Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thursday Thirteen - 150 - 13 Reasons to Read McShannon's Chance by Jennie Marsland

Jennie Marsland belongs to my writers' group, Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada. During the business part of our monthly meeting, we have a segment called Member News, where we share writing developments. Jennie was only with us a short time when her member news was 'I sold my first book!'

1 - McShannon's Chance is a Romance from BlueWood Publishing. It released last October in both E-book and print formats.

2 - Jennie takes us out to the Colorado of 1870, and as Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote about Oklahoma Territory:

Territory folks should stick together
Territory folks should all be pals
Cowboys dance with the farmer's daughters
Farmers dance with the ranchers' gals

This is the West of big skies, ranches carved from stands of lonesome pines, Civil War vets remaking their lives and women taking their chances with life on their own terms.

3 - We meet E.M. Underhill, an emerging Philadelphia painter whose work suggests something of the Impressionist movement making inroads in France. Masking her name with initials helps Beth's work to be taken seriously, but her cousin and guardian takes her least seriously of all. His attempts to marry her off send her instead to a barely-formed Colorado town. She steps off the stagecoach wondering if she'll regret her decision to accept a husband through an agency. But for Beth, it's a husband on her own terms, or none at all.

4 - Trey McShannon grew up on the edges of antebellum society, refusing to fight for the Confederacy when it finally came down to it. But he fought all the same - for the Union army. Now, with the war only raging in his nightmares, he carves a new life for himself outside Wallace Flats. A respectable homestead, good neighbors. All of it only makes the solitary days and nights that much worse. Writing to an agency for a wife seems like the practical approach, and Trey certainly has too much work taking up his time to go a-courtin'.

5 - This romance doesn't follow genre convention. It's much more like the 1989 mini-series Lonesome Dove, with Tommy Lee Jones, or 90's series Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, with Jane Seymour and Joe Lando. We're introduced to a wider cast of characters than most romances allow. We follow two secondary couples, and meet many of the folk who make up the town of Wallace Flats.

6 - Where this novel excels as a romance are the scenes between Beth and Trey as they begin their relationship with an endpoint - an arranged partnership - and work backwards through their courtship. Jennie has written a 3D-High Definition cowboy in Trey McShannon. No mistaking who's talking when he and Beth are together. He's a man of few words, of unwavering gazes that size Beth up. And Beth, true to form as a woman ahead of her time, is not feisty so much as sassy as she teases Trey with delightful zingers.

7 - I really enjoyed the artist subplot with Beth's sketching as a counterpoint of expertise as she flounders in the day-to-day work of running a homestead. Her refusal to give up is a truly endearing quality - the unending chores don't dissuade her, the Old Boys Club of the art world doesn't intimidate her, and Trey's obvious war demons don't keep her at a safer distance.

8 - As I mentioned in my review of Anna Campbell's Captive of Sin - see the top menu bar for the link to my book reviews - a tortured hero is my favorite character, bar none. If there's the promise of a reveal as to why the hero is so tortured, don't lead me on - let me have it, right between the eyes.

Jennie delivers, with a poignant scene to which Trey's nightmares have led us in gradual but unrelenting steps.

9 - If you're used to the slicker pace of commercial romantic fiction, why not let the slower build-up of McShannon's Chance take you off the beaten track? The scenery is always more breathtaking when you take the backroads. Jennie's story takes its pace from the iconic lone cowboy making his way across an immense landscape. Why wear out your horse when there's so much ground to cover, mister?

10 - Jennie really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'Have it your way, Philadelphia. And you might as well call me Trey.' Another smug grin, followed by a measuring look. 'What are you doing here, anyway? Were you bored in town?'

Beth crisply gave him the plain, unvarnished facts.

While she spoke, Trey's angry look softened to something that might be curiosity. 'Why didn't you go to your cousin's?'

Beth decided to be honest. 'I didn't want to sit in Graham's house and wait for him to find an acceptable man to take me off his hands - acceptable to
him.' She looked Trey in the eye again. 'When I wrote, I told you I didn't know much about housekeeping. What did you think you were getting?'

'That's not the point. I can't expect you to be content out here.'

Now he sounded embarrassed. Beth shrugged. 'Mr. McShannon, I'm a big girl. I thought from your letter that you'd give me credit for being able to make up my own mind.'

Trey's heavy brows lifted as he gave her another measuring glance. 'Oh, I'll bet you're an expert at that.' Then he turned his attention back to the road and urged the team into a faster trot."

11 - As well as an art world subplot that addresses bringing the authentic self into a relationship, rather than trying to deny that person, there is a wonderful undercurrent of the horse world, not surprising in a Colorado homestead story. But Jennie's masterful handling of the horse characters shows a real affinity for the world of the cowboy. Her love of Zane Grey and Louis L'Amour provides the backdrop for Jennie's romantic flare to paint a new west. In this one, the charged banter between Trey and Beth is the fuel for their attraction, not simply the way Trey wears a Stetson, or the way Beth pretties herself up for the Wallace Flats social.

12 - Here's the book trailer:

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Trey got the blanket he kept tied to the back of his saddle, stretched out on it and closed his eyes.

The bright sun beat down on him, soothing tired muscles and unclogging his mind. He laid a forearm over his eyes and took in a breath laden with the scent of warm earth. Another...three...four...

The acrid reek of burning brush, combined with the odors of sweaty horse and his own unwashed body stung his throat. The last two days fighting had taken place over a burning landscape, set ablaze by artillery fire. A pale, smoke-hazed moon hung above him in the night sky.

Cloud stumbled and nearly fell to his knees. Dizzy with fatigue, Trey pulled him up. Sheer instinct kept him in the saddle. He no longer cared if he fell. He only knew they couldn't stop, not with troops from both sides moving through the darkness.

The screams of the wounded they hadn't been able to save from the flames that day still rang in Trey's mind, drowning out the subtle night sounds around him. Sounds he shouldn't have ignored.

He looked back to check on the rest of his patrol, but they blended into the darkness. In another minute, he'd be turning the corner he could barely see up ahead. His pulse hammered in his ears.

He rounded the bend in the road, heard a shout from the darkness of a stand of trees. Metal flashed in the moonlight. Trey pulled his rifle and fired in one smooth motion.

Trey dismounted and walked toward the still figure, knowing what he'd see. He turned the body over and looked into the face of the man he'd shot.

The darkness broke up and gave way to sunlight again, the cool, smokey night to the warmth of Beth's arms.

'Trey, it's alright. It's over.' Her voice barely reached him through the remains of the nightmare. Stomach heaving, muscles frozen, he clung to Beth while she stroked his hair and murmured soothing nonsense. Long, humiliating seconds passed before he regained enough control to pull away. Beth clasped her hands around her knees and waited while he gathered what was left of his dignity.

'Maddy told me she and Logan asked you to stay with them your first winter here. I think I know now why you didn't.'

Still sick and shaky, Trey wiped his face with his sleeve and looked out over the river. 'Yeah, I guess so.'

'How often does this happen?'

'Not often, now. Not for a year, until...'

'Until I came.' Beth reached for his hand.

Trey pulled his hand back. He'd rather have Beth's contempt than her pity, but then he glanced at her and realized she wasn't offering him pity.

'There's no point, Beth. Some memories aren't worth sharing. It wouldn't do anyone any good.'

Trey picked up a rock and tossed it in the river. The ripples it made spread and vanished with the current."

- Jennie Marsland, 2009