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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10th Anniversary Celebration: Romance, Rails and Riots

This month, I’m celebrating my 10th anniversary as an author. I’ve always been a history geek, so it seemed natural to combine a passion for the past with my lifelong love for romance, which is how I arrived at historical romance. The potential for subject matter is as vast as humankind, but as I thought about what most piqued my interest, I found myself drawn to a particular period in American history. Something about the story of the railroads called to me. Maybe it was the passion and excitement of that long-ago era when America expanded her boundaries as fast as men could lay track. A little booklet I picked up in a museum ignited an idea, and I started writing what became my first published novel.

Here’s a blog post I did shortly after I released Her Bodyguard (Book 1 in the series Steam! Romance and Rails).

Romance, Rails and Riots

In the second half of the nineteenth century, the United States entered a time of explosive growth and expansion that has been unmatched since. The country had just emerged from a devastating war and its people needed to have faith in something. That something turned out to be what railroads represented: opportunity and hope for the future.

A hotly contested  construction race between the Missouri, Fort Scott & Gulf Railroad Company (nicknamed The Border Tier) and the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway (more commonly known as The Katy) encapsulates the spirit of these times and the challenges. This race turned out to be the perfect setting for the first two books in my railroad romance series.

Her Bodyguard follows the history of the Border Tier and tells the story of an unlikely romance that develops between two people caught up in the cutthroat railroad race and a violent settlers’ revolt.

“If the railroad can be put through next season, we can sell lots enough to make such sinners as we are, rich as sinners ought to be.” Samuel Pomeroy, Kansas Senator, 1870

With the Cherokee Treaty of 1866, President Grant establishes a large tract of land in southern Kansas for settlement. Using political pressure, the railroads got the land cheap, less than $1 an acre. That same month, the President signs the Land Grant bill into law, giving first railroad to reach Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) exclusive rights to build through the sovereign nations.

The race between three contenders quickly becomes a neck-to-neck competition between the two most powerful railroads: the Southern branch of the Union Pacific started by Judge Levi Parsons and the line owned by then-president of the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy, James Joy. Both men are Eastern investors who get into the railroad business for the easy money. It turns out to be not so easy.

Since the end of the Civil War, settlers have been “squatting” on what is now railroad land. They claim Congress promised it to them and refuse to pay the railroad’s asking price.

“Hang the RR man as high as Haman, without benefit of clergy” Crawford County Settlers Land League.

By late 1869, competitive railroads are racing toward a prescribed crossing at the border of Indian Territory.  Working for James Joy’s Border Tier line, brilliant engineer Octave Chanute (who gained famed by constructing the first bridge over the Missouri River in Kansas City) draws a straight line south and builds to altitudes of 300 feet, intent on constructing a “first class” railroad.

Meanwhile, settlers in Southeastern Kansas organize into armed militias (Land Leagues) to violently oppose the railroad. Leaguers attack railroad agents, burn out rail crews, steal supplies, tents, articles and camp equipment. Federal troops are sent in to keep the peace. The settlers, predominantly Union veterans, face off with the government they’d fought for just a few years earlier.

Despite problems with angry settlers, all bets are on the Border Tier to win the race. The railroad is laying track over two miles a day, has a head start on the Katy, and more money.

“Give me the iron and the big stuff and I’ll put your railroad down if I have to lay it flat on the prairie.” John Scullin to Katy brass.

In January 1870, the stockholders of the Katy Railroad meet in Emporia. Parsons has hired a new general manager who will win the race for him. While the Border Tier builds a railroad that will last, the Katy’s workers lay iron “flat on the prairie” and adjust routes to minimize bridges and curves. They focus on speed, rather than quality. Rumor has it Parsons’ men are stirring up the settlers and encouraging them to riot. The Border Tier strikes back and is accused of vandalism and banditry. Both lines engage in bidding wars for workers.

“One must be prepared to pay for the victory, or not play at all” James Joy

Sneaky competitors hire “fake” Indians to direct Octave Chanute to wrong border crossing, a pile of stones that mark an 1837 survey, which is few miles away from the official 1854 border. While the Border Tier celebrates, the Katy lays track to the correct borderline.

The problems with the settlers continue to plague both railroads as they dispute the results of the race.

I won’t tell you how it ends, although I will say at least two people get their HEA.

Books in the Steam! Romance and Rails Series include:

HER BODYGUARD: A determined railroad investor stalked by a mysterious killer seeks protection from a wanted gunslinger, who is hiding a dangerous secret.

KATE’S OUTLAW: After a railroad heiress is abducted, one of her captors becomes her protector. On the run from danger with enemies on all sides, they discover a love as powerful as it is forbidden.

Originally part of the anthology Passion’s Prize. Catch up on the stories of two other women caught up in a dangerous race for riches in Adella’s Enemy by Jacqui Nelson and Eden’s Sin by Jennifer Jakes.

A DANGEROUS PASSION: An inquisitive author sets out to expose a charismatic railroad baron and becomes ensnared in a deadly mystery and a dangerous passion.

FUGITIVE HEARTS: When a newly-made widow tries to cover up the truth behind her husband’s violent death, her plan backfires, sending her fleeing from a hardened lawman determined to bring her to justice.

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E.E. Burke’s 10th Anniversary Celebration

Ten years ago, I officially entered the world of romance writing when I submitted a manuscript for the Romance Writers of America Golden Heart contest. To my utter amazement and delight, I made the finals in November, 2010. That moment gave me the impetus and encouragement I needed to send me down a path to becoming a published author. To celebrate, I’m taking a look back at my first published series, which will be on sale through the month of November.

It all started with an idea and a friendship with two other 2010 Golden Heart finalists, Jacqui Nelson and Jennifer Jakes.

I had been working on a railroad romance, and we were all ardent fans of the series Hell On Wheels. I proposed a joint effort, which we turned into three love stories woven together around a common historical event–a gritty, glamorous railroad race akin to Hell On Wheels, only with happier endings.

The anthology Passion’s Prize launched the series with Adella’s Enemy by Jacqui Nelson, Eden’s Sin by Jennifer Jakes and Kate’s Outlaw by your’s truly. You can still pick up each of the novellas originally featured in this anthology.

I’ll go into more detail on the historical underpinnings of the series in my next blog post. In the meantime, here is an interview I did shortly after publishing the first full-length novel of the series, Her Bodyguard.  Time wise, this story actually precedes Kate’s Outlaw, but it came out a year later. Each book is a satisfying read as a stand-alone, but if you enjoy building on an overarching story, I’d recommend starting with Her Bodyguard.

At the Golden Heart awards ceremony in 2010

What made you combine romance and rails?

That’s a good question. I guess something about the old steam railroads calls to my adventurous side, and to my romantic nature. But more specifically, when I touring a museum in Fort Scott, Kansas, a few years ago, I came across a small booklet about a railroad race. It had all the makings of an epic: crooked politics, underhanded landlords, angry mobs, liars, cheats, killers…I couldn’t imagine a more perfect setting for a great love story. As far as turning it into a series, I got that idea from the AMC television series Hell On Wheels. The show follows the building of the transcontinental railroad, which first joined both coasts of the United States. I became an instant fan, and the show’s popularity convinced me there is an audience out there for stories like these, and that includes romance.

Tell us a little about the series.

The first books in the series are set against the background of a contentious construction race through southeastern Kansas between two powerful railroads with long names. One was dubbed the Katy and other was nicknamed the Border Tier. The government promised the winning line free land grants and exclusive rights through this corridor into cattle-rich Texas.  So you can imagine, they pulled out all the stops and no one was above cheating. The series was actually kicked off in the anthology, Passion’s Prize, which features works by two other 2010 Golden Heart finalists, Jennifer Jakes and Jacqui Nelson. These three novellas follow the story of the Katy through the lives of three women who get caught up in the race.

Her Bodyguard, revolves around the story of the Border Tier. While its crews were trying to win a race, the railroad was feuding with settlers over land rights. That’s really the focus of my book. The heroine, Amy Langford, is a wealthy widow who’s invested heavily in the railroad and is looking for ways to appease the settlers so they’ll stop vandalizing the tracks. Only, someone is out to kill her. The hero, Buck O’Connor, is an outlaw who comes out of hiding to help his cousin avoid financial ruin. Through a twist of fate, he ends up being Amy’s bodyguard. He uses his position to thwart her railroad and help his cousin, while at the same time trying to protect her. You can see that isn’t going to work. But it takes Buck awhile to recognize this. He’s pretty sure of himself.

How much of the story is based in fact?

Quite a bit, actually! Honestly, I couldn’t come up with better scenarios than those I find in history books. The race really happened pretty much as it’s written, the settler’s riots, too. I love to use real events and include historical characters. In this case, I put two people very attracted to each other but with opposing goals in the middle of a cutthroat railroad competition and a land war. It was fun to see how they reacted.

You talk about your characters as if they’re real people.

In my mind, they are. But I try not to talk to them when other people are around. Characters come to me fully formed. Sometimes they appear before the story, and sometimes they come out of the story. But I always make sure I get to know them as much as possible before I start writing.

Your books are based in the American West during the nineteenth century. Why that place, and why that era?

 I write what I love best. I’ve always been a history geek, and particularly American history. I really got fascinated with the Western expansion when I first moved to Kansas (I won’t say how many years ago or I’ll really out myself). That period of expansion had such an impact on this country, good and bad. I don’t think people realize just how much. There are so many stories that haven’t been told and I want to tell them.

I try to strike a balance between gritty realism and romance. I suppose I do err on the side of romance, but in many ways, that Victorian era was very romantic—even in the “Wild West.”

Start the series with HER BODYGUARD

The most dangerous man may be the one she hired.

For America “Amy” Langford, investing in the Border Tier Railroad isn’t about chasing riches. The savvy businesswoman is after bigger stakes: influence, respect, success her father didn’t live to see. Rioting settlers and underhanded competitors can’t stop her, but a killer might. When a ruggedly handsome drifter comes to her rescue, she trusts her instincts and hires him as her bodyguard.

Buck O’Connor has put his violent past behind him, but being a wanted man dictates a life of deceit. So what’s one more lie? He becomes Amy’s protector so he can secretly thwart her railroad’s progress to help his cousin avoid financial ruin. A great scheme—until he falls in love.

While Buck hides his true purpose, Amy lies to herself about her growing feelings for her bodyguard. But the price for deceit is steep, and the secrets they both hide could destroy their future—if they survive.

Other books in the series include:

KATE’S OUTLAW: After a railroad heiress is abducted, one of her captors becomes her protector. On the run from danger with enemies on all sides, they discover a love as powerful as it is forbidden.

Originally part of the anthology Passion’s Prize. Catch up on the stories of two other women caught up in a dangerous race for riches in Adella’s Enemy by Jacqui Nelson and Eden’s Sin by Jennifer Jakes.

A DANGEROUS PASSION: An inquisitive author sets out to expose a charismatic railroad baron and becomes ensnared in a deadly mystery and a dangerous passion.

FUGITIVE HEARTS: When a newly-made widow tries to cover up the truth behind her husband’s violent death, her plan backfires, sending her fleeing from a hardened lawman determined to bring her to justice.

 

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Stay At Home Free Reads

With so many of us staying at home during this public health crisis, it’s easy to feel isolated and get depressed. I know I’ve been feeling that way lately, and I have struggled to write even with extra time on my hands. One thing that always helps when I’m feeling low is to curl up with a book that offers a sense of hope. The reason I write romance has to do with my deepest desire to find and share hopefulness. With that in mind, I’d like to offer you a collection free reads that I hope might brighten the coming days.

These books feature three of my favorite characters: an outlaw, an adventurer and a madam. They all share one thing in common–they have a hard believing in anything until they find hope

Her Bodyguard: Meet a wanted man who finds hope in the most unlikely place–as bodyguard to a woman who would rather see him dead if she knew the truth.

Taming Huck FinnThe free-wheeling adventurer discovers hope on a dangerous journey with an orphan boy who yearns for a father almost as much as Huck resists the role.

Jolie: Hope for this cynical madam comes in the form of a blind greeting card salesman who can’t see her flaws.

If we’re still hunkered down in a month, I’ll send out another round of free reads. If you’d like to be included, be sure to sign up for my newsletter.

Stay home and stay safe!

E.E. Burke

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On the Journey with an award-winning photographer

Seven years ago, I launched my first novel in the Steam! Romance and Rails series. The covers of several books in this series, and in the subsequent Bride Train collection, feature the work of award-winning photographer Matthew Malkiewicz. His breath-taking photos of authentic steam engines captured my fancy and provided a perfect backdrop for book covers that looked as lush and evocative as the time period they represented. (In fact, the header for On The Journey features one of my favorite images!) I asked Matthew to share a memory about each of the photographs featured on my books. Come with us on the journey to visit the last of America’s steam railroads.

E.E. Burke

“Opening a window to the past”

Matthew Malkiewicz is a widely recognized photographer specializing in steam railroad history, “keeping a window to the past open for us to see.” His work has appeared in print and online. He is the recipient of the Center for Railroad Photography & Art’s prestigious John E. Gruber Creative Photography Award, and is a Hasselblad Masters of Photography 2016 finalist, and has been published on CNN International, The Weather Channel, DPReview and PetaPixel websites. He earned honorable mention in the 2017 Monochrome Awards in both the professional fine art and landscape categories. His entire portfolio can be viewed at his “Lost Tracks of Time” website.

Take a journey with Matthew:

Photos used in Steam! Romance and Rails series

A Dangerous Passion cover: Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad, Chama, New Mexico, March 16, 2014 

A long day of plowing the line after a recent winter storm, #489 catches its breath with snow still on the front pilot. Living at sea level, this day winded me from being in the upper elevations of the Rocky Mountains. I was at the rear of the train and hustled getting into position to capture this image while daylight was quickly turning to night. The things we do for fun.

Fugitive Hearts cover: Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, Cumberland, Maryland, December 10, 2009

Sunrise as the train pulls into the station to pick up its passengers. I remember well capturing this image. The dramatic smoke and steam combined with gorgeous morning light spoke to me.

Photos used in American Mail-Order Bride Series

Santa’s Mail-Order Bride cover: Steam Into History, New Freedom, Pennsylvania December 8, 2013

This location is only a few hours from my house. I knew of an oncoming snowstorm and arrived extra early in the morning. My 4×4 kept me safe, and the train crew put on a great show in the falling snow. The Christmas garland, ribbons, and illuminated lanterns on the locomotive add to the festivities.

Photos used in The Bride Train novella collection

Valentine’s Rose cover: Chelatchie Prairie Railroad, Yacolt, Washington, October 13, 2014

One of the all-time favorites in my portfolio – a foggy morning in the Pacific Northwest. Two minutes earlier there were horses grazing in the field. The train scared them away. The ground fog would soon burn off, taking with it a lot of the mood and atmosphere.

Patrick’s Charm cover: Rio Grande Scenic Railroad, Alamosa, Colorado, August 22, 2011

Sadly, this steam excursion railroad is no loner in operation. The locomotive sits locked up in a dark engine house. But on this summer day it was in all its glory. I don’t know why the smoke plume goes from black to gray to almost white to black and then gray again; but it draws my eye as much as the train in the surrounding Rocky Mountains.

 

Tempting Prudence cover: Cass Scenic Railroad, Cass, West Virginia, May 17, 2008

A workhorse from the days of a thriving logging industry in the West Virginia Mountains. A shay locomotive, its cylinders and drive train on one side with the boiler offset to the other for balance. A timeless reproduction on a foggy rainy day.

Seducing Susannah cover: Cass Scenic Railroad Cass, West Virginia, May 17, 2008

The same locomotive used on the Tempting Prudence cover. The three vertical steam cylinders in front of the engineer, connecting to the horizontal drive shaft are much different than a traditional steam engine with rods on both sides. One of the few times it was not raining on this day.

Born too late…

My hobby of photographing steam trains across our country has taken me well off the beaten path – without it I doubt to have ever visited any of these locations. I truly believe that life is about the journey and not the destination–the people met along the way and the stories they share, or that moment that takes you back to a better, vanished time. E.E. Burke and I have collaborated quite a bit over the years. I am thankful for her vision in selecting these images for her stories. Her choices were perfect.

Thank you, Matthew! You and I share a love for the grand old age of steam. My historical romance novels set during this period feature many characters and events straight from pages of America’s railroad history. If you are interested in reading the Steam! Romance and Rails series or The Bride Train collection, I’ve provided a handy guide for the reading order here.

You can see Matthew’s full gallery at www.losttracksoftime.com.

Steam on! 

E.E. Burke

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On The Journey First Edition

 

Here’s an archive copy of the first edition of my new On the Journey newsletter. Each month, I send my subscribers a collection of exclusive articles pertaining to books I’ve written or projects I’m working on, places I travel, people I meet, quotes, short stories, and the occasional special offer. My intent is to make this email newsletter something readers look forward to receiving. If it sounds interesting to you, I hope you’ll join me on the journey.

Steam On!

E.E. Burke

~~~

Love seems the swiftest, but it is the slowest of all growths. No man or woman really knows what perfect love is until they have been married a quarter of a century. ~ Mark Twain, Notebook, 1894

Sam and Livy: A Love Story

By E.E. Burke

(Pictured above: Sam and his Livy.)

As a romance writer, I’m always on the look-out for great love stories. One of the most poignant is the romance between Sam Clemens (Mark Twain) and Olivia Langdon. What an unlikely pair they were. Olivia, known as Livy, had a proper Eastern upbringing in a family of high social standing. Sam was a westerner with many rough edges. He grew up poor and left school at age 12. In contrast to Livy’s even temperament and piety, Sam had explosive bouts of anger; he smoked, drank and could out-swear a sailor. Nevertheless, these two found in each other a love that only deepened over the years.

Clemens reported that he fell in love with Olivia when he first saw her in an ivory miniature on board a ship with her brother in 1867. He met her the following December, 1868.

He later wrote in The Autobiography of Mark Twain: “She was slender and beautiful and girlish–she was both girl and woman. She remained both girl and woman to the last day of her life.”

Within days of meeting Livy. he proposed marriage. She refused. It took real determination to convince her to marry him–more than 180 letters over 17 months.

He later wrote: “She said she never could or would love me – but she set herself the task of making a Christian of me. I said she would succeed, but that in the meantime, she would unwittingly dig a matrimonial pit and end by tumbling into it.”

She did indeed take the tumble and loved Sam for 34 years until the day of her death in 1904.

This poignant recollection from Twain’s autobiography gives some insight into one of the reasons he loved his Livy so faithfully and passionately. “She poured out her prodigal affection in kisses and caresses, and in a vocabulary of endearments whose profusion was always an astonishment to me.”

Sadly, the devoted couple experienced heartbreaking loss. Their first child, Langdon, died of diphtheria before he reached his second year. They lost daughter Susy, 24, to meningitis, and Jean died from epilepsy at 29. Clara was estranged from her father for many years although they reconciled before his death. Clara lived to age 88, but left no children.

Sam and Livy’s love story is, in part, what inspired me to write love stories for the beloved characters Mark Twain created. I like to think Sam would appreciate the difficulties both Tom and Huck face when they fall in love.

~~~

I noticed some pieces of limbs and such things floating down, and a sprinkling of bark; so I knowed the river had begun to rise. ~ Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Life On The Big Muddy

This year, those of us in the Midwest have been reminded of the Missouri River’s power and unpredictability. But the Big Muddy has always been a dangerous river.

Ever Changing Channels: The Missouri River has never liked to stay in predictable channels. According the Mark Twain’s writings, 19th century pilots on the Mississippi River could memorize that river enough to run at night. But steamboats on the Missouri River would only travel during the day when the pilots could actually observe the river because it changed so often. The course they took on the trip upriver could be entirely different from the one they encountered coming back downriver.

Spilling over its banks: This aerial photo from KMBC-News in Kansas City shows historic flooding in Platte County, MO (about a half hour north of where I live). While doing research for Taming Huck Finn, I read about a famed Mississippi River steamboat pilot who made one journey up the Missouri River in the early 1870s, and declared he would never do it again. He said only a madman would attempt to pilot such a wild, unpredictable river. It sounded to me like the kind the river that would appeal to Huck Finn.

If you’d like to check out my novel Taming Huck Finndownload a free first chapter. Or use this universal link to purchase: books2read.com/huckfinn

Would you like to receive On The Journey? This brief informational e-newsletter is sent out only once a month. Here’s where to sign up: www.eeburke.com/newsletter.

*Train photography in newsletter banner by Matthew Malkiewicz. See more of his lovely photography at www.losttracksoftime.com.

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Take a journey with Huck Finn

“When I was a boy, there was but one permanent ambition among my comrades in our village on the west bank of the Mississippi River. That was, to be a steamboatman. We had a hope that if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates. These ambitions faded out, each in its turn; but the ambition to be a steamboatman always remained.” ~ Mark Twain

Embark on a new adventure with an old friend

TAMING HUCK FINN, inspired by Mark Twain’s iconic adventurer, begins in the summer of 1870 in Atchison, Kansas, which served as a bustling port along the Missouri River.

In those days, steamboats transported goods to settlements and army forts up and down the river, as well as hauling miners traveling to and from the Montana gold fields. Freedom-loving Huck Finn works as a part-time steamboat pilot when he’s not off searching for gold.

The sprawling, unpredictable Missouri River provides the perfect landscape for my story about a restless man whose goal is to stay one step ahead of civilization.

In those days, it took nerves of steel to pilot a steamboat on the wild, untamed Missouri River. A few of the things steamboat pilots encountered: elusive, ill-defined and ever-changing channels, getting stranded in low water, innumerable and often invisible snags, whirlpools, Indian attacks–to name but a few.

According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, close to 300 steamboats went down in the river between 1830 and 1902.  Historians estimate almost half of all the boats that plied the Missouri were lost to various accidents, with snags taking most of them to their watery grave. The “Muddy Mo” had a voracious appetite for steamboats!

Near Kansas City, a construction company dug up a steamboat from the 1850s out of a farm field (the river had long since changed course). While there were no human casualties, the boat went down with its entire load of supplies. The Steamboat Arabia exhibit at the Kansas City riverfront is filled with some of the most well preserved displays of 19th century goods you’ll find anywhere.

Far West pilothouse replica
 courtesy Dave Thomson Gallery

The type of boat Huck pilots is a “mountain boat.” These sternwheelers were smaller and lighter, equipped with spars, which were a bit like stilts to help the boat “walk” over obstacles. One of the best-known mountain boats was the Far West, piloted by Captain Grant Marsh.

A replica of the Far West pilothouse shows a pair of antelope antlers mounted in front to indicate it was a “fast boat” — Grant made a record-breaking run down the Missouri River in 1876 after he picked up the wounded from the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Packet steamboating on the Missouri River lasted from the 1820s to the 1880s, with the greatest period of activity between 1840 and 1860. The railroads contributed primarily to the demise of steamboat business by siphoning off long-haul passenger and freight business. In 1867, there were 71 steamers regularly plying the Missouri River. Three years later there were only 9. (Wild River, Wooden Boats, Michael Gillespie, Heritage Press).

Some of the landing points mentioned in Taming Huck Finn were busy ports in the 1870s: Weston, Missouri, Sioux City, Iowa, Fort Sully in the Dakota Territory, Kansas City, and eventually St. Louis, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers converge.

His greatest adventure is about to catch up with him.

Steamboat pilot Huck Finn lives life on his own terms and steers clear of messy entanglements that might tie him down—until he takes charge of an orphaned boy that needs rescuing.

Starched and proper, Miss Hallie MacBride is determined to atone for past sins by raising her estranged sister’s son. She doesn’t expect footloose Mr. Finn to challenge her, much less up and run off with her nephew.

On a wild journey fraught with danger, a freedom-loving adventurer and an avowed spinster battle over the destiny of a young boy, who is doing his level best to convince them they belong together.

Excerpt:

June 2, 1870, Atchison, Kansas

“What you layin’ in there for, mister?”

A childish voice disturbed Huck’s sleep. He screwed his eyes tightly shut, willing his mind to return to dreams of pleasanter things than inquisitive children.

Something struck the bottom of his boot. He jerked awake, his head connecting with a crack against the inside of the hogshead barrel. “Ow! Blame it.”

Gingerly, he touched a rising lump and grimaced at the painful reminder of where he’d ended up. After celebrating into the wee hours, it appeared a convenient place to await the next packet chugging up the Missouri River. Sobriety declared it a bad idea. Only halfwits and drunks slept in discarded barrels. Not men who commanded steamboats.

Curling around, he squinted at the opening where his legs were exposed. Daylight outlined the figure of a child. Hopeful it was just a dream Huck shut his eyes. When he opened them again, the boy had bent to peer inside the barrel.

Gap-toothed smile, snub nose, merry eyes that held the promise of mischief… “Tom?” Huck rasped.

The boy giggled.

No, he couldn’t possibly be. Tom had been nearly full-grown fifteen years ago.

Huck rubbed his stinging eyes. He must’ve gotten ahold of some bad brew like the Fire Rod his old man used to swig by the jug full; that stuff made Pap see crazier things than a boy that wasn’t there.

The spitting image of Tom laughed again. “Uncle Huck?”

Uncle? Huck shook his head to clear it. By God, he’d swear off whiskey forever if it brought on these strange imaginings, and it had to be his imagination. Huck Finn weren’t nobody’s uncle.

Pick up your copy of Taming Huck Finn at the following retailers:

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love for all seasons with 99c Brides of Noelle sale

Get four bestselling romances for less than the price of a box of chocolates! 

 

JOLIE by E.E. Burke

On sale for 99 cents this week only

Jolie LaFemme has been a working girl at La Maison for four long years…ever since being betrayed and left penniless, grieving and adrift. She’s jaded, distrustful and blind to the possibility of love. As far as she’s concerned, being the madam of a popular sporting house is the best she can hope for, and nothing will convince her to give up the coveted and lucrative position. 

Hank Donavan arrives in Noelle with a plan to ensure his sister’s financial security, and regain his pride. He’s a man in his prime, handsome by any measure, but an accident ruined his vision, and his future. Now, he travels with his dog, Bear, and sells beautiful handmade Valentine’s cards. His big opportunity comes when he gets a chance to invest in the town’s richest silver mine. There’s only one catch: he has to be married first. 

Who would marry a blind man with little to recommend him when there are plenty of hale and hearty men to go around?

OPHELIA by Kit Morgan

On sale for 99 cents this week only!

Clint Jones comes to Noelle for one purpose and one purpose only. Get in, assess the town and get out. Then he’d report to his superiors at Wells Fargo and Company to let them know if Noelle is respectable and prosperous enough to open a branch there. What Clint finds is anything but respectable! Toss in a violet-eyed beauty who takes his breath away, a mayor and a preacher he things are consorting with the worsts sorts of evil, and the fun begins.

NORAH by Amanda McIntyre

On sale for 99 cents this week only!

Not proud of his seedy entanglements back East, Irish immigrant Seamus Malone is determined to create a new and better life in the western frontier. Despite attempts to reach the woman that captured his heart, his letters for the last four years have gone unanswered. 

Will a plea for help from Noelle’s new matchmaker convince his estranged wife to join him in this new world, proving his love, and that he is a changed man?

Passion (and a controlling aunt) drove Norah into marriage, but when she finds her new husband dabbling in drink and dangerous liaisons, she bid him farewell, relenting to his pipe dreams of a better life, while she remained behind living in the shame of a broken marriage. When a dark truth is discovered she must now decide if the love she once felt is enough to survive a second chance?

ROBYN by Jacqui Nelson

On sale for 99 cents this week only!

Raised by three free-spirited older brothers, Robyn Llewellyn has learned to fight for what she wants—and now she wants to transform her boss and best friend, Max Peregrine, into a lifelong partner. Determined to become the image of what a marriage-minded man wants, Robyn trades her trousers for a dress and heads to Max’s hometown of Noelle, Colorado. But changing who she is with the help of the now happily married Brides of Noelle puts her friendship with Max at risk, and now he fears he may take her away from him forever.  

This year, my husband and I celebrate 32 years of marriage the day after Valentine’s Day. We intended to get married on Valentine’s Day, but it fell on a Friday that year, which wasn’t good for out of town guests, so we pushed our wedding to one day later. Now we get to celebrate for two days!

I picked Valentine’s Day as the setting for my story because for me it is the most romantic time of the year. I thought it fitting that Hank Donovan would sell Valentine’s cards and did some research into Victorian handmade cards. They were truly works of art.

Hank happens to be blind, which makes his story all the more intriguing. When he gives one of the handmade cards to a cynical madam who considers “love” a transaction, something magical begins to happen, and two people who had nearly lost hope begin to dream again.

May you find your happily ever after,

E.E. Burke

Pick up all four delightful Brides of Noelle romances for a sweet deal, only 99 cents each. Click the names below. 

Ophelia |Jolie | Norah |Robyn

Have you read any of the Noelle books? in the Twelve Days or Brides series? If so, which character would you invite to dinner and why?

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Bestselling Christmas Collection Only 99 cents

I’m delighted to announce that USA Today Bestselling Author Caroline Lee is featuring my #1 bestselling box set, An American Mail Order Bride Christmas Collection, in her book club this week! I’ve put the collection on sale for 99 cents because I want all her readers (and mine) to be able to afford it! If you haven’t yet read this set yet, I hope you’ll try it. Goes well with a cup of hot cocoa and a warm fire!

Here’s the link for the book.
Here’s the link to the group if you want to participate in the conversation and giveaways I’ll be offering.

Victoria Bride of Kansas

In Victoria, Bride of Kansas, we meet a little girl, Fannie, who is mute. She hasn’t spoken since her mother left her two years earlier. Victoria initially tries to break through Fannie’s defenses with a very special gift. Desperate to communicate with the troubled child, Victoria teaches her sign language.

Where did Victoria learn sign language? At the first American school for the Deaf in Hartsford, Conn., which opened its doors in 1817. Within forty years of the opening of the Hartford school, more than twenty other schools for the deaf had been established, the majority residential, teaching manual sign language.

David O’Brien doesn’t react well to Victoria teaching his daughter how to sign. If she doesn’t speak again and relies on sign language, he fears she will be excluded. His feelings reflect the general consensus of the time, which was fired by a fierce debate over the best way to teach the deaf to communicate. “Oralists” argued that the deaf should be taught to read lips and speak (English) in order assimilate into the broader society. Even Alexander Graham Bell, better known for his invention of the telephone, advocated banning sign language.

David reluctantly agrees to try Victoria’s approach, with surprising–and touching–results.

Santa’s Mail Order Bride

After I wrote Victoria’s story, which introduces David’s sister, Maggie, I knew I had to give Maggie her own HEA. A year has passed, and Maggie is now a teacher. She comes home for Christmas and finds a new mission—to gather toys for orphans. When she approaches Gordon Sumner–the shopkeeper across the street and David’s fiercest competitor–for his contribution, he comes up with a plan that will not only garner toys, but also allow him to “woo” a woman he’s had his eye on for some time.

Santa’s Mail-Order Bride incorporates America’s Christmas traditions and the beloved character of Santa Claus. How much do you know about Santa?

Santa Claus was a real person…sort of. Nikolaus of Myrna was born in the 3rd century in a village in present-day Turkey. He spent his sizable inheritance to help the needy and is credited with numerous miracles (including bringing dead people back to life), and he had a special love for children. It’s from his generous nature we get a gift-giving Santa.

Fast forward centuries later and we find the Dutch giving Santa a ride across the ocean when immigrants from Holland bring the tradition of Sinterklaas to America. Woodcuts distributed in 1804 show images of an old man in a long robe and long white beard filling colonial stockings with fruit and toys. There are also colonial images showing Santa as a something of a trickster in a tricorn hat.

In 1823, an anonymous poem (later acknowledged to have been penned by Clement Clarke Moore, an Episcopal minister), gave us a mythical, mischievous Santa. Entitled “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas” or “The Night Before Christmas.” Moore’s poem is largely responsible for the image of Santa Claus as a “right jolly old elf” with a portly figure and the supernatural ability to ascend a chimney with a mere nod of his head. This is also where we pick up flying reindeer and Santa’s sleigh.

We have American artist Thomas Nast to thank for developing the more familiar images of Santa Claus we cherish from Victorian times. From 1863 through 1886, Nast contributed 33 Christmas drawings to Harper’s Weekly with references to Santa. Here is the most familiar Santa “portrait” he did in 1881. It is Nast who gave Santa his familiar suit, his North Pole workshop, elves, and even his wife, Mrs. Claus.

Department store Santa’s popped up at the end of the 19th century and early 20th century.

By the 1930s, Santa had even ventured into marketing, appearing on Coca-Cola ads.

Connection to other series

This 2-book collection features characters from another series I’ve written. You’ll meet David’s mentor, Buck O’Connor, whose sage advice on relationships has come as the result of hard-earned lessons (Her Bodyguard, Steam! Romance and Rails).

If you haven’t read this collection, I hope you’ll give it a try this season while it’s still on sale.

May God bless you in this season of miracles, hope and love.

Click here to purchase

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His greatest adventure is about to catch up with him

TAMING HUCK FINN by E.E. Burke

Steamboat pilot Huck Finn lives life on his own terms, steering clear of the kind of messy entanglements that would tie a man down–until he takes charge of an orphan and defies the “old maid” determined to raise him.

What follows is a wild journey filled with humor, high jinx and heart-pounding danger, as a freedom-loving adventurer and an avowed spinster battle over the destiny of a young boy who is doing his level best to convince them they belong together.

Embark on an unforgettable adventure from award-winning author E.E. Burke in a novel inspired by one of America’s most beloved characters.

Read an excerpt

Order your copy today:

Amazon | AppleB&N Nook

Other retailers

E.E. answers your questions:

Where did you get the idea for this story?

I’m a big fan of Mark Twain’s original story and always had a soft spot for Huck. I wondered what kind of man he would grow up to be. This is the story Huck gave me when I asked him what happened to him after he “set out for the Territory.”

How did you decide what occupation Huck would have as an adult?

It didn’t seem a far stretch to imagine Huck growing up to be a steamboat pilot. He was a child of the river, and I couldn’t see him straying far. Plus, he had the intelligence and temperament to pilot steamboats, which requires a unique combination of skills, instinct, excellent reflexes, and steely nerve.

Of course, I couldn’t write a book about Huck being a steamboat pilot without referring to Mark Twain’s Life On The Mississippi, which is largely based on Samuel Clemens own apprenticeship as a riverboat pilot. Reading the diaries of Missouri River pilots helped me place Huck on a different river, one that I think it fits his personality.

Why put the story on the Missouri River rather than the Mississippi – the original setting?

In Taming Huck Finn, as in Twain’s original book, the river itself is a character.
The Missouri River of today is nothing like what it was at the time of Huck’s story (1870). Before being dredged and tamed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the early 20th century, the “Big Muddy” was sprawling and unpredictable. I have a map that shows where steamboats sank along the old path of the river, and it is littered with wrecks. Taking a steamboat on the Missouri River was a dangerous undertaking, especially into the north part of the river where it was shallower and rocky and prone to flooding. Just the kind of challenge Huck Finn would relish.

During this same time, the era of the steamboat was giving way to the steady advancement of the railroads. Huck sees himself, the old boats and even the river, as relics of a past that is quickly fading. He’s struggling to figure out how he fits into a new world rapidly catching up with him. Does he keep running? Or does he risk his freedom for the one thing that’s eluded him all these years?

You’ll have to read the book to find out.

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