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Friday, February 12, 2010

History as World Building

One of the things I enjoy most about writing historical romances is intertwining real history with the story I’m creating between the two protagonists. I am often inspired by true happenings of the past—some well-known and some not so well-known. I believe this lends authenticity to the setting and it also adds depth to the plot.


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.
Any thoughts?

1 comment:

Lynn Lovegreen said...

I agree, it's fun to weave real historical events into your books. I try to do that too--and I feature an older Wyatt Earp in a manuscript set in Nome, Alaska in 1900! He was a great man as well as a Western icon.

I find it rewarding to make the history an integral part of the book, even if it is a challenge at times. I'm glad to see someone else is successful at it--will have to look for your books!