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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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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