Paula Bruno is the author of Come Hell or High Water, the first book in the Kirkland family saga. Come Hell or High Water is set in 1958, and the western/family series revolves around a feud between the Kirkland Ranch and the fictional Logan family of Burkburnett.
“The Kirkland Family Saga reflects many of the values that people in Texas hold dear, but it also shines a light on how much the world has changed in the past 40 years,” Bruno says.
A floral designer by trade, Bruno started a critique group with women in her hometown in the 1990s … and became the group’s president. She shares her creative process and journey, and offers tips for writing series, with the Write On! community.
What inspired you to first start writing?
Storytelling has always been with me. For my fourth birthday, in 1953, my mother gave me a plastic stagecoach drawn by two beautiful dapple-gray horses. I locked my guests out of my bedroom and played with it alone. I fell in love with horses that day. At first, my stories mimicked, or were variations of what I saw on the early television Westerns such as The Lone Ranger and The Roy Rogers Show.
What was your process for writing Come Hell or High Water?
I started writing long before I knew anything about proper writing techniques so the novel that began as The Whore’s Child in 1973 slowly evolved into Kirkland’s Choice in the 80’s, then finally into Come Hell or High Water in 2000. Sometime during the ‘80’s I sent the manuscript to an agency and paid $75 for a complete reading. I knew this was not recommended but I had to get some kind of professional input. This reader had some wonderful things to say about my writing and the story, but also had many suggestions for improving it so I went to work on it again.
The first major change didn’t come until I joined our local critique group in 1993 and learned about “point of view.” I immediately started a re-write, separating each scene into one person’s POV. Later, I rewrote it again, narrowing it down from six points of view to two, Revis’ and Amanda’s.
The core story has not changed over the many revisions and title changes. What has changed is the believability of the characters, the plot, and the resolution.
What was your favorite part of writing the book?
I think my favorite part of writing this story came when I decided to give Revis “an obvious means of support.” In the fist versions of the story, the Kirklands were obviously wealthy (even though the Kirkland Ranch was defunct). Revis didn’t have anything “real” to keep him busy, so I put the Kirkland Ranch back in business. As soon as I made that decision, the cowboys started showing up. Luke, Jones, Colt, Spence, Jake, and Scooter filed into the kitchen on New Year’s Eve 1958, and were introduced to the reader one by one from Revis’ point of view. Each one of them added a new dimension to the story.
The greatest challenge?
Staying true to each character. Finding believable reasons for the characters to behave the way they do and incorporating it into a smooth flowing story.
How did you go about creating the Kirkland Family?
I don’t know where Revis Kirkland came from. He seems to be a blending of all the best of the men I have known, most notably my husband and our fathers.
Originally, Revis had a fairly large extended family, but after a few years, I realized that simple is easier, so I pared his family down to his parents, who, even though they are both deceased, play a big role in what happens in the stories. His two sons are as vital to the stories as Revis is. Luke also seemed to come out of nowhere as trusted foreman of the Kirkland Ranch and within a few sentences, he had become Revis’ mentor and life long friend as well.
Originally Revis met Amanda through his illegitimate son, Toby, but by page 15 of CHHW, she’d become Luke’s daughter, born and raised on the Kirkland Ranch. In this light, she provided a way to tell the reader things about Revis that otherwise they wouldn’t have known. Luke does the same thing. While they are major players themselves, they give the reader insight into Revis’ character.
Why did you make the decision to write it as a series?
By the time I’d finished writing Come Hell or High Water, which is the story of Revis and Toby, I realized how much I liked Revis’ older son, Travis, even though he doesn’t have near the role in Come Hell or High Water as he did in the earlier version The Whore’s Child. Travis presented a chance to take Revis and the reader into that troublesome time for most parents when their kids turn into teenagers. Travis provided a venue for showing how hatred, whether founded or unfounded, fuels violence and ruins lives.
How do you plan to keep the future books fresh while keeping the set-up of the original story?
With the Kirkland Family Saga, all the stories are told from Revis’ POV. He’ll live well into his 90’s as a strong and inspiring character. His sons, Travis and Toby, will provide the romance. The mystery that surrounds Revis’ relationship with Eddie Ruth Logan will continue to the end of the last book. Much of the drama will be provided by the feud between the Kirklands and the Logans.
Why did you choose the Western genre?
Looking back at my early fascination with cowboys, horses, cattle, and the ranches they live on, it just seems natural that Revis would be a cowboy. But Come Hell or High Water isn’t a true Western.
Any advice for those looking to try writing a western, specific to the genre?
There are lots of good resources online for researching how life was for people who lived in different times. Find out what you want to know and then use only what is pertinent to the story you are telling.
Additional advice for writers?
Pay attention to that feeling you have when you are reading your manuscript. When it tells you something isn’t right, that it needs to be different somehow, go with it. In one of the early drafts of CHHW, in the scene where Toby’s mother leaves him out at the Kirkland Ranch, Revis is watching her car drive away. It’s nearly dark and about halfway down the mile long drive, he sees her brake lights come on. He wonders is she’s collided with one of his cows, but then she continues on and so does he. Every time I read that scene, I had a nagging idea that if I couldn’t relate it to something else later, I should take it out. I have the same problem that many writers have. I hate to delete my words, so I hung onto that scene until one of the members of my critique group read the whole story and suggested that since I was never able to relate the brake lights coming on to anything later in the book, I should delete it, so I did.
Any words of wisdom for those looking to have a second career as a writer?
If you are young, start it now. If you’re old, start it right now. If you are young, go for getting published the traditional way. If you’re old, publish it yourself. Come to find out, 99% of writers have to do their own publicizing and marketing anyway.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started writing?
That it is all in there. The characters, the plot, the resolution and all I have to do, is get out of the way. I’m convinced that most of the “blocks” I’ve experienced have been because I didn’t have the confidence to let the story tell itself.
AND—there is a lot to be said about knowing what you’re doing, but sometimes we get so caught up in learning how, we never actually get it done.
Tags: Come Hell or High Water Paula Bruno