The Night Was Too Silent, Native Author Tells Why

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Mary Eleanor Tezak writes, The Santa Fe trail, it was a huge travel highwaybefore and after the Civil War.

The Santa Fe trail, it was a huge travel highwaybefore and after the Civil War. The Colorado author, Mary Peace Finley, writes about this and other topics. I recently interviewed her about life as an author and her books. Here is what she had to say:How did you get the idea to write about the Santa Fe Trail?The idea for SOARING EAGLE, the first of my four Santa Fe Trail stories of the mid-eighteen-hundreds, began with the words “The night was too silent.” My husband, son Tim, and I were travelling from Colorado to Missouri. We’d thrown our sleeping bags on the ground under cottonwood trees along the Platte River. During the night a windstorm blew in. The brittle cottonwood branches overhead creaked and cracked, and I couldn’t sleep at all. I passed the time by thinking about that place, wondering who had camped there before—Mexican traders, Kiowa, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, early Anglo explorers, my own grandmother who came West on a covered wagon when she was a child—and then, like a storyteller’s voice in my head, I heard those five words “The night was too silent.”I wasn’t a writer yet, but those words haunted me. They sounded like the beginning of a novel. Slowly, hesitantly, I began to write. I set the story in Southeastern Colorado where I grew up, a place that I loved and had explored near the old Santa Fe Trail and Bent’s Fort. As the story grew, the Santa Fe Trail became the route my characters followed.Have you always wanted to be a writer?Not at all. When I was in first and second grade, learning to read and write was a challenge and as an older student, I did NOT like history, either. B-o-r-i-n-g! I never expected to become a writer of historical fiction! I wanted to be a musician. Now I get to be both. Flutes are significant voices in the Santa Fe Trail Trilogy, and kids seem to love to hear me play Julio’s flutes during my school visits. I love it, too!Did you base any of your characters in your books after someone you knew?The characters in my books are their own people, not someone I know dressed up in period costume. Only once, in an early book that was never published (Thank goodness!), I based fictional characters on real people. That turned out to be scary! I picked up on private details of those peoples’ lives and unintentionally wrote their secrets. How did you get the idea to combine Spanish, Native American, and American cultures together?Who we are as a people today emerged from our ancestors. The peoples and cultures in my stories were our building blocks. At the time of my Santa Fe Trail stories, in the mid-1800’s, the Spanish, Native American and American cultures were rubbing elbows. The United States and Mexico were inching toward War. Texas was an Independent Republic, not yet part of the United States. The Native Americans of the plains were not yet pushing back against the influx of new arrivals. Each one of the peoples of that time was distinctive. Many had different languages and understandings of life. Through my characters, I separate out the ingredients of the “melting pot” that is America to show where we have come from. How long does it take you to write a book?The time I spend on research, writing, revising, rewriting, and polishing has been different with each book. With the exception of my latest book, the time spent is almost impossible to determine. I’ve shelved manuscripts for years because of a feeling that something wasn’t right, but what? When a new “ah-hah” hit I’ve worked on the story again. From inspiration to the publication of SOARING EAGLE nearly twenty years passed. The second and third books in the Santa Fe Trail Trilogy, WHITE GRIZZLY and MEADOW LARK each took over five years. The writing of LITTLE FOX’S SECRET, THE MYSTERY OF BENT’S FORT took less time to write, but over ten years to find a publisher. Other books? Each one took whatever time it took. I wrote my new book, THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF BLACKWELL STATION, much faster than any others. The first inspiration came ten years ago and bumped around in my head until July, 2009, when I began my research. In only a few months, the manuscript was finished and in less than a year, the book will have been written, rewritten, illustrated, published, and will be in reader’s hands. The release date for THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF BLACKWELL STATION is April, 2010.Out of all the books you’ve written, which one is your favorite?(Okay if I skip this one? You’ve probably heard what authors usually say—“They’re like my kids. I love each one. No favorites.” Or “The book I’ll write next.” I don’t have anything original to add.)In your books, you write about a lot of different places. Have you visited most of them?Yes. For the Santa Fe Trail books, I explored Southeastern Colorado, Kansas, and Missouri, and traveled the Santa Fe Trail in a buckboard wagon and a rickety RV. At Bent’s Fort, I lived and worked as a re-enactor. For FERNITICKLES. which is set in Scotland in 1617, I actually traveled to Scotland which was great fun! Even though the story was already essentially finished, I felt I had to breathe the moist air and feel the soil beneath my feet. THE MATCHBOX, a biography of human rights activist Ginetta Sagan, is set in Northern Italy. It is the only book I’ve written without being where the story takes place. (I still hope to visit Italy.) You use a lot of different languages in your books, how did you come to learn these?I learned Spanish by attending a language school in Costa Rica, teaching in Uruguay for three years, and spending time in Mexico, Nicaragua, and other Spanish-speaking countries. I speak only a little French and no Cheyenne or Kiowa, but with help from native speakers, I learned key words and phrases in order to give a sense of authenticity to my characters and to let readers experience the beauty and mystery of some of the many languages that were heard on the frontier. Mary’s books are really interesting and something I believe everyone should read. Now that you know more about her books and her, reading her books should be very fascinating as you piece together this interview and the story.

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