A pioneer of Western historical romance novels, Jeanne Williams wrote her first in 1956, when no one was buying them. It wasn’t until 20 years later, after Marilyn Durham’s novel, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing, and Rosemary Rogers’ western settings plowed a rich new field for women writers that she was able to publish a western romance of her own.
The Saddleman winner and past WWA president said. “The first book I wrote was turned down as being too western to be historical and too historical to be western, and unpublishable in any case because it was written from a woman’s viewpoint. Though I wrote many books that were set in the West, it wasn’t until A Lady Bought with Rifles was published in 1976 that I could finally sell the kind of book I had always wanted. In my western-woman novels I’ve tried to show how it really was and depict little-known historical events while telling a good story.”
The petite, dark-haired writer kept busy during the two decades between her first romance novels. Her premier juvenile book, Tame the Wild Stallion, won the Texas Institute of Letters Cokebury Award in 1957, and was republished by TCU Press in 1985. The book was written as J.R. Williams, as were the 12 that followed. Among them, her Horsestalker won a Spur Award in 1962.
Between 1953 and 1973, she sold over 60 short stories, novelettes and articles to a variety of women’s publications from westerns to fantasies. The majority of them were written during a four-year period when she first began selling her work. Once she turned her attention to book-length projects, gothics and light romances emerged under the names Jeanne Creasy, Deidre Rowan, and Kristin Michaels, and long historical novels as Megan Cassel, Jeanne Foster and Jeanne Williams. She published over 50 books during the following 30 years.
The novelist’s persistence and dogged determination to establish herself as a writer were traits established early in life. Jeanne Kreie was born on a wheat farm on the Kansas-Oklahoma border during the Great Depression, the youngest of three children. Her parents lost their land during the dust bowl era of the 1930s and her father eventually owned a grocery store. Young Jeanne idolized her mother, whom she said was so good that “I felt sinful in comparison.” She died of cancer when Jeanne was eight.
Jeanne’s father became so distraught over his wife’s death that he became a “terrifying stranger and the only thing that saved me was going to live with my mother’s parents in the Missouri Ozarks. I loved the country and my spirit healed.
Williams taught herself to read before starting school and loved books and writing from that time on. Her favorites were the Oz books, fairy and folk tales before she discovered Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, the Jungle Books, Just So Stories, and the complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. She remembers devouring historical fiction and “just about everything else in the library.”
Her writing began soon after she learned to read, with short stories and poetry illustrated with family cartoons. She excelled In English and history in a one-room country school, and said math was not her strong point. Aside from her literary interests, she swam Missouri creeks, explored mountains and caves, and rode horses when she wasn’t helping her grandparents with farm chores.
“We had to attend church three times a week and any revivals, and I was allowed to read the hymns or the Bible during the sermon. That was when I memorized the Song of Solomon and other parts I liked. We also had Bible readings morning and night. If you’re going to have one book drummed into you, the Bible is better than most. I read Dante’s Divine Comedy when I was in fifth grade and that’s when I began writing my most ambitious book, a retelling of the Bible. I gave out at the Tower of Babel and the Volsung Saga, which I didn’t complete." She said it would be fun to compare her early work with her Viking epic, The Heaven Sword, published in 1985.
Williams was a published author before she was ten, when paid for a poem printed in the Sunday school paper. “Everyone thought it was fine if I wanted to write, but no one knew how to do it, or sell it.”
(Continued next week . . .)