The Story Behind the Story . . . A Train Ride to Heartbreak by Donna Schlachter

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 author 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.



The Story Behind the Story . . . A Train Ride to Heartbreak

The idea for this story came from a love of a movie and a friend with a great story to share.

The movie was “The Fugitive”, both the original series pilot and the more recent remake. I loved the idea of a train ride leading to a second chance.

My friend had recently taken a train ride from Denver to San Francisco, and she shared several delightful stories. I wondered if a train ride might be like a cruise in that it would provide an insulated environment where the travelers might do something they’d never done before. If so, this was perfect fodder for a romance, much like the old TV show, “The Love Boat”.

And then I saw “Murder on the Orient Express”, and as a lover of anything Agatha Christie, decided to incorporate a few of the details in my story.

The result? A chance meeting, two characters with integrity, and a way for God to reach both of them.

This is an example of how a couple of ideas gelled into a book. It seems like my mind is always racing, looking at the people and places around me, even snippets of conversation in a coffee shop or a couple kissing at the airport.

I have a friend who is a photographer, and everywhere he goes, he has a camera hanging around his neck. I watched him at a party one night, studying the people around us. I tried to follow his eye to see what caught his eye, and even though he didn’t always have the camera up to take a shot, I soon realized he was taking pictures in his mind, imagining what the image would look like. Occasionally he actually clicked off a few. A teen girl sitting shyly on the sofa, her legs pulled up, her chin on her knees, picking at her fingernail polish. An older man dozing in a corner, his triple chins resting on his chest. The hostess—but not her really—the tray of appetizers she was carrying.

Where he looks around for film pictures, I look for word pictures. Where he looks for a way to tweak a focus, a focal point, a shadow, the hues, I look for a way to rearrange the events so they make more sense—or less. Perhaps today I’m studying people to combine several to make an interesting character. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll take a mountain from Arizona and set it in southern New Mexico in a fictitious town based loosely on a village I visited in Utah last summer.

And as for story ideas, well, those come from everywhere. Newspapers, magazines, diaries, letters, family stories handed down through the generations—a little here, a little there, and a lot of imagination. I tend to not use specific facts but rather I employ artistic license—because really, some of the things that really happen would be overboard for a book. Readers would protest: “that wouldn’t happen like that!”

More about The Mail-Order Brides Collection:

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.

October 1895

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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Happy reading,