My Grandma always had stack of Louis L’Amour books lying around her house somewhere, but I have to confess–I don’t think I ever read one! I preferred to be swept across the ocean to explore Europe, instead of stuck in the dusty old west. But when I first read Rachel Kovaciny’s novella The Man on the Buckskin Horse several years ago, I started to wonder if I’ve been missing out on a fun genre all my life…
Rachel’s newest novel, Dancing and Doughnuts, is releasing this Friday, and I’ve got an awesome interview with her today + a giveaway you won’t want to miss! So I’ll stop rambling and introduce Rachel to you.
Born only a few miles from where Jesse James robbed his first train, Rachel Kovaciny has loved the Old West all her life. She now lives in Virginia with her husband and their three homeschooled children. In her free time, Rachel writes for the magazines “Femnista” and “Prairie Times,” reads, bakes, blogs, watches movies, and daydreams.
Her book “Cloaked” was a 2018 Peacemaker Awards finalist for Best Western YA/Children’s Fiction.
So please, cozy up with a cup of tea, give Rachel a virtual round of welcoming applause, and enjoy our interview! I had about a million questions for her, but I’ve tried to whittle it down to a more manageable amount . . .
On the genre …
I was first introduced to you when I read The Man on the Buckskin Horse, and I was surprised (and delighted) by the combination of western + fairytale! Why do you write westerns?
I write westerns because I love them, and I’m a firm believer that you should write what you love. Not what you know, because with a bit of research and some patience, you can know a lot about a lot of things. So write what you love, because if what you write does well, you’re going to be writing more of it. Better love it. I love westerns, have ever since I was a toddler, so… that’s what I write.
(K, let me interject here that I really, really like this advice. Because let’s be honest here: I know pretty much nothing. And I still want to write. So thank you for giving us all some extra confidence, Rachel!)
When and where does this story take place? Do you have an actual physical location in mind as you write, and have you ever been there?
It takes place in central Kansas, south of Abilene and the other big cow towns, in the spring of 1867. I’ve driven through different parts of Kansas quite a few times — I was born in Iowa, and most of my extended family lives there still. Whether I’ve been through the particular area where this would take place, I don’t know. Not recently, that’s certain. I rely a lot on internet research, travel books and videos, and my imagination to fill in the details.
If time travel were possible, would you want to live in the Wild West, or stay here with running water thankyouverymuch?
I would like to live in particular parts of the Wild West. I don’t deal well with heat, so as much as I adore Texas, I might not want to live there. Put me in Wyoming or Colorado or Montana, though, and I’d be a happy camper. Running water is nice, but I could live without it. Antibiotics, I would miss, though.
On fairytales …
Why do you think it’s important to re-tell a story that is already familiar?
Fairy tales teach us things. That was their whole purpose, originally — they were cautionary stories, advice passed along in a memorable way. Should little kids go wandering around in the woods alone? No! They might meet up with a witch who wants to eat them… or get kidnapped or fall in a hole or be eaten by a wild animal, anyway. Should you treat your stepdaughter badly? No! She might end up marrying a handsome prince and you could be in serious danger for having abused her… or she might just marry a nice guy who doesn’t take kindly to his new wife having been pushed around by you.
Some fairy tales don’t seem particularly applicable anymore, but so many of them are based on human nature, which has not changed through the ages. So we can still learn from them.
Also, they’re fun 🙂
Interjecting again (sorry I’m the worst I know) to appreciate this, too. I can’t add anything more eloquent but I want y’all to know I am 100% here.
Did you have a favorite fairytale as a child, and is it the same as your current favorite
As a kid, “Twelve Dancing Princesses,” “Rapunzel,” and “Cinderella” were my favorites. And they still are — those three really hit my storytelling buttons.
Why did you choose Twelve Dancing Princesses?
Because it’s long been a favorite of mine — might still be my #1 favorite, to be honest — and because it translated so easily to the Old West. The original story has a soldier returning from the war wandering into a kingdom and solving a mystery. I made him a soldier who fought in the Civil War and wandered into a Kansas town to solve a mystery. It didn’t take much rejiggering for the basics to all fit.
If your life were a fairytale, what role would you play (fairy godmother, knight in shining armor, damsel in distress, the unwitting animal that gets turned into something else)?
Definitely a fairy godmother, as I love giving people unexpected gifts and granting wishes.
On the writing process …
Are there any real-life people or events that served as inspiration for Dancing and Doughnuts’ characters or plot?
Yes! I don’t usually do this, but I actually named a whole bunch of minor characters after people I know. The church I grew up in down in North Carolina has a book group comprised of about a dozen wonderful ladies. I’ve known most of them since I was twelve. When I released Cloaked last year, they asked me to come talk to their group about it. During our discussion, they announced that they thought I should put all of them in my next story. I kind of laughed it off at the time… but they’re all in there now. They’re not the twelve “princess” characters, but they do get a fun scene in the book.
How do you do your historical research? Is it easy for you?
I LOVE history. I minored in both English and History in college, and I currently write a column for the newspaper Prairie Times about the history of the Old West — that’s how much I love history. So research is usually a pure delight. I generally start with a good, new-fashioned Wikipedia search, then look at the books listed at the bottom of various articles to find sources that could help me. I get what I can from my library, but sometimes I end up buying some books too.
I try to do the bulk of my research before I start writing because a lot of times, I’ll learn things that spark ideas and change the course of a story. That’s the best feeling.
While writing, I’m constantly looking things up online and in books. Maps, railroad records, clothing fashions, whatever I need. And I’m always searching for the etymology of particular words to make sure they were in use at the time my story is set. It’s always so jarring to read a book set in the 1700s or early 1800s that uses the word “okay,” for instance — that phrase wasn’t really coined until the 1830s, and didn’t become common until the 1840s.
What was the most interesting thing you learned/researched for Dancing and Doughnuts?
How prevalent soda-pop was in the Old West! It turns out, carbonated beverages date back to the 1600s, and bottled soda-water mixed with flavoring was very popular by the 1860s. Many saloons would serve it, as would restaurants and general stores.
And the miscellany …
If you had to watch the same movie every day for a month, what would it be?
There are a LOT of movies I could do that with: The Man from Snowy River (1982), The Lone Ranger (2013), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), The Sons of Katie Elder (1965), The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)…
And finally, coffee or tea?