Research is always a fun part about writing a historical romance. At least it is for me. 🙂 Although I admit from time to time, I find myself straying on different bunny trails when researching. One subject often prompts me off on another search and I forget about actually writing the book for a while. During the process of creating Protecting Annie, I had a variety of topics to research.
My heroine, Annie McPherson has a lot of book knowledge, but not too much common sense or experience. Whenever she’s thrown into an unfamiliar situation, her first inclination is to consult her trusty guidebook for information. Annie is a planner, so she thoroughly immersed herself with vast research before traveling from the east to Kansas. When she comes across an animal in the alley of the western town she moved to, she’s convinced it’s a wolf. After all, it looks like the ones in her guidebook.
I knew this would be the opening scene for the book, so I started researching various dogs that happen to look like a wolf and would be feasible to have in a Midwest town. I came across the Native American Indian dog. I won’t tell you more, so I don’t ruin the opening scene for you. 🙂
Later in the book, Annie finds and picks some beautiful plants. Again, she consults her guidebook but can’t find an entry on the mysterious plant. She starts to have a reaction to one of them. The hero, Joshua Walker, happens upon her and tells her it’s poison hemlock.
Almost every summer growing up, I had issues with poison ivy however I didn’t know much about poison hemlock and whether it is found in Kansas. Like Annie, I had to do some research. Turns out the plant is in Kansas, and I also learned it’s highly poisonous and contact with the skin can cause nausea and blurred vision. Well, this made for a fun scene…at least to read. 🙂 It wasn’t so much fun for Annie.
My hero is a town sheriff. I have scene where he is sorting through wanted posters. I had some knowledge of them but needed to know if it was feasible to have one be hand-drawn. Off I went researching again. Turns out, they did often have posters that were drawn by hand.
One thing I didn’t research, but I had my heroine try to learn about was the care of a kitten. Annie tries to find a book at the local stores but to no avail. In fact, the townspeople have a hard time trying to figure out why she would want to keep a cat indoors.
I love researching as I write a story. Not only do I learn things, I also am able to share some of those items with my readers. Hopefully they enjoy it as much as I do. 🙂
How about you, what are some of your favorite things to learn about when you’re reading a historical novel? Leave a comment for your chance to win a CD with 12 historical romance novels on it. (US only)
After twenty years of living along the trail as a deputy U.S. Marshal, Joshua Walker takes a job as sheriff in Burrton Springs, Kansas so he can be closer to his sister. Only problem, she no longer requires his protecting so he’s unsure of his next step.
Annie McPherson needs a change after the death of her father. She accepts a position as schoolmarm, hoping her past won’t catch up with her. Life is good, except for the pesky sheriff who continues to question her ability to adjust to life in the west and creates confrontations at every turn.
When the irritating schoolteacher’s past and present collide, dragging him into the turmoil, Josh has to decide who he’s willing to defend.
Jodie Wolfe creates novels where hope and quirky meet. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Faith, Hope & Love Christian Writers, and COMPEL Training. She’s been a semi-finalist and finalist in various writing contests. A former columnist for Home School Enrichment magazine, her articles can be found online at: Crosswalk, Christian Devotions, and Heirloom Audio. When not writing she enjoys spending time with her husband in Pennsylvania, reading, walking, and being a Grammie. Learn more at http://www.jodiewolfe.com.
HAPPY THANKSGIVING, EVERYONE! If you’ve found a moment to stop by today (or even a day or two later), I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with friends, family, good cheer, and delicious food. One of things I’m most thankful for this year is to have become a part of Petticoats and Pistols. I feel like I found my second family and am so delighted to have met you, the many wonderful readers.
I had the delight and honor recently of being interviewed by The Categorically Romance Podcast (here’s a link in case anyone is interested in having a listen: Cathy McDaivd’s Podcast – I’m episode #78).
So, one of the questions my lovely hosts asked me was about my current and upcoming writing projects. I mentioned that, after the book I’m working on now (an inspirational suspense), I’d be finishing the last book in my Wishing Well series for Harlequin Heartwarming. I then laughingly admitted it was my eight wedding-themed book in a row for Heartwarming and would be my last for a while as I’d grown a little tired of writing about weddings.
That said, I’ve had such fun with the books. I spent a lot of time researching weddings and learned about some lovely, quaint, and, okay, a little crazy, traditions. Everyrone knows about throwing rice, of course – which is now the more feathered friend friendly version of throwing bird seed. It’s a way of wishing the newlyweds good luck, prosperity and fertility. But here’s the scoop on just a few common American wedding traditions you may not have known:
1) Nowadays, brides often carry bouquets of flowers. In ancient Greece and Rome, she carried a bouquet of herbs and spices to ward off evil spirits.
2) Queen Victoria is said to have started the fashion trend of brides wearing white dresses. In ancient cultures, blue was more often considered the color of purity.
3) Also, Roman times is when the practice started of attendants wearing matching dresses, again for good luck. Not only each other, their dresses matched those of the bride in order to confuse evil spirits. Roman brides wore a veil for the same reason – to protect her and hide her from the pesky evil spirits who might steal her away. As you can see, superstitions played a large role in the origins of some modern traditions.
4) The reason for wedding rings being worn on the third finger of the left hand dates back to Egyptians (well, some also say Romans, again) who believed there is a vein that runs from that finger directly to the heart.
5) If you receive a wedding invitation with the wording “the honour of your presence”, the ”u” in the word honour is to let guests know the ceremony will take place in a church or place of worship.
6) Giving away the bride stems back to the times when marriages were arranged and the bride was “transferred” from her father to her husband. Yes, like property. These days, the gesture is more often a sign of affection.
7) Bridal showers started out as a way to raise money for the bride’s dowry.
Tell me, what traditions did you have in your wedding or want to have in your wedding? I wore something old (leave the past behind), something new (embrace the future), something borrowed (good luck) and something blue (purity and warding off that evil spirit again). Maybe you had an unusual tradition or one with a special meaning for your family or culture? I’d love to hear about it. I do have that last wedding book to write!
P.S. – Don’t forget to join us on November 29th for Cowboys and Mistletoes – a super fun story and game for our readers and plenty of chances to win a nifty prize!
The life of Ellen Watson, aka Cattle Kate, was defined for us by greedy cattle barons, and dutifully reported by a cowardly, boot-licking press. According to these men, Ellen was a prostitute, a cattle thief, and a fornicator. She traded sex for cows and had no compunctions about doing a little cattle rustling on the side.
All that was a smear campaign to protect the cattle barons.
So, what was the truth about Ellen Watson? For one thing, she was a woman with a brain in her head and a fire in her eye.
At 18, Ellen married an abusive drunk who beat her with a horse whip. She put it up with it for a couple of years, then left the loser and filed for divorce. Truly a rare thing in 1883. Strong-willed and stubborn, she moved away to escape the ex. Life took her from Nebraska, to Denver, to, finally, fatefully, Wyoming. She made her living alternately as a seamstress and cook. There is no evidence she ever worked as a prostitute at any time in her life. She did drink, smoke, and cuss, though.
She met Jim Averill while she was cooking at the Rawlins House. Jim had a road ranch on his homestead, catering to travelers and cowboys. Ellen worked as his cook and was paid for her time. She eventually bought her own land—adjacent to Jim’s—started her own ranch and acquired her own legally registered brand. All while she and Jim were courting.
The couple applied for a marriage license in 1886, but never filed it. Homesteads were limited in size per family so it would have been to their benefit to keep the marriage a secret. Ellen also took in two young boys who came from abusive homes and they, in turn, worked her ranch.
Ellen’s independent ways brought her into direct conflict with the Wyoming Stock Growers Association and a neighboring rancher named Bothwell. Still big on the open range way of ranching, he despised Ellen and Jim’s piddly ranches. For nearly two years, Bothwell saw to it that the couple were threatened, harassed, and watched incessantly by riders from the WSGA.
Not interested in kowtowing to the cattle barons, Jim wrote fiery letters to the newspapers, decrying the men’s greed and tyranny. Ellen just kept on ranching, and to the devil with anyone who didn’t like it. Eventually, Bothwell ran out of patience.
On July 20, 1889, Ellen and Jim were accused of rustling cattle from his ranch. He and some his riders took the couple to a gulch and hung them from a stunted pine, not more than two feet off the ground. Witnesses said Jim begged for mercy, but Ellen went down cussing and swinging.
At the time of her death, 28-year-old Ellen had 41 head of cattle, a little over 300 acres, and a tenacious fighting
spirit that burnt bright right up to the last second of her life. If there is any justice here, it is that we remember her to this day, not the cowards who hung her.
My book, Grace be a Lady, is set during the Johnson County War, in the aftermath of Ellen’s murder. I’ll give two winners paperback versions of the book. Just comment on Ellen and tell me what you think of her life and death. Was she a heroine or a fool? Did she bring this on herself? Should she have sold out and left Wyoming?
Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for one of the 2 print copies of Grace be a Lady.
I’m not great at research – I could never be a historical writer. But you’d be surprised how much research goes into even a contemporary book. I write about the West, and I’ve been to a lot of the places I write about (most on a motorcycle), but I’m writing my second ‘road trip’ book in a row, and there’s no way I could have been to all these small towns and back roads…or if I have, I don’t remember them!
So that means lots of maps, measuring miles between places, and TONS of internet searching!
But maps only take you so far (no pun intended). To write a location convincingly, you also need to know the ‘lay of the land’ – the terrain, the demographics, and the ‘feel’ of the place. I find that realtor web pages and homes for sale in the area give you a good cross section of that.
Then there’s the really good stuff! I get to look up everything from clothes to tractors to cool motorcycles, and put them into books! I’m telling you, this writing gig can be FUN!
I also get to make up places. For example, in my last romance series, Chestnut Creek, I made up the small town of Unforgiven, New Mexico. It’s small, with a weedy town square with a paint-flaking gazebo in the middle. A lot of the buildings surrounding it have butcher papered over windows. The hub is the diner, housed in an old railroad depot. That was so fun to write, and had me searching for old depot photos and diner interiors. Oh, and more heros!
I’m telling you, there are a lot worse careers than writing fiction!
So tell me, have you ever thought of writing a book? If so, what genre would it be? Do you have a story in mind? If so, tell us a bit about it!
One question authors get asked all the time is where do you get ideas for your stories. No, you don’t have to worry that if you tell me about running into your old high school crush I’m going to use it in my book. Unless, well, if it’s a really good meet cute …
Never mind. Just kidding. I actually get a lot of my ideas from news articles or human interest pieces I read online. Sometimes, however, inspiration comes from a place I’ve visited.
Many years ago, when my kids were young, we took a trip to Bisbee, Arizona and toured the Queen Silver Mine. While there, I saw an old photo of a mule being lowered down into the shaft (mules were used to haul ore carts and often spent their entire lives in the mines). From that tour and photo came the inspiration for Her Heart’s Treasure. While researching that book, I came across an article about a horrific mining accident in Denver and that became the inspiration for my book, The Gate to Eden. Note: this was back in the days when I wrote Western historicals.
A few years after that, we were vacationing at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. One day, we took a tour of the (replica) Ponderosa Ranch and Western town TV set from the show Bonanza. The scenery was incredible, and my mind raced with ideas. Eventually, I wrote a three book series for Harlequin American titled Sweetheart, Nevada.
When I was a teenager, we used to stay at a Western-themed resort outside of Payson, Arizona called Kohl’s Ranch. As an adult, I frequently visit Payson and have returned to Kohl’s Ranch just to check it out. Of course, a story popped into my head. That story eventually became a four-book series called Bear Creek Ranch that was so thinly disguised I actually had readers email me to say they knew I’d used Kohl’s Ranch for my inspiration.
I could go one and on, but I think I’ll end with the McDowell Mountains. I grew up in Scottsdale, Arizona and lived for many, many years not far from the Sonoran Mountain Preserve. Once, while walking my dogs, I found myself gazing up at the mountains and wondering if any wild horses still lived there. Turns out, they do! That question launched a thirteen book series, the first one about a cowboy trying to save his ranch by capturing the last wild mustang roaming free in the mountains near my fictional town, Mustang Valley.
Wow. All this talk about places I’ve visited makes me want to travel again. It’s been too long. Wherever I wind up going, I’ll be sure to take my imagination. Who knows? I could be inspired with a story.
Now, what were you telling me about your old high school crush ?
The book I’ve spent most of the summer working on takes place during World War I. Before I decided to write this story, what I knew about “the Great War” could have fit in one short sentence.
I spent three weeks immersed in research and, as tends to happen when I’m writing something historical, I fell down the research rabbit hole and Captain Cavedweller wasn’t sure I’d ever resurface.
Reading about the people who sacrificed so much (soldiers, those who served in any capacity, and those at home), just leaves me heartsore, yet so incredibly grateful they were willing to do what they did. Not only were these people in the midst of a world war, but also a worldwide pandemic with the Spanish flu.
As I waded through the research, I discovered something interesting about the doctors from America who served in World War I overseas. Eleven of them were women.
During World War I, the U.S. military would not accept women physicians into the Army Medical Corps, but they would allow them to serve as contracted personnel. This meant they were considered civilians who worked for the Army medical department and were paid a lower salary without military rank or benefits. In total, 56 women physicians became contract surgeons during the war, but only 11 went overseas where they mostly worked as anesthetists.
One of those women was Dr. Anne Tjomsland, who inspired much of the medical part of my story. Born in Norway in 1880, Dr. Tjomsland earned her bachelor’s and medical degrees from Cornell. She became an American citizen in 1917. She interned, and then worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. Hospitals around America began forming base hospitals and training prior to the United States officially entering the war in the spring of 1917. The first fifty base hospitals were organized by civilian institutions (medical schools, hospitals) and funded significantly by donations.
The very first base hospital was founded at Bellevue in 1916 and became known as Base Unit #1. They began training that year, anticipating the United States entering the war. When the unit was mobilized in November 1917, Dr. Tjomsland was initially barred from joining as a physician because she was a woman. Since the base commander considered her essential, he fought for her to be appointed as a contract surgeon and won.
Dr. Tjomsland wrote a book in 1941, Bellevue in France, of her experiences that provided so much rich detail, I could easily picture her journey from American doctor to wartime physician.
The ship she traveled on to cross the Atlantic was the RMS Olympic, a White Star luxury ship and sister ship to the RMS Titanic. The ship that had once been known for such luxury was converted to a transport ship during the war. The grand old dame was given a dazzle, or razzle dazzle, paint job that supposedly made it harder for German submarines to lock in on a target. The paint design consisted of complex patterns of geometric shapes using contrasting colors, interrupting and intersecting each other. If nothing else, some of the patterns painted on ships looked as though they may have made the enemy dizzy.
Base Unit #1 traveled to Liverpool, England, then traveled by train to Southampton, where they boarded another boat to cross the English Channel, landing at Le Havre, France. From there, they rode a train to Paris, but found the tracks had been bombed, so they had to backtrack and found an alternate route to their destination of Vichy, a spa town known for its healing waters as far back as the time of Roman emperors. A railroad ran through Vichy, making it easy to get to, and it was far enough away from the front to make it relatively safe.
Once in Vichy, Base Unit #1 took over several hotels. Their first patients were recovering French soldiers who were quickly moved elsewhere to make room for wounded American soldiers. The hospital would treat anyone, civilians included, who needed assistance.
By reading Dr. Tjomsland’s book, and the stories of women who served as doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, and other positions in war-torn France, I did my best to convey not only the historical details but also the heart-wrenching emotions they experienced in my story.
I often get requests from readers to tell the story of a secondary character. One that has received requests too many to count has been Sadie from my Pendleton Petticoats series. She first makes an appearance as a tough eight-year-old in the book Marnie. Readers get to watch her grow and mature (and torment a boy named Harley John) throughout the rest of the series.
Now it’s time for Sadie and Harley John to get their own story. Sadie releases August 26, but you can pre-order your copy now for just $2.99!
She yearns for far-flung adventures. He longs for the home he’s found in her heart. Will a world at war tear them apart, or draw them closer together?
For most of her life, Doctor Sadie Thorsen has imagined seeing the world on grand adventures. When America joins the war raging across the world in 1917, it seems her dreams are about to come true. She travels overseas as a contracted physician, eager to do her part to help the war effort. Endless streams of wounded push her to the limits of endurance, then she receives word Harley John Hobbs, the man she’s loved for years, is missing in action. Unable to bear the thought of life without him in it, she refuses to let go of her hope that he’s alive.
The day Sadie Thorsen shoved Harley John Hobbs down on the playground was the day she marched off with his heart. He spent years doing everything in his power to become successful, determined to have more than himself to offer Sadie if she ever returns to their eastern Oregon town. Conscripted to join the American Expeditionary Forces, Harley John answers the call and heads to France. Wounded and alone, he clings to the promise of seeing Sadie one last time.
Can deep, abiding love withstand the tragedies and trials of a world at war?
I thought you might enjoy a little excerpt from Sadie today. In this scene, she’s infuriated with the men who refuse to let her go to France.
The temper Sadie had, to this point, kept in check reached full boiling force. She knew she should leave before it erupted, but instead, walked over to the table and slapped both hands on the surface, causing all four of the men to jump.
“Lieutenant Colonel Grimes, if you could please, for a moment, come down off that high horse you’re riding and forget the fact I’m a woman, you will see I have been working alongside doctors since I was thirteen. I’ve patched up men who’ve been in knife fights, gun fights, dog fights, fist fights, and even a few who were impaled with arrows. I’ve worked on every kind of wound you could imagine, treated burn victims, even assisted with amputations. Because of my varied and vast experience, and the fact I am willing to stubbornly forge onward when others surrender is exactly the reason I should be among those who are with this base hospital in France. I can and will help the soldiers there. If you won’t accept my skill and talents, I’ll find someone who will. I don’t care if I have to row my own boat across the Atlantic, I will get there!”
“Doctor Thorsen, you’re temper fit is exactly the reason why women are not fit to serve in military conditions and times of war.”
“Not fit to serve? Not fit to serve!” Her raised voice bounced off the walls. “Sir, you have enlisted any number of nurses for this venture. Won’t they work alongside the doctors to do whatever they can to help the wounded? Are they not females being thrust into the midst of military conditions in a time of war? Are they not fit to serve? Of course, they are! They are fit to serve, and so am I.” She wanted to reach across the table and shake some sense into the man staring down his long, thin nose at her.
As she did when she was truly angry, she lost the cultured speech she’d worked so hard to acquire and resorted to the language she’d used when Marnie and Lars had first adopted her. “If you’re just too dad-blamed bullheaded and addlepated to see it, then I’m questioning why the Army has declared you fit to serve. I’ve encountered more mulish, malefic, muddleheaded men in the past four years than any woman would ever want to think about meeting, but I do believe, sir, you ought to be crowned King Uppity over them all.”
If you were in Sadie’s shoes, what would you do?
Also, if you haven’t read any of my Pendleton Petticoats books yet, get this boxed set with the first three stories while it’s on sale for 99 cents!
Hello everyone, Winnie Griggs here. Today’s post is a bit different than my usual post. Instead of sharing information I came across in my research I’m going to ask you to help me with a bit of research of the reader variety.
I have three older releases that I’ve received the rights back for and I’d like to reissue them as self-published editions. However, they all need to be gone through and updated and right now I’m working on a contracted book that has a firm deadline. That means I have limited time to focus on them and will need to do them as low-priority side projects. So I’d be interested in learning which of the books intrigues you the most. So please rank the following in the order in which they interest you – and there are no wrong answers. I’ll select at least one person to receive their choice of any book from my backlist (and I still have several copies of the below out of print books I’ll throw in the mix as well)
Book 1 – this was first published in 2002 under the title Whatever It Takes. Here’s the original blurb:
Flirting With Perfection…
To adopt the little girl she’s come to love, widow Maddy Potter needs a fiancé, not another husband. Luckily, she’s found the ideal beau for her purpose:
Clayton Kinkaid agrees to court her, propose marriage, and then leave her at the altar as she requested. But when he arrives on her doorstep she knows their charade will never work. Clay is too handsome, too smooth… too potent. Who would believe such a charming, good-looking man wants to woo her?
Clay accepted Maddy’s proposal in order to repay a family debt of honor. He traveled to Missouri expecting to find a reserved widow, not a beautiful young woman—a woman who has the temerity to suggest he comb his hair differently, mess up his clothes a little, maybe even walk with a limp. She even has the audacity to instruct him on how to court her! Clay knows he could be the perfect suitor. What he didn’t realize was that he’d soon long to be the perfect husband.
Book 2 – this was originally published in 2004 under the title A Will of Her Own. Here’s the 2004 blurb:
Will Trevaron’s grandfather demands that he leave America and return home to England to claim his title of Marquess. Will is expected to put himself on the marriage market but balks at the idea. He hits on the perfect solution: a marriage of convenience to Maggie Carter. A union with a “nobody from the colonies” would shock and horrify his stuffy family and rescue from poverty the woman who had once saved his life. Will didn’t count on getting three spirited children in the bargain though. And he didn’t expect to fall for his wife.
But as Maggie sets his household straight about what an independent lady from an ‘unsophisticated country’ would and would not accept, the new marquess begins to discover that his marchioness has a will of her own.
Book 3 – this one was originally published in 2010 under the title The Heart’s Song. The 2010 blurb reads:
Widower Graham Lockwood hasn’t stepped foot in church since he lost his family. So he can’t possibly say yes to his new neighbor’s request that he lead the hand bell choir. But widowed mother Reeny Landry is so hopeful—and her fatherless children so in need—that Graham agrees to help.
Suddenly, the man who closed himself off is coming out of his shell. And he finds himself acting the father figure to Reeny’s sweet, mute daughter and her loner son. But going from neighbor to husband is another matter altogether. Until a loving family teaches Graham to hear the heart’s song.
So there you have it, the three projects I’m itching to get to work on. Let me know which order you think I should tackle them in and why, and I’ll throw your name in the hat for the drawing!
Hey, y’all! It’s an honor and a thrill to be back visiting you here at Petticoats and Pistols. You know, the name of this blog says it all. At least for me. Women can be feminine and still be downright dangerous.
My new book, A Scout for Skyler, from the Mail-Order Mama series, has been described as Pride and Prejudice meets The Beverly Hillbillies.
Yes, it’s a comedy, but my heroine, Priscilla Jones, was written as a serious tribute to some of the most amazing pioneer women in American history.
Over the years, my research has introduced me to some gals who defied expectations and overcame some impossible situations. Sometimes, it was life-and-death. Other times, it was a matter of life—hers, and how she wanted to live it.
As I was writing A Scout for Skyler, I had these historical figures in my head:
Of course, when we think of rough-and-rowdy frontier women, the first one to come to mind should be Calamity Jane. She lived in a man’s world. Smoke, drank, chewed, and fought with the best of them.
Orphaned at twelve, left to care for five brothers and sisters, Calamity did not shirk her duty. Most likely she did work as a prostitute early on to provide for the family. She left the lifestyle behind, though, by learning to shoot and throw a respectable punch. Everyone who knew Calamity did respect her courage and her kindness. She rescued a runaway stage from a Cheyenne war party and nursed some Deadwood residents back to health during a smallpox epidemic. The only thing Calamity couldn’t do was win Hickock’s heart.
Susan McSween watched her husband get gunned down in the street during the Lincoln County War. Livid over his murder by a US Army colonel in cahoots with the Murphy-Dolan gang, she stayed in town and hired an attorney to fight for justice. He was soon murdered, as well. Susan still didn’t back down or leave. She changed tactics. She figured out the best way to get back at the corrupt forces in Lincoln County was to hit them in the pocketbook.
Susan McSween was a shrewd businesswoman and she put all her efforts into frustrating her nemesis, James Dolan. Eventually, she became the Cattle Queen of New Mexico, at one point running nearly 5,000 head of cattle. Best of all, she outlived all her enemies.
And I thought of Nancy Hart, a patriot on the frontier of North Georgia. The Cherokee named her War Woman because she was fearless and an accurate shot (even with crossed eyes). Her real legend came about when she killed six British soldiers with their own guns.
I could go on and on. The women who built this country were tough, stubborn, and courageous. Suffice it to say, the things my girl Priscilla Jones does in A Scout for Skyler—she’s totally capable of them. Because real heroines have gone before her.
My hero, Captain Corbett, is an arrogant Scotsman who believes women should have babies not opinions. How well do you think an attitude like that would have gone over with the rough-and-tumble Calamity Jane, or the fiery, refined Susan McSween?
In A Scout for Skyler, all these ladies have a voice, and the story was a hoot to write. Talk about fireworks and sassy dialogue.
A Scout for Skyler is part of the multi-author series, Mail-Order Mama. All the stories are stand-alones but have one thing in common: the mail-order bride is a surprise. I hope you’ll check them all out.
Want a pair of ruggedly handsome Horsemen to charge into your life for a few hours and get your heart pumping with adventure and swoon-worthy romance? Let me introduce you to Mark Wallace and Jonah Brooks – the heroes of The Heart’s Charge, my latest release. These men are seasoned ex-cavalry officers with a calling to help those in need. Even if those who need them are homeless children society deems beneath their notice. And when they team up with a pair of passionate women who run the local foundling home, more than one heart will be charging into the fray.
When I first starting researching this story, I knew I wanted it to be set in a small town that was relatively secluded. Enter Kingsland, TX – a town surrounded on three sides by water. Kingsland was founded at the place where the Colorado and Llano Rivers meet, and during the time period for my story, the only way to get into town from the east was to cross a bridge built for the railroad.
I love to study old town maps when I am setting a story in a real place, but Kingsland, TX was never incorporated, so I had a difficult time finding any historic maps of the area. I reached out to the Chamber of Commerce, and they were kind enough to point me in the direction of local historical John Hallowell. Mr. Hallowell generously shared his research with me, including some photographs and personal recollections of that railroad bridge being used for pedestrian traffic. School children crossed it to get to school. People traveling from Burnet County would leave their horses or wagons on the Burnet side then cross the bridge to conduct their business in Kingsland. All of these facts fueled my imagination as I plotted.
However, the most colorful piece of history I uncovered was the fact that people vividly remembered mistiming their crossing on this bridge, and having to make dramatic climbs onto the support piers in order to avoid being hit by a train. I knew I had to use this tidbit at some point in my novel.
I visited Kingsland during the course of writing the book, and I saw the bridge in question. It still stands today, though a few additional concrete pillars have been added over the years for extra support. Note how there is no railing or trestles or anything to add stability for the people who crossed this bridge. And the Colorado River is no trickling stream. Falling in would spell disaster. Yet school children crossed it every day! I was brave enough to walk out on the bridge to the edge of of the shore, but that was as far as I dared. I had no desire to act out the scene I was plotting in my head, especially since I had no idea if the tracks were still in use.
Here is the start of the scene that was inspired by this bridge research, a scene that would become one of my favorites in the entire novel.
Katherine clutched Mark’s arm. It didn’t matter if Alice could recognize the man or not. She was putting herself in his path, and if he spotted her, she could be taken, just like the others.
“We’ve got to get to her. Now!”
Mark nodded but took the time to shake the porter’s hand in thanks. Katherine didn’t. Leaving the men behind, she hoisted her skirt above her ankles and sprinted across the platform and down into the street. People turned to stare as she raced past, but she paid them no mind. Her only thought was to follow the railroad tracks and get to the bridge.
Mark called out to her, but she didn’t look back. He’d catch up soon enough. Nor did she hesitate to mount the tracks and start across the bridge. People crossed this bridge on foot every day. Heavens, children from Hoover’s Valley walked across it every morning to come to school in Kingsland.
Once on the bridge, she hiked her skirt up a bit more and watched the placement of each hurried step. There were no railings and no trestles to protect her from falling into the Colorado River below should she lose her balance.
“Kate!” Mark called, much nearer now. “Stop!”
She lifted her head to judge how far she’d come. Almost halfway. And there, across the river, she spied a pair of horses at the end of the bridge. A small child in boy’s clothing moved between them. Alice! Katherine’s heart soared.
“I see her!” She halted momentarily and glanced over her shoulder, her excitement building.
Mark stood on the tracks at the edge of the bridge, waving her toward him. “Come back!” he yelled.
Go back? No. They had to go forward. Get to Alice before she was lost to them again. She shook her head and resumed picking her way across the bridge. Faster now. Nearly at a run. Alice was on the other side. In danger. Nothing else mattered.
But two-thirds of the way across, she realized she was wrong. Something else did matter. Something barreling toward her with such speed that the tracks convulsed beneath her feet. The deep, haunting moan of a train whistle pierced her ears and her heart.
The 6:50 from Burnet. Heading straight for her.
I’ll be giving away 2 copies of The Heart’s Charge today.
For a chance to win, leave a comment about a favorite bridge-related memory or about a bridge you would love to visit one day.
I wrote a blog here a while back about things to do around Dallas. One of those were the Fort worth Stockyards. Well, I can’t very well recommend somewhere I’ve never been, right? The grandkids were visiting from Panama (and getting vaccinated-dual citizens!), so we went on a day trip.
Wow, there’s something there for everyone!
First recommendation – go in early spring or fall – it gets hot there! Second, go early. We got there early enough to snag a shady parking spot, and started wandering.
Tons of shopping! Everything from tourist-trap stuff to really top end boots and attire. These guys were outside one shop, and I was tempted to take one home – instead, settled for the perfect coaster for my desk!
Then we sat on a bench beside the brick of Exchange Avenue, and waited for the cowboys to drive a herd of longhorns past! (happens daily at 11:30 & 4:00) I don’t know if you’ve ever been close to a longhorn, but they are HUGE!
They also had one saddled and standing in the shade that you could get on and grab a photo, but none of us were tempted.
We wandered, and every fifty feet or so there are stars in the sidewalk, like in Hollywood, but they’re for cowboys (and women) that helped settle the west, Western actors, even the cattle trails had one.
After a delicious lunch at Shake Shack (Didn’t know there was one in Texas!), we set off again.
Next stop, Cowtown Coliseum. They have rodeos there every Friday and Saturday night, and the kids would have loved to have seen one, but there just wasn’t time, this trip. But it’s open to the public every day, and there are still things to see there, including Sancho of the curly horns.
It’s also home to the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame – I had a blast finding all the bullriders I’ve followed for years, including the King of the Cowboys, Ty Murray. But it wasn’t only just cowboys – rodeo stock (bucking horses and bulls) are represented too!
Next stop, The John Wayne Museum. It was closed, but we went in the gift shop, and I couldn’t believe it! There was Trigger and Bullet! For you youngsters, that was Roy Rogers’ horse and Dog, from his TV show. I’d seen them at the Roy Rogers Museum in Victorville, Ca, decades before, and it was like seeing slightly macabre old friends!
On the way out, I couldn’t resist – I had to get on the bucking machine. Mind you, it was NOT moving. Trust me, getting up on that thing was hard enough – a sure sign I’m too old for it, but I had to get a photo!
All in all, a great, fun day – I highly recommend it! You can learn more of the details of what to do there, here.
If you make it there, send me a photo of YOU on the bucking bull!