I’m very pleased to have as my guest this month the very energetic and multi-talented Velda Brotherton. I first encountered Velda through Women Writing the West and was delighted to subsequently find that Velda and I are both being published by the Cactus line of The Wild Rose Press.
While her forthcoming novel, Stone Heart’s Woman, is a western historical romance, Velda’s multi-faceted career includes both fiction (historical and contemporary) and non-fiction books, writing workshops and speaking engagements. Velda’s extensive knowledge of American history is an obvious starting-point for her historical novels but it is the personal research she does that truly helps bring her books to life. Here she talks about the journey she took and research she did for Stone Heart’s Woman.
Researching Stone Heart’s Woman
The idea for this book came when we drove north out of Oklahoma one fall day headed for Nebraska. It’s my husband who usually thinks of specific places to visit because he’s a consumate reader of both fiction and nonfiction. We stopped first at a former fort, Camp Supply, that is now used as a prison. Men there care for horses, and we were treated to a visit with one of the inmates and some of his horses. We were also allowed to tour the old fort and go in some of the buildings.
This is where I first heard about the Northern Cheyenne and their flight to freedom. As we traveled on north, hubby said let’s go to Ft. Robinson. That’s where they fought their final battle with the soldiers. Of course, he’d read some of the stories about this tragic trail, not made nearly so famous as the Trail of Tears. None of the tales of desperate acts of survival by Indians have been so heart rending at the 1500 mile flight of these people when they fled Indian Territory in 1878 headed back to Yellowstone country and their original home.
It’s a story of epic proportions. The army pursued them, taking lives as they could. But the Cheyenne persisted until they reached Ft. Robinson, where the small remainder of their numbers were locked up. I still didn’t have my book, though. I wanted to write a western historical romance set during this time, but so far, didn’t have much to help me there.
Then I bought a book called Cheyenne Autumn written by Mari Sandoz and in it saw this simple sentence: “Then there was a light-haired boy called Yellow Swallow, the Cheyenne son of General Custer.” That was a first hint at a character. Not this boy, perhaps, but a man, the son of Custer when he was much younger, who would be the right age to take part in this war. But on whose side would he be? He would certainly be pulled in two directions.
Then I was reading an old article written about Dull Knife, the leader known as Morning Star by the Cheyenne, and a quote at the end of the article, mentioned Stone hands joining. And Stone Heart was born. He had a white name, but not one of any consequence. He would be my hero, a man torn between two worlds who would have to make a choice between his father’s people and his mother’s. What a wonderful character he would be, with his golden hair like Custer’s, and his mother’s bronze skin. A boy educated in the white ways, whose father is doing his best to destroy the Indian culture.
But wait. A romance needs a heroine too. I had already written several books having to do with heroes and heroines of mixed blood (Cherokee and Sioux) as I’ve always been fascinated by how such children would handle their ethnicity. My father had Cherokee grandparents on both sides, as well as white ones, so the curiosity is understandable.
In my imagination I finally discovered an Irish girl living with her mother and brothers in St. Louis, who followed her fiancé west into Nebraska when he promised to marry her. He abandoned her in a small town not far from Ft. Robinson and she took to the stage, singing and dancing to entertain men and earn enough money to go home. But the good women, led by the preacher’s wife, decided to run her out of town on a cold January day in 1879, just about the time of the final outreak of the Cheyenne and the ensuing bloody battle around Ft. Robinson. A battle Stone Heart has decided to join to help his mother’s people escape.
After our trip to Ft. Robinson and driving along the trail the Cheyenne walked on that long ago day, I knew this was a story that needed telling. But through the eyes of this white woman and Stone Heart as they struggled to come to terms with what life had handed them. Did Custer have other children with the Cheyenne women? It is said he did. The Cheyenne told of a daughter with yellow hair, so I figured it wasn’t too far a reach to add another son to the mix.
Historical research can carry us into the most adventuresome of worlds. Since I began to write historical romances, I’ve learned to love history for the stories it tells and those it makes possible to tell. How fascinating to create fictional characters and place them in the middle of a factual time and place to see how they’ll react. What unusual things happen when we do something like this. It’s like visiting the past ourselves and living there for the time it takes to write the novel.
I had a long way to go in my research, but I was ready to begin my story. Usually, I do the basic research until an idea springs forth, then I begin to write the first draft, making notes in the margin where I’ll need to do more research. It takes me at least a year to research and write my novels. Stone Heart’s Woman is the seventh published historical romance, all in the western sub-genre. The first six are available on Kindle. I’m working on another one discovered when we took another trip, this time west through Texas. The research is finished, a vague synopsis written. I never outline a book, just write out a few pages of who, what, where, when and how. I can’t wait to begin the draft. No telling where it will lead me.
Stone Heart’s Woman is available from The Wild Rose Press in paperback at http://www.tinyurl.com/7shy2sy The ebook will be available Feb. 17th.
Velda’s website is at http://www.veldabrotherton.com/ and her blogs can be read at
I love how research/geographic visits bring you to your characters and their stories. Great going ! Getting lost and sidetracked in research is a lot of fun for me,,to where I need to haul myself back to the story. I suspect it is that way for you, also.
Thanks for posting this piece, Andi.
Arletta, thanks for the comment. I imagine you and I go about our research in much the same way, and you’re right it is a lot of fun and easily carries us away.
Most interesting blog. Research can be such fun! Stone Heart’s Woman sounds like a winner.
Velda, Don’t you just love how people come alive in your stories? It is as if after you give them birth they take over and live their lives as they were meant to be lived. I remember reading about a child of Custer’s and a Native American woman, but had forgotten and do not now recall the details. Stone Heart’s Woman sounds like a great story.
Velda, I loved how you describe your research for Stone Heart’s Woman. As a lover of history, too, I always do a happy dance when I find a short sentence within my research that piques my interest and plants a kernel of an idea in my mind.
Thanks for this great posting, Andi.
Well, now I HAVE to have the book. Thanks for sharing how the story was “born.” And, thank you Andrea for hosting Velda!
Velda, that you do such intense research just made me want to read the book even more! Accuracy helps brings the characters to life, but the realism of the time period help bring the story to life.
Velda, I enjoyed learning how you research your books. It’s so much more fun to do real research by traveling to historic places, as opposed to reading about them online. This sounds like a great read. Your new idea for a book set in Texas sounds intriguing, too. Thanks to Andrea for having Velda.
Wow, Velda, this is a wonderful story of how your book came about. Fascinating how serendipitous these ideas can be! I want to read this book!