By Regina Jennings
At the library’s used book sale, I always head to the folding table covered with history books. I’m amazed by what my neighbors have had in their collections. A full-color, hard-backed encyclopedia of the Soviet Navy? A book on the history of boxing? An illustrated guide to historical cosmetics? I never know what I’ll find, but it’s guaranteed that I’ll leave with a paper sack full of resources.
When trying to think of ideas for my historical romances, it’s tempting to steer away from the old favorites. Some events in history have been so thoroughly probed and prodded, that it’d be difficult to come up with a new angle. Besides, as a writer who uses humor in her works, a lot of historical events don’t fit. A light-hearted romance about the Titantic? The Alamo? Nope. Not gonna happen. But I shouldn’t turn down books about those events too quickly. Often in studying the well-known stories, we find stray tidbits that can be quite valuable.
When I picked up the book titled Orphans Preferred, I didn’t have any plans to write a romance about the Pony Express. After all, no woman of the times would set out to marry one of the poor, hard-working, ultimately dispensable riders, but my reading proved beneficial. Somewhere in the discussion of the mail delivery methods that were tried before the Pony Express was organized, there was a paragraph that taught me something new. Before the Civil War, the U. S. army attempted to replace their cavalry horses with camels in the southwest desert.
Wait, what? Here was some interesting fodder for a story, but the book was about the pony express, not the camel express, so nothing more was told. Rushing to my online resources, I began combing through articles and books on the U. S. Camel Corps stationed near San Antonio. After chasing down leads, and following footnotes, I found the material I needed for a fresh story that will be new to fans of the Old West. That story will be coming out next winter in a collection with Karen Witemeyer, Mary Connealy, and Melissa Jagears.
You can never predict where you’ll find that one spark that’ll light up a whole manuscript. Sometimes you already know the event, but you are searching for the right angle to tie the story together.
That’s what happened with my new release For the Record. The Ozark Mountain Romance series is set in…(drumroll)…the Ozarks, and we’d worked our way up into the Bald Knobber era. Now for those of you who haven’t been to Branson, the Bald Knobbers were a gang of vigilantes that tried to impose justice during a time of lawlessness in the mountains. Unfortunately, the masked gang soon turned their justice into revenge and they became the feared and hunted ones.
Sounds like a fun, light-hearted romance, right?
So, where was the spark that could move this story away from the inherently dark history? Once again, it was just a line, perhaps an afterthought that the author decided to insert at the last moment. According to the source, because the local law enforcement officers found impartiality difficult in polarizing, post-war Missouri, Governor Marmaduke hired out-of-state sheriffs and deputies to come impose order.
Bingo! I had a handsome, young deputy from Texas from a previous book that just happened to be hero material. A “foreigner” from Texas sent in to straighten out blood feuds, how could that go wrong? There was plenty of conflict, room for misunderstandings and the perfect foil for my dear little heroine who was already convinced that she’d never meet the right man in Pine Gap, Missouri.
All from that one little mention in a Bald Knobbers book.
If writing has taught me anything, it’s to look for the stray, little-known facts that show up in well-researched history books. What someone dropped in as an aside can be the foundation for another story, because meandering down the road less traveled can lead you to the story yet to be told.
Regina Jennings graduated from Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a history minor, and has been reading historicals ever since. Regina has worked at the Mustang News along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She makes her home outside Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with her husband and four children.
For the Record
Betsy Huckabee might be a small-town girl, but she has big-city dreams. Writing for her uncle’s newspaper will never lead to independence, and the bigger newspapers don’t seem interested in the Hart County news. Trying a new approach, Betsy pens a romanticized serial for the ladies’ pages, and the new deputy provides the perfect inspiration for her submissions. She’d be horrified if he read her breathless descriptions of him, but these articles are for a newspaper far away. No one in Pine Gap will ever know.
Deputy Joel Puckett didn’t want to leave Texas, but this job in tiny Pine Gap is his only shot at keeping his badge. With masked marauders riding every night, his skills and patience are tested, but even more challenging is the sassy journalist lady chasing him.
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