BURLEY – The winter of 1856 was an intensely bitter one, and wind nipped cruelly at the pioneers of the Willie Handcart companies as they trudged their way across the frozen plains.
The experiences and hardships faced by the pioneers of those companies is something difficult to put in to words, and even more difficult to understand, but Lisa Dayley, of Burley, Idaho, has somehow done just that.
Dayley, who has always been fascinated with family history, took the stories of her great-great grandmother, Emma Girdlestone, and brought them to life in her historical fiction novel, The Frozen Trail.
“Imagine how you would have felt stuck in a blizzard at 50 below,” Dayley said, “no food or clothes. For every one step forward, the wind pushed you three steps back ... You couldn’t see, and you had no protection from the wind, other than tents, which you were lucky to get up …”
Conditions were terrible for the pioneers, and many of the individuals who set out on the trek perished before the group reached the Salt Lake Valley, including the parents of Girdlestone.
“When [the pioneers] got to Rocky Ridge, that night there were 11 people that died in their sleep,” Dayley said. Thomas, [Girdlestone’s father], helped bury them. The next morning they found Thomas dead. He literally dug his own grave, and gave the last of his energy to bury those poor people,” said Dayley.
According to Dayley, the majority of her book is about the experiences of the pioneers at Rocky Ridge, and how they were stranded, trusting that God would provide them with the help that they needed.
Though the book is based on true events, Dayley said the majority of the storyline is fictional. Personal experiences in Dayley’s life allowed her to relate to her characters, providing for a more realistic story.
“I think the reason I could relate to all the dying and suffering is [my daughter] came down with appendicitis and nearly died,” Dayley said. “I was so upset, and it really flowed over into the writing. I could feel every ounce of fear and pain those people went through. I wasn’t out on the frozen plains, but I learned, like them, that there’s nothing you can do but pray.”
Thankfully, Dayley’s young daughter made a full recovery, but the event provided a very powerful parallel to her characters.
Dayley has been writing for many years across the pacific Midwest, and her impressive resume includes work for a magazine out of Hong Kong while she was living in Japan, and nearly a decade of work as a reporter for the South Idaho Press and Minidoka County News, before they were eliminated by their parent company. She currently works as a reporter for the Weekly News Journal.
Dayley received a degree in technical communications and creative writing from the Metropolitan State College of Denver in Colorado, and is married to Darrell Dayley, of Burley. They have three children.
She said her book, The Frozen Trail, is a cumulative work of nearly 20 years, and it began just as an assignment for a creative writing class.
“I started it for a college creative writing assignment,” Dayley said. “This was in Denver. The most liberal place on the planet, and I thought, ‘Oh no, they’re going to chase this little Mormon girl right out of their class.’ But they were so nice to me and so receptive. They liked it so much I just kept kind of working on it. Off and on through the years I kept working on it, the last eight years intensely, and I finally finished it.”
She said inspiration for the project also came from reading the book Saints by Orson Scott Card, which made her more interested in her own family history, as well as in the stories of the pioneers.
Dayley said she has been chasing her family tree for 20 years, researching the stories of Emma and her family, as well as other ancestors, and it has been incredible for her to uncover information and various artifacts from Emma’s life.
Dayley first self-published her book, before attending a publishing convention at Brigham Young University in Provo. At the convention, she came into contact with Wido Publishing, a newer company out of Salt Lake, that decided to give her story a try.
After an intense editing process that left her originally 44 chapter book at 14 chapters, Dayley found success.
“Finally, it just seemed like it all came together – all gelled,” Dayley said. “They finally liked what I wrote. Never have I had such an intense creative writing class in all my life. At some points I had no idea what I was doing. I just wrote what came to me.”
Dayley said she owes most of the credit to divine intervention, and she knows that something greater was guiding her through the whole process.
She will be having a book signing and drawing at 7 pm Thursday, September 29th, at the Burley Public Library, and all are welcome to come enjoy cake, ice cream, and good company. If you are unable to make it to the signing but are still interested in purchasing a book, The Frozen Trail is available for purchase at www.amazon.com, under books, Lisa Dayley, The Frozen Trail. Paperback copies are $9.95, and only $2.99 for a digital version for Kindle.
Dayley is available for questions and additional information by phone at 208-219-0602, or by e-mail email@example.com.