My debut novel, The Angel and the Outlaw, took place in 1873 in what is now San Diego. In it, I had references to Marston’s Store, Old Town (the city’s humble beginnings,) the whaling station at Ballast Point, and the lighthouse. My current story is set in the San Diego of 1888. The influx of emigrants and land speculators changed the town from a sleepy border town with a distinctly Mexican flavor to more of a “wild west” town.
During the 1880’s, the town’s real estate boom and the plans for the Santa Fe Railroad attracted many colorful characters. Wyatt Earp was one such character, arriving with his third wife, Josie, five years after his famous gunfight with the Clanton gang at the OK Corral in Tucson. Thirty-seven year old Wyatt ran and/or leased four gambling halls in the city, speculated on land, and officiated at boxing matches. When he won a trotter in a card game, he took an interest in horse racing at the nearby track just north of town.
At his saloons, men played faro, blackjack, poker and keno. It is said, Wyatt could count on profits of as much as $1,000 per night during the years just before San Diego’s real estate bust. A few of his saloons were located in the red light district known to locals as the Stingaree. Here bars, bordellos and opium dens saturated the landscape. It was said that a man could get stung as badly in the Stingaree as he could in the waters of the nearby bay (by the stingray fish.)
It is details such as these that I enjoy including as I write my romances. Rather than have what has been called a “wall-paper” historical romance, I prefer to have a story where real history dictated some of the plot. I feel it adds that “something extra” that “something authentic” to the story. How much history an author chooses to include is determined by the line she is writing for, the type of story she is writing (for example a "disaster plot" like the Titanic) and also her own writer’s voice.