Naida West, Ph.D., lives with her husband on their little ranch in California’s “Gold Country.” The ranch lies alongside the Cosumnes River, a primary setting in her novels.
Born in Idaho, she spent her early years in small towns and on farms and ranches, often living with relatives. Among the many schools, she attended a one-room schoolhouse in Divide, Montana. She lived in a variety of homes where the inhabitants ranged from Methodist, Mormon, Catholic to agnostic — all opinionated. They were conscientious objectors, military patriots, alcoholics, and religious teetotalers. They raised sugar beets, potatoes, sheep, and cattle; they practiced law, the Christian ministry, and played piano-bar. Naida learned to stand back and observe. In all locations she wandered freely through open fields and hills and along streams. Greatly influential was her grandmother, Elizabeth Symon Smith (the subject of Symon’s Daughter) — a teacher and lover of English literature.
In the eighth grade Naida and her siblings moved with their divorced mother to Carmel, California, a coastal town of spectacular beauty. The family had little money but her mother made a living at piano bars and Naida worked after school and on weekends. From its beginning Carmel had been a colony of artists and writers, some of whom continued to live in that area in the 1950s, including Robinson Jeffers and Henry Miller. There Naida benefited from exceptional teachers and the cosmopolitan but egalitarian ambiance. Among artists, thespians, and writers her habit of creative writing was nurtured.
During high school Naida went to post-war Germany as an exchange student, and after graduation returned to work in Germany, ultimately interpreting from German to English for the Indian government in Frankfurt. Returning to the U.S., she earned a B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley in 1963, a master’s from California State University at Sacramento, and a Ph.D. in sociology from UC Davis in 1979. Her early life had sharpened her interest in the nexus between culture and personality.
She had been a potato picker, babysitter, house cleaner, waitress, seamstress, secretary, interpreter, telephone operator, and government researcher of violent criminals. During her college and graduate school days she became a mother, ultimately of three children. She was a political wife in Sacramento, an avid tennis player, teacher, school board member and, eventually, a college teacher. Along with sociological writing she continued her habit of creative writing. Academic career advancement proved impossible without moving her family, so Naida changed careers as her children grew older. For a decade she worked as a lobbyist and consultant specializing in environmental issues and state government, then in 1990 became a full-time writer. “Magically,” she says, “all of it feeds into my writing.”
For inspiration and stress reduction Naida walks the trails along the Cosumnes, where history seems to come alive beneath her feet. That and the beauty of the natural world unblocks the flow of words. In 2010, she completed the 3rd novel in her California Gold trilogy, Rest for the Wicked. In May, 2011, Rest for the Wicked won the New Generation Book Award for historical fiction.
Naida has managed the Authors Booth at the California State Fair since 1998, and has spoken at, and led, writers conferences and workshops. A lively speaker, she often headlines conferences in the three fields of California history about which she has written: Native American/Euro-American contact period; Gold Rush; and turn-of-the-century Gilded Age.
How Naida West Became a Publisher
In 1999, Naida turned down a contract by HarperCollins when her River of Red Gold was selling well and she was polishing the manuscript of Eye of the Bear, which she had written first but set aside. HarperCollins was the high bidder in an auction to re-issue River of Red Gold and publish Eye of the Bear. Originally excited about this development, Naida reconsidered when H/C learned that nearly 10,000 copies of River had already sold. Their marketing department advised that River was a “regional” book and therefore its sell-through would be 12,000 — not enough money would be left in the deal for them. Therefore H/C limited their offer to Eye of the Bear. Within a few months after that, River surpassed 12,000 in sales and continues to sell well at this writing.
Convinced that H/C would also view Eye of the Bear as a regional title and restrict its marketing budget, Naida became a publisher in spirit as well as in fact. She is happy with her decision, enjoying the challenges and freedom of publishing. The launch of Rest for the Wicked generated a banner year for Bridge House Books. The boxed trilogy is our number one seller.
In May 2011, Rest for the Wicked won the Next Generation Indie Book Award for historical fiction. The New Generation Indie award program is the only national, not-for-profit competition for independently published books, similar to the Sundance Film Festival for independently produced films.
Bridge House Books is now reformatting its titles to accommodate e-books of every variety. Watch our home page for e-book tags when those conversions are up and flying.
New Historical Novel
Naida is researching an exciting new story, going back to records left on the earth from 15,000–1000 BCE. The characters will be the mysterious “Ancients,” so-called by the native peoples who lived in California in the mid-19th century. What fate did the Ancients encounter? New archeological discoveries in South America, Mexico, and the East, South, and Midwestern regions of the U.S. have turned upside down what most people believed they knew about the peopling of America. In the excellent book 1491, the north and south American continent is shown to have been home to millions of people with sophisticated civilizations; however, California was omitted from that book. Doubtless, the devastations of hydraulic mining, massive floods, and genocide wiped away most of the evidence. But not all. One of Naida’s readers showed her a treasure trove of information passed down in his family. That started her new project.
Once again, Naida will set her novel in the vicinity of her home along the Cosumnes River and the nearby Sacramento area.
Updated August 13, 2012