Drawing Inspiration from History

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.

Health seekers drinking from a fountain in Mineral Wells.

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.

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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?
Karen Witemeyer
For those who love to smile as they read, bestselling author Karen Witemeyer offers warmhearted historical romance with a flair for humor, feisty heroines, and swoon-worthy Texas heroes. Karen is a firm believer in the power of happy endings. . . and ice cream. She is an avid cross-stitcher, and makes her home in Abilene, TX with her husband and three children. Learn more about Karen and her books at: www.karenwitemeyer.com.

49 Comments

  1. I have never read a story where I personally knew the town. I don’t really care if it is a fictional town or real. But with real towns I often wonder if the history is true.

    1. Thanks, Dale. I remember the first time I came across the name of my hometown in a book. I think I squealed. Ha! The town is really small so it was completely unexpected.

  2. Karen- I’m happy dancing I’m from Stephenville, Texas just is 45 miles south of Mineral Wells. I now live in Kansas & I either go home south on 83 to 287 east, then south In 281 through Mineral Wells or I go straight down 83 to Abilene then hit I-20 east to Stephenville. So I’m very familiar with this town and Crazy water and the haunted hotel in the town.
    As for your question I love love and respect authors when they use actual towns and landmarks. It really means the world to us readers and makes us feel close to the author.
    Anytime I see Stephenville, TX or even a town around it or places up here in Kansas I’m familiar with, it make me love the story more. Also it doesn’t have to be a town near where I live. It can be a place I’ve visited or vacationed, it just puts a spark of enthusiasm into my heart. Great blog thanks for sharing Mi real Wells with everyone.
    Becready I think you’ll get several more comment from at least 2 Stephenville ladies who are on this blog. Ones my cousin Jerri and the other from one of my best friends, Stephanie!!

    1. How fun to connect with you, Tonya! Stephenville is just a hope skip and jump from me. I love that you know Mineral Wells so well. They have such a colorful history. Hope you get to enjoy visiting my fictional version of Hope Springs. 🙂

    2. Tonya–Lee Roy Parnell was born in Abilene but raised in Stephenville. Do you know who he is?If yes, do you like his music?

  3. Oh and to answer your other question I’ve read several books that have mentioned Stephenville and I’ve read many that have been based in SW Kansas where I live now. I live when they talk about the Santa Fe trail and the Cimarron River, I cross over this area everyday going to work. And who doesn’t know about Dodge City. You just made my day with this awesome blog.

    1. You’ve just reinforced for me the benefits of using real places, Tonya. I love hearing your enthusiasm. 🙂

  4. I recently read Tangled in Texas by Kari Lynn Dell and she had my hometown Tuscaloosa Alabama in it and so A Big YES it made me enjoy the book so much better although it was already a phenomenal book. I absolutely love books set in real towns and actually prefer books that are set in real towns

    1. Glenda I agree. I prefer them too. I was excite when Kari used my hometown Stephenville & my university ( Tarleton State University) in her books. It truly is inspiring to us readers. I love to use google earth and go to the area the book is set in to get the lay of the land.

    2. That’s really helpful to know, Glenda. Thanks! I have to admit to getting excited about seeing my own little Abilene show up in books. Doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while it gets a mention. Even when I use fictional places in my novels, I usually try to reference real places that are nearby to help readers picture the setting and give them a feel for where they are. Texas is a big place, and being able to anchor in a certain county or near a known city is helpful.

  5. Great blog. I love when places or areas I lived are mentioned inj a story. I too am from Stephenville, Texas just south of Mineral Wells. I hadn’t even thought about Mineral Wells and its healing waters in a long time. I need to take my daughters to the state park there because they both love collecting rocks. My oldest and I both suffer from autoimmune diseases and shoul ill b d partake in some of their water. I’ve lived in many areas that often get mentioned in books I read and I just love it. Places in Texas, Tennessee mostly but occassionally Kentucky and New Mexico. Stephenville, Texas is my favorite to get mentioned.

    1. Awesome, Stephanie! How fun to connect with another reader familiar with Mineral Wells. I hope you and your daughters get a chance to visit soon. Maybe even take the waters. 🙂

  6. I have read stories of places I am familiar but never one I knew. I love reading about places that are real but it is not necessary for me.

    1. I love your reader flexibility, Debra. 🙂

  7. I do enjoy reading books set in places that I know. It makes them easier to relate to and I can visualize them in my mind. I enjoyed learning the history of Mineral Wells. I had no idea about the meaning behind the name.

    1. I didn’t either, Janine, until I started researching. It makes perfect sense, though, doesn’t it?

  8. Loved love Sharon Sala made up town of Blessing Georgia.

    1. That’s an interesting point, Kim. Sometimes an author can create a setting that becomes real to us. Especially if there is a series set in the same place. Thanks for bringing that up!

  9. It doesn’t matter to me if the town is real or not.

    1. I don’t think it matters too much to me, either, as long as the story draws me in. Though, I have to admit to getting a little thrill when I recognize a town name from being close to me or somewhere I’ve visited.

  10. Fascinating look at research and places. I like both real or made-up.

  11. I have not seen or heard of any towns from Vermont that I’m familiar with in books. I would think it would be awesome to see one though. Your book sounds great and thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks, Charlene. I’ve never been to Vermont. I bet it’s beautiful, especially this time of year.

  12. I need to drink that water! LOL. 😉 Any story about Mackinac Island is familiar to me and I can picture all the goings on. Also, a few stories about places/castles in Scotland have familiar sights since we visited there. It is fun to envision them!

    1. I’d love to visit castles in Scotland! That sounds like a dream vacation.

  13. It’s nice when I read a story in a town that’s familiar to me. But it doesn’t matter to me if a story takes place in a real or fictional town as long as it’s a well-written story.

    1. I agree, Denise. It’s the story more than anything that draws me in. 🙂

  14. Yes, Tonya, cousin Jerri from Stephenville here. My Mom used to regularly go to Mineral Wells to buy mineral water for my Grandmother, Tonya’s Great Grandmother. The waters were restorative.
    I read a book about a town not too far away, Mingus, Texas. A real town with a fictional setup around the story. They even went to Stephenville for banking and shopping.
    So, stories around real places do stay with us longer. But, the history does need to blend in.
    Thank you for a great blog today.

    1. Fascinating, Jerri. I love that your grandmother “took the waters” from Mineral Wells!

    2. Wow Jerri- I didn’t know that about my great-grandmother. How cool. Next time I’m home we need to meet up, we can talk about family history and of course our books. Love you Cuz!

  15. Hi Karen – great post! I prefer to make up towns for my stories for just the reason you mentioned – flexibility. I will sometimes set them near real places, though, and have them visit or pass through during their travels.

    1. Exactly! Maximum flexibility with a few real places thrown in for ambiance. Ha!

  16. The setting doesn’t matter to me if the story is well told.

    1. That’s my reading philosophy, too, Eliza.

  17. I was excited to hear you based Hope Springs on Mineral Wells, TX. I stayed there a few weeks in the ‘70’s following the oil and gas pipeline work with my former husband. I loved that town. Everyone was so friendly! I feel from other books that I’ve read having a town that’s recognizable is a plus. Now, I really want to read the book.

    1. How wonderful, Linda. I hope you enjoy my version. 🙂

  18. Hey Karen, I have read and enjoyed books set in towns that I’m familiar with. It’s fun reading a story set in a familiar place. I also enjoy fictional town settings.

  19. I love stories based in small towns. It doesn’t matter to me whether they are real or not in the stories. As long as it is well written, I am good! 🙂

    1. Small towns are just so quaint and homey, aren’t they? And every good town has it’s colorful characters. 🙂 Those are some of my favorites.

  20. I love it either way! When reading a story with real histories, I always skip to the back to see if the author has stated what parts are actually true….but it could be because I any historical romance, fiction….it is my fav!

    1. As a reader, I love those author notes. I never actually written one myself until I turned in my most recent manuscript. More Than Words Can Say will have a brief author note in the back. This one is set in a real town and I took a little fictional license with some of the City Ordinances, so I wanted to make sure I explained that part was pure fiction. 🙂

  21. Fascinating history, Karen, I’ve lived in Texas all my life, and somehow, I’ve never visited Mineral Wells. But I want to go there, and it’s not far from where I live, too.

    1. I hope you get the chance, Hebby!

  22. Location is important for any story. How detailed it is depends on how important it is to the story. I have read several books set in real locales and it adds much to the story. Jennifer Blake’s MASTERS AT ARMS series is set in pre-Civil War (1840’s) New Orleans. She researched out well and many landmarks can still be found today. It is nice to be reading a book and know exactly where someone is standing in a scene. It gives an authenticity to the story. I have experienced the same in other books by Nevada Barr and B. J. Daniels. Even created locales if done well will give the flavor and feel of place to a story. When we travel, I always bring books, both historical and contemporary, that are set in the areas we will be visiting. It makes the books come more alive.

    1. I love that you bring books set in the locale you’re visiting when you go on vacation, Patricia. What a fabulous idea! I’ve done that once. Last spring I traveled to a writing retreat in Branson, MO, and when I learned about the history of how this tourist community basically came into being because of a novel written in 1907 that became a best seller and drew people to visit the places mentioned in the book, I knew I needed to read it. Shepherd of the Hills. I started it on the plane ride there and finished it soon after I returned home. I don’t think I ever would have picked up that classic novel if I hadn’t visited Branson, but reading it in the location where it was set really enhanced both the book and the vacation.

  23. There is a series of books about a knitting shop we’re mysteries appear and are solved in Fort Collins, Colorado.
    Of course the name of the town is changed but it is still fun to read since some landmarks are included in the story.

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