Anne Schroeder writes about the West in short stories, essays and two memoirs, Ordinary Aphrodite and Branches on the Conejo. Cholama Moon is her first published novel. The second novel in the series, Maria Ines, will be released later in 2014, both by Oak Tree Press.
She is President-Elect of Women Writing the West and chair of the LAURA Short Fiction Contest. She and husband Steve and their two dogs recently moved from Central California to Southern Oregon in search of new adventure.
A screenwriter gave her great advice: Say it in two sentences or less, eat lots of red licorice, network with unlikely people on their way up and produce quality stuff with no personal drama.
Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Anne Schroeder. I married my husband because I grew up reading Zane Grey and decided I wanted a cowboy. We’ve been married a bazillion years, but that’s another story. .
I’ve always had a fondness for Westerns, but they were mostly written for men and seemed to have only three main female characters, the stoic ranch wife, the town whore and the delicious maiden. Not that I have anything against love. In fact, I wanted to ramp the heat a tad. Historical westerns, like all period romances, create a memorable boy meets girl love story within the grand landscape of the West, surrounded by authentic people, places and events. But always—always—there’s a good story between the covers.
Early on in my writing career I got some great advice. Write about what you know. I knew about:
1) hard work
2) love of family
3) wanting a bigger life
4) loving the hills outside my childhood home so much that I memorized the horizon
So I combined everything into a series set in a part of California I love, with vaqueros, banditos, Mission padres and proud women and men. Cholama Moon is the story of a young girl, one of the first white women in Central California. Maria Ines takes the Indian cook who tries to mother her in the first book, back to her birth in the conflicted Spanish Mission times. I’m still working on the third book
In Cholama Moon, my character Virginia, Ginny,
is pretty much alone since her mother’s death when she was three, and her father’s descent into opiates, common in the day. Ten years later they each blame themselves for Mama’s death, but they don’t talk about it—or anything else. But Ginny has grit. She’s spunky and she has dreams of a bigger life. She is a quick learner. She has an ability to find good in people—and to invent it if she can’t find it. She’s bratty when it suits her, and stingy with her favors, but she’s loyal when it counts. Her journey into womanhood is funny, romantic and heart-wrenching. But a man’s Western, it isn’t. Nobody gets to ride off into the sunset and leave the little woman sobbing into her hanky.
I love creating the kind of fringe characters that I grew up watching. I was always curious about old women and their trials. Take my great-grandmother. I remember wondering, what does she think about—and cry about when no one is around to see? She was, by all accounts, a stoic and determined women. But was her stoicism a matter of good breeding, honor, grit, stubbornness, bitterness or self-sacrifice? Was it an act to cover her jealousy, hurt, frustration? Anger at the injustice of her sex? The drunkenness of her husband? The plainness of her face compared to her sister, who managed to marry better because she was prettier?
Wow. For me, writing the Woman’s West is like dining at a long buffet table with everything imaginable laid out before me. Hard working? Dependable? Hmmm. Pioneer women were the first ones up every morning. They chipped the ice off the trough, carried in water, stoked the fire and baked the biscuits (or in Ginny’s case, tortillas.) They worked in 120-degree kitchens stoking fires and cooking dinner for a dozen ranch hands. They didn’t talk to another woman for weeks on end. So what did they think about while they worked?
Writing a historical western is like hiding a teeny-weeny microphone inside the cookhouse and listening to what really goes on. It’s crazy to think that pioneer women weren’t exactly the same as our best friends and sisters of today who might dress and act differently to reflect the times, but their hearts are the same. Each of us is capable of meanness and each of us has the capacity to change. A great storyteller throws tension into every page. A great heroine takes it on the chin and keeps going.
I love writing about the turbulent and romantic era of early California, the lazy siesta days and the gallant men. But there is a grittier, desperate tone in the conflict of cultures that creates great storytelling and makes my job easier. I hope romance and historical fans will fall in love with Old California through my stories, and maybe come to understand the cultural bias that has always existed between native and conqueror.
Anne has very kindly decided to give away one copy of Cholama Moon to one person leaving a comment, and the winner is Jane Isenberg. Thanks to everyone who left a comment.
Homesteaders struggle to establish ranches in Central California in the 1870s, amid earthquakes, drought, banditos, remoteness and human failing. Young Virginia Nugent’s privileged life ends with the death of her mother and her father’s guilt-ridden descent into addiction. She is conflicted in her love of the ranch and her desire to escape until an old cowhand’s loyalty and a Southerner friend of her late mother offer hope that she can change her destiny.