I kind of wrote myself into a corner with Gingham Mountain Book #3 in the Lassoed in Texas series. Petticoat Ranch is book #1.

So I’ve got all these ELEMENTS I need to deal with from books #1 and #2, plus the new ones for this book.

 spindletop.jpgELEMENT #1 oil. Honestly before kerosene was widely used no one cared about oil. It was just this awful smelling stuff that polluted ground water and, although people knew it would burn if refined, refining was a lot of trouble and no one did it much because there was no money in it.

Oil wasn’t my biggest problem, it was a little one. What’s an oil refinery look like in 1880? Was there one in Texas? Can you build your own small one?

Before long I was wishing I’d never even thought of oil. But it was so interesting and I’ll write a whole blog about it sometime.

The next ELEMENT was the Civil War. The war is over, but it can’t be too long over because my characters were named and set in time by the earlier books. The Civil War caused me all sorts of trouble because of the next ELEMENT, trains.

I needed a train.

Old Train Engine

Well, was there a train in Texas after the Civil War? How soon did train travel resume? Did it ever end? Did it end north and south but not east and west. You’ve got to figure there were no trains coming from New York, across the Mason/Dixon Line during the war.

And I needed a train because of the next ELEMENT Orphan Trains. Orphan Trains came to Texas but the dates were really vague. Orphan Trains traveled from 1850 to 1920. So the dates are so wide…YES the Orphan Trains came, but when exactly and to where?

And … here’s an odd ELEMENT that took me a surprising amount of work to track down.

I needed a mountain.

So, Beaumont, Texas seemed to be the center of early oil activity and I wrote the book, placing it in a fictional town but they’d travel to nearby Beaumont. Except, I was sure I’d found evidence of some rugged ground in the general Beaumont area, but I couldn’t find it again. In fact just the opposite. Beaumont is in the Texas Coastal Plain. I could include some info here for you about the Texas Coastal Plain but trust me, the main sticking point for me as I researched was the constant references to low-swampy ground…for (I’m estimating) one zillion square miles.


Anyway, by now I’m juggling balls in the air. We talk a lot on this blog about loving research. You know what? I hate research.

Oh, I enjoy the reading, honestly the stuff I read about the Spindletop oil well–that’s an actual picture of it above–coming in is just the stuff dreams are made of. Thrilling. It’s the story of American ingenuity and a new era in this country. I loved reading about the Orphan Trains and even trains in general. Heck I even liked studying Texas geography on Google Earth.

But I’m typing along and suddenly I’m not sure if there was train travel … I had someone from Book #1 Petticoat Ranch and #2 Calico Canyon coming in on the train to visit the characters of Book #3 Gingham Mountain so there’d better have been trains.Petticoat Ranch Cover

So I’m having fun, my couple is snipping and dancing around each other, bad guys are closing in and and I’ve got to quit to find out if I can produce a mountain. You know, the mountain that is tucked up behind the cabin…the mountain Gingham Mountain is named for and which one of the characters falls off of and where the treacherous stand of trees that really is completely integral to his home and why did I ….oh forget it.

Trust me when I tell you, it’s way easier if you the reader just suspend disbelieve and go along for the ride. I mean if I need a mountain, a train, a historical date, Texas, oil and orphans, what am I supposed to do? Somewhere in that state I can have it all but it can be hard work and it’s way more fun to dwell on how hunky the hero is and how feisty my heroine is. I wish I could just make it all up, you know?


So have you read books that get it wrong? Does that make you crazy? If I’ve got a mountain on a low-swampy coastal plain am I gonna hear about it?

I wish no one would confuse me with the facts.

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Author of Romantic Comedy...with Cowboys including the bestselling Kincaid Brides Series


  1. Aww Mary! I can imagine this has you just about pulling your hair out!

    I have read books that get it wrong and sometimes it drives my crazy, but a lot of times if I didn’t really know about the info, I can’t distinquish it from the facts or if it’s the author’s imagination.

    But, here’s a thought- do you think your editor/publisher would allow for a “From the Author” either at the beginning or end of the novel so that you could explain in a few short paragraphs what you do know as truth and what you have added as fictional elements you’ve created for the purpose of the story?

    I’ve read several books like that and I like it when the author lets the reader know that this setting or element is not real, but built in as an important part of the story. Sort of a disclaimer that it is an element of fiction, but that you hope the reader will enjoy it.

    As an example— I’m going to make this up as I go along—but say a writer mentions that, though “Nickel Island” might not actually exist off the coast of Florida, it was the main setting in their fictional world. It makes it so much easier then to suspend disbelief when the reader knows the place (or whatever kind of element they used) is a place they created that is unique to them as a writer.

    Don’t let it drive you batty! 😀 Have a good day!

  2. Hi, Taryn, Too late with the ‘batty’ thing. 🙂

    I’ve thought about adding a few things in the author’s notes. You know, explaining myself. 🙂
    The most interesting stuff was the oil and that I’ve got right in the sense that my book is too early for almost everyone to appreciate oil but there was an oil industry in Pennsylvania and my bad guys learned about it there and know what that smelly seepy ground is about, while the hero, in fact no one else, knows it matters.
    I’m twenty years too early for the big Texas oil boom, but the oil was there and it had some value to someone who knew what it was and what to do with it.
    That’s the way I wanted it.

  3. Mary,

    I’ve had it happen to me, too. I created a fictional town in western Kansas and placed it a certain number of miles away from a real town. Because I had a deputy sheriff in the story, both towns needed to be in the same county. When I checked a map, not only would they not have been in the same county, but my little town would have actually been in Colorado!!

    It was back to the drawing board!! LOL!


    (BTW – I just wanted you to know that I like you. )

  4. I ended up fictionalizing ‘Beaumont’ and nudging the town I created west into some rugged area. All that thinking though, was extremely painful to my largely atrophed brain.

  5. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why I no longer write historicals.


    Actually, Mary, I know exactly what you’re talking about, and it can be frustrating. But like Taryn, I’ve seen plenty of books with a disclaimer in the front that seperates fact from the author’s imagination. I’m curious to see if this is a possibility for you.

  6. I read the Ann Rice book “Christ the Lord” a couple of years ago and she had this notice in her book that I just loved. It went something like….
    “I have researched and studied hard to make this book accurate and I will challenge anyone who says I made factual errors. I stand behind every word I’ve written.”

    That’s paraphrased but it struck me as pretty impressive. All the more so because I’d just read another such note by an insanely famous author that said something like, “This is a fictonal town and if I’ve made mistakes in any detail just deal with it. This is fiction and if I have to play fast and loose with the facts, I do.”

    The contrast between the two was, I thought, pretty fascinating. One so confident and the other so smug.

  7. Mary, the adoption agency I used to work for–The Gladney Center for Adoption–got their start in 1887, when a Methodist minister took orphans off the orphan train that passed through Ft Worth and found good homes for them. I’d have to do some digging, though, to find out when the first orphan trains rolled through Texas specifically.

    There’s always that love/hate relationship with historical research, isn’t there? You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!

  8. Good morning Mary,
    Did I ever tell you that I set my last historical around Bass Lake, a beautiful place near Yosemite where the Mono Indians lived. A log cabin, bears, the lake, and I couldn’t have been happier. It wasn’t until my sister read the book and told her husband about it, that he commented, “Interesting–that lake was man made in the 1930’s!” Ouch! So far, no one has called me on it, (and now I’m making it public knowledge) but it was an innocent mistake. I NEVER dreamed a lake in such a remote natural setting in the Sierra Nevadas wouldn’t have been there since time began. There’s fact checking, then there’s fact checking.
    We do our best. 🙂

  9. Mary, yes, that historical accuracy can be a challenge. I, too, do the Author Notes, but I try really hard to keep the setting as accurate as possible. I really enjoyed your . . . amusing struggles!

    But on the other end of the spectrum, contemporaries have their own problems. Electronics are evolving so fast these days, that one must be careful not to date their story. Ditto with products or brand names that may be a fad or a rage now, but could easily die out by the time the book is released.

    Fun blog!

  10. If you want to see ‘dated’ go watch Lethal Weapon and get aload of the car phone Mel Gibson makes a call on. It comes out of the bag hanging over his shoulder. You KNOW this was cutting edge when they made the movie.

    So yes, I’ve heard contemporaries are especially hard to NOT date.
    Not for me though. My set of encyclopedias for example, doesn’t have Ronald Regan listed as president yet.
    So nothing too modern creeps in to my contemporaries.

  11. SUSAN!!!!
    I went and looked at the Gladney Center for Adoption and found the center’s history.

    Look at this: One train brought some very special cargo to such a community. Abandoned children from the northeastern part of the United States came to Fort Worth on the railroad as part of the orphan train movement. Those who made it this far west were the “leftovers,” the stronger having already been plucked from the trains to work in farms or factories.

    I use the word ‘leftovers’ in my book. I thought I made that up? Maybe not? That’s the trick with research, how much did I include because I snared so term out of something I read and how much is my own bright idea. This is really interesting reading. Thanks.

  12. Sorry about the lake, Charlene.
    I’m setting this simple little book I’m writing, a sweet contemporary romance, on a buffalo ranch in South Dakota. I found a closed buffalo ranch and copied a lot of the details from there. But it made me nervous too. What was the land like. I couldn’t really tell from the pictures. Obviously buffalo were living there at one time. But what about now? It went bankrupt after all.

  13. As a long-time fan of historical fiction, I love picking up pieces of interesting facts about the time and places I’m reading about. And yes, it does drive me crazy when the information is wrong. Not so much the physical lay of the land, but the specifics on every day living. I think that information brings the story to life for me and makes the characters seem so real. I just finished a civil war tale which mentioned a wounded soldier having ‘ice’ applied to his wound. Now that’s just plain criminal.

  14. Mary, thank you for the humorous start to my day! You have such a neat way of phrasing things that just tickles my funny bone. And I like how your mind works. I can’t wait to read this Gingham Mountain book. Sounds like just the thing to keep me awake at night because I can’t put the book down. Love when I find one like that.

    I’ve written myself into a corner before many times and it’s sheer agony so I sympathize with you. As far as your question goes: yes, it really bugs me when an author gets facts wrong. That kind of thing completely throws me out of the story. Sorry. I like for everything to be accurate and fit together seamlessly into the story. Keep your thinking cap on and you’ll find a way to make everything fit. Of course, you may have to give up something. Be prepared.

    Love the post today! Good luck with your story.

  15. This was a great post, Mary. Thanks for your hard work in getting it right! And Charlene, too adorably funny about your lake. Some time ago, I read a contemp where H and H drove to Catalina…an island 20 miles off the SoCal coast. My hubby still cracks up at that one. (Oh, watching a sunrise in Monterey CA was a good one, too.)

  16. Wow – it’s really impressive how much research goes into these books. I’ve always wondered how my favorite authors became such experts in so many diverse fields!!!

  17. WOW! Sending you big hugs!

    I am one of those readers who isn’t that picky when it comes to historical facts…maybe that makes me odd. Don’t get me wrong, I love when the authors get the research done and include details and accurate info. But I would much rather read for entertainment than to pick apart all the inaccurate parts of a book. Unless it is a subject or location I am familiar with, then I probably wouldn’t notice anyway…LOL. The story and the characters are what make a book enjoyable for me!

  18. I remember one time reading…oh, I think it was a … no better not name a publisher.
    Anyway, it was set on a dairy farm…my husband was a dairy farmer for 27 years.
    On the cover the lovely lady and her hunky farmer boyfriend are kneeling beside…a little hereford calf. You know, a red white faced beef calf?
    While through out the book they refer to the Holsteins.
    C’mon people, not even close.
    I suppose in Pam Crooks next book the cowboy will be riding a zebra…oops, well, that’s sort of a horse….

  19. I like the Civil War Ice, Natalie. LOL
    When I got my first contract, for Golden Days (sold first but released second) Cathy Marie Hake who really helped me get my foot in the door, really, really, really, came up with this three book series and did I want to write one of the books with her and another published author, Kathleen Y’Barbo?
    So it’s set in Alaska and after I got the contract, Cathy warmly told me, the ‘new guy’ had to pay for the research trip. (a joke, but a scary one!)

  20. Rye, Gingham Mountain is book #3 in a series Barbour is now calling Lassoed in Texas, a series title I love.
    So Petticoat Ranch is out.
    Calico Canyon releases in August of this year.
    Gingham Mountain comes out in February 2009.

  21. Alexis, we don’t MEAN to become experts. It’s completely against my will.
    But hunt around this blog, some really interesting things to be found here.

    And HI WENDY.

  22. LOL Mary…here’s another story…and example of when inaccuracies do bug me.

    I remember watching a tv show that was set in Atlanta. The main characters were police officers who were looking for a kidnapped woman that they believed was being held in Stone Mountain…my hometown, which is not far from Atlanta. But the tv show made it look like Stone Mountain was a mountain people lived on in cabins, with hiking trails, repelling, etc. In real life, Stone Mountain is a giant granite mountain that is not habitable and is located inside a private park that you have to pay to get in. It was almost as if they just looked at a map and tried to find the closest mountain to Atlanta, but did no further research. My family and I laughed so hard as they went from cabin to cabin looking for the woman and questioning people about a van being on the mountain. That was one case where the wrong facts did kind of bother me because I was familiar with the location, but usually it doesn’t matter to me…unless it is really obvious.

  23. Did any of you read Trixie Belden books?
    It was one of my favorites and my daughters loved them. But this little town they lived in (the name escapes me) they’d refer to how small it was then they’d go into a ‘bad neighborhood’, uh, hello, no bad neighborhoods in a small town. No neighborhoods period. Or there’d be at least a semi-high rise building. It made me wonder if the author had ever been in a truly small town.
    Plus they’d have Trixie’s little brother Bobby who was eternally six, use baby talk and … just generally behave like a two or three year old. My daughters and I used to discuss this warp.
    Never been in a small town.
    Never been around a six year old.
    And yet we loved the books.

  24. Hi all,
    I know what you mean about inaccuracies. Of course, if it’s not something you’re familiar with you would never notice. On the other hand, I used to be a police dispatcher and I can barely even watch tv. It seems like every other show is a procedural cop drama of some type and they can be SO wrong.

  25. That’s the spirit, Estella.
    I talked with a woman from Alaska who read Golden Days and she said she was looking for mistakes and I got it right, except I had a polar bear where one wouldn’t have been.
    But I said in the book, “This isn’t the normal range for a polar bear.”
    Then my sister went to Alaska, where my book was set and told me, that river they walked along, no way, no shore, steep mountains falling right down into the water.
    So who’s right?
    I’d like to believe that the Army Corp of Engineers dredged out the Skagway River to it’s present depth but back in the day…you could have walked alongside it just fine.

  26. Wendy’s my daughter and for years when she worked as a police dispatcher, I’d pitch cop questiont to her, from me and my friends, for her to find the correct procedure.
    Your input is probably in like…fifty books, kid. Thank you.

  27. I just love historicals and it doesn’t matter to me if the facts are correct or not. After all most books are fiction. As long as its a good read is all that truly matters.

  28. Eileen, I hate the research because I’d rather be writing adn nothing is more fun to me than just sitting behind my computer makin’ stuff up.

    But doing the research is pretty fun–or maybe fascinating is a better word. Orphan Trains are just pure flat out fascinating. I personally know two people, both of whom have recently passed away who came from an Orphan Train. Elderly adults right here in my home town, so this reaches everywhere.
    The train history, the oil industry and the discoveries and inventions that went along with it.
    This is a great, great country folks. The history of inventions and progress and the quality of life that followed the capitalism model of government. A man could get rich inventing a better gun or lantern or making oil refining affordable or finding a medical solution to some sickness…so they’d pursue it with everything they had…for money…and that just fueled this boom in innovation that has made this country great and healthy and safe.
    Never forget that.
    You get a real feel for that through research.
    Still, I want my heroine to be scolding the hero for something and I can’t do that until I find the train situation in Texas in 1880.
    Sure she couuld have come on the stagecoach but I didn’t WANT her to have to ride for two weeks in a stage coach.

  29. Mary Thanks for a wonderful post. it was a great read. I agree with the disclaimer in the front. A couple that featured Australia have had this and it was good knowing that some liberites had been taken.
    Another that was set In australia had real places but had them to close together like far north Queensland being about 2 hours drive from Sydney when its more like 20 hours. the books were romance books that mainly sold in America so if you weren’t an aussie you would have no idea. I still enjoyed the book but found it funny that it was so out.
    Where as Texas i have no idea about except everything is bigger in texas.

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