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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Writing western historical romances and Homemade Ice Cream Hand-Me-Down Family recipe by Kaye Spencer

Writers are sometimes asked why they 'write what they write'. Those of you reading this article who are readers rather than writers, have you considered why you're drawn to a particular genre over all others?

Over the years, I've encountered variations of these questions in author interviews. From a writing perspective, I have three general points for why I tend to write historicals and particularly stories set in the American Old West.

Reason 1—Research
Every historical I write allows me to follow rabbits down research rabbit holes. I've discovered the most intriguing and amazing tidbits of history in my historical research Wonderland. Researching is my ‘happy place’. It’s important to me to have the details in my stories as historically accurate as possible. I’m not perfect in this endeavor, nor am I a ‘professional’ researcher, but I conscientiously work at achieving accuracy, so it’s my hope that upon the rare occasion my history is off, readers will forgive the faux pas.

Reason 2—Living vicariously in the past
While I’m writing a story set in the past, I get to travel to a different place and time and live in someone else's shoes, so-to-speak. I’m like Anthony Marston in Quigley Down Under: “…Some men [women] are born in the wrong century.” All my life I’ve felt out-of-place living in our ‘modern’ world. So when I transport myself to the time in which my characters are living, I’m in another one of my ‘happy places’.

Reason 3—Challenge of overcoming inconveniences
I like writing stories that lack modern day conveniences. Without the amenities we’re accustomed to nowadays, there are so many juicy complications for the characters to face, deal with, and overcome that otherwise could be written away with a call on the cell phone or by hopping an airplane.

I get a little giddy imagining the possibilities, such as...

*Communication: When the hero and heroine have to depend upon letter writing and telegraph messages, both of which were slow (relatively speaking) and could more easily be intercepted or even lost, the villain has the opportunity to weasel his way into the heroine’s life and console her. Perhaps the heroine thinks the hero jilted her at the altar when he doesn’t show up for their wedding when actually the villain intercepted the telegram, which explains the legitimate reason for the hero’s delay. (whew! Wordy sentences.)

*Transportation: Transportation wasn’t necessarily convenient or terribly comfortable. Horseback riding was functional, but for long periods of time over great distances is exhausting and full of plot-enhancing dangers and challenges. Stagecoach travel was cramped, dirty/dusty, really hot/really cold, and could be dangerous. It lacked privacy that women need. Obtaining a decent meal could be an on-going problem. Generally, stage travel was a grueling test of endurance. Traveling by train was limited to where the tracks were laid, and it shared many of the same drawbacks as stage travel, plus the additional discomfort of soot and cinders coming into the passenger cars. After all, the heroine might be kidnapped by a drop-dead handsome train robber or (egads!) find herself stranded on the Texas prairie with nothing but a scoundrel of a gambler as her companion along with the one surviving horse from the stagecoach team after the Comanche attack…

*Contraception: Without our modern-day contraceptives, the possibility of pregnancy looms in historical stories as an ever-present consequence of a romantic dalliance. This is a great plot device for building the sexual tension between the hero and heroine. Fear of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the real threat of dying in childbirth both add another layer of anxiety to the romantic relationship that isn’t as much of an issue in contemporary stories.

*Medicine: Sophisticated antibiotics as we know them were virtually nonexistent back in the ‘olden days’, which makes the recovery difficult and, sometimes, the character’s very survival tenuous given the physical torture/wounds/injuries we, as authors, inflict upon them. Lack of pain killers and antibiotics makes the situation all that more dire for the hero when the lady doctor extracts the arrow from his thigh.

*And many, many more reasons, but that's enough for now. :-)

Lassoing a Mail-Order Bride anthology and A Permanent Woman are available on Amazon for Kindle and KindleUnlimited. The anthology is available in print.

Here is the ice cream recipe referenced in the story (click recipe image to enlarge/download).

To bring us around to the question I posed at the beginning of this article...

Why are you drawn to a particular reading and/or writing genre over all others?

Until next time,

Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

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  1. Because ice cream! Yep, we made ice cream like that only we used 8 eggs, half cream and half milk. I remember sitting on the gunny sack while Dad cranked it as the ice cream was getting hard. Cold butt! LOL. Fun times. I haven't had homemade ice cream in years. I doubt my kids ever have.

  2. Jacquie,

    I remember when we 'upgraded' from the hand-crank to an electric ice cream maker. We really felt 'uptown' then. lol When I was little and didn't understand the reaction between the salt and ice and the cranking, making ice cream was mysterious and amazing. I knew my parents were going to make ice cream when we picked up a block of ice at the grocery store. My dad and grandpa would chip and pick the block and I'd put the pieces in the ice cream bucket. When the ice cream was ready, the cylinder would be wrapped in a wet gunny sack and stuck back down inside the bucket (with the cranking apparatus removed).

    Funny thing was, I didn't like to eat ice cream (still don't), but I sure have fond memories of my dad and grandpa making it on a hot Sunday afternoon.

  3. Kaye,
    You hit the nail on the head when it comes to why I write historicals too. Some of us were definitely born in the wrong time. That ice cream looks delicious!! Vanilla is my favorite.

  4. Kristy,

    I won't deny that I appreciate all the modern conveniences that I have, but I'm old enough to remember living without many of our basic conveniences. I could do it again, but I'd be leery of taking a step backwards in medical advances.

    When I started first grade (no Kindergarten for country kids), we still had an outhouse, only cold running water in the house, a hand pump at the kitchen sink, a coal and wood burning stove in the kitchen, and a porcelain and cast iron bath tub with the lion's feet. We had electricity, but no tv or telephone until I was around eight. It was around that time that we got complete indoor plumbing, including a hot water heater.

    My grandpa, who lived just across the fish pond from me, was another four years or so behind my family's upgrades to modern conveniences. I didn't experience a house with air conditioning until I was out of high school, and then it was a swamp cooler.

    On the ice cream... My mom always canned fresh peaches. When she brought out a jar of her peaches for ice cream topping... Oh, yeah. I like ice cream that way. :-)

    Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I loved the 'lady doctor' pulling the arrow out of the thigh. *Sigh*. Now those are my kind of stories. As for the ice cream- I've never really liked ice cream, chocolate or donuts. ( I know, my genes have been messed up. *Grin*)

    Like you, I love the rabbit hole research. Perhaps that's why I also enjoy Medieval, the clash of cultures, etc. Same with Westerns. Oh what fun those stories are to write.

    Here's to a continuation of your fun and fun to read stories. Can't wait for the next one! Doris

  6. Doris,

    Yeah, I'm not keen on ice cream, but donuts and chocolate... yum. lol

    I enjoy reading Medieval stories. In fact, I'm somewhat of an Arthurian junkie, but I'd be hard-pressed to write one. Steampunk is the same. I'd love to write a steampunk story, but I just don't have that kind of imagination, I guess. lol

    Thanks for commenting, and thanks for the kind words.

  7. I felt like I was reading my own thoughts on historical writing. I love it. I used to read thrillers, but got tired of the main plot involving authors finding the most gruesome ways to kill people. although that can be part of a historical novel, with historical romance, there is the human emotion plus learning about the past. Good thoughts!

    1. Zina,

      I know what you mean about thrillers. I sleep better after reading romances rather than freaking myself out in the middle of the night imagining all sorts of terrible things from reading thrillers. 😂 I like learning about the past through historical romance and historical fiction., too. I've particularly enjoyed your Eastern Sierra Brides stories and your related blog posts for the California history that enhances the romances.

      Thanks for commenting.

  8. Hey Kaye, thanks for that recipe. I actually remember my parents making ice cream with this crank-up kind of contraption. Pop had a special recipe for peanut butter surprise ice cream (the surprise was cherries), but he didn't write down his recipe so it's lost forever.
    I feel much the same as you about writing and reading historical westerns. I like that there was a code of honor then that seems to have disappeared in these modern times.
    I have to admit, I, too, wondered about contraception back then. Oh lordy!
    Also like you I like getting lost in the research. I have a huge collection of otherwise useless knowledge on the old west, its history and particulars. At least I have this nice group right here to share these things with, so I'm happy.
    I apologize for being a little late. My internet went out yesterday. Thank goodness the technician came today. More has to be done in a couple weeks, but at least I have the internet back on.

  9. Sarah,

    No need to apologize. I've been away from my computer for two days, and have been commenting here and there via my phone <<<not a convenient way to comment, in my opinion.

    I love the technological advances that we've become accustomed to, but man-oh-man does it make my life 'inconvenient' when they don't work right. lol

    Generations from now may look back on this time in history and wonder if they could survive living in our 'primitive' world.

    Thanks for stopping by.