After living for almost 17 years in Greater Seattle, during the summer of 2012 I moved with my crew down to Southern California to the most charming of laid-back little beach towns. I absolutely adore being in San Clemente (it still has its original main street–called Del Mar–with angled parking) but the move was hard on my kids who were true Seattlites and I missed all my friends. By February, I really wanted to do a fun project with some of my close author friends and I made some calls and sent off some emails, asking if three of them would like to create a series together, something set in Montana, something with cowboys and featuring the beautiful rugged Montana landscape.
My three author friends–Lilian Darcy from Australia, CJ Carmichael from Canada, Megan Crane from California–agreed and we decided to make a girls roadtrip to Montana to brainstorm our books and series. I thought it’d be fun to share how Montana Born from Tule Publishing came about, using the words of Lilian Darcy, one of the founding authors.
This is how Marietta, Montana, our beloved fictional Western town, came to be!
Founding authors in downtown Livingston, MT: (from left to right) CJ Carmichael, Megan Crane, Lilian Darcy and Jane Porter
In Lilian Darcy’s words:
It began in February…
Milestone #1—The phone call
Jane Porter calls me from California. Jane is a good friend, so I’m smiling when I hear her voice. ‘I want to have a writers retreat to plot a joint series’, she says. ‘Are you in?’
I think I’m in before she even gets to the word. We talk on the phone until my ear turns blue and I have to seek medical attention.
The plan is ambitious. This will be a real publishing company, not simply a group of like-minded authors publishing independently with some linked stories and branding (although, hey, that would be great, too). We will bring in experienced professionals in publishing, editing and marketing, as well as authors whose attitude and quality of work we can count on.
Honestly, I think my whole world feels different after this one phone call.
Milestone #2—The preparation
‘I want you to come over here’, Jane says in a follow-up email. ‘I have Megan Crane and CJ Carmichael on board, and we all need to get together to talk about our story ideas, and about how this is going to work.’
Did I mention that Jane is a good friend? She has frequent flyer miles that she actually gives me to cover the airline ticket. We decide May will be the best time, so I naturally go straight to the most vital pieces of preparation—crossing the days off a calendar and shopping for clothes.
We do also brainstorm a lot via email about stories during these two months. We decide to create the Montana Born Books imprint, and to set our first few series of books in our fictional town of Marietta, Montana.
(Because Montana is cool. I’ve been there now, and I know.)
Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley
We each throw in a bunch of ideas.
Megan comes up with a big, single title mini-series about three sisters who’ve grown up with the difficult parenting of their saloon-owner and Vietnam vet father, Jason Grey, after their mother left town.
CJ creates a traditional ranching family, the Carrigans, while Jane also creates a ranching family, the Sheenans, on the adjacent property.
I have a major women’s fiction trilogy in mind, following the lives of characters who’ve all been changed by what happened at the Marietta High School Prom in 1996.
Milestone #3—The brainstorming
May 1st arrives, and I fly across the Pacific to California. Jane meets me at LAX and nearly drives off the road about nine times on the way down to her house in San Clemente because we’re so busy talking.
Three days later, we fly to Kalispell, Montana, where CJ picks us up, after collecting Megan earlier in the day, and we drive to her cottage on Flathead Lake.
Now, some of you may have seen the pictures on Facebook, but I want to stress that we actually do work quite hard, despite appearances to the contrary.
First, we talk for a whole day, building our fictional universe. Where exactly is our town located? What’s the population? What’s its history? What stores and other buildings are there in Main Street? Who owns them? (Hint: When you read the books, watch out for mentions of a Jane Austen–inspired character, who’s a bit of a gossip-monger.)
Elegant neighborhoods in Bozeman inspired Marietta’s Bramble Lane
Our pencil-sketch map of Marietta came to life as we plotted the town layout.
We go to bed very satisfied with our first day’s work, and then the next morning when we get up CJ says, ‘You know what? I don’t think our planned stories are closely enough linked.’
She’s right, we realize at once. We’ve each gone off on our own tangent, with the Carrigans, the Greys, the Sheenans and my tragic 1996 prom night. For our launch, we need something that knits our characters more closely together and celebrates our fictional town in a more vibrant way.
Handsome Livingston, Montana with its turn-of-the-century brick buildings inspired our beloved Marietta
Milestone #4—The stories
‘How about a rodeo?’ I think this is CJ, too. She is so great at cutting to the heart of the problem and coming up with the right idea.
‘No, how about a novella each?’
As writers, you tend to know something is right when the sparks immediately catch fire. Within an hour, this morning, we’ve each come up with the basic bones for a story.
The Title Fairy pays us a visit, which is close to being a Montana Miracle. She is a pretty temperamental creature, that one, and can withhold her creativity for months, sometimes.
Armed with titles, story ideas, linking threads and a whole lot of detail on our fictional world, we begin writing that very day…
Look for more about the making of Marietta, Montana and the results of our efforts with the release of our Montana Born stories in April!
If you’ve enjoyed this inside look, do leave a comment for a chance to win a print copy of our four rodeo stories that created Montana Born, Love Me, Cowboy plus fun Montana Born reader swag!
(Portions of Lilian Darcy’s story first appeared in the September 2013 issue of the Australian Romance Readers Association newsletter.)