We’re very happy to welcome Shelley Shepard Gray to the corral for a visit. She’s going to give us an interesting overview and the background of her newest book Love Held Captive.
Every so often, I come across something while doing research that surprises me. Discovering that there was a Confederate Officer POW camp on Johnson Island, in the middle of Lake Erie, was one of those things!
Months before that discovery, I had been making dinner with my husband and told him about my idea for a series. I wanted to focus on a band of brothers who made a vow to be there for each other after the War Between the States. One idea led to another, and by the time we sat down to eat, I had the outline for a three book series. The leader of this group was Captain Devin Monroe. I knew he was going to be the heart and the soul of this group of men. So well respected, he was almost larger than life. All of that was good. I just couldn’t figure out how the men had formed their bond. I came up with several scenarios, covering everything from being neighbors to meeting during basic training, to forming a bond during specific battles.
Then I discovered the POW camp on Johnson’s Island. During my research, I read one thing that stuck with me-that the best of the Confederacy was being guarded by the worst the Union had. I learned that these officers were carted up to Sandusky, Ohio by train and marched across the ice to Johnson’s Island. Then, these generals and captains and first lieutenants were essentially left to govern themselves. They made gardens, they whittled, and they cared for each other. One group of men even wrote a play. I knew right then and there that I had my men’s bonding experience!
Of course, no matter how much it differed from other encampments, it was still a POW camp. Dozens of men died while being incarcerated and the officers buried them on the island. When the war ended, groups from several southern states raised funds so the men would have tombstones. The cemetery is still there.
Right before I began writing the first book in the series, my husband and I drove up to Sandusky and visited a Veterans Home. A kind gentlemen took us up to the third floor of the museum there and showed us the many artifacts that remained from the camp. Then, after a few wrong turns and more than a couple dead ends, we finally found the Confederate cemetery. The site of it took my breath away.
People ask all the time how much research I feel I need to do for my historicals. For me, the story and the characters always come first…but the experience of actually being where my characters might have walked? Well, for me, it was priceless.
Love Held Captive is the last book in my Lone Star Hero’s Love Story series. It features both Captain Devin Monroe’s and Major Ethan Kelly’s stories. It takes place in San Antonio at the Menger Hotel and on Johnson’s Island. At its heart, it’s a romance about two men and two women who truly deserve their happiness. But it’s also about perseverance and grit. And about surviving, forging friendships, and clinging to hope in even the darkest of circumstances. I hope you will enjoy the book.
Here’s the link to the website, so you can get a copy in your favorite format.
Last month I released book #2 of my Men of Legend series–THE HEART OF A TEXAS COWBOY! I’m still excited. Can you tell? This marriage of convenience story has gotten a lot of attention.
Today, I’ve caught up with Houston Legend, one of Stoker’s three sons. I have to tell you, I’m a little tongue-tied. All six-feet-four-inches of this brooding handsome hunk is sitting across from me and his dark eyes are making me awfully fidgety. Oh my!
I guess I’d best get started before the perspiration seeps through my clothes—or else I grab him and kiss him.
Q: Now, Houston honey, why exactly did you marry Lara Boone, a woman you’d never met, after vowing to never take a wife?
A growl rumbles in Houston’s throat. “I had to clean up my father’s mess. During a weekend of drinking and gambling, Stoker loses half of our ranch. Two hundred and forty thousand acres disappeared overnight. Still makes me mad enough to cuss, except I don’t do that in front of a lady. All that hard work, sacrifice, and sweat for nothing. Gone. (Houston snaps his fingers.) Just like that. And then, he tells me that I can get it back—by marrying the daughter of the new owner and giving her baby a name.
I tell you, that was closest I ever came to hitting my father. In fact, the urge was so strong, I had to leave the room before I did. Finally, after some soul-searching, I agreed. I’d give Lara Boone and her baby my name—but I had the vow to love her stricken from the marriage ceremony. Love wasn’t part of the deal. I’d make them comfortable and keep them safe, but that was all I signed up for.”
Q: Tell me about that ceremony and seeing Lara for the first time.
Houston pinches the bridge of his nose and lowers his head just a little. “I wasn’t prepared for the pain in that woman’s eyes, the shame of resorting to this, and the clear fact she hated having to marry as much as I did. I thought she was some gold-digger, wanting to trap a man, but that wasn’t the case at all. In the days that followed, I discovered how sensitive and kind Lara is. Her intelligence about ranching really took me by surprise. Who would’ve thought a woman would care about the ranch, much less know anything about the running of one.”
Q: So you put together a cattle drive and Lara went along to cook. When did you know trouble was coming?
A hard glint fills Houston’s eyes. “I saw riders trailing us the morning of the third day and my gut said they were up to something. I soon learned they were after Lara—abduct or kill, didn’t much matter to them. They were hell-bent on getting her. And here we were in Indian Territory with no law anywhere. Those outlaws gave us quite a time. (Houston gave me a little heartstopping grin.) I kinda spoiled their plan. They found out about Legend justice.”
Q: I can just imagine. I hear there was quite a fight.
Houston shifts in his chair and his voice turns to granite. “Yuma Blackstone started picking us off one by one and we couldn’t catch him. Indian Territory has thousands of places to hide. We started pushing the herd faster as hard as we could. Posted guards in camp and I ordered drovers to do everything in pairs. After burying two men, we had a bloody fight to the finish. For a time there, I wasn’t sure how it was going to end. I was down to my last bullet and figured to make it count. Suddenly a band of Cherokees rode from out of nowhere and helped up. Me and my brothers came awful close to dying that day.
Q: I hear you and Lara fell in love on that cattle drive. How do you feel about her now?”
Houston relaxes and stretches his long legs out in front of him. “That pretty woman lights up my world. I can’t imagine life without her. I’m happier than I’ve been in my life. And she and kiss—boy, how she can kiss. She sends a hunger through me like I’ve never seen. The best part of my day is when we lie down at night, sharing not only a bed, but hopes and dreams too. Lord, how I love her. She’s everything to me.
Thank you, Houston honey. I know you’re a very busy man so I’ll let you get back to running the Lone Star. Readers, if you want suspense, danger, and a big helping of romance, pick up this book and dive in. It’s quite a journey.
Leave a comment telling me one of your favorite cowboy book heroes and get your name entered in a drawing for a copy of this one. If you already have it, you can choose one of my other ones. Oh and you get to choose either print or ebook.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my new western historical romance, TEXAS TWILIGHT, with your readers. It’s book two in The McCutcheon Family series, and was a joy to write. I think it’s because I got so attached to the family in MONTANA DAWN, I was eager to learn more about them, create a little havoc in their lives, and feel the joy of them falling in love.
John Jake McCutcheon, the fourth brother, was only mentioned twice in book one. Now, he’s out of medical school and starting a new practice in Rio Wells, Texas, the town where his extended family reside. All goes well until Dustin, the oldest Texas cousin, takes a shine to Lily Anthony, the pretty young woman who has traveled in the same Wells Fargo coach with John to Rio Wells. Sparks fly as the two McCutcheon men, so different yet also alike, square off.
For all you cowboy lovers, here is a short excerpt;
* * *
Texas Badlands, 1886
The stagecoach lurched. John Jake McCutcheon opened his eyes and saw the young woman next to him grasp the leather loop that hung from the coach’s ceiling to keep from being tossed around. She tipped precariously to the right, then left, bumping forcefully into his shoulder. With an apologetic glance she moved away, then dabbed at her brow with a folded handkerchief. She looked at her elderly aunt.
“Tante Harriet? Are you all right?” she asked in a soft German accent. She opened the fan she held and swished it back and forth in front of the tiny woman. “Your face is extremely red.”
“Of course, Lily,” Harriet Schmidt said in a raspy voice laced with exhaustion. The old woman’s hair was swept up atop her head and fastened in a bun, but after the miles and miles traveled on the dusty, sun-baked road, it looked more like a weather blown tumbleweed after a storm. She patted her niece on the knee. “Thank heavens we’re almost there. Just one more day and we’ll be out of this oven.”
John glanced away, not wanting to seem impolite. He’d met both Harriet Schmidt and her niece, Lily Anthony, when they’d boarded the stage together in Concepción. He’d seen them on the train from Boston, too, but they’d kept to themselves, never speaking with anyone else.
John gazed out the window, thinking. He was finally finished with his medical training and heading to West Texas. Anticipation coursed though him.
Rio Wells was a long way from his family ranch in Montana, but he’d get used to it. His plan to return to Y Knot after graduation hadn’t panned out. His hometown already supported two full-time physicians. If he really wanted to make a difference in people’s lives as a doctor and surgeon, he had to strike out in a place where the townsfolk were in need. At least he wouldn’t be a complete stranger in Rio Wells. Uncle Winston and his family were there. And his fiancée, Emmeline Jordan, would be joining him this fall.
John closed his eyes, recalling Emmeline’s elegant profile and dark, alluring eyes. In his mind’s eye, her mouth drew down into a seductive little pout, a manipulation he knew all too well, but one that, all the same, fueled his blood. She was like a beautiful, exotic bird, needing care and affection.
“Oh, just to take this corset off,” Harriett said to no one in particular, then chortled softly at her niece’s shocked expression at her bluntness. “It pinches horribly. I think I’ll throw it away for good.” She paused, thinking. “No…” Her eyes twinkled mischievously. “Actually, I’ll burn it.”
Cyrus and Jeremiah Post and Abigail Smith, the other passengers cramped uncomfortably on the opposite seat, just smiled, now used to the old woman’s antics. Miss Smith, a teacher, had been hired by the same town council that had hired John, and he felt a small kinship with her.
“You know, Doctor McCutcheon,” Harriett Schmidt went on, trying to catch his eye, “my Lily doesn’t need a corset. Her waist is eighteen inches without one.”
“Tante Harriett. Please.”
John chuckled and shrugged his shoulders. He’d tried not to notice something like that, but it had been difficult, if not impossible. The girl had practically been snuggled to his side for several days.
Without warning, the driver called out sharply to the horses and the coach picked up speed. The two guards riding on top of the stage scuffled around and one shouted something unintelligible. John glanced out the window.
A shot rang out. One second later, one of the guards fell from the top of the stage, past the window, landing with a thunk as the stage rolled on. Lily gasped and threw her arms protectively around her aunt. Abigail screamed and then fainted, flopping over onto Cyrus’s shoulder.
The driver bellowed to the horses again and the stagecoach heaved forward as the six-horse team was propelled instantly into an all-out gallop. Three more shots were fired, and the sound of horses’ hooves thundered from behind.
John looked back through the dust to see a number of riders racing toward the stagecoach, eating up the distance between the two. What the hell was he supposed to do now? He was a doctor. He’d taken the Hippocratic Oath to heal not three weeks before. His job was taking bullets out, not putting them in. But then, he’d also been raised on a rugged Montana ranch, where the unwavering reality was hard. Sometimes staying alive meant killing someone else. Besides, everyone’s lives were on the line, not just his. It would be especially bad for the women aboard. These hills were a common hiding place for Comancheros. They used women in the worst ways and then sold them into prostitution in Mexico. As pretty as she was, Lily Anthony would fetch top price. Hell, they’d sell the skinny teacher and the old woman, too.
Smoke and dust filled the coach. Pop. Pop. Pop. Lily covered her ears. Her elderly aunt coughed as she struggled to hang on. Abigail, now fully awake again, filled the small space with one shrill scream after the other, never even pausing to take a breath. John reached for his satchel under the seat, withdrew a Colt 45, and strapped on his holster. Carrying his guns was a habit he hadn’t been able to break even after his years at school. With hands nimble from experience, he loaded and fired several shots out the window. Two riders fell.
“You have another gun?”
John was surprised to see old Harriet Schmidt eyeing him expectantly. One hand was outstretched while the other grasped the windowsill as the coach careened down the road, jerking violently this way and that. “I’m not letting those filthy dogs take my Lily!”
“Can you shoot?”
“I wouldn’t ask if I couldn’t. My derringer’s not worth diddly.”
John squeezed off three more shots, then pulled another gun from his bag, handing it to Harriet. He pushed the bag toward Lily. “Bullets.”
Cyrus Post fired out the other side of the coach just as a bullet hit Cyrus’s brother in the chest, slamming Jeremiah violently against the back of the seat. Jeremiah gasped several times as he tried to hold back a rush of crimson that spurted through his splayed fingers, soaking his clothes. With just a glance, John could see he wasn’t long for this world. Abigail’s eyes grew round as she took in the blood. With a gasp, she fainted again, blessedly putting an end to her screams.
“Son of a bitch! “ Cyrus cried out. “There’s too many. Prepare to meet your maker.”
“Hush your mouth, you old coot,” Harriet shouted as she hefted the heavy gun and shot out the window. “I have more faith in God than that.”
The coach rounded a corner dangerously fast and then slowed up a bit as it began an uphill climb. One side of the road dropped off, falling some forty feet to a bed of jagged rocks.
Seizing the moment, John holstered his gun and opened the narrow door. He climbed the side of the rocking coach using the window as a step, and grasping the luggage rack, pulled himself up. He flopped onto his stomach, facing the oncoming killers and picked up the fallen guard’s Winchester. He took aim.
* * *
Since the holidays are just around the corner I’d like to share the recipe for my sister’s Beer Bread, which she makes every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s not exactly a recipe from the 1800s, but it surely could’ve been—it’s that easy. Give it a try. You’ll be hooked, too;
3 cups Self Rising flour
3 Tlbs sugar
a 12 –oz can or bottle of beer (at room temperature)
1 cup chopped walnuts, 1 cup raisins
(OR ½ cup raisins and ½ cup cranberries—I use cherry flavored!)
a good shake of cinnamon.
Mix all ingredients together and put into a sprayed and floured bread pan.
Split the top with a knife.
Cover and set in a warm spot for 30 minutes so the dough can rise.
Cook in a 375-degree oven for 1hour and 15 minutes.
Watch at the end so it doesn’t become too brown.
Remove and while still hot, brush top with butter. ENJOY!!
I’m giving away an E-Book copy of TEXAS TWILIGHT, and also a paper copy of MONTANA DAWN to two different commenters. Share with us if you’ve ever been in competition with a friend or family member for the same sweetheart? Don’t be shy….
Available in E-Book online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble
Wrongly imprisoned, Caleb McGraw is finally free—but the bitterness he holds still makes him feel trapped. Until he sees the beautiful Caroline holding a little boy with eyes just like his own. Discovering his long-lost son is just the start of Caleb’s Christmas miracles!
Christmas at Cahill Crossing by Carol Finch
One Christmas night, outcast Lucas Burnett finds a silver-haired angel buried in the snow. But Rosalie Greer is no pale spirit—she’s a fiery, independent woman, as wild as the mustangs Lucas breeds. Can she be the one to finally thaw Lucas’s frozen heart?
A Magical Gift at Christmas by Cheryl St.John
Meredith has always dreamed of a grand life but, stranded on a train in heavy snowfall with two young stowaways, she unexpectedly finds she has everything she needs with just one strong man to protect her….
Lately, I’ve been doing some hard thinking about the seeming “decline” of history lovers. Why, I wonder, are western romance and other historical sub-genres of romance being turned down by some of the bigger New York publishers? As a general rule, it seems that contemporary romance is on the upswing more now than ever before. Yet, I know many people, myself included, who enjoy nothing more than a well-written historical (especially western, in my case) romance novel.
It seems that a lot of the people who have written western romance for years, and in fact, have made their name and career in that sub-genre, are now being told they are going to have to write contemporary in order to sell. At least, according to the big New York houses. I’m seeing this with my own work. I’ve submitted my latest western historical to a couple of agents recently and both of them told me they were interested in seeing something contemporary rather than a historical. It would seem that historicals are on the way out, to be replaced with contemporary, at least as far as New York is concerned. With all the marketing studies that have been done, there must be some research that supports this theory of declining historical readership. I might be out in left field with this, but here’s my take on it.
The main obstacle to anything historical is that we don’t teach it in our schools any longer. So kids, growing up, have no sense of what came before. They don’t learn about history in depth at all, it’s just glossed over, and with the watered-down, public educational system’s “no child left behind” program, they don’t have to care or study. The academic programs are softened so that no child, despite lack of effort or concern, will have to worry about failure. When my son was in high school 4 years ago, his history textbook devoted a two-page spread to World War II; a one page (including a picture) write-up of Viet Nam. How can this be? Do we care so little about the causes, repercussions, and influences of the wars our countrymen have died for that we reduce it to a one-page retelling? Shameful.There’s an old Sioux proverb that says: “A people without history is like wind on the buffalo grass.” I believe that. And there is something within us that needs to know where we came from to give us the strength and determination to get to where we are going. Knowing our history and values of the past instills this within us.
The next dismissal of history is in our entertainment field. If you look at the television programming, it’s all police drama, detective and forensic work of some kind, sitcoms or reality tv. There are no historical dramas anymore other than what you see on cable, such as series like The Tudors. Growing up in the 1960’s-1970’s, I was fortunate to have been exposed to all those wonderful old historical series—westerns such as Bonanza, Gunsmoke, Lancer, High Chaparral, Wagon Train, Rawhide, The Virginian…the list goes on and on. Not only were these shows teaching history, geography, and giving us a glimpse of everyday life in those times, they also taught values. There was clearly a “good guy” and a “bad guy.” We learned about the workings of cattle drives, that lightning could stampede the cattle, that towns were built around railroads, that Matt Dillon always got his man, and he never quit. These westerns provided entertainment, but they gave us so much more. History provides us values of the past to carry forward into the future. There is no other period where this is more evident than the western.
As a society, we are moving away from even concerning ourselves with history in any venue–movies, television…or reading. Sounds bleak, doesn’t it? But wait! There’s a light up ahead. With the advent of the smaller publishing houses, and e-publishing, there is a great possibility for the writers and readers of historical fiction! New York might not realize it, but there are some of us out here who still yearn for a good old fashioned piece of historical fiction every once in a while! And thanks to the e-publishers and the smaller presses, we are going to be able to have our cake and eat it, too. There are a lot of wonderful writers who are being passed over by NY, even people who have big names, who are being told “write contemporary or you’re out.” Well, those people have a following already. So how could they have that following, writing western historicals, if no one read those? Why are they being told to write contemporary? Because New York sees it as the way the world is turning now, and they are desperate to make every dollar they can make. That leaves the smaller presses and e-publishers to make the money on the historicals that NewYork doesn’t want to publish anymore. These smaller presses are going to build their own following, and the writers they publish will do the same.
Historicals rise and fall in popularity, but “westerns will never die.” I think John Wayne said that, and it’s very true. I write a mix, both contemporary and historical. My heart is with the historicals, and I will continue to write them, because I know that there are people out there who read them.
Not everyone who reads a book lives in New York City, but it seems that that’s what the New York houses cater to. I get really tired of how every show on tv being set in New York or Los Angeles. There are other places in the world! And the same is true of the books we read–they don’t all have to take place in those two places. There are tons of other very interesting locations to set a story in, and there are thousands of people who want to read – and relate—to a variety of settings. Exciting things can happen anywhere, any time period, as long as the writer has the imagination to make it realistic.
Society, as a whole, is responsible for the disregard of our rich heritage and past that should be remembered, written and read about, and learned about. I love history, and though I read and write contemporaries too, there is sometimes nothing like picking up a good ol’ western and reading it. And that’s why I will continue to write historical westerns. There will always be a readership for them, because of the fulfillment they offer our need for a true hero and heroine, and always, a “happily ever after” ending.
I’m curious as to what your favorite historical romance is. I have so many, my list would be endless. And while I write in both genres, I can’t picture myself ever giving up writing historicals to pen only contemporaries.
I have always loved westerns. As a kid, I can remember lying shoulder to shoulder on the TV room floor with my older brother as we watched Clint Eastwood shoot and snarl and glare his way through a host of spaghetti westerns. I thought he was the coolest thing on earth and couldn’t decide if I wanted to marry him, or grow up to be just like him. My mother suggested neither was a viable possibility, given the age gap and the fact that she would ground me forever if I even considered shooting my way through life. But those dire warnings did nothing to curb my love of the Old West.
My weekend viewing consisted reruns of Bonanza and The Big Valley. I then graduated to Little House on the Prairie. When they made a mini-series of Lonesome Dove, I was in heaven. Even the television series that followed staring Eric MacCormack and Scott Bairstow was must see TV for me, although it wasn’t really until they reformatted the program in the second year to “The Outlaw Years” that it really got interesting. I even watched Young Guns. If that doesn’t show my dedication to the genre, I don’t know what does.
Even now, my DVD shelf is riddled with westerns. Unforgiven, 3:10 to Yuma, Deadwood. The latest version of True Grit was probably one of my favourite movies of 2010 and I can’t wait to add that to the shelves.
My brother was no help with my addiction at all. If anything he was my number one enabler. With his Time Life Old West series and love of the great Indian chiefs, he became my go-to source for information and bedtime stories. And my brother, great storyteller that he is, had plenty of tales to tell. Sitting Bull, Custer’s Last Stand, all things Comanche. Even now, his Time-Life Old West series are my first stop for research. Thankfully big brother only lives a few streets over and is willing to lend the books out for an extended period with no late fee being charged.
I can’t say there is any one thing about the western genre that draws me, but rather a plethora of things. The way of life was gritty and harsh, the justice meted out with an immediacy that didn’t always allow for fairness or rebuttal, the landscape was harsh and uncompromising. But there was an honesty about it as well, a sense that they were building something new and important and were willing to risk what they needed to and work themselves to the bone to get it.
With all of that going for it, who wouldn’t want to write a story set in the Old West? When I started writing romance, it was even a question for me. It didn`t matter how many people told me westerns were a hard sell. I knew I loved reading them and surely I couldn`t be alone in that. Turned out I was right and THE OUTLAW BRIDE found a home at Carina Press. It seems only fitting that my dream of becoming a published author would be brought to fruition by a story set in a period that is near and dear to my heart – the Old West.
To say thanks to all of those who love the genre and keeping it alive, I`m giving a copy of my new release, THE OUTLAW BRIDE away. Just leave a comment to be entered into the drawing.