The Music Behind the Story from First Love by Dellani

music-behind-the-storyA few weeks ago, I shared Music Behind Under the Western Sky, set in 1976. This isn’t my only story set in that same time period, though First Love isn’t published yet. The Seventies were an era of great music, no doubt about it. We had bands like Carlos Santana, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Gary Wright. Fantastic songs filled the airwaves and my characters, like me and my friends, listened to each new song with enthusiasm.

I did a lot of research so that I would have the right songs for the year. Though I lived through this era, my memory for when each song came out, was kind of faulty. I enjoyed revisiting songs from my past and now sharing them with you. One of the first songs mentioned is Love is Alive by Gary Wright. No visit to the Seventies would be complete without Stairway to Heaven. This song evokes strong emotions even today. I also mention the album Blow by Blow by Jeff Beck. This album woke a love in me for this kind of music and I’ve been a fan of Beck, and others like him, since.

We begin with a road trip from Western Nebraska to New Mexico. A group of high school students from a church youth group, are on a mission trip over the summer. Traveling together, they have to compromise on some things, but the one area where they are all in agreement is the music they want to hear—the good stuff, (which does not included Barry Manilow, who was very popular at the time.)

First Love cover“Can we have on the radio, Mr. C?” Brad asked. “Mrs. C wanted to play Barry Manilow. It was a unanimous veto on that.”

“What makes you think I don’t like Barry Manilow?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Because you’re too cool to think It’s a Miracle for Mandy to Be Somebody’s Baby over on Avenue C,” Brad replied.

The boys gave him an evil eye.

“You know an awful lot about Barry Manilow,” Maddie said. “Are you sure you aren’t a closet fan?”

“My mom listens to Manilow like—all day and forces me to pollute my mind with his lyrics. But when she’s gone, I put on some Hendrix or a little Jeff Beck and rock the rafters.”

“I’m not much for Manilow either,” Craig admitted. “Okay. Maddie, pick a station.”

Delighted at being given that honor, she reached for the dial and turned it for a few seconds before coming to an audible station. The new, but familiar, opening strains of Love is Alive filled the car.

“Leave it there!” the boys yelled.

Maddie passed it, just to tease them, but went right back to it. She happened to like the song too. By the first chorus, they were singing with Gary Wright. Brad played air guitar, imitating the part to perfection. Clayton took bass. Daniel beat on the back of the seat to the drums. Maddie and Richard sang, harmonizing together. Craig bounced to the beat, tapping the steering wheel. They cheered when the song ended.

“Danny, you got that Zeppelin tape with you?” Craig asked when the radio went to commercial.

“I do.”

“Got a perfectly good cassette player up here. Toss it up.”

Seconds later, the tape was in the player and cranked up. Stairway to Heaven filled the air. This time, they made Maddie sing solo because none of them could hit the notes like Robert Planet, except her.

© 2017 Dellani Oakes

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Falling In Love With Your Own Book

Under the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 500I just reread Under the Western Sky and fell in love with it all over again. I wrote it almost seven years ago, for NaNoWriMo, but it still feels fresh and new when I read it. I think books should do that, even for the people who write them. If I can’t go back to a book years later and enjoy reading, how can I expect my readers to enjoy my books over and over?

It started like any other book, with a first line, a scene and no notion where it was going. It developed quickly, gaining speed and momentum as I continued to write. I didn’t start out having a message to tell, but it turned out that way. Along the way, I produced a story I’m really proud of.

Under the Western Sky is about friendship. It’s about learning to love someone for who they are, not for the color of their skin. It’s about ending prejudice one person at a time. My cast of characters really represents diversity—that, too, was unintentional.

Libby Marshall is white, Scotch and Irish girl, and falls for a Mexican boy, Bobby, in a time when such relationships were rare. Her best friend, Toni, is part Native American and half Italian. Toni’s boyfriend, Danny, is blond and blue eyed—like Libby, another of the whitest kids you know.

These teenagers from diverse backgrounds, have one thing in common. They see past the skin color and look at the person within. Sadly, it’s not a characteristic that everyone shares—which they find out the hard way. Shortly after Bobby and Libby start dating, their world is upended by racial hatred. They and their friends band together to save themselves and their families, from being victims of this hate.

As I said, I hadn’t planned that message at all. I didn’t start writing with the intention of teaching a lesson or pointing out a wrong, it just happened. I hope that I managed to keep it from being too smarmy or preachy. I dislike that sort of thing intensely. I wanted a good story about friends who help one another, and I decidedly feel that I accomplished that. I tried to make the characters believable and well rounded, avoiding typical stereotypes that I find terribly annoying.

Libby very much reflects my own attitudes about pigmentation differences. She sees beyond skin tone and looks inside, revealing the personality within. I was raised that way, and so was she. When I was in school, my friends were a mix of Mexican, white, Native American and Asian. When I got to college, I had a lot of black and Indian friends, too. I didn’t care, and still don’t care, about superficial things like race. Sadly, not enough people share this attitude.

Bobby and Danny have a friendship that is more like brothers. They have always been there, supporting each other in times of trouble. As the story progresses, circumstances drive a wedge between them, but their unyielding belief in one another makes them strong. Instead of giving up on years of friendship, they work together to protect the ones they love.

I’m immensely proud of this book and delighted that the folks at Tirgearr Publishing saw its merit. I hope that each of you will take a few moments to look it over, maybe buy a copy. I know you won’t regret it.

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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In Her Own Words – Toni Cristo Under the Western Sky

Under the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 500What is your name?

Antonia Cristo, but everyone calls me Toni.

What do you do?

I’m a high school student. I sometimes work part time, babysit, that kind of thing.

What is your biggest fear?

It used to be my biggest fear was whether I was gonna have a zit on an important date night. Now, I’m scared to death we’re all going to die!

What would you give up everything to have?

I don’t know. Is there really anything that’s worth that? If you have one thing and nothing else, that seems kind of silly.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and are you going to be able to rectify it?

The biggest mistake was talking to Danny like I did. I should have known there was more going on, but I’m (according to him) selfish and shallow. After this, I guess he has a point.

What food would you never eat?

Pickled pigs feet—ew!

You’ve dressed to impress. What are you wearing?

My thigh boots, red leather mini and my bare midriff shirt—the white one with the big red swirls—and ruffles, lots of ruffles! My hair in a high, sleek tail.

What one thing have you found unattainable thus far in your life?

Making it with Danny. Libby’s all “you have to wait!” I keep thinking I’m ready for it and I guess she’s right, because it hasn’t felt right yet. But he’s totally cute and I really, really like him. There are worse guys, you know?

What is about to change for you?

Nothing, I’m totally copasetic.

Where and when do you live?

In an itsy-teeny town in Nebraska. Could it be more dull?

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I’m totally gorgeous, there is no doubt! I’m a little too tall, but I’ve got great boobs. (Danny really likes my boobs.) I could do with longer lashes, but that’s what mascara is for!

Who do you hate and why?

I hate whoever’s after us, trying to kill Bobby and Danny. I swear, if they give me a chance, I’ll shoot ’em myself! Daddy taught me how to shoot when I was really little. I’m a crack shot!

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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In His Own Words – Daniel Emerson from Under the Western Sky

What is your name?

Daniel Emerson, JuniorUnder the Western Sky by Dellani Oakes - 500, but you can call me Danny.

What do you do?

I’m a high school student. I play football and I work part time with my dad.

What is your biggest fear?

Honest to God, until recently, I wasn’t afraid of anything. Now, we’ve got all kinds of trouble and I’m scared to death. I can’t talk about it. They’ll kill me if I talk.

What would you give up everything to have?

I would give up everything I own for things to go back the way they were a week ago; working toward buying a car, a hot girlfriend who’s just about ready to give it up, the best friend in the world and a great family. I want that back!

What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made and are you going to be able to rectify it?

Let’s get straight right now, the mistake wasn’t mine—or my dad’s. I don’t know whose, okay? But it’s the biggest one anyone can make and I don’t know how to get out of this mess. Normally, I’d ask Bobby…. But that’s part of the problem.

What food would you never eat?

I eat just about anything, but don’t try to give me chitlings.

You’ve dressed to impress. What are you wearing?

My best jeans, just tight enough to show everything off—faded just right so the ladies know what I’m packin’. My Led Zeppelin T-shirt, my new boots and my leather jacket. I’m set!

What one thing have you found unattainable thus far in your life?

Getting’ in Toni’s pants.

What is about to change for you?

Oh, yeah! If we can get out of this mess alive, I know she’ll be mine.

Where and when do you live?

I live in Western Nebraska. The year is 1976.

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I see a boy waiting to become a man. If I live through this shit we’re in, I’ll be a man for sure. I don’t want to be a dead one.

Who do you hate and why?

I hate Hatred. I don’t know if that makes sense, but too many people hate others for no reason. He’s black or she’s Mexican. Why does the color of someone’s skin mean anything? We act like Mexicans are horrible people because they’re brown. But look at George Hamilton, okay? He’s as dark as a Mexican and no one wants to kill him for it!

© 2015 Dellani Oakes

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Scenery of St. Augustine

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The top of Castillo de San Marcos looking south toward the bell tower. This tower. We look north with the Mantanzas River to the right.

I recently came across some photographs I’d taken of St. Augustine, Florida. My family and I have taken several trips there, over the years. Not as many as I might wish, because it’s a truly beautiful place. I’m not talking about the commercialized sprawl of a big city, but the historic downtown. The city has done well keeping history alive, with many museums and historical sites.

On one trip, my husband and I visited The Fountain of Youth. I’d love to say that drinking the water made us younger, but it’s really just strong mineral water. It’s no wonder it was considered the Fountain of Youth. Drinking that water would give strength to the nutrient deprived Europeans. It probably kept the Native population healthier too.

 

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Re-enactors at The Fountain of Youth. The gentleman was very helpful with nailing down a date I’d been tracking. The woman was quite knowledgeable about daily life. They were fascinating.

 

 

At the Fountain of Youth, history comes alive. They have people there who talk about the time and share stories about St. Augustine. On the river’s edge, they have canons set up and a man in period clothing who talks about and fires them.

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The artillery man at The Fountain of Youth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The north approach to Fort Matanzas. The south has a well armed gun deck.

 

On the same trip, we drove down to Fort Matanzas on the Mantanzas river. This fort was added after the English siege of 1740. The Governor of St. Augustine decided they needed more defense to their south, something they hadn’t considered problematic before. It wasn’t large, but it was well armed. Anyone foolish enough to come up the river at that point, would be caught in a blaze of cannon fire.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Matanzas River looking south to show the many bends in the river, making this an ideal spot for a well armed fort.

 

The park ranger talked about living conditions at the fort. It was fascinating. It’s so tiny, you wonder how so many men lived in such close proximity without wanting to kill each other.

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Living quarters at Fort Matanzas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The re-enactor portraying the Spanish Governor. He was very kind and helpful finding me some information I needed.

On another trip, which I made with my children, we visited Fort Mose, just north of Castillo de San Marcos. This was the Black Militia stockade. The governor of St. Augustine had a brilliant idea. The English, who were encroaching from the north, had many Black slaves. The Governor told them if they wished to become Catholic, he would take them in and give them a home.

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Highlander Re-enactors. I didn’t have a chance to talk to them, but don’t they look bonnie in their kilts?

During the 1740 siege, led by General James Oglethorpe of the British Army, Fort Mose was evacuated in order to protect the residents. The British Army took it over. Understandably angry about that, the Black Militia, along with Spanish Army regulars, planned a dawn raid on the fort and captured it from the British. My children and I went up to see a re-enactment of that battle.

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The re-enactor portraying James Oglethorpe was kind enough to chat with me while I asked him questions. He was amazing.

I’m sure that the photos make clear why I set my first novel, Indian Summer, here. The history and beauty of this place spoke to me. I could almost hear Gabriella’s laughter echo in the walls of the Castillo de San Marcos. Though she isn’t based on a real person, who’s to say that someone with her spirit and cleverness didn’t exist? She will always be real to me. Indian Summer is an historical romance set in St. Augustine, Florida in the year 1739, a year before this siege took place. The sequel (coming eventually) Savage Heart, is set during this historic siege.

 

© 2014 Dellani Oakes including all photographs

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