Tuesday, October 30, 2012

California History – Natural Beauty Preserved in Art

Around 1900, people stepping off ships near Los Angeles were in luck they arrived in springtime.  They could see, forty miles north, fields of California poppies shimmering orange in the sunshine, on a gentle slope rising above Pasadena and just below mountains.  The poppy fields of Altadena were developed into homes after World War II, when the population surged.  Before that, California impressionist painter Benjamin Brown captured the grass and flowers in Poppies Near Pasadena. 

Paradise Found: The Beauty and Grandeur of California, a recent exhibit at the Irvine Museum, is a reminder of a region with few people, lots of sun, and pastoral hills and rugged seashores.   Benjamin Brown painted this untitled landscape as well as the one above. 

Benjamin Brown and other California impressionists were supported by Eva Scott Fenyes (1849 – 1930), who spent winters in her home on Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row.  Recognizing that artists need money to continue to create their art, Eva and her husband, Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, not only hired models, gave supplies to artists, and allowed the occasional artist to live on their estate, they added a studio onto their mansion for the artists to use.  Here’s a photo of their Pasadena home, a 1906 Beaux Arts mansion.  On the right is the studio, with an arched glass ceiling to let in natural light.

Pasadena millionaires sought invitations to Eva’s salons, held in the studio.  To introduce California impressionist painters to the wealthy, Eva provided the party – she hired actors to perform plays, as well as musicians and lecturers.  

Eva’s mansion, part of the Pasadena Museum of History, has been renovated and will reopen on Dec. 7, 2012.  Fully furnished, it also houses Eva’s art collection, including stunning portraits of family members and landscapes depicting a Far West paradise.

“Past and Present with Pamela” is a blog celebrating the arts, history, and places.  View the recent series of posts about the historic, seaside Hotel del Coronado, the location of the #1 comedy of all time (view a film clip), playground of movie stars and heads of state, and why the stories of ghost sightings would not go away and what the hotel is doing about it.  Pamela Tartaglio, 2013 Past President of Women Writing the West, is writing a novel set in the 1890s in “the world’s greatest gold camp,” Cripple Creek, Colorado, and she volunteers at the Pasadena Museum of History.  She does have one leg in this century --for a very short published story set in the present, see

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

2012 WILLA Literary Awards Competition

The winners (left to right): Sarah Carter, Patricia Frolander,
Amy Hale Auker, Summer Wood and Sandra Dallas.
 Women Writing the West members gathered on a beautiful fall day in Albuquerque, NM to present the WILLA Literary Awards Winners and Finalists with their trophies and plaques.  Always one of the highlights of our annual conference, this year's luncheon honoring Finalists featured a presentation from New Mexico author Anne Hillerman entitled "What I Learned About Women and the West From Tony Hillerman."  Anne incorporated into her talk some beautiful photographs taken by Don Strel and featured in their book "Tony Hillerman's Landscape."

Virginia Scharff, professor of history at University of New Mexico, was the keynote speaker for the evening banquet honoring WILLA Winners.  Her talk, "Why Women Matter," wove fascinating details about two women in history -- Sacagawea and Susan Shelby Magoffin -- into thoughts about the place of contemporary women in today's West.

The highlight of both events came with the presentation of the Winners' crystal trophies, and the Finalists' plaques.  Comments from the final judges were shared with the audience.  Unique, exciting, inspiring, poignant, humorous, refreshing are some of the many adjectives used by the judges to describe these winning books.

The Finalists (left to right): Ann Parker, Joyce B. Lohse, Michelle Black, Lin Pardey,
 Janet Fox, Joan Logghe and Susan Cummins Miller.
The 2012 WILLA Winners and Finalists are:


WINNER:  Raising Wrecker by Summer Wood (Bloomsbury USA)

FINALIST: Fracture by Susan Cummins Miller  (Texas Tech University Press)

FINALIST: Séance in Sepia by Michelle Black (Five Star Publishing/Gale Cengage)


WINNER: Rightful Place by Amy Hale Auker  (Texas Tech University Press)

FINALIST: Light on the Devils: Coming of Age on the Klamath by Louise Wagenknecht   (Oregon State University Press)

FINALIST: Bull Canyon: A Boat Builder, A Writer, and Other Wildlife  by Lin Pardey (Paradise Cay Publications)


WINNER: Recollecting: Lives of Aboriginal Women of the Canadian Northwest and Borderlands  Edited by Sarah Carter and Patricia McCormack  (Athabasca University Press)

FINALIST: Baby Doe Tabor: Matchless Silver Queen  by Joyce B. Lohse (Filter Press, LLC)


WINNER: The Bride's House by Sandra Dallas (St. Martin's Press)                      

FINALIST: Mercury's Rise by Ann Parker (Poisoned Pen Press)

FINALIST: A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware (Sourcebooks Landmark)


WINNER: Married Into It  by Patricia Frolander (High Plains Press)

FINALIST: The Singing Bowl  by Joan Logghe  (University of New Mexico Press)

FINALIST: Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet  by Linda M. Hasselstrom and Twyla M. Hansen   (The Backwaters Press)


WINNER: The American Cafe  by Sara Sue Hoklotubbe (University of Arizona Press)

FINALIST: Captive Trail  by Susan Page Davis (River North/Moody Publishers)

FINALIST: Unbridled by Tammy Hinton (Roots & Branches)


WINNER: The Year We Were Famous  by Carole Estby Dagg (Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

FINALIST: Forgiven by Janet Fox (Speak/Penguin)                                

FINALIST: A Book for Black-Eyed Susan by Judy Young  (Sleeping Bear Press)

Monday, October 22, 2012

The 2012 LAURA Awards

Left to right: Sheila MacAvoy, Leslee Breene, Liz Duckworth, and Karen Stevenson.
Not pictured: Anne Schroeder.
At the 18th Women Writing the West conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, we celebrated the LAURA Short Fiction Awards. Susan J. Tweit was the speaker for the evening, and gave a beautiful speech encouraging us all to write from the heart. We also had several ladies say a few words in honor of members who have passed away this year.

After the meal we announced the placement of the LAURA Short Fiction Awards. This was the fourth year we have had the contest. All entries must be fiction, set in the west, less than 5,000 words with a female main character. Only members of Women Writing the West can enter the contest.

We had two Honorable Mention placements:
"Todas Las Madres" by Karen Stevenson
"Elvira" by Liz Duckworth

Third place LAURA Short Fiction Award went to:
"At the Thirty-Fourth Latitude" by Sheila MacAvoy

Second place LAURA Award is for:
"Pueblo Dancer" by Leslee Breene

First place was awarded to:
"Grub Line Rider" by Anne Schroeder.

Thank you and congratulations to all our winning ladies.

Thank you to our screeners, and to the LAURA Committee, which consists of the President, the Past President, and the President Elect. Your hard work is much appreciated.

Erin S. Gray
2012 Women Writing the West President Elect

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado

When I think of sand dunes, I picture the dunes at Kitty Hawk and the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Dunes I’ve climbed as a child, watching the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash below. But this summer I discovered sand dunes much closer to my home, dunes I’ve known about most of my life, but never visited. And never even knew what I was missing.

I’ve driven past the Great Sand Dunes National Park near Alamosa, Colorado and seen the dunes at a distance and thought, yeah, there’s a bunch of sand over there. This fall, my husband suggested we take a drive down to see the dunes. I agreed, thinking I should at least visit this Colorado tourist attraction once.

What I didn’t expect to see were sculpted mountains of sand
with the Sangre de Cristo Mountains soaring above them.
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the dunes. The subtle changes in the colors in the sand and the shadows in the contours gave the dunes the appearance of a watercolor painting. I could see a few tiny dots on the dunes and realized they were people climbing the dunes.

After touring the visitor center, we walked down to the sand. The sand was as fine as that of the Outer Banks. Footprints dimpled the sandy plain. In fact, if it weren’t for the mountains, I could almost imagine I was spending a day at the beach. I did miss the sound of the crashing waves, though.
Photos by Gayle Gresham 2012
 For more information about The Great Sand Dunes National Park, visit  
Another great resource is The San Luis Valley: Sand Dunes and Sandhill Cranes by Susan J. Tweit.

Gayle Gresham is a freelance writer and a librarian in Colorado. She is the 2012 VP of Marketing for Women Writing the West. Gayle’s articles have appeared in Colorado Country Life, Country Extra, and Today’s Christian Woman. Visit her blog at 



Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Special Gardens of the West

Jane Sherar had a garden. It was carved from a rock ledge overlooking the Deschutes River in Central Oregon. She and her husband ran a hotel that at the time – the late 1800s – was the largest structure between San Francisco and Seattle. The hotel called the Sherar House was built where a bridge crossed the Deschutes River on the Old Dalles Military Highway. The Dalles was a bustling town along the Columbia River at the time, and shipments to the gold fields kept people on the road heading into Eastern Oregon.

Descendents told me about Jane's garden and I had photographs of little bridges leading from the third story of the hotel right out to that ledge garden high above the river in the rimrocks.  In my book, I had her plant vegetables but also a sweet grape arbor. It just seemed like the perfect place. Watering wouldn’t have been easy with the garden high above the river, but they had hotel employees – many employed from the nearby Indian reservation – who likely carried heavy buckets of water across those little bridges out to the garden to feed those thirsty plants.

Before I finished writing the book, A Sweetness to the Soul, where the garden is mentioned, I received a phone call from a man who said as a boy he’d stayed at the Sherar House hotel one summer. His father was an engineer and worked on the fish ladder there. The man told me that his brother, father, mom and this now elderly man had the run of the hotel.

 “Do you remember the ledge garden?” I asked him.

“Oh yes. I slept on the third floor and the bridge went from my room out to that ledge where the railroad goes now.”

“I don’t suppose you’d have any idea what they planted there?”

“For certain they had sweet grapes. Some of the old vine still stood.”

The hotel burned not long after they’d spent their summer there, but I will always remember the delight of discovering that something I’d written in fiction had a basis in fact… I just hadn’t known that when I wrote it. It’s a garden to remember. Photos show the hotel, but sadly, not the garden. You can see photos of the garden at this link:

What gardens have you visited that are worth mentioning?

Jane Kirkpatrick’s latest full-length novel, Where Lilacs Still Bloom, is based on another famous garden in Woodland, Washington.  A Sweetness to the Soul, her first novel, won a Wrangler Award and was named by Oregon Humanities as one of the best 100 books about Oregon published in the last 200 years. A New York Times best-selling author, Jane is a founding member of Women Writing the West, author of 22 books, most of which are historical novels based on the lives of actual historical women. Her titles have won WILLA Literary Awards and been Oregon Book Award finalists and Christy finalists. She lives in Central Oregon with her husband of 36 years, two dogs and a cat. You can find Jane, her blog, and her dog's blog at

Saturday, October 06, 2012

October New Book Releases

Lady In The Making
By Susan Page Davis

Millie Evans has changed, choosing to leave rather than join an outlaw gang with her brother. Hoping for a new future, she boards a stagecoach and finds that one of the passengers is David Stone—a man she and her brother once tried to swindle. As she tries to convince David she’s different now, her brother’s gang holds up the stagecoach. Fighting beside David goes a long way toward softening his heart, but he’s still not convinced. Someone is trying to keep him from reaching England to claim his inheritance. Is Millie involved? Millie must trust God to show David the truth, but will he see before it’s too late?

Published by Barbour Publishing

Visit Susan at

Lady In The Making can be purchased on Amazon Kindle, in paperback at Amazon, and in paperback (and soon on Nook) at Barnes and Noble


What You Wish For
By Janet Dawson

WHAT YOU WISH FOR. Lindsey Page is about to discover the wisdom in that old saying: Be careful what you wish for, you might get it. Her estranged daughter shows up on her doorstep. The immigrant woman Lindsey is interviewing for a book seeks help in finding her son, who was stolen from her during a massacre in her village in El Salvador and who has now turned up in Berkeley. And Lindsey, who has known her friends Annabel, Claire, and Gretchen since they shared a house in Berkeley back in the 1970s, discovers that she doesn't really know them at all. Secrets long hidden are unraveling, and before it's over Lindsey will learn some unpleasant truths.

Published by Perseverance Press

What You Wish For can be purchased at Amazon


Liberty's Christmas 
By Randall Platt

A red-haired girl in search of an education, a draft horse in search of one last chance, a broken-down tractor in search of a missing gear, and a Mexican- American boy in search of a home join forces in a time when nothing was king - the Great Depression.

Published by Texas Tech University Press

 Visit Randall at

Liberty's Christmas can be purchased at bookstores and everywhere online. 


The Whip
By Karen Kondazian

Charley Parkhurst (1812-79) was one of the finest stage coach drivers Wells Fargo had during the dangerous gold rush days. But there's one thing Wells Fargo never knew about Charley: Charlotte was a woman.

In her fiction debut, actress Kondazian (The Actor's Encyclopedia of Casting Directors) dares to imagine the life such a dedicated disguise artist might have lived. Mistreated in an orphanage and sent to live in the stables, where she learned all there was to know about horses, fictional Charley grows up to be a servant in a boardinghouse. When she falls in love with an African American blacksmith, she is ostracized. And when her husband is lynched and her only daughter killed, Charley dresses as a man to apply for work with a stage coach company, aces the hands-on audition, and is sent west. She learns to swear, gamble, and smoke, and her life as a "whip" rewards her well. Yet underneath all the swagger and staunchness, Charley is a broken soul in many ways. VERDICT This quick-paced, wily tale is a fascinating blend of both fact and fiction that is sure to engage Western and historical fiction fans and readers who enjoyed Gerald Kolpan's Etta.
--Keddy Ann Outlaw, LIBRARY JOURNAL, November 2011

Take it from someone who's had firsthand experience with great art exploring the human spirit in a Western setting: Karen Kondazian's The Whip is just that. This is a story that cries out through its adventurous surroundings a call from deep in the human heart, a call for understanding, for love, for identity and it does so through the skill of a magnificent writer. (It also cries out to be a movie. It's that rich, visual, and dramatic.) --Jim Beaver, star of HBO's Deadwood and author of Life's That Way

Published by Hansen Publishing Group, LLC, ©2012

Visit Karen at 

The Whip can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and iTunes 

The Whip will be available in audiobook format November 1st, 2012 on and iTunes, and performed by award-winning actress Robin Weigert, best known for her role as Calamity Jane on HBO's Deadwood.


By Grace
By Arletta Dawdy

BY GRACE traces the heroic journey of young Grace Pelham as she travels geographically and psychologically into the Far West of the late 1890’s. Following her father’s death, she leaves Albany on a quest to find her vocation and stumbles into unexpected troubles and rewards. Thrust out on her own, she must escape the threat and murderous accusations posed by her benefactress’ nephew. With changing identities, fearsome obstacles and personal challenges along the way, Grace profoundly affects and is affected by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a married man and his family, a lost child, Jane Addams, a male-dressing horse woman/prospector, a rigid minister and his tightly corseted wife, the Irish mob, and Chinese friends. When her nemesis confronts her in a syphilitic haze, threatening to kill her and a loved one, Grace prevails. Her signatory “By Grace” is applied to her jewelry designs. The Blue Opals of southeastern Arizona’s Huachuca Mountains promise opportunity and a new life.
Published by CreateSpace POD September 6, 2012 September 19, 2012 by Kindle

By Grace can be purchased at Amazon 

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Stumbling on Family Stories

“In my family, we don’t tell stories. We are reserved and refrain from either gossip or boasting, in part because of our northern European heritage with its inherent emotional reticence.... The result is a family lore as depauperate as forest on exposed granite; stories—like plants—struggle to sprout on its meager soil.”

I wrote those words in my memoir Walking Nature Home to illustrate a challenge in finding my writing voice: I know little about the people I come from.

The Big Sur Coast, by my great-grandmother, Jennie Cannon

The stories I know come mostly from photographs and the artifacts salvaged from my grandparents’ houses, including my great-grandmother Jennie’s impressionist landscape paintings, and copies of scientific papers written by her husband, my botanist great-granddad, who studied deserts the world around.
Recently, I visited Berkeley, California, on a hunt for stories in the neighborhood where my mom grew up, including the UC-Berkeley campus, where my parents met in college.

The top of the campanile from La Vereda Road

I wound my way up steep, narrow, and switchbacking streets, to the address in the north Berkeley Hills I had found for my botanist and artist great-grandparents.

I recognized the place; I had walked there decades before with my granddad. Through a gap in the trees across the road, I spotted the iconic UC-Berkeley campanile (a tall bell tower).

 A man stood on the porch of my great-grandparents’ house. On impulse, I asked, “Do you live here?”

 He turned.

My great-mother Jennie in her studio, about 1924

“I don’t mean to be rude,” I said. “This was my great-grandparents’ house.”

 “Who were they?”

 “Dr. William Austin Cannon—” he interrupted,

 “Any relation to Jennie?”

 “She was his wife,” I said. “How do you know her?”

“Everyone here knows Jennie,” he said. “This was an artist’s enclave; she was a key part of it.”

 I was stunned. I had no idea. A stranger who had never met my family knew more about my great-grandmother than I did.

 I thanked him. Before I left, I looked one more time at the view, and saw another chunk of story.

"The Campanile," by Jennie Vennerstrom Cannon

I had always wondered about the odd foreshortened perspective in my great-grandmother’s painting of the Campanile. Now I could see Jennie had painted it from her porch high above the campus, only she had turned the tower a quarter turn.

 In that visit, I discovered a story and a bond with the great-grandmother who died before I was born. She was a noted California painter in the early 20th century, a time when the terms “noted painter” and “woman” did not often go together.

 I’m no artist, but I’ve always been independent, and walked my own path. I have also always searched for stories in the landscapes around me. Perhaps those are her gifts.

Thanks, Jennie, for sharing your view.

Award-winning writer and teacher Susan J. Tweit is a field ecologist who studied grizzly bears and wildfires before falling in love with the stories the data revealed. She has won national and regional awards for her work, including twelve books--the most recent is the memoir Walking Nature Home, hundreds of of articles and essays for magazines and newspapers from Audubon and Popular Mechanics to the Los Angeles Times, as well as commentaries for public radio. Her blog, hailed as "rich in the wisdom of one come face-to-face with the fragility, beauty and poetics of everyday life," chronicles her efforts to take life with love and honesty, or to paraphrase songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter, "with my heart outstretched as if it were my hand."
Photo by Roberta Smith   Visit Susan's blog for more information