Characters in Conflict — Pegg Thomas
Today we welcome author Pegg Thomas as she shares some insight into how to write about characters in conflict, and as she shares her latest release, Embattled Hearts.
Without conflict … there is no story. Some conflict is more physical than others. For my heroine, Alannah Fagan, it’s very physical. Her stepfather is abusive. The opening scene was painful to write, and I hope it’s painful for the reader to read.
Why did I start a historical romance story with a scene of domestic violence? Because life isn’t always pretty. At that point in history, women had very little protection from men in their family. A man was supposed to protect and provide for his family, but at the same time, it was legal for him to beat his wife. Imagine that! While evil men still beat women today – a tragedy each and every time it happens – at least there is legal recourse for women now.
What hope did a woman have in 1861? That’s the question Alannah is faced with in Embattled Hearts. She makes the daring decision to escape with Conn, her younger brother. They have nothing, no means of survival in a vast area of unsettled Wyoming Territory. Even so, she’d rather face death in the elements that death at her stepfather’s hand.
Stewart McCann is the hero of the story. He’s the Pony Express stationmaster at Horseshoe Station. Stewart has his own conflict, but it’s not physical. His conflict stems from a totally different source. (Which will not be told here … because I don’t do spoilers!)
Sometimes it’s easy to empathize with the person who has physical reminders of the conflict in their life. The person covered with bruises, or scars, or confined to a wheelchair after an auto accident. It’s more difficult to empathize with the person whose conflicts are internal. The soldier with PTSD, the boy with autism, the lonely old man down the street with no family left.
Fiction stories can – and I believe should – deliver a message deeper than what’s happening on the surface. Romance stories are boy-meets-girl stories. But they don’t have to be superficial. Boy-meets-girl can contain deeper issues than surface angst about sexual attraction. While that is undeniably a source of conflict, it’s not enough to keep the story alive with the reader after they close the book. My hope is that Embattled Hearts will be the type of story people will think about, talk about, and pass along to a friend.
What genres do you write in and why?
Historical is my favorite genre but I haven’t been able to break through to publication with one of my historical novels yet. I started writing Historical Romance because of the demand for it. At times I’m still a little uncomfortable writing romance, but I’m getting used it to. It’s definitely stretching me as a writer. Both genres allow me to indulge in my love of history.
Tell me about your ideal reader.
My ideal reader is a woman above the age of 30 who has lived enough years to appreciate both the present and the past. She enjoys reading. It’s something of an escape for her, a way to pass her lunch hour or de-stress at the end of the day. But she wants more than a benign story of human angst. She wants something meatier, deeper, something that she’ll think about after she closes the book. She appreciates history and the struggles our forefathers – and mothers – worked through to create the place we live in today.
Tell us about your next book & when is it being published?
My next story, In Sheep’s Clothing, will appear in another historical romance collection from Barbour Publishing, The Bouquet of Brides Collection. It will release in January of 2018. I’m having a lot of fun writing this one! The heroine is a spinner and weaver in 1702 Connecticut Colony. I settled the story in Milford, Connecticut, where some of my ancestors lived. I learned to spin a yarn – the fiber kind – when I was 16 years old. Let’s just say that’s been a while ago. I’ve raised sheep for more than 20 years. Being able to combine my love for the fiber arts with my writing is a treat. Researching for this story has taught me a lot about how King William III’s Wool Act of 1699 changed the way Colonial America clothed itself.
Pegg Thomas lives on a hobby farm in Northern Michigan with Michael, her husband of *mumble* years. A life-long history geek, she writes “History with a Touch of Humor.” When not working on her latest novel, Pegg can be found in her garden, in her kitchen, or on her trusty old horse, Trooper.
Embattled Hearts – Chapter One – first page
She ignored the boot that shoved against her ribs. The next shove came with more force, and Alannah Fagan let a groan escape her swollen lips. Only she knew it was a groan of rage, not pain, although there was plenty of that.
She forced herself not to flinch at Edward Bergman’s guttural voice. It was better they thought her still unconscious. They wouldn’t bother to care for her, so she’d have a chance to escape once darkness fell.
“Leave her.” Hugh Bergman’s voice rose from the direction of the camp. “She’ll come ’round by mornin’.”
“Might rain tonight.” Edward’s voice carried no hint of concern.
“Then she’ll get wet.” Hugh Bergman’s held even less. He may have married her ma, but he was no stepfather to her or her brother. “Whatever she put in the pot looks done. Come eat.”
Edward shuffled to the fire. More steps announced that his older brothers, Carl and Arnold, joined them. The scent of scorched salt pork and beans brought Alannah a slender thread of satisfaction. The clatter of plates and spoons, an occasional grunt from one of the men, the stomp of a horse’s hoof came from behind her. Whoosh of an owl overhead. Clicking of insects. Rustling and murmurs as members of the wagon train settled down for the evening.
Where was Conn? Her brother had left to fill the canteens at the creek right before…before Hugh’s fist had knocked her unconscious.
Alannah eased open her right eye. The left refused. Pain radiated from her left cheek, engulfing that side of her face. Careful not to move more than she must, she inched her head off the ground to peer above the prairie grass. The creek lay a quarter of a mile or so ahead of her. Their canvas-covered wagon was parked behind her in the large circle they formed each evening.
The sky darkened until she couldn’t see the willows along the creek anymore. The night sounds swelled and overtook the noise of the wagon train. A sentry walked past on his circuit. If he saw her, he didn’t pause. The whole wagon train would know what had happened by now, but nobody would confront Hugh Bergman. Not since he’d beaten the wagon master half to death over a senseless dispute about where to camp one night. Now her step-father ran the wagon train, ruling it by fear.
If you were faced with the prospect of a life of drudgery with someone you loathed or escape into a wilderness you might not survive … which would you choose?