Meet Texas Trails Author Susan Page Davis

Hello All,

Please allow River North Fiction to formally introduce you to Susan Page Davis, author of Captive Trail, the second of six in the Texas Trail Series. Our acquisitions editor, Deb Keiser, interviewed Susan and this is what we have learned:

How did you connect with the other two authors writing this series?
Darlene, Vickie, and I were already friends and had met each other at writers’ conferences. We all had the same agent, Chip MacGregor, and he put together the series package for us. Before that, Darlene and I had written for the same mystery line and shared in a novella collection. Vickie and I had written historical novels and novellas that wound up in anthologies together. We all knew and liked each other’s writing, so this was a good fit, even though we have different styles.
How did you decide which author would write about each decade, and how did you pick your topics for each book?
We went through a Texas history timeline and each marked the events we were most interested in. I’ve done several other books about Indian captives, and that’s an ongoing interest of mine. Surprisingly, for the most part the three of us chose different events, and we were able to adapt them to the different decades. Originally I think I was down for the 1870s and Darlene had the 1880s, but we swapped so that she could have the HooDoo War and I could have the cowboy strike.
This story is set in 1857, the year Butterfield began carrying the US Mail across Texas as part of the transcontinental mail run. How does this fit in with the story?
I also have a longtime interest in stagecoach lines and have collected research materials on the topic. The Butterfield line through Texas fit right in with our series plan, and being able to mesh the early runs through the Fort Chadbourne area with my captive theme gave me a dream plot—new stagecoach driver discovers an escaped Indian captive. Several actual incidents in that area are mentioned in the story.
In this story, several cultures come together and either mesh or clash—English-American, Spanish-Mexican, the French nuns, and the Comanche. Is this typical of Texas at the time?
It’s very typical. If I wanted to be really accurate, I’d have thrown in some more Germans (we do have the Steins at Fort Chadbourne) and some Irish. Texas at that point was in flux. It had gained statehood, but had people from many different backgrounds. There were large immigrant populations as well as Indians tribes and Mexican-Americans. I tried to give some sense of that. Ned, driving a fairly long run twice a week, came into contact with lots of different cultures.
How does Quinta’s adjustment to life at the mission parallel Taabe’s absorption into the Comanche world?
Quinta adapts, although more easily than Taabe. Quinta’s new environment is stark, but not harsh. Quinta was treated better at the mission than captives were in the Comanche village, and she was still in contact with her family and friends. Even so, she had to make some big changes while living at the mission. The biggest difference was that she knew she could go home while Taabe could not.
What triggers help Taabe remember her old life and draw her back into the world of the whites?
Music was a big factor in launching memories for her. So was seeing an animal that resembled one she’d known in the past.
You’ve written several novels that include captivity stories. Tell us a little bit about your interest in the topic and how it relates to the issues of forgiveness and reconciliation.
I grew up in New England and first became interested in the colonial era captivities. That penchant extended to the West, and when I moved to Oregon with my husband I continued to read up on the topic. Captivity is such an emotional topic. It brings on all sorts of conflicts and emotions—fear, regret, self-doubt, guilt, and sheer survival instinct. Captives often do things they would never have considered doing in their “other life,” either by force or out of desperation. And if a captive is returned to his original culture, more conflicts arise. Can he forgive his captors? Can he forgive himself for the things he did during that time? And can he forgive his family for not protecting him? Other questions might include whether the captive can truly reconcile with his family and culture, whether he can reassimilate once he returns—or will he always feel like a misfit? My research has shown me many returned captives who had trouble relating to others, relearning their language and customs, holding a job, gaining or keeping a spouse, or even sleeping indoors for the rest of their lives. Yet I also found some so determined not to be recaptured that they took up arms against their former abductors. No two captivity stories are the same.
What in your background allows you as an easterner to write compelling western stories?
Several things have helped me, one being that I have lived in the West and married a Westerner. I’ve also visited many of the places I write about. My husband formerly was a certified gunsmith, and he is very knowledgeable about traditional archery, so he’s a fantastic resource for me. I personally studied blacksmithing. Although I haven’t shod a horse for many years, I’m a certified farrier and have owned many horses. Those combined with my passion for research have stood me in good stead.
What is the spiritual theme of this book, and how does it relate to the modern reader?
Reconciliation and forgiveness run deep in Captive Trail. Taabe has many issues to deal with, and Ned has a few of his own. While most of us aren’t in the perilous situations these characters lived through, we have times when we must seek or give forgiveness and reconcile with ourselves, with others, and with God.
How did you research this book, and how long did it take you to write it?
I began my research when we first compiled the proposal and continued reading generally about Texas history and particularly about Texas captives during the next few months. When the series was sold, I began in earnest to study the area where Captive Trail is set in detail and dig into other aspects of the story. I “borrowed” some Ursuline nuns from the enclave in Galveston. I read up on the forts in Northern Texas and the Butterfield Overland Mail’s preparations to carry the mail across Texas. I read about the military presence in the area. I researched what a family would do if one of their children was captured—to whom they would appeal for help. The actual writing of the book probably took about three months, but I had completed a lot of reading before then.

Keep an eye out for this great book that we will be releasing in the fall as a follow-up to the September release of Lone Star Trail.

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  1. It’s fun reading what Susan has to share about Captive Trail! I’m so glad I had you and Vickie as part of my dream team. 🙂

    • Luisette
    • August 8th, 2011

    I need to get my hands on this book series! Help!
    thanks so much for this interview.

  2. Hi Darlene, it is really neat to hear the three of you interact with one another. The response has been really great from those who are looking forward to the series. Thanks for all your hard work!

  3. Writing this series has been wonderful. The world of the Morgan family has given me quite an education! Thank you, Darlene and Luisette.

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