Anna, thank you for having me on your blog.
I usually write stories set in Regency England but while living in Seattle I decided to try something a little different. If you’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, let me tell you, it is one of the most beautiful places on earth—when the sun shines. Alas, as I’m sure you’ve heard, the sun rarely shines in Seattle and this is why I have a love/hate relationship with the place.
To step outside my comfort zone of writing in 19th century England, I wrote Splendor in the Moss. This novella takes place during the early days of white settlement in Seattle. The first settlers were led by two families, the Borens and the Dennys, who arrived in 1851 on Alki Point. On the map, this is the land jutting up from the bottom left corner (the map dates from 1891). The party sailed up from Portland, which was already a well-established town with a few thousand residents. It’s reported that when one of the women of the party clambered ashore at Alki and saw one solitary half-built, roofless cabin, she sat down on a log and cried. I completely understand, sister.
The settlers were generally welcomed by the local Native American tribes, the Duwamish and the Suquamish, who helped them build shelters and provided them with food that first winter. By the next spring the settlers decided to move over to what would become Seattle proper. On the map this is the shoreline of Elliott Bay, to the right of Alki. More settlers followed, most arriving via the coast from Portland. In March 1853 the Washington Territory was established as separate from the Oregon Territory and the cluster of residents along Elliott Bay voted to name their town after the Duwamish Chief, Seattle. Frankly, this was much better than their second choice of name, Duwamps.
The hero of my book, James Caldwell, arrives in Seattle in May 1853 along with his manservant. Yes, James is British, the son, but not the heir, of a viscount. Being so far outside of the location I usually write in, I needed to keep at least one aspect of the story familiar! James stakes a claim to land up the hill from the shore, around the whitish area on the map. The heroine, Mattie, traveled across the Oregon Trail from her home in Indiana, suffering a life-altering tragedy along the way. Neither she nor James wants to remain in the Pacific Northwest but even that commonality isn’t even to draw them together in the beginning.
One of the loveliest surprises of living in Seattle is to wake up after days of rain and clouds and be treated to the sight of glorious Mt. Rainier. The view of the mountain is the first of many things, most especially the woman he falls for, that convinces James to stick around and make a go of life in Washington.
I had so much fun researching the history of Seattle and Washington. This was made all the more special by being able to visit the places my characters went. Though there have been drastic changes, most of the views remain stunning. The photos of Mt. Rainier were taken by me either from near my neighborhood or from Mt. Rainier National Park.
I’d love to hear if you’ve ever visited the picturesque Seattle area!
Charlotte Russell didn’t always know she wanted to be a writer. At one point she had grand plans to be an architect, until she realized she couldn’t draw anything more complicated than a stick figure. So, she enrolled at the University of Notre Dame and studied her first love—history. Now she puts all that historical knowledge to good use by writing romances set in Regency England. When not pounding on the keyboard, she watches sports with her husband (yes, he’s lucky!), chauffeurs her three kids around, volunteers for too many things, and entertains two cats. (Of course there are cats; she’s a writer.)
Splendor in the Moss
By the spring of 1853 Englishman James Caldwell has traveled thousands of miles in a quest to find a place to call home. Newly settled Seattle isn’t that place, and he’s ready to move on again when widowed Mattie Jensen marches into his life as somber as a cloudy day. But James can see through the solemn haze to Mattie’s strength and passion. Now he has a reason to stay, if he can just convince Mattie to take a second chance on love—with him.
James headed to the east, away from the settlement of Seattle. The trees were thick here and only slivers of sunlight snuck through the lofty branches. Every morning since they’d arrived, James had seen deer wander out of this copse, nibble on the freshly growing greens covering the ground, and then bound back into the forest once they spotted or heard him. He walked slowly, quietly, the rifle hanging beside his leg. He’d not gone far when he heard leaves rustling and twigs snapping as something shuffled through the undergrowth.
James hauled the rifle to his shoulder and whipped to the left, his finger on the trigger, only to find Mattie Jensen’s startled brown eyes in his sights.
Heart beating apace, he lowered the weapon immediately. “My apologies. I didn’t realize anyone was here. I was stalking deer.”
She stood some forty feet away, her fingers worrying the knot of her black shawl. Her dress was pale green, her boots sturdy. James wondered if she’d ever worn silk or slipped her feet into satin shoes. Her eyes were still wide, but he thought that might be due to anxiety about what to say. He started walking toward her, as slowly and softly as he would toward a deer.
“Miss Stover said you’d gone to visit someone today. Are you on your way home?”
“This is not my home,” she said instantly, then looked as if she regretted it.
James couldn’t fault her honesty. “It’s not mine either. Unfortunately, I don’t know where ‘home’ is right now. But I hear you would like to return to Indiana?”
She nodded. Her hands had stilled and though he doubted she felt that way inside, she looked calm and…natural, here in the forest. Her dark hair, twisted into a knot, matched the bark of the pine trees and her amber eyes, open yet wary, could have been those of an owl.
James smiled. She probably wouldn’t appreciate being compared to a bird of prey. “Evening is almost upon us. May I walk you back to…wherever you are staying?”
She glanced at his rifle. “But you were hunting.”
He shrugged. “Another time. I would rather see you safely returned.”
“Has everyone left your place?” Her mouth tightened, as if she wished she hadn’t asked.
“They have.” He had to be polite so he added, “Thank you for asking them to come.”
She began walking west and James followed. “You looked like you needed the help.”
Of course he did. He was an aristocratic Englishman with no training and very few wits to get by on; she’d made herself perfectly clear on that score. “I won’t be staying in Seattle either, but I have no doubt the next occupant of the land will appreciate the cabin.”
Thank you, Charlotte. Living in Victoria, BC, I am very familiar with Seattle. Great city and a wonderful setting for a romance.