E.E. Burke's Best of the West: Welcome to Whitcomb Springs, Montana

Today we have a special treat! Two-for-one Western historical fiction with MK McClintock and Samantha St. Claire in the Whitcomb Springs series...

Whitcomb Springs by MK McClintock

In the spring of 1865, a letter arrives in Whitcomb Springs for Evelyn Whitcomb. The Civil War has ended and the whereabouts of her husband is unknown, but she doesn’t give up hope. With courage, the help of a friend, and the love of a people, Evelyn finds a way to face—and endure—the unexpected.

“Whitcomb Springs” is the introductory, stand-alone short story of the Whitcomb Springs series set in post-Civil War Montana.

Here's an excerpt

Whitcomb Springs, Montana Territory—April 25, 1865

The letter fluttered to the table. Evelyn stared at the sheet of paper but could no longer make out the words as they blurred together. Surrender. She prayed this day would come, they all had, and after four tortuous years, the war was finally over.
There would be more capitulation on the part of the South, and too many families who would never see their men again . . . but it was over.
Separated, yet not untouched, from conflict, Evelyn Whitcomb lived in the same town her husband and their two friends founded one year before news of the Civil War reached them. By way of her sister, who lived in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania with their parents, they were kept informed as often as Abigail could get a letter through. Evelyn often wondered if she should have returned to Rose Valley to help with the war effort, much as her sister Abigail had done, yet she found the needs of Whitcomb Springs to be vast as the town continued to grow.
Many men and boys left, leaving their wives, mothers, and sisters behind to fight for a cause they didn’t fully understand, yet still felt it their duty to serve. Others remained behind to continue working in the mine and watch over those families with or without kin.
Evelyn read over Abigail’s letter once more, letting the words settle into her mind, for even now she struggled to believe it was over—that her husband might return home.

Dearest Evelyn,

For too many years now I have shared with you the horrors and travesties befallen many of the young men with whom we spent our childhood. News has reached us that on the ninth of April, Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Courthouse. Oh, sister, I dared not believe it was true when Papa brought home the news. He tells us not to become overly excited for there will surely be a few more battles waged until the news reaches both sides, but we can thank God that this war is officially over.

Your news of Daniel’s disappearance has weighed heavy on my mind these past months since we heard, and Papa has attempted to learn of his whereabouts, to no avail. We have not given up! There is much confusion right now on both sides and Papa said it could be weeks or months more before the men return home. Do not lose faith, sweet Evie.

Your most loving sister,

Healing Fire by Samantha St. Claire

After the death of Nora Hewitt's husband, the citizens of Whitcomb Springs didn't see odds favoring the young widow for holding onto the ranch with only her ten-year-old son to assist. That changes when a gentle giant of a man offers a helping hand.

Motivated by compassion and his own grieving heart, the blacksmith becomes a mentor for the troubled boy and befriends the attractive widow, scandalizing the town gossips. Propriety is wielded like a weapon to separate them, but Providence makes its own plans through fire, loss and redemption.

Here's an excerpt

    The boy, lost in boots too big for his feet, stumbled through the door. “Look, Mama! Three hens have started laying again. Spring is sure to be coming now.” He set the basket carefully on the table, but as he spun back to close the door, his jacket cuff caught the basket, sending it crashing to the floor.
Their collective intake of breath seemed to suck the air from the room. The boy looked up at his mother, face pinched. Before he could say anything, Nora grabbed his arm. “Matthew! How could…” She released him, taking one long stride to the broken eggs, bleeding yellow. Her boot heel came down on the shells, hard and deadly accurate, shattering fragile shells and sending rivulets of yolk in star-like patterns beneath her shoe. Each met the same fate.
Her chest heaving, she glared at the destruction beneath her feet. She brought her shaking hands to cover her face, savoring the emotion and hating it. The small hand that touched her back was warm. It trembled just a little.
“It’s okay, Mama. It’s okay.” The boy’s voice was uncertain, as though he wished it to be true.
Nora kneeled before him, her hands on his shoulders. “I’m sorry. I should not have raised my voice.”
He wrapped his arms around her. “I know you hurt, Mama.”
The anger that had sustained her these past two days drained from her like the yolks into the cracks of the floor. In its place stood her son. A resolve flowed back into the aching chambers of her heart. She couldn’t steal his childhood by making him bear her grief. Rising to her feet, she lifted the boy into her arms. As she did, his father’s boots slipped from his feet.

Meet the authors

MK McClintock is an award-winning author of historical romance and westerns, who has written several books and short stories, including the popular "Montana Gallagher" series, the "Crooked Creek" series, and the "British Agent" series. She continues the search for a time machine that can transport her to nineteenth-century Montana or Scotland—either works. MK enjoys a quiet life in the Rocky Mountains where she spins tales of romance, adventure, and mystery set in bygone times.

If you'd like to know when MK's next book will be out, please visit her website at www.mkmcclintock.com, where you can sign up to receive new release updates.

Samantha St. Claire was born in 2016, the alter-ego and pen name of an author of historical fiction born a few decades earlier. She may have found her niche in western historical fiction, served up sweet. Never faint of heart, her signature protagonists face the hazards of the frontier with courage, wit, and a healthy pinch of humor.

Follow www.samanthastclaire.net to read more about the research that has helped develop the characters, towns, and stories of the Sawtooth Range Series.

Let's hear from MK McClintock

What inspired you to write your main character’s story?

MK: Like many of my characters, they come after the story idea begins to form. I usually see a place in my mind and start to work out the where and how someone might have lived there. I picture someone walking on a trail or conversing with people in town, and that’s when I imagine the type of character it would take to live the life I’ve envisioned.

Evelyn came easily to me. She wanted her story to be told as an individual, but her story also represents a great many women after the Civil War, but they also lived through four years of waiting and wondering with a lot of tears in between. To me, Evelyn represents those strong women who didn’t give up, who moved forward and built a life not knowing if their husbands or sons would return home. She’s the matriarch, so to speak, of Whitcomb Springs. She bears a great deal of responsibility and strives to find joy at the same time. She was an interesting character to get to know, and I’d say she inspired me, more than the other way around.

What do you enjoy about writing stories set in Montana?

MK: Living here makes it easy. There’s magnificent beauty everywhere I look. It doesn’t take much to go for a short drive and find yourself surrounded by untouched wilderness. When I visit Glacier Park (in the off-season), it’s easy to find yourself alone, wondering if a bear or elk or wolf is going to cross paths with you. Even harsh winters can lend insight. I’ll go for a walk when it’s 10 degrees, pine tree branches are heavy with snow, and there’s nothing around me except the occasional print of someone, or something, that might have walked there first. The imagine goes a little wild. When I hike a mountain or visit one of my favorite hidden lakes and stand there in the silence, perhaps an eagle flies overhead or a mountain goat jumps on nearby rocks, it’s not difficult to imagine what life could have been like 150 years ago.

What are three things people may not know about you?

MK: I’m the dictionary definition of an introvert; I’m likely the palest outdoorsy person you’d ever meet; and I used to sing and ballroom dance.

Let's hear from Samantha St. Claire

What inspired you to write your main character’s story?

Samantha: The frontier experience was far less romantic than we often imagine. It was dirty, dangerous and was often heavy with tragedy. In “Healing Fire” I wanted Nora Hewitt to represent the resilience and the courage of a frontier woman. While she may no have been physically as strong as the men who carved homes from the untamed lands, she possesses an indomitable strength of character that continues to inspire us today.

When we meet Nora, we find her grieving the loss of her husband and infant. The stages of grief are as real for her as they are today, but she doesn’t have the luxury to prolong those stages. Survival takes precedence. And with few options she must come to terms with her loss and push through the pain of loss. I wanted to show that moment early in the story when she makes a decision to become the parent her surviving son desperately needs. (See excerpt)

What do you enjoy about writing westerns and western romances?

Samantha: I love the wild landscapes, those wide-open spaces sparsely populated. For as long as I can remember, my imagination created characters and stories of the people who lived there in frontier days. The stories start in the plains, the mountains, the valleys where there may be evidence of those who lived out their adventures. I like to visit the locales, stand in the rock foundations of someone’s home, looking out the remnants of a window at the view they saw every morning. I begin to wonder what life was like for the woman who washed her dishes there or watched her family working out their morning chores.

The next step of writing her story is satisfying. It’s a bit like sewing together the forgotten pieces of a quilt found folded inside a trunk in someone’s attic. Watching the characters come to life is, at times, exhilarating.

The greatest delight for me as a writer of western romance is to learn from readers that the characters inspired them to be strong or face some difficult issue in their own lives. To read a review in which a fan says she was moved to tears makes me smile. For me, that is the pinnacle of success and motivates me to write the next story.

If you could travel in a time machine to an old West town, which one would you visit and why?

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  1. I have to say Deadwood. Just because it comes first to mind.

  2. Maybe Cheyenne, because of the railroad. But just a visit.

    1. So much romance associated with rail travel back in those days. Good luck!

  3. I’d love to go to Cheyenne or Fort Laramie. I think both hold my heart.

  4. Thank you both for visiting GLIAS today was so good. I have been thru Wyoming and often when hubby is taking us to Ca we go thru there and i imagine being there many years ago with all the things they had to do and the wagons ! Love westerns And love the old ways tech is getting way way out of hand.

  5. I’d go to Tombstone, Arizona because it would be interesting to see what it was like back then.

  6. Tulsa, see what it was like

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