Seekerville: The Journey Continues | category: On Writing


Seekerville: The Journey Continues

Five Reasons to Read - And Write - the Oregon Trail with guest blogger Kathleen D. Bailey


Five Reasons to Read - And Write - the Oregon Trail with guest blogger Kathleen D. Bailey

 by Kathleen D. Bailey, author of Redemption's Hope

Twenty years ago, I had a glimmer of an idea for a novel. An impoverished young widow takes a place as cook on a wagon train, only to discover that the scout for that train is the man who betrayed her three years before. He’s under contract and she has nowhere else to go, so they find themselves slogging across the plains together. Old issues come out, new ones form in the pressure cooker that is 100 wagons filled with 200 to 300 scared, tired people. By the time they reach Oregon Country, both have changed immeasurably.

That gleam in this author’s eye became my first published book, “Westward Hope,” in 2019. I’ve since followed it with “Settlers’ Hope,” 2020, and “Redemption’s Hope,” out July 22 of this year. “Settlers’ Hope” takes place in an Oregon Country hamlet, with survivors of the trail, and “Redemption’s Hope” follows the trail in reverse, as Jenny Thatcher looks for the Native man she thinks she can love. But the Trail marks everything they do, from Oona Moriarty’s quest to find her brother (“Settlers’ Hope”) to Jenny’s retracing the route she took in 1846.

The Oregon Trail. The Great Migration. Opening the West. The Wagon Train era. Its names are legend; its legends are legend. Who hasn’t heard stories of the Americans who shook off their newly-minted country, less than a century after the Revolution, to see what lay beyond those hills?

The Oregon Trail is a gold strike (another beloved Western trope) for the reader.

1. It has tremendous range, from the transcendent novels of Jane Kirkpatrick to a simple novella. Choose your own adventure, there’s plenty of Trail literature, from an afternoon’s read in the hammock to something you can write a thesis about.

2. It can take you to another place, right in your own country. The Plains, desert and Western mountains are an exotic setting to anyone who’s never been there. Chimney Rock, Castle Rock, Independence Rock. Buffalo hunts. Amber fields of grain and snow-capped mountains. Bonus: the characters you’re reading about haven’t seen it either.

3. Oregon Trail books are a history lesson. You learn what they ate, how they ate it, what they packed and what they did when supplies ran low. You learn about the Louisiana Purchase and “Manifest Destiny,” all wrapped around a good story.

4. About that story…Anything can happen when you throw a group of strangers together under almost impossible conditions. You learn about the resilience of the human spirit, and also just how nasty we can be.

5. In the hands of a Christian author, Trail stories are a venue for strengthening your faith. (See #5, below).  

As satisfying as the Trail is for readers, it’s just as big a boon for writers. 

1. The Oregon Trail and its time period (1840s till after The War) is pretty forgiving from a research standpoint. You don’t need to know a lot of battles, dates and who massacred whom. (I’m doing a Lexington-and-Concord story right now, and believe me, there’s no comparison.) You do have to be careful if you throw in real historical characters, making them as accurate as possible, and you do need to have a rough framework of what’s going on Back East. But the real drama in your story will be between the men and women who board those wagons in St. Joseph, Missouri.

2. And drama there will be. Everyone on the Trail had a story. They were running from something or someone (Michael Moriarty in “Westward Hope”), they were running TO something or someone (Oona Moriarty in “Settlers’ Hope”), they were at rock bottom and had nothing better to do (Caroline Pierce O’Leary in “Westward Hope”), or they were good stable people who happened to have wanderlust (Ben Harkness in “Westward Hope”). Face a couple of them off against each other and watch what happens.

3. The Trail itself becomes a character, as the emigrants battle, well, everything. They fight river currents, arid deserts, plagues on their cattle and plagues on themselves. As they reach the higher plains, they throw out almost everything they brought, to make it easier on their suffering horses or oxen, and they learn what really matters. Or they don’t. (Ina Prince in “Westward Hope.”) People die on the Trail and are buried in places their loved ones know they’ll never visit again. Families become fluid, with parents taking in orphaned children and elders dying in the dirt.

4. By its very nature, the wagon train lends itself to high drama. It’s like a small town on wheels, and it has the best and worst of small towns. There’s gossip, backbiting, challenges to the wagon master’s authority. There are petty cruelties. A person’s past catches up with them on the trail, no matter how hard they try to outrun it. But there’s also transcendent kindness, as the emigrants help one another with everything from a loose wheel to childbirth. They are in this together. They don’t have anyone else. 

5. And it remains one of the best venues for exploring our Christian faith in fiction. Like Abraham, these pioneers went out to a land they knew not, or didn’t know enough. Like the Israelites, they turned their backs on their former lives in the hopes of something better. The Trail reduced every man, woman and child to their essence, and when they came to the other coast, most were forever changed. In the hands of an inspirational fiction author, at least part of the change will be spiritual. 

When I was doing library talks on “Westward Hope,” I occasionally encountered people who were skeptical about an inspirational novel. They would ask me, “Just how much religion is there in your book?” It’s a simple question to answer, I’m an inspy author, my faith permeates the books – I hope. My standard answer to “how much religion” is, “I wouldn’t want to take on the Oregon Trail without a belief in something bigger than myself.” There are no atheists in foxholes, or so the saying goes, and I doubt there were many on the Trail.

So check out the Great Migration, and I may be joining you. I thought I was done with the Trail, but new situations and characters are kicking around in my head, and I just might let them out!


Five Reasons to Read - And Write - the Oregon Trail with guest blogger Kathleen D. Bailey
Two distinct sets of villains. Two orphaned children. A man without a country and a woman with too much past...All in a rambunctious young country where anything goes, especially in the West. Seriously. What can go wrong?

“Redemption’s Hope” is the third and last installment of Kathleen D. Bailey’s “Western Dreams” series, following “Westward Hope” and “Settlers’ Hope.” The novel takes Jenny Thatcher, a secondary character in the first two books on the ride of her life, from the Oregon Country to New Mexico to San Antonio to New Orleans and back, as she looks for her dream and finds herself in the bargain.

White Bear, the Cheyenne brave, has a foot in two worlds but feels at home in neither. He longs to reconnect with the spirited white woman who had sought refuge with his family three years before. Is his true home with “Blue Eyes,” the woman he knew for only three days? 

Only if he finds her.

Five Reasons to Read - And Write - the Oregon Trail with guest blogger Kathleen D. Bailey
Kathleen Bailey is a journalist and novelist with 40 years’ experience in the nonfiction, newspaper and inspirational fields. Born in 1951, she was a child in the 50s, a teen in the 60s, a young adult in the 70s and a young mom in the 80s. It’s been a turbulent, colorful time to grow up, and she’s enjoyed every minute of it and written about most of it. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband David. They have two grown daughters.

Connect with Kathy at Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn 


What do you love about reading (or writing) about the Oregon Trail?

One commenter will win an ebook of Redemption's Hope and one commenter will win a New England gift pack (US only for gift pack) 

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6 and some vacation photos

 It's the end of July, and I've spent the last three weeks in Maine, so it seems only appropriate that I choose a book written by an author from my new home state as this month's favorite craft book. 

Ask writers to list their top ten craft favorite books on writing and inevitably their lists will include Stephen King's On Writing

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

 I first read On Writing in the early 2000s, shortly after it was released. I remembered really enjoying the book. I'd never read Stephen King before - not a fan of the horror genre - but I was immediately impressed with his storytelling ability. 

As I prepared to write this post, I borrowed a copy from the library because my old copy was unavailable due to being in the middle of a move. I have to admit, although I remembered liking it a lot, I had no idea what it was about (other than the obvious - writing), so when I began to look through it for a refresher, I immediately got caught up in reading it. The book begins with an irreverent look back at King's childhood which left me somewhat aghast but also hanging on every word. As I was rereading it  I was struck by similarities to Roald Dahl's Boy: Tales of Childhood. Both books really make you see just how the experiences of their early lives fueled their imaginations and provided fodder for their stories. 

Because I'm A) in the midst of a move, and B) helping my daughter who just got out of the hospital, I didn't have time to finish rereading the book, so August's post will go more into the actual writing advice part. 

In the meantime, I'll leave you with some photos of Maine, the state that inspired much of King's writing.  It's rained almost every day of the three plus weeks I've been here, and when it wasn't raining, the fog settled it. But I love this kind of weather, so I'm happy. 

We have had some bursts of sun, and Fenway seems happy with his new home.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

My daughter and I recently "hiked" up the mountain (in our car). This was the view from the top.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

The harbor is gorgeous on a sunny day...

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

There has been so much rain, that toadstool villages have emerged! 

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

The webs spun by grass spiders have totally intrigued me. If I was a children's book author, I'd just have to spin a tale of tiny creatures living under the toadstools and leaving sparkling webs on the dew-laden grass.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

Good thing I love the foggy days because there have been a lot of them this summer.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos
Somewhere at the end of the breakwater is the lighthouse. We could hear the foghorn, but the lighthouse wasn't visible, and if we turned and looked back toward shore, this was the view.

Cate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

So back to writing, have you read On Writing? Does it top your list of favorites? We'll talk more about it in August, but please share your thoughts or tell me about how your summer has been going.

Five Reasons to Read - And Write - the Oregon Trail with guest blogger Kathleen D. BaileyCate's Favorite Craft Books #6  and some vacation photos

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