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Backstory - Silver Dagger

Labor Day 2022

Back in Time to Truckee The name of a folk song that I’d heard during my childhood formed, from the very start, the title to this novel. “Silver Dagger”, sometimes known as “The Silver Dagger”, is one of the oldest ballads that originated in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States. The truer origin is, most likely, somewhere in the Great Britain of the pre-colonial era of America.

This bluegrass song reveals a compellingly stark tale of trust forbidden amidst the certainty of betrayal. Such a haunting fear, passed on from mother to daughter, spurred one major theme of my novel, SILVER DAGGER; but the complete storyline was conceptualized during a series of very wet, very windy and very cold storms during the winter of 1998-99 in the Sierra Nevada. That year comprised my first winter in the very vintage very mid-century house in Newcastle, California. That domicile, in reality, very much constituted a real fixer-upper! That first winter — in a run-down house in the little town known as the Gem of the Foothills — could be called my diamond-in-the-rough. I’d traded in a brand-new, lovely suburban tract home, surrounded by empty godless materialism and catty gossipy neighbors, for a stark new life in the country:

one acre of land, the only thing that lasts, gone to wrack-and-ruin; a garage-barn and a one-story house, both of which might not have lasted without a lot of love, elbow-grease, and abundant repairs. The property and the “improvements upon the property” were in dire need of . . . renaissance. In bringing new life to that old, worn-out land and its appurtenant structures, I too experienced a renaissance. Somewhat unexpectedly, I became the novelist that, since childhood, I’d always yearned to be.

Newcastle, home of the former (and presently dilapidated) packing sheds for the fruit growers of this region, was to be my home for the next twenty years. That space of time became busily and joyously filled with home-making, home-schooling, home-churching, hound-raising, and the honing of novels that emerged after the paper publication of NORTHSTAR in 1994. During that winter of 1998-1999, I toyed with the idea of returning to Truckee, California for a Western, set in the late 1880s. This fictional tale would involve a young woman who had to learn to trust, anew, a cowboy who had betrayed her trust, after she has loved him. She still loves this young, handsome Irishman, along with harboring a fierce mistrust of him. Because love and fear cannot co-exist, but often do coincide, as conflict, the internal combustion engine of character — conflict — was tailor-made for this love story. That story becomes ever more complicated by murder, or, rather, murders.

I was, at first, very hesitant to attempt to write a tale with a female character who could just as easily be a villainess as a heroine. The art of crafting such a character is painstakingly subtle and can go quickly awry. The storyline, however, would not let me be. That winter, I began to read the historical books and background materials needed for the time frame and the locales involved in this western novel. In April 1999, my family and I took a trip to Yellowstone National Park in Montana. More research became inter-mixed with pleasure and home-schooling my children. During that summer (1999), I drove to Truckee to conduct some on-site research, and to ascertain if the story would be believable. One shop-owner was kind enough to show me — in a wooden counter — several bullet holes that are gunfight scars dating back to when the store had been a bar in the late 1880s.

I discovered that my story would not only be credible, it had begun to come to life for me! The jail to be used in the novel was right there, historically accurate and real, on Jibboom Street, in downtown Truckee. SILVER DAGGER was the novel that I’d intended to begin to draft during the late summer of 2008. My personal life and world history, however, dramatically intervened to interrupt my focus on life and on fiction. Many years of preparation for this historical war novel entitled NOTTINGHAM were inexorably put into literary motion to transform, over the course of the next three years, the fledgling NOTTINGHAM into the finalized opus THE DAWN. Those two volumes composed the first novel that I’d written since NORTHSTAR in 1993.

In much the same way that THE LAST WALTZ evolved from the master book called THE DAWN, SILVER DAGGER emerged from NORTHSTAR. The fictional characters in this historical Western are drawn more starkly and directly, with less nuance, than in my non-Western novels, thereby returning this author to the style of writing, or voice she’d employed as a novice novelist in 1993. That voice waited a long time to sound forth this return to Truckee during a bitter winter. One bitter winter yields the sweetness of true love between a young woman and her cowboy in a place and time of the long-ago, brought to life through the tale entitled SILVER DAGGER.


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