WAGON TRAIN SISTERS, the second in my Women of the West series will be released July 19th. As in Wagon Train Cinderella, I did a whole lot of research for this book and have a couple of shelves full of books to show for it. In my writing career, I’ve switched genres a few times, from but the Old West, is where I’ll stay. There’s so much to write about, particularly the California Gold Rush, that I’ll never run out of plots!
Life in a gold mining town high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is fascinating. People came from literally all over the world to make their fortune, and that makes for interesting characters indeed. The plot and in my books are fictional, but many incidents are real, as well as descriptions of life in a mining town.
One of the perks of being an author is we’ve got complete control over our characters and can make them anything we want. When I start a new book, creating my romantic heroine is a labor of love. She can be shy and quiet, brash and talkative, blonde, brunette, whatever. It’s up to me. When I first started writing, all my heroines were drop dead gorgeous. Deep-set blue eyes with thick fringe of lashes—perky little nose—perfect, pearly white teeth—swan-like neck—cascade of blonde wavy hair flowing down her back…etc. Then I went to a writers’ conference where I learned readers don’t relate to a too-beautiful heroine. I should make her more average looking, maybe give her an unattractive feature or two, like a less-than-straight nose or a few extra pounds. I tried to take this advice but failed miserably. Why create an ugly heroine when I can create a beautiful one? Okay, I’ve toned her down a bit. At the start of the story, Callie Whitaker, my heroine in Wagon Train Cinderella, is an ugly duckling. Later on, she transforms into an attractive woman, but I don’t overdo it. Even so, I can’t bring myself to give her any flaws, like I refuse to put a bump in her perfectly straight little nose.
Do we authors model the physical appearance of our heroines after themselves? I’d like to think I don’t, but come to think of it, I’ve never had a short heroine. She’s always tall and slender. Gee, do you suppose the fact that I’m 5’8” have anything to do with it? As for the slender part, there was a time when I… Hmm, don’t think I’ll go there. Every heroine should have a goal. She should want something badly. If she’s completely content with her life and doesn’t want a thing, then where’s the story? Authors of contemporary novels have an easy time defining their heroine’s goal. In this post- women’s liberation world, a woman can aspire to being anything from a nursery school teacher to brain surgeon, race driver, astronaut—anything she wants. In my contemporary mystery, Deadly Gamble, my heroine holds a mid-management job. Her big goal in life is to fight her way up the corporate ladder to get to the top. If some kind of physical danger exists in an historical novel, the heroine’s goal is an easy one. In Wagon Train Cinderella, my heroine travels in a wagon train to California in 1851. Her built-in goal is to get there alive without being scalped by Indians, bit by a snake, trampled in a buffalo stampede, etc. But lacking deadly threats and mishaps, historical novels present the biggest challenge. Women in Regency England, where my early novels took place, had limited choices, to say the least. Regardless of class, the only accepted goal for every woman was marriage and motherhood. If a woman of the aristocracy remained single, she became that most pitiful of creatures, an “ape leader,” doomed to live out her life as the useless dependent relative who couldn’t find a husband. A woman in the lower classes didn’t fare much better. She could be a governess, servant, or possibly run some kind of establishment. In Lady Semple’s Secret, Meg, my crippled heroine, worked as a lowly servant but had her dream. “Some day I shall keep apartments for gentlefolk some place by the sea, possibly Brighton. Then I shall read all I please—collect books—sketch—write poetry—travel to Paris, Venice, everywhere.” Coupled with a goal, a heroine needs a special interest. Otherwise, she’s just plain boring. Contemporary heroines can bowl—ski—line-dance—take up gourmet cooking—the choices are endless. Not so back in Regency England where a lady was limited to playing the pianoforte, painting with water colors, embroidering, and that’s about it. Anything else was considered most unseemly. After writing several Regencies, by the time I wrote The London Belle, I was desperate to find a new, unique interest for aristocratic Jane, my heroine. I came up with something I feared would never fly. Jane’s passionate, secret interest was rescuing ancient manuscripts inscribed by Cistercian monks in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and translating them from their original Greek or Latin. OMG! Who would believe such a thing? Did I stretch too far? It turned out okay. Never in reviews and comments from my readers, did anyone ever observe that no pretty young woman in her right mind would just love translating ancient Cistercian manuscripts. Which only goes to show, readers are ready and willing to suspend belief if the author makes the story believable, which in the case of Jane, apparently I did. It doesn’t hurt to think outside the box a little when creating a new heroine. If she’s fascinating, chances are the book will be, too. That’s what I always aim for. Here are some of my books. I invite you to take a look at: Wagon Train Cinderella, Amazon
I published my first book in 1997. It doesn’t seem so long ago, but in publishing terms, 1997 was back in the stone age. My, how times have changed. Before then, when my book was nearing completion, I’d mail out a few queries, both to agents and editors. Occasionally I’d receive a reply with those magic words, “I’d like to see the complete manuscript.” Oh, the excitement! I would print out the book, never without some sort of foul-up with the page numbering (I used Word Perfect back then). Then I’d get the package together: manuscript, synopsis, cover letter, return postage. Haul the package to the post office and mail—no small expense for a struggling writer. Then wait. And wait. And wait some more. Months later, the rejection letter.
“Although I liked certain elements in your story…”
“Unfortunately we recently published a book with a similar plot…”
“Interesting plot but cardboard characters…” (Ouch!) Finally I found an agent who said she’d like to represent me. Another wait, and then “The Call,” that wonderful moment when the agent phoned with the news she’d sold Lady Semple’s Secret to Ballantine. Soon after, the Ballantine editor sent me the manuscript with lots of little yellow Post-Its sticking out the side. My heart sunk. It looked like I’d have to rewrite the book, but most of the Post-Its had to do with comments and questions, and very few typos or requested changes. I revised the manuscript, sent it back, and that was it. I had nothing more to do except revel in the glow of being a published author and wait for the book release.
Thank goodness, those costly days of printing and mailing a manuscript are long gone. I wonder if our newer writers appreciate being able to send a manuscript to an agent with one quick click. The Post-Its are now replaced with MS Word tracking, so that editing is so much faster and more thorough. (Not that you’ll find many writers who love tracking, including me, but it’s a good tool, nonetheless.) And then there’s the marketing. If you’ve written a good book, that’s only half the battle. Facebook—Twitter—my own website and blog—Linked—and a lot more. Do a Cover Reveal. Do a One Day Book Blast. Oh, for the good old days! But no, wait. The good old days mean having to lug my manuscript package to the post office, pay double postage, then wait eons for the mail. So, no, I’ll take this electronic age any day, and excuse me while go do my Blog.