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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Learning My Own History: A Lesson for the Reluctant Researcher

Today Romancing the Genres is joined by Farrah Rochon, award-winning author of the popular Holmes Brothers series, hails from a small town just west of New Orleans. She has garnered much acclaim for her New York Sabers football series for Harlequin's Kimani Romance imprint. Farrah was named Shades of Romance Magazine's Best New Author of 2007, and her debut novel, Deliver Me, claimed the prize for Best Multicultural Romance Debut. She has been nominated for the prestigious RITA Award from Romance Writers of America and an RT BOOKReviews Reviewer's Choice Award. She spends way too much money on chocolate and Broadway shows.

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 ( 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.”

Connect with Farrah Rochon:

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Judith Ashley said...

Welcome to Romance The Genres, Farrah. I still have goose bumps and tears in my eyes from reading your excerpt as I type this.

I really do not like research and fortunately my stories do not require a lot of it but I love history! and know I'm able to experience life in another time through it.

And Thank You, BA, for introducing us to Farrah!

Judith Ashley said...

BTW: Romancing The Genres passed 100K page views on your "shift" Farrah. Thank you for pushing us over the edge!

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks for accepting my invitation to visit with us, Farrah. I'm one of those "born to do research" people, and I always get something extra for my stories by doing so. It's great to see your process in action and how they build up the stories I enjoy reading.

Farrah Rochon said...

Thank you all for hosting me on the blog today! Happy I could help get you all over that 100K milestone!

I thoroughly enjoyed the research for this book. Though reluctant, once I got into it, I came up with such fascinating information. My only regret is that I was restricted to 55,000 words. I would have loved to have delved deeper into the characters's ancestors's pasts. Maybe more of the things I uncovered will make its way into a future Bayou Dreams story. :)

Terrel Hoffman said...

Thank you for your post. I don't know what I was expecting, but this has me gobsmacked. Your scene has my empathy muscles in overdrive. I'm drawn to put myself in your character's g-g-great-grandmother's shoes, and I know I'm not the person who would have succeeded at that. To take so many risks in the middle of a culture that was certain it was right and was willing to use violence to ensure its continuation. To know it wouldn't have changed but for women like her.
Thank you.

Paty Jager said...

Welcome to RTG. I've always been fascinated by the underground railroad and the people who bravely helped the slaves find freedom. Your series sounds like something I need to have.

Farrah Rochon said...

Thank you, ladies. This series has grown into so much more than I first anticipated. And the research played a huge part in that. The more interesting tidbits I uncovered, the more I wanted to explore and include in the story. Weaving it through the romance and making sure it didn't bog it down wasn't easy, but I think I pulled it off, lol.

I'm hoping that, for a contemporary novel, it will give readers a good taste of history and maybe whet their appetites to go and learn more on their own.

Jami Gold said...

Beautiful, Farrah!

Like you, I've always been intimidated by the thought to too much history research, but this is a great story about how that research can enrich *our* lives. I'd love to see this series go longer. *hint hint* ;)

Diana McCollum said...

Wonderful excerpt! Brought tears to my eyes too! Wishing you many sales.

Sarah Raplee said...

I so respect your use of your talent to educate as well as entertain, to shine a light on a dark time and leave your readers uplifted!