top of page

Discovering Dawn

I have found the creative nature of writing to be akin to a cyclone, picking up bits of detritus as it moves across the landscape. For me, the elements of a story are found as I travel through the western states where my stories sink their roots. It was true for the character of Dawn Fairburn, and it was true for Luke Brennan, the artist my imagination discovered in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. I'm writing today about the origins of the latest novel from the Sawtooth Range, A Portrait of Dawn.

Along the road to McCall, Idaho, the character of Dawn emerged as a woman quite different from the protagonist in this novel. The daughter of a Basque shepherd, she was to become the love interest of an artist and, like Dawn, handicapped. Unlike the Dawn in my final story, that young woman lost her arm to a cougar as a child. Confused? That's the way of creative winds; they blow away one idea and replace it with another. It's the reality that can make plotting a novel both challenging and thrilling.

I liked the idea of creating a handicapped character, someone who might not normally be considered as the heroine of a romance. So, that part of the discovery would transfer to the new Dawn. The Dawn who finally emerged as the protagonist was born with one leg three inches shorter than the other. It would be just enough to affect her self-image and cause challenges. In spite of her affliction, she's a confident woman who has found her strengths and through the course of her story, discovers even more.


That same car trip took us farther east to Wyoming and the #GrandTetons. While touring #TheNationalMuseumofWildlifeArt in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Luke Brennan stepped onto the stage. Filling one room, were the works of wildlife artist, #CarlRungius. Much about him fascinates me. While known for his art painted on the American frontier, he was not native to our country, but a German immigrant who became captivated by our wilderness lands. The display brilliantly explains his art's evolution from the formal studio style to the naturalism that eventually brought him notoriety.

The following "Three Billies" was painted in 1940, demonstrating his work at its peak of development. I really liked this painting for multiple reasons. As an art teacher, I can appreciate his use of color and shading, but my emotional response to these creatures delights me even more. There is an amusing story here, don't you think? The billy in the middle must be the protagonist, and he has some definite opinions.

It was also fascinating to see a display of the art materials used to paint outside of a studio. Try to imagine hiking through wild country with not only your survival gear but your art materials strapped to your back. The photo below is of a small study he made of The Grand Tetons in 1895.

Those creative winds must have blown through the museum about that time, because it was as though he appeared on the other side of the display case. It wasn't Carl, but the fictitious Irish illustrator and frustrated artist who would become Luke Brennan, the love interest of Dawn Fairburn. From there, it was easy to imagine him traveling to the Hartmann's new guest ranch where he would find Evan Hartmann a willing guide to the wilderness. Like Carl Rungius, he would fall in love with the western wildlife.

That's where the story began, on that road trip from Idaho to Wyoming. It's where I discovered both Dawn and Luke. Want to learn a little more? Here's an excerpt.


A Portrait of Dawn

Chapter One

“The greatest thing a human being ever does in this world is to see something . . . to see clearly is poetry, prophecy, a religion all in one.” John Ruskin

June 24, 1890

For a future yet to be written, an unbridled imagination is a dangerous thing. Although Dawn held to such philosophical convictions, as she turned to her slumbering father sitting beside her, she allowed herself to travel that treacherous path leading her thoughts to notions of what might be.

Even in sleep, with his chin nodding gently against his chest in easy rhythm to the rocking motion of the train, he looked dignified and even—presidential. Dawn smiled to herself, pleased by the notion. She considered her father’s pleasing features, his strong, square jaw, the touches of gray giving him that suggestion of experience and wisdom that could build confidence in his constituents. She pressed her lips together and lifted one eyebrow a slight degree higher than the other. Why not? Her skin prickled at the image. If he could go from legal counsel to the next U.S. Senator for New York, why not President? And she would be the one to help put him there.

Dawn shifted in her seat, frowning. Mr. Pullman’s train cars were a definite improvement from those wooden seats of early years when she and her father traveled from New York to Washington. But comfortable, they were not. She envied his ability to fall asleep so effortlessly—the benefits of a man with a clean conscience.

She reached down to retrieve her father’s brochure from the floor, the one he’d read to her with such enthusiasm moments before he’d fallen