Inventing geography is a ton of fun! Right up there with finding character inspiration photos and house floor plans and music that matches the mood or theme of the story.
My characters need places to hang out, which means they need a town with a few amenities even if they live out on a ranch or farm. They need a church, a coffee shop, a bookstore, a veterinarian’s office, a school, a park/playground… the list goes on and on!
I also need to know if the town is on a major highway near a large city or a one-stop-sign town miles from anywhere. Is it along a river or a lake? In the mountains or on the flatlands?
Oh, and then I need to keep all that information straight. I can’t have them driving east on Main Street to get to the grocery store in Chapter 4 and south to get there in Chapter 12. Readers will notice, even if I’m too immersed to see it.
All of which means, I need a map. I could draw one from scratch. I used to do this when I was a kid, sometimes with stories attached. I remember one with Rainbow Ridge and Pansytown and Sunflower River. Sadly (?) it did not pass the test of time and is lost in the murky past.
These days I’m more likely to find a town that’s similar in size and layout to what I’m envisioning, find the online map for it, and start adapting it to my needs. It may or may not actually exist in the region I’m putting it. That part doesn’t matter so much.
When I started dreaming about the Saddle Springs Romance series a year and a half ago, I knew I wanted to place it in NW Montana. It’s not that far from my home in SE British Columbia, and I’ve been through the area multiple times on various highways at different times of year. It’s beautiful. The hills roll, the rivers flow, and it’s ranching country. Sounded like a win to me.
Welcome to Plains, Montana… with a twist.
There are ways to add your own points-of-interest to existing maps in Google Maps. The problem is that you can’t remove the existing points-of-interest. Where they’ve got an Esso gas station or an ice cream shop, you do, too, whether you want one or not. More to the point, they are already named when you zoom in on a town map. What if, instead of McGowan Grocery, I want Manahan’s Grocery? What if, instead of Mountain High Espresso, I want Java Springs?
I want the places of business to look like I imagine them, whether that’s plank tables and log walls instead of contemporary. And, what if something bad happens in the motel? I’d better not keep the name Dew Duck Inn — yes, that exists in Plains! Better if I can call it the Hats Off Motel. Then no one will get offended if someone slips on a wet floor and breaks a bone. Not that it’s happened — yet — but it could.
When writing, I keep the Google Map up with my additions and tweaks, but because of the underlying reality, it’s not ideal for sharing with readers. So here’s a more presentable version!
I’m nearly done writing The Cowboy’s Belated Discovery, the fifth Saddle Springs Romance, which takes place partly at Canyon Crossing Stables (Garret’s home) and partly at the Flying Horseshoe Guest Ranch (Tori’s home). And there’s a whole lot of hanging out in the rustic, laidback town of Saddle Springs, too.
He can’t take one more chance on love. All she asks is one shot at winning his heart.
Tori Carmichael has been in a holding pattern since her dad’s debilitating accident. Now that the family’s ranch resort is on stable footing again, she’s ready for her future, but her plan to become a teacher dims in the glow of her dreams about the newest cowboy in Saddle Springs. Too bad there seems little sign Garret will ever return her interest.
Garret Morrison had planned to resume his music career after taking time to regroup from a shattered relationship, but his aging parents need his help with their riding stable. He pours himself into worship ministry at the local church, avoiding starry-eyed Tori for her own good. Every woman he’s loved has left him, one way or another, and he can’t face the possibility one more time.
What will it take for Garret to discover that love is worth the risk? And will that realization come too late to save what might have been?