It all started when my nephew asked a seemingly simple question: “Did Emma live in an orphanage?” At the time, all we knew about Emma’s early life was that she’d emigrated from Sweden to the United States in the late nineteenth century and had lived in Brooklyn with her sister.
I’m far from an expert genealogical researcher, but I do like solving puzzles, so I agreed to see what I could discover. Little did I know that not only would I learn that Emma had never spent time in an orphanage, but that the convoluted paths my searching for that answer took would plant the seeds for the Cimarron Creek trilogy.
As the months passed and I pored over census reports, ship manifests, old phone directories, and Swedish parish records, I learned many things about Emma, including the fact that not everything we’d thought we knew was true. Her sister was only a half-sister, and while they both lived in Brooklyn, at times only a few blocks apart, they did not live together.
And then there was her future husband’s family. Although he’d been born in Brooklyn and was one of many children, his parents had emigrated – one from Germany, the other from Ireland. Talk about a melting pot!
There were so many people involved that I started drafting a crude family tree, then graduated to family tree software. Each person I added seemed like a small victory, and when I discovered where many of them were employed as well as where they lived, I felt as if I had solved a mystery.
Even though some of them had been dead for more than a century, these people started becoming real to me. That feeling of actually knowing them increased when I used MapQuest to plot where everyone lived.
I was so involved in them that I even started dreaming about them, picturing Emma walking down the streets of Brooklyn to visit her sister and then taking a side trip to spend time with her sweetheart.
And through it all, I wondered what their lives were like. How did Emma find a job when she didn’t speak English? What challenges did she face as a new immigrant? Did she ever want to return to Sweden, where her brothers still lived?
I never found the answers to those questions, but they started my brain whirling. And that leads us to the Cimarron Creek trilogy.
You’re probably asking what Emma’s story has to do with it. After all, that series takes place in the Texas Hill Country, not Brooklyn. And while one of the characters does travel there from Europe, she comes from France, not Sweden, Germany, or Ireland.
The seeds that were planted while I searched for Emma were ones of family connections, long-buried secrets, and the challenges of making a home in a totally new place.
When I began to outline the trilogy, my first step was to create a family tree.
I envisioned Cimarron Creek having two founding families which – of course – intermarried. And, as I developed the family tree, the secrets that both united and divided my fictional town started to fall into place. I was on the way to having a plot.
Next came the town map, because I needed to know where everyone lived and, since I envisioned them walking from one place to another the way Emma and her sweetheart did, I also needed to know what the streets were named. Readers have told me that the map helped them picture the town. Believe me, it helped me too.
At this point, I had a framework, but it was still very shaky. That’s where all the musing I’d done about the immigrant experience came into play.
What was it like to arrive in a new place, not knowing anyone, perhaps not being welcomed?
What if your expectations of your new home were all wrong?
What if you feared you’d made a horrible mistake, but you had no way of returning to your previous life?
I had one of those aha! moments that writers love when I realized that a person didn’t have to have crossed the ocean to have those same feelings.
Lydia, the heroine of A Stolen Heart, is a Yankee schoolteacher who comes to Cimarron Creek in 1880. Though it’s been fifteen years since Appomattox, the wounds caused by the Civil War have yet to heal, and Yankees are not welcome.
Lydia’s traveled from Syracuse, New York, to the Hill Country to be reunited with her fiancé, only to discover that he’s disappeared and – worse yet – has married someone else. What is she to do?
Austin Goddard, the hero of A Borrowed Dream, is equally out of place when he arrives in Cimarron Creek. He’s a skilled surgeon who’s lived in Paris and most recently Philadelphia but who’s had to flee the East Coast to protect his daughter. Can he maintain the pretense that he’s a rancher?
The final Cimarron Creek novel, A Tender Hope, brings two new women to town. Thea’s a native-born Texan who wants to start a new life, one that’s free from the pain of the past. Aimee, who’s spent almost her entire life in France, has the opposite goal. She comes to Cimarron Creek seeking her past.
All of these characters face many of the challenges that Emma did when she reached Brooklyn. They’re strangers who need to establish new lives in a new place, a place that’s far different from anywhere they’ve lived. Each of them has secrets that, if revealed, might put them or others in danger. Each of them seeks love but finds that it’s more elusive than expected.
Will they find a happily-ever-after as Emma did?
The road they travel isn’t an easy one, but their stories are ones that I found deeply satisfying to tell. And it all began with a simple question.