Bestselling Author

Tag: #SteamSeries

Myths, legends and inspiration

In my novel Redbird, elements from Cherokee myths are woven into the love story, which is set during a historical event in the 1870s involving the Cherokee Nation and the Katy Railroad. Read on to find out more about these fascinating legends that inspired me.

Uk-ten-a

Jake crept next to the dark side of the locomotive. Tonight, Uk-te-na didn’t hiss or spew its dark breath. The smoking dragon crouched on metal rails with its nose pointed south, directly at the heart of the Tsa-la-gi nation, silent and still like a predator anticipating a kill.

Most cultures have legends about supernatural serpents. In Cherokee lore, they call this mythical creature Uk-te-na.  Described as a monstrous beast with horns, similar to a dragon, Uk-te-na is originally created at the behest of men to destroy their enemy. Instead, it wreaks havoc on the people of the earth. It makes sense, then, that Native Americans would liken locomotives to this fearsome beast.

This powerful imagery fit beautifully within the framework of my story about a Cherokee hero who sets out to stop a powerful railroad from devastating his homeland. His quest takes an unexpected turn when he abducts a railroad heiress who it seems might be the personification of a legendary goddess.

Wa-ya and the little bird

How did the cardinal get its beautiful coloring? In this Cherokee tale, Raccoon (gv-li) loves to tease Wolf (wa-ya). One day Wolf is chasing Raccoon so long he becomes exhausted. While he sleeps, Raccoon covers Wolf’s eyes with mud, which hardens. After Wolf awakens, he can’t get the mud off and he can’t see. He begs for help, but Raccoon just runs off.

At long last, a little bird hears Wolf and she flies over. “What’s the matter Brother Wolf? Can I help you?”

Wa-ya cries: “I can’t open my eyes, Please help me to see again!”

“I’m just a plain little brown bird. but I will help you if I can.”

“U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua (little brown bird), if you can help me to see again, I will take you to a magic rock that oozes red paint. We will paint your feathers red.”

The little bird pecks away the mud until Wolf can see. True to his word, Wa-ya takes U-wo-di-ge tsi-s-qua to the magic rock and uses a chewed stick as a paint brush to paint right red over the little bird’s plain, brown feathers. She becomes to-tsu-wa--the beautiful Red Bird.

Similarly, in the novel Redbird, the heroine Kate is instrumental in saving the hero, Jake (whose Cherokee name is Wa-ya). In turn, Jake’s gift to the woman he calls Redbird is a new awareness of her beauty and strength.

The Sun and her daughter

This traditional Cherokee legend contributes a core element in my love story and the hero’s journey. As a boy, Jake is enthralled by the story about the Sun’s daughter. He forms an image in his mind about what she might look like, and even sees her in a vision, which later directs his path in ways he could never have predicted. The original legend is rather long, so I’m going to paraphrase most of it.

The Sun lived on the other side of the sky vault, but her daughter lived in the middle of the sky, directly above the earth, and every day as the Sun was climbing along the sky arch to the west she stopped at her daughter’s house for dinner. Now, the Sun hated the people on the earth, because they could never look straight at her without screwing up their faces. But the people of the earth smiled at her brother, the Moon. The Sun was jealous and decided to kill the people, so when she came to her daughter’s house, she sent rays down that created a great fever and many people died.

The people went for help to the Little Men (supernatural beings), who changed two people into snakes (Copperhead and Spreading-adder), but they were unsuccessful at killing the Sun. Then the Little Men created a monster, the great Uk-te-na and the Rattlesnake. They surprised the daughter of the Sun when she came outside, thinking it was her mother who was knocking.

After the Sun finds her daughter dead, she goes away and the world is plunged into darkness. Representatives of the people go to the land of the dead to retrieve the Sun’s daughter and bring her back alive, but along the way, they mistakenly let her out of a box she’s being kept in and she flies off,. A moment later, they hear the song of a red bird. The daughter of the Sun can’t return to her mother in her previous form, but she is brought back to life as the beautiful Redbird.

In my novel, Jake associates Kate with the Sun’s beautiful daughter and nicknames her Redbird. His fascination with her allows him to lower his defenses and open his mind and heart to new possibilities.

As far as Kate is concerned, Jake is the only man who accepts her on equal terms. With him, she feels beautiful and strong. She also comes to believe she is uniquely suited to help Wa-ya and his people. In the end, she is transformed, like her namesake.

Redbird, Book 2 in the series, Steam! Romance and Rails

A rich, white heiress. A Cherokee outlaw. They have nothing in common except a desire for peace…and each other.

Railroad heiress Kate Parsons has spent a lifetime trying to win her father’s respect. Her heart isn’t in the marriage he demands for her, but she is eager to help him peacefully resolve a land dispute between his railroad and the Cherokee Nation. Instead, her life–and her future–take a sharp turn when she is abducted by outlaws.

Jake Colston longs for peace, but not at the price the railroad wants his people to pay. Rather than fight a war against the smoking dragon, he devises a scheme to stop it. But a split-second decision to abduct Kate pitches his plans into chaos and creates havoc in his heart. Like the legendary goddess Redbird, his captive is brave and quick-witted, curious and compassionate. Is she the incarnation of a vision? Or does she portend the end of his dreams?

A captivating, cross-cultural love story, which unfolds during a fast-paced race through historic events. Redbird was originally released as a novella under the title Kate’s Outlaw. This new edition has been expanded into a novel with exciting new scenes and renamed after the Native American legend that inspired it. 

Read Redbird

Have you read the series yet? If not, get started on the first book, Her Bodyguard.  Right now, if you sign up as a new subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll receive a link to a free download. Sign up today!

Steam On!

E.E. Burke

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10th Anniversary Celebration: Passion and Photography

Steam train image by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

One of the greatest challenges and pleasures in self-publishing is partnering with other artists to conceive the book cover. It’s the physical representation of your story, and so it has to be right. For the Steam! Romance and Rails series, I didn’t just want pictures of trains, I wanted images that would capture the passion and drama of a long-ago time and bring it alive.

When I came across a website featuring the photographic art of Matthew Malkiewicz, I knew I’d found perfect fit. His photography visibly defines the era and captures the mood I want to evoke. His trains are featured on eight of my books, and his iconic images are also featured in the banner of my website and on my newsletter.

Contrary to what some might say, authors can’t launch and sustain careers without great partners, such as critique buddies, editors, illustrators, and designers, photographers, to name a few.  In this post, I wanted to extend a special thanks to someone who has been a valued partner and friend on the journey, Matthew Malkiewicz.

I’ll let him tell his story in his own words:

How did you get started “shooting” trains?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

It was more an awakening than an idea, it all started at the age of 4 months. I have a photo of myself watching a toy train run around the Christmas tree as a baby, it must have hooked me well. As a kid I had a model train layout on a piece of plywood in the basement, and in my teens I received my first camera, which I aimed at every train I saw. After a long period in my life without cameras or trains a job assignment in Colorado (a train mecca) during 2005 rekindled both hobbies, driving me to buy my first digital camera. At the same time I discovered the power of Photoshop, soon after I created my website to showcase my rapidly growing collection of photographs. It’s been a snowball effect ever since.

What are some of your favorite locations or settings?

I concentrate on vintage steam locomotives from all across the United States. Now they have second lives as tourist operations, the fortunate trains that survived the scrapping after the fleet was retired in the middle of the last century. Modern day railroading, both passenger and freight revenue, are pulled by either diesel or electric engines. My passion gravitates to the machines of yesteryear, fire-breathing monsters that seem to be alive whether you have your hand against the polished steel or you are two bluffs away looking across acres of prairie grass. I envision how it must have been back in the day and try to create photographs as timeless as possible to depict what I consider a vibrantly better and sadly vanished time.

What drew you to photographing old steam engines?

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

The allure of capturing images that stimulate one’s senses is what drew me to photograph steam-powered locomotives. I wanted to bring to life the smells of the coal fueling the engine, the sound of the steam hissing, and the earth rattling as these magnificent machines sit idling or are in motion. These machines of steam are alive. Each is unique, its own personality, which changes from day to day. At a state of rest the locomotive is groaning, sweating, simmering, creaking, spitting. At speed it’s controlled madness – the ground shakes, sound deafening.

What’s the coolest train you’ve ever photographed and why?

Halloween weekend 2011 at the East Broad Top Railroad in Pennsylvania. Nothing, and I mean nothing; can keep me away from capturing that awe-inspiring shot of a majestic steam locomotive.  However, the Halloween nor’easter would certainly test my fortitude. The storm produced unusually early season snowfall across the northeastern United States, breaking records for total accumulations. As the morning passed on, the snow intensified. By the time the train made its way out of town for its first run of the day, we had experienced near whiteout conditions and things got real quiet. With a typical steam train, you would expect to hear wheels clacking against the rails and steam puffing from the stack. But to my surprise, the snow seemed to envelop and muffle the familiar sound of the locomotive. As the train bellowed down the snowy rails, it was visible that the pine trees struggled to support the weight of the fresh snow, and the cornfields became covered in a white blanket. The autumn-colored leaves indicated that perhaps the trees were also caught off-guard by the storm. An image from the day, aptly named “Train on a Snow Day”, placed second in the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s 2014 Awards Program.

Photo by Matthew Malkiewicz

Do you enjoy seeing your work interpreted on book covers? Is it how you might have imagined, or completely different?

Yes I do. We all interpret a scene differently, it’s what makes us individuals. I enjoy seeing how others, such as the graphic artist of a book cover, takes my photograph and add their own style, flair, and techniques to enhance. The final results have been beyond my expectations; very pleasantly surprised every time.

Here are some of Matthew’s images on book covers designed by the very talented Erin Dameron-Hill.

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

Photograph by Matthew Malkiewicz; cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill

What dreams have been realized as a result of your photography?

Throughout life, we all seek our own way in the pursuit of happiness, to find something that’s going to set us apart from the pack, mold our life into something special, and discover the sense in it all.  We test different things to determine what will help us in our quest, push us beyond our own limits, and achieve our dreams. My galleries capture my travels and experiences across our countryside.  Some near home, others far away and remote, all uniquely memorable.  It’s a passion that has taken me to where I am in life today.  My hope is that someday my portfolio will be an inspiration to others interested in this hobby I truly love.  I’m confident that one day I will capture my most spectacular image.  Until then, each photo tells the story of lost time, remembered.

While Matthew continues to pursue his dream of capturing soul-stirring images of an era long past, I continue to pursue my dream to write stories that will transport readers to the past and connect them to the hopes and dreams of others and themselves.

I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to share them with you, dear reader.

Enjoy a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

With fondness and gratitude,

E.E. Burke

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