Most of my stories start with a premise. “What happens if someone suggests they have a threesome and then halfway through realize it really wasn’t a good idea and they don’t want to do this anymore?” (That’s the premise for my very first published novella, Private Property.) Sometimes I imagine a single incident (for Deliberate Deceptions, I originally envisioned a man in a suit walking through a cemetery and laying a stuffed rabbit against a gravestone. Although in a strange twist of fate, I ended up having to cut that scene.) Unfortunately this usually leaves me with no idea who the characters are or what they want or, more importantly, need. I often don’t figure it out until I’m done the first draft then have to go back and make major adjustments to the second draft to properly reflect the characters.
But every once in a while I get really, really lucky. A character walks into my head fully formed, prepared to tell me their story. Sam, the third person in that infamous ménage from Private Property,
walked strutted into my head fully-formed. He made writing Private Property that much tougher because he was supposed to be a secondary character but he very nearly took over, and in her initial email offering a contract, my editor asked if Sam was going to get own story. Which, of course, he did -- and in true Sam-style he wouldn’t settle for a novella. His story, Personal Protection, took a full length novel to tell.
Jackson and Nate from Tangled Past were like that too. From the first moment the idea behind Tangled Past started niggling, they were both front and center. Side by side, chap-wearing, Stetson-wearing hard-working old-fashioned cowboys. Who loved each other. And once they realized they’d got my attention, they persisted until I told their story.
Of mixed blood – half white, half native American, Jackson Kellar’s endured a lot of rough treatment from others. But he’s persevered. Jackson isn’t rich, but what he does have, he values. Including his friends. And his word. Just as he explains to Sarah on their wedding night and she’s feeling guilt that he got trapped into marriage with her:
“Well, before you go doubting me, I had a choice. I could have saddled my horse and rode away. Not that I would have.”
“Because I gave my word.” The brush paused midstroke. “I don’t got much in this world, ’cept for my word. I break that, I ain’t got nothing.”
Like many of the farmers I grew up around, Jackson prefers to let his actions speak for him. That made his character quite easy to write. If there was a problem he just buckled down and got it done with no whining and not a lot of talk. Of course, as anyone who has been married can attest those first few years when you’re dancing around trying to establish your identity as a couple, lack of communication can create huge conflicts out of tiny incidents. But as long as I stayed true to his nature, the story chugged along with few hiccups.
Nate was equally co-operative in telling his story. Like Dillon in Texas Tangle, he hasn’t suffered the same hardships that Jackson has (though Jackson’s suffered nowhere near the torment Brett endured.) Nate inherited his ranch and by extension became Jackson’s boss, though he’s never thought of himself that way. They were friends first, and lovers next. As a white man he’s never been shunned by society the way Jackson has, so he’s more light-hearted:
Grinning, Nate took the steps two at a time. His spurs jangled as he strode across the porch and stepped into the front hall. He inhaled a lungful of the heavenly scent filling the house. Nothing smelled as good as Miss Martha’s cooking. His belly already growling its approval, he’d taken two steps when the kitchen door swung open.
“You stop right there and take your boots off, Nate Campbell.” His housekeeper folded her arms and glared with that same look his mother had given him when he was six and he’d pried the chair rails off the walls—not only in his bedroom, but the entire upstairs hallway. “I just swept, and I’ll not have you fillin’ the house with your dust again.”
But for all his good nature, Nate has his own secrets that have him terrified that he’ll end up swinging at the end of a rope. (Yeah, there’s that whole “I’m in love with Jackson” issue, remember?) Having Sarah living in their home just mixes him up even more…
Jackson hefted the bundle from the dress shop and tucked it under his arm while escorting Sarah into the house. Nate kept his lids lowered in an attempt to hide how he watched the gentle swing of Sarah’s skirts. It wouldn’t do to be caught ogling another man’s wife.
He hadn’t lied when he said he would have been proud to take his vows as her husband. Though it left him disturbed that he still fantasized about being in bed with Jackson, Sarah had been appearing in those fantasies lately.
These two were really fun to write, and because of it the story almost wrote itself even though all that research for a historical is…well, it’s a challenge.
By the way, the bit about Nate removing the chair rails? That’s based on a true story – my parents’ best friends had a son whom I’ll refer to as G, who was the same age as me. I suspect if he was in school nowadays they’d say he was ADHD, but my parents just said he was precocious. And a handful. One day G’s parents had locked him in his room as punishment – my mother still delights in telling how “the little devil” took out a child’s toolset he’d been given for Christmas and proceeded to remove all the chair rails and baseboards off every wall in his room, and then dismantled the lock, got out of the bedroom and started taking apart the hallway. Did I mention that G and I didn’t always get along so in an effort to smooth some tensions between our four year old selves, my parents and G’s parents staged a mock wedding with me as the bride and G as the groom? What the heck were they thinking? Needless to say that was one “marriage” that didn’t last long. I don’t think they’d finished playing Wagner’s Lohengrin before we were already battling…hmm, I wonder if I’ve ever mentioned to Gizmo Guy that he wasn’t technically my first husband?
Forced to marry a man she just met, Sarah McLeod clings to the hope that she’ll finally find the love and acceptance she’s always craved. But her tenuous dreams of a happy life on the frontier are in danger of being dashed by the one thing she can’t change—her husband’s love for another man.
Jackson Kellar’s determined to do right by his bride, yet he’s torn between his newfound love for Sarah and his still-burning desire for Nate.
Ranch owner Nate Campbell loves them both. He hates to see Jackson’s loyalties so divided, and doesn’t want Sarah hurt either. But how can they fix the tangled mess they find themselves in? Nate suggests a possible solution – a permanent threesome.
With the open frontier closing in around them, is Nate’s solution their path to happiness? Or will others destroy what they’ve found together?
I’m going to give away a copy of Texas Tangle, the story that inspired Nate and Jackson’s story, to a random commenter – just tell me if you did anything naughty like prying off the chair rail when you were a kid. I won’t tell anyone…honest! (I’ll draw a winner and announce them on Sunday)