Happy Monday, reader friends!
Join us in welcoming Regina Jennings to our blog today!
She’s here to talk about her debut book, Sixty Acres and a Bride.
About the Author:
Regina Jennings is the winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, a two-time Golden Quill finalist and a finalist for the Oklahoma Book of the Year Award. A graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University with a degree in English and a minor in history, Regina has worked at the Mustang News and at First Baptist Church of Mustang, along with time at the Oklahoma National Stockyards and various livestock shows. She lives outside of Oklahoma City with her husband and four children when not traveling the world.
About the Book:
She’s Finally Found a Place to Call Home . . . How Far Will She Go to Save It?
With nothing to their names, young widow Rosa Garner and her mother-in-law return to their Texas family ranch. Only now the county is demanding back taxes and the women have just three months to pay.
Though facing eviction, Rosa falls in love with the countryside and the wonderful extended family who want only her best. They welcome her vivacious spirit and try to help her navigate puzzling American customs. She can’t help but stand out, though, and her beauty captures attention. Where some offer help with dangerous strings attached, only one man seems honorable. But when Weston Garner, still grieving his own lost love, is unprepared to give his heart, Rosa must decide to what lengths she will go to save her future.
Buy Regina’s book on Amazon.
Interview with Regina Jennings about her book, Sixty Acres and a Bride:
Why did you call this book “Sixty Acres and a Bride”? Explain the significance.
Marketing is always a factor when choosing titles, and using the word “Bride” is very popular with romance readers. That was one consideration, but primarily we took our cue from the biblical story of Ruth (which was the inspiration for the story) and played off the fact that when Boaz went to the city elders about buying the property from his kinsman, the fact that a widow came with the property was significant. Many historical novels involve saving or acquiring a farm, but rarely is there a wife attached to the deed. That made the title more enticing.
What is the main conflict in your story?
After the Civil War, Louise and her family had escaped from Reconstruction Texas to start anew in Mexico. Their time there was a disaster. After the death of her son and husband, Louise and her daughter-in-law Rosa come back to Texas to reclaim their ranch that had been leased, only to find that heavy back-taxes are due and it was on the verge of foreclosure. Louise and Rosa must beat impossible odds to pay the taxes.
Let’s talk about your story’s heroine, Rosa Garner. What does she look like? What is her personality type? What’s her motivation in this story?
Rosa is a hard-working, energetic woman. Because of her status as a newcomer and her unfamiliarity with the customs, she feels that she has to repress her usual enthusiasm, but sometimes the mask slips and reveals her vivaciousness. She is a beautiful Nahua woman, without Spanish blood. She is very dainty and the people in Texas tend to think that she’s younger than she is.
Rosa loves her mother-in-law, who is emotionally fragile, and is determined to protect Louise from the harsh realities of life. Louise was the outsider in Mexico, and Rosa has kept the role as protector even though they are back in Louise’s homeland.
Would you say that your fictional story is a spin on the real Bible story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz? Why or why not?
Absolutely. This story began when I was asked to write a Christmas play with the theme of Redeemer. I had to compose a few skits that showed redemption and I knew immediately that I wanted to do the Ruth and Boaz story. Because of the Bethlehem Christmas scene, we already had the biblical times costumes in one drama, so I wanted to do something different for the Ruth story. A wealthy farmer? A woman with her foreign daughter-in-law who are going to lose their land? This sounded very much like a story straight from the old west. After the play, I decided to expand the plot to a full-length novel.
What I really wanted to accomplish with this story was to use the much-loved character of Ruth to explore how hard it is to come to a new place as an immigrant and to highlight some of the comical cross-cultural misunderstandings that happen with anyone who travels internationally. Also, I wanted to give us a fresh look at the story of Ruth. How did the women of the town feel about a foreigner taking the most eligible bachelor? What did they say about how the marriage came about? (Going to his bed in the middle of the night could not have been that common.) There’s a lot of drama built into the story and it made an excellent framework for a historical romance set in the 19th century.’
Describe the countryside that Rosa fell in love with and explain why you chose it for the setting of this story.
The story setup—a family fleeing lawless Texas for Mexico and then returning to find the taxes had risen on the farm during Reconstruction—has a solid historical footing behind it. Taxes were raised on the Southern states such as Texas to punish the rebellious and to help pay for the war. This fit nicely with what I was trying to accomplish with the plot. I live in Oklahoma, so the western culture is very familiar to me, but since Oklahoma was Indian Territory at the time, the story wouldn’t work here, so Texas it had to be.
Why are American customs “puzzling” to Rosa? What is she used to? Describe her home country and compare how it’s different from America.
The Victorian Era in America was marked by un-naturalism for women. Women wore whale-boned corsets and padded layers of clothes to disguise and manipulate their figures. Pregnancy was never mentioned in polite society and allusions to common body parts like “legs” were avoided. While women in 19th century Mexico weren’t given equal rights either, women from rural areas did live less restrictive lives. Natural body functions weren’t considered shocking and they had more freedom. Rosa had not been schooled to hide her emotions and opinions like other young ladies of society, and that leads to embarrassment and conflict for her.
Who is Weston Garner and what role does he play in this story?
Weston portrays the biblical idea of a kinship redeemer. Reconstruction Texas was a rough place and as the patriarch of his family, Weston is the leader and protector of several family units. He feels responsible for everyone. When Louise (the widow of his uncle) arrives, he immediately takes responsibility for her. While Weston had never met Rosa before, she’s family by marriage and he always takes care of family.
How does Weston’s relationship with Rosa affect the storyline?
Weston’s main motivator is duty. Since the death of his wife he has lost his joy, but he never fails in his obligations to his family. In Rosa, he meets someone who is just as driven by duty as he is. The fact that she is also a part of his extended family, means that she falls under his care. Weston is immediately attracted to her but isn’t interested in love. When circumstances force him to choose between protecting his family or protecting his heart, he does what chivalry requires, even though he knows it’s going to cost him.
As a White author, did you find it challenging to write about characters of color? Why or why not?
Rosa is different from my other heroines because of her culture and the experieces she’s lived through, but I found the variety invigorating. In this case, the writing was made easier by 15 years of relationships I’ve cultivated in Mexico and I was able to have this character do things and say things my typical 19th century white heroine wouldn’t be able to do or say. That much was really fun. Still, it’s always intimidating to put yourself in unfamiliar shoes. As with all characters, you just try to create a well-rounded character while being influenced by research and your knowledge of the human condition.
Would you like to see more White authors write stories for CBA featuring main characters of color? Why or why not?
One of my favorite tropes to read and write is the ‘fish out of water’ trope. What happens when cultures clash? You can’t have that when everyone in the cast of characters has the same background and understanding of the world. So yes, I’d love to see more diverse heroes and heroines in CBA fiction by authors of every color, but I feel the impetus is on readers to support those efforts.
What do you want readers to remember most about Sixty Acres and a Bride?
Mostly, that it was a good story that made them laugh and sigh. Secondly, I hope reading Sixty Acres and a Bride will make readers more empathetic to people who are new to a culture.
Thanks for the interview, Regina! Would you like to share closing thoughts?
Thanks so much for letting me visit here at Diversity Between the Pages. I enjoyed getting to visit about my debut novel.
*Interview conducted by Alexis A. Goring, contributor