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The American narrative of discovery has long fascinated me.  During college, I had read many of the well known frontier narratives, including Audubonís writings and the Lewis and Clark journals, but it wasnít until the 1990s when I was living in Kentucky, that I found original writings by women who had made the first westward crossings. Housed in a special collections library, these letters and diaries showed me how different this experience was for women.  While men wanted to document and claim the new land, women wanted to become part of it.  They were the ones establishing trades with the Native Americans, and they used colors and shapes to paint pictures of the landscape, while men characterized new territory by marking rivers or boundaries.  On wagon trains, women were responsible for the children. Because it was dangerous to ride in the wagons, women typically walked the hundreds of miles over the plains and mountains, carrying little ones. It wasnít unusual to lose a child, and their letters are filled with fears of illness and accidents, including lists of the names and dates on the grave markers they passed, reminders of the toll the difficult passage required.

Because my research included reading original letters, the use of epistolary form in the novel felt natural.  I created a larger context for Abigailís life by researching the history of the southwest, including New Mexicoís struggle for statehood and the opposition of the Catholic Church to Protestant mission schools. These historical accounts painted a dramatic and realistic picture of the collision of cultures that occurred in the 19th century. Native Americans and settlers often played tricks on each other, pranks that began as humorous exchanges but often escalated, leading to violence. Similarly, new settlers had little understanding of the irrigation systems needed to tend the land, and they didnít understand the politics involved in the struggle for water.

I have always been drawn to the southwest with its startlingly colors and distinctive landscape. While writing the book, I spent a few weeks in New Mexico with my sister, exploring the area north of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. We camped each night and slept on the ground, becoming immersed in the landscape. I felt as if I existed in that space between the earth and sky, and I was in awe of them.  My writing career began with poetry, and I obsess over language, searching for imagery to make the invented world tangible.  Abigail is an artist, an amateur painter, who loves the visual world. In one of her final letters, she writes, ďEvery morning I walk along the river where the cottonwoods have turned to yellow and the river bed is nearly dry. The muddy water moves slowly downstream. There is a young oak tree, and it is all red brilliance under the wide blue sky. Sometimes I think that is why I have stayed these many years, Maggie, and have not been able to make myself leave-the color, the color, oh, the color.Ē
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