For today’s Sunday Dinner, I invited Kathleen Denly. Kathleen writes historical romance to entertain, encourage, and inspire readers toward a better understanding of our amazing God and how He sees us. Award winning author of the Chaparral Hearts series, she also shares history tidbits, thoughts on writing, books reviews and more at KathleenDenly.com.
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.
My first job (outside of babysitting) was working for the Youth Conservation Corps in Joshua Tree National Park. As part of that job I worked with large stones to build fire pit rings, create steps on hiking trails, and prevent erosion on switchbacking trails! If you’ve visited the famous 29 Palms Spring since 1997, you’ve stepped on some of my work. This job combined with living in the high desert for about four years, helped me understand the life my characters lived in the high desert mountain valley where I set my fictional ranch in Murmur in the Mud Caves.
Can you tell us about your latest novel?
Murmur in the Mud Caves is book 4 in my Chaparral Hearts series, but can be read as a stand alone.
Title: Murmur in the Mud Caves
Series: Chaparral Hearts
Genre: Historical Christian Romance
Length: 341 pages
Publisher: Wild Heart Books
Release Date: May 16, 2023
He came to cook for ranch hands, not three single women.
Gideon Swift, a visually impaired Civil War Veteran, responds to an ad for a ranch cook in the Southern California desert mountains. He wants nothing more than to forget his past and stay in the kitchen where he can do no harm. But when he arrives to find his employer murdered, the ranch turned to ashes, and three young women struggling to survive in the unforgiving Borrego Desert, he must decide whether his presence protects them or places them in greater danger.
Bridget “Biddie” Davidson finally receives word from her older sister who disappeared with their brother and pa eighteen years prior, but the news is not good. Determined to help her family, Biddie sets out for a remote desert ranch with her adopted father and best friend. Nothing she finds there is as she expected, including the man who came to cook for the shambles of a ranch.
When tragedy strikes, the danger threatens not only her plans to help her sister, but her own dreams for the future—with the man who’s stolen her heart.
Why did you choose to write a story set in Campo, California?
My Chaparral Hearts series is primarily set in San Diego County. In the previous books, I took readers to the mountains, the western valleys, and the coastal town. With these last three books in the series, I wanted to explore the unique features of San Diego’s eastern desert region. The fact that America’s second most infamous frontier shootout occurred in Campo, California gave me the perfect excuse. The eastern part of the county was settled by westerners decades later than the western portion of the county and remained very much a wild frontier in the 1870s. I’m excited to share with readers this little known portion of California’s history.
Have you lived in or visited that part of California? What research was required to set a book there in 1873?
While I did attend high school in the high desert, it wasn’t the Anza-Borrego Desert. In fact, most of the Anza-Borrego Desert is considered low desert. I just happened to choose one of its mountain valleys for the setting of my fictional ranch, but readers will get to explore many parts of this region through the journeys of my characters as they go about surviving the harsh climate and evading or battling the bandits that ranged both above and below the (relatively) newly formed Mexican border.
The descriptions I included were based in large part on a week-long research trip I took with two of my sons in February of 2022. While there, we explored several geographically unique and historically significant locations. I shared several photos and videos of this trip with my Facebook readers group, the Armchair Adventure Krew. I also had the opportunity to interview a local historian and example of living history, herself, Arvilla Johnson. You can view her interview in my KRC Freebie Library where I offer exclusive content for my newsletter subscribers, including free printables, short stories, and the Chaparral Hearts prequel novella, Ribbons and Beaus. (You can sign up here: https://bit.ly/KRCSignup )
What would a day-in-the-life have looked like for people living in Campo, California? How is it the same/different from today?
Life in that area was all about survival, particularly for those new to the area and just getting their homestead started. Morning usually began before dawn when the cook rose to start breakfast and the rest ventured outside to care for animals (if there were any) and prepare for the day’s work. Fetching water was a big part of every day. The lucky ones walked several yards to their spring.
Cattle were free range unless they were rounded up for branding or some other purpose. That meant diligent ranchers road out to check their herd each day, sometimes a hundred miles or more. In droughts, some were known to drive their herd into the nearby Cuyamaca mountain range for better feed and water. That’s also where some harvested lumber and hauled it back to build their homes, barns, and other outbuildings. Just as often, though, they built using stone, adobe bricks, or milled lumbar freighted in from the coast.
Each day brought different chores, such as laundry day or baking day. Water also had to be hauled to most gardens and poured by hand. Dusting and sweeping would have been a chore done several times a day.
The novel’s ranch is set in the Anza- Borrego Desert. Can you tell us more about that location?
The first thing to know is that the desert wasn’t as dry back then as it is today. There was even a stand of Oaks which pioneers chopped down for lumber and firewood. Second, there were springs sprinkled sparingly in the desert that made life for early settlers possible. Still, life in the Anza-Borrego Desert was hard and dangerous. If settlers weren’t busy battling the harsh weather (up to 122 degrees Farenheit in the summer and as low as -11 degrees Farenheit in the winter), they were on guard against rattlesnakes, coyotes, bobcats, rustlers, and bandits. And if you think beach sand is a nuisance, try working or cooking through a sand storm. And remember they didn’t typically have goggles or sunglasses back then. Those who survived were tough, hard working, and resourceful.
Were resources easy or difficult to find on these topics? Do you have a favorite resource?
I found several wonderful books through the Gaskill Brothers Stone Store Museum’s bookstore. This building was once a general mercantile but is now a museum and the headquarters for the local historical society. One of my favorites was a book titled, Memories of the Early Settlements by Ella’s McCain (a descendent one of the early settlers), which shared the personal stories of many settlers in the area, providing a detailed insight into daily life at the time that can be difficult to find.
What is one piece of your research that you couldn’t include in the book, but wish readers could know?
When the side-wheel steamers pulled into San Diego Bay, they would often shoot off a cannon to announce their arrival.
Do you have another book in the works? What can you tell us about that book?
Yes, I am currently working on, Shoot at the Sunset, book five of the Chaparral Hearts series, which features Lucy, Preston, and Clyve, three of the secondary characters readers meet in Murmur in the Mud Caves, as well as a new character. Shoot at the Sunset also includes a strong suspense element, which I think readers will enjoy. It is set to release in 2024. I’m also contracted to write one final book (book 6) in the Chaparral Hearts series to be released in 2025, and I’ll be writing a novella for the Romance at the Gilded Age Resorts series. I believe that one will release near the end of 2024.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
My Chaparral Hearts series includes two novellas in addition to the six full-length novels (4 of which are currently available). There is the prequel novella I mentioned earlier, Ribbons and Beaus, which can be downloaded for free by Kathleen’s Readers Club Members, or purchased in paperback form anywhere books are sold.
There is also the interquel novella, Cakes and Kisses, which happens between books one and two of the series. Cakes and Kisses let’s readers see key scenes from the climax of Waltz in the Wilderness in a completely different light because in Cakes and Kisses, the heroine is the same character who played the villain in Waltz in the Wilderness. For that reason it is the only book in the series which must be read in order. Reading it before Waltz in the Wilderness would reveal major spoilers. However, Cakes and Kisses is a great set-up for Murmur in the Mud Caves because it shows a glimpse of the childhood of Biddie, the heroine in Murmur in the Mud Caves. It also happens to be a story very close to my heart, so I always recommend it to readers looking for the full series experience.
The afternoon is slipping away, so we have to draw the stories to an end. Kathleen, thank you for joining us today!
If readers would like to purchase a copy of Murmur in the Mud Caves where might they be able to do so?
The easiest place to start is on my website where you’ll find links to all your favorite retailers: kathleendenly.com/murmur-in-the-mud-caves.
If readers would like to learn about you or your other books, how might they find you online?
On my website: KathleenDenly.com.
We’re off next Sunday to celebrate Father’s Day. In two weeks, we welcome author Linda Shenton Matchett to talk about her latest book. See you then!