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Sunday, February 21, 2016

Barbara Ankrum: Hot Alpha Sheiks And Other Tales From The Old West


I turned in a book a week or so ago, which is always cause for celebration for me.  Getting to the end of a book is like giving birth and mostly, as in childbirth, we authors tend to forget the labor pains of that last book when we start writing the next one. This one was a historical, a particularly prickly story that took me a long time to finish. Its progress was interrupted, over the course of a year, by several other book deadlines, a personal crisis, an unexpected move halfway across the country, and all the regular chaos of life.  And more than once, during that year, I felt like running away from home. No, seriously, I did. But I didn’t run.  I stayed at my keyboard and finished that story.  


The title, “The Ruination of Essie Sparks,” came to me as I was doing the head-to-desk smack over some character issue, and might just hold some clue about my conviction that Essie was going to be the death of me—or her—whichever came first.  My very alpha half-breed Cheyenne hero accidentally-on-purpose steals her from the Indian Industrial School she’s teaching at and drags her off to the wilds of Montana, where they run for their lives from the men chasing them. Essie, who is already at the end of her very frayed rope when this occurs, must choose over and over in this story: to stay or go, love or hate, to live with fear or courage.  And inevitably, I fell madly in love with both of them, thank goodness.

But in the middle of writing it this last go round, I was quite shocked to realize this was a sheik-in-disguise book set in the old west. Now, I don’t write sheiks, though some of my favorite authors, like Jane Porter, do and they’re wildly hot and alpha and loads of fun. I write both emotional, adventurous western historicals and on-the-lighter side contemporaries for Tule.  But not, specifically, sheiks. This book was, however, that same fantasy at play of being swept away from it all by some alpha male to some other place that is not your known world. Of turning the tables and shifting the power, not just in the literal relationship between the hero and heroine, but in how my heroine perceived herself in the world. Coincidentally, it was a book that I not only wanted to write, it was a book I needed to read. (I jest. There was no coincidence about it!)


As a long time mentor to new writers, I remembered the many times I’ve told my students that theme—or that underlying issue or moral of their story—is something very personal and to expect it to show up over and over in their writing. (They’re always shocked to learn this.) Theme will even show up in your reading if you’re a reader. If you go take a look at your bookshelves, you’ll probably find common themes threading through your favorite books. No doubt those themes will vary at different times in your life. At least, they do on my bookshelf. We read books, novels in particular, to feed our imaginations and often, to work out things we’re dealing with in our lives.  Romance in particular, speaks to women’s fantasies and issues, and reading is a much safer bet to resolve those than say…actually running away. And so much less complicated.

Discovering how closely this book allied with my own struggle this year also reminded me that romance serves a real purpose beyond straight entertainment (which I hope it also does.)  Romance puts up a lens through which to look at ourselves, our choices, our foibles and even our flaws and helps us put them into perspective, safely.  Romance is more than pure escapism, though yay for that! There is a good reason why the genre has such a loyal and die-hard following. If romance also gives us reason to hope that we, too, can find our own power as women, then so much the better.

How about you? Was there ever a book you read that helped you sort through something in your life? Made you feel better about your choices or just got you through your day without running away?  I’d love to hear.  One lucky commenter will win a $10 AMAZON GIFT CARD.  

The Ruination of Essie Sparks will be available for pre-order soon and will release in early March. Thanks again to Lee Hyat for so sweetly inviting me to blog here monthly this year. I look forward to getting to know you all better!


14 comments:

traveler said...

When I read a novel I am transported to another place, another time and another era which captivates me. I can imagine and live through the individuals lives, trials and tribulations and hope that my health, my life and my future will improve. I appreciate reading, novels and learn a great deal about how we can take things for granted.

Barbara Ankrum said...

I so agree with you, traveler. As a reader from way back, I learned young that imagination was an exciting place to go. I'm so glad you find comfort in reading as I do. Keep reading and I'll keep writing!

Summer said...

I love what you said about romance novels being more than escapism, I so agree with that, I find most of them have a lot more depth than they're given credit for. As for a book that made me feel better, there was one I read a couple years ago, The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane. It's about these two women, one with anxiety issues, one who'd been in an abusive relationship, through food, friendship, and humor, they get back on their feet again, and I just remember it as a very hopeful, uplifting reading experience.

Barbara Ankrum said...

Summer, So glad you've found that, too. I often find myself defending romance to non-readers, but I know the people who read what we write know what we're about. Sounds like a good book! I'll be sure to add it to my list!

Eileen A-W said...

Books transport me to another place. If I'm not comfortable there then I have to stop reading and try again later. I need to feel better in that place - absorbed, involved, and part of the story. I need to feel like I belong in the story. It's all part of my escape. A lot of books and authors are able to do that for me. Your book sounds good and I look forward to reading it.

Barbara Ankrum said...

Eileen, Me, too. I love books that make me forget where I am for a while. I remember reading Mary Stuart's The Crystal Cave trilogy when I was a teenager and being completely lost in that world. It was my first trip into historical novels and I was mad for King Arthur after Camelot. So I was all in. I think it takes just one experience like that to create an addiction! At least it did for me. Hope you enjoy this one if you get the chance to read it.

Barbara Ankrum said...

Eileen, Er, that would be Mary Stewart. LOL.
B

Ada said...

I find that comparing situations, if they're similar, between a novel and my real life can really help put things into perspective. Reading what a heroine chooses to do and how I would react, it reinforces my own ideas of what is right or wrong from me. And sometimes it's just way easier to get lost in someone else's story to take my mind away from my own worries.

ahui89 at hotmail dot com

Barbara Ankrum said...

Ada, that's exactly it. Well said!

petite said...

Reading gives me great pleasure and is my sole form of entertainment from way back when I realized that novels made me imagine, see, and learn. Rebecca, Jane Eyre and much more taught me about people, places and character. Books allow me to feel part of an important era and life.

Laurie G said...

One of my best friends lost her husband when he was only 38. She had 2 young children 4 & 6. I read a book by Debbie Macomber about a widow finding love after a loss of her husband. It was set in Door County , Wisconsin. I can't remember the title but I gave to Ellen after reading it. She did find a man to love. It took a while. She was married a year ago at the age of 60. She is blissfully happy. Her oldest daughter married last May.

Barbara Ankrum said...

Petite, I so agree with you. Reading is transformative and transporting! If I can't afford a vacay, I just sit down and read a book!

Barbara Ankrum said...

That's a great story, LaurieG. Maybe that Debbie Macomber book gave her something to work toward or at least, made her believe it was possible. Happy for your friend!

Barbara Ankrum said...

WINNER ANNOUNCED! The winner of my $10 AMAZON GIFT CARD IS traveler! Traveler, can you please contact me at barbaraankrum1@gmail.com? I'll need your email of choice to send you the e-card.