Mary Connealy writes “romantic comedies with cowboys” and is celebrated for her fun, zany, action-packed style. She has sold more than 1.5 million books and is the author of the popular series Wyoming Sunrise, The Lumber Baron’s Daughters, and many other books. Mary lives on a ranch in eastern Nebraska with her very own romantic cowboy hero.
In this interview, Mary talks with us about her latest book, Marshaling Her Heart.
FF: Can you please tell us a little about your new novel Marshaling Her Heart?
Becky Pruitt has always prided herself on knowing everything that’s happening on her successful ranch, which makes her foreman Nate Paxton’s admission to her quite a surprise. With the notorious Deadeye Gang on the loose, Nate, a former US Marshal, believes Becky’s ranch to be the best spot for the Marshals to use as a base and hideout.
The timing couldn’t be more crucial for the town of Pine Valley, and Becky feels a commitment to help. But after escaping the grasp of her harsh father, she’s never liked giving up control—of her life or her ranch. Yet Nate has proven himself to her, and she soon realizes that if there’s anyone she can trust with her ranch—and her heart—it might be him. Still, the outlaws won’t go quietly into the night, and as the danger draws nearer, Becky and Nate are faced with impossible choices that will test their growing bond.
FF: This novel takes place in nineteenth-century Wyoming. What else can you tell us about the historical context that influenced the creation of the story?
The historical backdrop includes the women’s suffrage movement, as well as Wyoming’s unique role in being the first state to grant women the right to vote. The novel’s main focus, however, is Becky—a strong, unflinching woman who is challenged with running her own ranch while her tyrant of a father does all he can to frustrate her efforts.
FF: The male protagonist, Nate, is a former US Marshal. Can you tell readers more about this profession and the role the Marshals played in the American West?
The US Marshals are an integral part of the story because they have the authority to cross state boundaries in pursuit of a criminal. And because the bad guys are wanted men who would likely know local law enforcement, the Marshals coming in from the outside have the advantage of anonymity. Nate, a former Marshal, is known by the other Marshals, who arrive to apprehend the gang of outlaws that have been wreaking havoc in the territory.
FF: What research was required to write about the Marshals?
The US Marshals reminded me of the Texas Rangers, who were a state police force at a time when most law enforcement was local. So now we’re beyond local, beyond state. Bring in the Marshals, who are federal officers. One odd tidbit I learned about the Marshals was that they were the ones tasked with delivering reward money—the “price on a man’s head” listed on his wanted poster. The Marshals were also involved with transporting prisoners.
FF: What’s the most interesting thing you discovered while researching for this book or the series as a whole?
I mainly researched women’s suffrage. The laws were so strange back then. If a woman earned any money, that money became her husband’s immediately upon her receiving it. If she tried to keep it herself, her husband could accuse her of theft. Likewise, if a woman inherited money, it went straight to her husband. Suffrage was about so much more than voting. The historical fact I really latched on to was that when a man and woman were married, they were considered one person, and that person was the husband. Essentially the married woman was “civilly dead.” Another interesting thing, at the last minute, in an effort to stop the governor from signing the suffrage bill, opponents of it said, “We’re including voting rights for black women and Indian woman.” As if that would be too much for the governor to stand. All the governor did was say, “Sounds good. Let them vote,” and he signed it.
FF: What other themes are explored in the novel?
I tried to portray how much Mariah wished her mother could be with her as she was expecting her baby, how much she grieved for her father and brother, who’d been killed. By contrast, here Becky was, my heroine, with a living father who acted so awful toward her to the point she had no relationship with him. So family without love isn’t worth much.
FF: What will romance fans love about the relationship between Becky and Nate?
Becky and Nate are both tough. Nate with his past as a Marshal, his excellent tracking skills and talent as a cowhand, still feels unworthy to marry a wealthy woman like Becky. I wanted him to want her bad enough to set all that aside, and eventually he did. And I wanted Becky to learn to trust Nate. She had no trust with her father, so to risk her heart and trust Nate was huge.
FF: What do you enjoy about writing historical romance? Is there anything you find challenging about this genre?
I love everything about it. The research is just a pure love affair for me. I can research forever! I have to control myself or I’d never get the book written. One challenge I find is in remembering to set the scene, to describe the surroundings, land, clothing, and horses simply because it’s such a universally understood genre. John Wayne, right? What more do you need to know? Well, a reader needs to know a little more than usual clothes, usual horses. So I try to remember to bring the setting to life, even though most people might already know just what to expect.
FF: What do you hope readers will take away from this story?
Friendship can get you through. If you don’t have a family, or not one you can depend on, you should try to create one. And when the going gets tough, it’s also nice to have a really good dog as a companion.
FF: Can you share what you’re working on next?
Marshaling Her Heart is book three in this series. Next comes the A Western Light Series. Book one is Chasing the Horizon, which is my first attempt at setting a story on a wagon train. It was challenging, for I had to learn all about wagon trains. But I’ve done a lot of research and I hope I got everything right.
Marshaling Her Heart
Wyoming Sunrise Series #3
Genres: Historical Romance, Western Romance
Release Date: October 17, 2023
Will their lives and romance survive the trouble coming their way?
Becky Pruitt has always prided herself on knowing everything that’s happening on her successful ranch, so an unexpected admission from her foreman, Nate Paxton, comes as quite a surprise. With the notorious Deadeye Gang on the loose, Nate—a former U.S. Marshal—believes Becky’s ranch is the best spot for a group of Marshals to use as a base to hunt them down.
The timing couldn’t be more crucial for the town of Pine Valley, and Becky feels obligated to help. But after escaping the grasp of her harsh father, she’s never liked giving up control, of her life or her ranch. If there’s anyone she can trust with her ranch, and her heart, it might be Nate. But the outlaws won’t go away quietly, and as danger draws ever nearer, Becky and Nate are faced with impossible choices that will test their growing bond.
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