Theresa’s Talent – Book Spotlight and Interview
By Donna Schlachter
I’d already written an earlier book in the multi-author series, and discovered I loved my hero and heroine too much to leave them just yet. At the same time, I also loved two secondary but very important characters, Theresa and Toby. So I signed up to write a second book in the series, using Theresa and Toby as my main characters this time around.
How do you develop your characters?
In this case, very carefully. I’ve never written a book where people of color are the main characters. I didn’t want to portray them incorrectly, so I wrote the synopsis and the first two chapters, and sent that to a friend who is an author of color, asking her if I was doing these characters justice. She said she thought I did a fine job. So I simply carried on.
What sort of research did you do, and was there a tidbit you had to include?
I’d already done most of my research in preparation for writing the first book. This series is about women involved in the suffrage movement in the US, and both my original heroine and Theresa were involved. There were some instances in the first book that were similar to events that happened later, but one that stuck out was that the women were actually encouraged, in the 1870s, following the Civil War, to stand down and allow the freed male slaves to gain the vote first. I mention this again in Theresa’s Talent, because we see from the fact that they did stand down for a number of years that they cared less about individual ability to vote, and more about the collective rights of marginalized peoples.
How do you come up with your storylines?
As I mentioned, this book is a spin-off from the first one I wrote, Rollie’s Riddle. In it, Theresa works for the bank manager as his housekeeper, but she also runs a small catering business. She dreams of owning her own business, in particular, a bakery.
What draws you to the time period about which you write?
The story. I ask myself where the story can best be told from. I recently wrote two books in a different series, one set in 1784, one in 1834. I’d never written that “old” before, so it took more research. For me, my sweet spot is 1860 to 1900s, although I like a good challenge and can write in any era.
What is your next project?
Next up is A King for Kinsella, in the Mail Order Papa series. It releases December 30, 2023, and is just now in the outlining stage.
About Theresa’s Talent
Theresa’s Talent released on October 2nd, and I’m excited to introduce you to her today. Theresa Crane
Because of what happened in Rollie’s Riddle, Theresa finds another job, but lands in hot water because of her political beliefs regarding equality and the vote. She was born during the Civil War, and won her freedom when President Lincoln granted that right in the Emancipation Proclamation. In the first book in this series, Lucas Bryant asked his old friend Toby to help him investigate criminal activity in the area. In the process, Toby finds he loves Whispering Pines, and decides to stay. Or maybe it isn’t the town—perhaps a certain Southern beauty of color?
As a Pinkerton operative, Toby sees his fair share of danger and excitement, but it becomes personal when one of his employees is kidnapped.
And when he learns that Theresa is in danger, he wants to fix things.
A Peek Inside the book:
Tuesday, September 8, 1896
Whispering Pines, Colorado
Theresa Crane hefted her market basket to the other hand and strode along the boardwalk in the small town she called home. At an hour’s ride west of Colorado Springs, the community stuck together—well, most of the time.
When she first arrived several years ago, she’d hired on with the bank manager as housekeeper. But he’d found himself on the wrong side of the law, which was just as well. Now she worked for one at the Dew Drop Inn diner. Long hours, always on her feet, yet her boss, Mister Armstrong, paid her extra when she brought in her baking.
She slowed and switched hands again. Today she had six loaves of bread, ten dozen shortbread cookies, and three pies. While she didn’t earn anywhere near as much from him as she did from her private customers—well, that was her egg money.
Theresa lived—barely—on what her boss paid, while she saved the other to start her own business. Within a month, she hoped. She’d already found a vacant storefront, and with encouragement from her friend Missus Rollie Wheaton Bryant, she’d soon open the shop.
Theresa stifled a giggle. She could hardly wait. For a black woman over thirty years old, still unmarried, this was a dream life she enjoyed. Nobody to answer to. Nobody to order her around. In fact, the only cross she had to bear was Mister Armstrong. And he only for another month.
At the corner newspaper stand, she slowed to catch the day’s headlines. Then she froze, her breath caught in her throat.
WOMAN ADDS NAME TO PRESIDENTIAL BALLOT.
What? How exciting. All the work she and Rollie had invested in the suffrage movement over the past couple of years had finally paid off. At the previous meeting of their local chapter of the Suffrage Women’s of America, rumors abounded about an unnamed woman willing to stand before crowds and not for something even more audacious than the right to vote, and that was for men to vote for her as president.
Imagine! The first woman president. Theresa picked up the newspaper. Belva Ann Lockwood, an attorney in her own right, had stepped into the crosshairs of American politics. Competing for the coveted prize against Grover Cleveland, the Democratic candidate, and James Blaine for the Republicans, Missus Lockwood proclaimed herself as ready for the contest.
Oh, there was a quote from her: I may not be able to vote, but I can ask men to vote for me.
Well, if that didn’t make some of the male population in the country squirm and pull in their toes, nothing would.
Theresa dropped the two pennies into the newspaper seller’s outstretched hand and continued her way. She glanced at the town clock atop the church steeple. Fifteen minutes before eight. Although Mister Armstrong insisted she arrive at ten before the hour, and work until ten past quitting time—for no additional pay—she’d stop and see how Rollie fared this morning.
And share this morsel of good news with her.
Inside the Whispering Pines Echo newspaper office, Theresa set her basket of baked goods on a chair near the door, then leaned over the railing separating the public from the business part of the office.
She beamed down at the darling child smiling up at her from his perambulator. “Mathew, my sweetie. How are you?” She waggled her fingers, and he cooed, reaching for her with slobbery fingers. Theresa straightened. “He’s growing so quickly. I declare he’s two inches taller and at least five pounds heavier since last week.”
Rollie came through the gate and hugged her. “And you’re not the one who has to lug him around like a sack of potatoes.” She rubbed the small of her back. “I thought being pregnant was difficult enough.”
Theresa chuckled. “I don’t envy you.” She held her friend at arm’s length. “How are you otherwise? Married life still agreeing with you?”
Rollie gestured to the child. “Too late to question that now, isn’t it?” She peered at her. “How about you? Did Toby propose yet?”
“No.” Theresa stomped a foot. “Don’t know that I want him to. We’re enjoying courting. Spending time of an evening. Or on Sundays after church. If we get hitched, then I’ll have to do his bidding.” Her eyes widened at a realization. “He might want me to give up my dream of the bakery.”
“Not many married women work, unless it’s with their husbands.”
Theresa waggled a forefinger at her friend. “We all work, married or not. And I think you and your type labor all the harder.” She hugged her friend again. “Then again, your husband hasn’t made you give up your job.”
“It’s different for me. I own this place. He knows how upset I’d be if he so much as suggested I give it up.” Mathew cooed then fussed in his carriage. “Then again, if any more like that one come along, I may have no choice.”
Theresa shook her head. “Don’t think like that. Look for solutions. Hire a nanny. A housekeeper, if need be.”
Rollie smiled at her. “You looking for work?”
“Not me, no thanks. I got enough with the Dew Drop. And getting my own place ready. I have three private events this month, and then I’ll have enough to open next.”
Her friend clapped her hands and danced in place. “Oh, I’m so excited for you. But what else brings you here today?”
Theresa smacked her forehead with her hand. “Almost forgot.” She held out the newspaper. “See this?”
Rollie nodded. “I was just working up a piece for the Echo’s next edition. I wish we could publish more often, but between keeping house, preparing meals, looking after this little tyrant, finding advertisers—well, I can’t be everywhere at once.”
Theresa laid a hand on her friend’s arm. “Hire somebody. Maybe you need help here in the office. Pay them on commission to get you that advertising revenue.”
“Maybe you’re right. That way, I could take one thing off my list each week. Give somebody a job who needs one. And service my advertisers better.”
“That’s forward thinking, girl. Go for it. Maybe a young wife who needs a little pocket money of her own. Or an older woman with too many skills and too much time on her hands.”
Theresa bid her friend good day, picked up her basket, and headed for the Dew Drop Inn. When she stepped inside, Mister Armstrong pointed at the clock.
Oh, dear, had she overstayed her time?
No. Five minutes til. She pasted on a smile. “Good morning, Mister Armstrong.”
He tossed a glare at her then at the clock.
“Yes, sir, my shift starts at eight. And it is five to. And here is the baking you asked for. I stayed up past midnight to make sure it was ready for this morning.”
As she rounded the end of the counter to hang up her shawl, her hat, and her reticule, he neared, towering over her. “You’re five minutes late.”
“Not according to the clock, sir.”
Maybe it was finally time to stand up for herself. He didn’t require the white women to arrive early and stay late. She was fairly certain that what he said she had to do wasn’t right.
“Don’t matter what the clock says. All that matters is what I say. Understand?”
The veins at his temples bulged, and his hot breath in her face made her queasy. She swallowed hard.
Then again, she needed this job. At least for a month. If she had to dip into her savings to replace lost income, that would set her plans back. She’d pay another month’s rent, on top of what she’d already invested in her business.
She nodded, stepping back out of range, then dropped her gaze to the floor. Heat crept up her neck and face. “It won’t happen again, sir.”
Three, four, five heartbeats passed before the man grunted and nodded. “See it doesn’t. And you’ll lose an hour’s pay for your insolence. Lucky I don’t just fire you now.” He spat on the floor, near the tips of her boots. “Clean that up, then get to work.”
He pivoted and strode toward his office. Theresa exhaled. Then she did as she was told.
But not for much longer.
Soon, she’d be her own boss. Run her own business.
And treat herself—and her employees—a far sight better than that man ever did.
She might have been born a slave, but she was free now because of the Emancipation Proclamation, President Lincoln, and all those brave soldiers who fought for her.
She refused to step back voluntarily into slavery.
Toby Young nodded to several townsfolk he knew or recognized as he strode along the wooden boardwalk from his boardinghouse toward the Dew Drop Inn.
In the distance, fluffy white clouds nestled near the top of Pike’s Peak like a wreath, stark against the blue sky. No doubt about it, Whispering Pines was a beautiful part of the country.
Too bad he was moving soon. He’d miss Lucas and his delightful if spunky wife, Rollie, and their new son. He’d miss the food at the Dew Drop, the barn dances at the livery, and, most of all, Miss Theresa Crane.
As he pushed into the diner, grinning so wide it pained his cheeks, the town clock struck eleven. Where had the morning gone? Well, mostly in a hurried exchange of telegrams with the area office in Denver, the regional office in Colorado Springs, and then a chat with his landlady. The delightful woman cried when he told her he was leaving town. Said he was one of her best boarders.
No doubt about it. He had a bellyful of news to share with the same Miss Crane.
And there she was. Serving a farmer at the counter. Smiling at him, giggling at something he said.
Then she looked up. Locked eyes with him.
Smiled across the room at him.
Her ebony skin shone like she’d burnished it with furniture polish, but her eyes—brown as hazelnuts, ringed with gold—and those lips—full, soft, and, he was certain, because they’d never actually kissed—as sweet as honey from out of the comb.
She nodded, gesturing to the stool at the end of the counter. As he slid onto the seat, she poured him a cup of coffee. “Good morning, Toby.” She glanced toward the older man a few seats away. ‘Or should I call you Mister Young?”
He chuckled. “Oh, I think we’re past that, aren’t we?”
“I hope so.”
A man stuck his head around the corner. “Bring me a coffee. Now.”
Toby noted how Theresa’s shoulders tensed and her smile slipped away at the man’s order, but he said nothing. One thing he knew about this woman: she didn’t need—or want—anybody else fighting her battles.
Theresa leaned close, the lavender water on her skin sweet and tantalizing. “Be right back.”
She bustled around the corner, out of his sight, returning a few minutes later. “Did you want something to eat?”
“No, I can’t stay long. I have paperwork to finish up. And—uh—well, I got good news.”
No time like the present to tell her what brough him here this morning.
She leaned her elbows on the counter. “So what’s got you so all fired up this morning?”
“Pinkerton’s asked me to manage the regional office. And I said yes.”
Beneath the usually healthy color in her skin, Theresa took on a pale tone, and the skin around her eyes tightened. He thought back over his words. What could have upset her? It was good news.
Then she recovered and adopted a forced smile. He’d interrogated enough suspects to know when the expression didn’t truly match the emotion. “Well, that’s good news for you, isn’t it?”
Had she stressed the word you, or was it his imagination?
If he was excited, she should be too, right?
He pressed on. “I’ll be one of the first managers in the company. And they want me to take on an undercover assignment that could last as much as six months.”
Now, why had her voice slipped into a little mousey-like squeak? As though she couldn’t get the words out. Maybe she was overcome with emotion, like he was. It’s why he didn’t come here until now. He’d danced around his room for the better part of an hour once he got word.
“Yes. Isn’t that great?” When she didn’t answer, he laid a hand on hers. “What’s wrong?”
“Well, it’s nice that you can pick up and move when and where you like. In a month’s time, when I have my—” She paused and looked left and right. “My you know what, I won’t have that freedom.”
Was that all? Well, once he asked her to marry him, and she said yes, and they jumped the broom, she’d give up any notion of running her own business.
“I still think women—particularly married women—” Had she caught his emphasis on that word? He hoped so. They’d shared their dreams about family, a home of their own, and more. He felt like not only were they on the same page, but they were in the same book on the same shelf in a huge library. “Should stay home and mind the children.”
Her left eyebrow raised. High. Almost disappearing at her hairline. “Is that so?”
Well, maybe he shouldn’t have been so bold to speak his mind until they were hitched. But, dagnabbit, a man had to take a stand, didn’t he? “Yes. Wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t.”
She reached under the counter and set a folded newspaper in front of him, tapping the headline. “Read that.”
He did, then he looked up at her. “Is this real? A woman is running for president. Why, she can’t even—”
“Vote for herself? True. But she’s not letting a little thing like that stop her.”
“Well, she won’t win.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. That’s not the point.”
“And what is?”
“That she’s stepping out. Taking a chance. Showing the world that women are more than cooks and cleaners and live-in nannies.”
“Well, what kind of a woman is she?”
“The kind that minds the house. The White House.”
A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky-clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 60 times in books; is a member of several writers' groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. She is taking all the information she’s learned along the way about the writing and publishing process, and is coaching writers at any stage of their manuscript. Learn more at https://www.donnaschlachter.com/the-purpose-full-writer-coaching-programs Check out her coaching group on FB: https://www.facebook.com/groups/604220861766651
Books: Amazon: http://amzn.to/2ci5Xqq
The Purpose-Full Writer: https://www.facebook.com/groups/604220861766651
Need a writing coach?