Christine Johnson of Alpena is celebrating the publication of her fifth historical romance with a book talk and signing set for this Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Olivet Book and Gift in downtown Alpena.
"The Marriage Barter," written under Harlequin's Love Inspired Historical imprint, centers on the real life 19th century practice of sending orphans from city slums to Midwestern farm families on what came to be known as orphan trains.
"This one was a very different adventure for me," said Johnson, whose previous four books took place in the 1920s. "It's my first prairie romance. It's set in 1875 Nebraska so I had to learn a whole new location and remember the things they didn't have back then, like telephones."
Johnson's heroine, Charlotte Miller, endured a loveless marriage that at least gave her the right to adopt little Sasha, who came to her via an orphan train. With the death of her husband, Charlotte no longer can legally be a mother to Sasha unless she finds a groom-for-hire, which she does in the person of bounty hunter Wyatt Reed. The arrangement sounds simple on the surface, until love and other complications arise.
In preparation for her latest book, Johnson did a lot of her research on the orphan trains at Alpena County Library. She also networked with other romance authors familiar with the time period. She will be joined Saturday at Olivet by fellow romance writer and critique partner Jenna Mindel of Petoskey.
Mindel will be discussing her latest release, "Courting Hope," a tale about second chances and making amends for the past. Unlike Johnson, the setting for Mindel's books are contemporary, with "Courting Hope" taking place in Leelanau County.
Mindel's heroine, church secretary Hope Petersen, is stunned when her childhood crush, Sinclair Marsh, is hired as her church's new pastor. She can't forgive him for a terrible accident that changed both their lives, but she's forced to work with him and her old feelings resurface. Only time will tell if Sinclair can show that he's a changed man and if Hope can move beyond the past.
"We're both part of a writer's group," Johnson said of the critique partnership they share. "Since both of us are writing Christian fiction, she's been most helpful."
The two will discuss their writing journey and what was involved in getting their work published. Both also will be available for a question and answer period. They will have copies of both their latest books and their previous books at the event.
Johnson's previous books include "Soaring Home," "The Matrimony Plan," "All Roads Lead Home" and "Legacy of Love." She enjoys traveling and learning about the places she visits. That puts museums high on her list of "must see" places and helps satisfy her lifetime fascination with history and archaeology.
Twice a finalist for Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart Award, Johnson enjoys creating stories that bring history to life while exploring the spiritual journey of her characters and putting them in peril. Though Alpena is her home base, she and her ship captain husband also spend time exploring the Florida Keys and other locations around the country.
Johnson is currently at work on another book expected to come out in 2014. It is her third installment in a series set in Pearlman, Mich., and will revisit some of her previous characters. Her books are available at Olivet in paperback and at online retailers such as barnesandnoble.com and amazon.com in paperback and Kindle format. The Kindle version lists for $4.61 and the 281-page paperback for $5.39.