It's funny how stories take on a life of their own. Sometimes, no matter how much you outline and plan, characters will do as they please. I'm remembering this today because I've been clearing out files and folders on my computer and they're full of old drafts and first drafts and character sketches of the FIRES OF CRICKET BEND series.
The series is complete (though I might revisit it someday....IDEAS!) and about to be released in an ebook box set collection, so this seemed like a fine time to share.
To begin, HAVEN'S FLAME was originally going to be a very different book. My original dilemma still had Haven - who was the daughter of the town doctor, not the Sheriff - engaged to Matthew Frank, but original Matthew was dull as dishwater and she didn't like him much at all. She was bristling at the prospect of spending her life with Matthew and likely never having any romance or adventure of her own.
Enter Hank Porter.
Now, Hank has been a fully-formed sexy troublemaker since the minute he showed up in my head - as you can see from his original entrance into the book, which I had planned to call HAVEN TAKES A LOVER.
[Doc Anderson, Haven's dad, is out on house calls while she minds the clinic. Sheriff Cane and Deputy Matthew Frank bring in a patient - Hank Porter, who is bleeding from a gash across his chest earned by trying to stop some cowboys from trashing his bar. He's unconscious and Haven tends to him.]
A few minutes later, his eyes flew open and his hand flew up to grab hold of her arm tightly. He tried to sit up, but she pushed against him. She saw panic in his face, and knew it was from the terrifying event of waking up somewhere you don’t know. "Please let go of me, Mr. Porter. You’re at the clinic. Please lie back down.”
His grip loosened on her arm, then released her altogether and his hand went to rest by his side as he leaned back against the pillows.
“You’re too pretty to be a doctor.”
She raised an eyebrow at him. “I don’t know if I should be flattered or insulted, Mr. Porter.”
“I meant no offense, Miss. Seems the world would be a happier place if all men got to wake up from injury and see a face like yours instead of some old man doctor. Though it might encourage the boys to fight more.” He took a deep breath and his eyes blinked a few times. “Saints alive, that hurts.”
She took his hand and put it on the cloth she held. “Keep this here.” Standing up, she left the room quickly and returned with a bottle of whiskey and a small glass. She poured him a glass and handed it to him. “For the pain.”
He smiled and took the drink, finishing it quickly. “Much obliged.”
She poured him a second glass. Then, going to a drawer, she removed and began to unfold a length of bandage. He’d be wrapped for a while, if she didn’t have to stitch him up. Time would tell if stitches would be necessary. They needed to stop the bleeding first.
“I regret that I do not know your name, Miss. Perhaps I should call you Florence Nightingale.”
Haven hadn’t figured he’d know who she was. Still, it hurt to realize he didn’t even know her name. “Doc Anderson is my father. My name is Haven.”
“A lovely name, and so true. I felt I was on death’s door before I walked in these doors, and here you are with beauty and blessed whiskey and bandages - my sanctuary. My haven.”
I stand by my assertion that Hank Porter's entrance music into any scene should be Taylor Swift's "I knew you were trouble."
Anyway, my plan had been for Hank to require a few days of care, and for the Doctor to be stuck somewhere out of town for a few days (trouble with a delivery, I think I'd planned?) during which Hank and Haven would grow close and surprise each other. He'd turn out to be a avid reader, and she'd turn out to have killer poker skills. The Sheriff, Matthew, and Doctor Dad would, of course, NOT care for this and try and keep them apart, and things got horrible for everyone but in the grand tradition of a million romances NOTHING COULD KEEP THEM APART!
Oh, and Haven originally had a fast-talking BFF with semi-loose morals. Her name was Ava.
[Those of you who've read the series will probably notice she sounds familiar in this snippet, where Hank asks Haven to dinner and Ava answers for her - absolutely yes!]
“I ought to scalp you,” Haven whispered fiercely as the two young women walked the opposite direction of Hank. “Pa’ll lock me in my room until I’m fifty if he finds out.”
“You like him.”
“Keep your voice down.”
“No. Matthew’s going to ask you to marry him any second and you’re so nice you’ll say yes and that’ll be it – You’ll be an old lady with a hundred grandchildren in no time, and you’ll never have had any fun. Hank Porter likes you, Haven. I ain’t sayin’ he’s after your hand, but he certainly wants to kiss you. And you should let him. You should have one kiss in your life that knocks you off your feet, and you ain’t gonna get that from Matthew Frank.”
“Go to dinner with Hank. Wear your prettiest dress and let him make you feel beautiful and let him kiss you – hell, let him take you to bed if he wants. He’s handsome as any man in the town has ever been, and I bet if you go to his bed you won’t leave disappointed.”
“You done talking yet?”
My original Callie was less of a heroine and more of a pain in the ass to Haven. She was still in love with Hank, which was a whole different kind of problem. But I didn't like making the working girl a villain, and I don't like writing mean girls very much. But Callie had a heart underneath it all and merged with Ava and, in the dramatic conclusion of the first version, she DID help Hank and Haven run off to a life of romance and adventure together! Because that was the original ending - Haven leaving her town and life and running away.
There was also a very dramatic defiling in a field of bluebonnets scene. You read part of it in HAVEN'S FLAME, but it went much farther than that originally and became the turning point of the book.
And that, my friends, is where things started to change into the book HAVEN'S FLAME became.
(It's also where I started letting my beloved Aleisha start reading my pages and offering feedback. She's great at it, and not afraid to point to something and say - Yeah, no. Don't do that.)
The book changed because Haven is a good girl, and she has always loved her Dad - be he the Doctor or the Sheriff. He's a widower, and they're all the other had. I could not justify her being a heroine if she was going to run off and leave him. Also, I had this PLAN that involved Matthew being wounded/possibly dying in the end to save Haven - and if she ran away after THAT? Rude.
So Matthew had to be better. He had to be a real character, not just a western cliche of the dull guy the heroine doesn't want to marry. There was a point where I made Matthew terrible, just to try and explain away Haven's running away in the end. But Matthew always had potential. He was handsome and good-hearted and hard-working, and those aren't things to sneeze at. Making him the bad guy never felt right...
So over a few more drafts, Hank got shadier, Matthew became fully-formed and the hero (and I made HIM the book nerd) and I can't remember why Haven became the daughter of the Sheriff except that's more dramatic, I guess. Callie became a character worthy of (and calling out for) her own book, the McKenzie boys got in on the action, Jasper popped up - and by the time I finished the book and started submitting it places, I knew perfectly well that Emma existed and that I wanted to send her on a cattle drive, and what books 2 and 3 of the series would be - if I were to get the chance to write them. :) And then, by some miracle, I did get to write them.
My stories evolve. All of them, in some way. MAIDENS & MONSTERS was going to just be one novella, an old west PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, and Christine was just going to have a couple clever friends named after leading ladies of gothic/horror novels as a bit of a joke, and look how that turned out. Mina, Lucy, and Esme have all gotten their own moment in the sun.
As I work in the final days of finishing ELIZABETH to wrap up MAIDENS & MONSTERS, I'm surprised how those characters have evolved far past my original sketches and plans. (Walton Wolf was NOT originally a plan, y'all. He existed as a character - the railroad man - but he's surprised even me.) And I don't think I expected this last book to be what it is, but I'm sort of crazy about it and look forward to surprising people.
There are a million stories of romance and adventure in historical America in my head. I look forward to writing more of them. While it's fun to look back and see where you came from, it's even more fun to look forward at what comes next....