The Stories Behind the Story: The Edge of Nowhere Part III

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11692600_1199147950111457_4897575143580463917_nLast night I returned to Minnesota after a long trip back to Oklahoma for a family reunion.  The timing of my trip was impeccable as I’m currently in the final editing stages of my book, The Edge of Nowhere, which is expected to be released this Spring by Penner Publishing.  This novel was inspired by my grandmother’s struggles as a widow with nearly a dozen children during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  While not a complete factual account of her struggles, there is no doubt that she (and my extended family) were constantly on my mind as I wrote this book, and many of the family stories are included within its pages.

Edna Hall Hedrick Golden

Edna Hall Hedrick Golden

My grandmother, Edna Hall Hedrick Golden, was a strong woman who didn’t take any guff from anyone.  I remember nothing “soft” about her.  In fact, I remember being mostly intimidated and a little scared of her in my childhood.  She said what was on her mind and the family stories of her going toe-to-toe with anyone who wronged her or her children are legendary.  Simply stated, you didn’t cross my grandmother and, if you thought you might give it a try, you never tried it a second time.

As I sat down to write this novel, I was consumed with one thought:  Who was this woman I knew as my grandmother? How did she come to be the woman I knew?  She wasn’t “soft” like other grandmothers; she was hard as nails, and yet I think I always knew that she loved us.  She just wasn’t effusive in the way she showed it.

Attending my family reunion — surrounded by cousins as distant as second and third cousins — we all came to one conclusion; the same conclusion I came to in my novel:  my grandmother was a product of her experiences.

My grandfather - died in 1935 leaving my grandmother a widow with nearly a dozen children.

My grandfather – died in 1935 leaving my grandmother a widow with nearly a dozen children.

Ask yourself this question:  Who would you be today if, at age 28,  you lost your husband and were entrusted with the care of your combined dozen children in the midst of the worst poverty and land destruction ever seen on American soil?  You have nothing and you have to fight for every last thing.  Your children are starving, you’ve lost your home, jobs are scarce even for men, and you have no family to speak of.  What would you do?  How would you survive?  Is there ANYTHING you wouldn’t do to provide for your children?  And how would the circumstances and the decisions you make change you as a person?

I don’t have the answers, but I’ve tried to address them in this novel.  My family doesn’t have the answers either, except that we all came to the same conclusion:  However those decisions changed or defined her, she did one thing right.  She created for us a huge extended family of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins…many of us as close as siblings, and others of us the best of friends.  I honestly don’t know any other family with such a close extended family.  Above all, I hope I’ve conveyed that in my book.  Y’all will have to let me know.

Our Reunion Planners - 2nd Cousins and Great Friends

Our Reunion Planners – 2nd Cousins and Great Friends

 

Third Cousins and Look Enough Alike to be Brothers

Third Cousins and Look Enough Alike to be Brothers

Second Cousins - As Close as First Cousins

Second Cousins – As Close as First Cousins

Second Cousins Once Removed.  She loves her big cousin!

Second Cousins Once Removed. She loves her big cousin!

Only a small fraction of the Hedrick Clan, founded by my grandmother and her sister-in-law, Verlie.

Only a small fraction of the Hedrick Clan, founded by my grandmother and her sister-in-law, Verlie.


Book Review: Bully – A Fall Away Novel by Penelope Douglas

18090508A couple of years ago I read a book by Colleen Hoover entitled Hopeless.  It was the first title I’d ever read in the new category dubbed as “New Adult.”  It was a cross between Young Adult Fiction, with characters in their late teens, and Adult Fiction because it included themes that were a bit too intense for the under-18 crowd.  I fell in love with the characters and the story, and it opened up a whole new world of writing style for me that I didn’t know existed.  Since then, I’ve read scores of “New Adult” novels but Hoover’s Hopeless has remained at the top of my list of favorites.  Privately, I’ve dubbed Hoover “The Queen of New Adult Fiction.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was surfing around Facebook and came upon a fan voting site which pitted Hoover’s Hopeless against a title I’d never encountered:  Bully by Penelope Douglas.  I was intrigued when I realized the vote was close, so I knew I’d have to give this book a try.  What I discovered was a beautiful story that gave Hoover a run for her money.

Tate and Jared were best friends for years — inseparable until the summer before they began high school when Jared spent those months at his dad’s house.  When he returns, he is no longer the boy she once knew.  He’s distant and mean, and begins a campaign to make Tate’s life miserable until she takes a year away from her high school to study abroad in Europe.  Returning for her senior year, she hopes that Jared will have returned to the loving best friend she once knew…or at least have forgotten about her enough to stop the bullying.

Bully is heart-wrenching.  I was immediately pulled into Tate’s world and, from the first few pages, felt the hurt and embarrassment of a young girl wanting nothing more than to fit in.  It was impossible not to despise Jared; and yet, it was also impossible not to wonder what motivated his actions.

As the story unfolds we discover what happened that summer that Jared spent with his dad and, along with Tate, have to decide whether we can forgive him for his actions.  I admit I found it difficult.  I wasn’t sure until the last few pages whether I could forgive him for the merciless treatment of Tate, regardless of what motivated him.  Honestly, I’m still not sure I forgive him; and that’s the beauty of Douglas’ writing.  Like the main character, we’re left feeling empathy for Jared’s motivations, yet needing to decide whether we can forgive his treatment of Tate.  Can Tate — or the reader, for that matter — forgive Jared for his transgressions so that the two can have a happily ever after?

I definitely enjoyed this book more than I imagined and would read more by this author.  This is a great read for those who enjoy young adult fiction, but who need a little more “adult” in the content.  I’d recommend it to my college-age daughter and her friends, but probably not to high school students as there are a couple of intimate scenes that are a bit more graphic than I’d be comfortable suggesting to a high-school student.

Excellent read overall and I’d strongly recommend it.  Colleen Hoover fans will no-doubt love it.

Book Review: The Mapmaker’s Children

Several weeks ago I entered a raffle for a free copy of Sarah McCoy‘s newest novel, The Mapmaker’s Children.  I’d never heard of McCoy, but the premise of her novel looked interesting.  It implied the intersecting of a Civil War-era Abolitionist woman and a modern-day woman who moves to a small town with a significant historical background.  I knew I had to have a copy of this book.  Whether I won the raffle or made a trek to the bookstore, I knew I would be reading this book soon.

A few weeks later I received a package in the mail.  I’ve been fortunate enough to win free books from publishers in the past, so I knew by the feel what must be inside; but what I found complete made my day!  Wrapped in festive tissue paper and confetti ribbon, and accompanied by the most thoughtful hand-written note from the author, was a copy of The Mapmaker’s Children.  I was already excited to read the book, but the thought and care taken with the wrapping made me ecstatic.  It felt like my birthday or early Christmas!  I opened the cover and silently said a prayer, “Please don’t disappoint…please don’t disappoint.”  You see, too often I’ve been excited to read a book and then closed the last page with no small measure of disappointment.  Thankfully, that was NOT the case this time.  The Mapmaker’s Children was nothing short of absolutely beautiful, both in story and in writing.

The story alternates between two main characters:  Civil War-era Sarah Brown and 21st Century Eden Anderson.  Sarah Brown is the daughter of the infamous John Brown, a high-profile abolitionist who led — and was later hanged — for leading the slave uprising at Harper’s Ferry in the days leading up to the Civil War.  In the 21st Century, Eden Anderson is a woman trying to reconcile her “personal failure” at her inability to conceive a child.  She moves into a Civil War-era home and finds artifacts tied directly to the time period of Sarah Brown.  While the two women appear to have nothing in common, they share the burden of their inability to conceive children and the heartache their infertilities cause.

I’m normally a fast reader, but McCoy’s writing caused me to slow down significantly.  I just couldn’t get over the beauty of her writing and needed to slow down to savor it.  The passages were descriptive enough to give a vivid image of the scenery without being superfluous and overly “flowery.”  Each word appeared to’ve been selected with deliberate intent, rather than trying to impress the reader with her vocabulary.  It was just nothing short of gorgeous and made me want to slow down to read more carefully.

As a reader who especially enjoys historical fiction, I always “grade” the overall appeal of the book by whether it makes me want to know more about the historical characters or time period.  If I want to sit down and google the “real” characters or backdrop before I’ve even finished the book, then I know that the author has truly captured me as a reader; and that’s exactly what McCoy did.  Using the historically prominent characters and the  Underground Railroad (UGRR) as historical backdrop, I was drawn into the historical end of the story.  I was fascinated by not only the story she was telling about the two women, but also the real story of these people and the UGRR.  I wanted to know more…not only about both women, but about the history that eventually would tie them together.  All I can say is that it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where the author so beautifully weaved the history of the past with fictional characters of the present.

The Mapmaker’s Children is a novel I would strongly and very enthusiastically recommend to my reading friends.

Special thanks to Sarah McCoy and Shelf Awareness for my copy of this book.  I’m not only overjoyed to receive it, but especially pleased that it met my every hope and expectation, and that I was able to give it an honest and unreserved positive review.

2015 Lawton Chautauqua (June 16-20)

If you’ve followed my website at all recently, then you know that my upcoming novel, The Edge of Nowhere, follows the story of a widowed mother of ten children struggling to survive through the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl.  But what was the Dust Bowl, really?  The Lawton Public Library in Lawton, Oklahoma is hosting a 5-day event this week titled 2015 Lawton Chautauqua.  Focusing on the theme of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, a series of workshops and performances will be presented to enhance understanding of this tragic event in American History.

Get a better understanding of the hardships endured by Oklahomans during the ten-year drought and soil erosion that sent so many West for better lives.  Learn how those who stayed behind endured!  If you live in Oklahoma or near Lawton, don’t miss this event!

Chautauqua poster

Stories Behind the Story: The Edge of Nowhere (Part II)

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Late last year I wrote an article for Rochester Women magazine about local author, Abbie Williams, whose newest novel, Heart of a Dove, was about to be released by Central Avenue Publishing.  Her novel (which is an excellent read, by the way) is about a young woman in the early post Civil War days who ends up a prostitute.  It was an interesting premise, and I wondered at where she got her ideas.  For this particular novel, she informed me that there was a particularly high percentage of widows and orphans — particularly in the South — and she started with a  single orphaned character and asked herself, “How would she survive?”  From that one conversation, my mind began spinning.  What an awesome way to begin a book; to take a character and put her in the midst of a difficult situation, then ask yourself “How would she survive?” This conversation — and this question in particular — was the seed that began my novel, The Edge of Nowhere.

That afternoon, I left my interview with Abbie and couldn’t get that one question out of my head.  How do people survive in difficult situations?  What wouldn’t they do to save themselves or their loved ones.  From these thoughts, I began to think about my paternal grandmother.

My grandmother, Edna Hall Hedrick Golden, was a strong woman — both physically and in spirit.  I grew up hearing stories about how aggressive she was in her prime, and how most people gave her a wide berth when she was angry.  She was not a woman to be trifled with, and she wasted no time putting you in your place.  For all of that, I loved her though I never understood her.  She wasn’t the warm and welcoming grandmother that so many of my friends enjoyed.  Rather, she was very no-nonsense and said what was on her mind.  She passed away when I was in my early 20s, so I never had the chance to know her as an adult or to explore who or why she was the woman she was.  My conversation with Abbie Williams opened the floodgates of questions I’d buried over the years and I began to wonder, “Who was this woman?”

My grandmother was twenty when she married my grandfather.  He was much older than she — approximately twenty-three years older — and widowed with five children, most of whom were fairly close in age to my grandmother.  Upon their marriage, he moved my grandmother to his family farm to finish raising his children.  Together they would have five more children before his death some eight years later, just before the peak of the worst years of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.

Newspaper Announcing the 1929  Stock Market Crash Image Source:  http://images.viralnova.com/000/088/099/desktop-1414612214.jpg

Newspaper Announcing the 1929 Stock Market Crash
Image Source: http://images.viralnova.com/000/088/099/desktop-1414612214.jpg

In those years, everybody had it hard.  Wall Street had crashed only five years earlier in what later became known as Black Tuesday, the Dust Bowl had fully settled into Oklahoma, and the nation was experiencing the hardships and poverty of The Great Depression.  And, on a small farm in central Oklahoma was a city girl with a combined ten children and stepchildren, all of whom looked to her for guidance.

So began the first of my questions:  How did she do it?  How did a 28 year old woman with no resources survive with ten children?  Families all around them were starving, crops were dead in the fields, everywhere you looked was pure devastation from the wind erosion caused by the Dust Bowl; and here you have young woman with nearly a dozen mouths to feed.  Many grown men were broken under the circumstances; but my grandmother persevered.  The adversity only seemed to make her stronger.  I believe there is nothing she wouldn’t have done for her children.  And so a character began shaping in my mind.  A character of complete fiction, inspired by the strength and tenacity of my own grandmother.  That character became Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene, the main character in my forthcoming novel by Penner Publishing, entitled The Edge of Nowhere.

To Be Continued…

Black Sunday - April 14, 1935 Largest Dust Storm of the Era to Hit Oklahoma Soil Image Source: http://www.news9.com/story/12303834/wednesday-is-75th-anniversary-of-black-sunday-in-oklahoma

Black Sunday – April 14, 1935
Largest Dust Storm of the Era to Hit Oklahoma Soil
Image Source: http://www.news9.com/story/12303834/wednesday-is-75th-anniversary-of-black-sunday-in-oklahoma

Stories Behind the Story: The Edge of Nowhere

A dear friend of mine recently referred to going back home to Oklahoma as being akin to putting on a favorite old warm fuzzy robe and slippers. It just feels good.  I have to concur.  In another week or so, I’ll be returning to Oklahoma for the first time in about two years.  To say I’m homesick is an understatement.  My heart aches for the red dirt of Oklahoma.  It weeps for the tall stalks of wheat swaying in the fields, just before harvest.  I miss my great big extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins.  There truly is no place like home.

The timing of my trip home couldn’t be better.  My debut novel, The Edge of Nowhere, will soon be released by Penner Publishing.  It’s a novel about my homeland; a work of historical fiction based upon Oklahoma in the 1930s during the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and The Great Depression.  It tells the story of a young woman from Oklahoma struggling alone to raise her large family after the death of her husband during arguably the worst destruction to ever hit American soil.

“Abandoned farmstead in the Dust Bowl region of Oklahoma, showing the effects of wind erosion, 1937″
Image Source: http://www.britannica.com/media/full/174462/96105

The theme of this novel is no accident.  I was raised in Oklahoma and am the daughter and granddaughter of Oklahoma Dust Bowl survivors.  I grew up on the stories of my grandmother’s unyielding tenacity as she fought to raise her children alone after the death of my grandfather.  She wasn’t even 30 and had five children with my grandfather, and another 5 mostly grown step-children for whom to provide (and another husband and four children came along later).  While it’s true that her stepchildren were mostly independent by this time, they were still family and I have no doubt that she felt responsible for their welfare as well as her own biological children.

My grandfather was a fairly young man when he passed.  He suffered an appendicitis rupture at a time when medical care wasn’t as accessible as it is today.  They were poor, lived out in the boonies, and even had they realized the problem in time they never could’ve gotten him to a surgeon quickly enough.  His first symptom was a death sentence, and he left my young grandmother — a city girl, born and raised — on a farm with a brood of children to raise.  They were quite literally “dirt-poor” at a time when social services like welfare and Obamacare were only a dream.

My grandmother wasn’t an easy woman when I knew her.  She wasn’t “soft” like other grandmothers.  She wasn’t unkind, but she was scary.  We knew not to mess with her or we’d likely find ourselves on the other end of a switch or her cane.  So we didn’t push her.

The Edge of Nowhere is my own reimagining of how and why my grandmother came to be the woman she was.  It’s a complete work of fiction with several family anecdotes thrown in, and it all started with one question:  How does a young woman raises 5+ children in the midst of the worst abject poverty with no husband and no resources?  How does she provide for her children?  What obstacles might she face?  What would she do to overcome those obstacles?  What would any parent do to provide and protect her children?  And, maybe most importantly, how do those choices change and shape her into the person she becomes?

“Migrant Mother” fleeing Oklahoma during the 1930s Dust Bowl
Photo Credit: Dorthea Lange (1936)

Most people are familiar with John Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath.  For those unfamiliar, the story focuses on the Joad Family who flees the desolation that has become Oklahoma during the 1930s Dust Bowl.  They migrate to California and face no end of hardship on their journey, but eventually find greener pastures in the beauty beyond the dust and dirt of Dust Bowl-era Oklahoma.  Steinbeck’s novel is beautifully crafted and one of my all-time favorites, but it focuses only on those who left Oklahoma.  The truth is that most Oklahomans were too poor to leave.  Most Oklahomans had no choice but to stay behind and make the best of a really bad situation.  They were simply too poor to pack up and leave, and Oklahoma was what they knew. It was home.  The result was that many became homeless and/or died from the conditions.  Those families who survived are still there today, working the same farms that refused them so many years before.  They are resilient and they are survivors.

In the coming months, I’ll bring you more information about my novel:  The Edge of Nowhere.  I’ll post pictures of the places that inspired this story…the beautiful wheat fields and red dirt of Oklahoma.  I’ll tell the stories passed down from generation to generation…all in anticipation of my novel’s release in early 2016.

Don’t miss these updates!  Subscribe to my blog now, follow me on any of my social media sites, or sign up for my monthly newsletter by clicking here.

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The News is Out!

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Oklahoma Dust Bowl / Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historial Society http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=DU012

If you’ve not heard yet, the news is out!  Penner Publishing announced today the forthcoming release of my new novel, The Edge of Nowhere!  I can’t tell you how excited I am!  To read about it, follow this link.

What can I tell you about this new novel?  It’s gritty and real.  It tells the story of 87 year old Victoria Hasting Harrison Green who has survived the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and The Great Depression…but at what cost?  Widowed at only 26 with nine children, poor, and broke with no resources, there is nothing she won’t do to provide for and protect her young family…including murder. But a woman surviving in a man’s world must make some sacrifices, and those sacrifices can change who you are.  Can Victoria’s grandchildren understand that the choices she made not only shaped her into the woman she is today, but were imminently necessary to secure their futures?

Look for this title to be released in Late 2015 or Early 2016 by Penner Publishing, and contact your local bookstores for copies!

For more information about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl that inspired this story, click here to visit the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Website.

3rd Grade Boy Reports Kidnapping

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a funny kid story. Usually I share a story about my own kids, but today I have a  story that I’ve “borrowed” from a friend who works in the office of a nearby elementary school.

Kathie S. is a secretary in the office of a local school.  In all the years I’ve known her (15+), she’s always worked in elementary schools and the kids love her.  She’s pretty, approachable, funny, and she always has a welcoming smile on her face.  Kids like her immediately, so they go to her first when they have a problem and need to tell an adult.

One afternoon Kathie was working at her desk when a third grade boy approached her.  The child was agitated and excited; he believed he’d just seen a potential kidnapping and he was anxious to report it to the authorities.

Kathie explains:

He was very excited and said that a car load of teenagers had gone by and that a girl was “yelling out the window HELP!”  I asked him for some information about the car…

Kathie proceeded to take very copious notes.  The child was serious and she would not undermine his concern by not taking him seriously.  As he described what he’d seen, Kathie wrote “Red” as the vehicle description, then “Teenager” to remind herself that it was a carload of teens that the boy had seen.

Kathie asked the child if he could provide any further information, to which he emphatically replied, “YES!  I have more information!”  At this point, Kathie handed the paper with her notes to the child, hoping he’d jot down a license plate number or any other significant detail he remembered.

Concentrating hard, the boy attempted to remember every detail of the vehicle he’s seen.  He didn’t want to forget a single detail.  This is important — He’s going to save someone’s life!  Below Kathie’s notes, he very carefully drew a detailed image of the car to help authorities apprehend the suspects.

11377292_10204451488227368_347350814551457229_n

Always with a sense of humor, Kathie said later:

Apparently Fred Flintstone was trolling (near the school) that day kidnapping teenager’s. LOL!!!!

Red Oklahoma Earth

  

My novel, The Edge of Nowhere, is expected to be released this Fall by Penner Publishing. In it, I talk extensively of my love for the red Oklahoma dirt. It’s hard to imagine unless you’ve seen it firsthand, so I’ve stolen this photo from my cousin. Ignore the mud – Oklahoma is under siege at present by record rainfall. But this is the red earth I miss and love. It gives me strength. I actually have a small bottle of it on my dresser for when I get homesick. 

Judy Blume Free Book Giveaway

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I have been a HUGE fan of Judy Blume practically since birth. I remember reading Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing in 3rd grade…4th grade….5th grade…10th grade…at 22…at 32…at 44…I’ll stop there!  I have always adored her.

Today I found out there she has a new book out and is giving away 10 free AUTOGRAPHED copies.  Because I love her so much, I have to share this with everyone I know.  If you love Judy Blume as much as I do, here’s the link to sign up for her free book giveaway!

Good luck, everyone!

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