The Fire That Inspired a Plot

As a writer, nothing excites me more during the research phase of plotting a book than discovering actual history that allows my entire plot to fit together in a way more perfect than anything my imagination could have conjured. This is exactly what happened during the writing of my latest novel, To Win Her Heart.

My hero, Levi Grant, enters the story after spending two years in Huntsville State Prison for an unintentional crime. Being a large, muscled man, he was put to work in the labor camps during his incarceration, breaking rock at a granite quarry. The abusive camp sergeants he faced there left him with scars inside and out, but the compassion of a prison chaplain helped him rebuild his faith and his dream of starting a new life. Upon his release, he takes up his father’s blacksmithing trade and plans to keep his past a secret. However, as the author, I couldn’t allow this secret to stay hidden. So I began looking for ways to expose my hero’s past. And I stumbled upon the perfect solution in my time period research.

[Top – Texas Capitol as it appeared in 1875. Bottom – Texas Capitol after the fire of 1881.]

In 1881, the Texas Capitol building was destroyed by fire. The Texas Legislature decided that when they rebuilt, they would use only materials native to the state. They initially chose limestone, as there was a quarry near Austin, but when iron particles in the rock led to discoloration, they elected red granite instead. This granite was obtained from Granite Mountain near Marble Falls, Texas in 1885. To cut costs, the state contracted convict labor for breaking the stone. The use of free—or almost free—convict labor in the quarries, however, was seen as an attempt by the state to undermine unionized labor and was opposed by virtually every organized labor group in Austin. Hence, word spread throughout the region about the controversial labor force.

This historical event allowed me to supply Levi with quarry experience during his incarceration (breaking rock at Granite Mountain), but with a project that was so well known for using convict labor, it could easily expose his past should anyone learn of his involvement. And, of course, someone does. History provided the perfect scenario.

[Convicts working at Granite Mountain]    

Not only did this fabulous research gem supply the plot point I needed, but it also helped determine my setting. The story opens in 1887, in keeping with the time frame of Levi working at the labor camp in 1885 at the beginning of his incarceration, leaving time on the back end of his two-year sentence for his spiritual rehabilitation with the prison chaplain. It also played a role in the location of Spencer, Texas. Knowing how pivotal a role having a quarry nearby would be to my story, I chose to set my fictional town near Limestone County where the natural resource from which the county derived its name was abundant enough to allow me to install a quarry a few miles from town.

Fun how things work out, isn’t it?

Are there interesting historical tidbits in your back yard that would make a great plot point in a novel? Any colorful characters in your family history who would spice things up? I’d love to hear about them. Who know’s? Maybe your idea will be the spark that ignites the fire for my next book.

To read the first chapter of To Win Her Heart, click the link below.

http://www.karenwitemeyer.com/excerpt_heart.html

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For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

20 thoughts on “The Fire That Inspired a Plot”

  1. Hi Karen. This is such a great post because this just happened to me yesterday. An old man told me a story about his grandfather setting out across Nebraska for a specific journey intending to come back.
    No one heard from him for six months and he was assumed dead. Then he showed up with a wild tale to tell.
    Now, I’ve heard this story before, it’s part of my family lore, but for some reason last night it clicked. I told Eddie (the story teller last night) that if he’d throw in a beautiful damsel in distress his grandpa’s story was a perfect romance novel.
    I think I’ll just do that for him. 🙂

  2. Don’t you just love it when inspiration strikes like that? I can easily imagine you whipping up a wild tale filled with damsels and romance and wicked villains for this unsuspecting Nebraska man. Can’t wait to see what you dream up!!

    Oh, and I just started reading Out of Control. I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’m hooked already. 🙂

  3. Hi Karen, I love it when history does that! I had it happen in “Wyoming Lawman” (LIH, Oct. 2010). My hero was an ex-Texas Ranger in 1874. I needed to give him a reason for leaving, and he needed to have fought in the Civil War.

    Long story short, I learned that the 1870s were a rough time for the Rangers. He had a good reason for moving on. I also learned that Texas regiments fought in northern Virginia near Fredericksburg, my old stomping ground. On the drive to my son’s wedding, we passed the turn-off to the battle I’d used for my hero’s back story.

    I love it when that happens!

  4. Perfect example, Vicki!

    So did you take a detour before or after the wedding to snoop around the battle ground? Nothing like combining a little business with pleasure. 🙂

  5. Karen,
    Very nice cover. Like the plot line of this story. History provides authors with many, many possibilities for stories as well as the finishing touches. In Northern NT State where I grew up, the iron mine was one of the deepest in the US. The ore was considered the best in the area and used in the construction of the Brooklyn, George Washington, and Golden Gate Bridges. One of the other thing the area is known for is the route from Montreal, Canada to NY City used by the rum runners during prohibition. My grandfather left a car load of “goods” in Lake Champlain on one of those runs.
    Where we live now in TN, there are large lead deposits which were used for bullets in both the Revolutionary and the Civil War. Of course this area has a long history of coal mining which has its own drama and importance.

    Thank you for the excerpt. It sounds like it will be an interesting and enjoyable read. I hope the release goes well for you.

  6. Hi, Patricia. Such wonderful history you’ve shared. Fascinating stuff.

    I respect miners so much. Being able to descend into those dark, cramped spaces day after day with threat of shafts collapsing and health issues from the underground environment. They make such sacrifices. I don’t think I could handle a job like that. I work in a basement office that is half underground, and that is bad enough. I do have a window, though, and if I look up at just the right angle, I can see the sky. Without that sky, I’m not sure how well I would cope.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  7. Karen, what an interesting blog. I, too, love it when history and fiction collide and make a really strong story. I’ve had that happen to me several times and it always blows my socks off. To me it’s the validation I need for me to write the story.

    I’ve started TO WIN HER HEART and I love it! Levi is such an unusual hero. I wish you well with it.

  8. Thanks, Linda. There is something so thrilling about everything lining up as if it were meant to be, isn’t there? I love it when that happens.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of Levi and Eden’s tale. I just started Mary’s book, but Give Me A Texas Outlaw is the next one in the pile. I’m saving it for a trip I’m taking next weekend. Should be great on the plane!

  9. Great post Karen. As for history in my back yard, the city of Shreveport was named after Captain Henry Shreve, who is credited with clearing the Great Red River Raft, a logjam that was some 300 miles long. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to set a story with that as a backdrop

  10. Terrific post, Karen, insightful into your creative process and wonderful historical info. I love how the two combine! I too adore investigating history, and I love it when an actual tidbit melds with something I need.

    In my first book, I needed a small gun strapped to the heroine’s leg…and randomly found the Baby LeMat. It also was a clue to her father’s likely Confderate sympathies.

    Around here, the Chumash Indians have left a treasure trove of history, artifacts, and lore. I’d love to have a Chumash theme in a story sometime.

    Good one, Karen! oxox

  11. Hi, Tanya.

    How wonderful to find not just a small gun, but a gun that furthered your plot. Perfect!

    It sounds as if you are surrounded by some fabulous history, there. I wonder what inspiration awaits? 🙂

  12. Karen this was some wonderful background on your story. I am of Irish and Scotish decent and I am sure in my background somewhere there are many bits of history that would make a good story plot. I am desended from The Fighting Prince of Donegal on my dad’s side of the family, and there was actually a book and it was made into a movie by Disney in the 1960’s I beleive.

  13. Hi, Kathleen.

    How cool to have such a famous ancester! And one worthy of a book and movie. That’s so fun.

    One of the characters in my book is actually a Scottish stone cutter who works in the quarry. It was fascinating to me how many Scots and Irish stone cutters there were in America in the 19th century. They seemed to have the corner on the market. Maybe one of your kin could have inspired Duncan McPherson’s character. 🙂

  14. Karen, I would like to think so.. I always think of Italian’s when I think of stone cutters and masons, but I guess each country would have their artisans like this. I can’t wait to get my hands of this book..

  15. Thanks, Kathleen! I hope you enjoy Levi and Eden’s story. Oh, and Duncan’s too. I couldn’t resist giving this charmer his own love interest in the book. 😉

  16. Hi, Melinda. So glad you stopped by today. I was very pleased with how the cover came out. I was a little worried that the model playing Levi wouldn’t measure up to my muscular description, but my project manager searched through dozens of portfolios to find the male model with just the right physique. A tedious chore, I’m sure. 😉

  17. I have a relative who hunted and fished in the area around Trois Rivieres, Quebec. Supposedly he fell in love and married a Huron Indian princess.

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