Friday, October 30, 2015

Halloween Customs based in Irish Tradition

What a timely chance to share research I conducted for a story based at this time of the year. My story, Wanderer, Come Home, was set in the week before Halloween in 1876. In addition to the overall plot of the Texas Ranger who was drifting and looking for a place to settle in for the winter meeting a widowed rancher owner, I wanted to include details that would have come from one of their heritages. Hero was of Norse lineage and heroine was of Irish descent. I included many of the following items in my western historical holiday story.

Imagine my glee when I discovered all sorts of traditions involved with Samhain (translated to “summer’s end” and in Celtic religion marks the start of the Darkhalf of the year) and All Saints’ Day. The first being that October 31st was acknowledged as the day all the crops should have been harvested. The Irish believed crops left in the fields after November 1st belonged to the fairies. The day also marked the day of slaughter for grazing animals that weren’t breeding.

At nightfall on October 31st, belief is the earthen mounds can open and release the Sidhe and the dead to walk among the living. This is the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is the thinnest. To appease any dead and keep bad spirits from following them home, people dressed in white and blackened their faces. I also learned that scary masks were worn so the living would look the same as the dead.

Trick or treating was originally called ‘souling’ when children and the poor went from door to door and offered either songs or prayers for the souls of the dead. In return they were given flattened bread with fruit inside. The original vegetable used for carving was a turnip. An old Irish folk tale relates a deal a lazy blacksmith named Stingy Jack made. He trapped the Devil and would only release him when the Devil agreed not to take upon his death. Years later when Jack dies, he has lived a misspent life and refused admittance to Heaven. The Devil upholds his deal and won’t allow Jack into Hell so Jack is consigned to a life of wandering but he begs for a light to help see in the darkness. The Devil tosses him a flame that will not go out and Jack carves a turnip to hold it. And he became known as Jack Of The Lantern.

Traditional foods for the day were apple pies, toffee apples, colcannon (a dish of cabbage, potatoes, butter & milk), potato farls (potato bread), and barmbrack (bread or cakes with fruit baked inside). A bit of barmbrack would be left outside to appease any passing fairies. Coins would be placed in any of the dishes and the future was to be bright for the ones plucking out a “luck penny.”
Wanderer, Come Home is included in Cowboys, Creatures and Calico boxed set—12 novellettes for only $.99 published by Prairie Rose Publications.
boxed set

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Today Blog Tour Tuesday features Debra Holland's new Western romance novel, Healing Montana Sky.

About the Book:

After a grizzly bear kills Antonia Valleau’s trapper husband, she packs her few worldly possessions, leaves her home in the mountains of Montana, and treks to nearby Sweetwater Springs, seeking work to provide for her two young sons.

Reeling from the loss of his wife during childbirth, Erik Muth must find a nursing mother for his newborn daughter to survive. For their children’s sake, Erik and Antonia wed, starting a new life together on his farm on the prairie. But it’s no easy union. Antonia misunderstands Erik’s quiet personality. He finds her independence disconcerting. Both hide secrets that challenge their growing intimacy.

When Indians steal livestock from farms around Sweetwater Springs to feed their starving tribe, the outraged townsfolk demand retaliation. Erik and Antonia must work together to prevent a massacre. Will a marriage forged in loss blossom into love?

Antonia Valleau cast the first shovelful of dirt onto her husband’s fur-shrouded body, lying in the grave she’d dug in their garden plot, the only place where the soil wasn’t still rock hard. I won’t be breakin’ down. For the sake of my children, I must be strong. Pain squeezed her chest like a steel trap. She had to force herself to take a deep breath, inhaling the scent of loam and pine. I must be doing this.
          She drove the shovel into the soil heaped next to the grave, hefted the laden blade, and dumped the earth over Jean-Claude, trying to block out the thumping sound the soil made as it covered him. Even as Antonia scooped and tossed, her muscles aching from the effort, her heart stayed numb, and her mind kept playing out the last sight of her husband. The memory haunting her, she paused to catch her breath and wipe the sweat off her brow, her face hot from exertion in spite of the cool spring air.
Antonia touched the tips of her dirty fingers to her lips. She could still feel the pressure of Jean-Claude’s mouth on hers as he’d kissed her before striding out the door for a day of hunting. She’d held up baby Jacques, and Jean-Claude had tapped his son’s nose. Jacques had let out a belly laugh that made his father respond in kind. Her heart had filled with so much love and pride in her family that she’d chuckled, too.
Stepping outside, she’d watched Jean-Claude ruffle the dark hair of their six-year-old, Henri. Then he strode off, whistling, with his rifle carried over his shoulder. She’d thought it would be a good day—a normal day. She assumed her husband would return to their mountain home in the afternoon before dusk as he always did, unless he had a longer hunt planned.
As Antonia filled the grave, she denied she was burying her husband. Jean-Claude be gone a checkin’ the trap line, she told herself, flipping the dirt onto his shroud.
          She moved through the nightmare with leaden limbs, a knotted stomach, burning dry eyes, and a throat that felt as though a log had lodged there. While Antonia shoveled, she kept glancing at her little house, where, inside, Henri watched over the sleeping baby. From the garden, she couldn’t see the doorway.
She worried about her son—what the glimpse of his father’s bloody body had done to the boy. Mon Dieu, she couldn’t stop to comfort him. Not yet. Henri had promised to stay inside with the baby, but she didn’t know how long she had before Jacques woke up.
          Once she finished burying Jean-Claude, Antonia would have to put her sons on a mule and trek to where she’d found her husband’s body clutched in the great arms of the dead grizzly. She wasn’t about to let his last kill lie there for the animals and the elements to claim. Her family needed that meat and the fur.
          She heard a sleepy wail that meant Jacques had awakened. Just a few more shovelfuls. Antonia forced herself to hurry, despite how her arms, shoulders, and back screamed in pain.
          When she finished the last shovelful of earth, exhausted, Antonia sank to her knees, facing the cabin, her back to the grave, placing herself between her sons and where their father lay. She should go to them, but she was too depleted to move.
          Jacques appeared on his hands and knees, peering around the corner of the cabin. His dark eyes lit with pleasure when he saw her. The baby flashed Antonia his wide grin and scooted toward her. Only in the last two days had he gone from pushing himself across the floor to a hands-and-knees crawl.
          Henri trailed so close behind Jacques that he had to walk wide-legged so he didn’t step on his brother.
          The baby reached her, placed his hands on her legs, and pressed himself up, grabbing at the front of her tunic. “Maa.”
Antonia hugged Jacques. He’d soiled his rabbit skin diaper and smelled, but she held him close, needing to feel the baby in her arms.
He wiggled in protest.
She dropped a kiss on his forehead and reached up to her shoulder to unlace the leather ties of her tunic, pulling the flap down to free her breast. He began to suckle greedily.
Henri dropped to her other side and leaned against her.
Antonia put her arm around him. Just holding her sons brought her comfort but also increased her despair. What do I be doin’ now?
Should I be takin’ the boys and leave? Head for Sweetwater Springs?
Antonia shook her head. No! I won’t be leavin’ Jean-Claude. Cain’t leave my home.
But without her husband to provide for them, she didn’t know how long she’d be able to manage on her own.
Somehow, I’ll be findin’ a way, Antonia vowed.

About the Author:
New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Debra Holland wears
Model Michael Foster & Debra Holland
several hats when it comes to writing. As a psychotherapist, she writes nonfiction books. The Essential Guide to Grief and Grieving is her first nonfiction book. More nonfiction books about grieving, boundary setting with difficult people, and relationships, are forthcoming.

Debra also writes fiction--Historial Western Romance, Contemporary Romance, Fantasy Romance, and Science Fiction. Her Montana Sky series, sweet historical Western romances, is published by Amazon Montlake.   

Debra lives in Southern California and has one dog and two cats. She's a second degree blackbelt and teaches martial arts. She also is a corporate crisis/grief counselor. You can join her newsletter subscription list or learn more about her at  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Chinese Railroad Workers in the 1800s

One of my favorite parts of being a historical fiction writer is learning new things. It seems that whenever I hit the Internet to find a piece of information, I end up clicking on this link and that link and learning amazing things that will never actually be used in a book, but will expand my experience and make me a more well-rounded person.

Photo courtesy of
Such was the case this last week when I was researching for my newest novel, A Careless Wind. My male character, Nicholas, went off to work on the railroad, and I was curious to see if any of the Chinese railway workers of the time would be likely characters to place there as well. Sure enough, they were, and I had the chance to learn more about them.

The United States had made a deal with China a few years previous to the date of my novel, which is 1875, which allowed Chinese workers to come to the States and seek employment freely. The other railroad workers didn't like this one bit - the Chinese were willing to accept wages of half what the other men were getting, and there was concern that the Chinese workers would take over all the jobs. Consequently, in many railroad camps, the Chinese (most often called "Chinamen") were treated as outcasts. They slept separately and ate separately from everyone else and weren't included in the camp goings-on. The Americans of the time referred to the Chinese "threat" as "the yellow peril," believing that soon the whole country would be overrun.

The Burlingame Treaty of 1868 was put in place to ensure proper treatment of Chinese immigrants, but the racist persecution became so bad that in 1882, Congress finally banned additional immigration, which was a huge blow to the Chinese community as it separated families. You can learn more about all of this by following this link. It's fascinating history, although at times heartbreaking.

It's ironic that the railroad was a huge force in helping us settle this continent and make it what it is today, and much of the work to enable that progress was done by men who would never be blessed because of it. We have a great deal to thank the Chinese railway workers for.


A Careless Wind, book seven of the Kansas Crossroads series, is now available.

When Rachel's fiance was killed in a railroad accident, leaving her with nowhere to go, she came to the Brody Hotel as a last resort. With the help of her new friends, she found comfort and healing, and now she believes herself as content as she can be. But when Nicholas Hardy, her fiance's brother, walks into her dining room, her world falls out from under her. Everything she thought she believed about herself, and him, is called into question. 

Nicholas wanted a life of adventure with the girl of his dreams by his side, but the death of his brother cast a pall on everything he'd hoped for. When he sees Rachel again, he thinks life has given him a second chance, but then an injury threatens to take everything away from him again. 

Two souls looking for a place to call home . . . and wondering if just by chance, they can find that home together.

You can visit Amelia Adams at her website and sign up for her newsletter to receive fun updates about new releases.