Using Real People, Places & Events in Fiction

Thank you to all at the Petticoats & Pistols blog for this opportunity to post as a guest blogger.

Today I am going to highlight how I came up with the plot for my latest novel, Escape from Gold Mountain. It is very simple. Many of the elements of the plot came from actual history.

1863 DeGroot map of Mono County: Esmerelda & Bridgeport

Two shooting affrays in the same Lundy saloon three hours apart leaving four men wounded and waiting on the doctor in Bodie thirty miles away to come up the following morning to help patch them up? You bet.

In past years, I wrote a series based in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains in remote and sparely-populated Mono County.



Lundy in the 1890s


For the basis of many of my plots and a few known residents for some of my minor characters (and miner characters), I relied on a book titled Lundy by Alan H. Patera.



Characters based on real people:

Until almost the end of this series, I skipped over the information under the heading of “Desperados” about a couple of bad men, or roughs, as the unruly, disorderly elements were called at that time and place. Then, one incident in particular caught my eye. It involved a “Chinawoman” and two roughs.

I started researching—and researching. I wrote a spin-off novel that ended up being twice as long as the longest novella in the original series. I set it aside. I contracted for a cover. I researched some more. In a different local history of the area, I discovered the name of this woman—Ling Loi. I also learned more about the two men, “Tex” Wilson and Charley Jardine, who were involved with stealing her off the Lundy to Bodie stagecoach.

Bridgeport Chronicle-Union Nov. 8, 1884

In fact, up until I received my final editing, I spent hours in my local library perusing microfilms of the available Bridgeport Chronicle-Union newspaper for anything I could find on these people.

Bridgeport Chronicle-Union Nov. 8, 1884

This incident is not well known. There are no photographs I could find of these three historical characters. I found no physical descriptions other than local Mono County historian Ella M. Cain calling Ling Loi a “little, painted Chinese girl.” That may have been a euphemism for being a prostitute more than a physical descriptor. I do not believe any of them had children—at least, for the men, none they knew of. However, their story was too good to keep, and I fictionally expanded the tidbits of real history to create my longest and most researched novel to date.

 Singsong girl late 19th century

I did find images of Chinese prostitutes which I included in this post. This can give you an idea of how Ling Loi may had appeared and dressed.

The more I researched about the immigration experience of many of the Chinese women, especially in the 1880s when this story is set, the more I learned how many, if not most, were brought to San Francisco under false pretenses – if not outright abducted in their homeland – in order to be forced into prostitution in the brothels and opium dens of both the China towns of the bigger cities and the small mining communities of the west.


Street slave in Chinatown, 1896

Although the tong owners who bought them forced them to sign a contract of indenture, it really was slavery. The contracts were written so a woman could not live long enough to fulfill her financial obligations. Most of these women only escaped when they died from disease, most often syphilis.

At the encouragement of Alexa Kang, a World War Two romance author who is of Cantonese descent and is familiar with Cantonese customs and language, I gave Ling Loi more personality and a more active role in the plot.

Story Settings:

My Mono County settings included Bodie, now a state park.

Historical Bodie, California taken from the old Standard Mine

Until September, 1884, Ling Loi worked as a prostitute in Lundy, now a defunct gold mining town that became a seasonal fishing resort.

Lundy in 2014 with Mt. Scowden in background


Several chapters take place in the Masonic Mountains north and east of Bridgeport.

Also, one scene is based on a real incident that happened in Bridgeport at the Mono County Jail.


In addition to being fictionalized history, this story can also quality as an alternative history. My hero, Luke McDaniels (as well as a few other characters in the book) are fictional. After all, this is a romance. As much as she must deal with all the bad guys, I wanted to be sure the Ling Loi in my story had a happily-ever-after ending.

Here is an excerpt:

         Luke shook his head in frustration. “I should have known you two were up to no good. Look, I want no part of this, Charley. You said you’d give me what you owe me after we got back here today. Just hand it over. I don’t want to get caught in the middle of this mess.”

         “Ah, but you already are in the middle of it, eh? Don’t worry. It’s but a little change of plans.”

         Luke stepped forward, then assumed a stance with feet spread, and his fists on his hips, close to his weapons. “Where’s my money? I want it now.”

         Charley fished the reticule out of his pants pocket and emptied the contents in his hand. He counted out part of the half eagles and returned them to the reticule. The rest he put in his pocket. After pulling the strings tight, he tossed the bag to Luke.

         Before Luke could pull the purse open, Charley spoke. “There’s twenty dollars in there, Shorty. You want to take it and ride out, then be on your way. You want the full fifty, you’ll have to see this last job through to the end, eh?”

         Luke bit back the bitter threats he felt like hurling Charley’s way. Instead, he glared at the man, taking into account the calculating gleam in the Canadian’s eyes and his hand hovering near his knife.

         Luke’s mind raced as he considered his options. He could take the money and go, even if it meant fighting his way out. He already knew enough short-cuts through the surrounding remote territory to get far away quickly. However, if he left under these circumstances, would Charley end up fingering him for the abduction just as he once threatened to blame him for the cattle rustling?

         Although he gave no indication to the others, an awareness of the Chinese woman seated on one of the log stools not far from him jarred his conscience. He wondered—in addition to being cattle rustlers, thieves, and abductors, were Charley and Tex also murderers? If he left, she had no protection from them. She was not his concern, but he hesitated at the thought of walking away and later discovering the worst had happened to her.

         Luke tossed the reticule back to Charley. “I want all my money.”

I will be giving away a digital copy of the book to one person chosen at random who leaves a response on this blog post. Tell us about your favorite gold or silver mining town and/or your favorite mining town location.

Escape from Gold Mountain will initially be offered on more than one vendor. The release day is scheduled for September 4, 2019. If you are a Nook reader, the book will only be available for Nook purchase for about 12 days before it will be offered digitally exclusively on Amazon and in the Kindle Unlimited program.

 The book will also be offered in print format and continue to be offered for sale as a paperback on both vendors.

Here are the Kindle and Nook pre-order purchase links:

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble

About Zina Abbott:

Zina Abbott is the pen name used by Robyn Echols for her historical novels. A member of Women Writing the West, Western Writers of America, and American Night Writers Association. She currently lives with her husband in California near the “Gateway to Yosemite.” When she is not piecing together novel plots, she pieces together quilt blocks.


Connect with Zina Abbott:



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18 thoughts on “Using Real People, Places & Events in Fiction”

  1. I visited Jerome Arizona many years ago and found it to be an interesting former mining town. When I saw it the former owners home as well as the hotel the miners lived in were still standing and I think now is a national park at the time it was not.

  2. Good morning and welcome to P & P. Your book sounds delish. I love when authors incorporate real towns and real people in their storylines,
    My favorite mining town is Cripple Creek, Colorado.
    My dad grew up fir about 3 or 4 years of his life in Bisbee, AZ. , where my Papa worked in the copper mines. I would love to one day visit that town.
    Thanks for the wonderful blog about your book. Love & hugs!

    • Oh my, I’m stuck on the picture of the oriental prostitute. I’ve never seen a prostitute with so many clothes before. I’m very enthralled with your book, I’ve never read anything like it before! I’d love the opportunity to read it!

      I don’t have a favorite mining town per say. It’s been quite some time since I’ve even read a book about mining and I can’t pull up a favorite mining town out of my memory this morning. My favorite state for mining sites is Colorado!

  3. I can’t say I have a real mining town that is a favorite one. Your book sound fantastic and I can’t wait to read it.

  4. I think it is great to include real people in books. I enjoy that. The only mining town I can thing of is Herkimer, NY. You can go out and do your own mining.

  5. This sounds like a great book! I’ve never been to a mining town. However, I’d love to visit one in Alaska!!

  6. Welcome, Zina! We’re so happy to have you back. I think including real life people and events adds a whole different layer of realism and depth to a story. I do that with mine whenever I can. Your book sounds very interesting. Wishing you tons of success with Escape From Gold Mountain.

  7. Some great (or not so) history, Zina! My mother told of tales of Chinese women, she always called them China Dolls. Very, very sad part of our history. You story sounds very good.

  8. I’ve never been to a mining town, but a couple of times I’ve been to theme parks with “panning for gold” setups.

  9. I have never been to a mining town but I love to read about them. I would love to go to California & Colorado to see how they mine. Or anywhere.

  10. Bodie has been on my list to visit for several years. In 2013 when we took our grandson on a Western trip, I couldn’t convince my husband to include a swing that way to visit it or any of the other ghost towns that weren’t too far off our path. This past summer, we never got far enough South to visit any of them. It is a long drive from Tennessee, but we loved living in Colorado many years ago and head out West when we can. Next time, I will make sure Bodie is part of the trip. Although we haven’t visited any ghost towns per se, we have come across abandoned buildings and clusters of buildings, even deep in the woods, in areas all over the US. It is always fascinating to speculate what happened and why.

  11. While living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we came to an old copper mine where tourists could go in and experience the total darkness and with lights, copper stll in the mine.

  12. Welcome Zina. When our kiddos were young we went to a gold spot to pan for gold. It was a lot of fun to actually do it and learn about the history of panning for gold. I do love reading about stories that revolve around a mining or panning town. Thank you for sharing your information here. I love it when authors really do their research and use it in a book. thank you so much for this. I love learning about history.

  13. When we went on a NM and Colorado road trip we visited historic old towns. These are so fascinating and meaningful to experience. Bisbee and Leadville are wonderful sites.

  14. I haven’t been to a real mining town location, but when i visited Loretta Lynn ‘s ranch she has a simulated coal mine the was very interesting and loved to see what it would have been like. Would love to read the book.

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