Romancing the Vaquero

Anne croppedAnne 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

5) earthquakes

6) Missions

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,

Casa Cholama, the inspiration for Ginny's home in Cholama Moon (Located in the Cholama Valley, CA)

Casa Cholama, the inspiration for Ginny’s home in Cholama Moon (Located in the Cholama Valley, CA)

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?

IMG_1318Writing 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.



CF - Cholama MoonCholama Moon is available in hard copy from Oak Tree Press, Amazon and bookstores. The e-book version will follow shortly.  






Anne can be found at  and

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.

27 responses to “Romancing the Vaquero

  1. It sounds fascinating – 19th century California was an amazing and wonderful place … but with a lot of complicated undercurrents.


  2. The area the book is based on sounds beautiful. Amazing idea for a book can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I love to read books that depict women of strength, women’s friendships & women in the West…it sounds as if this writer writes about all three. I plan to read her books!


  4. True, Celia. I’m watching Arab-American teens facing the same challenges as the young men of California 200 years ago. Thanks Jeri, for the enthusiasm and the comment.


  5. I love your enthusiam for the story. It is an enthusiam that all good story tellers must have if they are to give life to their characters. Otherwise, the characters become as flat as paper dolls on sterile pages. We readers want living, breathing people with a clear back story, so we can identify with all, even the villian, who, almost without exception, leaves a trail of abandoned hopes and dreams. Knowing what colors the characters’ viewpoints helps us engage and we are often hear to say, “I just couldn’t put it down.” This, Anne, sounds like that kind of a story. But hey, that wasn’t the cover I picked when you asked for our opinions. 🙂


  6. So agree with you, Eunice. I have such passion for these characters that I sometimes pick up the book at bedtime and read a few pages like I’m saying
    “good-night” . And I didn’t initially pick this cover, either. But everyone else did and I’m so glad I took their advice and pressured the publisher to choose this one. Speaking of passion, I ordered one of your books from Kindle yesterday.


  7. Nice post, Anne. For sure fringe characters help flesh out a good story, provide a sort of foundation for the plot to unfold on. But, I’d have liked to hear how you researched your story location and characters.


  8. Anne, your story is set in a part of the West I know so little about. The setting, the characters, even the fringe characters, all sound so intriguing. I love your list of “things you know.” Obviously a wonderful story comes out of all this. Ginny sounds like someone we all know and also someone we all want to know. I look forward to reading this book!


  9. I never thought to make a list of what it is I know that feeds my own writing until I read this inspiring blog post! Can’t wait to read your book and see what you’ve made of the world you know.


  10. This is my kind of book! I love the California setting – don’t see that often enough! Thank you, Anne, for an inspiring post!


  11. Kathy Heare Watts

    Loved hearing the tale of Ginny and I am a lover of western stories, it is my number one favorite read. I am enthralled to think about the lives these strong women lived and what all they endured. It sounds as if you books cover just that very think! I’ve heard tales of my great grandmother getting up before anyone to start the day and sometimes never even going to bed at night because there was still things that needed to be done. She lived to be 96. She has 3 children still living, one is 102, one is 98 and the baby is 88. Hard work and long rough hours. Thanks for a great time sharing about your book and the women pioneers!


  12. My kind of gal, Kathy. You have great genes. I hope you are writing about your ancestors. We don’t have enough women’s voices recorded.


  13. Anne, as a native Californian myself, I set a couple of my stories in California. Mostly Los Angeles and San Francisco of the 20s and 60s in the 20th century. Growing up in Los Angeles area, I learned much of the history from early on. Good luck with your book!


  14. I look forward to reading your book on my Nook!


  15. I liked your honest assessment what you know and how that influenced what you wrote. Somehow honesty always livens up writing.


    • I so agree. My writing career has been about finding the real me. Until we do, I’m not sure a writer has anything of worth to share with a reader. Thanks for stopping by.


  16. Nancy LiPetri

    I grew up on western movies and Bonanza episodes. And love California since living there for 8 years. This book is on my to-read list!


  17. Thanks, Nancy. I hope to make you a fan with my deep character-driven stories. Thank you for visiting.


  18. Pingback: Blogging Cholama Moon Like There’s No Tomorrow – Anne Schroeder

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