I am often asked about my writing schedule, told I need to be dedicated to my work like any other nine to five job, and scolded when I share the truth. I don’t have a schedule. I carve out time from my life to write. I have kids, grandkids, a husband, and parents who make legitimate demands on my time, as do my friends and church and community, and business clients. If I wanted a nine-to-five job, I wouldn’t be able to have my writing career. Case in point: My husband I were on our way back from a late summer visit to the Bighorn Mountains and Yellowstone National Park when my editor called. The holiday novella I wrote two years ago, the final book of a trilogy of which the first book was published three years ago, was going to be out of order since the second book wasn’t going to be released until 2020. Could I write another? Quickly?
Well, sure. I’d just been out west, and had been noodling an idea for a western novel. If I had to follow a schedule, I wouldn’t have been able to produce a 23,000-word novella a week later. For the title, I’d had an idea based on a real name which showed the hearts of my characters, but when I did a search on that title, a dozen others popped up. So I kept thinking. We’d passed Crazy Woman Creek and I liked the idea of crazy ideas, crazy lives, and tried Crazy Creek for a title, and added Christmas too it. I think it sounds pretty good, and so far it’s unique according to a global internet search.
I hadn’t tried writing a western before. I do like them, having read Brett Harte, and my favorite Zane Grey, among others. Although I live in a rural area, it’s Wisconsin, known more for cows and lumberjacks. Surprisingly, rodeos and horse shows are popular here in western Wisconsin, so I do have a little firsthand research under my belt from talking to horsy people. The trick with making settings and people believable and relatable is that you provide enough information that people recognize something universal about a place or a person in your book. My readers don’t have to have visited Wildhorse Butte to get a picture of it. I tell you Crazy Creek is south of Gillette off Highway 59, and you can look it up. Every reader knows people with deep hurts and secrets, who have been disillusioned. Some make the best of their circumstances, like Leah, who was abandoned, or so she assumed, and raised in a good enough caring foster home. But she still seeks a family of her own, and answers to why her mother left her. You want to cheer for characters like that. Others can’t seem to figure out what to do with the golden spoon they hold, like Noel, who couldn’t run from farming fast enough into the world of big business. When that world turns on him, Noel goes home with a plan. But when he arrives home to a world both different and the same, he realizes he doesn’t have to play the big man and take care of everyone else. They all need to take care of each other.
Novellas are big short stories. And like all stories, no matter how long or short, they all need a starting point, a sustainable middle, and a satisfying ending. The side stories in Crazy Creek Christmas are today’s issues: people who must adapt to being differently-abled when they lose a limb; and immigrating guest workers who have good jobs here in the States and want the chance to pay it back, as well as provide the best life they can for their families. Such issues don’t involve sides, they demand our empathy, our sympathy, our respect.
That’s a lot to pack into a quick little holiday read. I hope Crazy Creek Christmas will stick with you, and give you something to talk about when you get together with family this year.
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