Take it away, Farrah:
I love reading historical romance novels, absolutely adore them. But would I ever write one? Heck no. That’s way too much research for a lazy writer like myself. At least, that’s what I always told myself. Too bad my overactive imagination had other plans.
When I developed the story arc for my Bayou Dreams series with Harlequin Kimani Romance, I knew from the very beginning that, even though the series had a contemporary romance setting, the novels would have a strong historical bent. The central idea that drives the first story, A Forever Kind of Love, is the discovery of a stop on the Underground Railroad in one of the buildings on the town’s Main Street. Yes, it’s a fictional town, but in order to make it authentic, much research had to be done.
And that’s when things got interesting…
I knew I was surrounded by history. I live ten minutes from two world-renown antebellum plantation homes that are visited by thousands of history buffs every year. But it wasn’t until I ran across the Louisiana African American Historical Trail (http://www.astorylikenoother.com/) while conducting research for A Forever Kind of Love that I learned of the impact brave African Americans had on many of the sites around me.
Of the three stories in my original plan for the Bayou Dreams series (it has now blossomed into a potential five-book series), the third book, Yours Forever, which will be released this coming Tuesday, February 25, 2014 from Harlequin, has always been the one that I knew would rely most heavily on history. Even though I resisted it because of that very reason, this story is the one I looked most forward to writing. The heroine is a history professor from up north seeking information about her ancestors; the hero is a descendant of the sleepy southern town’s founder. I had the plot I wanted, but had no idea how to make it come to life.
An obscure academic paper written by a Loyola University history student saved my hind. Louisiana Black Women: An Ignored History tells the stories of several brave women of color, women like Marie Bernard Couvent, who helped to establish one of the first schools for black slave children. Once I read Marie’s story, I knew I had the foundation for Yours Forever.
The following scene is from Yours Forever. The story’s hero, Attorney Matthew Gauthier, gives the heroine, Professor Tamryn West, her first look at the newly discovered room on the Underground Railroad:
“I’m going to take Professor West on a short tour of the building so she can see the room that was unearthed last summer. If the attorney representing the school board’s health insurance calls early, please come and get me. It took weeks just to set up this call.”
He held the door open. “After you?” he said to Tamryn.
She slipped past him, then waited for him to lead her down a somewhat narrow paneled hallway. It was obvious that the building was old, but it was also well preserved.
“The room is still the equivalent of an archeological dig site,” Matt called over his shoulder. “It’s been roped off since it was confirmed that it is an actual stop on the Underground Railroad. I doubt I’ll ever get my entire building back.”
“It’s not yours anymore,” Tamryn said.
He stopped and turned. “Whose is it?”
“This type of history belongs to everyone. You can’t claim ownership anymore.”
“But I can pay the property tax on it?”
“Consider it your small part in preserving the past,” she said.
He shook his head, his soft chuckle reverberating in the air around her. “You sure you chose the right field of study, Professor West? Maybe you should have been an attorney.”
“Never once considered law,” she answered. “History is my...passion.” Tamryn’s voice trailed off as she stepped into the darkened room, her eyes trained on the far wall where another door was opened, but cordoned off by several strips of yellow caution tape.
She walked slowly up to the entrance, her lungs constricting as she came upon the tiny room. Tamryn brought trembling fingers to her lips, willing herself to keep it together. She’d vowed she was not going to cry.
But how could she not be overrun with emotion? Her great-great-great-grandmother had likely been in this very room--not as a slave fleeing to the freedom that awaited in the north, but as a conductor, assisting others on the Underground Railroad. Everything she’d uncovered over the years that she’d spent researching Adeline West indicated that she had ushered hundreds of slaves out of this area.
“Are you okay?”
Tamryn jumped at Matthew’s softly struck question. She hastily wiped at the moisture dampening her cheeks as she turned and smiled up at him.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I guess I wasn’t prepared for how this would affect me.” She wrapped her arms around her waist and hunched her shoulders. “I’ve seen dozens of sites like this, and I’m always overwhelmed.”
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