Building a Fictional Town

by +AneMulligan @AneMulligan

Building a fictional town in a historical novel isn’t the easiest of tasks I’ve taken on, but it is fun. I prefer fictional towns to real ones, because nobody can tell me there was never a grocery store at the corner of Main and Peachtree. In face I’ve only written one novella set in a real town (a favor to the mayor of Sugar Hill).
I love to write stories about women’s friendships and how they navigate through life’s troubles together. Some make good decisions; some make bad ones. After the last book in my Chapel Springs series (Life in Chapel Springs, Sept 2017) was turned in, I decided to go back to a book I had started a few years ago.

Originally, I planned to set this in a town nearby me, Buford, GA. However, because of the very real Bona Allen Tannery, everyone who lived in Buford was employed and unscathed by the Great Depression. So I needed to go south, into the farm country, where since the Civil Way, life had been hardscrabble for farmers.

With the blessing of my agent (since like Chapel Springs, this series has an ensemble cast of strong women surviving the Great Depression), I went back to a story I’d started and fallen in love with.

I had my characters for the first book, In High Cotton, and the basic plot outline (I’m a planster). Now, I started on the town. I knew the it was in a very rural farm area in south Georgia. I researched the area, found as many photos as I could. Then I researched what stores would likely be in a tiny hamlet. I found an area where three rivers meet (or two meet and form the third). It was perfect. In the middle of nowhere, I named the town Rivers End.

I came up with the grocery (owned by the main character, Maggie Parker), the dry goods store, a feed & seed, a barber shop, a gas station, a tiny weekly newspaper, a Post Office, a saloon, a small movie house, 2 boarding houses, a school/church/courthouse, and the small train station, and of course the jail.

I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are. But I’m a visual writer. I need to see it so I can draw my readers into the town. That’s when it got tough. I have such a strong visual image in my head, trying to find a photo that fits it is really hard.

Undaunted, I searched several ways. Finally, I came up with 9 photos that if I take parts from one, a “feeling” from another and this building and that one, I can paste my town together. One of those and my map are scattered through out this post. Since most of my storeowners live in an apartment above their store, I didn’t want 3 or 4 story buildings. Two stories would do, thank you very much.


I drew a map so I could keep track of where things are.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Ane Mulligan
 is the former president of Novel Rocket. While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Ane has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and novelist. Her lifetime experience provides a plethora of fodder for her Southern-fried fiction (try saying that three times fast). She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. President of Novel Rocket, Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband, chef son, and a dog of Biblical proportion. You can find Ane on her Southern-fried Fiction websiteGoogle+AmazonGoodreadsTwitter, and Pinterest.

Stealing History

by Ron Estrada

As I write this, I’m watching Vikings via the magic of Hulu, the binge watching hub of the modern world. I’ve watched a few of these historical fiction TV series, and while I cannot vouch for their historical accuracy, I can vouch for their entertainment value.

The writers of these shows have done what any good writer would do, historical or otherwise. Take a piece of what is fact and insert a bit of fiction into it. This is how we can “steal” a great segment of our story, all that bothersome background and setting. The writers of these TV shows did just that. We can, therefore, justify borrowing our settings from the TV show writers who have done all the hard work already.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You still have to do your research. I wouldn’t dare to write a novel about Vikings based on one TV show. The books I read and websites I visit provide me the depth of knowledge to write with confidence. And if you write with confidence, your readers will pick up on it.

The purpose of the TV historicals is to fill in those imagery gaps that plague any author writing about a place or time which we’ve never visited. How do we know the TV writers got it right? We don’t. Hopefully, our own research will help make those corrections.

We must remember, also, that we are not claiming to be historians. We try hard to get it right, but we are storytellers first. Tellers of fiction. It’s our job to tell a compelling story. My hope, and the hope of all the historical fiction writers I know, is that our readers will be inspired to dig deeper. Our books are nothing more that a catalyst toward a deep appreciation for history. Our readers will appreciate that gentle nudge and hold no grudge when they find out we got some minor detail wrong.

So steal away. Take advantage of the wonder of modern cinema. Maybe the settings, clothing, and speech aren’t perfect, but I can vouch for this: I’d like to learn more about Vikings as of right now. And for that thirst, I am grateful for the writers of this TV show.


Ron Estrada has multiple published magazine articles, including a regular column in the bi-monthly Women2Women Michigan. He also freelances as a technical writer, specializing in white papers for manufacturing and consumer products. He writes spec fiction, hovering somewhere between post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction (he prefers the term pre-Last Days), but has also dabbled in Mystery and Suspense. Turn-ons include long walks to Frosty Boy and dinner by Kindle light. His real-writer’s blog can be found at You can e-mail him at or catch him (at pretty much any time) on Facebook. Twitter handle is @RonEstrada. CB handle is God’s Gift.

Historical Accuracy in Novels

By Peter Leavell

Herodotus’s Third Law—for every historian, there is an equal and opposite historian.

There’s no record that Herodotus wrote such sage wisdom, but I’m sure I’ll come across it soon.

How important are historical facts in novels?

Two extremes:

Tossing history through a black hole because the past doesn’t fit your plot.

You can’t simply disregard history as some sort of nuisance just because it doesn’t fit the plot. For goodness sake, if Henry VIII switches on the light, you’re in the wrong genre. When Genghis Khan paused at the taco shack on Tuesday to get his salsa fix, you did it all wrong. And Susan B. Anthony didn’t squeeze into skinny jeans, did she?

Stymied completely by making sure every nuance, every word, every fire lit actually happened.

I know a writer who started looking for small Nebraska town’s train schedules from 1905 to accurately portray historical fact, aka, the train will pull in on such and such a time. She started at age 26 and I met her at age 45. And she’d just found her holy grail! She actually found a brochure—copied into the internet—and saw the train arrives in that small town at 4:37PM. She could finally move on with her manuscript…until I asked if the train was late that day. She went into concussion.

Tips on historical accuracy:

History is the pathway from which all we know has come. Explanations for who we are and why we do what we do can be found by studying the past. Staying true to events, known events chronicled by participants, is important, because misrepresentation of the past might change how we proceed with out future. However, the leeway the writer has is picking who to listen to when those chronicles differ. How many stories have been written of John F. Kennedy’s assassination? Everyone picks a specific eye witness chronicler and runs with a fresh version of the story. If you chose to write that the FBI was behind the assassination, then the reader will come away with possible undeserved distaste for the FBI. Be careful.

Don’t lose the main plot in details, ever. John F. Kennedy’s death is sometimes overlooked by the thrilling theories behind the assassination. A man dying is the heart of the story. An important man. The characters need to be drawn back periodically to the main point, like a ship orbiting earth’s gravity.

The political setting of every historical novel is important. A story with John F. Kennedy would miss so much if the writer didn’t research détente, mutually assured destruction, and Catholic phobias of the day. Those tidbits draw out how we came to be the way we are today. Historical romance that incorporates the free spirited heart of the cowboy fenced in by closing ranges and barbed wire adds a new level of emotional tension. How characters reacted to those political tensions can be found in diaries and interviews. You must use your imagination to picture what your characters might do under those circumstances and overlay them into the character.

Instruments used in the past give the story verisimilitude. Knowing they had electricity in the 1960’s can add a nice little historical element. Is the story lost if you can’t find out if electricity existed in the ‘60’s? No. Imagination and writer’s tricks can solve the problem. But before my dad strangles me about ‘did you have electricity when you were a kid, dad?’ we must admit that root beer in the 1960’s was probably more amazing than today. But characters don’t say, ‘oh my, this root beer is far better than they will have in 1999.’ They simply like what they like.

Peter Leavell
Peter Leavell, a 2007 graduate of Boise State University with a degree in history, was the 2011 winner of Christian Writers Guild’s Operation First Novel contest, and 2013 Christian Retailing’s Best award for First-Time Author. Peter and his family live in Boise, Idaho. Learn more about Peter’s books, research, and family adventures at

Once Beyond a Time ~ by Ann Tatlock

Yvonne Lehmann
Tatlock is a novelist and children’s book author. Her newest novel, Once
Beyond A Time
, was published in December 2014
by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. Her books have received numerous
awards, including the Christy Award, the Midwest Book Award and the Silver Angel
Award for Excellence in Media. She also serves as managing editor of Heritage
Beacon, the historical fiction imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the
Carolinas. She lives with her family in Western North Carolina. Please visit
her website at
Once Beyond A Time
A Non-Paranormal
Paranormal Story
I want to tell
you up front that I don’t believe in ghosts. The idea of disembodied souls haunting
shadowy places—rattling chains, slamming doors, walking through walls–just
doesn’t fit with my world view. People aren’t meant to remain earth-bound. We
either end up in the presence of God or separated from Him eternally. That’s
what the Bible says and that’s what I accept as true.
And yet my new
novel, Once Beyond A Time, was
rejected at several houses for being a ghost story. Too paranormal, they said. As
a Christian publisher we don’t want to promote anything having to do with the
But it isn’t paranormal, I argued. Not a single character in the book is dead.
No matter; they
didn’t want it. Years passed, and I finally found a house happy to publish it. Oddly,
this particular publisher wanted to promote it as paranormal.
But it isn’t paranormal, I argued once again. The premise has nothing to do with ghosts.
That may be, the publisher argued back, but what happens in your book isn’t
normal—what, with people talking to people who live in different times—so that
makes it paranormal.
We decided we
have different definitions of paranormal. Which, I guess–to make us both
happy–means my newest offering is a non-paranormal paranormal book.
What the book
actually deals with is time. Or more accurately, God’s timelessness: “I am
Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and
which was, and which is to come, the Almighty” (Revelation 1:8 KJV).
Unlike humans
who occupy a single point in time, God stretches from start to finish, he is
and was and is to come, and therefore he is the Eternal Now. He created time
for our use, but he remains outside of it and is unhindered by it. So, I
wondered, what if one was able to “step out of time” and experience what God
experiences? That’s the premise of my story.
It’s 1968, and
Sheldon and Meg Crane have just moved their family from suburban Philadelphia
to the town of Black Mountain, NC. Sheldon has resigned in disgrace from the
ministry after an affair. He will now sell used cars for his brother-in-law’s
auto dealership. Sheldon is burdened by his wife’s unwillingness to forgive and
his daughter’s anger over the move. The oldest son is in Vietnam. The only
happy member of the family is his eight-year-old son, Digger.
After settling
into their new home–an old house nearly hidden on the side of a mountain—the
family soon discover it’s no ordinary place. And this is where it gets to be
“not normal.” The family can see and speak with people who have lived there in
the past, and with those who will live there in the future. They are trying to
make sense out of this odd phenomenon when the unspeakable happens: Digger
disappears. They don’t know whether he has been kidnapped or whether he has
wandered off into the mountains and gotten lost.
As the family
deals with brokenness, heartache and—yes—the paranormal experience of “stepping
out of time,” they discover the house is a gift, one that teaches them about
the healing power of forgiveness and the loving sovereignty of God.
No ghosts. No
rattling chains or slamming doors. Just a chance to take an imaginary journey
beyond time. Sometimes the “not normal” can offer a fresh perspective on grace.
I hope it will for you.
It’s 1968, and Sheldon and Meg Crane have just moved their
family from Pennsylvania to the small town of Black Mountain, NC. Sheldon,
recently ousted from the ministry due to an illicit affair, takes a job as a
used car salesman at his brother-in-law s auto dealership. Burdened by his
wife’s unforgiveness and his daughter’s resentment over the move to “Barney Fife
country”, Sheldon finds a measure of solace in his eight-year-old son’s ability
to cope. After settling into an old house high on the side of a mountain, the
family discovers their new home is no ordinary place. Family members
occasionally see and speak with the home’s previous residents ⎯ and the ones who will live there in
the future. While attempting to come to terms with this portal in the past and
future, their son, Digger, suddenly disappears. Was he kidnapped or did Digger
wander off into the mountains and become lost? The answer lies in a place once
beyond a time ⎯ in a realm where the mysterious power of forgiveness removes
sorrow and heals even the most egregious sins. 
Yvonne Lehman is an award-winning, best-selling author of more than 3,000,000 books in print, who founded and directed the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference for 25 years, is now director of the Blue Ridge “Autumn in the Mountains” Novelist Retreat. She mentors for the Christian Writers Guild. She earned a Master’s Degree in English from Western Carolina University and has taught English and Creative Writing on the college level. Her latest releases include eight ebooks for Barbour’s Truly Yours line and a Harlequin/Heartsong series set in Savannah GA: The Caretaker’s Son, Lessons in Love, Seeking Mr. Perfect, (released in March, August, & November 2013). Her 50th novel is Hearts that Survive – A Novel of the TITANIC