Margaret Turley

  11. Hi Velda,
    I hope you're having as much fun doing this tour as we are, following it. You've given us some great food for thought in our writing today!
    Heidi Thomas

  12. Velda Brotherton11:08 AM

    Greetings everyone, Super to see some returnees and some who are joining the tour. I've had a lot of fun preparing for the tour, even though it was a lot of work. But the best has been connecting with other writers and hearing their process. I hope you all continue to follow the tour through next week.

  13. Velda,

    I enjoyed your article -- particularly the way you started it. And, your words, "crawl into the very body of the character" described perfectly how to handle point of view.

    Thanks, too, Marsha, for hosting!

    Jan Morrill

  14. Velda Brotherton8:49 AM

    Thanks for all the posts on Marsha's blog. I enjoyed the comments very much. Make sure to check my blog on August 4 late in the afternoon for a posting of the winners for this tour.

  15. This was a wonderful opportunity, Velda. Thanks for asking that I be a stop on your tour.


I welcome your comments.

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