Helena, Montana, had more millionaires per capita in 1889 than anywhere else in the world.
When Angela Breidenbach and I came across that bit of information, we knew we’d found the setting for Snowflake Tiara, the beauty pageant duo we’d been itching to write.
Angie set her novella, The Debutante Queen, against that backdrop. Inn-owner Albert Shanahan is worried about the future of Helena as the gold frenzy dies down. He doesn’t want his city to become a ghost town like so many gold rush sites, and devises the Miss Snowflake Pageant to showcase the beauty of Helena and its debutantes. If only he can get Miss Calista Blythe to enter the pageant, other young women will flock to join, ensuring both a successful event and successful placement of Helena as a cultured city in the eyes of the world.
Miss Calista Blythe fears being in the spotlight, but the plight of the orphan children (Helena is reputed to be the last stop on the orphan train) spurs her to action. She’s particularly focused on six-year-old Lea, who’s indentured to a brothel when her mother died before working off her westward train fare. Perhaps, if she wins the pageant, she can purchase Lea’s freedom.
Angela tucked so many bits of real history into this story it makes my head spin. Although the pageant itself and the story’s main characters are completely fictional, many of the other characters are part of Helena’s history, as are many of the background events. Yet you never feel like you’re reading a documentary. Angie’s love of Montana shines through every page.
I’m so honored to be the second author in this duo, following up with a contemporary tale featuring Calista’s 3x great-granddaughter, Marisa Hiller. Like her ancestor, Marisa is passionate about helping underprivileged children, and this is her primary reason for competing in the revived Miss Snowflake Pageant in Helena.
Angela and I enjoyed a research trip to Helena about a year ago. We toured the State Capitol and the Cathedral of St Helena, both resplendent with gold, marble, stained glass, and other trappings of the city’s wealth. Both were completed not long after Angela’s story takes place. We explored the museum, took a tourist “train ride” through the city, and roved the walking mall (several city blocks closed to vehicular traffic) where Last Chance Gulch once lay.
We interviewed the owner of The Parrot Confectionery (est 1922), the setting for several scenes in my novella, More Than a Tiara, and bought some candy—strictly for research purposes, you understand. We viewed the site of the Broadwater Hotel and Natatorium (the only indoor swimming pool in the world in 1889), featured in Angie’s story, but now just a grassy field. And we drove up one block and down the next in the Mansion District, where many of the red-rock homes built in the late 1800s still stand in good repair.
Montana celebrates its 125th anniversary this fall, while Helena itself is now 150 years old. Join us in commemoration!
Snowflake Tiara: What if you were caught doing something good, but the man you loved didn’t see it that way?
The Debutante Queen by Angela Breidenbach ~ 1889 (Helena, MT): Calista Blythe enters the first Miss Snowflake Pageant celebrating Montana statehood to expose the plight of street urchins. But if her hidden indentured orphan is discovered, Calista’s reputation and her budding romance with pageant organizer, Albert Shanahan, could both unravel. Will love or law prevail?
More Than a Tiara by Valerie Comer ~ 2014 (Helena, MT): Marisa Hiller’s interest in competing in Miss Snowflake Pageant for the city of Helena’s 150th anniversary is at zip zero zilch when she discovers the official photographer is Jase Mackie. Can Jase make amends for past mistakes and offer her, not only a tiara, but a partner in her crusade to help needy children and families?
Valerie and Angie will be giving away one Kindle copy of Snowflake Tiara to a lucky reader, so be sure to leave a comment to be entered in the drawing!