Monday, May 23, 2011

1880 ... Omaha to Sacramento via train ... with Stephen Bly, author of Throw the Devil off the Train

Today I'm honored to introduce you to a godly, humble man I admire greatly. The "official word" about Steve:

Stephen Bly is a Christy Award finalist and winner in the western category for The Long Trail Home, Picture Rock, The Outlaw’s Twin Sister and Last of the Texas Camp. He has authored and co-authored with his wife, Janet, 105 books, both fiction and nonfiction. He and Janet have 3 married sons, 4 grandchildren, and 1 great-grandchild and live in the mountains of northern Idaho on the Nez Perce Indian Reservation.

I first met Stephen and Janet Bly years ago at a writer's retreat. They were gracious and welcoming ... and they prayed faithfully for me when my husband, Bob, was in the midst of the cancer battle that took him to heaven back in 2001. Together, the Blys have modeled a lot
of great things for me, not the least of which are faithfulness in prayer and commitment to each other and the Lord they love.

The Sunday morning worship service when Steve pastored and served communion to the gathering of believing authors at that conference was unforgettable. I received a special grace note from the Father that long-ago Sunday morning ... a little preview of heaven. There will always be a special place in my heart for Janet and Stephen Bly, and I'm thrilled that Steve agreed to share some "footnotes from history" with us. (Stephanie G.)


  • What different sort of setting made you want to write this book?
You’d think after more than a hundred books in print, most of them set in the Old West, that I’d have exhausted every possible location. I’ve used cabins, saloons, dance halls, jails, hotels, cafes, sandbars and most any other place you could name. All, except one. In my last book, Creede of Old Montana, I set a whole scene inside an outhouse.

I’ve set stories in Colorado and Arizona, in New Mexico and Nevada, in Montana and Idaho, in Wyoming and Nebraska, in Texas and South Dakota. The old western Stagecoach was a road story in a stage.

But somehow the idea grew to get my characters on a train.
Throw The Devil Off The Train is a road story inside a train headed west. I wanted the grandeur of the West from a train window. . .the very slow journey, compared to modern transportation.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about “the real story” while researching this book?

I was most surprised that this story turned into more of a romance than a classic western. I knew there’d be western adventures such as a holdup, hijack, kidnapping and even a gold mine swindle. But when I shoved my two protagonists together on that long, cramped, chaotic train ride west, it was like throwing two cats into a burlap bag.

She's got to escape. She's desperate for a change. She hopes for a fresh start. She'd do anything to get to Philip, a childhood friend who runs a booming business in California. And she sure doesn’t want anyone on the train to know her real last name. The long train ride promises a peaceful transition from one life to another.

He's into revenge. Race Hillyard heads west with a heart of vengeful justice, to settle a bitter score for his brother, and a body aching for sleep. Those who incited his brother’s death should pay for their actions. He’s on the prowl for the culprits, the one action at present that makes life worth living. He arrives at the train station exhausted and views the ride as a restful prelude before confrontations in California.

The only thing these two agree upon: they despise each other. Fiery, opinionated and quick to react, can they team up long enough to throw the devil off the train? That become the main question that moved my plot.

               Did you need to know a lot about train food and other amenities?

I know a lot about what cowboys on the trail ate during that time. They filled up with biscuits, bacon, beans. And coffee. Ah, good old boiled coffee. The brand was probably Arbuckles which tasted like a Starbucks tall Americano with a quadruple shot. . . mixed with a bit of mud. By the late 1880s air-tights (canned food) appeared, such as peaches and tomatoes. That provided more ways for the camp cooks to make dessert. Sourdough bread thrived on long trail drives. But I didn’t know much about dining on the rails.

As I began to research train food, I stopped when I realized my two main characters would not be have much in the way of funds. As it turned out a couple measly apples became a great point of contention and nourishment between them. So, this greatly simplified my research as they scavenged for plainer fair.

What one non-fiction book helped you research the most (for those who want to learn more)?

I used my Place Names books for the different stops along the route. They’re great for historical tidbits such as real names and other interesting trivia of old towns. That, plus my memory of many other research journals and my University of Oklahoma and University of Nebraska nonfiction histories, as well as personal tours through the various trips we’ve taken along that trail ourselves, helped me with description. For instance, when passengers Catherine Goodwin and Race Hillyard take a walk along the muddy North Platte River, I know they’ll see scattered buildings, mountains of firewood, bluffs, short, dry, brown grass sprawled for miles, as well as treeless, rolling prairie. I could even note possible wagon ruts that record the direction of an intrepid pioneer. The rest of the time was spent inside the train. I used lots of old photographs from various books and online for those details.

What spiritual encouragement did you draw from what you’ve learned?

As the theme developed for this story, I was reminded that all of us have flaws and strengths, but relationships can grow in spite of the weaknesses when we’ve got a commitment to the Lord to do things right.

Folks can gnaw on our nerves, but people are much more complex than we realize at first impression. We tend to judge and categorize humans before really knowing them. We thus eliminate friendships for surface reasons and lose out on some of God’s special gifts to us.
Most of us hide spiritual and emotional hurts from others. . .and sometimes ourselves. We must be open to what God is doing around us, to receive the help he sends. This is what I’ve learned from the characters in my novels and especially from those in Throw The Devil Off The Train.

Throw The Devil Off The Train available May 2011. You can order through your local bookstore, your favorite online bookstore including or get autographed copies through the Blys website:http://h/
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  1. Hi Stephen:

    Did you ride any authentic old trains? I do anytime I find one. My favorite so far is the Chama train.


  2. Greetings, Vince: Thanks for stopping by and for your question. Yes, my wife and I rode one of the old trains a couple years ago in Oregon. Would love to have ridden the Chama train.
    Sorry I did not respond sooner. Have been in the hospital.