Shannon here: Donna Schlachter shares her inspiration for her latest Historical Romance Novella, Detours of the Heart which is included in The MissAdventure Brides Collection. Comment or answer the question at the end of this post to enter the drawing for a copy of the collection. Deadline: Jan 12th, 11:59 pm central time. U.S. only. Here’s Donna:
The Story Behind the Story of. . . Detours of the Heart by Donna Schlachter
The idea for the story came after I did research for another book on the Harvey House, created by Fred Harvey, Sr, as an alternative to the seedy hotels and restaurants springing up along America’s railroads in the 1870’s. Until Mr. Harvey and his iconic restaurants came along, it was virtually impossible to get a decent meal anywhere along the tracks.
But beginning in 1876, the Harvey House chain of restaurants changed all that. Mr. Harvey hired professional chefs, and in the beginning, personally trained the front-of-house staff, including the servers, busboys, and managers.
Up until then, girls who worked in restaurants were but a half-step—morally, at least—above soiled doves. Or so folks thought. Mr. Harvey wanted to create a safe and clean place to eat for the passengers on the trains, so he hired only young, clean, unmarried girls, mostly between the ages of 18 and 30. They had to sign a year-long contract, couldn’t date or court, had to meet curfew, had to work hard, and had to demonstrate good moral character. Passengers were promised their meals in 30 minutes or less, because the train would stop to allow them to eat and had a schedule to keep. If a meal took longer than that, somebody had to answer directly to Mr. Harvey.
While doing research for the first book, I came across an interesting reference to Mr. Harvey’s love of all things Southwestern. In fact, he acquired one of the largest collections of early-19th-century native artifacts. In the process of following what some might think of as a rabbit trail, I happened onto the exact plot point I was looking for: counterfeiting.
As the years went past, Mr. Harvey added hotels to his business line, and soon added gift shops in these hotels. In the Southwest, he realized passengers were enthralled with the native American culture they saw evidence of but had no real contact with, so in the early 1920’s, he established the Southwestern Indian Detours. These tours provided a bus ride out to a local Indian reservation where they could meet with the natives, see them at work, and purchase their goods such as woven blankets, clay pots, leather goods, and jewelry. Eventually, he carried similar items in his gift shops for those who either didn’t or couldn’t take the tours. As with all things good, counterfeiting soon sprang up, which troubled Mr. Harvey greatly, as he saw that such a practice would devalue the culture as well as the products.
The entire Harvey House culture spanned about 100 years of our country’s history, ending in the late 1960’s. There are still a few original buildings left standing which have now been repurposed, and many museums criss-cross the states between Kansas and California.
Perhaps one of the most endearing facts about the Harvey House and its “Girls” is that many of them started working for Mr. Harvey in hopes of meeting a rich passenger from a train who would marry them and take them elsewhere. However, most ended up renewing their contracts many times. One of the longest-serving Harvey Girls worked for the company in excess of 25 years.
In my story, Detours of the Heart, we have Millie, a young woman running from her past and her heartache, who gets a job at the Harvey House, only to lose it because she’s too chatty. But then she lands herself in the perfect job—as tour guide for the Indian Detours. Talking all day is no problem for her, plus she has a photographic memory, another asset in the job. Or to be an actress, which is her dream. She’ll work long enough in Albuquerque to save her money and take the train to Hollywood, California. She thinks the driver is nice, but he’s not in her plans.
Enter my hero, Peter, the driver for the tours. He’s saving his money so he can become a pastor. And although he’s attracted to Millie, she soon makes it clear she has no room in her life—or her heart—for him. Or any other man. She’s going places. So he turns to another young woman in the city but soon learns she is not pastor’s-wife material. When Millie pulls him into her mystery regarding counterfeit jewelry, he finds he cannot resist either her—or God’s call on his life.
For me, the story combines two things I love—history and mystery.
About Donna: Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts, and has been published more than 25 times in novellas and full-length novels. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Writers on the Rock, and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a critique group, and teaches writing classes. Donna ghostwrites, edits, and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. Learn more and connect:
About the Collection – The MissAdventure Brides: These seven daring damsels don’t let the norms of their eras hold them back from adventure.
About the Novella – Detours of the Heart: A tour guide who wants to move on, a playboy who’s never had a place to call home—can they overcome their own plans and allow God to make their path straight, or will they take yet another detour?
Question for Readers: Which do you prefer: history or mystery?
Come back Jan 8th for Cynthia Herron!