Adventures in Dying Towns: Researching for Fun and Profit by Guest Blogger: Velda Brotherton

Author Velda Brotherton joins me today to talk about her adventures in historical research. Welcome, Velda!

The small town appeared to be catching its last breath before expiring. Along the weed infested sidewalks, boards were nailed over broken windows. Down one short street that branched off the highway, the top floor had actually fallen into the bottom, the red bricks tumbling into inert piles. On the corner huddled a closed saloon with a sign picturing a woman kicking one leg high in the air. Typical of many oil towns in Oklahoma and Texas, it had once boomed. Now death hovered close by, waiting for the last people to pack up and leave.
At the time I was searching for a hometown for the hero of a novel. This one fit the bill. The story was about a Vietnam Veteran lost and struggling to find his way back and a woman running from a life she'd grown to detest and searching for her bliss, if you will.
The minute we hit the outskirts of this town, I knew this was it.
In all the years that I've interviewed individuals, visited historical museums and women's organizations, none have refused to give me an interview, and always allowed me to mention their names when publishing my newspaper columns and articles. Was I in for a shock.
After taking a lot of pictures, we went to the center of town where we found city hall and a nice little park. I went in, introduced myself and told them I wanted to use their town in a novel I was working on and would like some general information. The woman eyed me for a long moment, then said quite curtly, "We don't want our town in any book."
I was so taken back that for a moment I just stared at her, a silly smile on my face. Finally I thanked her for her time and left. The town became my hero's hometown, not used much in the final draft, but I changed the name. Three decades later I signed a contract with The Wild Rose Press to publish the book, Once There Were Sad Songs. A message here is that you should never give up on a manuscript if you really like it.
Because I wrote historical columns for newspapers, as well as feature articles, my days were filled with research, which meant driving through the Ozark countryside hunting down stories, often getting hopelessly lost and meeting someone interesting when seeking directions.
In one small town I was looking for the old school. Driving through the shady streets I saw many churches scattered among older, well-kept homes, but no sign of a school. In these older Ozark towns, most schools were one-room and had long ago been consolidated with larger districts. I almost drove by a big long building, but a glance in the rear view mirror revealed three doors on one side, all standing open. Someone was inside and I could ask. So I turned around and went back. As I parked, a huge Rhode Island Red Rooster strutted from one of the doors, eyed me as only a rooster can, then hopped down and ran off in the bushes. Inside I found a man, busily working among piles of supplies. He told me that the building had once been the school and took me around back where he showed me scratched into the outside wall, the names of all the students in the final graduating class of 1953, just before the school closed. That school and some of its stories appeared in my nonfiction book, The Boston Mountains, Lost In The Ozarks, which came out in 2011.
When traveling I always notice unusual things and speak to interesting people. I should wear a sign around my neck: "talk to me you'll be in my book." These stories stick with me, sometimes for years before I'll dredge one up out of my notes and memory and include it in a book, either fiction or nonfiction. The world is filled with the most marvelous tales, revelations of characters who can be made to live on forever in the pages of our books. Always carry a pad and pen, a recording device and a camera, because you never know where your next inspiration will come from.
About Velda:
Velda has written and had published 19 books over the past 28 years she's been writing. Her historical articles and columns appeared in several weekly and daily newspapers over a 20 year period. She's also had 15 short stories published in various anthologies. Her historical western romances were originally published with Penguin/Topaz and are now available on Kindle, along with other original works and several novels published with independent publishers. She likes to write about strong women who conquered the West as well as contemporary heroines. Her latest book is a western historical, Wilda's Outlaw, the first in the Victorian Series, from The Wild Rose Press. In September, her first mystery, The Purloined Skull, will be published by Oak Tree Press. Once There Were Sad Songs has been contracted with no publication date as yet. Two of her books, Stone Heart's Woman and Montana Promises have been published to audio, with more to come. Currently she's working on the second in the Victorian Series, Rowena's Lord, and thinking about the second in her new mystery series.
Amazon Kindle Page:
Wilda Duncan will do anything to escape marriage to Lord Blair Prescott, and roguish outlaw Calder Raines with his shaggy dark hair, jade green eyes and flirtatious manner will do quite nicely. All she has to do is convince him to kidnap her.

Victorian dresses weren't meant to be worn to a kidnapping, but Wilda Duncan will do anything to escape marriage to Lord Blair Prescott. Roguish outlaw Calder Raines would rather woo the ladies than rob trains, so he's more than ready to help solve her problem.

Calder Raines and his outlaw gang may be more than Wilda bargained for. All she wanted was to escape an unwanted marriage, now she finds herself in the arms of a tantalizing man whose warm kisses arouse a storm of forbidden desires. Calder never wanted to rob banks, but it's a family tradition. When he embraces the alluring redhead, passion conquers good sense and he imagines a life he cannot have. He vows to return her to the Lord's castle before she gets hurt.

Excerpt from Wilda's Outlaw:

"You want me to kidnap you so you don’t have to marry this remittance man?"

"Remittance…? I…never mind, that is essentially it, yes. I don’t wish to marry Lord Prescott."

"What do you think they’ll do to me if they catch us?"

She shrugged, then remembered he couldn’t see her in the dark. "Well, but they are already going to hang you if they catch you. Is that not so? So what difference would it make?"

He uttered some words under his breath that she didn’t understand, but she decided it was best that way.

"I suppose that’s true," he finally said. "But tell me one reason why I ought to do this. Just one would do, two would be better."


"Or are you uppity English so used to having your way you thought all you had to do was ask? What’s in it for me, lady?"

Excerpt from Wilda's Outlaw

Uppity? How dare he? Her tongue stuck to the roof of her dry mouth, and it was a moment before she could go on. Afraid to reply to his second question, for fear he might be getting at something she wouldn’t want to deal with, she answered the first.

"No. I don’t recall ever having my way. Not since my parents were killed and they sent me to that orphanage."

A short silence, followed by a snort. "Oh, that’s good. Make me feel sorry for you. I watched my father murdered and my mother died of the pox when I was off fighting the damned Yankees, who burned down our house and killed both my brothers. Nobody’s ever given a damn about any of that, and they sure as hell won’t give me any breaks when they go to hang me, so why should I give you any?"

She thought about that. He was right of course. She had said nearly the same on occasion. "I’m sorry about your family, but at least I didn’t start robbing and killing people."

"No, you just sold yourself to a man and now you want out of it."

"That's not exactly true."

"And it's not true I've killed…well, except in the war, and that doesn’t count. Where'd you get that idea anyway?"

"I suppose I…oh, I have no idea. I just thought – "

"Thinking’s not good. Tell me, what do you suggest I do with you…that is, if I agree to this crazy idea?"

"Do with me?"

"Well, I can’t carry you around on the back of my horse the rest of my life, or stuff you in my saddle bags and only let you out to…uh, do your business once in a while.


  1. What an interesting story, Velda. Makes you scratch your head and wonder why they didn't want the name of their town in a book. I love small towns, they always have character and are usually filled with unusual characters.

  2. Loved this post, Velda. I always find small towns fascinating even if they may appear somewhat unwelcoming, even frightening on occasion. Great post!

  3. Velda, Your post is almost poetic. Loved the images of the almost lost town. Seems there is a good story in the curt reply that the town didn't want their name in any book. The "why" is intriguing.

  4. Whether it's fiction, non fiction, news article, or historical research, Velda Brotherton is a wordsmith. I enjoy anything the woman pens. Thank you, Velda, for examples set!

  5. Thanks to all of you for your great comments on this post. The book that finally resulted has been around for more than a decade and to finally get a contract for it thrills me. I'll post more as time goes by about things that happened while researching and writing Once There Were Sad Songs. Meanwhile, have a great day.


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