Jane Porter on Creating the Fictional Western Town

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!

2Authors in Livingston MT
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.)

2Paradise Valley
Paradise Valley
2Yellowstone River
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.)

2Historic Marietta - Bramble Lane
Elegant neighborhoods in Bozeman inspired Marietta’s Bramble Lane


MariettaMap Sketch before finished map
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.

‘Full-length stories?’

‘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.)



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41 thoughts on “Jane Porter on Creating the Fictional Western Town”

  1. I knew a little bit about how Marietta came about, but this post helped fill in the gaps. I always enjoy the stories set there too.

  2. Jane, it’s really interesting how you ladies created this series. I enjoyed reading about how creativity exploded when you all got together. I love when that happens. To be in the middle of the swirling ideas and sparks popping all around you like fireworks going off. Writers are a bit like matches. Strike us a certain way and wow! You got fire!

    Wishing you much success, Filly sister! 🙂

  3. Thank you for sharing how the stories came together–and how much fun it sounds like you all had. I look forward to reading about the people of Marietta in the Montana Born stories.

  4. These are things I’ve always wondered – really enjoyed this background info on putting together these books! Hope I get to read them!

  5. Ah, the memories this post brings back for me. On the quirky side, I’ll never forget how Jane and Megan were up to the challenge of packing all our luggage in the back of my mid-sized sedan. It required skill!

  6. I enjoyed learning about your books, and the charming locale which is so special. I would love to read the books.

  7. I love reading about all the time & work that goes into such a series. I’ll bet the flow of ideas was mind blowing.

  8. What a fun glimpse into the birth of a brilliant idea!! Thank you so much for sharing. I can’t wait to read the next installment 🙂 As for the books…I have the Anthology with all 4 stories and I’m just about to finish it. I’ve loved every page!!

  9. Love all the Marietta books I have read. Thank you gals for doing this and letting me be a part of it. And this refreshed my memory that yes the river was part of some of the Marietta books.

  10. I loved reading this. I have been following along for as long as Marietta has existed in print and this was fun to read. You girls rock.

  11. I’ve been visiting Marietta since the very first book and I just love that little town. It’s been fascinatibg reading how it all came sbout.

  12. Perfect timing Jane as I put my own story together! This information is invaluable, thank you so much. And I get how you spark ideas off of each other. I have writerly friends who I plot with and its a great feeling to find your perfect match plotting friends. Cant wait to read more.

  13. I loved reading about how the Montana Born imprint and series was born.
    I look forward to reading the serirs.

  14. An absolutely lovely article on how Marietta came alive. I enjoyed each and every morsel! I would love to print the map so as I read I can point out the places. My bucket list is to read each and every Marietta story and in the order it was written! This would be a lovely start. Thanks for the chance!

  15. Wonderful story of Marietta’s beginnings, Jane. I knew when I wrote my first Marietta story that it felt like ‘coming home.’ And watching it grow and develop has been such fun. I’m so glad to be part of it. Any time you and CJ, Megan and Lilian feel like developing a town again, I’d love to be there!

  16. This is wonderful to get to know more then just the stories!(though we miss Jane up here in Washington)

  17. Loved the how it all became. I have been reading these books from the very beginning and have loved every story. Thank you, ladies for my reading enjoyment!!

  18. Love Marietta. so glad that you all got together & embarked on all of this. i really enjoyed the pencil-sketch map of Marietta with the town layout.

  19. Amazing how you all made this dream
    Town for all the readers come true ! I love the books and when I’m feeling the need for a getaway say it’s time for Montana time
    Thank you ladies ?

  20. I knew a little of this from earlier postings but love to read it again. I loved those early books. I’m having trouble keeping up with all the newly published books because there are so many. I know that is a good thing, so I’m not complaining. You ladies are awesome and I can’t wait to read more about how Tule came about as well as all of your stories!!

  21. I have followed Jane’s blog for years and thoroughly enjoyed her women’s fiction. I read, with great interest, her posts about the creation of Tule Publishing….but it’s been years since I read a classic series romance. After reading this post, I was so intrigued by the creation of Marietta that I ordered and read (same day) Jane’s Christmas at Copper Mountain….and it was a good read and I have ordered the next in the series. I can’t wait to discover everybody’s stories and get to know the characters and the town!

  22. How awesome for all of you! Vertu interesting and inspiring to new writers too, thank you for sharing!

  23. I do love reading the stories behind the stories. I’ve fallen a it in love with Montana a day Wyoming from a couple visits. But I couldn’t live there year round since I hate the cold and snow so much. ?

  24. I loved learning how it all began. I love this town and its stories!!! Thanks to all the authors!

  25. You picked a great setting for your stories. We traveled to Montana a few years ago and loved it. The wide open spaces require a special type of person to thrive. The towns have a personal feel to them.
    What fun the brainstorming sessions must have been. It is a good way to develop something. I love it when things “click” and the ideas and plans just fly. Plans that could have taken weeks can sometimes take shape in a matter of hours. It sounds like you were all on a roll.
    Best of luck with this new endeavor. With the authors involved, you can’t help but have great success and we, the readers, will be the ones who benefit with great stories to read.

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