My grandfather used to tell stories of homesteading in northern Wyoming, in the high grassland between the Black Hills and the Bighorn Mountains. His descriptions were painted as a hard life punctuated by beauty: wild mustangs galloping through open prairies; purple spring blossoms that covered the land; the stunning yet treacherous mountains; the Blackfoot Indian he loved and her red shawl.
So, I went to Wyoming because I felt called there – and I was on a search. The protagonist in my upcoming novel, Driven, needs a place to recover from a traumatic experience. Might Wyoming be the spot?
My story is set during WWI and involves horses (a reader’s request), and I discovered buyers came to northern Wyoming from France, England as well as the United States to purchase horses for their armies. I needed to speak with a rancher with ancestors who raised horses during the Great War.
I hit the jackpot. I was fortunate to interview a rancher and his wife who’ve managed to keep afloat his great grandfather’s massive ranch in Bighorn, Wyoming, one of the most beautiful pieces of land I’ve ever seen. They were a month behind in chores, due to a freak snowstorm in late spring, and yet they sat down with me because I asked for help. Instead of repairing a fence, or training a filly, they took time to speak with a total stranger about her fictional character who plans to come to Wyoming from Manhattan in 1916. Could they tell me what differences in customs she might notice?
I laughed when they explained that there were no chivalrous niceties at all. No man opened the door for a woman or assumed she was unable to do things on her own. After all, there were female homesteaders, ranchers, and farmers. They owned businesses and land. Women had been voting and holding office since 1869…some fifty years before the rest of the women in the nation were granted the vote.
I grinned all the way home. I cannot wait to immerse Emily in this “foreign” culture. To push her to her limits; to watch her squirm and grow. What better way to toughen her up so she can become the woman we all need her to be?
What Else is Happening?
1: I was invited to speak at the renowned 1440 Multiversity in Scotts Valley, California, at a retreat on memoir writing, with the esteemed Laura Davis. I loved sharing my knowledge of research, authorship and publishing. I’d love to do more of that!
2: I was granted a BookBub deal for Boot Language, and that was my first venture into international sales. Readers from Canada, the UK, Australia, and India bought the book! (I chose these countries because they have adoring fans of the cowboy life.)
3: For one 24-hour period this month, Boot Language was a#1 bestseller on Amazon!
My protagonist was committed to a mental institution for hysteria and melancholia (as were many outspoken women of her time). Gracefully Insane is my go-to source for what happened behind the doors of the wealthy mental institutions in the early 1900s.
This book is filled with stories about patients and doctors: the Ralph Waldo Emerson protégé whose brilliance disappeared, along with his madness; Anne Sexton’s poetry seminar, and many more. The story of McLean Hospital is also the story of the hopes and failures of psychology and psychotherapy; of the evolution of attitudes about mental illness, of approaches to treatment, and of the economic pressures that are making McLean-and other institutions like it-relics of a bygone era.
This book is a compelling and often poignant reading for fans of books like Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and Susanna Kaysen’s Girl Interrupted (both inspired by their author’s stays at McLean) and for anyone interested in the history of medicine or psychotherapy.
“Touching, humorous, illuminating–in short, irresistible.” — Chicago Tribune
Vanya is the award-winning author of Boot Language. She’s spent decades teaching writing as well as mentoring educators in the oldest, continuously used schoolhouse in California. Her essays have appeared in a dozen literary journals and anthologies. Find out more about Vanya at www.vanyaerickson.com.