I almost forgot when I planned this post (1st post of the month will be in the Central Five Series) that it goes out to many of you on the 4th. Independence Day in the US! And that's actually great because the book for this week is a western and that's about as American as it gets.
The Test of Devotion is a story about danger and deception. The setting of the American West during the 1850s was perfect for telling this story of tough people, but behind the general surface of action-adventure are some subtle layers. It’s a surprisingly nuanced book. The Test of Devotion wasn’t the story it seemed to be several years ago and a lot of that goes right back to the people it is about. Its characters rise to the surface in unexpected ways, because in this story about deception most of its protagonists aren’t what they seem to be when you first see them.
So, the Central Five Characters that bring focus to this book are:
Arabella plays a big role in generating the entire plot. A brave and independent girl, she isn’t afraid to head out into the unknown. Although she is pretty and charismatic enough for the job, she finds she’s not quite heroine material just yet. Marrying a man who doesn’t wish her well puts her in danger of betrayal. But she comes through it all and earns the right to be the book’s protagonist.
Benito is an orphan with a delightful bad attitude. All spunk and spines, he takes care of himself although he has no money and no family except one negligent, adopted older brother (Viajero.) Benito always, repeat always, stands up for himself, whether you were challenging him or not, and he can singlehandedly start a rescue.
Governor Wallace achieved much in his past life before coming out to Texas to become a successful rancher. A wise mentor and a good friend, he’s viewed as invulnerable and noble by the young people in the story. He contributes little to the action since the others do so much for themselves, but pitches in when his authority is needed.
Jenny is the daughter of a missionary who bought a hotel in southern Texas. She’s a practical person who is up to dealing with anyone—even criminals like the sinister Hawk who shadows Arabella. She’d probably describe herself as nothing much, just a girl working in a hot, dusty place. And she’d be right—until she got involved in an adventure.
Lanmont brings all the intrigue to the story. As a smart man he is a natural for working in government and he’s a fast learner and takes quick action in everything he does. But he gets a little arrogant, a little full of himself, and starts a situation he can’t handle. Looking for an easy way out is rarely a good strategy—but it makes for a lot of twists and turns.
And there will be more updates.
It didn’t begin this way in the initial drafts, but by the time The Test of Devotion was completed it had grown into a celebration of old-fashioned storytelling. In fact, I thought it was going to be rather a modern story, a genre-market oriented short western romance (think the now defunct Love Inspired Historical.) Since that didn’t work out, the story drifted for a long while until I was seized with a new idea for it. And I love new ideas because they tend to mean a new audience. I was pleased there might be a new direction for this forgotten story and the rewrite moved pretty far towards describing that new concept—the “Why Don’t They Make Them Like They Used To?” feeling in so many of us.
You’ve read and seen it many times in reviews for classic vintage and retro products, in back-cover copy for classic TV shows, in casual conversations with friends. Someone always laments that “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.” Stories we grew up watching and reading from when we were kids—stories we were raised on by our parents and grandparents. It’s not a feeling of nostalgia, which is rooted in the past, but a respect for something you’d like to continue into the present day. To reboot, to bring again. You regret that new generations can’t be exposed to these classics.
For The Test of Devotion two such “good, old-fashioned” ideas merged into one. The vintage television western, like Roy Rogers or Bonanza, with its family-values tone that didn’t scrimp on the action-packed adventure angle. And the classic novels that so many kids find on library shelves alongside modern bestsellers like The Lightning Thief. Tucked into any kids or young adult section of the library you’ll find older stories like Treasure Island, Tom Sawyer, and Ivanhoe—and, in the case of influences for this book, Kenilworth by the same author as Ivanhoe. Books that certainly inspired me to read and write more when I was growing up.
Why don’t they make them like they used to? Well, the answer is simple. Because they DO make them. The minute someone says that, it means they’d like to see something old-fashioned repeated again. People have been saying that since the dawn of time, harking back to a perennial yearning for Eden. And once they express that wish, a new old-fashioned story pops up again.
And there will be more updates.
Jenny Forsythe was for a long time one of my most neglected heroines. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, I put the whole book in which she appears aside for years and pretty much gave up on it. But this year saw a resurgence for The Test of Devotion. I’d almost label 2019 as the Year of the Western for the sudden re-existence of this book in my little writosphere. (Yep, I just coined that word.) A rewrite sent attention for Jenny’s 1850s adventure story soaring and it’s now comparable to the top books in views each month.
So . . . I’d never bothered to do a spotlight on little Jenny Forsythe before (especially since in the past she was grownup Jenny Forsythe and now she’s a teenager.) But it’s a necessity now, so let me introduce you to Jenny. She’s the companion to another girl in the story, Arabella Monston, a 19-year-old from back East who’s run away to Texas with a cold-hearted and manipulative man who turns out to love political power far more than he loves her. Arabella lodges at a hotel in a remote town on the Mexican border. Jenny’s father owns this hotel, so Jenny spends a lot of time helping Arabella with this and that.
This and that turns into Saving Arabella’s Life. The more Jenny gets involved, the deeper it gets until she’s orchestrating an escape from that now deadly hotel and a personal consultation with the imposing Governor of Texas. And to do that, resourceful Jenny (who doesn’t put herself forward very much, look I spent most of HER spotlight post talking about Arabella) will need an outlaw. Jenny’s humility is what really shines through about her, as you can see by how much descriptions of her are dictated by the fact she helps others.
And there will be more updates.
Pleasant Fiction in an Age of Noise
I write peaceful stories with happy endings. When I started writing, I wanted to write the kind of books I like to read. I wanted them to be upbeat and friendly books that make you feel like you're being whisked off on an adventure with friends. And there's also a purposefulness in that because many stories already written miss out on a great deal of what people experience every day.
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