Love the rugged landscape of the West? This post is for you! Historical Western authors Jo Goodman, Jacqui Nelson, Kaki Warner, Rosanne Bittner, E.E. Burke, and Linda Broday share the iconic landmarks of the west that you’ll find in their books!
I don’t know that I’ve ever included a specific Western landmark except for the Rocky Mountains. For me, the West is a wide canvas. I think of big sky, canyons, caverns, barbed wire, open prairie, rugged climbs, and meandering rivers.
Jacqui Nelson – Between Love and Lies
My novel, Between Heaven & Hell, follows the Oregon Trail where landmarks framed travelers’ physical as well as emotional journeys.
Like so many westward bound settlers, my hero and heroine meet in Fort Leavenworth, one of the major jumping off points on the edge of the frontier—a place as strange and startling to her as she is to him. Along the trail, a string of landmarks bring Paden and Hannah closer to the end of the trail, but not always closer together.
At Alcove Spring (a serene bathing spot with a waterfall fed by a creek), Hannah and Paden begin to see each other in a new light that creates as much confusion as clarity. At the convergence of the north and south Platte Rivers (an unpredictable river crossing from which there is no retreat), they are confronted not only by Mother Nature, but by pasts they’d both hoped to leave behind. At Fort Bridger (the final outpost before the parting of trails and people bound for Oregon or California), many choices must be made not the least of which are those of the heart.
Kaki Warner – Home by Morning
Other than a few towns, general references to mountain ranges, high desert topography, and railroad routes, I use few actual western landmarks in my books. To me, each landmark comes with its own physical characteristics, history, and influences, all of which impose limitations on my imagination. Rather than trying to fit my characters and story into authentic, recognizable locations, I create my own settings, thus allowing me more freedom to manipulate the environment to fit the plot and vice versa. It’s a form of megalomania, I think.
Wow. It’s hard to include just one because I have traveled America’s western horizon for more than 30 years. I have been to every place I write about, from the Rockies to the Sierras to the Bighorn Mountains to the Mohave Desert to Death Valley, the Grand Canyon, down into old gold mines, train rides across railroad trestles over canyons, the wide-open prairie land, buttes and mesas – from California to Arizona to Montana to Kansas and everything in between. There is nothing like it. “Big country” isn’t a good enough description – magnificent – awesome – grand – endless – beautiful – spectacular – sunsets to die for. And I love the fact that the West presents unique challenges for my characters in the way of just being so “big,” and because of prairie fires, tornadoes, wild animals, constant wind, lack of water … the list is endless.
E.E. Burke – A Dangerous Passion
The series, Steam! Romance and Rails follows the expansion of railroads across the West during the mid to late 19th century. Locations along the old Katy Railroad line through Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, serve as landmarks where tracks crossed physical, cultural, and even emotional boundaries.
In Her Bodyguard, a dispossessed drifter, whose heart is as barren as the wintery Kansas prairie, falls in love with an enterprising railroad promoter he must deceive.
As the railroad advances into Indian Territory, Kate’s Outlaw brings together the railroad heiress and a Cherokee rebel in a quest to save his land and her life.
Before the Katy steams into Texas, A Dangerous Passion develops between a ruthless railroad chief and a romantic idealist. Betrayals mount, and the gap between them widens, seeming as impossible to cross as the Red River.
Just like the railroads, this series will stretch out across a changing Western landscape, intersecting new landmarks and spawning new stories.
In my Bachelors of Battle Creek series, I did a lot of reading to familiarize myself about the setting of Battle Creek, Texas. It’s a historical site just south of Fort Worth where 25 government surveyors battled a large party of Indians in 1838. Only seven men survived to tell the tale. I knew this setting would be the perfect place in which to set three stories of conflict. In an earlier book that took place a few years following the Civil War, I used Caddo Lake and Big Cypress Bayou in addition to the town of Jefferson in East Texas that had big ties to the war. The swamps offered the perfect hideout for an ex-Confederate spy. In researching that story, I also learned that following the end of the conflict Rebel soldiers were often hunted down.