Romancing History — Part II

In my upcoming release, Shadow of the Fox, I have a betrothal ceremony. In the church, on the first day banns are read, Sorina and Antoine are in front of the parishioners during Mass and the Antoine places three gold coins in Sorina’s hand. She drops them to the horror of everyone watching. Bad luck!
This story is based on a true event, but I have a confession to make. It was part of a wedding ceremony, not a betrothal. Here is an excerpt from the book:

“Señor Santoro, do you have something for your affianced?” The priest beckoned to Antoine, who took three gold coins from his pocket.
Sorina responded as she had been taught, holding her left hand out to receive the coins. Antoine’s smug face taxed her composure. His lip curled in triumph as he dropped them one by one into her hand, speaking his pledge to wed her before God, to give her many children, and to provide for the family, as was his role in life.
The metal against her palm was warm from being in Santoro’s pocket, next to his body. Her revulsion traveled to her hands and she let the coins slide to the floor.
A chorus of gasps filled the room. It was considered bad luck for the bride-to-be to drop even one coin, let alone all three. Santoro knelt and scooped them up, tucked them into her hand and folded her fingers over them. Sorina shuddered as he drew her to him and kissed her on both cheeks, his lips hot and moist. He lingered a little longer than propriety allowed as he pressed his cheek to hers and said softly in her ear, “You will soon be mine—body and soul.”

The true-life recipient of the coins was a woman named Polonia Montanez who, as a young woman, married her neighbor, Francisco Canedo, in San Juan Capistrano’s mission church in 1853. During the ceremony Polonia accidentally dropped the coins (Sorina’s coin-drop was not an accident), and bad luck seemed to follow her. Her first husband died, as did her second, and her third. Polonia has her own unique place in the town’s history, living to a ripe old age. Her adobe home is still standing.
I use this as an illustration of how authors use actual events and build stories around them. During a recent lecture, best-selling author Susanna Kearsley talked about how research into a historical event led to the discovery of a tiny tidbit that became the meat of her novel, The Winter Sea. Another best-selling author, Beverly Jenkins, whose historical romances generally feature African-American characters, uses her fiction to get little-known historical facts into her books.
Lots of little gems hide in the folds of Southern California’s history, and when possible, I pull them out. They give authenticity to the fiction and make it far more interesting.

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