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Using History to Create Stories

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Researching…it’s one part of writing that fascinates me. You won’t see everything I’ve researched in my novels.

I’m a historical-romance author. I find what intrigues me, often stories without endings. Stories from the past forgotten by us. Tales with holes woven into the fabric. The neat part about what I do, is I get to fill those holes with whatever I imagine.

When I started researching for Whippercreek (see Wednesdays in Whippercreek on the sidebar), I knew the time period and approximate setting of the story. I didn’t know much else. I googled Montana ghost towns. Read for days the stories of towns cut into the wilderness. That’s when I realized the story of Montana’s past needed to speak of some of its hardships.

One story I loved told of Elkhorn, Mt. This little town lost many of its citizens to diphtheria. Diptheria spread through the air. It caused people to present flu like symptons. They might develop lesions on their skin, and often their neck would swell. In the 19th century, millions would contract the disease each year, and in Elkhorn, it killed off much of the town.

A fragment remained on, so Elkhorn still exists today. Its kind of hard to get into the town, but it’s worth a visit. A cemetery consistant with many western ones of the day is also viewable. One of the headstones describes the death of a boy from an explosion in the town’s mine.

I loved the thought of using Elkhorn for Whippercreek’s setting, but a train was built into the town about the time of my story. This took away the element of an outlaw escaping to this setting in the wilderness. I had to rethink my plot.

Enter the character of Ella Whitley…she could experience the hardships of a Montana mining town and bring the stories from Elkhorn back to life. I could create a town like Elkhorns without the tracks running through it. A town desolate enough to attract an outlaw.

I decided to combine this story with those from Bannack. I used stories like Henry Plummer, the sheriff, who turned outlaw and vigilante justice, to inspire the other half of the novel.

Writing historical-romance fascinates me. It builds a picture of the past in my head. The stories become real, and I hope it’s like walking back in time for my readers. There are many forgotten stories worth finding. Each time I research, I find something that inspires me. These people left a legacy. Their stories show bravery and survival against insurmountable odds. What will your story say someday about you?

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