Welcome, Brigid Amos!
I’m excited to have Brigid Amos here today, friend and fellow Women Writing the West writer, and share West from the Cradle with you.
I asked Brigid, “What is the inspiration behind this heroic tale of adventure and survival and you as a writer.”
Brigid answered, “I have always been a writer.”
Most writers will make this statement. I am one of them, but for me, the truth of it and what it has meant to me over the years has only recently been revealed. When I think back on my life, I now see that the instinct to tell stories has always been there, even when I was too young to write them down. While sifting through a box of old papers, I came across a short story I wrote in third grade about an airplane hijacked to Cuba. In high school, I wrote bad poetry inspired by Bruce Springsteen lyrics. Throughout college, graduate school, and beyond, I began and then abandoned numerous novels, plays, and poetry collections. I wrote and wrote and wrote, but I never really knew what to write.
Something changed when I returned to the U.S. from Mexico in 1994. I had lived there for two years and become fluent in Spanish. Perhaps learning a foreign language tapped into some dormant part of my brain. Or maybe it was because I was unemployed, and then underemployed, and had hours to fill with something that gave me a sense of accomplishment. For whatever reason, my writing took a clear direction, but not at first. Again, I didn’t know what to write, so I wrote short stories based on my own life experiences. One of them was published in the literary magazine Words of Wisdom. That was fine, but I still wanted to write a novel.
This may sound a bit strange, but I have Larry McMurtry to thank for my recently published young adult historical novel West from the Cradle. Soon after coming home, I went back to Akumal, Mexico for a beach vacation with my parents. One evening after they had gone to sleep, I was sitting out on the balcony of our hotel room reading Streets of Laredo, McMurtry’s sequel to Lonesome Dove. Suddenly, I looked up from the book into the starry sky over the Caribbean and thought to myself, this is the sort of thing I’d like to write: historical fiction set in the West.
For the next four years, I worked on West from the Cradle. Then I moved from Northern California to Lincoln, Nebraska to begin a doctorate in Agronomy. Early on, I rewrote the novel, but as my doctoral program, and later the demands of my soils research took over my time and energy, West from the Cradle sat in a box, moving from apartment to apartment, finally settling in the basement of my house. After publishing my second novel, A Fence Around Her, I decided it was time to take that first novel out and get it ready for publication. The first and most painful thing I did was cut more than 30,000 words out of the manuscript, as well as three characters and their backstories. This improved the novel greatly, but I still love what is now gone, and hope to incorporate that material into future novels.
So now, many years after my epiphany on an Akumal balcony, after two major revisions and four different editors, Clean Reads has published West from the Cradle. I left my career as a soil scientist several years ago to devote more time to writing, because now I know for sure that I have always been a writer.
About West from the Cradle:
Travis Cooper was not meant to be a prospector. Small for his age, he has never been much help on the family farm in Missouri. How could he survive the journey west to take up such backbreaking work? But when he sees a copy of the California Star in the fall of 1848, everything changes. One shining word jumps off the page: GOLD! Now staying alive is a struggle. Keeping his partner from getting himself killed is even harder!
The cry seemed to split Travis’s dream world in two, rattling his bones against the ground.
“What?” Travis tried to raise himself up onto his elbows. He saw the other young men already on their feet and was overcome by a sickening dread of being trampled like so many blades of grass.
“There! Buffalo!” Allen Greenwood pointed toward the valley where a small herd of buffalo grazed stiff-legged in the distance. He ran to his chestnut mare, swung his gangling form into the saddle, and yanked his rifle from the horn loop. With a goofy grin, Allen shouted, “We’ll drive them back toward the wagons!” The other young men scrambled to their horses and shot off in pursuit of the buffalo.
Being without a gun did not dampen Travis’s enthusiasm for the chase. Eager for new sights, he gave Starlight a wild kick in the ribs and clutched the saddle to keep from slipping off as they galloped.
The buffalo remained oblivious at first, but the approach of pounding hooves set them in motion. They fell into line like a well-drilled troop, running abreast through the feathery bluestem.
With little to do but ride alongside the herd, Travis took in the noble creatures with no thought of the meat they might yield. Even as they dashed by, he could see that their thick coats were of many hues like the newly turned soil back home in Missouri. Along the animals’ lower backs, it grew in long russet curls, while the nape was covered with wispy whitish wool, as if salts had percolated up to bleach the massive hump. Their heads were a fertile brown, the wool standing straight up on top to make their horned crowns even more formidable. Everything about the beasts was gigantic with one exception: their eyes resembled round jet beads embedded in thick wool and shone with pure, unknowing fear.
A loud rifle crack discharged nearby and sent the herd lurching toward Travis. He yanked the reins to the right in order to avoid colliding with the charging buffalo. He considered dropping out of the chase. After all, he was unarmed. But the ribbing he would take afterward from the others made prudence not so worthwhile. He stayed vigilant and on course.
More rifle reports rang out, each accompanied by a little explosion of blood and wool as the balls penetrated the buffalos’ thick hide. Riders flanking the herd kept the buffalo pounding toward the wagons where the other men of the party scrambled for their rifles and shotguns. The embattled beasts chose to race through the wagons. Screaming, the Yount children hurdled into their wagon. Rebekah Yount hoisted her old mother in with hurried gentleness. Mary Pickett went in, clutching her heart.
Otto Wichmann and his servant Rolf stood among the wagons with the other men, rifles held high, each determined to get at least one massive forehead in his sights. There would be time to dive for cover in a few seconds. A fusillade brought down an old bull. Another animal stumbled over the body and scrambled onto its hooves, and then charged even faster with the smell of fresh blood spurring it on.
Through the riot and dust, Travis caught a glimpse of Raymond Hillerman. The former shopkeeper leveled his rifle with confidence at the oncoming herd.
As the buffalo began to dart around the wagons, banging into the sides and rattling them like flimsy toys, the men either ran from their path or rolled under the nearest wagon for cover. Hillerman stood still, clutching his left shoulder. The bright but far-off look in his eyes suggested he had ceased to see the buffalo charging toward him. Travis lost sight of Hillerman as the herd trampled the spot where he had been standing.
Pulling up on the reins, Travis continued to stare at the river of woolly backs flowing through the space between the wagons. His stomach froze in anticipation of what he would see the minute the buffalo were gone: Hillerman, left a bloody, broken corpse in the dust, or worse, still breathing in unimaginable agony. But there was nothing in that spot except for a multitude of hoof prints. Had they pulverized the poor man into oblivion?
“Mr. Hillerman!” Travis screeched, dismounting and scrambling toward the spot from which Hillerman had vanished.
Brigid Amos Bio:
Brigid Amos’ young adult historical fiction has appeared in The MacGuffin, The
Storyteller, Wilderness House Literary Review, and Words of Wisdom.
Her first novel, A Fence Around Her, was published by Clean Reads in 2016. A produced playwright, she co-founded the Angels Playwriting Collective and serves on the boards of Angels Theatre Company and Women Writing the West. She is also an active member the Nebraska Writers Guild. Although Brigid left a nugget of her heart behind in the California Gold Country, most of it is in Lincoln, Nebraska where she currently lives with her husband.
Connecting with Brigid:
Join Brigid’s mailing list: http://www.brigidamos.com/mailing-list-signup.html
Like Brigid on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/brigidamoswriter/?fref=ts
Follow Brigid on Twitter: https://twitter.com/Brigid_Amos
Visit Brigid’s website: http://www.brigidamos.com/
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