Since these books are interconnected, I thought I’d address them in one post.
This series started with a book that isn’t in the series. That book was Meant To Be.
Old cover on the left; new cover on the right
I actually wrote Meant To Be to help me get better acquainted with the historical western mindset. I believe I wrote this in 2008 but published it in 2009. Back then, I knew I needed serious help feeling like I could take myself to the historic old west. People who criticize the Virginia Series have a valid point. Those books do come off as “modern”. People suggested I just stick with contemporary romances, but I really wanted to write historical ones. I was determined to overcome this hiccup in my writing life. No amount of books or internet research was helping in this area. I needed to mentally and emotionally BE there. So I chose to write a story where I brought characters from the present to the past. In doing that, I was forced to see the past through their eyes. This method did the trick. Ever since then, I’ve had no trouble transporting myself back in time.
Anyway, Meant To Be primarily focused on Ted and Megan, but Cole was a secondary character. During the writing of this book, I realized Cole wasn’t that bad and wanted to redeem him. So I gave him his own romance, but it was brief and pretty much glossed over for the sake of the main story. Because of this, I decided to write a story that focused on Cole and Penelope. This was how A Chance In Time came into existence.
While writing A Chance In Time, I came across a surprise character who pretty much showed up out of nowhere. That was Woape, and she was from the Mandan tribe in North Dakota. Woape was close to giving birth, and Penelope took her home to give her a safe place to live. When Woape gave birth, Penelope realized the father was white, and she assumed the worst (that Woape had been raped by a white man). But, as the author, I knew that wasn’t what happened, and since I was never able to go down that rabbit hole in A Chance In Time, I decided to write Restoring Hope.
I began Restoring Hope with the idea that Woape ran away from marrying Citlali. She was going to marry a white man who was going to get her pregnant before dying. Gary was supposed to marry her to give her a safe place from Hothlepoya and his men who sought to harm her. They were supposed to have more of a marriage of convenience where neither was meant to fall in love with the other. That way when I killed him off, there wasn’t supposed to be any emotional attachment to him. Then she was supposed to return to Citlali and fall in love with him. So the original plan was to kill Gary off for real. The problem was that the scenes with Gary kept going on and on, and the more time I spent with him, the more I liked him and didn’t want to see him die. I was in a corner, though, because the events in A Chance In Time still had to take place. Woape was supposed to end up pregnant and at Penelope’s home. That’s how I decided to come up with the idea where everyone believes Gary died. That way, I was able to get Woape to leave town and meet up with Penelope.
In deciding to let Gary live, I could no longer pair her up with Citlali. So when she returned to her tribe, she rejected Citlali’s offer for marriage. Thankfully, Woape’s sister was there and happened to be secretly in love with him. I kind of felt sorry for the guy since he wasn’t as bad as Woape made him out to be. He was just reserved with his feelings.
Before I could write Citlali’s romance, though, I had to write about Gary’s sister. Julia was an unintentional heroine. I introduced her in Restoring Hope, and she was intended to be the villain. She, however, didn’t agree with me. She was just an older sister who felt as if she was unappreciated by her little brother. She had valid reasons for feeling the way she did, though her actions were wrong. The second part of Restoring Hope was basically about Julia rectifying her actions. It wasn’t my intention to pair her up with Chogan. But I needed to get a way for her to find Woape and Gary, and Chogan was the only character I had on hand who knew how to get to his tribe. That’s how Chogan got that role. Also, I couldn’t make their journey a quick one. I needed time for Woape to have the baby at Penelope’s and then return to her tribe. That’s why I added in those scenes where Chogan taught Julia how to hunt. During the course of that, I realized I enjoyed writing more about Julia and Chogan than I did about Woape or Gary, so I spent more time with them as the book went on. I was originally going to end the story with Julia agreeing to marry Chogan when he proposed, but I decided I’d rather spend more time with them. That’s how I decided to write a book that would focus on them. They are one of my all-time favorite couples in all of the stories I’ve done. So, in the end, I settled for Julia telling him no at the end of Restoring Hope. That way I could pave the way for Brave Beginnings.
When Brave Beginnings started, it was a year later (I believe), so some time had passed in the series. I needed to have Chogan and Julia cross paths. That’s how Julia and her aunt ended up in Bismarck. And since the Mandan tribe was close by, they could naturally encounter one another. Well, the subconscious part of my brain decided to bring in Ernest, another man from Julia’s past who had proposed to her (and she had said no to him, too). I had no idea where I was going with Ernest when I wrote the scene where Julia and Ernest come across each other at the bank where he worked, but I told myself to “trust the process” and went with it to see where things would go. I knew Julia couldn’t end up with Ernest. She loved Chogan, and quite frankly, I did, too. So Ernest never had a chance. 🙂 But I did bring in Julia’s cousin with the intention of pairing Ernest up with her. This, however, didn’t happen because Ernest steered off course and became a bitter and spiteful character. It surprised me when I realized who he really was beneath his pleasant exterior. But I kept going to see where things would go. It led to Ernest doing everything he could to separate Julia from Chogan, and since I was enjoying writing about Julia and Chogan so much, I wasn’t in any hurry to wrap their story up. As a result, Brave Beginnings ended up being the longest book I’ve ever written. It turned out to be around 116,000 words long. (On average, my books tend to be 60,000 words long.)
While writing Brave Beginnings, I was able to lay the ground work for Citlali’s romance by showing that he did care about people but felt a responsibility to the tribe to be the future leader, and, as the leader, he had to rely more on logic than emotion in order to be objective in how he handled tensions that popped up among the people. What he needed was to find a balance between logic and emotion, and that was my goal for him in Bound by Honor Bound by Love. That book was more about him than it was about Onawa, but she was necessary in order to bring about this balance to his personality. My favorite part of this book was when he left the tribe to look for Onawa and then found her.
During the writing of this series, I ended up taking a trip to Bismarck to visit the Heritage Museum and a nearby old Mandan village. I also read a book published back in 1909. One thing that struck me the most in my research was how much the smallpox epidemic took its toll on the Mandan tribe. They struggled to increase the size of their tribe, but in the end, it didn’t work out. Because of this research, the background for Brave Beginnings and Bound by Honor Bound by Love dealt with the way the characters struggled with the fallout from the smallpox epidemic. Bound by Honor Bound by Love ends with Citlali and Onawa having a son, so there was a happy ending for them, but the book also ends on a very sad note because he takes items important to the tribe to show to the white men who want to write a book about his tribe and their customs. (The book I read from 1909 was what inspired this idea in my story.) There was only one way this series could have ended because it’s how history played out. I couldn’t give Citlali a complete happy ending. His people were dying out. It was only a matter of time before there were no more full-blooded Mandans left, and he knew it. So that’s why he shared everything he did with the white men who went on to publish a book based on what he told them. That was the only viable way he had of preserving the Mandan legacy. For the record, the last full-blooded Mandan died in 1971. I cry every time I think of the ending of this book. It was the hardest ending I’ve ever had to write.
I did make two videos from my trip to North Dakota. I’ll share that in this post. (The videos are older and not the least bit professional, so please don’t judge it on how it looks.)
These are models of what the earth lodges were like and how they lived in them…
This features items they owned (which are on display at the Heritage Museum) and pictures taken at the old Mandan village…