Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sweet Saturday Sample - March 16, 2013

Welcome back to Sweet Saturday Samples

Sometimes as I read, a pure love of language sweeps me away and holds me bound in a wondrous place. I hope you experience that as you read the scene below from Ride to Raton. Some of the passages are favorites of mine . . . but as with children, you should never say for sure which is your absolute favorite. Hmm, should moms, or authors, even have favorites?


James felt a shudder cross his frame. Pa was still talking. “Are you of a mind to tell me where you’re bound?”

Bound? Pa’s words kicked dirt over some of the fire of James’s rage, and he swallowed hard. Where was he bound? What could he do? A list of his skills ran past his mind—farmer, stock raiser, horse breaker, soldier—

“I don’t reckon there’s call for an infantryman anywhere about.” James bit his lip at voicing his absurd thought.

“Not likely.” Rod waited for a moment before he continued. “What’s your plan?”

“I’ll . . .” James looked around the enclosure, then raised his chin and exhaled. “I’ll dig out Uncle Jonathan’s mine.”

Rod was silent again for a time. He sniffed once. “It was a rich hole before it fell in on him.” He rubbed his beard again. “I’ll lend you a dollar or two to get you on your way. Take the sorrel and the mule and the mining gear.”

James looked at his hands. The nineteen-year-old palms were callused from years of work. The fingers were large and squared off at the tips. Worker’s hands. Hard work would help. He curled the hands into fists. “I’ll take the animals and the gear, but I won’t take your coin. I’ll work my way north.” James glanced up. Pa looks like I took a strap to him. He swallowed again. “Tell Ma I’ll miss her.” His voice seemed caught in his throat.

“Say your own good-byes,” Rod said in a voice that was tight with emotion.

“No. It’ll spoil the party for her.”

James bent, picked up his rope, and coiled it. Then he turned his back on his father, pushed the gate open, and started for the log corral beyond the main cabin, bleakness filling his belly. Ellen was gone, yoked to Carl. Ellen, with her blooming red hair and the dusting of freckles on her nose; with her crooked smile and merry laugh—ripped from him like a piece of flesh by the foreign words of a Spanish priest. The world lost its brightness as he trudged through the dust.

To his left across a creek was a small cabin—home to his oldest brother Rulon, his wife Mary, and their two babies—and to his right stood the main cabin that housed his father and mother and the children younger than himself. He went behind the bigger log house to the corral, and stooped to get under the top pole of the fence that enclosed several grazing horses.

James whistled to a light reddish brown colored horse. It continued to crop grass, although its ears swiveled in his direction. He glanced at the sun; its rays shed no warmth on him today, and he shivered as he made a loop in his rope and pitched it toward the neck of the sorrel horse.

The loop soared over the horse’s head and settled squarely on its shoulders. James walked up the rope toward the animal, talking to it in a soothing tone. He led it through the gate to the nearby shed and saddled up. When James mounted, the sorrel bucked a few times, but he rode out the kinks in the animal, then turned it toward the big shed his father called the stable.

He roused the mule from its slumber and put a pack frame on its back. In one corner of the shed lay the mining equipment four of the Owen men had brought back from a rubble filled hole at Central City that had claimed the life of Ma’s brother.

I never had no mind to go digging in the earth, James thought, squinting at the pick, shovel, and pans. Mining sure wasn’t lucky for Uncle Jonathan. He approached the pile of equipment and gave it a kick. But then, I reckon my luck ran out today. He blew out his breath between pursed lips.

James kicked the equipment again, and figured it would take two weeks of hard riding—no, it would be more like a month, working his way—to get to Central City, northwest of Denver City. And when he got there.... I’ll have to hire out to a miner until I get a grubstake together.

James loaded the tools onto the pack saddle and tied them in place. He raided the cook shack for a handful of dried meat strips and a few hard corn dodgers. With the mule’s lead rope in his hand, he mounted, and kicked the horse toward his unfinished cabin.

A few moments later, the sight of two log walls standing head high, and two others up to his hip deepened James’s gloom. After working full days at his father’s place, he had labored by lantern light to fashion a home for Ellen Bates, but she had slipped from his grasp like quick silver chased across a tabletop.

“Tarnation!” he growled as he looked at the shell of the house that now represented a future that would not be. He slid from the saddle, tied the horse and mule, and ducked under the suspended wagon sheet that roofed his bed and belongings.

James changed his clothes, rolled his bedding, and packed his personal goods into the leather carryall he’d toted during the war. He stepped through the doorway, carrying the war bag and bedding. He stopped beside a mound of logs piled up against the wall and ran his hand over the length of one he’d peeled for use inside the house. Even though the color of the wood was bleaching from bright yellow tan to gray, the piece still had a silky smooth surface that reminded him of the one time he had held Ellen in his arms and kissed her.

She had stood alone on the prairie early one morning near the end of their journey, staring as the first light of dawn revealed a mountain peak in the distant west. Pike’s Peak, it was called, and Ellen was first to spot it as she stood apart from the wagons, the wind whipping her skirt, and her hair streaming loose over her shoulder. She stretched out her arms to the mountain as though she meant to embrace it.

James had felt a quickening of his pulse at the sight of her, a dryness of the throat, a quivering of the sinews that surprised him, as he hadn’t to then felt more than fondness for her. With swift, light strides he went to her and stepped into the circle of her arms. A peculiar look widened her eyes as his mouth came down toward hers, but her lashes descended and shut it away from his view.

Wondrous sensations warmed his veins as James kissed the trembling girl. His arms enfolded her. His hands crept across her shoulders and through her hair until he held her face between them. Only then did he notice her hands pushing gently against his chest. She rolled her head out of his grasp and opened her green, green eyes.

“No, James. Please don’t,” she whispered, and was gone from his arms.

She’s modest, he thought. That’s good and proper. Then he chastised himself. Do your wooing in private, James.

Since that day, he’d kept the memory of the feel of her cheeks in his fingertips, marveling at the softness of a woman’s skin. Now he would never touch her again, and cold flowed down his body as though he had stepped naked under an icy waterfall.

James pressed his lips together and drew his knife, looking at the keen edge of the blade, the finely-honed point. He drew the blade along the meat of the edge of his palm. It was sharp, as always, leaving a thin bead of crimson. A dark thought fluttered in his mind, but he pushed it away and cut the wagon sheet free of the thongs that held it in place above the log walls. He spread the canvas cloth on the packed earth, wrapped all the gear inside, and tied it atop the mule’s packsaddle. Then he mounted up and put the horse onto the trail.

North. Up through Pueblo to Denver City. Then to Central City. I got to put distance between me and Ellen’s eyes.

James settled the horse into a lope for a bit over a mile, then reined in to cross the stream that ran slowly down from behind Carl’s cabin. As he rode through the water without stopping, not looking toward the house on the wooded bench of land to his left, he glanced at his fists. They were balled tight as caterpillar cocoons.

Eyes green as the spring grass, filled with flecks of gold and maidenly modesty. Eyes to lose my soul in.

The horse scrambled up the slope of the bank, the saddle lurched back onto the horse’s croup, and James halted to check the front cinch. He dismounted, raised the stirrup leather, and adjusted the knot on the latigo, but the work didn’t quiet a rage that burned like a prairie fire within: rage against Carl, and against Pa. He cursed his father and brother. If he never set eyes on this range again, he would rest easy. But the horse wheeled when James climbed into the saddle, and his gaze caught Carl’s little house tucked in among the trees.

A chill rose up his spine, lifting the hair on the back of his neck. I am a blind fool, he berated himself, then shouted, “Girl, I would’ve loved you!”

He gigged the horse into a lope through the broken countryside. The mule followed, braying in protest. James merely tightened his grip on the lead rope and lowered his head over the horse’s mane.

James stopped twice to let the animals breathe, cool down, and drink. Other than that, he pushed forward, heedless of the approaching dusk. A last gleam of light streaked the sky, and night lay in wait to engulf the three of them when he finally turned off the trail.

He found a flat area covered with buffalo grass that lay next to a stream of water. His raw anger had abated somewhat, and he tended the animals carefully, removing saddles, packs and head gear. He checked hooves for stones, and led the animals down to the water. While he waited for them to drink, he dabbed at the dried blood on his arm with a water soaked bit of handkerchief. After he hobbled them, he turned them out to graze. When he’d eaten his handful of supper, he lay down with his hat over his eyes and fought his nightmares for an hour’s worth of sleep.

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  1. What a poignant excerpt! I can feel the loss, the longing, and the hopes for the future. Thanks for sharing.


  2. Thanks, Laurel-Rain. I appreciate your comment, and taking the time to visit and speak up. :-)

  3. Anonymous3:47 PM

    Great job on giving us a glimpse into the inner workings of his mind! Makes me feel sorry for him and hope he finds what he's looking for.

    1. Thank you, Ruth. James will certainly find a lot to occupy his mind on his journey.

  4. powerful scene.
    Love the description.

    1. Thank you, Jeff! I appreciate your visit and you taking the time to comment.

  5. That was beautiful. I love James!

    1. Thanks, Nikki! I love him, too. I appreciate the visit, and you taking the time to comment.

  6. Great inner monologue! I feel sorry for James, but Ellen was never really his. I suspect something even better around the bend. Love this series!

    1. Thanks, Jenna. Your comment gives me such warm fuzzies!

  7. I think ellen should have waited. I like your James. Great excerpt.

    1. I like James, too. :-) I always like the character whose story I'm telling the best. Then. But I do have to own up that I like James best of all.

      Thanks for coming over and commenting, Elaine. I appreciate your time and effort.

  8. Very powerful and poignant.

    1. Thanks, Sherry! Rereading it as I was choosing something to post, brought back intense emotion.

  9. Beautiful! I'm beginning to wonder how I will ever bring my current WIP to life. Your talent is extraordinary ---the details, the emotion, and the amazing imagery you've written truly create an irresistible tale.

  10. Thank you, Polly. You quite take my breath away and humble me, at the same time. I personally think I did some of my best work with RIDE TO RATON. However, that opinion may be colored by my intense bond with my character, James Owen. There have been several uncanny connections between us.

    As to bringing your own work to life, read, analyze, figure out how other authors do it, and blatantly copy their techniques. Never their work, just the way they do things. Make sure the language (both narrative and dialogue) is true to your particular set-up and to what your characters would say. Use sensory language liberally. That means slip taste, smell, sounds, sights, and especially touch into every scene. Avoid passive language (Birds were flying through the air). Use active verbs (Eleanore dodged the starling that seemed intent upon pecking out her eyes). "Was" has its place, but don't overuse it.

    I hope some of this helps. Thank you, again, for your visit and comments.


I welcome your comments.

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