Winnie Griggs Loves Quirky Town Names!

winniepubI have always been fascinated by colorful and quirky small town names.   I grew up in South Louisiana so I was familiar with town names such as Westwego, Cut Off,  Dutchtown, Raceland, Crown Point, Head of Island, French Settlement and Grosse Tete (French for Big Head).   


For someone who already had storytelling in her blood, these names really sparked my imagination.  I spent many childhood hours making up stories about how all these towns got their curious names.  Westwego – was it named by some settlers from back east who travelled great distances and decided this was far enough?  Or was it merely a stopping point for folks headed even farther west?   And who in the world would name their town Big Head?  At some point I learned Dutchtown was actually settled by German immigrants and was originally called Deutschtown, but the name evolved over the years into what it is today.  Another fascinating story-sparker!


When I went to college, I moved further north while still remaining in Louisiana and encountered a whole new map of town names to puzzle over.  There I encountered towns with names like Bunkie, Dry Prong, Flatwoods, Powhatten and Breezy Hill.  Again, I couldn’t stop myself from wondering about the plain-dealingcircumstances and people who settled these places.


Then I married my college sweetheart – a prince charming disguised as a cattle-rancher-in-the-making.  He swept me away to his home town, a place I was delighted to discover was called Plain Dealing.   


Today, whenever I start a new book, finding the right name for my town (always fictional) is just as important to me as finding the right names for my hero and heroine.  There is always a story in my mind about how the town name came to be, though that rarely makes it to the pages of the book.


My first book, WHAT MATTERS MOST, was set in the Texas town of Far Enough.  The town name was based on my childhood musing over the real town of Westwego.  I pictured a small group of settlers travelling through the area and the womenfolk getting tired of the whole thing and telling their menfolk they’d travelled ‘Far Enough’ and were ready to settle down NOW!


For my second book, SOMETHING MORE, the heroine arrives on the scene at a stage relay station called Whistling Oak.  The name came about when I pictured a giant oak with a hole formed by two trunks that had not quite fused together.  As the stagecoach driver explains it to the heroine, “See that ol’ oak tree over yonder with the hole in the middle?  That’s what gave this place its name.  Big wind blows through just right and you can hear the whistling for near pepper-clouda mile.”


Large flocks of small blackbirds winter near my home.  Hundreds of them will land in fields or trees in the area.  If something comes along to spook them, they all fly up at once, like a scattering of pepper on the wind.  That was the inspiration for Pepper Cloud, MO,  the town my third book, WHATEVER IT TAKES, takes place in.


My fourth book, A WILL OF HR OWN, is set in a town called Clover Ridge, VA, a somewhat more mundane town name than I normally go for.  But I wanted something that was indicative of lushness and serenity.  Besides, the story doesn’t tarry there for long.  A good one third of the book actually takes place aboard a ship.


Turnabout, TX, was the town name I chose for my fifth book, LADY’S CHOICE.  That one was almost a no brainer since the whole theme of the book, in handmedownfamily125both the primary and secondary storylines, was about turning one’s life around after having made poor choices earlier in life.


When I started work on my current release, I struggled for quite a while with what to name the town.   I came up with and eventually discarded several names.  THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY is my first foray into the inspirational market and I wanted something that would provide a subtle nod to that change.  I also wanted it to have that rural, small town feel and be just a tiny bit quirky at the same time.  And then one morning I woke up, and there it was.  Sweetgum, TX.  The sweetgum tree is indigenous to the area, the name is fun and rustic sounding, and the word itself has that hint of heart to it that I was looking for.


So, do you pay very much attention to town names in a book?  Do they help set the tone for you at all?  And are there real town names you’ve come across that have tickled your fancy, piqued your interest or just plain caught your eye?  Share some of your favorites.

Come on in and visit!  Winnie will give away a copy of her newest book, THE HAND-ME-DOWN FAMILY, or one from her backlist to TWO lucky commenters!

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To learn more about Winnie and her books, visit her website:

The Nuts & Bolts of Inspirational vs. Secular–Renee Ryan!

I am honored to be a guest this weekend. Thank you to all the Fillies for providing me this opportunity to blog. I’ve been a big fan of Petticoats & Pistols ever since it started, due in large part to the fact that I’m also a big fan sixgun2of westerns, and I mean all westerns, not just romances. My two favorite movies are Tombstone and 3:10 to Yuma. I’m also partial to High Noon with Gary Cooper, but who isn’t?

I’ve been fascinated with the Old West ever since I was a kid growing up in northeast Florida in the sixties, a heyday for all things western. I loved watching Gunsmoke on Sunday nights. Even better, there was this really cool theme park near my hometown called Six Gun Territory. My father took my twin sister and me there at least once a month. The park was set up like an old western town straight out of a 1960s television program. Yeehaw!

sixgun1Aside from all the usual rides and yummy food, Six Gun Territory staged a mock “shoot-out” every two hours in the deserted streets. Looking back with my adult eyes, I realize those shoot-outs had to be the cheesiest shows ever staged. But to a five-year-old little girl they were pure magic. The good guy always won! Hmmm, I think I’ve suddenly discovered the origin of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE. The hero is a dedicated lawman and the heroine has a five-year-old little sister who utterly charms the poor sucker, er…I mean hero…from page one. Maybe I should write a song, Ode to Six Gun Territory.

Or, maybe not.

For what it’s worth, the Old West has always been good to me. My first published novel was a western romance set in 1879 Denver, Colorado. EXTREME MEASURES came out in July 2002. That was seven years ago. SEVEN years ago! I could write an entire blog about that looooong dry spell. However, I won’t.

Suffice it to say, lots of things have happened in my life since that first novel hit the shelves. Most importantly, I’ve switched from writing secular romances to inspirational romances.

Although, I have found a lot of success thanks to the switch (I’m working on my fifth contracted manuscript for Steeple Hill) I can’t say the move was an easy one. It took me a long time and a lot of false starts to learn the difference between the two sub-genres.
Such as:

1. Level of Sensuality: This is the big difference between the two sub-genres and what I consider the pink elephant in the room. There is often a misconception about this topic so let me clear something up right now. Inspirational romances are not merely “sweet romances”. Oh, they can certainly be “sweet”, but this is not a prerequisite.

In fact, a writer cannot simply take sex out of the story, or even shut the door to the bedroom, and magically have an inspirational romance.

Yes, the story should have two people falling in love without the use of sex, or blatant sexual tension on the page. However, the focus should always be on the emotional connection between the hero and heroine rather than the physical connection. Put another way, whether it’s a kiss, a look or even a touch, the event needs to trigger an emotional reaction in the character(s) not a physical one.

marshaltakesbride2. Attending church: Yet another misconception out there and one that needs addressing. Simply sending characters to church on Sunday does not make a romance an inspirational.

Both the hero and heroine must go on a personal faith journey that is tied directly to their internal conflict. The inspirational thread is actually an additional element to the GMC of your character. Think of it this way: the internal growth of the hero and/or heroine must happen by way of the character’s faith journey.

3. The characters must all be good: No, no, no. Good is boring. Good is unrealistic. Good is…bad. In fact, the best inspirational romances are when the characters are deeply flawed from the inside out. The story will be much stronger if the hero and heroine make a few wrong decisions before they make the right ones.

I had a minister once say, “We’re all emotionally hurting on some level. Christians simply turn to Christ to help them get healthy.” That resonated with me as a writer and is something I keep in mind throughout the writing process.  The more human the characters, the more they’ve fallen away from their belief system, the bigger the journey required to return to a stronger faith than before. Getting them there is half the fun and the key to a good inspirational romance. ?

4. Inspirational romances are preachy: Again, not true. Every inspirational romance is different, of course. The level of “preaching” will depend on the type of story, but nowhere should the story be a place for the author to bang the reader over the head with his or her personal theology.

Salvation stories (where a character ultimately comes to Christ who wasn’t a believer at the beginning of the book) can sometimes seem preachy to someone not used to reading inspirational romances. It’s up to the author to thread Scripture into the story seamlessly.

Now, stories where both the hero and heroine are already Christians but have fallen away from their faith tend to be less preachy. However, the faith journey must still be strong and memorable. Again, it’s up to the author to make sure this journey is both realistic and inspiring.

So, there you go. A quick summary of what I think makes an inspirational romance different from a secular romance.

You might be interested to know that February 2009 marks the one year anniversary of Steeple Hill’s new line, Love Inspired Historical. To celebrate this anniversary, I will be giving away three autographed copies of my February release, THE MARSHAL TAKES A BRIDE, as well as one very special GRAND PRIZE. The grand prize winner will receive a copy of every Love Inspired Historical published during the past year. That’s twenty-four free books to one winner!

In order to sign up to win the grand prize, please send me an email at with your contact information of name, address, and email. I will draw the name of the GRAND PRIZE winner Sunday night, February 1, at 9:00 PM EST.

Thanks to everyone for stopping by this weekend. God bless you all!

reneeryanRenee Ryan writes for the Steeple Hill line Love Inspired Historical. Her fabulous editor is Melissa Endlich of Steeple Hill. Her first book in the Charity House series, The Marshall Takes a Bride is a February 2009 release. Her next book in the series, Hannah’s Beau, hits the shelves July 2009.

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