Friday, December 6, 2013
Interview with Prairie Grace author, Marilyn Bay Wentz
Interview with Marilyn Bay Wentz
Author of Prairie Grace
Today it is my privilege to introduce you to Marilyn Bay Wentz, and her debut novel, Prairie Grace. Marilyn is a native of Colorado, who grew up on a crop and livestock farm in northern Colorado. It is a work of historical fiction set in 1864 Colorado Territory.
We will be giving away three copies of Prairie Grace. To enter the drawing, comment on the interview and leave your email address. The drawing will take place on Monday, December 9th, at 2pm Mountain Standard time, that’s 4pm Eastern Standard Time. If you win, we will contact you by email for your address. If you would like the book signed, please let us know the specific person you would like it signed to when you reply.
Give us a brief description of Prairie Grace.
While the eastern half of the United States is embroiled in Civil War to end slavery, military and political leaders in 1864 Colorado Territory strive to enslave the Native American population they see as impeding settlement. Prairie Grace portrays this clash of cultures through real people, Georgia MacBaye, a throw caution to the wind frontierswoman, and Gray Wolf, a Cheyenne brave who is thrown into the white world when his uncle, Chief Lean Bear, leaves him on the MacBaye doorstep in hopes that Georgia’s mother, a well-known healer, will be able to save his life.
Despite the hostilities perpetrated by both the U.S. military and Native renegades, there are individuals from both the white and Native populations that speak reason and deal honorably with each other—including Thomas, Georgia’s father, whose ultimate sacrifice brings Gray Wolf to understand grace in a profound way. Destined to be enemies, Georgia and Gray Wolf battle their own and society’s prejudices as they strive to carve out their futures. Packed with history, fast moving and believable, Prairie Grace leaves the reader with hope amid a heartbreaking tale of our nation’s past.
Tell us a little about yourself, Marilyn.
I earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Northern Colorado in 1984. I write and edit newsletters and magazines and handle public relations and promotions for clients, including the National Bison Association and the American Grassfed Association. Prior to establishing my home-based public relations and writing business, I was communications director for several different agriculture organizations I have lived in Costa Rica and Taiwan, giving me fluency in Spanish and conversational Mandarin Chinese.
When it comes to Prairie Grace, I’m just a simple girl, writing a story of grace amid a heartbreaking tale of our nation’s past. It depicts the best and worst of humankind. It is not a bad Indian or a bad white man story, rather, it shows depredations and kindness from people representing both groups.
How did the story of Prairie Grace came about.
The basic storyline came from a story I wrote by hand when I was about 12 years old. It was a Thanksgiving story about a gravely ill, young brave, dropped left by his family members on the doorstep of a family of white settlers. They nurse him back to health, and as they become acquainted, they learn to appreciate each other’s ways.
I’ve always loved to create stories in my head. Some actually made it to paper. When I finally got serious about writing a novel, I believed I should start with this story.
Who will enjoy Prairie Grace?
Prairie Grace will hold the attention of those from 12 years old to adults. There is something for those who love Westerns, history buffs, and anyone who yearns for the open prairie and simpler times. There is a thread that horse lovers and trainers will appreciate, and a romantic thread, though there is very little “mushy” dialog. I have found that both men and women enjoy the fast-moving storyline, which is well-researched and suspenseful. In fact, the majority of reviews have been written by men.
Homeschool parents who are looking for an engaging way to teach 1860’s Colorado Territorial history will find it not only entertains, but provides an opportunity to discuss honorable versus dishonorable actions and attitudes.
Tell us something about the time period and history you researched to write the book.
I knew about the Sand Creek Massacre, and I knew I needed a major conflict for the story, but I was well into the writing of the book before I realized the massacre had to be part of the storyline. Next year, 2014, is actually the 150th anniversary of the massacre.
Prairie Grace incorporates dozens of actual events, places, and people. The Sand Creek Massacre occurred November 29, 1864, in present day southeastern Colorado. I also drew from several accounts of Indian depredations and numerous U.S. government/military campaigns to eliminate the Native Americans and their threat or perceived threat to the whites.
Is it difficult to write historical fiction? How do you get into the shoes of the previous generation?
Human emotions and dilemmas do not change greatly from one time in history to another, but incorporating them into the historical setting requires study. Coming from an agricultural background, living on the Eastern Plains of Colorado, and working regularly with horses provided me with a good basis to write about this time period.
Tell us about some of the other historical incidents that form parts of the book.
Some of the events with historical basis are the Colorado gold rush, the Denver flood of 1864, the Hungate murders, the slaughter of innocent Indians in small villages, and the settlement on the Purgatory River in southeastern Colorado.
The book is rich with the history of Colorado around the time of the Civil War. The printing press used to produce the Rocky Mountain News was transported by ox cart from the east. I wove the treaties of Fort Laramie and Fort Wise into the storyline, as well as ranching in the Bijou Basin (present day Elbert County).
I understand that your own personal background was helpful in creating the story. Tell us about that.
I write as a fifth generation Coloradoan, who has lived on the plains most of my life. I grew up near the land that was homesteaded by my great-great grandparents, helping my parents work animals and raise crops. I listened to the stories of my grandparents about growing up on the Colorado Plains.
As a child, I was thrilled to learn that my grandfather was part Sioux. Unfortunately, because he was born in the early 20th century, he was embarrassed to talk about it. That lack of information about my own heritage led me to read and research Native Americans, as well as the origins and historical treks West by the settlers with whom they interacted, and in some cases, intermarried.
I and my family operate Prairie Natural Lamb, raising lambs and marketing them directly. I also raise and train horses for fun, and am a certified Colorado 4-H horse show judge and level rater.
With your curiosity about Native Americans, did you use any historical characters in Prairie Grace?
Many of the Native American characters are real. I drew from the lives of Lean Bear, Bull Bear, Roman Nose, One-Eye, Beaver aka George Bent, Black Kettle, and Tall Bull.
Some of the white characters were also real historical figures also. Cheyenne captive Laura Roper, the Indian agent, Samuel Colley, Governor Evans, and Colonel John Chivington all make appearances, to name a few.
The extent to which history is portrayed in daily routines—both Native and settler-described, make Prairie Grace not just a good read, but a history primer, as well.
Tell us something about the fictional characters you created. How did you come up with them?
The MacBaye family, as well as they Karlson family, Gray Wolf, his sister Meadow Lark, and Soaring Falcon are all fictional. Portions of the settler backstories and individual character traits are drawn from my own family. I took great care to do extensive research on everyday settler life, Cheyenne customs, and history, so that these fictional characters would act and talk in a way that is engaging and believable.
I worked hard to depict attitudes of people during this time period, without being simplistic or stereotypical. My own experience in agriculture, the use of herbal and nutritional remedies, and horse training, helped me to write credible descriptions of these aspects of settler life.
Did you learn anything unexpected while doing your research? If so, what?
I learned so much in my research, but I’ll share just of couple of those surprises. I didn’t know much about the Cheyenne Dog soldiers, and the reading I did often painted them as either evil or heroes. The truth is somewhere in between. They started off as mighty warriors, usually honorable, but in their fear of the whites, they did some pretty awful things. Another thing that was surprising was the treatment by Sand Creek Massacre commander Col. John Chivington of the teenage sons of white men and their Cheyenne wives. Charlie Bent, son of George Bent, and Jack Smith, son of John Smith, well known by Chivington, were captured. Jack Smith was executed one day after the massacre. His father and Charlie Bent barely escaped a similar feat.
Do you have a favorite character? If so, who is it and why?
Gray Wolf is admirable, and Georgia is charming and tough, but Thomas is genuine and a stand-up guy. He has so many of the characteristics of my own father, so if I have to choose one favorite, it is Thomas.
Did you base your heroine, Georgia, on anyone in particular?
Georgia is not based on any one person. However, her tomboy tendencies remind me of both my mother and my sister, Shelly. Georgia’s desire to leave behind her mother’s Eastern propriety is something I observed in the relationships between my great-grandmother, my grandmother and my mother.
You mentioned the way Christianity was used with the Native Americans. What is the worldview of the book?
Prairie Grace reflects my Christian world view. Adhering to historical accuracy, it is no stretch that Thomas MacBaye would read the Bible to his family after an evening meal. Gray Wolf has no respect for a god that would not fight for his people (African American slaves), and he is predisposed to doubt the white man’s religion because it has been used to manipulate his people. The hypocrisy of officials, especially Colonel John Chivington, a preacher and abolitionist, are clearly portrayed. Thomas shares his beliefs, while validating Gray Wolf’s religion, suggesting that the two faiths may have more in common than opposed.
What do you think is the strongest message of Prairie Grace?
In addition to being entertained and educated, I hope readers will come away with two truths. First, I want readers of Prairie Grace to be reminded that there is always hope, even amid the worst circumstances. Second, I want to reinforce the truth that we should never judge an entire people by the actions of one, as Thomas reminds Gray Wolf. It is a truth that, unfortunately, was not widely held in the 1860s.
What comes next for you?
Prairie Grace is the first in my “Prairie Series” of historic Colorado. The next installment is still in the research stage but will continue more than two decades later when a young woman seeks to run from her mixed heritage by escaping to southern Colorado where she plots to blend in with the Hispanic population. Spanish land grants in southern Colorado, most of them not honored by U.S. authorities, are intriguing and make for another great story of hope in the midst of injustice.
The goal for my writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, is to entertain, educate and inspire readers. Stay tuned.
Learn more about Marilyn and Prairie Grace at www.marilynbaywentz.com
Connect with Marilyn at https://www.facebook.com/marilyn.wentz?fref=ts
Get your copy of Prairie Grace at http://www.amazon.com/Prairie-Grace-Marilyn-Wentz-ebook/dp/B00ETN9A9G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386131278&sr=8-1&keywords=Prairie+Grace