Story behind the story, Secondhand Sunsets, by Gail Kittleson
We humans sometimes experience such devastating blows that haunt us. This proved true for my heroine, Abigail Ferguson, a young woman in the Civil War.
The novel’s cover paints a vivid depiction of her story. No matter how gray our lives may seem—how filled with grief, mistakes, and shame, beauty may still arises. In the very worst of times, hope can still rise from the ashes of our lives. Our Creator’s love accompanies us to the ends of the earth.
My latest release begins in southern Missouri and ends in the wilds of Arizona Territory. I began working on this story twelve years ago—it simply wouldn’t go away. Abby is fictional, yes, but she stands for many pioneer women who paid an enormous price to make it in a hostile environment. Of the individuals who set out on the Oregon Trail, for example, one in ten were buried in a shallow grave along the way, and many of these were women.
At sixteen, Abigail’s life in Poplar Bluff, Missouri flooded with expectation. With her beloved Elwood, she cherished plans for a bright future out West. This era’s go-to destination burgeoned with opportunities for stouthearted souls willing to face its challenges.
Reared as the only child of parents who married later in life, Abby enjoyed a sheltered childhood. Her father’s general store attracted all sorts of wayfarers, and as a young woman looking to marry soon, she engaged in the excitement of the times.
And then, at the Battle of Madrid, the Civil War caught up with her community. There, Elwood perished. This loss shattered Abby’s world—the black crepe sewn on her dresses reminded her how dull her prospects seemed.
Two of her friends also lost young men they were set to marry. But then, further tragedy struck. Unbelievably, a fire at the store took Abby’s parents’ lives in one swoop. Devastated, Abby borrowed her Aunt Susan’s faith during this unthinkable bereavement, but nothing could assuage her terrible loss.
Bitterness swept in as even more sorrow arrived—Aunt Susan died in a buggy accident. The pastor’s words and the sympathies of the townsfolk only angered Abby. A future and a hope? For a woman thrice cursed?
Longing to flee from the scene of so much anguish, Abby grasped opportunity when it came. But not every change enhances our lives. Abby’s eyes open gradually as she heads West with a man her mother never trusted, and her years in isolated hardscrabble country remind her of her folly.
Under the Mogollon Rim, a land mass that blots out even the sunsets, she performs monotonous labor with no reward. How could she have been so dim-witted to give herself to someone set only on amassing his fortune? In this utter isolation, what of beauty remains? And love . . . does this word still hold any meaning?
Like Job, Abby clings to the shreds of her childhood faith, and meeting a man and woman who live relatively close sparks hope. At the same time, a U.S. Cavalry officer and his sergeant search this desolate country for someone stealing government cattle. These two pursue a man devoid of conscience . . . and discover a vital clue right under Abby’s nose.
For anyone bemoaning their “lost years,” her story offers a ray of light.
Writing has always been Gail’s passion, but building her self-confidence took decades, so she’s a late bloomer.
Her addiction to the World War II era guides her plot choices, and her Women of the Heartland is all about honoring the make-do Greatest Generation who sacrificed so much for the cause of freedom.
Gail and her husband live in northern Iowa and enjoy Arizona’s Mogollon Rim Country in the winter. They also enjoy grandchildren and gardening. It’s no secret why Gail calls her website Dare to Bloom, and she loves to encourage other writers through facilitating workshops.
Blurb for Secondhand Sunsets (book):
Put the past behind you.
In nose-biting pre-dawn cold, Ray’s rap sounded. Out front waited a new wagon. Abby buttoned her wool coat and bonnet, doubled Papa’s traveling blanket over her arm with her parasol, and crossed the threshold for the last time. Ray hoisted her trunk as she clambered into the buckboard.
He was no gentleman—no surprise to that. Through hushed streets, past Annabelle’s house, the silent empty clapboard church, and beyond the new train depot, memories flitted one by one. With each, her heaviness lifted, and out in the countryside west of town, each squeaky turn of the wheels breathed hope.
In rhythm with the creaking wheels, words circled through her mind like poetry—Now we are wed...no longer alone...heading west. A fog immersed her. Not an endearing word from him, nor even a kindly touch of his hand. Her husband.
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