Author: Sarie Mackay
by Sarie Mackay
Riverbend is pleased to be distributing Lodestar by Sarie Mackay, which tells the story of young Persis Allen. Persis travels west to marry a successful railroad baron in 1880 and begin a life of adventure with him in Territorial Montana. Persis arrives in Helena and finds a wild, unruly place of dreams, characters and outlaws, a place that sends cowards home and forces the courageous to stand tall.
Persis quickly finds her marriage to be not what it seems, and must slowly peel away layers of deceit and betrayal in order to save herself and her children. Persis nearly loses herself in her struggle with her larger-than-life partner Alexander MacKinney, but in the end, this strong female heroine stirs in the ashes and rises on bold wings. Readers will have no difficulty seeing hundreds of parallels between the Persis of 1880 and women they know right now, today.
All of this happens against the backdrop of Territorial Montana, a landscape so rich with western history and romance that it simply can’t be crammed into one novel. Lodestar was ten years in the writing and reflects extensive, careful research on mining, cattle ranching, and railroads. The convergence of these economic forces on the Butte mining camp and the territorial capital of Helena created a social and financial vortex, forming the perfect setting for a view of the late 19th century west, with all its buckle-and-swash.
Raised in both upstate New York and Montana, Sarie Mackay received her degree in English Literature with a Specialization in Professional Writing from the State University of New York at Fredonia. Pursuing a full-time career in the non-profit sector and raising a family, Mackay began creatively writing in the evenings and on weekends.
Her writing is character-driven and suffused with a western sense of place. Writing credits include a regular newspaper column and a regional historical novel, Lodestar, which she self-published and obtained a distributor for in 2007. Although she continues to work in philanthropy, Mackay thrives on speaking engagements and book-signings, and always has something new in the cauldron.
Her grandmother was the youngest of ten children born on a homestead in Montana's Clark Fork Valley, ten miles from where Mackay now writes. Although a stout Methodist, this matriarch bred into her granddaughter a belief in the magic of the land that was almost pagan. She taught her, for instance, how mountains breathe: a hot blanket of afternoon air in the valley slides up the canyon in the evening, only to be chilled by the granite peaks at night, brushing down through the aspens in an alpine exhale the following morning.
Mackay’s intimacy with the land informs her work with the energy and texture of Montana and the West, and sweeps her characters along on their journeys of love, longing, and awakening.
After my February skiing trip to the Tetons, I longed for a book that would help me keep some of the Western spirit in my Eastern soul. Sarie Mackay's Lodestar fit the bill, and then some. This is a novel to treasure, a love story in compelling prose and sparkling dialogue.
The tale of the Copper Kings and the Anaconda Mine has been told before, and William Clark and Marcus Daly give Lodestar a backlit glow. But it is the sexy, feisty, and beautiful Persis Allen who blazes across the pages. We are immediately plunged into her world, an Eastern-born beauty who falls for Alex MacKinney, a gorgeous hunk of an entrepreneur. He sweeps Persis onto the newly laid inter-continental rails and into his gambling life of commerce, transportation, mining and making millions in pre-statehood Montana.
Mackay is a sensualist, and her textured writing brings the sights and sounds of those early days to vivid life. While the tenor of the streets, the feel of Persis stately homes, and the slither of her silk are tangible, the book is at its best when Persis falls in love with the physical beauty of Montana’s mountains, waters, and sky.
Few books are as honest in showing the ways in which women were used as one more ornament of display by the big men of the West when larger houses, faster horses, or deeper mines were the currency that mattered. But Lodestar excels at revealing how women both reveled at being valued because of their beauty and then consciously used that beauty as negotiable currency.
In Persis Allen we find a true Montana female icon: smart and headstrong, fearless and compassionate. Her attraction to Alex is emotional and sexual, and the tastefully rendered sex scenes are compelling in their acknowledgment of a young woman s erotic drive. As the tale turns darker, I felt Persis conflict and pain, but I kept rooting for this gutsy young mother to hang on to her own dreams.
Reading Lodestar in my Manhattan apartment evoked all that I love about the Rocky Mountain west and the people who live there. Sarie Mackay’s leap into the world of writing is impressive, and I can’t wait until her next book brings another wave of fresh mountain air and invigorating spirit to the concrete canyons of New York.
— Dr. Gail O. Mellow, Pres., LaGuardia Community College, NY, NY
In Lodestar, Sarie Mackay uses Montana's rough-and-tumble days before statehood as the backdrop for the story of Persis Allen, whose rapid-fire romance with railroad baron Alex MacKinney brings her west to a life for which her dreams could not have prepared her.
Mining the state s history for vivid looks at the circumstances of the very wealthy and the very poor, Mackay reveals lives which are closely entwined, despite social chasms. Even the millionaires must endure the increasingly tainted air from the minerals production in Butte or the muddy streets of the frontier communities.
A privileged lifestyle is not without cost, as Persis learns. Wealth doesn't translate into a carefree life, especially for a woman who chafes under the restrictions placed upon her sex. Not only do the social conventions of the time confine her to a gilded cage, Persis finds that life outside that cage leaves her vulnerable to losing her reputation, her income, and, as the drama of the book unfolds, possibly her life.
Lodestar operates on several levels - as a romance, as a glimpse into history, and as social commentary. Mackay acknowledges that women make up much of the target audience for the book. But she characterizes it as "women's fiction with a punch," moving the book beyond romance to a story of frontier adventure. The book is set more than a century ago, but has much to say about today.
—Chris Rubich, Billings Gazette, Billings, MT