When deciding on a setting for my stories, I alternate between real places and fictional ones. When I use real places, readers from that area will get excited about seeing a familiar place mentioned in a book they are reading. However, using a fictional place gives me the freedom to create the town and people exactly to my liking, so instead of fitting my story into an existing setting, I can shape the setting to fit my story. Both have their advantages and their challenges.
In my latest story,I decided to try to get the best of both worlds by creating a fictional setting that was based on an actual place. I stayed as true to the history of that town as possible while simply changing the names and a few key details.
My fictional town of Hope Springs is based on the actual town of Mineral Wells, TX. I pass signs for Mineral Wells every time I drive down the highway, but I’ve never actually visited, even though it is only about 2 hours from where I live in Abilene. The history surrounding Mineral Wells, is fascinating, though, and I incorporated much of that history into the fictional resort town of Hope Springs.
In 1877, James Lynch and his family settled in the hills of Palo Pinto County. Water was scarce, so in 1880, they had a well drilled. The water tasted odd, but it didn’t seem to hurt the livestock, so the family started drinking it as well. James and his wife both suffered from rheumatism, and James suffered from complications of malaria. Soon after they started drinking the water, however, they began to feel better. News of the “healing waters” spread quickly and within a month, strangers started showing up asking about the water. Lynch’s well produced 100 gallons a day, but he soon struggled to meet demand. With the popularity of the site, however, the city of Mineral Wells was born, and developers arrived to drill more wells and establish hotels where bottled mineral water would be sold. By the turn of the century there were bathhouses, drinking pavilions, and spas throughout the city. The most famous brand was Crazy Water named because of the elderly lady who drank from the well twice a day and eventually overcame her dementia. The story could indeed be true, for the well water contains a significant amount of lithium, which is used to treat various mental health disorders today.
My hero, Beauregard Azlin suffers nerve pain from an old injury, and when he hears about healing waters in Texas, he seeks out the cure. When the drinking and bathing treatments offer a measure of relief, he invests in the area and builds a resort to serve others who suffer similar afflictions. Due to his entrepreneurial spirit, he basically owns everything in town, and when a young widow arrives to take a position as a cook at one the local cafe’s and needs a loan to provide a roof over her daughter’s head, he is the only person she can turn to to seek a loan. And the only thing of value she can offer as collateral is a treasured heirloom brooch reputed to bring true love to whomever possesses it. Add in a matchmaking cat and a little Christmas magic, and romance is born.
Inspired by the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz with a touch of Beauty and the Beast thrown in for good measure, I hope you’ll enjoy Gift of the Heart, my contribution to The Christmas Heirloom anthology – a collection of novellas of love through the generations following an heirloom that is passed from mother to daughter.
- Have you ever read a book set in a town you were familiar with? Did it help you enjoy the story more?
- Do you prefer books set in real places or does it matter to you?