The year is 1992 and Victoria Hastings Harrison Greene—reviled matriarch of a sprawling family—is dying.
After surviving the Oklahoma Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, Victoria refuses to leave this earth before revealing the secrets she’s carried for decades.
Once the child of a loving family during peaceful times, a shocking death shattered her life. Victoria came face to face with the harshness of the world. As the warm days of childhood receded to distant memory, Victoria learns to survive.
No matter what it takes.
To keep her family alive in an Oklahoma blighted by dust storms and poverty, Victoria makes choices—harsh ones, desperate ones. Ones that eventually made her into the woman her grandchildren fear and whisper about. Ones that kept them all alive. Hers is a tale of tragedy, love, murder, and above all, the conviction to never stop fighting.
C.H. Armstrong is an Oklahoma native transplanted in Minnesota. A 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma, “Cathie”is a life-long lover of books, and staunchly outspoken on subject of banned and challenged books. The Edge of Nowhere is her first novel and was inspired by her own family’s experiences during the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl and The Great Depression.
I often tell people that the reason I got my book deal is because of the author I’m hosting today, C.H. Armstrong. In a way, it’s actually true. Cathie posted about her great experience with the process for publishing her book, The Edge of Nowhere (see my review), in a Facebook group we both belonged to (we’re both huge Outlander fans). At the time, I hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do with my manuscript. After seeing her positive post, I submitted to her publisher and now Penner Publishing is our publisher. We’ve since become great friends and I’m so pleased to be able to share a little about her with you today.
Author name: C.H. Armstrong
Book title: The Edge of Nowhere
Tell us a little about yourself and your background: I’m an Oklahoma girl transplanted in Minnesota for the last 23 years – but I’ll always be an Okie at heart. As such, I’m a rabid Oklahoma Sooners Football fan. My hobbies are (shocker) reading and writing. I’ve been married for 23 years, and together we have a 19 year old college sophomore and an 11 year old 5th grader.
Tell us a little about your novel: Inspired by actual events, The Edge of Nowhere is a fictional take on the experiences of my family – specifically my grandmother – as they rode out the 1930s Oklahoma Dust Bowl. It tells the story of a young woman who is widowed with nine children just as the Great Depression and Dust Bowl Kick into high gear. Her husband’s death has left her with a farm that won’t produce, a mortgage she can’t pay, and nine children she can’t feed. But she’s a resilient woman and refuses to be a victim. As a result, she makes desperate choices – arguably despicable decisions – in order to feed her children and survive.
Have you written anything else (including novels, short stories, novellas, etc.): I currently have a Young Adult novel about a high school senior who finds herself and her family homeless in the midst of a Minnesota Winter. It, too, was inspired by actual people – this time, people I met in the homeless community when I was assigned by a local magazine to write an article on a nearby soup kitchen. That assignment was life-changing for me, and I just couldn’t get the people and their circumstances out of my head until I committed them to the pages of a new manuscript.
I’d love to give you a release date on this novel, In My Shoes, but this manuscript is still searching for a home. I’m currently in the process of querying literary agents and small publishers, but I’ll keep you posted if you want! 🙂
Q & A
What are the big themes in your book: Probably the biggest theme in my book is the importance of family. My main character, Victoria, begins the story with virtually no family at all. By the end, she’s the matriarch of a huge family, all of whom are very close. But creating and maintaining that family came at a huge cost. Like the main character, my grandmother died the matriarch of a truly huge family of scores of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, etc. Those of us left behind are still very close, and family is absolutely the most important thing in my entire life…and I hope the reader “gets” that when turning the last page.
What do you like to have with you while you’re writing: Peace and quiet. No joke – I can’t write with the TV or Radio on. I have to wait until the family is asleep or gone because I completely immerse myself in the lives of the characters, and any outside interruption totally disrupts my thought process.
Is there a supporting character in your book you’d love to write a story for: Oh yeah! I’ve thought on this a lot. As the story is loosely based upon my father’s family, I’d like to do a follow-up story on either Ethan (who represents my father in the book) or Jack (who represents my Uncle Bill). Both men had very interesting lives. I’m still just mulling this around, but I think it would be fun to try to write both of their stories simultaneously, switching off points of view through the chapters from one to another, until they finally meet up again in their adulthood. Both men came from the same poverty, had truly interesting lives, then ended up in completely different places. My father went on to do things like bull riding and became a career Army man before earning three masters degrees and settling down to teach high school. My uncle also sowed his wild oats, spent three tours in Korea during the Korean War, and eventually raised a large family of children and grandchildren, before retiring as a truck driver. And the two men – while ending up in completely different places in their lives (one more refined and the other “gristly” – were not only brothers, but the best of friends. I think there’s a huge story there about the love of two brothers, and the bonds of family and friendship.
If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be and what would you order: Maya Angelou. I know she’s now deceased, but that woman was beyond brilliant. Everything she said was profound and completely thought provoking. I feel like I’d walk away with a new vision on where to take my life and how to live it. I absolutely admired her and was devastated at her passing. In terms of what I’d order? Something not messy – I tend to spill on myself more often than I’d like, and I’d prefer not to wear my food while meeting with Dr. Angelou.
Who’s your most memorable book crush: Rhett Butler. Yeah-yeah…I know. But I’ve had this huge crush on Rhett Butler since the first time I read Gone with the Wind. He’s so tolerant and finds humor in all of Scarlet’s antics, and I love that about him. My favorite scene maybe ever – and probably the one that made me fall in love with him – is when Atlanta is burning and he leaves everything behind because Scarlet has called for him to rescue her…again. And when she goes to lock the front door and he chuckles, commenting something along the lines of “Trying to keep the Yankees out?” I absolutely swoon!
What is your favorite book: Without any doubt, To Kill a Mockingbird. I read it the first time in probably 8th grade, and have continued to read it at least once or twice a year since. As my character in my YA novel says, “It’s like an instruction manual on how to live life.” It’s filled with all the lessons that you want your children to learn – be kind to people, don’t assume you know everything about a person, and — most importantly, maybe – don’t judge others until you’ve walked around in their shoes for a while. The whole book is filled with instructions on tolerance and love, and I think we’d all be better people if we heeded the lessons of Atticus Finch.
Do you have any pointers or advice for aspiring writers: Write the novel that you want to read. If you truly love your story and how it rolls out, chances are others will true.
Favorite song: “We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks
Favorite movie/tv show: I’m currently a HUGE fan of Outlander. ::sigh:: Could Sam Heughan be any more perfect for the part of Jamie Fraser?
Chosen superpower: Invisibility
Toilet paper: over or under: Seriously? Under.
Real book or tablet: Tablet
Star Trek or Star Wars: Star Wars
Victoria has recently lost her husband, Will, and suffered another tragic loss when she’s visited by her adoptive parents, Father Caleb and Mother Elizabeth:
“Father Caleb stopped the car some twenty feet away. I watched as his bushy brown head emerged from the vehicle, followed closely on the opposite side by Mother Elizabeth. For a moment my heart squeezed…with love? Pain? Regret? I wasn’t sure. I massaged my chest to ease the ache.
I stepped out onto the porch and could see the tears in Father Caleb’s eyes. Reaching for me, he enveloped me in a hug.
“You didn’t tell us. Why?” he asked, the pain evident in his voice.
“I couldn’t,” I said. I couldn’t because I didn’t know how to tell them. I couldn’t because I didn’t want them to know. I couldn’t because telling them made the loss more real. So many reasons why I simply couldn’t.
Father Caleb released me and Mother Elizabeth pulled me into her arms. She cried openly. “You’ve had so much loss in such a short time. You should’ve sent word. We could’ve been here for you.”
“There’s nothing you could’ve done.” Gently, I pulled away from her embrace. “Come in for some coffee?”
Mother Elizabeth took my arm, while Father Caleb followed behind. Seating them at the table, I turned to make the coffee I had promised.
“Where are the children?” Father Caleb asked.
“Catherine, Grace and Jack are at school. Ethan and Sara are sleepin’. It’s nap time,” I said with my back to them.
“I forget they have school,” he said. “It’s been so long since we’ve had little ones in the house.”
“For how much longer, I’m not sure,” I told him. “Things are gettin’ harder here, and I’m gonna need the three older ones to help the twins out in the field. I’m tryin’ to keep ‘em in school as long as I can, but I’m not sure how much longer this can go on. We’re gonna need all available hands here soon if we’re gonna be able to eat.”
“Is it that bad?” Mother Elizabeth asked.
“Worse,” I answered. “Will had some money set aside before he died but I had to use most of it for Dr. Heusman and then for Will’s funeral. And then…then there was this burial.”
“I’m so sorry,” Father Caleb said.
“Me too. We’re just barely scrapin’ by until harvest season. The twins are hopin’ for a bumper crop to pay off the bank.”
“Will owed money to the bank?” Father Caleb asked.
“Yes. Remember that equipment he bought a couple years back? He needed it to plow up another of the fields that wasn’t bein’ used. He was hopin’ the extra wheat would bring in more income, but then we didn’t get much rain. All but a little bit of the crops dried up. He took what he could to sell, but we didn’t get paid nearly what the grain was worth, and we were lucky to come out on top. Not much on top, but more than some.”
“How’re you managing to get by?” he asked.
“Day by day. The twins have been a godsend. They’ve brought us a few jackrabbits here and there. They said the rabbits have gone plum nuts, and they’re all over the place right now. So that’s brought in some meat. We’ve still got that last sow that I’m savin’ for an emergency; then we have that old cow, but we need her for milk. We’ve butchered all but the rooster and two chickens. But even they’re eatin’ more than they’re givin’ off in eggs, so they’ll probably have to be the next to go. We’ve got a herd of young cattle out grazin’ the front forty, but the twins are hopin’ to sell those off this summer to make up whatever comes up short from the harvest. If it’s a good one, we can keep the profits from the sale of the cattle, and we’ll be in much better shape.”
“And what about cash on hand? How much do y’all still have?” he asked.
“Not much. Some loose change, mostly. Sara got into the can I’ve been using to save what we do have, and she swallowed two dimes. Damn that child,” I said, shaking my head. “Catherine and I set her on a bucket every time she needed to use the toilet ‘til she finally gave up those dimes.”
“For two dimes?” Mother Elizabeth was shocked. “How long did it take?”
“Victoria, I just don’t know what to say. Why didn’t you tell us?” she asked.
“I didn’t want you to know. What good would it’ve done? Y’all two are doin’ okay, but I know you don’t have any extra; and I know you’d go hungry just to make sure we didn’t. I didn’t want that. I still don’t. I’m just telling y’all ‘cause you asked, and you’ve been too good to me to lie to you.”
“What can we do?” Father Caleb asked.
“Nothin’. I can’t think of anything that’d make this better, save havin’ Will back or God droppin’ money from the sky. Not likely that either’s gonna happen, so we just keep on keepin’ on.”
“I know it’s so soon, but have you thought about remarryin’?” Mother Elizabeth said.
“I don’t wanna remarry. I didn’t wanna marry the first time. You know that,” I said.
“I know, but times’re hard. If you had a man around here to handle the farm and do more of the hard labor, it might help,” she said. “It’s not really about what you want; it’s about keepin’ the kids fed and clothed and a roof over their heads. Just think about it.”
I didn’t respond. She’d planted a seed in my brain, but I wasn’t ready to acknowledge that it might be the answer to our problems. I hated the thought of remarrying. But I also knew that I’d do anything to survive.
C.H. (Cathie) Armstrong is a 1992 graduate of the University of Oklahoma and holds a B.A. in Journalism with a minor in History. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Cathie currently resides in Minnesota with her husband and their two children. She enjoys reading and writing, and is happiest when curled up in a comfortable spot and lost in the pages of a good book. The Edge of Nowhere is her first novel.