Toughing It Out in an Unpopular Sub-genre

I write early California rancho-period historicals.

Are they westerns? Kind of. Are they Victorians? Kind of. Are they steamy? Definitely. Do they have their own category? They don’t, so they’re kind of on their own.

Do you remember Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones in that old Zorro movie? It had action, sizzle, humor, and a happy ending. The setting was California before hordes of fortune-seekers descended on the land and changed it forever, before it became a state, before…well, just about everything we know about the place known for wine, sunshine, tech, and high-priced real estate today.

These were California’s halcyon days, the period right before the Mexican-American war of 1846-48, when eight hundred “hidalgos” or aristocrats owned most of the land with acreages that spanned over 40,000 acres minimum, with some reaching the 100,000-acre mark.

In California’s culture it was a time of vast cattle ranches producing hides and tallow for trade with ships from many countries. Lifestyles of the rich and famous—hidalgo style—included a lot of parties called fiestas, gambling with horse-racing at the top of the list, day-long barbecues with dancing, and devotion to their religion, Catholicism. Young girls married as early as 14 and were strictly chaperoned and had little if no choice in who they would wed. The word of the patriarch of the family was law to the extent he could punish those who didn’t obey.

Why do I write in this obscure subgenre known mostly by those aficionados of old Zorro films and television episodes? It was a fascinating time full of change and contradictions, a time that can be compared to feudalism in Europe where hundreds of retainers worked for the liege and all of those things necessary for living were made or grown right on the property. The “romance of old California” today is reflected in restored missions and architectural styles that had roots in Spain.

I love this time period. My first book, “Shadow of the Fox,” is set mostly in what today is Orange County, California and my next book “Return of the Fox” comes out May 27 and is set mainly in Los Angeles. Both are steamy historical romances, but there’s a lot of history in the background. Are they about that masked (and heavily trade-marked) character of old? Absolutely not, even though the family shares the same last name, kind of like Smith or Jones in the U.S.

Why—you ask—do I write in this place and time if few others do? Maybe it’s because I majored in history and I love genealogy. These are my people. I’m giving validation to my ancestors, to my great great grandmother, Reducinda Rodriquez, born in 1845 in Los Angeles and to another branch of the family whose progenitor, Jesus Nieblas, walked to California with wife and baby in the 1860s from the interior of Mexico.

My “bread and butter” books are my Regencies. My fun books are my small-town contemporaries. But these, the books of my Mission Belles series, are the books of my heart. Check out Return of the Fox on Amazon at

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