November 04, 2009

Kim Vogel Sawyer ~ A Hopeful Heart


Do you have a “bucket list”? You know, a list of things you’d like to accomplish while you’re walking on the earth? Even before I understood what was meant by a “bucket list,” there was something I really wanted to do: Take my parents to Alaska. They talked about it a lot, but Daddy spent his lifetime as an educator; there never seemed to be enough money to take an elaborate vacation. Well, guess what? Thanks to God’s abundant blessings, I have crossed that item off my list.

 August 2008—for my parents’ 50th anniversary—we embarked on an Alaska cruise. While on the ship, we met a couple in their upper-80’s—delightful people. When we mentioned we were from Kansas, the woman’s face lit up. “I spent a summer in Kansas in the early 1940’s. I married a rancher, but I was a city girl and didn’t know how anything about country life. My husband was too busy to teach me, so he sent me to herdsman school. It was meant for men, but myself and one other lady also attended.” A little bell rang in the back of my mind.
A few weeks later, while spending some time with three other historical writers, I mentioned the conversation on the ship and said, “I’d love to use this in a story somehow.” Tracie Peterson said, “You know what could be fun? Do a ‘mail-order bride’ story—bring women from the East, let them learn ranching skills, then match them with local ranchers.” Ding, ding, ding! The Wyatt Herdsman School was born. My main character introduced herself in the form of a sweet young girl who attended a booksigning in Buffalo, New York. Her unique name—Tressa—seemed to fit so perfectly, and I’m thrilled she shyly offered her approval for me to borrow her name. (Are you starting to see writing a story isn’t a one-man operation? Often serendipity comes into play. *smile*)
Researching turned into a delightful romp through information about 1800 ranching practices, the history of barbwire (I call it barbed wire for understanding in the book, but most older documents reference “barbwire”), how ranchers chose their brands, and cattleman vs. shepherd wars. I got to skip the war (thankfully!) since Kansas was relatively peaceful in that department. But I dug up enough to emerse myself in the setting.
One of my favorite sub-plots is the friendship that forms between the main character, Tressa Neill, and the herdsman school owner’s cat, Isabella. The real Isabella had been my faithful companion for almost 17 years, and she slipped away to Kitty Heaven as I began the story. To help me not miss her quite so much, I “gave” her to Aunt Hattie. Izzy-B ended up teaching Tressa some important lessons…but I’ll let you uncover those for yourself, should you decide to read the book when it releases in April of 2010.
A Hopeful Heart is a stand-alone historical with Bethany House Publishers. The description follows:

Dowryless and desperate, Tressa Neill applies to the inaugural class of Wyatt Herdsman School in Barnett, Kansas, in 1888. The school's one-of-a-kind program teaches young women from the East the skills needed to become a rancheror the wife of one. Shy and small for her twenty-two years, Tressa is convinced she'll never have what it takes to survive Hattie Wyatt's hands-on instruction in skills such as milking a cow, branding a calf, riding a horse, and cooking up a mess of grub for hungry ranch hands. But what other options does she have?
Abel Samms wants nothing to do with the group of potential brides his neighbor brought to town. He was smitten with an eastern girl once--and he got his heart broken. But there's something about quiet Tressa and her bumbling ways that makes him take notice. When Tressa's life is endangered, will Abel risk his own lifeand his heartto help this eastern girl?
 Please enjoy the following excerpt…
A HOPEFUL HEART by Kim Vogel Sawyer (all rights reserved)
Barnett, Kansas
May 1888
Curling her fingers around the leather handle of the battered carpetbag that held her carefully selected belongings, Tressa Neill fell in line behind the tittering row of young women disembarking the train. She didn’t mind being last. In the homespun dress and outdated straw hat acquired by Aunt Gretchen, she felt dowdy and conspicuous. No matter that her attire closely matched that of her traveling companions—with the exception of Evelyn. She still harbored an intense desire to hide.
She peered out one of the train car’s dusty windows. A solitary, thick-waisted woman wearing a calico bonnet and matching apron over a pale blue dress stood at the edge of the white-painted depot’s wooden walkway. The woman cupped her hand above the bonnet’s brim and stared at the train, obviously seeking someone. In the telegram that had outlined Tressa’s travel itinerary, her benefactor indicated she would meet her pupils at the train station, so Tressa surmised this woman must be the school’s founder, Mrs. Hattie Wyatt. The woman’s round face held a warm smile, reminding Tressa of her favorite childhood nursemaid. At once, she felt drawn to her.
Then Tressa’s gaze drifted to a small crowd gathered in the slash of shade offered by the depot’s overhanging porch roof. All men. All gawking with obvious interest. A bead of sweat trickled down her back. In the acceptance letter Tressa had received from Wyatt Herdsman School, Mrs. Wyatt had vowed the men of Barnett desired wives, but Tressa hadn’t anticipated a welcoming band of prospective suitors. The sight of those sunburnt, cowboy-hat-topped men sent Tressa’s stomach into spasms of nervousness.
A giggle pierced the air. After days of traveling with the other girls, Tressa recognized its source: Luella. The girl had talked incessantly, interjecting her chatter with high-pitched squeals of laughter. Luella turned from her position at the head of the line and grinned down the row of girls. “Look outside. Do you see? The men have lined up to meet us!” She touched a hand to her dimpled cheek, her lips curving into a smile. “Oh, won’t they be pleased that we’ve arrived?” Another giggle erupted.
“Then kindly give them the pleasure of seeing us depart the train.” Evelyn’s sardonic command brought an abrupt end to Luella’s annoying laughter, but the girl still remained rooted in the middle of the aisle.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the conductor?” Repeatedly during the journey, Luella had batted her eyelashes and made frivolous requests of the portly conductor.
“For what purpose?” Evelyn pointed to the opening at the end of the car with the tip of her satin parasol. “The train has stopped. We’ve reached our destination. We can leave the car without the conductor’s approval. Now go!”
Luella bolted forward, and the others followed. Tressa’s dry tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, and she kept her eyes on the curled-by-nature ringlets cascading from beneath the rolled brim of Evelyn’s satin hat. Evelyn’s fashionable cinnamon-colored gown provided a perfect backdrop for her shining golden locks. The obvious quality and stylish cut of the dress reminded Tressa of the world she’d left behind. A world in which she was no longer welcome.
“Tressa, no man of breeding will wed a dowryless woman. Your unfortunate situation with Tremaine Woodward certainly proves my point.” Aunt Gretchen’s emotionless voice echoed in Tressa’s memory. “This herdsman school in Kansas offers you an opportunity to gain a husband and enjoy a life of family, if not of leisure.” Her aunt had shrugged, fanning herself with the printed advertisement that sealed Tressa’s fate. “Second best, perhaps, but a second-best chance is better than no chance at all.”
Homesickness swelled, but not for Aunt Gretchen and Uncle Leo’s grand estate. Tressa longed to return to Evan’s Glen, her childhood home, with Papa and Mama and—
Giving herself a shake, she dispelled the desire. One could not live in the past. She must march into the future, no matter how bleak it appeared. So she squared her shoulders and followed Evelyn onto the passenger car’s small iron landing. A fierce blast of wind stole her breath and lifted the straw skimmer from her head. She dropped her bag and reached for the hat, but the lightweight piece of millinery sailed over the heads of the girls standing at the base of the platform. A thick strand of hair whipped loose from her simple bun, effectively shielding her eyes. Dizziness assailed her and she groped for the handrail, but her fingers closed over air.
Plunging forward, she landed hard against Evelyn’s back. Squeals erupted as Evelyn tumbled into the group and, like a row of dominoes, the girls fell into a heap on the dusty street, with Tressa on top. The men on the porch roared, pointing and slapping their thighs in amusement.
“Tressa!” Evelyn’s demanding voice carried over the other girls’ complaints. She jabbed Tressa with her elbow. “Get off of me, you bumbling idiot!”
Tressa tried to right herself, but the wind tangled her skirts around her legs, trapping her in place. Suddenly, fingers grasped her waist and lifted her. The woman Tressa had identified as Mrs. Wyatt set Tressa to the side and then reached into the fray. “Stop that caterwauling,” she chided as she grabbed Evelyn’s upper arm and pulled from the pile. Tressa marveled at the woman’s strength.
“Ah, Aunt Hattie, are these the hardy farm wives you promised us? Look more like wilting daisies to me,” one man called. The others clapped him on the back, their laughter boisterous. Tressa staggered over to retrieve her abandoned bag, her face burning with humiliation as the men continued to hurl insults.
Mrs. Wyatt assisted Luella to her feet and spun to face the raucous men. “What’re these girls s’posed to think about our town with you carryin’ on like banshees?” She plunked her fists on her hips and sent her glare across the small crowd. “Gage Hammond? You the leader o’ this sorry bunch?”
A young man with a cocky grin stepped forward. He yanked his hat from his head, revealing thick black curls. “Yes’m, Aunt Hattie. When I saw you waitin’ at the depot, I figured your girls was comin’, so I fetched the men.”
“Well, your fun is over. You brought ’em, so now you take ’em an’ git.” Mrs. Wyatt waved her hand at the crowd and then offered the girls an encouraging smile. “Never mind them ill-mannered fellas. Don’t get much excitement in this little town, so they’re feelin’ their oats. You all just dust yourself off an’ hold your heads high, like the ladies you are.”
One by one, the men drifted away, their laughter continuing to roll. But one man—tall and lean, with a deeply tanned face and a low-tugged cowboy hat nearly hiding his eyes—ambled toward Tressa. He held her skimmer. Its faded pink ribbons trailed over his knobby knuckles, the picture somehow unsettling.
“I believe this is yours, miss.”
Tressa snatched the hat from his rawboned hand and crushed it to her chest. Too embarrassed to meet his gaze, she focused on the tan wedge of skin revealed by his open shirt collar and mumbled, “Thank you, sir.”
His hand rose to briefly touch his hat brim, and then he moved away with long strides, dust rising with every fall of his boot against the ground. Tressa plopped the hat over her tangled hair, pulling it clear down to her ears before turning back to the group. Her stomach clenched at the steely glares of her traveling mates. She didn’t dare look at Mrs. Wyatt. After her clumsy display, the woman would certainly send her straight back to New York. And then what would she do?



Abi said...

Sounds like a good book. Thanks.

Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing this, Kim! I love how you got the ideas for your story.

I thoroughly enjoyed the excerpt! Can't wait to read the rest of the book. : )


Renee (SteelerGirl83) said...

AWESOME teaser! I can't wait to read this!!!I LOVE mail-order bride stories!

xoxo~ Renee

Connie Stevens said...

I got to crit this book while Kim was writing it, and it's a WONDERFUL story. I highly recommend you pre-order it to be sure to get your copy the minute it's released.

collettakay said...

I love hearing the construction process of your book. I can't wait to read it.

Congrats on realizing your dream and the awesome trip it became. Are you still in touch with the inspiration of your story?

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

I'm already hooked, Kim! :)

Vickie McDonough said...


This sounds like a fabulous book. I love the herdsman school idea. Can't wait to read it!

Judith Miller said...

Great post, Kim. And I heartily agree with Connie--this is a wonderful book that you don't want to miss. And if you love cats, you're in for a special treat when you meet Isabella. So if you haven't already purchased the book, put it on your list. Better yet, take a run to your local bookstore and pick up a copy and ENJOY. ~Judy

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

Connie, I'll get you your quarter for the compliment when I see you next. :o)

Colletta Kay, I wish so much I'd gotten the woman's name and contact info so I could thank her! But it was one of those "chance meetings" over lunch, and the ship was so large, I didn't see her again. I hope she might stumble upon the book one day and realize she inspired it--I did mention her in the acknowledgements...just not by name. lol

And thanks for all the other kind comments, too! I had sooo much fun with this story--it's different from my other historicals, but I hope readers will enjoy it.

Martha A. said...

Wow...this drew me in....when does this book release?

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

Hello, Martha. I'm glad you found this "snippet" of interest. I believe this book is scheduled for release now in June of 2010...which will sneak up on me, I'm sure! :o)

April said...

WOW. I love your books. This sounds like another great one. Thanks.

Charity said...

It sounds so interesting!! I have read almost all your other books and I can't wait to get this one. Definitely sounds like a keeper:) Great writing!