Friday, May 13, 2011

1887 Texas & Karen Witemeyer, Author of To Win Her Heart

Well, I've just gotten home from spending the morning on
Granny-duty (joy!), and what a wonderful surprise to find that my daughter's latest read just happened to be this book ... To Win Her Heart by fellow Bethany House author, Karen Witemeyer. Talk about Serendipity! Now, my daughter is what you would call a "discerning reader." She reads literally dozens of books a year and is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to our regular fiction book club meetings. The woman knows the world of Christian fiction ... and she gives this story of a blacksmith with a criminal past and a librarian with pacifist ideals a "thumbs up." It is my distinct pleasure and honor to introduce y'all to Karen Witemeyer as she shares some of her own "novel inspirations from history." Enjoy! ...............Stephanie G.

As a writer, nothing excites me more during the research phase of plotting a book than discovering actual history that allows my entire plot to fit together in a way more perfect than anything my imagination could have conjured. This is exactly what happened during the writing of my latest novel, To Win Her Heart.

My hero, Levi Grant, enters the story after spending two years in Huntsville State Prison for an unintentional crime. Being a large, muscled man, he was put to work in the labor camps during his incarceration, breaking rock at a granite quarry.

The abusive camp sergeants he faced there left him with scars inside and out, but the compassion of a prison chaplain helped him rebuild his faith and rededicate his life to serving the Lord. Upon his release, he takes up his father's blacksmithing trade and tries to create a fresh start by keeping his past a secret. Now, as the author, I couldn't allow this secret to stay hidden forever. So I began looking for ways to expose my hero's past. And I stumbled upon the perfect solution in my time period research.

In 1881, the Texas Capitol building (pictured as it appeared in 1875) was destroyed by fire (after the fire below right). The Texas Legislature decided that when they rebuilt, they would use only materials native to the state. They initially chose limestone, as there was a quarry near Austin, but when iron particles in the rock led to discoloration, they elected red granite instead.
This granite was obtained from Granite Mountain near Marble Falls, Texas in1885. To cut costs, the state contracted convict labor for breaking the stone. The use of free—or almost free—convict labor in the quarries, however, was seen as an attempt by the state to undermine unionized labor and was opposed by virtually every organized labor group in Austin. Hence, word spread throughout the region about the controversial labor force.

This historical event allowed me to supply Levi with quarry experience during his incarceration (breaking rock at Granite Mountain), but with a project that was so well known for using convict labor, it could easily expose his past should anyone learn of his involvement. And, of course, someone does. History provided the perfect scenario. (The photo shows convicts working at Granite Mountain.)

Not only did this fabulous research gem supply the plot point I needed, but it also helped determine my setting. The story opens in 1887, in keeping with the time frame of Levi working at the labor camp in 1885 at the beginning of his incarceration, leaving time on the back end of his two-year sentence for his spiritual rehabilitation with the prison chaplain. It also played a role in the location of Spencer, Texas. Knowing how pivotal a role having a quarry nearby would be to my story, I chose to set my fictional town near Limestone County where the natural resource from which the county derived its name was abundant enough to allow me to install a quarry a few miles from town.

Fun how things work out, isn't it?

For more information on the use of convict labor in building the Texas state capitol building, follow these links: - Highlights the labor union dispute. - Great pictures of the convict labor force, Granite Mountain, and the construction of the capitol.

Please join me in thanking Karen for sharing some fascinating history with us today. Believe it or not ... I'm working on a book set at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in the 1880s ... I was amazed when I learned that Karen had studied convict labor! The places we writers will go to find a story .... I declare!

Visit Karen at website:

For more about her new release: To Win Her Heart

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