My son recently had to study for his first really big test at school. It was all about Michigan history, and I’ll admit that helping him study was a lot more fun for me than it was for him.
He’s eight years old, so it’s all pretty boring to him. I am fifty and a certifiable nerd, so I enjoyed it. The experience reminded me of just why I minored in history in college for about two weeks in my Sophomore year, somewhere in the middle of minoring in Journalism, Theater, and Communications.
Okay, I’m an indecisive nerd.
I love history. Oh, not all the exact dates and numbers of famous battles in history or stuff like that. I’m more interested in how people lived ‘way back when. What they wore. What they ate. Who they married. What was it like to travel by covered wagon? And what did it take to make a journey like that, especially knowing that you might never come home to see your family ever again?
I want to read stories about people who lived during exciting times in history. I was amazed to learn that many of the women who traveled with their men on those wagon trains actually walked alongside the wagons for most of the journey. Walked. I could never have done that! Heck, I don’t even like walking to the convenience store.
When I made the decision to trying writing a historical romance, I put a lot of thought into choosing what era to write about and what part of the country to use as a setting. Michigan was a pretty easy choice because I’ve lived here all my life and I know the area. It wasn’t exactly the “Wild West” but it was definitely a frontier in its own right, complete with drama, adventure, and hardship.
One story that always fascinated me as a kid was the one about Old Lady Leary’s cow kicking over the lantern and starting the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Now, in reality, the fire had nothing to do with a cow, but it was a huge turning point in Michigan’s history. The lumber industry revved up into high gear to produce wood for rebuilding after the fire, which led to decimation of much of our forests here in the lower peninsula. There were boom towns that grew up around the increased need for lumber; towns that were left in ruins when the trees were gone. One such town was Singapore, which is now buried somewhere beneath the sand not far from modern-day Saugatuck.
Everyone knows about the Great Fire. But what most people don’t know is that Chicago wasn’t the only town that burned from October 8 – 10, 1871. Fires in Peshtigo, Wisconsin claimed anywhere from 1,200 to 2,400 lives. And in Michigan, towns like Holland, Port Huron, and Manistee suffered near-total devastation, while smaller towns were also damaged as well. There is no way of knowing just exactly how many lives were lost during the disaster.
I find it amazing that anything so huge has been basically forgotten in the 145 years since then. So I wanted to build my series around that event, featuring women who come to the town of Serenity for their own reasons– although each one comes because of a promise made in letters she has received. Letters to Caroline tells the story of the days leading up to the fire, while Victoria’s Lessons and Love, Charlotte are all set during the aftermath and rebuilding.
I know not everyone gets as excited about history as I do, but I hope some of you get excited about an adventure and love (of course!) set against a background of American history.
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