Sunday, May 20, 2012

Maggie's Fall by Ricki Wilson: Character Interview & Excerpt

Contemporary Fiction

"A true-to-life family saga set in the contemporary west that is both endearing and well written. You won't want to miss this compelling tale by Ricki Wilson."
 ~ The Kindle Book Review

Maggie McClellan lived the best of two worlds: her corporate profession as a PR director for a world renowned boot maker, and her frequent escapes to the serenity of the West Texas ranch where she was raised - until her parents were killed in a car wreck. Selling the ranch seemed the obvious choice, but when Maggie learned that she was pregnant, she could not imagine raising her child anywhere but on the M-Bar Ranch.

Ten years later, Maggie is back on her feet, but someone is threatening to take it all away. Maggie is not just fighting to save a ranch, she is fighting to save a home, a way of life, and not just for herself, but for her son and the makeshift family who has stood beside her through all storms.

Maggie is that literary character whom readers cheer for. Taking little and giving all, Maggie's story inspires hope and reminds us of the sheer satisfaction of just following through, of fighting a battle to its final outcome, when, win or lose, we can know that we put up the good fight.


While Maggie sat in the shade of a Mesquite thicket, T.J. tromped around the edge of the muddy pond searching for crawdads. 
“T.J., what are you going to do with those things once you get them home?” 
T.J. turned around and held up the minnow bucket that he had stuffed with crawdads.  “I’m putting them in the little creek in the first pasture.  That way, they’ll be close enough to the house that I can take some of the summer kids down there and we can catch ‘em again.”
“Well that’s pretty good thinking.  It looks like you’ve had a pretty good harvest.   We better head back.  You get your stuff gathered up and get your boots back on and I’ll get the horses.  You be sure to dry your feet off before you put your boots and socks back on or you might get a blister,” Maggie said, pushing herself off the ground and slapping the red dust from her jeans.
 One more curve in the trail and T.J. and Maggie would be in sight of the house.  It had been a good morning for a ride and Maggie was pleased that she had followed through with her promise.  Catching a slight movement in front of her, Maggie realized that someone was riding towards her in a hurry.  A few seconds later, she recognized the rider as Jonah.
“Hey, I’m glad I caught ya’ll before you got back,” Jonah said, his voice ringing a little less than true, but not so much that T.J. would notice.  “I meant to ride out earlier, but,” Jonah hesitated, “well anyway, here I am now.  T.J., would you mind riding back a ways with me and show me where you’re catching those crawdads?”
“Sure thing Jonah.  I was gonna catch some more, but we had to head back.  Can I Mama?”  The excitement was apparent in T.J.’s request. 
“Sure honey.”
Maggie knew that something was up.  “Why don’t you give Jonah and me a minute to  go over a couple of things, and then I’ll head on back to the house and you two can be on your way.” 
“All hell’s broke loose at the house, Maggie.  That developer who’s trying to buy that lower meadow sent a survey crew over to look at the land.  Martha wouldn’t let them in the gate, and she told them to get off of the property.  They left, but it wasn’t no time and they were back, and they brought their boss with them.”
“You mean the guy who’s trying to buy our meadow is at the house?” Maggie asked, somewhat shocked at the news.
“No, not him—his general manager,” Jonah replied, putting emphasis on the title to show his contempt.   “He must have one hell of an operation if he employs his own survey crew.”
“I don’t care what kind of an operation he’s got; he’s not getting my meadow,” Maggie replied, her anger evident.
Maggie set her mare off at a long swift trot and didn’t pull up until she reached the backyard of the ranch house.  Stopping for a minute to catch her breath, and to let her mare catch hers, Maggie gathered her fortitude and proceeded slowly around the house, intending to come up behind whoever was on the front porch.  As Maggie carefully approached the corner of the house, she saw Martha sitting in her rocker on the front porch.  Maggie chuckled to herself; Martha was rocking and shelling peas as if her audience were members of the local sewing circle, and Jett was playing right along.  He lay at Martha’s feet not moving a muscle, not one tightly bunched, hair raising muscle.   Being careful to keep her mare’s nose well behind the huge holly-hock bush that sprawled around the northwest corner of the house, Maggie leaned forward in her saddle and listened intently to the man who was addressing Martha.
“Look lady.  What are you, the cook?  The maid? – What the hell do you care if we walk across this property?  Don’t you know it’s illegal to deny a man access to his property?  It’s called an easement, lady.”
Maggie McClellan had two stages of mad.  In the first, the one most folks were used to, she would get mad, shout, bang a few doors, and get over it.  But in the second, the one few people had ever seen, and those who had never wanted to see again, her anger seemed to envelope her in a vacuum where nothing existed except Maggie and her antagonist.  In this version, there was no yelling, no banging of doors—nothing but deathly silence, broken only by a voice—low, dull, and cold.  The man in the front yard had pushed her to somewhere in between the two, but before things could go any further, Maggie nudged her mare around the hollyhock and came up behind the man doing all the talking.
“Everything okay?” Maggie spoke only to Martha, refusing to even acknowledge the stranger’s presence.  She quickly surveyed the situation.  The man running his mouth was obviously a big shot: tailored khaki pants, a polo shirt, tasseled loafers, mirrored sunglasses, he certainly wasn’t dressed for much work.  The other three men, now sitting on the tailgate of their pickup, were all dressed in jeans, tee-shirts, and ball caps.  Maggie would have wagered, correctly, that they were getting quite a kick out of this little scenario.   Martha caught Maggie’s eye, and the look told Maggie that no, everything was not okay. , but, like Maggie, Martha also refused to acknowledge the unwanted visitors.
“I got some okra planted this morning,” Martha replied, continuing her work with the peas.  “The garden’s in pretty good shape, but I could use T.J.’s help tomorrow with the tomatoes.”
Unused to being dismissed, and especially by women, the man who had been raising such a ruckus was momentarily taken aback.  Upon recovering, he started towards Maggie, meaning to shake her hand.  As soon as he reached towards her though, Jett raised up on all fours and let out a low growl.
“Jett!”  As soon as she spoke, the dog stopped growling, but he didn’t sit down, and he looked like he was ready to leap across the yard.
“Now look here.  My name is—“
“Mister,” Maggie held up her hand, cutting off his speech, “I don’t want to know your name.  I don’t want to know who you work for, and I don’t want to know what you want.  All I want to know – is that you’ve gone.”  Maggie’s matter-of-fact, deadpan remarks were punctuated only by the silence of the late spring day, but not for long.
“Lady, I’m not leaving until I get through that gate with these men and their equipment and they get that land back there surveyed.  Now your little charade is costing the company twelve dollars an hour per man for every minute that those three sit on their butts doing nothing.  If I have to get the law out here, I will,” he threatened, puffing out his chest, thinking he had won.
“Ya know, Martha, maybe we should let Henry handle this,” Maggie said without even a glance at the man standing below her.
“Lady, if there’s a man here that I can talk to,  I certainly do wish you’d get him,” declared the frustrated man.
“Well,” replied Maggie, “Henry usually does most of the talking.  Martha, why don’t you go ahead and get Henry.”
Maggie stepped off of her mare and loosened the girth, patted the mare on the neck and led her up to the porch steps where she looped the reins over a corner post.  Maggie stepped up on the front porch just about the same time that Martha emerged from the house and handed Maggie the old Henry rifle that always stayed in the broom closet.  Martha tapped the side of the magazine as she handed the rifle to Maggie so that she would know it was loaded without having to ask.  Maggie slid her hand along the smooth, cool barrel of her mother’s old gun and cocked the rifle before she ever turned back to face the intruders.
The three men on the tailgate had scattered to find shelter behind various trees and vehicles, but the idiot in the front yard was still running his mouth.
“Lady, you’re crazy!” shouted the man, his voice an octave higher than previously.
“I don’t know how you can say that,” Maggie answered, her voice level and controlled.  “I’ve got a loaded rifle, that I know I can control, and a dog who I’m not sure I can control, and you’re still standing in my front yard.  I’d say you’re the one who’s crazy.”

Thank you for inviting me for an interview. We’ve been so busy getting the ranch ready for summer visitors; it’s nice to sit down with a cup of coffee and spend a little reflective time.

Thanks for coming by.  I’m thrilled you agreed to meet with me.  I’m excited to find out more about you.  Ready to get started?  First, tell us about your family.

My mom and dad, Mick and Anna, built the M-Bar Hereford Ranch from the ground up.  I miss them every day.  After their deaths, I could have done the sensible thing and sold out.  From a logical standpoint, there wasn’t much here.  After the debts were paid off, it was really just a rundown house and a lot of land, but it was my land, and I couldn’t let it go.  What you see now, the guest ranch, my Dad never would have approved, but it was the only way I could save the M-Bar,  and I didn’t do it alone.  My new family, the people who have stuck beside me when it was crazy to do so, this is their ranch as much as it’s mine.  Martha came to the ranch to help mom when I was just an infant, now she fills in as surrogate mom and she absolutely is in charge of the house.  Jonah came to the ranch as a hired hand when I was in grade-school.  Now he’s the ranch manager and my rock.  Don’t tell him I said that.  He’ll tease me relentlessly.  And, of course, the most important guy in my life is my son, T.J.  He’s just a great kid, and he’s so much like his grandpa.  I wish they could have known one another.  I also count my best friend, Witt.  We grew up together.  He’s a banker now, and I wouldn’t be able to do all this without his help.  And I have to include Sis, my mare, and Jett.  I would say Jett is our dog, but I think we’re his people.   So, that’s the M- family, the family who saved this ranch—the family who saved me.

How wonderful that sounds! Who is your favorite author?

When I was at UTEP, I really got into the classics – Fitzgerald, Faulkner, you know, but I think my favorite from that group was Steinbeck.  I always get a sense of his respect for the land.  But I have to say, Larry McMurtry is my favorite contemporary author.  I read Lonesome Dove when it first came out, and I’ve probably read it five times over the last four years.  My copy is nearly destroyed.  I love to carry it along when I take a young horse out for a long ride.

Lonesome Dove is one of my favorites, too.  I’ve read the book twice and have the mini series on tape! That is so neat.  Well, I guess it’s time to move on to my next question.  If you could apologize to someone in your past, who would it be?

My mom.  I never gave her enough credit for how she handled Mick.  Daddy was very demanding and real short-sighted.  I used to wish that Mom would stand up for herself more, but I know now that it was her love and patience that brought balance to the ranch.  She had a quiet strength about her.  I regret never telling her how much I admire her.

Do you have any special routines or rituals?

The ranch wouldn’t survive if we didn’t stick to routines.  We have schedules for everything: feeding, mucking, riding, shoeing, clipping—it’s a long list.  We start at daylight, and there are no days off.  Every morning, while I’m having my coffee, I make a list of what we need to get done that day.  Jonah would tell you this is a ritual, but I think it’s just good to be organized. 

What makes you happy?

This ranch, my makeshift family, hanging out in the barn with my mare, Sis, sitting on the porch and watching the sun come up and talking to Jett, the dog who took me in—I’m surrounded by happiness.  Mostly, though, T.J. makes me happy.  He’s just my whole world.  Sometimes I just hang back and watch him when he’s riding Rainbo or fishing with Jett or telling Jonah about some wild adventure he’s imagined—he’s an amazing kid.

What is the next big thing?

Expansion.  After ten years, we finally have the M- on its feet.  We’re still a little wobbly, but I think this is the year to take a few steps towards improvements.  There’s a little meadow just south of the main house that I’d like to incorporate into the trail rides, and I’m planning to increase the herd of trail horses.  Some day I’d like to build guest cabins for the summer campers, but that’s a ways off.  I’d also like to buy a few head of cattle and try to rebuild what my dad started, but all of that’s a long ways down the road.  My immediate plans are to have a campout with T.J.  Today’s the last day of school and we like to celebrate by riding the horses across the west pasture, making a little campfire and sleeping under the stars.  We’re making new memories on the M-Bar.

That sounds wonderful!  I wish you the very best with all your dreams.  Thanks again, for taking this time to talk with me today.  I’ve enjoyed it and appreciate getting to find out more about you.

I have had the privilege of knowing some very fine animals in my life, and it is they who first inspired Maggie’s Fall.  I found myself in a place where I needed something un-taxing and uplifting to read, so I started writing it.  Once I met Maggie and her makeshift family, all I had to do was listen and try to do justice to the story that was playing out in my mind.

I could not bring myself to write “The End” on the last page of Maggie’s Fall.  I’m not quite ready to let go of these characters.  Maggie’s Stand is nearly finished!

This is a picture of me with my dad in the late 1960s.  The horse is Chief Little Red, the dog is Prince.


Post a Comment