Monday, May 25, 2015

USING FACTS AND FICTION TO CREATE A WESTERN NOVEL


My husband and I don’t subscribe to the Hallmark Channel and are just now watching (via Netflix) the great series based on Janet Oke’s writing, “When Calls The Heart”, set in a Canadian West coal town called Coal Valley. I wish I had seen this series before I wrote my own western romance of coal mining, O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two. My book doesn’t include a Mountie, of course. Mine features a ranch hand hero, Finn O’Neill, who goes undercover in a lignite coal mine to earn money to buy his own ranch.

On second thought, perhaps I’m better off using research and my imagination to create my own version of a coal town operated by a less than ethical man. The town in my story is not nearly as neat and pretty as the one in Janet Oke’s stories. The miners get just as dirty, though. And the miner's homes were as basic as in the television series.

My idea of Lignite, only I added more grime
(photo purchased from iStock)

I confess that research into coal mining in 1885 Central Texas was difficult. I found plenty of information on early coal mining from BCE to today—but not much on the specific time period I needed. What I did discover was fascinating in some areas, not so much in others, and downright scary in places.

I found the perfect place for my story, the town of Coal, Texas southwest of San Antonio and near the town of Lytle. In my story, the town is called Lignite after the type of coal mined there. Also in my story, someone is causing deadly “accidents” at the mine and the owner wants to determine who is guilty. For this, he hires my hero, Finn O’Neill.

The beauty of changing the name of the town in fiction is that the town has whatever buildings I choose and/or need for the story. Instead of Lytle, in my book the next town is Spencer for the same reason. That’s one of the fun things about writing historical fiction. The author gets to build the setting and only has to be true to the period in customs and dress. I love making up my stories and their settings and I hope readers enjoy them.

The actual town of Coal was on the Missouri Pacific line in southeastern Medina County. Coal mines, worked by as many as 500 people at a time, precipitated the growth of mining camps in the 1880s. In 1881 the International-Great Northern Railroad built a rail line from Austin to Laredo that passed through Lytle southwest of San Antonio.

The community of Coal developed on this line a mile southwest of Lytle and just north of the mining camps. The high-grade lignite produced at the mines was sold to the railroads until the advent of oil-burning locomotives. In 1888 Coal Mine consisted of a store, a bandstand, a main plaza, a dance hall, a Catholic church, and at least two schools. Hmmm, in my story, Lignite has a store, both a Catholic and a Protestant church, a saloon, two dormitories called longhouses for single men, an infirmary with a nurse on duty, and one two-room school where heroine Stella Grace Clayton and her sister Nettie Sue Clayton teach. I included a lot of mystery in this book, but O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE is a romance between Finn O’Neill and Stella Clayton.

Photo model for Stella Grace Clayton
(photo purchased from iStock)

Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft brown combustible sedimentary rock that is formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation. In China, lignite is also mined for its germanium content.

I learned a couple of interesting things in my research. (1) Dark black lignite, or jet, is where the term 'jet black' originates. (2) Now the term has more scientific and precise basis, but the actual term “horse power” began as the amount of effort it took one horse to lift one container of coal up from the mine shaft to the ground. (3) Another thing I learned is that I never, ever want to work in a coal mine. I get claustrophobic in elevators.  

O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two, is available at these links:

Amazon    Apple/iTunes    Nook    Kobo    GooglePlay


Amazon bestselling and award winning author Caroline Clemmons writes western historical and contemporary romances. Her latest release is O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, McClintocks book two. Other series include the Kincaids and Stone Mountain Texas. You can keep up with Caroline’s releases by signing up for her newsletter. Her books are listed on her website at www.carolineclemmons.com and on her Amazon Author Page.   

4 comments:

Ginger Jones Simpson said...

Great post. I love having a cover to inspire my characters to talk to me. It really seems to help.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Sounds like a wonderful story, Caroline!

Jacquie Rogers said...

Wow, sounds like a lot of research, but you sure did find some juicy tidbits to make your story come alive. I'm anxious to read about Finn and Stella!

Paty Jager said...

Great job on the research. Every little tidbit can make a story unique. Good post!