So excited to welcome author and friend, Cindy Huff, whose debut novel, Secrets and Charades, releases today! I read and loved this historical romance which is full of action, surprises, and a very touching romance. Be sure to check out how to win a free copy of Cindy’s novel at the end of this post.
Before Cindy shares some of the fascinating research that helped to bring her novel alive, here’s the back cover copy to give you a bird-eye view of her story’s characters and plot.
Jake Marcum’s busy ranch leaves him no time for courting, and his wounded heart has no place for love. When battlefield nightmares disturb his peace and his tomboy niece, Juliet, needs taming, somehow a mail-order bride seems like a logical solution.
Dr. Evangeline Olson has no idea her niece is writing to a rancher on her behalf, and she sure isn’t interested in abandoning her medical practice for a stranger. But when an inheritance threatens to reveal a long-buried secret, she travels west to become Jake’s wife.
Jake soon realizes Evangeline is more than he bargained for, especially when her arrival causes a stir in the community. As the two try to find their way in a marriage of convenience, their fragile relationship is further tested by cattle rustling and kidnapping. Can their hearts overcome past hurts to create a real marriage?
And now … here’s Cindy!
Beth, I’m delighted to be back. The timing is perfect for sharing interesting the things I learned in my research. I love Jake and Evangeline and the crew of the Double M. But their story would be so flat without the research that helped to build my story world.
Before I created my story, I spent a few months reading books because the internet is not as detailed. When I googled female doctors in the 1800’s, I found some information. But the library, used books on Amazon, and my friend Chris’ extensive library offered far more interesting information. Chris is a Civil War reenactor and history buff. These resources also helped me create Evangeline’s backstory.
1800’s Women fought for education
In the 1800’s, educated men believed women’s brains were too frail to understand weightier subjects beyond what finishing school provided. Professors in medical schools did all they could to discourage women from attending. And those women who did were often excluded from cadaver dissection. The instructors insisted it was unseemly for a single woman to view a naked male body, even a dead one. Women had to work harder to prove themselves.
Naming the town
My story’s town of Charleton is fictitious. It took a lot of digging to create a town name not found anywhere in Texas. Google helped here. Surprisingly, many names I made up were actual towns and each in the wrong part of Texas.
Jake and most of the Double M crew are Civil War veterans. The trauma of war affected each of them differently. Many who survived dealt with Soldier’s heart. (PTSD today) Strong, brave men became frightened, irrational, or violent at the least provocation. Some spent the rest of their lives in insane asylums. Others acted out and became outlaws. The James gang is an example. Bart, one of the secondary characters in Secrets and Charades, exhibits the negative attributes of soldier’s heart. This adds an unexpected twist to the story.
Jake served in the Confederate Army and, like his fellow-soldiers, admired General Lee. This is evident by the naming of his personal mount. The stallion resembled Lee’s steed, Traveler, who was both intelligent and loyal.
I was surprised to learn most ranch horses had no name. They were just tools of the trade. Most cowboys owned a saddle but not a horse. A few of my characters have horses with names. Being named made them more than just a horse.
Dishes and decorum
Evangeline brought trunks and crates with her. One special item was her grandmother’s china. Fine dishes could be found even in soddies and dugouts. New settlers built homes by cutting large sections of sod into bricks. Others dug holes in the side of hills. The interiors had carpet on the dirt floors and maybe a few nice furnishings and even curtains. These along with china represented civilization to the settlers. Mr. Farley, Jake’s wealthy neighbor, even takes his china on a cattle drive. He has a portable table covered with a cloth and china dishes for every meal. Families came west with at least a few pieces of china they used as everyday dishes.
Sewing machines might cost a few months’ wages, but the peddle-driven contraption was a wonderful time-saving device. Still, women prided themselves in their fancy work (embroidery, needlepoint, and tatting) and neat hand-sewed stitches. Bertha Wood, another secondary character, weaves wool into linen and dyes wool thread into a variety of colors for knitting. The description of the dying process got the ax in the final draft of Secrets and Charades.
Jesse James influence
Evangeline practiced medicine in Missouri before her adventure west. The James gang robbed banks and trains in Missouri. I ran across a story about them that made me laugh. Roadside inns with dormitory style rooms were places weary travelers stayed the night. The story goes Jesse James dressed as a woman while fleeing with bank loot. He stayed at one of these inns. Everyone thought it odd the woman insisted on sleeping with her valise under her head. This gave me the idea to have Evangeline carry cash hidden in her petticoat when she traveled west on the train.
Wild west chivalry
An outlaw refused to steal a woman’s horse. Instead, he rode past the female rider and continued until his horse gave out and he had to walk. At which point, he was arrested and hanged. The outlaws in Secrets and Charades are not as nice.
Former slaves populated the west
After the Civil War, many former slaves immigrated west. They ranched, farmed, founded towns and pursued other occupations. The blacksmith on the Double M is a former slave.
I discussed the types of guns available during this period with my friend, Chris. He explained how the Winthrop sniper rifle could hit its mark from a mile away. Unbelievable.
The one description I was constantly fighting not to get edited out of my story was the firing of this rifle. Bullets travel faster than the speed of sound. A victim fell before the report of the gun was heard. And yet, editors and critique partners unfamiliar with weapon fire wanted my character to hear the shot then see the victim fall.
Of course, most of my research never found a place in my novel. Some are destined for the sequel. And yes, I’m working on a sequel and have ideas for a third in the series.
To celebrate the release of Secrets and Charades I’m gifting a copy to a lucky commenter. Beth will choose the winner, and I’ll send them either a paperback or Kindle version. You must have a United States address to be eligible to win.
To be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Cindy’s novel, leave a comment responding to her post here. I will post the winner here next week Wednesday. You will then have a week to claim your free book.
Thank you Cindy for sharing such interesting facts about life in the West, and congratulations on the release of your first novel.
Cindy Ervin Huff is the winner of the 2014 Editor’s Choice Award from Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She is a contributor to Splickety Publishing Group’s anthology and has been featured on Christian Communicator, Suburban Dog, ChristianDevotions.us, and Splickety Lightning Blog. Cindy is President of the Aurora, Illinois, chapter of Word Weavers. She and her husband make their home in Aurora, Illinois.
Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946016144/
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/cindyervinhuff
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