Paula L. Silici is proud to have been born and raised in the American West. A traveler who has been to scores of remarkable places throughout the world, she wouldn’t make her home anywhere else but close to the Continental Divide. Tales of the Old West have fascinated her since childhood, and her writing reflects the deep respect she has for the American cowboy’s enviable Code and abiding traditions. Paula’s award-winning fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have widely appeared in both national and regional publications. She lives with her husband Frank near Denver, Colorado.
The following is an interview with Paula L. Silici.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
What inspired you to write this book?
One afternoon out of the blue, the fictional character, Jessie Driscoll, dropped into my thoughts. I was feeling sorry for myself because my husband had just gotten transferred to another state with his job, which meant uprooting our family yet again and leaving behind everything and everyone we’d grown to cherish. I love my husband and trust his decisions completely, so refusing to move was truly not an option. Still, I felt helpless, like the corporation and he were making important decisions that affected my life too, but I had no real power to object. I asked myself, “What would Jessie do in my situation? How would she feel? If she were in my place, how would she react? What might she do to change things?” These feelings of mine were the impetus for my writing Jessie and Mitch’s story.
Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole and why did you select it?
In 1873 Jessie is living in a male-controlled world and in a time period where women had little or no say about how their lives were governed. It wouldn’t be until August 18, 1920, almost another half century later, that the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution would be ratified, which gave women the right to vote and therefore power over their own lives.
When Jessie is falsely accused and thrown into adverse circumstances because of the patriarchal norms of her day, she must figure out how to survive. I chose this particular excerpt from the book because it exemplifies Jessie’s struggle. In this scene, Jessie and her cousin Curtis are being chased by a posse of lawmen. Curtis is guilty of his crimes, but Jessie is not. If she is captured she will most likely, and most unfairly, face a prison term or hanging. Our hero Mitch is among the lawmen, and Jessie holds out hope that he is there to save her, yet she can’t be certain of anything.
Tell us about creating this book: any research and travel you might have done, any other influences on which you drew?
“Wanted” was a joy to research and write. The Post-Civil War / Westward Expansion era has always fascinated me. I grew up near San Francisco, where tales of the Old West abounded and never failed to set my imagination aflame. The notion of men and women leaving everything gentrified and familiar in the East and facing unimaginable hardships in order to begin a new life in the West has given me many ideas for stories.
Aside from making many trips to the public library and Googling information online, I called on a good friend of mine whose family trekked west in the 1800s to homestead in Colorado. Along with other resources, she proved to be a deep well of information on what it was like to exist back in the 1800s, what men and women may have worn, how they spoke, what they might have eaten, and what their crude dwellings may have looked like. Further, during my childhood my family often took summer vacations camping in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I never forgot the impressions the beautiful but rugged land left on me, and many of the scenes in “Wanted” were created from memories of those times. The granite boulders, manzanita bushes, herds of wild horses, and fields of lupine flowers I used to authenticate my scenes are just a few examples of those wonders I remember so well from time spent in those breathtaking mountains.
On one of our family vacations we visited an old mining town in California. There I saw an 1800s jailhouse, whose crude design was the basis for the jailhouse Jessie is kept in. Then, too, for further inspiration, and probably most importantly, I drew upon the many wonderful books I’ve read over the years written by the great Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and others.
What were the biggest challenges you faced, or surprises you encountered in completing this book?
Looking back, the biggest challenge I faced while writing “Wanted” was making sure each scene reflected an accurate depiction of how life was lived in a time period that is not my own. Nothing zaps a reader out of “suspended disbelief” faster than when the author goofs and uses a contemporary word or phrase in a line of dialogue that the character would never have spoken back then. This is an exaggeration, but for instance, if Mitch or Curtis or Jessie had used the contemporary word “cool” to describe an object, of course that speech would have been totally inappropriate and disappointing for the reader. Same with placing modern tools or implements in a scene that never would have existed in the 1800s. So many times I had to research little things, such as the types of firearms that were common then, and even types of shackles that were used to restrain criminals. Again, making each scene accurate and using “props” and speech appropriate for the time period was of paramount importance to me.
As with every novel or story an author writes, segments of their personality and life experiences ultimately show up somewhere in the story. I’m always surprised by how much of myself is revealed through my characters, even though I may be unaware at the time of writing that this is happening.
Walk us through your writing process: Where and when do you write? What time of day? Do you listen to music, need quiet?
I tend to be a “do it now” person, and when it comes to my writing habits this axiom holds true, especially. When it’s time to write, not much holds me back. I become completely focused on the task at hand and can’t much tolerate interruptions. That means I also need plenty of quiet while writing.
A typical writing day looks something like this: Household chores get done and out of the way early. I’m in my chair and at my laptop (at my job) by 9:00 a.m. and stay there until noon when I break for lunch. Afterward I remain hard at work for the rest of the afternoon, usually until around 4:00 or so.
The first task in the morning is to review what I’ve written the day before. This takes time, as inevitably there are edits and revisions to be made. Once those are finished I am free to continue crafting the story.
When I’ve got a writing project underway I remain focused and diligent until the story is framed and the first draft is finished. Once I’ve completed the first draft I let it sit for at least a month or two. Then I go back to it and approach edits and revisions with a fresh set of eyes, sticking with the work routine described above. Then, once a project is completed, I usually take a long break of several months, until I feel rejuvenated and ready to begin again. This process has worked well for me over the years, and I rarely deviate from it.
What’s your next project?
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, more than ever, long writing days have become the norm. Just last month my newest project, a contemporary inspirational romance novel called “A Change of Heart,” was published. “A Change of Heart” proved to be a fun deviation from my first two historical Western genre novels in that I wrote from the vantage point of my own time period. I was able to explore my hero and heroine’s world with complete confidence that I was “getting it right.” So what’s next? I’m enjoying that long break time I spoke about earlier. Still, there are several characters talking to me, encouraging me to write their stories. It won’t be long before I begin listening to their voices in earnest.