What's Your Favorite Part of a Story?
Sarah Cass’s world is regularly turned upside down by her three special-needs kids and loving mate, so she breaks genre barriers, dabbling in horror, straight fiction, and urban fantasy. An ADD tendency leaves her with a variety of interests that include singing, dancing, crafting, cooking, and being a photographer. She fights through the struggles of the day, knowing the battles are her crucible and though she may emerge scarred, she’s also stronger. Now officially multi-published, she’s still working on bringing new stories to fill out her year and your reading lists. While busy creating worlds and characters as real to her as her own family, she leads an active online life with her blog, Redefining Perfect, which gives a real and sometimes raw glimpses into her life and art.
I knew I had several stories back-burnered, but nothing appealed to me, and I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to write something new. I wanted to write something that didn’t turn into a 300k story that needed to be divided into a series.
Since I was pushing myself already by setting a goal of no more than 50k, I decided to keep in a genre I was familiar with—the Historical Western. Then came the idea for an old Wild West show.
One with an outlaw showman at the forefront that’s only in it for the money.
And a woman at the heart.
But what if the woman wasn’t just a woman, but a Native American. One being shuttled from army camp to army camp in the midst of the army’s continuing attempts to eradicate the ‘savages’.
And what if she was a survivor? Immediately I thought of the Cheyenne. Of Washita. A well-known massacre. And therein lay the problem. Washita was well known, stories had been told of it. So I dug a little deeper.
Fascinated and horrified, I read for days. About the Utter party and how the loss of that wagon train and the killing of the people in it, and the kidnapping of the Van Ornum children led to the massacre.
The horrific, terrifying, and disgusting things the army did to the women and children in that Shoshone camp.
It was then that Minnie’s heart began to beat. Proud and strong. She told me those were her people, that she was Shoshone.
In Masked Hearts Minnie is at first a woman well aware of her place, of the dangers of acting outside what she’s expected. Having been taken in my Mr. Rawlins and living with him for fourteen years, she isn’t keen to think there’s anything beyond the life she’s well aware is ahead of her. In the fourteen years since the tragedy at Bear River she’s become hard, and has closed off her heart.
It takes patience and persistence for one man to find the heartbeat beneath the walls built around her heart. To find the heart of a woman proud to be a Shoshone.
It’s a transformation well worth seeing.
In Masked Hearts, I use past tragedy to bring the story to life. It affects several characters and they all, in some way, must overcome their past. Most of the conflict comes from the past hurts and the prejudices they bred.
What’s your favorite part of a story? When the conflict is a real and present danger? Or the way the past influences a character?
Minnie Woodward lives a lie. After barely surviving the Bear River Massacre she’s lived in the white world of her guardian Mister Rawlins, her life debt keeping her tied there. The last thing she needs is Roy’s attempts to gain her favor. Her fate’s sealed. She’s never believed in hope, and not even Roy can make her start.
Roy Ornum saves Minnie every night in the traveling Wild West show. The job he took to break his gambling habit brought him a new addiction – her. He knows she doesn’t want to be rescued, but maybe he does. She’s the key to a past he lost, one he wants to find again.
As the two grow closer old wounds are reopened and their burgeoning trust is shattered. When lives hang in the balance of their choices they’ll need to work together. Otherwise everything will be lost before hope can be found.
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“I don’t understand. What could you want to know?”
Roy noted he still held her hand and she hadn’t pulled away. With a smile he gave it a gentle squeeze. “Just what you remember.”
Moisture gathered in her eyes. She pulled her knees to her chest. “I was young when I woke up in Mister’s care. I don’t remember much more than feelings and a few people. The end.” Her voice cracked and she pulled her hand free to wipe a tear.
His heart caught. “What happened at the end?”
“No. I can’t.” She turned her full attention on him. Deep brown eyes conveyed the pain he knew she kept hidden behind anger. “My mother. She was beautiful. Always there was a feather woven in her hair.”
“What was her name?”
“Dancing Fire.” A soft smile broke through the pain that lingered. The intense gaze she’d fixed on him drifted away. For the first time since he’d met Minnie her features softened into peace. Never had she been so beautiful.
“What was your name?”
“It doesn’t matter. It is not my name now.”
“Neither is Minnie. Minnie doesn’t suit you.”
“No, Minnie is not my name now either.” Aimlessly her fingers danced along the edge of her skirts. The hem rolled in her fingers. “I had two younger brothers. The middle one was my responsibility, because the baby still needed mother’s nourishment. Every time we moved, I took care of him.”
“Every time?” Roy sat up, that he could cling to. Something that felt like it meshed with his own memory. “How often did you move?”
“All the time. That is the one part of this life that doesn’t bother me.” She looked back toward the wagons. “Moving is natural.”
“So you would move because of the weather?”
“The weather. The hunting. Away from the white man. We moved when it seemed necessary. We didn’t keep much in possessions. Not like we do on these wagons. Just what we needed.” She closed her eyes, one shimmering tear lingering at the edge of her lashes. “The people were what mattered. Our family.”
“Did that family sometimes include white men or women?” He expected a reaction. Anger, dismissal, disdain—something to show him she thought the idea awful. None of it came, so he turned toward her. “Minnie?”
A long sigh slipped between her plump lips. “Yes. There were a few. Most because they wanted to be—but not all.”
“I wasn’t judging. I wanted to know. Did any of those whites marry some of your people? Perhaps a man marrying a woman of your tribe?”
“It happened.” She frowned, turning her attention back to the hem of her dress. “There was a white woman in our village. She married one of our men, they had two sons.”
“What about a man? One that wandered by the river to set traps, gathering the animals for food and their fur.” The answer held so much importance in a way he could never explain.