For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Denise Weimer. Denise writes historical and contemporary romance and romantic suspense mostly set in her home state of Georgia. She’s authored a dozen traditionally published novels and a number of novellas. A freelance fiction editor, wife, and a mother of two daughters, she always pause for coffee, chocolate, and old houses.
I also have a professional connection to Denise. Several years ago, she acquired A Strike to the Heart for Iron Stream Media, and has since been my freelance editor for all my historical romantic suspense stories. I highly recommend her editing services (which she mentions later), and I’m so thrilled to have her as a guest to talk about her latest story.
Sunday Dinner is a traditional (noon) meal served after church on Sundays. Whole families, including extended family, would gather over a large meal to celebrate a day of rest. Multiple cultures enjoy this Sunday Dinner tradition. In my experience, I know it from both my Midwestern farm family as well as my Italian-American family. Now, I’d like to bring Sunday Dinner virtually to you. So, pull up a chair as we invite various guests to join us each week!
Without further ado, please tell us something interesting readers would enjoy learning about you.
I’m such a history nut that I also have a background in living history and vintage dance. I love performing quadrilles, waltzes, and reels at historic sites and museums in my home state of Georgia, bringing history to life for people in person as well as in my books.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
A Winter at the White Queen, Book One in the Romance at the Gilded Age Resorts series
In the world of the wealthy, things are never quite as they appear.
Ellie Hastings is tired of playing social gatekeeper—and poor-relation companion—to her Gibson Girl of a cousin. But her aunt insists Ellie lift her nose out of her detective novel long enough to help gauge the eligibility of bachelors during the winter social season at Florida’s Hotel Belleview. She finds plenty that’s mysterious about the suave, aloof Philadelphia inventor, Lewis Thornton. Why does he keep sneaking around the hotel? Does he have a secret sweetheart? And what is his connection to the evasive Mr. Gaspachi, slated to perform at Washington’s Birthday Ball?
Ellie’s comical sleuthing ought to put Lewis out, but the diffident way her family treats her smashes a hole in his normal reserve. When Florence Hastings’s diamond necklace goes missing, Ellie’s keen mind threatens to uncover not only Lewis’s secrets, but give him back hope for love.
Why did you choose to write a story set around the Florida Gilded Age hotels of Henry Plant and Henry Flagler?
The plan originated as a collection idea that would feature two of Henry Plant’s Florida resorts and two of Henry Flagler’s. Things were looking so positive for the collection to be published that I went ahead and wrote A Winter at the White Queen during a window of time I had available. Then, the project was not greenlighted, after all. I sat on the story for a year or two. As I was connecting with Misty Beller at Wild Heart Books as both an editor and an author, I mentioned the story to her. She was immediately intrigued and wanted to release a series of romance novellas set at various Gilded Age resorts across the country. Each would be written by a different author and would come out every few months. Mine kicked off the series this January. I’m so thankful our God does not waste anything.
Who are Henry Plant and Henry Flagler, and what sets their hotels apart from others?
From my Author’s Note:
Connecticut native Henry B. Plant (1819-1899) spent most of his life in Georgia, my home state, managing a freight-shipping business. The Plant Investment Company included railroad lines, hotels, property, and telegraph and steamship lines. Plant’s railroad system connected central and western Florida to the nation’s population centers, while Henry Flagler opened up the eastern coast at a time when Gilded Age elite were looking for new playgrounds.
While Plant’s most famous and luxurious hotel was the Tampa Bay, which opened in 1891, the Hotel Belleview boasted its own claim to fame. Originally four-hundred-thousand square feet, it was the largest occupied wood-frame structure in its day. Its two-hundred-and-ninety acres also allowed for the development of cottages for wealthy patrons.
Upon his death in 1899, Plant’s son, Morton, took over the hotel management, painting it white and changing the roof tiles from red to green, earning the nickname, “The White Queen on the Gulf.” Additions were made in 1904 and by 1910. Morton also added an Olympic-sized swimming pool adorned in Italian tile and two eighteen-hole golf courses.
…So you can see that the new location of the tropical wilds of Florida added allure for patrons, as well as the luxurious amenities.
Have you lived in or visited a city where one of the Gilded Age hotels was located? What research was required to set a book there during the Gilded Age?
I lived a state away from Hotel Belleview in Clearwater, Florida, but I jumped on the opportunity to take a research trip there and stay with an author friend. I try to pick locations for my stories within driving distance (my state or neighboring ones). We visited both the Hotel Belleview and Tampa Bay Hotel and the Henry B. Plant Museum in the Tampa Bay Hotel. We interviewed the staff, purchased books, looked through historical resources, and drank in the ambience of the locations. I also spent a good bit of time online, learning about the inventions, fashions, society leaders, and etiquette of the time period.
For other historical fiction authors, what research tips do you recommend when visiting a city where they set their fiction?
I always try to start my research prior to visiting a setting. That way, I can plug facts and maps into a timeline and arrive with a general sense of background. It also allows questions and inconsistencies to surface, as often do with historical sources. That way, I can put those before staff people at the historical sites. Touring the area allows me to grasp the finer details, such as the flora and fauna, the lay of the land, and cultural nuances. It’s the icing on the cake, so to speak. And of course, I always come away with a couple more books to enhance the knowledge base I’ve already started building.
Were resources easy or difficult to find on these topics? Do you have a favorite resource?
Researching for White Queen was fairly simple. A couple of my sources included Florida’s Grand Hotels from the Gilded Age by R. Wayne Ayers and The Architecture of Leisure by Susan R. Braden.
The earlier I set a story in American history, often, the more challenging research can get. But it’s amazing what’s out there now on the internet, even regarding little-known events and settings. One source that can be helpful is thesis work. Theses often include detail in a compact form that may not even be explored in a longer book…and may focus on more obscure elements. You just have to make sure you don’t go down a rabbit hole!
I love to find sources I can use repeatedly in my writing. For my Southern Colonial- to Federal-era stories, I have several go-to tomes: Secrets of the Forest by Mark Warren, Cherokee Words by Mary Ulmer Chiltoskey, and The Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose. The last doesn’t really contain cuss words but rather colloquial and slang expressions from the late 1700s. Did you know many of our modern contractions weren’t even in use during that period?
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
Ooh – I touch on this in the White Queen, but how about a peek at the menus of these fine hotels? Goodness, I’d better limit it to only breakfast. You’ll see why…
Directly from my notes:
Informal breakfast began at 10 or 11 with fruit followed by ham or bacon and eggs with johnny-cake and potatoes, or a simple breakfast started with cereal with cream, followed by broiled finnan haddie and baked potatoes. Eggs, quail, or chops and a salad another option. Buns with marmalade or honey or frozen pudding.
Formal breakfast in general held b/n 10 and 12:30, opened by fruit course. Followed by mild hors d’oeuvres or dish of mush and cream. Then breakfast plates laid. Coffee urn filled and hot breakfast served: beefsteak or lamb/veal chops with a salad of sliced tomatoes or lettuce with hard-boiled eggs or poached eggs on toast, omelet with muffins, or pop-overs with butter. Fish, broiled or sautéed, could be served. For next course, chicken, broiled or fried with rice. Dessert of frozen punch, pastry or jelly, and coffee. Hot muffins or crisp biscuits or waffles offered.
1921 breakfast at Tampa Bay Hotel: oranges, grapefruit, stewed prunes, orange marmalade, shredded wheat, grapenuts, toasted corn flakes, rolled oats, puffed rice, cream of wheat, milk, toast, tea, cocoa, coffee, French and Vienna Rolls, corn and graham muffins, broiled kingfish, broiled sirloin steak, ham, bacon, honeycomb tripe, pigs feet, fried mush, chipped beef in cream or with eggs, and baked potatoes, French fried or hash browned.
How in the world did any of the ladies fit into a corset?
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
Indeed, my friend! I have a whole series in the works, Scouts of the Georgia Frontier, also with Wild Heart Books. The first installment, A Counterfeit Betrothal (September 2023), starts during the War of 1812 on the border of Georgia with Creek and Indian Territory. The next two novels will move back in time to 1775 on the border of Georgia and South Carolina in A Cherished Betrothal (January 2024) and the Stamp Act Crisis of 1765 in Savannah for A Conflicted Betrothal (Summer 2024). We’re also sneaking in a re-release of my novella that was originally part of Backcountry Brides Collection which will be retitled A Courageous Betrothal (November 2024), set in middle Georgia during the Revolutionary War.
Here’s the blurb for A Counterfeit Betrothal:
At the farthest Georgia outpost this side of hostile Creek Territory, Jared Lockridge serves his country as a scout to redeem his father’s botched heritage. If he can help secure the peace against Indians allied to the British, he can bring his betrothed to the home he’s building and open his cabinetry shop. Then he comes across a burning cabin and a traumatized woman just widowed by a fatal shot.
Freed from a cruel marriage, Esther Andrews agrees to winter at the Lockridge homestead to help Jared’s pregnant sister-in-law. Lame in one foot, Esther has always known she is secondhand goods, but the gentle carpenter-turned-scout draws her heart with as much skill as he creates furniture from wood. His family’s love offers hope even as violence erupts along the frontier—and Jared’s investigation into local incidents brings danger to their doorstep. Yet how could Esther ever hope a loyal man like Jared would choose her over a fine lady?
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
If you’re also an author with a historical romance novel that’s honed for publication, check out wildheartbooks.org/submissions. This year, I’ve started helping out with acquisitions and would love to take a look at your proposal. In addition to my editorial role at Wild Heart, I also serve as a freelance line and substantive editor. You can contact me through my website.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Denise, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of A Winter at the White Queen, where might they be able to do so?
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
My novels and novellas span the Colonial era through the contemporary, ranging from lighthearted to serious and spiritual, and are mostly set in Georgia. If you would like to learn more, please visit: deniseweimerbooks.com.
Over Sunday Dinner next week author Susan G. Mathis will be joining us.