Although Carla Kelly is well known among her readers as a writer of Regency romance, her main interest (and first writing success) is Western American fiction—more specifically, writing about America’s Indian Wars. Although she had sold some of her work before, it was not until Carla began work in the National Park Service as a ranger/historian at Fort Laramie National Historic Site did she get serious about her writing career. (Or as she would be the first to admit, as serious as it gets.)
The mother of five children, Carla has always allowed her kids to earn their keep by appearing in her Regencies, most notably Marian’s Christmas Wish, which is peopled by all kinds of relatives. Grown now, the Kelly kids are scattered here and there across the U.S. They continue to provide feedback, furnish fodder for stories and make frantic phone calls home during the holidays for recipes. (Carla Kelly is some cook.)
Carla’s husband, Martin, is Director of Theatre at Valley City State University, in Valley City, North Dakota. Carla is currently overworked as a staff writer at the local daily newspaper. She also writes a weekly, award-winning column, “Prairie Lite.”
Softly Falling: Writing the Big Picture
My little secret: If you were my child, and you asked, “Tell me a story,” you’d be sadly disappointed. I have never been a spinner of yarns on a moment’s notice. I’m a noted flop at the tell-on-demand story.
However, if you give me an historical event and ask me to craft a novel, hey, I’m the one you want. Just give me a framework. This, of course, makes me the perfect writer of historical fiction.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let me explain the business of writing about disaster. A good writer knows that if nothing happens in a novel, no reader will touch it with a barge pole.
Rule No. 1: put your characters on the edge of something greater than they are. Make’um sweat and suffer. Insist they learn something in the process. This is called a plot.
Rule No. 2: Make these people breathe by writing the details of their lives in such a way that the reader doesn’t feel bloated with facts. Make these people so real that when something happens to them, you feel it right to your heart’s core.
That’s what I try to do in Softly Falling – create a world peopled by folks that you like. I want you to root for Lily Carteret, the mixed-race daughter of an English remittance man, one of those hapless younger sons who bumbled about and were eventually exiled to places where they wouldn’t shame the family. Remittance men were paid a quarterly allowance [remittance] to basically stay away.
Lily has come to Wyoming Territory in 1886 because her father, the remittance man, has a ranch and is actually becoming successful. Or so she thinks.
Add a hero: Jack Sinclair, Civil War veteran from Georgia who came West after the war to make a life for himself. He’s come up the hard way, learning the ranching business through trial and error. He’s a respected foreman now on the Bar Dot, one of many ranches bought by a consortium. These were associations of British Isles magnates who put their money into the raw American West, where there were fortunes to be made in livestock.
Trouble is, in their greed, they’ve overstocked the open range and are about to discover what happens in a winter where the snow and cold never stop.
The overarching theme of Softly Falling is the death of the open range. By spring in 1887, everything had changed.
What of the people who lived on those ranches through a harsh and brutal winter? How did such a winter change them? How did they even survive?
In Softly Falling, I’m asking you to care about Lily and Jack, hired hands, a widowed cook, her children, that remittance man, Madam Lucky’s bordello girls, a Chinese restaurant owner. You’ll discover quickly that each, in his or her own way, is an outcast. If you start asking yourself, ‘What would I have done?’ then I succeeded (even though I can’t tell a story from scratch to save my life).
Lily looked at the vastness of the plains, full of cattle, and then up at the sky without a cloud in sight.
“What’s going to happen, Mr. Sinclair?” she asked. “What do you know?”
Fresh off the train from New York City, Lily Carteret arrives in picturesque Wyoming only to discover that her wayward father has lost his cattle ranch to a lowly cowboy in a card game!
Determined not to let her father’s folly ruin her life, Lily becomes a teacher on the ranch. There she learns that the handsome cowboy, Jack Sinclair, has some wild predictions about the upcoming winter—that it will be unlike anything Wyoming has ever seen. Lily must either cast off her skepticism to work with Jack or risk losing everything she holds dear.
This latest novel by bestselling romance author Carla Kelly is sure to please new and old fans alike. Stirring, tense, and filled with swoon-worthy moments, it’s a delectable read that will leave you begging for more!