A year and a half ago, my first California Rising novel, Until the Day Breaks, hit Amazon. I was surprised it did fine and we published my second novel, Far Side of the Sea, six months later. That novel got better reviews than my first novel, which made me happy since I wrote it fast. I’m sorry it’s taking so long to write the final story of my California Rising trilogy. But we now have a cover, I hope you like it, and here is a bit of the story…
September 1850, in the throes of the Gold Rush, California becomes a state and Isabella Vasquez becomes a woman.
Isabella was adopted by the Californios as a baby from Fort Ross. Her birth father was Russian, her mother part Indian. The Russians didn’t bring women to California the way the Spanish did. They took Indian wives and their children were called creoles, a race of black-haired, blue-eyed half-breeds known for their beauty and intelligence, but weak constitutions. Many Fort Ross creoles died young. Probably due to tuberculous, though at the time, they didn’t know why the creoles weren’t as hardy as the full-blooded Russians or Indians.
But back to the book, after the Vasquezes lost their rancho to the American takeover, Isabella’s adoptive father, Don Pedro Vasquez carried Isabella off to the gold fields, hoping to strike it rich and buy back their land.
I don’t want to give too much away, but failure in the gold fields sets Isabella on a journey back to Fort Ross to find her real father, Sergei Ivanhov, and visit the grave of her mother, Antipina, a Creole girl who died giving birth to her.
I found these lovely Russian names on the cemetery registry at Fort Ross.
I was in my early twenties, living in Germany when I first envisioned my California Rising series. There was no Internet back then, and my parents sent me history books through the mail. When we moved back to the states, I gave birth to our second daughter and would bundle up my baby and her two-year-old sister and head to the Marysville library. The library’s California room was an oasis of history. I spent hours there pouring over the journals of original California settlers and wrote my first draft of Until the Day Breaks.
Nearly twenty-five years later, I’m halfway finished with Chasing the Wind, the novel that completes my series. To share the California history I love, I needed to create a character who lived it.
Isabella is a sheltered girl so I couldn’t impart much history through her, but my hero, Peter Brondi, has all the freedom in the world to experience California’s turbulent times. While researching, I found the frontiersman Kit Carson the ideal historical figure for the conquest of California so I modeled my hero, Peter Brondi, after Carson.
Born in Missouri during frontier times, Peter, like Kit Carson, has fought Indians all his life. When he wins Isabella in a card game in Marysville, he must come to terms with his animosity against the Indian blood that runs through her veins. Peter is also haunted by the grudge he holds against his half-breed Indian brother, Paul.
While Peter was away fighting with John C. Fremont and Kit Carson in the 1846 California uprising against Mexico, Paul was back in Taos, New Mexico romancing Peter’s fiancee, Maggie. Paul marries Maggie and brings her west on a wagon train. After Maggie dies on the trail to California, the brothers nearly kill each other in a bitter battle because of her.
Three years later, when the story begins, the only reason Peter is searching for Paul is that their father, Jedediah is terminally ill. His dying wish is to see Paul, who disappeared after the fight with Peter. They know Paul’s in California, and Peter and Jedediah have brought nearly ten thousand sheep from New Mexico to California to sell to the miners (something that was actually done in 1852). But Jedediah refuses to part with a few hundred ewes, and with the help of the resistant Peter, starts his own sheep ranch near Nevada City where he waits for his younger son, Paul, to return to him.
Jedediah has made his peace with God, but his sons are chasing the wind, like so many men in California caught up in the gold rush, living for the moment, and lost in earthly pleasures and pain. The story of the prodigal son is guiding me as I craft this tale of love and forgiveness.
My California stories are romances, but the actual lives of the California settlers were far from romantic. Unlike the Californios who enjoyed a relatively rich, easy life by highjacking the already established mission lands and resources before the American takeover, the American settlers faced many hardships homesteading the Golden State. Guns and grit tamed the territory, and death was always at the door.
The native American Indians faced the worst of it. Telling a portion of this tale through the eyes of a half-breed Indian girl opened my eyes to the terrible fate of the California Indians. You could buy a beautiful Indian girl for five-hundred dollars in Marysville in 1850. Many Indians were sold for less, Indian children often kidnapped from their tribes and passed to American families. Any household of means had an Indian slave or two. John Sutter relied on Indians to man his famous fort in Sacramento. Without the Indians’ labor, Sutter would never have been able to rule the Sacramento Valley as he did before the gold rush destroyed his empire.
The plan is to have Chasing the Wind on Amazon in March 2018. Please say a little prayer that I can deliver it to my editor by February. Becoming a grandma has changed my life in the most wonderful way, and I’m still finding my bearings when it comes to being an author. I do love hearing you are ready and waiting for book number three. I hope you like the cover with Isabella in her wedding dress standing on a hill overlooking Fort Ross. Jenny Q. my editor, also designs my book covers. She did an amazing job. I love it.
Below is the little chapel at Fort Ross where Peter and Isabella make a vow to each other. Of course, this vow is hard to keep because good stories are full of conflict.
Fort Ross is one of my favorite places. If you haven’t been there, you really should try to visit this historic fort on the northern California coast.
But the heart of this story happens in Marysville. For those of you who live near me, you know this little town across the river from Yuba City. Marysville is smaller now than it was in its heyday, but D Street is one of my favorite places to visit. Macy’s department store was born in Marysville, and the town was named after Mary Murphy, a girl who survived the Donner Party. When I was little, I used to go with my grandma to Marysville for shopping. We would hit Woolworth’s on D Street and then head on down to the red and white striped Candy Box to buy our See’s chocolate.
Woolworth’s Department Store is closed now, but you can still visit The Candy Box on D Street open since 1954. I treasure our local history and have had so much fun tromping around Marysville, grabbing a ginger peach ice tea at The Brick Coffeehouse Cafe, one of my all-time favorite lunch spots, and then browsing the old brick buildings filled with quaint antique shops lining D Street. If you’d like to taste a little history with your lunch, check out The Silver Dollar Saloon located at the corner of D and 1st Streets next door to the Bok Kai Temple. It is one of the oldest historical landmarks in Marysville and was built in 1851. Until 1972, former owners ran a brothel on its second floor.
In Chasing the Wind, Clara’s Place is the brothel where Isabella lives for a spell. Clara’s Place was loosely fashioned after the original Silver Dollar Saloon establishment. Right behind this historic building runs the Yuba River where schooners came from San Francisco and Sacramento to drop off supplies and miners headed to the gold fields in the nearby foothills.
Peter and Isabella’s story climaxes near present-day Nevada City, which boomed into a town during the Gold Rush. The first “easterners” built a cabin along Deer Creek and staked a claim in 1849 just a year after the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill. Nevada City was originally called Deer Creek Diggins, but the fast-growing town soon became known as Caldwell’s Upper Store after the man who opened the town’s first general store. By 1850, people decided the town needed an official name. “Nevada” was chosen–Nevada is Spanish for snow-covered–because it had been a particularly snowy winter that year.
If you want to experience some holiday fun, head on up to Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas. I love celebrating my December birthday there or at Grass Valley’s Cornish Christmas. This year Cornish Christmas turns 50 like me.
You can spend the night at one of the lovely bed and breakfasts in Grass Valley or Nevada City, or try The National Exchange Hotel (also known as the National Hotel). It opened in August 1856 under the name of “Bicknell Block”. The town’s first hotel, saloon, stagecoach stop, and mail center were all known as Bicknell’s Block. The original building burnt down but was rebuilt.
In 1977, the hotel was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered the oldest continuously operated hotel west of the Rockies. I sure would like to know if the original Bicknell of Bicknell’s Block was related to my husband. History is so fascinating!
Many thanks to our local tourist websites for use of their pictures of the last three historic places.