Jennifer Uhlarik — Behind the Scenes
This week I’m excited to host author Jennifer Uhlarik as she tells us some Behind the Scenes secrets about her latest novella, Mountain Echoes.
BEHIND THE SCENES OF MOUNTAIN ECHOES
Hi everyone. Jennifer Uhlarik here. Thank you so much for having me today!
As an author, I often get asked where I get my ideas. In the case of my novella, Mountain Echoes, the story idea just popped to mind, fully formed (this rarely happens for me), but it took a lot of research to be sure I could carry it off with historical accuracy.
My publisher requested story ideas to be included in The Courageous Brides Collection. They wanted stories that depicted the heroine getting in trouble, acting courageously in that difficulty, and endearing herself to a male suitor in the process. Instantly, I saw a stagecoach accident where the heroine survives relatively unscathed and must get the other survivors—each injured or impaired somehow—out of the mountains. A harrowing experience, especially for a city-bred spinster.
From the moment this idea came, I knew one of the passengers would be a deaf boy whom the heroine was accompanying to a special school. So my setting had to include a stagecoach route that cut through a mountain range as well as a school for the deaf somewhere nearby.
It’s not my style to fictionalize a setting if I can find historical places that fit instead. So, I looked at the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, as well as the many mountain ranges in Arizona and New Mexico. In each case, there were stagecoach lines, but no school. Then I hit the proverbial jackpot in California. The Sierra Nevada on the eastern side of the state provided the mountain range I would need. There were all sorts of stagecoach lines that traveled in all directions through the state. And to my great relief, I discovered The California School for the Deaf, which was started in the Spring of 1860 to care for the indigent deaf children in the San Francisco area. (To my great excitement, I learned that the school is still in operation today).
So I had the place for my story, but I needed to decide upon a year to set it. Obviously, it must be in 1860 or later. I discovered a tiny detail in my research that said the school originally opened their doors to deaf children from anywhere in the state of California, but by 1862, expanded that to include deaf children from neighboring states and territories. This detail gave my heroine even more reason to traverse the Sierra Nevada to Virginia City, Utah Territory (present-day Nevada).
It was then that I stumbled across an ad in a historic newspaper for the Pioneer Stage Company. The October 1862 advertisement detailed the stage route between Sacramento and Virginia City. Passengers could choose the “Through Line,” traveling roughly 150 miles in 30 hours of almost non-stop travel, or they could take the “Accommodation Line,” which traveled the same route across three days with overnight stays in Placerville and Strawberry.
With that, all the pieces seemed to fall into place, and I couldn’t wait to write the story. But first I had to see if the publisher was interested! Fortunately, after weeks of waiting, I got the wonderful news that my story was one of nine chosen for the collection, and as of July 1, it’s been published! So that’s the story behind the story of Mountain Echoes. I hope you enjoyed seeing a bit of the creative process. Leave me a comment to be included in a drawing for a print copy of the collection.
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.