Fictional towns vs Real Towns

Gravel country road bordered by ranches.

Today was a beautiful, spring day and I spent it doing one of my favorite things. My husband and I took a leisurely drive with friends into the Texas Hill Country, enjoying the many small towns we passed through along the way.  As always, I absorbed as much of the local culture as I could and sampled as much of the food, as well. This is where I get the ideas for the

many family series I set in Texas.


In Big “D” Dads, I chose to create the fictional town of Oak Grove for my setting. Oak Grove is a small, Texas ranching town just over an hour’s drive from Dallas and a world away. While it’s fictional, it’s typical of the towns you’ll see scattered about the state. There’s usually a town square with stores surrounding it. The buildings will be old. There’s almost always a diner or café or two, a grocery store, perhaps a hardware store. There will be a feed and tack shop in the area, sometimes a basic clothing

store and maybe a general store where the locals gather to shoot the breeze as well as shop. In Oak Grove, I throw in a mechanic’s shop and a great tea/gift shop, well. And there are always churches.

Town Square

So why do I use a fictional town when I have so many charming towns to consider? I like the freedom to match the shops and services the town offers to the needs of my stories. And when I have a nasty mechanic or an incompetent sheriff, I don’t offend the real people who serve in that capacity. Plus, I like the town to offer me a variety of secondary characters, many of whom show up as a main character in a later book.

So while my small towns are usually fictional, they have the trappings of most any small town in Texas. They become real to me because I

know they could be real. So come along with me to Oak Grove, Texas for my next series Big “D” Dads—the Daltons, which begins in June with Trumped-Up Charges. You’ll love it there.




And just a reminder that my current non-western, Cover Me, is available now. It’s an anthology written with two my favorite Intrigue writers, Rita Herron and Mallory Kane.

Eight years ago in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, three men lost everything.  Now it’s time to reclaim what is theirs ….  If you like sensual, romantic suspense, you won’t be disappointed.

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15 thoughts on “Fictional towns vs Real Towns”

  1. What a great idea for an anthology, Joanna. Your cover is pure eye candy.
    I know what you mean about fictional towns, Joanna. Dutchman’s Creek Colorado is as real to me as any place I’ve ever been. I set a single historical, then a four-book series, and most recently a contemp Desire story there. Still hard to believe the place only exists in my head. Have a beautiful day.

  2. Hi Joanna. Like you, I like to create fictional towns for my stories becuase it gives me the freedom to create the businesses and people I need to develop my story world. And I just love coming up with fun names for these places as well 🙂
    Love the Cover Me book cover – and the subject matter is one near and dear to my heart. I’ll definitely be picking this one up.

  3. Hi Joanna, The best thing about fictional towns is being able to pick up a whole building and move it to wherever you want. I feel so powerful–ha ha! “Cover Me” looks awesome. We all remember Katrina . . . It was such a terrible time for New Orleans, but what a perfect place for heroes to shine.

  4. Joanna, great blog! Many writers totally forget that a town should be treated like a character as far as profiling it. Why does it exist? What makes it different from other towns? This is so important in series. We really realized this with our anthologies where more than one took place in the same town. It’s hard enough to get a town in one writer’s head, but four was fun. Thanks for a fantastic blog with great pictures and ideas. Phyliss

  5. Hi Joanna, love your cover and premise and I’m in the mood for a little intrigue! I like to create fictional towns for the reasons you mentioned, though I often use a real town as a model. Good luck with your new book!

  6. Joanna, I do this same thing and for mostly these same reasons. I set a cozy mystery series in my home town, fictionalized.
    And a lot of that is, the real town doesn’t exactly match what I need. And I am going to make jokes at everyone’s expense so I need to fictionalize those people.
    I’ve had people in my hometown ask me if I used them in that book and I always say, “Real people are never crazy enough to get into a book.”

  7. I did hear a news story once about a whole town (almost) who got food poisoning at a funeral dinner. If someone young dies or maybe a Main Street Businessman, the funeral really does attract a large crowd. Maybe 300 people in my town or 900.
    So, Margaret, the lady who is in charge of funeral dinners at my small church is about the smartest, hardest working lady on the planet. I told her I might have a funeral dinner poison the whole town and asked her if she minded if I called the lady in charge Margaret.
    I never did work that scene into the book, but I enjoyed teasing her. 😀

  8. Hi!

    Like the others I do believe that fictional towns are best — altough I have set some of my stories, of course, in real “towns” — mostly by that I mean real forts. 🙂

    Love your cover!

  9. I love books set in fictional towns. I wish we could have some nice spring weather and some sunny days. It has rained here for two days now and kind of cool. My back yard looks like a river right now. Ready for some spring temp.

  10. I guess it doesn’t matter to me whether a book is set in a fictional or a real town. I can grow to love or hate the town by the end of the book. I do enjoy reading books set in real places because it can make me want to vist there or in the case of one of my favorite authors I can see the scene because I have been there as her books are mostly se in KC.

    Cover Me is definately one I will be reading!

  11. Joanna, I love small towns. But I sure do hate living in one. Where I live now is 35 miles east of Lubbock and the population is only 2,000. I’ve made some good friends and became involved in the mentoring program at school. But, this is just too small for me. I need for my neurologist who I have to see every four weeks to only be ten minutes away. Same with the grocery store and places to eat. So, I’m packing up and will move to Amarillo the end of next month.

    I envy you your drive in the Hill Country. It’s so beautiful there. Bet the wildflowers are simply breathtaking.

  12. Thanks, everyone. Yep, small towns are great in books, but sometimes tough to live in. However, after 21 years in New Orleans, I’m certainly enjoying living in a small town now. But I’m very close to the Woodlands which has almost everything you could want. A few miles further to Houston and it’s theater, symphony, sports and fantastic medical center. I feel like I have the best of both worlds.

  13. Sorry I missed this yesterday. Small towns make good settings for a story. Going to many of them gives you a good base of “traits” to draw from when you create the settings for your books. Makes for an enjoyable day doing research.

    Harlequin Intrigues are a favorite. I have read many of Rita Herron’s and yours (I especially enjoyed your Colts Run Series), but I don’t think I have read any by Mallory Kane, although I have at least one of her’s on my TBR shelf. New Orleans is a favorite place to visit. I will enjoy a story set there.

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