Today I’m welcoming Cynthia Hickey to Wednesday Writers. Cynthia, please tell the readers about your book being showcased today.
An Unconventional Lady is the story of girl named Annie who craves adventure. She and her mother run a boarding house at the Grand Canyon in the year 1910. In her quest for adventure, Annie approaches her mother with the idea of guiding tours into the canyon. Instead of allowing Annie to be the guide, her mother hires a man and signs Annie up to be a Harvey girl at the nearby hotel. Annie must learn to accept God’s will for her life and realizes that following God’s plan can be the biggest adventure of all.
I love stories about the Harvey Girls. How did you come up with the concept for this book?
While researching to come up with a unique historical idea, I ran across the story of the Harvey Girls, women from all walks of life who waitressed along the Santa Fe Railroad. The Harvey Girls of history have been called The Women Who Tamed the West. I found their stories interesting and created a series of four books around them.
What are you working on now? Do you have a release date for this book?
An Unconventional Lady, book two in the series, releases April 1. I’ve just completed the fourth and last book in the series which releases November 1, and am researching a new series idea about natural disasters in the United States.
Are you a panster or a plotter? Linear or non-linear writer?
I’m a pantser, for the most part. When I’m writing cozy mysteries, the other genre I enjoy, I find I need an outline in order to keep my suspects, clues and red herrings straight.
Are you a fast writer or a slow writer? What’s the most number of pages or words you’ve ever written in a day? The average number per writing session?
I am very prolific, writing 2,000 to 3,000 words a day, Monday thru Friday, often squeezing in another 1,000 or more on the weekends.
What snacks, if any, are in your office right now?
I must have a bag of dark chocolate M&Ms next to my laptop. Most of the time there is also a bag of Chex Mix for variety.
Dark chocolate is my favorite, too.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If so, what did you do to break it? If not, what’s your secret to keeping it at bay?
I don’t allow writer’s block to win. I write my daily word count, even if it means going back and changing it the next day. While I love writing, I also look at it as my job. This means discipline.
How have your reading (and writing) tastes evolved over the years? Do you still read the same genre of books you did as a teenager?
I read everything except space-type science fiction. It’s hard for me to get involved into a world I can’t imagine. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember.
Do you have a favorite book? (Or books since it’s always hard to whittle it down to one.) My favorite book of all time is Gone With the Wind. I guess that explains why I write historicals.
What’s the first book you ever remember reading as a child? Nancy Drew. She’s the one who got me started on mysteries.
Nancy Drew was one of my faves, too. I passed the love of Nancy on to my daughter.
I love going to the movies. Do you? If so, what was the most recent movie you’ve seen? I love movies. The last movie I saw was Blue Jasmine which was nominated for an Academy Award. While I found the movie depressing, the characterization was wonderful.
What do you do for relaxation? I read and crochet. I have more books in my to-be-read pile than I could possibly read, and the soothing motion of the crochet needles helps me to relax.
I crochet, too, and knit and quilt.
Favorite food? Do M&Ms count?
Favorite singer or band? Mercy Me
Favorite season? Spring
Favorite flower? Rose, the deeper the red, the better
Favorite color? Royal blue
Mug or teacup? I have a mug given to me by a friend that says, “Relax. I’ve got this – God”
Name three interesting things most people don’t know about you.
Crowds scare me
I hate elevators
I’ve always wanted to be in movies.
It’s been a pleasure having you here today. As you say goodbye, can you leave the readers with an encapsulation of your life’s philosophy?
Philippians 4:13. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013 and 2014 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”. Visit her website at www.cynthiahickey.com
But her strict mother keeps her close to home, working as a Harvey Girl waitress. Until Dallas Baker shows up in town and takes the job Annie really wants—leading tours through the Grand Canyon. Annie’s frustrated, but finds it impossible to ignore the handsome outdoorsman.
With her split skirts and modern hairdo, Annie challenges Dallas’s old-fashioned notions of what makes a lady. To his surprise, he finds her delightful, until he learns she has no interest in settling down. Dallas is ready to win her heart, but is Annie willing to fall in love?
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Williams, Arizona, April 1905
Annie Rollins adjusted her new skirt and smiled at her reflection. How liberating! After making sure her hair stayed secure in its new style, back-combed so it stood inches higher than normal, she felt like a modern woman, even stuck in the backwoods of northern Arizona. With one final glance and pat at her pompadour, Annie sashayed from the room.
“What are you wearing?” Her mother’s reaction did not disappoint.
“It’s a split skirt, Mother.” Annie twirled. “Do you like it? It offers so much freedom of movement.”
Her mother planted her fists on her thin hips. “I do not, and what did you do to your hair? It’s sky-high. Heaven have mercy.”
“It’s called a transformation. It’s the newest style.” Annie brushed past her and glided down the stairs. She might as well get the day started, and one of her jobs was to register guests at the B and B’s front desk.
Her mother’s heels tapped behind her. “Why do you feel the need to be highfalutin way out here?”
“There’s nothing wrong with being modern. We’re in the twentieth century.” Lord, give me strength. Mother complained more often than not, ever since Papa’s death two years ago. It was time to start living again.
“You look ridiculous and out of place in Williams.” Mother unlocked the cabinet where she kept the registry book. She lifted the leather volume and plopped it on the counter. “People will laugh.”
“Let them.” Annie let the cover fall open and ran her finger down the page. “Only two guests registered?”
“Hopefully, there will be more. These two reservations came in by telegram.”
Annie leaned her elbows on the counter. “I have an idea.”
Her mother rolled her eyes. “Not another one. You and your harebrained schemes.”
“We need to entice people to stay here. Offer them extra services.” Annie raised her eyebrows, choosing to ignore her mother’s attitude. “Have you thought any about my suggestion of offering guided tours of the canyon? I mentioned the idea to you weeks ago. I could be the guide. You know I would love it.”
“Absolutely not.” Mother shook her head. “That is definitely not a ladylike occupation.”
“Sometimes I don’t want to act like a lady.” Annie lifted her chin. “Ladies don’t have a lot of fun.”
Mother’s hand fluttered to her chest. “What am I going to do with you?”
“Let me be who I am.” Annie sighed. Maybe a change of subject was in order. “The new restaurant opens today. Should we eat dinner there?”
“What’s wrong with my food?”
“Nothing. It was only a suggestion.” It seemed Annie couldn’t get anything right in her mother’s eyes. Maybe she shouldn’t try. Mother hadn’t been happy when they’d moved from Boston to northern Arizona, but since Papa’s death she seemed to want everyone around her to feel unhappy, too.
“No more suggestions.” Mother took a deep breath. “Starting tomorrow, I will be running the boardinghouse alone.”
Annie fixed a stare on her. “What do you mean?” Please say she wasn’t being sent to a school for ladies. That would be a fate worse than death.
Mother pulled a sheet of paper from her apron pocket. “Tomorrow morning you will report to the El Tovar. I got you a job as a Harvey Girl.”
“What? Why? What about helping you?” It wasn’t as bad as boarding school, but almost. “What about the women’s ministry at church?” What about interviewing for the job herself?
“You have Sundays off.” Mother slapped the application on the counter. “They’ve also agreed to allow you to sleep here rather than in the girls’ dormitory. I promised them you were a comely girl with high moral standards and that I was more than sufficient as a chaperone during your off hours.”
No doubt there. “So you aren’t even going to consider my idea of guided tours?” Annie’s shoulders slumped. Why couldn’t Mother commend her, just once, for having a creative mind?
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t consider it, but that is a man’s job.” Mother wiped her hands on her apron. “Time for work.” She turned and unlocked the front door. Business as usual.
Annie blinked against the tears stinging her eyes. Nineteen years old, and she still wasn’t in control of her own life. Didn’t God give His children the desires of their hearts? Hers was to work outside in His creation, not in a stuffy restaurant.
“I need some air.” Annie bolted from behind the counter and dashed outside.
“Annette Rollins.” Her mother’s screech followed. “Ladies do not run!”
Annie pinched the bridge of her nose between her forefinger and thumb, and then lifted her gaze to the new restaurant. Her prison.
The two-story El Tovar Hotel, built from local limestone and pine, overshadowed the dwellings around it. It was only a matter of time before the Rollins Boardinghouse would be out of business in favor of something grander. That was the main reason Annie presented new ideas to her mother for drawing in business. She didn’t want to see her mother thrust out of her livelihood. If only she would listen!
Annie turned and surveyed the rim of the Grand Canyon, barely visible behind the hotel. Her heart yearned to explore the canyon floor, but even she knew it wasn’t wise to go alone. Taking a group with her seemed the most sensible way. She headed toward her favorite view.
One of God’s wonders for sure, and the real draw to the town of Williams, regardless of what the railroad people said. It might be the trains that brought the crowds, but it was the canyon that made them return.
Annie stopped at the edge and flung her arms wide, taking in the azure sky and the pinks and mauves of the plunging canyon walls. The Colorado River wound like a ribbon along the floor far below. A bald eagle soared under her, bobbing and dancing on the wind’s current. What would that feel like-the freedom to soar?
Although the boardinghouse demanded plenty of hard work, it was home. It was all Annie knew. Now, she was being thrust into strange surroundings. Though her mother hadn’t spelled it out, Annie was sure this new job was supposed to teach her feminine ways. She’d seen the waitresses flitting around town and going in and out of the hotel in their black-and-white uniforms. They looked fetching, but such a life wasn’t for Annie.
She wanted so much more. Letting the tears fall, she lifted her desire to heaven. God would take care of the details. If she could step back and let Him.
Dallas Baker slung his saddlebags from the back of his horse to his shoulder, handed the reins to an older man waiting to take them, and then climbed the stairs to Rollins Boardinghouse. The newspaper advertisement in Dallas, Texas, his hometown and namesake, had come as the answer to a prayer. He didn’t hate the rancher’s way of life, but wanted something different. Somewhere he didn’t have to work under his two older brothers. Love them he did, but not as bosses.
Stamping the mud from his boots, he pushed open the front door and stepped inside. The entryway made a person feel at home, with its hand-braided rugs and polished counter. His footsteps thudded on a scarred but polished wood floor, announcing his arrival. Why some folks preferred fancy hotels over a place that felt like home was beyond him.
An attractive middle-aged woman entered from a room on his right. “Welcome. I am the owner, Mrs. Rollins. Do you have a reservation?”
“No. I’m Dallas Baker, ma’am, your trail guide.” He grinned.
“Our what?” A high-pitched voice of protest sounded behind him.
Dallas turned to see the prettiest gal he’d seen in a long time. Blond hair high on her head, flashing green eyes and wearing a brown…what? “I’m the new canyon guide for the Rollins Boardinghouse,” he told her.
Miss Attitude marched past him and stood in front of the proprietor. “Mother, how could you? This is my dream.” She pounded one fist on her chest. “Mine. And you went behind my back-”
“I’ll just step into the parlor.” Neither woman glanced his way as he ducked out of sight. Nothing made Dallas skedaddle faster than an upset woman, and he’d managed to step between two of them. And what was the younger one wearing? It looked like a skirt, but was split like pants and was wide. Real wide. His mother would never be caught dead in that getup, and she was active on the ranch.
He set his bags on the floor and tried not to listen to the argument in the next room, wanting to be anywhere but where he was at the moment. Maybe he should go back outside. But that would take him past them again. He sighed and lowered himself onto a flowered sofa.
“You took my idea and went behind my back and hired a man.” The younger woman’s voice rose. “Have you absolutely no confidence in my abilities?”
“Annette, I will not be spoken to in this way. It’s a fine idea, but not one suited for a woman. You need to learn your place in the world.”
Dallas nodded. A true sentiment, indeed.
“And my place is dressed as a fancy crow at El Tovar?”
“If that’s what it takes to teach you how to be a lady, then yes.” Mrs. Rollins’s words were clipped and cold.
Dallas had run across a few Harvey Girls on his travels. The term crow did not suit the women at all. They were refined and mannerly, making a man’s travels easier with their femininity and smiles. But then he’d been told by more than a few women that he possessed backward ideas about a woman’s role in today