COMING SOON: “THE BIG COVER REVEAL”

envelopeI didn’t think it was possible to be more excited, but I am!  Early this morning I received news that a rough draft of my cover for The Edge of Nowhere should be available by Friday! I feel like this process is just moving along so swiftly — far faster than I’d ever hoped!  January will be here soon and I’ll finally hold my own book in my own hands!

A few months ago I created a monthly newsletter for the purpose of providing the most current information about this book to those who are interested.  Subscribers to this newsletter not only receive the information first — including the first glimpse of the cover art — but are the first to know about upcoming contests and book tours.  I encourage you to take moment to sign up for this newsletter.  And be sure to share with your friends.

In the meantime, have I mentioned that I’m SO EXCITED?!?!  SQUEEEEEEEEEEEE!

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Bad Decisions?

Sometimes I find the most “interesting” stories in the news.  They grab ahold of my funny bone and make me giggle until I just have to share them with someone else.  Today is one of those days.

According to Minnesota’s KAAL-TV News, Rochester police have finally identified the Bonnie and Clyde wannabes who they believe robbed a local credit union last month.  Arrested were 19 year old Andrew Fogan (the alleged robber) and 21 year-old Madison Reichart (the alleged getaway driver).

The story itself was pretty much your standard police report, “cops catch the bad guys” story.  And then I saw the mug shot and couldn’t stop laughing.  Am I the only one who finds it ironic that young Mr. Fogan is wearing a t-shirt that reads “Bad Decisions”?

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Photo Source: KAAL-TV, Minnesota

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The People Who Inspired the Characters: “The Edge of Nowhere”

Today is National Aunt and Uncle Day.  Yup — that’s a real holiday set aside in the United States to honor aunts and uncles.  As my forthcoming novel is all about family and inspired by my own family, I would be remiss in not taking a moment to celebrate my own aunts and uncles, many of whom were the inspiration for some of my characters!

My grandmother - Edna Hall Hedrick Golden - in her later years.

My grandmother – Edna Hall Hedrick Golden

Like my fictional main character in my novel, The Edge of Nowhere, my grandmother was widowed at a young age with a combined twelve children to raise alone during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl.  (She would eventually remarry and add more children for a total of fourteen).  Times were tough and there is no doubt that there were periods of time when they were homeless and hungry, and yet many of these children survived right along with her to become amazing men and women.  Today I honor those wonderful aunts and uncles who each played some important role in my life.

My Grandfather - William Jefferson Hedrick

My Grandfather – William Jefferson Hedrick

Of the original five children from my grandfather’s first marriage, two aunts and one uncle stand out most prominently in my memory:  My Aunt Opal, Aunt Cecil and Uncle Pete.  Aunt Opal and Aunt Cecil.  Like many Oklahomans in the 1930s, Aunt Opal and Aunt Cecil went west to California to escape the worst of the Oklahoma Dust Bowl.  Their descendants remain there today and are still affectionately referred to as the “California Bunch.”  Even with the incredible distance that separated us, I remember them well from my childhood.  They always made a point to visit and attend large family gatherings in Oklahoma.  The characters of Caroline and Olivia represent my Aunts Cecil and Opal.

Uncle Pete was a farmer and, to my knowledge, never left Oklahoma.  I remember lazy summer evenings visiting him on his farm out in Calumet, OK, where he always had fresh cantaloup from one of his gardens.  He always wore bib overalls and a long-sleeved shirt, even on the hottest of Oklahoma summer days.  It’s what farmers did.   The combined characters of Daniel and Joseph represent my Uncle Pete.

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Aunt Gerry, circa 1934

Next comes my Aunt Gerry.  She was the oldest of my grandmother’s children with my grandfather.  Oh how I loved my Aunt Gerry!  She was a hard-worker and so very giving.  She never forgot a birthday or Christmas, and she was always the first person my parents called when they needed to leave me for long periods of time.  The thing I remember most about my Aunt Gerry was her extreme dislike for patchwork quilts.  She once told me that she’d seen enough in her childhood and she absolutely refused to have one in her house.  In the Edge of Nowhere, my main character hates patchwork quilts, and her feelings are drawn directly from my Aunt Gerry.  The book’s character, Grace, is based upon how I imagine my Aunt Gerry might’ve been as a child.

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Uncle Bill, circa 1934

My Uncle Bill comes next.  I loved my Uncle Bill!  He passed away about two years ago, but there was never a kinder or gentler man.  For Uncle Bill, everything was about this family. He married the love of his life and together they raised several children, then went on to raise several of their grandsons as their own.  He was rough around the edges, very often politically incorrect, but his heart was pure. My cousins and I always joked that, when bringing home a future husband or wife, if they survived meeting Uncle Bill they were keepers.  Everybody should have an Uncle Bill.  My character, Jack, is based upon how I imagine my Uncle Bill might’ve been in his youth.

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My daddy, circa 1934

Next comes my dad.  Now, I realize that this is an article about honoring aunts and uncles; but, since it’s also about the characters in my book, I’d be remiss in not mentioning him.  In my novel, my father is represented by the child, Ethan.

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Aunt Shirley, circa 1934

Next up is my Aunt Shirley — the first of my father’s remaining siblings.  There is nobody like my Aunt Shirley!  She’s a pistol!  She’s kind and gracious, and would give you the shirt off of her back; but cross her or someone she loves and that Hedrick temperament comes shining through.  She’s an amazing woman and, as I was writing the dialogue in my book, it was the melodic sound of my Aunt Shirley’s voice I heard in my head.  The child, Sara, represents my Aunt Shirley in the book.

My Uncle Donny passed away several years ago from cancer, I think.  I adored my Uncle Donny.  I don’t think it’s any secret to my family that he was always my favorite of my daddy’s brothers.  The weird thing is that I can’t tell you why.  Of all of my dad’s siblings, he was the most different.  Where the rest of the family is loud and boisterous, Uncle Donny was quiet and kept to himself.  He’d come to a family gathering and leave without saying a word.  I loved everything about him.  His smile…his quiet demeanor.  He was very special to me and my heart still aches when I think of his passing.  Like the main character in my book, my grandmother was hugely pregnant with my Uncle Donny when my grandfather died.  In my novel, the baby Victoria is carrying at her husband’s death represents my Uncle Donny.

Next in line is my Uncle Everett.  I didn’t know him well, as he lived in  California and died in my early teens.  What I recall of him was a very attractive man who was kind and gentle.  I believe he was especially close with my youngest two aunts, and he was in many ways my gramma’s “baby.”  Uncle Everett spoiled my grandmother rotten.  If my gramma needed it, Uncle Everett was the first to provide it.  Living in California, he knew several professional football players, and one of my gramma’s favorite stories was meeting Joe Montana when he played for the San Francisco 49ers.  I believe she said she had dinner with him one night.  How cool is that?!  If my gramma wanted or needed it, My Uncle Everett did his best to make it happen.

After my Uncle Everett comes my Uncle Jim; the second of my father’s remaining siblings and another of my favorite uncles. Uncle Jim was always the “cool” uncle.  He married young and had several children with my Aunt Deanna, then lived what I imagined in my childhood as the life of a playboy for many years following their divorce.  I remember his many beautiful girlfriends and one of his wives of many years, Debbie, who was tall and lanky.  She was a professional singer.  They divorced and he went through a few other women before setting down with the wonderful wife he has now.  Interestingly, through all the years and nearly 50 years after their divorce, he and his first wife, my Aunt Deanna, are still very dear friends.  They’re the couple that everyone hopes to emulate:  they divorced, but they had several children together and so they remained close friends.  They still send birthday cards to each other every year, and my Aunt Deanna still comes to family reunions for the family she’s been divorced from for nearly all of my life.  And yet we love her as much as Uncle Jim and his wife, Sheila, and we still call her “Aunt Deanna.”  Uncle Jim is represented by the child, David, in my book.

The last two children are my daddy’s “baby sisters,” Aunt Coni and Aunt Mary.  I mention them together because they’re always together in my mind.  It’s hard to think about one without the other.  At significantly younger than my dad and their other siblings, Aunt Mary and Aunt Coni are the two I relate to most.  Both have children my age and there’s just nothing about either of them that I don’t completely love.  Like the older siblings, they’ve reinforced in me a huge love of family.  More than that, they’ve taught me confidence.  These two amazing women are the best kinds of aunts to have because they always have your back.  They may not agree with you, but they respect your path in life and celebrate your every success.  They may also be special to me because they’re especially close to my own mother, always treating her like an extra sister rather than the wife of their older brother.  If there were ever two women I’d most like to emulate, it’s my Aunt Coni and Aunt Mary.  They are who they are and you either love them, or you can take a hike.  They won’t spend any time worrying about what you don’t like about them.  If you don’t like them, it’s your problem and has nothing to do with them.  What better legacy can a woman leave for her daughters, granddaughters and nieces but the legacy of being proud of who you are?

I’m very thankful to my aunts and uncles for so many reasons.  Though they’re separated in age from oldest to youngest by probably more than 20 years, they’ve taught us all the importance of family by always maintaining close ties with each other.  In my childhood, they fostered close relationships between cousins by frequent visits to each others homes and annual family gatherings.  Some of my best memories are gathering at Aunt Shirley’s house in her pool room, and taking turns with the cousins at the pool table while her husband’s, Uncle Don’s, Bob Wills music blared through the stereo system.  As cousins, we learned to love each other by seeing the love our parents had for each other.  For the reasons, today I honor my aunts and uncles and thank  them for being a huge part of the person I have become.

The Edge of Nowhere is loosely based upon the life of my aunts and uncles as they struggled alongside their widowed mother during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl.  To learn more about this novel, releasing in January 2016, follow THIS LINK.

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

The remaining aunts and uncles and cousin on my father’s side of the family.

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Book Review: Go Set a Watchman

WATCHMAN

Anyone who knows even the tiniest thing about me knows that Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is, in my opinion, the best book ever written.  In too many ways to even try counting, the themes contained within its pages have shaped me into the person I am today.  The idea of “walking around in someone else’s skin” before passing judgement, as advised by the character Atticus Finch, is perhaps the most important theme of the book and is one that I carry with me every single day.  It’ll come as no surprise, then, that I was beyond excited to hear that Lee would be releasing a second book, this one not so much a sequel to the original; but, rather, her original intent for the manuscript.  I was giddy with excitement.

And then the early reviews came in, many calling the “New Atticus” a racist and a bigot.  Before I even turned the first page, I was heartbroken.  How could my hero — the ultimate champion of human rights — be a bigot and racist?  I stopped reading the reviews after that.  I neither wanted to believe it, nor could I wrap my brain around the idea.  I refused to accept it.  I would wait to read the book, then draw my own conclusions.

Last night, I turned the last page of Go Set a Watchman and, for the longest time, I sat there and tried to absorb everything I had read.  To put it in plain terms, it’s exactly the kind of book I try to avoid:  a book that makes me think and won’t let me stop thinking.  When I read, I read for pleasure and to transplant myself into someone else’s world.  I’m reading because I don’t want to think.  But Harper Lee makes you think and, surprisingly, it was a good thing in this case.

Similar to its predecessor, Go Set a Watchman takes place in the fictional town of Maycomb, AL.  At the center of the story is our beloved protagonist from To Kill a Mockingbird, Jean Louise (Scout) Finch.  She’s all grown up now.  She’s in her early 20s, finished college, and living in New York.  Yankee Territory!  She comes home for a two-week vacation and her recent absence puts her beloved hometown in a different light than how she remembered it.  While the people are the same, her world view has changed.  What she never saw before now stares her in the face:  racism.  Like many of us, she never noticed it before because it was a part of her everyday life and all she ever knew; but now she has a broader world view and that world view has allowed her to understand that there are many different ways to see things.

715VLP6M-OLMany of the characters from the original book make an appearance, with the exception of Dill (who only visited during the summer, anyway) and poor Jem.  I’m not spoiling anything for you to tell you that the reader learns in the first few pages that Jem died an early death.  Scout is on her own with only her longtime best friend  and suitor, Henry Clinton, and a new and wonderful character:  Dr. Jack Finch, brother to Atticus.  Dr. Finch can only be described as the yin to Atticus’ yang.  They are two sides to the same coin, both believing similar things but finding different ways to express themselves.  On one side you have “Atticus the Untouchable.”  He’s the perfect example of everything we hope to be.  On the other side is Jack who, unlike Atticus, is completely “human.”

Calpurnia, Zeebo (the garbage collector and son to Calpurnia who made a brief appearance in the original book), and Aunt Alexandra make an appearance, with Aunt Alexandra and Zeebo playing prominent roles.  We finally get to learn a little about their back stories.  No Boo Radley.  Sorry folks.  In fact, very few of the actual elements that made To Kill a Mockingbird the story it became are present.  Rather, the reader is given only brief references to the Tom Robinson trial that was at the center of the previous book.  So this is not a retelling of a book you’ve already  read.  It’s a novel that stands entirely alone which means that you don’t really have to choose whether you like the Atticus of To Kill a Mockingbird or the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman.  They’re both Atticus, but at different stages of life and fleshed out a little different to show the reader what makes him tick.

So let’s cut to the heart of the controversy.  Early reviews shocked Harper Lee fans by calling Atticus a bigot and racist.  On the surface, it may seem that way.  When Scout returns home, she finds that her father sits on the board for the “Maycomb County Citizens’ Council” — a council with the singular purpose of keeping the African American residents of Maycomb “in their place,” so to speak.  Obviously she’s shocked and this knowledge makes her physically ill.  She was raised by Calpurnia, a black woman who stood in the stead of her mother.  Her father had put his reputation on the line to defend Tom Robinson which, according to Scout, was the only time in Maycomb history that a black man had ever been found innocent on charges of raping a white woman.  Was everything Atticus stood for and taught his children a lie?  I think Scout’s feelings speak for all of us in the following passage:

The one human being she had ever fully and wholeheartedly trusted had failed her; the only man she had ever known to whom she could point and say with expert knowledge, “He is a gentleman, in his heart he is a gentleman,” had betrayed her, publicly, grossly, and shamelessly.

[Lee, Harper (2015-07-14). Go Set a Watchman: A Novel (Kindle Locations 1276-1278). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.]

So sets the tone for the story.  Atticus Finch, a demigod of sorts and certainly Scout’s hero (and mine as well) has been discovered to be something less than we all imagined him.  This model of perfection has been discovered to have flaws, and now Scout — and the reader — has to decide how to feel about that.

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Yes.  The idea that Atticus would be part of anything that represents as its sole purpose the repression of any of God’s creatures is nothing but a betrayal.  That is not the Atticus we came to know in To Kill a Mockingbird.  With that said, I would caution readers of this review not to jump to conclusions.  What you see isn’t always what you get, and I think that may be true in this case.  Both Atticus and Henry Clinton are members of Macomb’s Citizens’ Council, but both for entirely different reasons.  Is one’s reason better, more “respectable” or “forgiving” than the other?  I’ve come to my own conclusion and you may or may not agree…and that’s the beauty of this book.  You have to decide.  You can’t walk away from this book without making a decision.  Harper Lee won’t tell you what to think, and I won’t tell you what to believe.  YOU have to make that decision for yourself; and I’ll tell you two things:  there is no right answer, and you may struggle with the gray area between right and wrong and what you’ve always believed to be true.  Or at least I did.

So my conclusion — the answer to the “big question” of whether I liked this book and would recommend it to others:  Yes, I loved it.  And yes, I would recommend it to others.  Though, admittedly, it was a full eight chapters before I really got into the book, I will say that it was very well done and I liked it.  Similar to To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee has left the reader a lot to think about.  She’s given us no small number of issues to ponder.  She asks you, this time, not to “walk around in someone else’s skin” as she did in To Kill a Mockingbird; but to ask yourself if everything you see is always what it appears to be.  As my dad used to say, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  The question I’m left with asking myself is this:  How would I handle myself in this same situation?

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El Reno, Oklahoma Welcomes President Obama!

water-tower-101212_1280hub-reedEl Reno, Oklahoma has had many distinguished visitors and residents over the years.  The first that comes to mind is Mr. Hub Reed, former pro basketball player who played center for the Lakers back in the 1950s.  He served as El Reno High School Athletic Director and Dean of Boys for as far back in my childhood as I can remember and stood at nearly 7-feet tall.  He was an imposing presence, often seen ducking to enter through doorways in our high school, and you can be sure that our students stayed in line to escape his wrath.  Truthfully, he’s a gentle giant without a mean bone in his body.  To this day, I’m sure every student who knew him will say the same thing:  He’s a great man.

2ee0a13ba9fd3a3fc0c2613aa90465a6You’ve heard of the famous artist, Frederic Remington? In 1888, he spent three months in Fort Reno (located on the eastern edge of El Reno and dates back to the 1870s)  working on images of the cavalry, buffalo soldiers and the Native American Indians and scouts.

In 1988, Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise visited El Reno for three days while filming the iconic movie, Rain Man.  The hotel, located on Historic Route 66, has since been demolished; but I can remember a 17-year-old me standing across the street with a crowd of people waiting for a glimpse of Cruise and Hoffman.  We weren’t disappointed.

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And don’t forget Amelia Earheardt, Will Rogers, and even Elvis Presley.  In the 1920s, Earheardt flew briefly into the Fort Reno airstrip.  As an Oklahoma native, Rogers was known to visit Fort Reno to watch horse races and polo matches; and Elvis Presley is said to have driven through El Reno while taking Historic Route 66 that goes right through the town.  Before the construction of I-40, pretty much everyone had to go through El Reno if traveling Route 66.

flagwavingYesterday, El Reno welcomed the most distinguished and famous visitor of all:  The President of the United States, Barack Obama.  In an effort to spread his reform message, Mr. Obama visited the Federal Corrections Facility, a medium-security prison, in El Reno. The entire town was abuzz!  It doesn’t matter what your political leanings, there can be no doubt that the welcoming of a sitting president into a small town is nothing short of an honor.

Residents lined streets, flew flags and greeted our president in the only way El Reno knows how:  with graciousness and respect.  It’s just what we do, and I’m so proud of my small town for the pride and respect shown yesterday.

El Reno Mayor, Matt White, got an up-close-and-personal look at the president as he arrived.  Unfortunately, the president’s schedule didn’t allow for a meet-and-greet with our mayor, but who can deny the excitement of being that close to a world leader in our own back yard?

I’m so excited for my hometown and proud to say that I grew up among some of the best people in the world.  Though the names have changed and the times are better, they’re still the same people depicted in my novel, The Edge of Nowhere, and the way the residents represented our town yesterday makes me doubly proud to have set my novel in this wonderful town.

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Say Hello to My New Tab: THE EDGE OF NOWHERE

If you follow my website, you’ll notice a new tab at the top:  THE EDGE OF NOWHERE.   This new tab provides specific information as it relates to the novel, the inspiration for its telling, and background information on the era.

One question you may be wondering:  Is this story true?  Yes and no.  The Edge of Nowhere is a work of complete fiction, but incorporates many of the anecdotes I grew up hearing from my father’s generation.  It was inspired by the experiences of my own grandmother, with a whole lot of imagination thrown in.  As my daddy would say, “Why tell the truth when, with a little imagination, you can make up a really great story?”

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SYNOPSIS
Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene knows her family despises her.  She’s even heard her grandchildren snigger behind her back about the “Immaculate Conception of David” – her fifth child, conceived between husbands.  But Victoria refuses to die before revealing the secrets she’s held locked away for more than 50 years; the secrets only whispered about in family folklore that have made her the feared matriarch of her family.

Widowed with nine children, Victoria will do anything to provide for her children – even murder, and without remorse.  Each day brings greater challenges:  poverty, homelessness, death, starvation, degradation and disease.  Some challenges will require despicable acts to overcome. But at what cost?  Can her family understand the decisions she’s made to secure their futures?

The Edge of Nowhere is a work of historical fiction inspired by the experiences of my own grandmother during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression.  While it is a complete work of fiction, many of the stories contained within its pages are based upon anecdotes that have been passed down from my father’s generation, through mine, and down to my children.  Several of the key factors of the book are taken from their actual experiences, and others are the product of my imagination or exaggeration.  As a reader, you’ll have to decide which is which.  The answers may surprise you.

Four of my grandparents' combined fourteen children.  These four were their first together.  Not pictured are the five he brought to the marriage, and the five that came after this photo was taken. Front Row:  Bill and Geraldine Second Row:  Shirley and Ed (My Daddy)Four of my grandparents’ combined fourteen children. These four were their first together. Not pictured are the five he brought to the marriage, and the five that came after this photo was taken. Front Row: Bill and Geraldine / Back Row: Shirley and Ed (My Daddy). For readers of the book, these four children inspired the characters of Jack, Grace, Sara and Ethan.

The Dust Bowl that swept through Oklahoma and neighboring states was arguably the most devastating natural disaster to ever hit American soil.  Unlike a tornado, earthquake or a hurricane, the Dust Bowl lasted nearly ten straight years.  What was once beautiful green prairie and farmland of wheat fields as far as the eye can see soon became nothing but dust and dirt.  A desert of sorts.  Everywhere you looked was blowing dirt.  It got into your mouth and ears.  You couldn’t help but to inhale it deep into your lungs until you choked.  Many during this time died of what came to be known as “dust pneumonia.”  It was relentless and brutal.

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Photo Credit Dorthea Lange

Farming was the lifeblood of most Oklahomans during this time, but the soil had become so eroded that nothing would grow.  If your livelihood is farming and nothing will grow, what do you do?  How do you live?  These are the questions I began asking myself as Victoria’s story unfolded. How do you provide for your family when you’re a single woman alone with nearly a dozen children and no resources?

An important thing to remember about Oklahomans of this era is that most had no formal education.  They knew one thing:  farming.  If you’ve read Steinbeck’s epic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, then you know that many of these people moved West for a better life.  Most people were too poor to move, however, and so they stayed behind and hoped for better days.  The Edge of Nowhere is the story of those people.  It’s the story of the true Oklahoma Spirit — the dogged determination and tenacity that continues to see them through continued disasters like the Oklahoma City Bombing and the yearly tornados that destroy home and property.  It is the story of a people dedicated to the land they love and the place they call home.  An interesting side note is that many of these same families who stayed behind and endured the harsh life of The Dust Bowl are still there today.  The same lands that once had forsaken them are now being farmed by their children and grandchildren.

“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

My grandmother - Edna Hall Hedrick Golden - in her later years.

My grandmother – Edna Hall Hedrick Golden – in later years.

During this era, my grandmother was left a widow with her husband’s five nearly grown children and an additional seven smaller ones for a grand total of twelve children (she would go on to remarry after this era and have two more children for a combined fourteen).  She was only 28 years old.  Soon thereafter, she lost their farm and she found herself homeless, hungry and with few resources.  She had no family to speak of, so providing and caring for these children fell entirely to her.  I don’t know what she was like before my grandfather’s death, but I know that in the years I knew her she was strong and opinionated.  She ruled her children with an iron fist and they respected her for it.  She was a legend and not many people would dare to cross her path.

So sets the stage for The Edge of Nowhere.  You have a young woman, widowed, with a combined twelve children.  You have no resources.  You’ve lost your home, your children are hungry, jobs are scarce, what do you do?  Maybe a better question is this:  What wouldn’t you do to provide for your children?  And how do the decisions you’re forced to make change the person you are?

This book is currently under contract with Penner Publishing with an expected publication date of Spring 2016.  While you wait, take some time to visit the PBS website dedicated to the Dust Bowl.  You can find that link here.

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