The Story Behind the Story of the Heroine and the Hero in “A Train Ride to Heartbreak”
Coming up with likeable yet flawed characters is always a struggle. I find my first draft is usually full of perfect people who always get it right, or else they are so flawed, nobody likes them. Then I have to go back in and tell myself that nobody is this good and they need at least one little thing they need to fix, or there’s no story. Or I have to temper all their issues with at least one redeeming feature.
For Mary Johannson, she had so many good traits—hard worker, thinks of others before herself, obedient, loving—yet the scars on her neck and arm from a fire she survived as a child constantly remind her that nobody could possibly love her. The years in the orphanage fed that lie, as she was passed over time and again for adoption. The opportunity to marry, sight unseen, seems the answer to her problems. And even better, a covenant marriage for twelve years or so, nothing expected except to raise this stranger’s children. Then she would be free to go wherever she wanted. Not that she had anywhere to go.
For John Stewart, he’s another good person that bad things happened to. His wife died, leaving him with two young daughters to raise. He has so many good traits, too—loving father, loving husband, industrious, loyal—so why did God abandon him? Why didn’t the Almighty choose to answer his prayers? And if not his, why not answer his wife’s? She loved God right to the end. Convinced he will never love again, yet he knows he needs help with his children. A covenant marriage seems perfect. No love. No intimacy. Just duty. Kind of like his relationship with God.
These characters both believe a lie—Mary’s that nobody could see past her scars, and John’s that he has had the one love of his life. We all believe a lie about ourselves. It might have to do with our past, with our present, or even with the bleak outlook for our future. What I hope readers will take away about this story is that God is bigger than our past, bigger than our mistakes, and has great plans for us.
1895, Train to California
John Stewart needs a wife. Mary Johannson needs a home. On her way west, Mary falls in love with another. Now both must choose between commitment and true love.
Mary Johannson has scars on her body that can’t compare with the scars on her heart. She is alone in the world, with no family, no prospects, and no home.
John Stewart is at his wit’s end. His wife of three years died in childbirth, leaving him with a toddler and an infant, both girls. Theirs was the love of fairy tales, and while he has no illusions about finding another like her, his children need a mother.
Though separated by thousands of miles, they commit to a mail-order marriage. But on their journey to Heartbreak, they meet another and realize the life they’d planned would be a lie. Can they find their way back from the precipice and into the love of God and each other, or are they destined to keep their word and deny their heart?
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Donna lives in Denver with husband Patrick, her first-line editor and biggest fan. She writes historical suspense under her own name, and contemporary suspense under her alter ego of Leeann Betts. She is a hybrid publisher who has published a number of books under her pen name and under her own name. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Sisters In Crime; facilitates a local critique group, and teaches writing classes and courses. Donna is also a ghostwriter and editor of fiction and non-fiction, and judges in a number of writing contests. She loves history and research, and travels extensively for both. Donna is proud to be represented by Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management.
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