The West offers such rich locales that historical authors have a nearly unlimited supply of locations from which to choose for the settings of their novels. But what if a writer wants a new spot in her Old West?
No problem! Both venues work—the real deal and the once-upon-a-time setting.
Last year I finished a three-book series based in Cañon City, Colorado, with many specific historical tidbits from the 1800s. But for a commissioned Christmas-bride novella collection, I wanted more freedom. I wanted to make up my own names for places, so I did.
I confess, my mind’s eye saw the story set somewhere along the snowy 1885 train route to Leadville, but between the first and final pages, The Snowbound Bride began and ended near my imaginary town of Spruce City, Colorado.
Freedom at last!
After I chose the location, I came up with my characters’ names using a different method than I usually employ. Most often, I close my eyes and go with the first name that pops out of my fingertips so I can start getting words on paper.
But for the Christmas story I dug into my family lineage for actual names from the era. And guess what I found?
My maternal grandmother was Ara Garr Jameson, an interesting woman who really deserves her own book about running for mayor of Chillicothe, Texas, when women didn’t do such outlandish things.
But for the time being, I decided to use her spunk to fuel my heroine and named the gal Ara Taube. Taube is not a family name, but it’s the German word for dove, and that fact fit nicely into the story.
All of my grandparents have long since passed on, so I feel a little more of the aforementioned freedom when it comes to using familial monikers. What’s a family for if not to provide a few quaint names?
However, I probably won’t be using my paternal grandmother’s name – Travine. Sounds too much like latrine and I just can’t go there. (Sorry, Grandma.)
One of Grandma’s daughters, Geraldine, married Charles Berry and became Gerry Berry. Too bad I don’t write kids’ books because that would be a cool name.
For a less-than-sterling secondary character in one of my novels, I chose a name that fit quite well, but I had to change it when I sold the manuscript. The name happened to be the same as my husband’s mother. Not a plan if I wanted to keep peace in the family.
With several titles now in print and several more in the hopper, I’m always on the lookout for good names. Sometimes I find them in unusual places. Like funerals.
The brother of a man whose funeral I attended and my grandfather teamed up for the name of my Colorado Ranger, Haskell Tillman Jacobs. His story, Romancing the Widow, finaled for the 2015 Will Rogers Medallion award.
Professional Bull Riders’ events and magazines like American Cowboy and Western Horseman feature men and women with unusual names that work well for contemporary authors. And don’t forget about the neighbors.
On a photo shoot at a neighbor’s particularly enticing Spanish-style barn and house last summer, I met his cowgirl daughter, Mason. Her name is sure to turn up in a future contemporary tale.
“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare asked. With his unusual tag, he had the right to inquire and I believe I do too. I’m named after my father, David.
Guess he wanted a boy.
Do you have an unusual name or an unusual story behind your name? I love to hear it.
I will give away one signed copy to a US reader on October 1st or thereabouts!
Davalynn Spencer writes inspirational Western romance complete with rugged cowboys, their challenges, and their loves. She finaled for the 2015 Will Rogers Medallion award in Western Fiction and makes her home on Colorado’s Front Range with her handsome cowboy and their dog, Blue. Connect with her at www.davalynnspencer.com.