Tuesday, August 14, 2012

When my three sons and I determined to finish the novel my late husband Stephen Bly began, we had quite a challenge. Could a committee create fiction? We had the passion to find out.

Janet and Stephen Bly
We started with 7,000 words, a one-page synopsis, and a list of character names. We had four months to do the research, craft the rest of the story, and turn in the manuscript of 77,000 words. 

Then we divvied out the 1905 research.  

The Places
I toured the Oregon coast, from Seaside to Astoria to study the sights, smells and sounds and historical details: law enforcement, the layout of the town sites, the Salt Works Lewis & Clark memorial, razor clams and the Gearhart golf course. I also learned all I could about gray whales, snakes and wild horses. Even discovered the rare presence of a cougar.

I ventured to Fort Clatsop, where explorers Lewis and Clark wintered in1805 and scanned their journals. I investigated the Portland Lewis and Clark Centennial celebration of 1905. 

We all listened over and over to the audio of the original Stuart Brannon Series, to know Stuart Brannon as close as a brother and the substance of his Arizona ranch life.  

Each of the sons probed at least one other topic. Choices included Europe and assassinations. England's weddings and royalty. Goldfield, Nevada with its mining and labor unions. Panama and the canal project, with connections to France, Nicaragua and Colombia. 

The controversy and intrigues of the Panama Canal project formed a large part of the plot. “I’m going to make the dirt fly,” President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed. And he did. It's alleged he supported a revolution that pressured support of that project when Congress balked. Then, there was the war to win against malaria and yellow fever, as well as gold to be mined.

The Tillamook Head promontory near Seaside was a late addition to our landscape scheme, to substitute for the island off the coast of Oregon we'd chosen, that we discovered couldn't exist. No islands anywhere, only rock outcroppings.

The People
We settled on the Clatsop tribe for the Indian characters.
We gathered biographies on famous golfers and historical persons, such as Theodore Roosevelt, Wyatt Earp, Buffalo Bill Cody and W.C. Fields.
We needed to know about orphan farms and Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.
We also had to study horse behavior, to determine Brannon's interaction with an out-of-control Tres Vientos.

Gearhart pioneer Narcissa Kinney died before our story begins, but her presence permeates the city. For one thing, she made it a dry town, which it remained more than seventy years after her death. 

Narcissa also brought culture in the form of a 200-acre Gearhart Park that included an auditorium for traveling circuit speakers and fiery orators, Broadway hits and bands such as John Philip Sousa's. Inspired by the Chautauqua movement, more than four hundred cities across the country sponsored these same events. President Theodore Roosevelt called them, “the most American thing in America.”

Narcissa’s husband, Marshall Kinney, instigated the links golf course on the north side of Gearhart. My husband loved playing on the grass-covered dunes so much he determined to set a story there. Gearhart Golf Links opened circa 1892 and ranks the second oldest course in the west. 

The Products and Inventions
We found ads about cigars and cigarettes, clothing styles and golf equipment in old newspapers. We had to learn western genre basics like types of guns and knives, about flashlights and lawnmowers, telephones and walking sticks. In our study of trains, we uncovered railroad land controversies. We searched out transportation, such as motor cars and boats, bicycles and fire trucks. We wondered if 1905 autos had horns. Found out a few did.

The main story begins on a train. The railroad opened up more tourists for the seacoast village of Gearhart, Oregon, tucked between crashing surf and Pacific forests. 

The Culture and Events
We delved into the artwork and books, plays and music, crimes and diseases and also the politics of 1905. We studied the Spanish-American War, especially the U.S.S. Maine explosion in the Havana, Cuba harbor.
Creating a story like Stuart Brannon's Final Shot begins with facts, the truth in fiction.

Stephen Bly (1944-2011) was a Christy Award winning western author of 106 fiction and nonfiction works.     
Janet Chester Bly has authored and co-authored with Stephen Bly 31  nonfiction and fiction books, including Awakening Your Sense of Wonder, Hope Lives Here, The Heart of a Runaway, The Hidden West Series and The Carson City Chronicles. She lives at 4,000 ft. elev. in Winchester, Idaho. 
Russell Bly is married to Lois, father of Zachary and Miranda (married to Chris Ross), and grandfather of 1-year-old Alayah. He is manager of Deranleau’s department store in Moscow, Idaho.
Michael Bly is married to Michelle and is Director of Business Operations for Inland Cellular in Lewiston, Idaho.
Aaron Bly is married to Rina, father of Keaton and Deckard. He’s Manufacturing Supervisor for Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories in Lewiston, Idaho.


  1. Sandra: Thank you for posting this article. Love your beautiful blog!
    Janet Chester Bly

  2. Sandra, never tire of reading how Janet and the boys finished Steve's book. Was truly a labor of love and Steve would be so proud. Blessings


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