Saturday, March 23, 2013

Oregon Pioneers


Susan Page Davis here. History is all about people—individuals. I've encountered some intriguing people in my research and the Oregon pioneers are a good example.

Thousands of people went to Oregon in the 1850s, and those pioneers have always fascinated me. When I got married and moved to Oregon with my husband, who grew up there, I was very conscious of retracing the steps of those who blazed the western trails. When it came time to write my Prairie Dreams series, I needed to present Oregon’s history accurately, and I found I had a lot to learn!


In The Lady's Maid, two English ladies travel west by wagon train, winding along the Oregon Trail and finally reaching Oregon Territory.  
                    
Copyright Historic Oregon City
www.historicoregoncity.org
For that first book in the series, I mainly studied the trail itself, and places along the way. It was in very rough shape when my ladies arrived in 1855. I’ve been to the End of the Trail Museum in Oregon City, and to the Oregon Trail Museum near Baker City, on the Idaho side of the state—both wonderful resources with very different collections. I’ve seen the ruts on the prairie and peered into Conestoga wagons. All of that was percolating in the back of my mind, and I was able to find the additional information I needed.


Fort Dalles was one place I used in my books. My brother-in-law lives in The Dalles, and on one visit, he took us to see what is left of the fort. It isn’t much. The surgeon’s house is wonderful, but there is precious little left of the actual military installation. I had to rely on books and Internet sites to bring the fort to life for me. Oregon City was easier, because it’s still there, and many sources exist to tell me about what it was like in “the day.”

Real historical figures began to show up in the second book, Lady Anne’s Quest. My two fictional ladies had separated. Elise had married a scout turned rancher, and Lady Anne went on to find her missing uncle. His last known address was near Eugene.

Eugene Skinner
I had a lot of fun researching the Eugene area. It’s where my husband was born. He grew up in Junction City, just a few miles outside Eugene, and we lived within the city limits after we got married. But Junction City wasn’t there in 1855.

What I did find in my time traveling was fascinating people. One was Eugene Skinner, larger than life. He was the founder of the city, and it is named after him. I was also familiar with Skinner’s Butte, which towers over the city and where Eugene Skinner lived for a while. In his active life, he was not only a founder, a farmer, and a ferry operator, but he helped lay out the town and served as a lawyer, postmaster, and county clerk.

One of the first settlers in Lane County, Skinner arrived in 1846. He built the first cabin in what is now the city of Eugene, on the side of the hill at Skinner’s Butte. He used it as a trading post, and later as a post office. I put the post office and both Mr. and Mrs. Skinner in my story.


Joseph L. Meek
 I also learned about Joseph Lafayette Meek, or “Joe Meek,” the famous mountain man. He lived his later years in Oregon and was appointed the first U.S. Marshal for the Oregon Territory.

James Nesmith
I needed a marshal in my story, but by the time of the tale, Joe had given up the office. He served as Territorial Marshal from 1848 to 1853, and was succeeded by James Nesmith, so Marshal Nesmith is the one who made it into my book. Even so, I enjoyed a rabbit trail of reading about Joe Meek and his family. Maybe he will show up in another book someday.

I am making a list of Oregon places I’d like to visit the next time we go there to see family. It’s amazing how many historical sites I managed NOT to visit during the time I lived in the beautiful state of Oregon! Usually those places associated with people. While I do delve into the plants, animals, and terrain of the regions I write about, most of my research is still about people.

Today I’m giving away a copy of A Lady in the Making from the Prairie Dreams series, and also a copy of Almost Arizona, which celebrates Arizona’s 1912 statehood. Comment below and you’ll be entered, and you’ll also be entered in the end of the month drawing for a Kindle and a $25 Amazon gift card.


Almost Arizona: A former Arizona Ranger finds it hard to lay down his badge when he knows a killer is getting away with his crimes. He chases the outlaw into the wilds of northeastern Arizona, but has to rethink his mission when he realizes he's being followed--by a young woman who claims he's after the wrong man.


A Lady in the Making: Millie Evans boards a stagecoach and finds that one of the passengers is David Stone—a man she and her brother once tried to swindle. As she tries to convince David she’s different now, her brother’s gang holds up the stagecoach. Millie must trust God to show David the truth that she has changed, but will he see before it’s too late?



Susan Page Davis is the author of more than 40 novels, including the Ladies’ Shooting Club series, Texas Trails series, and Frasier Island Series. She now lives in western Kentucky. Visit her website at: www.susanpagedavis.com.



65 comments:

  1. Great post, Susan, I learned a lot. Don't feel too bad about not learning too much about Oregon while you lived there. I've lived in California my whole life and barely know anything about it. I really should remedy that some day. :)

    debsbunch5[at]jesusanswers[dot]com

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    1. Amen, Debbie! Every time we go back to Oregon to visit family, we try to see a few more sights we never visited before. Get to know your great state while you can! I went to California ONCE in my life and camped in an elk preserve near the Redwoods. Loved seeing that part of Northern California. I also got to visit Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. That was 37 years ago.

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  2. Its interesting learning more about Oregon. I love the books about the Oregon trail (use to like the tv show too). I have read your first two set there and have the last one in my list to read.
    I am wondering do American children learn about there state history at school? I learnt quite a bit about South Australia in primary school not that I remember it all.
    I love learning about other places.

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    1. Jenny, we do learn state history. I had a half-year of Maine history in eighth grade, but now I think they teach it earlier, in shorter segments. Of course, now I live in Kentucky (for the past 3 years) and I'm having to re-educate myself. It's much different living in the South! I'd love to learn more about YOUR state. My son visited Queensland about 10 years ago on an agriculture exchange, and he loved it.

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  3. I would LOVE to win these books, I love reading about the pioneers. I've only read one Susan Page Davis book....thanks for the giveaway!

    bcrug(at)myfairpoint(dot)net

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  4. I loved learning more about Oregon history. The Oregon Trail museum near Baker is really awesome. Please add me, I'd love to win The Making of a Lady. Thanks!
    worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

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    1. Connie and Merry, thanks for stopping by. Merry, I love that museum. It's where I first learned about the Oregon Escort (Cavalry escort for wagon trains). It inspired the second book of my Wyoming Brides trilogy, which bears the title The Oregon Escort. The military detail was shortlived and was taken over by civilians, I believe, during the Civil War, but what an exciting time in our history!

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  5. What an interesting post! I love history! I find it interesting too that when I have lived places I visit the historical places less then when I go on a vacation or people come to visit us on vacation. I guess we get so accustomed to having the historical things around we tend to forget they are there. We have a HUGE WWII military museum full of history a couple miles away and the only times we have been there is when family comes to visit.

    I would love to be entered into your giveaway. Thank you.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

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    1. Thanks, Cindy. That is so true. When we lived in Maine, we always took out-of-state company to see Fort Knox, a very well-maintained granite fort on the Penobscot River. It's fabulous, and the westerners especially were impressed, as they had nothing like it out there. It was my kids' favorite day trip. Now we live just a few hours from the other Fort Knox (in KY) and I need to go over and visit that one! Maybe we need some company to go with us! BTW, I believe both are named for General Henry Knox. It's been a while since I researched it...Maybe a future post on that!

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  6. It is interesting, when you learn all the stuff you didn't get in school.

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  7. The Oregon Trail is so fascinating! It's great fun to go out and see the history live and in person! I lived in WY for almost 10 years and had the opportunity to go out on the desert and see the ruts from the wagon trail, and view the grave markers along the track.
    BTW, Susan, I think the very first Christian fiction book I read (other than Grace Livingston Hill!) was one of yours. I was a teenager at the time. Does that sound about right? Have you been writing for over 25 years?

    jimmynmatthewsmom [at] netzero [dot] com

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    1. Sorry, Bethany, it probably wasn't mine. I WISH I was published 25 years ago. My first book (set in Wyoming) was Protecting Amy, published in 2004. If you haven't seen my Wyoming Brides collection, check it out. I love your state and recently learned more about it by watching the PBS Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl. Now I know why Wyoming is such a checkerboard of private and government land. Fascinating!

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    2. Hmm, I must be confused! lol (wouldn't be the first time, and probably not the last!) Well, I do know that I have read multiple of your books and enjoyed them all! :)

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  8. With all your research info, it must be hard to pick what to include. I can't imagine traveling.those trails in wagons...we just got back from shaing Christ in the Waslala, Nicaragua mountains and getting there was so challenging for me. Crossing suspension bridges where the boards were broken and having to walk on a 6" wide plank across, crossing a river over a log, on all 4's crawling up a bank. I just kept saying...oh God, oh God! How did those wagon train girls survive?

    missionwife@hotmail.com

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    1. Oh, my, I am not sure I could have done what you did, Melody. What a wonderful trip you had, for such a high purpose. As to the research--you got that right! I always have lots more information than I can put in the book, and sometimes I have to trim back the historical details, so that they don't overwhelm the plot. Have to keep that story moving!

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  9. I am enjoying this new blog and all of the wonderfully informative posts. My question: you incorporate the names of actual pioneers and settlers in your stories, correct? Do you have any use issues with those names, or is it all right to mention them in their actual callings? Thanks and blessings. davalynnspencer at hotmail dot com

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    1. Great question, Davalyn! It is fine to mention historical people in novels. I don't make them be major characters, and I am careful to be sure they were in that area at that time, and that I don't "put words in their mouths" that they wouldn't actually have said. For instance, Eugene Skinner would never have said "Okay." I don't make them act out of character. In Skinner's case, he was the real postmaster in Eugene, so I have no problem having him interact with someone going to get his mail. But I would probably not use people who are still alive. If I did, I'd be extremely cautious. I would even be leery of using figures who died in the last half century, and I'd probably stick to things they did and said that are well documented.

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  10. I loved playing the computer game "The Oregon Trail" growing up. It always made me curious as to the real trail and what museums they had regarding it. Thank you for the post and the fun information - I might have to come visit to see it all!
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

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    1. Hey, my kids had that game too! They loved it, and I played it a few times myself. I liked going hunting and fishing to replenish the food, and stopping at the trading post along the way.

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    2. I think we all loved the hunting! Oh what fun memories. :)

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  11. I know I have mentioned it before, and will do it here again. I think we'd remember a lot more of the history we learn(t) in school if we had fiction authors write the text books. I love learning history now, but in school it's like it's just a bunch of dry facts. Would love to win!

    mitziUNDERSCOREwanhamATyahooDOTcom

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    1. Sounds like a great idea, Marianne! Unfortunately, in some historical novels there are mistakes, and most have embellishments that are great fun, but it can be hard to tell what's true and what's not. If fiction writers were creating textbooks, we would have to make sure everything was authentic. But when I was homeschooling my kids, I often gave them historical novels to read alongside their texts. It is a great way to learn history, and to make it "stick" in the mind.

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  12. Susan, I love your books! I really want to write historical fiction one day, but all that research is overwhelming to me! For now, I'll just read them :)

    Crystal from KenTen

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    1. Hey, Crystal! Great to see you here! We missed you at the KenTen retreat, and we did some great brainstorming and learning. The research is daunting, but I love it. I learned I am the type of personality that loves this type of detail-oriented work. (I'm also good at scheduling and bossing other people around, but that's another story.)

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  13. Your books sound really interesting. I would love to read them. Thanks for having the giveaway.

    Rose
    harnessrose(at)yahoo(dot)com

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    1. Thanks, Rose! You're entered in the drawing. Back to work now. I'm working on a story set in 1860s Colorado.

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  14. Great post, Susan. So fun hanging out with you this weekend! I don't know how you do all you do, that's for sure. From the posts here, I can see you have some very devoted fans. And well-deserved, too, I might add. And I'm one of them.!

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    1. Thanks, Renee! I love our writers' group, and I always learn something new. It was great to get away for a couple days and hang out with you and our other friends. This blog has been an education for me, reading through the wide variety of historical topics.

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  15. So interesting! I tweeted and linked to your post on Facebook! I am from Oregon, so this was especially fun to read. I've been to the End of the Oregon Trail Historical site too with our family. Fun place to visit!

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    1. Thank you, Carrie! If you ever get over to Baker, you'll want to visit that museum as well. Very different! We went one time when we were driving from the Dalles across to Idaho to see our daughter. It's WAAAAAAAY out there.

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  16. Very nice post I enjoyed reading it. Thank you.

    I want to also say thank you for the chance to win your book.

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

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  17. Very interesting. I so enjoyed Lady In The Making. Oregon would be an interesting study. Good job on the blog. Thanks for all the help you give me.

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  18. Great post on Oregon...enjoyed reading it as I lived there for a couple of years. I love reading Susan Davis Pages' books and would love to win one! Thanks for the giveaway!

    seventysevensusieq[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  19. I love books on Oregon, and having a story entwined in the history makes it so fun to read! Thanks for all the research you've put into your books. Our daughter lives in Oregon City and we pass the End of the Trail often!

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  20. Thank you, Angela, Kathy, and Susieq! Great to see you all here. Anonymous, thank you--and if you wish to be entered in the drawing could you please come back and leave your email address (we do this format to avoid piracy: susan[at] susanpagedavis [dot] com

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  21. Susan, this was very interesting. I have always loved reading about the Pioneer days. And, so many are of course from the Oregon trail. It's hard to realize how many places you authors get to visit. That would be amazing. I live in Texas, but have hardly seen any of the beautiful parts that people visit. I finally got to go to Palo Dura canyon for the first time about 8 years ago. But, we only had part of a day to look. And, I had lived about 109 mi. from Amarillo. But moved away at 16 when was married, and all of our vacation time was straight through to OK panhandle to visit our parents once a year. My brother lives in a tiny town in NY (McDonough) with a lot of history behind it. Now, people probably never give it a thought when they pass through. I found this out from an author, Donna Winters, who studies history.
    I would love to win your books. Maxie mac262(at)me(dot)com

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    1. Maxie, I have read about Palo Duro Canyon and would LOVE to see it! I've been to Texas 3 or 4 times, but haven't really seen much of it. I hope to visit again and maybe see some of the historical spots.

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  22. Great Post! I have always had an interest in pioneers and love reading about the Oregon Trail.

    Katie J.
    johnsonk133[at]yahoo[dot]com

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  23. I love learning about the pioneer age...so interesting! thanks for the giveaway - looks
    like a great read.

    truckredford (at)gmail Dot (Com)

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  24. What fun learning about these people and that it is the people and not the land, after all! Such bravery and tenacity! Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House
    lanehillhouse[at]centurylink[dot]net

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  25. I am so enjoying all the history I am learning this month! I used to play the Oregon Trail game when our daughter was just a child. It was so much fun to learn what I could from the game. I would love to research all these wonderful areas.

    Betti
    bettimace(at)gmail(dot)com

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  26. Thanks, Katie, Eliza and Kathleen! Betti, welcome to the Oregon Trail Game lovers club!

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  27. I love learning about pioneers and early history!
    Lisa
    deiselbuffs@yahoo.ca

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  28. Susan, what an interesting post! It is great to see a writer who is so dedicated to researching her books. I know when I pick up a Susan Page Davis book, I don't have to worry about historical inaccuracies. You make sure everything is correct before the manuscript is submitted. Keep up the great work!

    Sandra Robbins

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  29. Thanks, Sandra! I am enjoying your Smokey Mountain Dreams series.

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  30. Very interesting post. I love history. Don't remember loving it so much in school--it was boring...perhaps it was the delivery! Your research must be fun, too! Would love to win and thanks for the opportunity. Linda
    dmcfarl101(at)juno(dot)com

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    1. I am sure you're not the only one who felt that way about history, Linda!

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  31. I fly into Portland when visiting family across the border in WA but never have spent any time in the state.
    I loved The Lady's Maid but haven't read the rest of the series.

    pattymh2000(at)Yahoo(dot)com

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  32. The Prairie Dreams series is great! Both my daughter and I really enjoyed it. I had to wait till all the books were out so I could read them one after the other and not have to wait to find out what happened. It is interesting to know that some of the people in the books were real. I appreciate all the research you do to make the books historically accurate.

    pmk56[at]sbcglobal[dot]net

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  33. I love reading books about the Oregon Trail.

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  34. Patty, one place I loved near the border was the Astoria Column. When you climb up there, you can see across the Columbia to Washington. We took our kids up there several years ago. Our youngest was so scared, my husband had to carry her most of the way up and down.
    Pam, thanks! I'm glad you both enjoyed the books. Thanks for coming by, "Bookishqueen." Someday I'd like to go to the site of Fort Bridger and on down Echo Canyon. There is so much out there to see, I'm sure one person can never see everything!

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  35. I love reading about pioneers traveling the Oregon Trail and I would love to visit those interesting places you mentioned. I love reading your books.

    deamundy(at)gmail(dot)com

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  36. Love reading about the pioneers! Have traveled to most of the states, but Oregon & Maine are two that I have always wanted to see & haven't - I hear that they are two of the prettiest ones, also. I live in Ky. also - born & raised near Louisville.

    Thanks for the opportunity to win your books!

    bonnieroof60@yahoo.com

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    1. Bonnie, there's so much in Louisville! I've been there a few times now, and what a lot of history! My sister and I did the "barn tour" at Churchill Downs--what fun! And the Frazier museum is awesome! We toured a historic house, too, but I need to go back for another dose.

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  37. Susan, I enjoy reading stories about pioneers traveling out west. Enjoyed reading about
    the people you researched. Your books are terrific!
    Susieq12@roadrunner.com

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  38. Susan, Historicals are my favorite, especially those set in the west. I laughed when I read where while Millie tried to explain that she'd changed, her brother and his gang rode up and robbed their stagecoach. I can imagine the look of horror on Millie's face. LOL. You have a knack for creating interesting "Leap-off-the-page characters.

    I'd love to read this book, "Lady In The Making" and "Almost Arizona."

    landtbeth@yahoo.com

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    1. That was a fun story to write. The hardest part was the difficulty of traveling east instead of west at that time. I had to learn where there were stagecoach lines and where they had to do something else. Great to see you here, Laurean!

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  39. Susan, I enjoyed your post about Oregon and how you do and use research. I really appreciate your attention to authentic history, when writing your fiction. Thank you :)
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  40. Good evening, Ms. Davis,

    Thank you for giving me a glimpse back at Oregon! I had a lovely, if brief stay as a teenager, whilst I ventured mostly close to Portland! I wanted to travel East and a bit South Central, but my friends' parents had trouble getting off work so we made the best of it! What I remembered most about the Oregon Coast is literally just that! The Pacific Ocean is a 'shelf' ocean and I was so used to the Atlantic!! I didn't ever have to worry about dropping 'off' 25+ feet if I walked too far out to sea! I'll never forget my nerves feeling a bit rattled as I dipped my toes and ankles into the chilly Pacific! Beautiful part of the country -- my favourite bit?! The sun never was in my eyes + the rain without lightning 'all the time' was a blessing! :) Thanks for illuminating parts of the state I didn't get the chance to encounter! And, I'd be plumb happy to read both of your books, because I always appreciate writers who dig deep into research and walk away with living breathing characters of whom have a lot to say!! OOh, I did walk a bit in one of the natural forests, took in a waterfall, and just enjoyed the ambiance of nature! Your 'mountains' gave this Southern girl more than a 'pause' in 'awe' by the by!

    inkand-blogaways(at)usa.net
    //Florida

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    1. Thanks, Kay and Jorie! I spent a few days in the Seaside area once, and I agree, the Oregon coast is awesome! We took our kids to see Fort Clatsop before it burned--I was so glad we did.

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  41. Great post, Susan! I enjoyed the pictures. Those men had some interesting hairdos.

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  42. Lady DragonKeeperMarch 24, 2013 at 5:16 AM

    It's neat to see how author's research their novels --I'd agree with you that research for the characters is the most important, but details in the setting and location also are a positive addition as well!

    jafuchi7[at]hawaii[dot]edu

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  43. And the winners are ... Random.org helped select Katie J. and Laurean for today's winners. I will contact you privately. Thanks everyone for taking part! All who commented here and left their contact info are entered in the end-of-the-month drawing as well.

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  44. Would love to read these books!! tammyredd@gmail.com

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