Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Western novelist comes to Inkberry


January 22, 2020

Povy Kendal Atchison

"I really like this book... It isn't really a love story, it's about women with few options trying to make lives for themselves." Dallas' new book "Westerning Women" is the focus of Inkberry Book's book reading Friday, Jan. 24.

"The West" can mean a lot of different things to people--everything from "Gunsmoke" with its crime-fighting marshall, or the TV series "Dallas" and its oil-baron family. For author Sandra Dallas, the West is simply part of her life.

"I consider myself part of that Western experience," Dallas said. "I was really only about a generation removed from the old West. There were still old men around who knew the early days of Colorado."

As a child, Dallas was fascinated by history. Some of her interest she credits to her mother, who would take her to historic places in and around Denver. An avid reader, her love of reading transformed into an interest in writing, which led her to work as a reporter, and eventually as "Business Week's" first female bureau chief in Denver.

During her tenure there, she covered the mountain state, writing about mining, insurance scams, the penny stock market, and more. "I could write about virtually anything," said Dallas, who reported that she loved working there, largely due to the fact that she had the ability to cover so many different topics. She explained that being a journalist allowed her to ask people all sorts of questions and it gave her the ability to have a breadth of knowledge about a variety of topics. "I was a whiz at cocktail parties."

About a year and a half after starting at "Business Week" and after getting married, Dallas left the magazine for four years. During that time, she began writing nonfiction books on western history, often writing about old houses or old hotels. But, "I wanted to write really serious books about the West," she said.

Eventually, along with a few friends, they decided to write a "bodice buster," a subgenre of historical fiction that tends to be cheesily romantic and dramatic. After assigning characters and writing part of it, she realized that she loved fiction.

"With fiction, you don't know what you're doing. You don't know what's going to happen, and I finally reached a point where I guess I could deal with that. It's wonderful, sitting at your computer and having things occur to you. It's a process I don't really understand, but it seems to work."

Since turning to fiction in 1990, she has published 15 novels and four young adult/children's books. She has won a number of awards including, perhaps most notably, the National Cowboy Museum's Wrangler Award. Despite her accomplishments, she remains humble and focused on writing for the sake of writing and sharing her work.

Her most recent work is called "Westerning Women" and takes place in 1852. The story primarily focuses on Maggie, a seamstress, who decides to leave behind her mysterious and painful past in Chicago. She, along with her daughter, 43 other women, and two reverends, embark toward Goostown, a mining town out west. However, the story is arguably bigger than Maggie. Along the way, she realizes she is not the only person looking for a brighter future; it's a story of humanity, of sisterhood, and of survival.

To prepare for writing the book, Dallas drew upon her skills as a journalist and much research went into the novel as well. She often finds resources online or at bookstores; she uses a lot of personal knowledge of the west and collaborates with historians for accuracy. One of her most-used resources was a collection of journals from women who made the journey westward.

However, one thing she particularly likes to do is to go to places where her characters inhabit to absorb it. For Westerning Women, Dallas visited Independence Rock in Wyoming. She said, "I walked around it and I thought, 'What did these women think when they carved their name into it?' ... It's very moving to walk in the footsteps of some of these people."

Dallas said her books tend to be character driven, saying that when she gets an idea for a story, she usually has a sense of the beginning and the end, and writes toward that conclusion. She acknowledged that often times the ending gets changed along the way. When discussing the process of "Westerning Women", she admitted that it was a little harder than her other books as it took her a longer time to really figure out the best way to tell the story.

"I grew up in the 50s, when women were portrayed in movies and books as idiots... I always resented that and I think that's the basis of "Westerning Women." I wanted to portray women as they really were, and the more I read the journals, I realized that the women did everything the men did, and they worked very, very hard, often without getting credit for it."

Dallas will be at Niwot's own Inkberry Books Friday, Jan. 24 for a meet and greet/book reading. "It's always very nice, interactions with readers, even big groups," she said. "What I really like to do is answer questions, that's so much more interesting.

To keep up with Dallas' work, visit SandraDallas.com.


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