I am so pleased to welcome this month’s Tell Me Your Story guest, my friend, author and historian Charlotte Hinger. Charlotte is a multi-published, award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction—long and short, historical, and contemporary—primarily focused on the Western experience with an emphasis on the African-American/Black experience in the historical West. Her most recent book, The Healer’s Daughter, won the Kansas Notable Book Award, a Will Rogers Silver Medallion, and was a finalist for the High Plains Book Award. She also has an award-winning mystery series with Poisoned Pen Press. The third book in the series, Hidden Heritage, was singled out by Kirkus Reviews as one of the best 100 mysteries of 2013 and one of the best 100 fiction books. Her latest mystery, Fractured Families, was a finalist for Colorado Book Award. She was inducted into the Colorado Authors Hall of Fame in 2021. Check out Charlotte’s web site at https://www.charlottehinger.com
After my truck driving husband and I had been married for twenty years we decided to try living together. Don bought the truckline. We were married when I was 19 and he was 23. Having older parents, we both held beliefs from the 1800s: Men were supposed to make the living and the woman was to run the home. Ironically, this inflexible existence had everything to do with me becoming a writer.
My introduction to writing had been bittersweet. When I was in the fifth grade, I wrote a really good short story and my teacher and my father accused me of plagiarism. I was hurt and outraged, yet simultaneously buoyed by the thought, “God, I must be good.”
I read all of the time. I adored books and revered writers. Our tiny library in Plainville, Kansas subscribed to Writer’s Digest. This magazine assured me that I could be published. Yes, me. It was simply a matter of perseverance.
Through Interlibrary Loan, I ordered books about writing that I could not afford to buy. When they arrived, I outlined them on my flimsy little Royal portable typewriter—my high school graduation present from my parents. I’ve never had a creative writing course or been in a critique group. The series of tiny rural communities we lived in didn’t have them.
I wrote my first commercial short story and immediately sold it the Overdrive Magazine. They paid me $35.00. To this day, I recall the jubilation I felt from that first sale. Then I sold my next story to the same publication, followed by a very lucrative sale to Woman’s World.
Buoyed by this early success, I wondered if I could write a novel. A novel! The Holy of Holies. I decided to do it. Having read a trillion books about the craft of writing, I decided to write five days a week, five pages a day. This involved getting up before our three daughters at 4:00 in the morning. I was scared to death and convinced the world would come to an end if I missed a page or a day.
At the end of three months, I had a novel. I learned it was simply a matter of plowing ahead. My marketing attempts were feeble because the book wasn’t very good. But the experience taught me that I could do it.
We bought a wonderful old house in Goodland Kansas and for the first time I had my own writing room. I loved Kansas history and published a number of articles about the state. While in Goodland, I wrote Come Spring, my first big historical novel. Then Don bought the truckline and we moved to Hoxie, Kansas.
While waiting to peddle Come Spring, I took a $5.00 an hour job at the Sheridan County Historical Society and edited more than 500 family stories and many articles. This experience formed the basis for my Lottie Albright series.
I decided to take my manuscript to the Western Writers of America convention in Santa Fe New Mexico because I had heard there was a lot of business done there. To prepare for the trip, I did a stern reality check. What were the chances that someone would be interested in the manuscript offered by a middle-aged housewife from Hoxie Kansas with only a high school degree?
Following my instincts, I wrote a cover letter emulating flap copy. I took a synopsis of the book, the whole novel, and a copy of the first chapter with me to Santa Fe and accosted anyone who would listen. Jeanne Williams, a lovely woman who has helped many aspiring authors, read the first chapter and liked it. Damaris Rowland, an editor with Jove books, had the same reaction, as did Irwin Applebaum from Bantam Books. He flew the whole manuscript back to New York. Bantam held the book for a year, and I was sick with anticipation.
In the meantime, my champion, Jeanne Williams, recommended me to her agent, Claire Smith, at Harold Ober Associates. Claire loved my book. She got the book back from Bantam immediately and sold it to Simon and Schuster. It went through four printings and was sold to Warner Books in paperback, A British house published a hardcover edition and a Norwegian company brought it out in paperback. In addition, there was a lucrative sale to Readers Digest Condensed Books.
Claire loved my second book, but Simon and Schuster thought it had little marketing appeal and rejected it. We turned down a subsequent offer from Bantam, but no other house picked it up. I was devastated. Heartbroken. I became very anxious while waiting for news. My sense of abandonment by the industry worried my husband and my daughters. Then my depression lifted, and I started writing mystery short stories and articles again.
In the meantime, editing and pulling together the Sheridan County History Books was a very joyful experience. I went to Fort Hays State University and finished my bachelor’s degree. My master’s thesis was on the town of Nicodemus, Kansas. My advisers thought it should be published.
Don sold the truckline after running it for twenty-three years. He died from systemic scleroderma in 2007. I moved to Loveland, Colorado to be closer to my three daughters. While there, I sold the first book in the Lottie Albright series to Poisoned Pen Press and my academic book about Nicodemus to Oklahoma University Press. In 2019 Five Star/Gale Cengage published a historical novel, The Healer’s Daughter, focusing on the town. I’ve accumulated a number of awards along the way culminating with induction into the Colorado Authors’ Hall of Fame in 2021.
I’m writing a new mystery for the Lottie Albright series. My newest short story, “Lizzie Noel,” will be published by Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.
My story is basically that of incredible breaks, for which I am very grateful. The love of my wonderful husband was the most precious of all.