Lauren Linwood here, talking today about dime novels. As an historical romance author, I’m drawn to writing about two eras that I taught about as a high school history teacher—medieval times and the American Old West.
Readers hear “western” and they think cowboys. I wanted to go a different route, so I brainstormed ideas for my hero’s occupation so he would have a different occupation and not be the usual, expected cowboy. I decided to make him a writer—but not just any writer since I wanted to tie his writing to the post-Civil War era. In England, penny dreadfuls were being published—serialized publications that were quite sensational and lurid. That got me to thinking about their American counterpart—dime novels—and so the beginnings of a plot started stirring in my mind, as well as the title Written in the Cards.
Dime novels became very popular after the Civil War. With the US literacy rate rising dramatically, people clamored to read for pleasure. At the cost of a dime, these novels were affordable and full of adventure, oftentimes set on the Western frontier.
I decided to make my hero Ben Morgan be a dime novelist. As he traveled the West, he would get all kinds of ideas for his stories. That didn’t set well with my heroine Maggie Rutherford. I already saw Maggie in my mind—a feisty redhead who grew up as a bit of a tomboy because she shadowed her older brother wherever he went. Besides the typical female lessons of dancing and embroidery, Maggie had been by her brother’s side and learned skills such as fencing, shooting, and boxing. She complained to me (Yes, characters really do talk back to the writers that create them!) that she could write a dime novel as well as any man—and she claimed to be artistic enough to illustrate them as well.
I have to thank Maggie for standing up and speaking her mind to me. It made for a wonderful plot twist to have a woman authoring dime novels (under a male pen name, as did many 19th century women writers). She wound up leaving the safe confines of her family’s New York City mansion and set out to the Wild West so she could experience firsthand all the things she was writing about.
That freed Ben up to become a gambler who’d killed a man cheating at cards. When Ben called the fraud out, the man tried to shoot him, so Ben fired back in self-defense. But when you’ve killed the baby brother of the most famous gunslinging outlaw in Texas, you better get out of town fast! Ben eventually meets Maggie in Abilene, Kansas, and she is quite taken by his rugged looks. She interviews him for her upcoming novel, and sparks fly—especially when Maggie decides that she needs to do some research into kissing. After all, she might want to write about love one day in one of her tales, and what better man to investigate kissing with than Ben Morgan?
I had fun researching about card sharks, cattle drives, dime novels, and even tornadoes while writing Written in the Cards. And Maggie’s shooting and boxing skills? They came in awfully handy down the road!
Maggie Rutherford jilts her too-perfect society groom at the altar and flees to the American West, where she turns her travels into dime novels that she writes under the pen name Lud Madison.
Civil War veteran Ben Morgan marries his childhood sweetheart and takes her to homestead on the Great Plains. Losing her in an Indian attack, Ben becomes a gambler. When he kills a cheating opponent in self-defense, the man’s gunslinger brother swears revenge.
Ben hides on a cattle drive and brings in a herd to Abilene, where a waiting Maggie interviews him for her next story. Sparks fly as they wind up living in the same household, running a general store east of Abilene. But with Black Tex Lonnegan on his trail, will Ben run from his growing attraction to Maggie and the gunfighter’s promise of death–or will he make a stand for his life–and love?
You can read Written in the Cards free in Kindle Unlimited or buy it at Amazon: