“South Pass City Historic Site.” Jim Janke’s List of Resources on the Old West, jimjanke.com/Featured.htm.
I love to poke around old ghost towns, to walk the deserted streets and imagine what it must have been like. South Pass City, a gold rush boomtown high in the Wyoming Rockies is one of my favorites. Though it appeared in two of my three Cheyenne Trilogy books, I’d never considered actually setting a story there until one summer day when we ventured to the mountains for a family picnic.
As I peeked through the cracks of an old boarded up blacksmith shop at the end of Price Street, the essence of the place crept into my soul as never before. I could almost hear the smith’s hammer on the anvil and feel the ground shaking from the underground blasts in the mines. “There’s a story here,” I said in awe. “Can’t you feel it?” My husband just grinned. It wasn’t the first time he’d heard that.
I walked down the wooden sidewalks surrounded by ghostly music from the brothels and saloons, shivered as I stepped into Fort Bourbon, the underground cellar where the women and children hid during Indian attacks, and winced when I saw the tiny cells in the jail. MEADOWLARK began to form in my mind.
My heroine was easy. Orphaned, broke, and in deep trouble, Becky White wouldn’t survive long in the rough mining town without help. The image I had in my mind was of a picture I have of my grandmother when when she was in her late teens. She looked a great deal like the model who graces the current cover or Meadowlark.
The hero was a little more difficult. I have always loved gentle giants. Hoss was my favorite Cartwright even when I was old enough to find Little Joe and Adam attractive. I decided to see if I could create just such a hero, one that any heroine worth her salt would choose over the handsome, self-centered villain without a moment’s hesitation.
Perhaps it was because South Pass City was a mining town, but the song Big Bad John, a 1961 hit by Jimmy Dean kept running through my mind. I wrote Meadowlark back in the days before the Internet, so I had to depend on memory for the lyrics. I thought all I remembered was that John stood six foot six, weighed 245 pounds, had broad shoulders, was quiet and shy and was a miner. For some reason, I also knew my hero was Scandinavian, maybe because of the stereotype. Unfortunately, having spent most of my life in Wyoming, I hadn’t been around many men with a Scandinavian background. To make sure I got my character right, I enlisted the help of my friend Kathy who is half Swedish and half Norwegian.
At the time she had many elderly relative still living that spoke either Swedish or Norwegian, so I asked her to find out some words for me including a list of endearments. Imagine my surprise when she told me the elders had informed her there were no endearments. Apparently when a Norwegian man says “I Love You” it’s a REALLY… BIG… DEAL! My heart sank. How was I going to write a book about a man who never whispered sweet nothings to the heroine? Then, like a lightning bolt, it hit me that a man who couldn’t tell her how he felt would actually be the perfect hero for a romance novel!
Though the prospect was still a little daunting, I called my friend Kathy and we created my hero together. We discussed everything from what he ate (and didn’t eat) to how he talked and what he did with his leisure time. Since this was my fourth book, I had knew that a character’s quirks are what make them seem real. Garrick Swenson was not only big and strong, but gentle and kind as well. He was also a bit reserved, not one to show strong feeling. Then, just for fun, I gave him the nickname of Swede even though he is Norwegian. He tells Becky that most people in South Pass City couldn’t tell the difference between Norwegians and Swedes, and he’d just never bothered to correct them. On top of that he had a dangerous job, a mysterious past, and a bruised soul, all of which pretty much guaranteed he would be irresistible to any heroine. Kathy assures me he is also the epitome of the Scandinavian hunk.
I had my hero, now for the villain. Cameron Price. Handsome, charming, incredibly brave, he was even a bona fide army hero, and Becky’s first love. His only flaw was that he was self-centered and a bit of a womanizer. In most books he would be the hero, one the heroine would save from himself. If Garrick was a bit like Hoss Cartwright, then Cameron was the cover model Fabio. In fact, that was the picture I kept in my mind as I wrote. I love the idea of Hoss going up against Fabio, and the girl picking Hoss.
Last, but not least, is the historical connection. All of my books have some history in them, some more than others. Meadowlark has the least but it’s still there. Women were given the right to vote for the first time anywhere by the Wyoming Territorial legislature in 1869. (More about that in the next blog.) Women were also given the right to hold office. In protest, R.S. Barr, the Justice of the Peace in South Pass City, resigned contingent upon the commissioners being able to find a woman capable to taking his place. Much to his surprise, Esther Hobart Morris was duly appointed and served for eighteen months as the world’s first female Justice of the Peace. Proving yet again that it never pays to underestimate women. Mrs. Morris appears in Meadowlark in her role as Justice of the Peace. I couldn’t resist.
As you may already know, Meadowlark is the first book of the Meadowlark trilogy. To further explore the stories, I have invited my first “character” blogger. Angel Brady, who appears in all three books, will be here for the next three blogs to tell you about the books and how they fit together. Until then, stay warm and think spring!