Hi everyone. Jennifer Uhlarik here.
Sometimes when story ideas come to me, they come already fleshed out with details that it would normally take several chapters of writing to discover. My newest novella, Mountain Echoes, included in The Courageous Brides Collection, was this way. When the idea came to me, I knew the story was about a school employee, Hannah Stockton, who is on her way to pick up a new student from a distant town. When the stagecoach crashes high in the mountains, she must lead the survivors to safety. So my setting had to included nearby mountains and known stagecoach routes that cut through those mountains. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? But wait…I forgot to mention something. Hannah doesn’t work for any old school—it’s a school for the deaf. Oops…that certainly complicated matters. Just how many schools for the deaf were there in the Old West anyway?
Sure, I could have made up a fictional place, but I love research, and if I can find real cities or towns for my settings, it makes the storytelling all the more fun for me. I set out looking at the Rocky Mountains, and particularly Colorado. I could find stage coach routes that went up into the Rockies, but no luck on the school. I checked Arizona and New Mexico, since there are many small mountain ranges there. Again, I could find the proper terrain, the stagecoach lines, but no school.
So…when all else fails, keep looking further west!
I finally found the right place in California. The Sierra Nevada on the eastern side of the state provided the mountain range I would need, and there were any number of stagecoach lines that traveled through those mountains to points beyond. The final piece of the puzzle—the school for the deaf—fell into place when I discovered that in the Spring of 1860, a group of twenty-three ladies met together to to address the growing needs of indigent deaf children in the San Francisco area, which led to the creation of the California School for the Deaf. (Even more exciting to me is that the school is still in operation today!)
With all these pieces in place, I finally settled on setting the story in 1862 since, by then, the school had opened their doors to deaf children not just in the state of California, but also in neighboring states and territories. It gave all the more reason for Hannah to travel across the Sierra Nevada to Virginia City, Nevada (or in that day, Utah Territory).
But the research wasn’t over there. I didn’t want to make up details about a stage line. I wanted to use real details—real stage stops, real time frames for traveling, when passengers would’ve eaten meals, and the like. Again, the details weren’t particularly the easiest to find, but I was eventually able to dig up old newspaper advertisements that details the routes and durations of several old stagecoach lines. It was rather fascinating to discover that Pioneer Stagecoach Company had two ways to cross the Sierra Nevada between Sacramento and Virginia City. They had the “Through Line” which would travel the roughly 150-mile route in 24-30 hours, leaving at 6:30 AM and arriving on the other end the following day around noon. Or they had the “Accommodation Line,” which traveled the same route across three days with overnight stays in Placerville and Strawberry. My characters chose the Accommodation Line, by the way.
I had a blast researching the details that went into Mountain Echoes, and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it! Thanks for letting me share! To celebrate the recent release of The Courageous Brides Collection, I’ll be giving away a print copy of the book to one reader. Please leave me a comment!
Jennifer Uhlarik discovered the western genre as a pre-teen, when she swiped the only “horse” book she found on her older brother’s bookshelf. A new love was born. Across the next ten years, she devoured Louis L’Amour westerns and fell in love with the genre. In college at the University of Tampa, she began penning her own story of the Old West. Armed with a B.A. in writing, she has won five writing competitions and finaled in two other competitions. In addition to writing, she has held jobs as a private business owner, a schoolteacher, a marketing director, and her favorite—a full-time homemaker. Jennifer is active in American Christian Fiction Writers and lifetime member of the Florida Writers Association. She lives near Tampa, Florida, with her husband, teenaged son, and four fur children.
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