Shannon here: Donna Schlachter shares insight into her characters’ romance from her Historical Fiction title, The New Hope Train. Comment or answer the question in this post to enter the drawing for a print (US only) or ebook copy. Deadline: Sept 18th, 11:59 pm central time. Here’s Donna:
Character interview with Mary Johannson and John Stewart:
- Are you open to your own romance?
Mary Johannson: Someday, maybe. Except perhaps I’ve ruined any chance of that happening since I’ve agreed to marry this man from California so he has a mother for his children. He says I can leave when they are grown—but we shall see.
John Stewart: I’ve already had the one true love every man dreams of. I choose not to fool myself into thinking that could be possible again, no matter how charming this Mary Johannson might be.
- What’s the number one quality you’d require in a mate?
MJ: That he be kind. To me and his children. And that he be a man of his word. Oh, I guess that’s two, isn’t it? (chuckle)
JS: Just that she treat my children well. They’re all I care about in this world.
- What’s the number two quality you’d require in a mate?
MJ: I already said that. I want him to be a man of his word. If I can’t trust him, I wouldn’t be able to stay with him. Not even for the children’s sake.
JS: That she not remind me of my first wife in any way. That’s a special memory I want to keep separate and to myself.
- Where is the best place you can think of to find a mate?
MJ: Not in an orphanage, that’s for sure.
JS: Hard to find one in a small town or out on a ranch. I guess an advertisement in a magazine is the best a fella could hope for. Well, not the best. I already had that.
- Where is the worst place you can think of to find a mate?
MJ: In a bar, I guess. Or somewhere that you don’t know folks. Like on a big ship. Or a train.
JS: In a big city. Where you can’t get to know about folks, what they’re really thinking. Or anywhere else a lot of people gather.
- What’s the one habit or lifestyle that would make you run the other way?
MJ: Liars. Can’t abide them.
JS: Women afraid of a little hard work. Like this woman from out east. Hoping she sticks around long enough to raise my kids and help on the ranch. Not counting on it, though.
- What would be a reason to end a potential romance for you?
MJ: If he looked down on me because I don’t have much education. But I can run a house, look after kids, and I clean up good enough for church.
JS: Since I don’t ever expect to get into a romantic situation, I can’t think of anything. Except a woman who wouldn’t love my kids.
Excerpt from The New Hope Train:
Mary Johannson plunged reddened hands into the dishwater and scrubbed at a crusty spot on the chipped china plate.
In the yard, the vicar, shoulders slumped from the cares of his congregation, held a small child in his arms while two toddlers clutched his pant leg. And Matron Dominus, the imposing head of the Meadowvale Orphan’s Home, towered over the small group huddled before her.
Mary checked the plate. Satisfied it would pass muster, she dipped it into the rinse bucket and set the piece into the dish rack to air-dry. Next, she set a burnt oatmeal pot into the water to soak while she dried her hands on her apron and surveyed the scene outside.
The vicar nodded and turned to walk the gravel path he’d traversed just minutes before, the wee ones in tow as he hoisted the child to his other hip for the mile-long trip back. No doubt he was waiting for space to open in the orphanage.
Mary would turn eighteen in two months. And despite her desire to escape the confines of the orphanage, she wasn’t excited about making her own way in the world. The last girl who aged out—as the other orphans called the act of turning eighteen—now worked at the saloon.
And everybody knew what kind of girls worked there.
Mary swiped at the scarred worktable set in the middle of the kitchen floor, her washrag sweeping crumbs into her hand. She still needed to finish the dishes and report to Matron Dominus for her next order for the day.
By the time she returned to the sink, the vicar and his charges were out of sight.
But Matron Dominus stood outside the tiny window staring in at her.
Checking up on her, no doubt. Making certain she wasn’t lollygagging. An activity all of the residents indulged in. According to Matron.
Mary hurried through the rest of the washing up. She swept the floor, put a pot of beans on to soak for supper, and shooed the cat out from under the stove. After checking the dampers to make certain the range wouldn’t needlessly heat the kitchen—another of Matron’s accusations—she hung her apron on a nail beside the back door.
Stepping out into the fresh air, Mary drew a deep breath and leaned against the clapboard siding. Perhaps she could work at the seamstress shop. She was a fair hand with a needle and thread. Or maybe the general store.
The screech like a rooster with its tail caught in a gate startled her, and she straightened. But in her haste, she overbalanced and stepped forward to catch herself, hooking her toe in the hem of her dress, which she’d just let down last week to a more respectable length.
The sound of rending cloth filled her ears as the ground slammed toward her. She got her hands out in front of her just in time to prevent mashing her nose into the soil. The toes of Matron Dominus’s boots filled her vision.
Mary pushed herself to her feet, wincing at an ache in her lower back not there a moment before. Tears blurred her vision when she checked her dress—she had a three-inch rip just above the hem.
“Are you lollygagging about? Sunbathing? Do you think you’re on the Riviera?”
Despite her imposing height and girth, the matron’s voice—particularly when she was irked—resembled the irksome peacock Mary had once seen in the zoo in Philadelphia. Why God would create such a beautiful bird with such a nasty voice was beyond her.
But if what Matron said was true, He’d created Mary, too, only to have her burned by the flames that killed the rest of her family. Angry red scars ran from her forearms to halfway up her neck, and a collar of white tissue, the result of an inept doctor sewing her back together again, ringed her neck and inched toward her ears.
No, if God really loved her, He wouldn’t have allowed that to happen.
~ ~ ~
New Hope, California
John Stewart stretched an arm across the pillow, reaching for Sophia.
But the bed was cold. Empty.
His wife was gone.
Every morning for the past three months, he’d done the same thing, only to awaken to the heartrending realization anew that this was his life now.
In the room next door, one of his two young daughters stirred. With only a year separating them, he still couldn’t tell their cries apart. At six and eighteen months, they needed their mother.
The woman who dreamed of them long before they were born. Who prayed for them while she carried them inside her. Who rejoiced over them when they arrived.
And who begged God to spare her so she could see her girls grown to the point where they wouldn’t need her so much.
So why didn’t God listen? Why didn’t He understand that when John prayed, he wasn’t asking for himself?
John sat up and grabbed his faded dungarees from where he’d tossed them the previous evening. Or early this morning. Since Sophia’s passing, he’d learned an important lesson—the fewer hours he spent in bed, the fewer hours to toss and turn, angry at God, asking questions that wouldn’t be answered.
So he took to going to bed later and rising earlier. The girls demanded so much time and energy that those additional hours were critical.
John slipped on his boots, mud and manure caked around the heel. He sighed again.
Sophia wouldn’t have let him past the back door with boots like that.
She’d have house slippers ready. She’d have a meal on the table, the girls in clean clothes, coffee boiling on the stove, line-fresh sheets on their bed.
She made their house a home.
She made their home a sanctuary.
But no more.
He shrugged into his shirt, splashed water on his face from the bowl on the dresser, and glanced at his reflection in the mirror. Stubble dotted his chin and cheeks, but shaving could wait another day. The girls wouldn’t notice, and he was fairly certain neither his horse nor his foreman would complain.
He pasted on a smile and exited the sleeping room, heading for the girls.
Another day to get through.
About Donna: Donna writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 40 times in novellas, full-length novels, and non-fiction books. She is a member of ACFW, Writers on the Rock, SinC, Pikes Peak Writers, Capitol Christian Writers Fellowship, Christian Women Writers, Faith, Hope, & Love Christian Writers, and Christian Authors Network; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; blogs regularly for Heroes, Heroines, and History; and judges in writing contests. Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter! Donna’s Website. Learn more & connect:
About the book – The New Hope Train:
John Stewart needs a wife. Mary Johannson needs a home. On her way west, Mary falls in love with another. Now both must choose between commitment and true love.
Mary Johannson has scars on her body that can’t compare with the scars on her heart. She is alone in the world, with no family, no prospects, and no home.
John Stewart is at his wit’s end. His wife of three years died in childbirth, leaving him with a toddler and an infant, both girls. Theirs was the love of fairy tales, and while he has no illusions about finding another like her, his children need a mother.
Though separated by thousands of miles, Mary and John commit to a mail-order marriage. But on their journey to New Hope, they meet another and realize the life they’d planned would be a lie. Can they find their way back from the precipice and into the love of God and each other, or are they destined to keep their word and deny their heart?
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