One of the most enjoyable parts of researching a new book is when I get to travel to the location where the book is set. That’s the case with my latest release, Lily and the Gambler, a Western historical romance set in California’s Gold Country.
Western romance is popular again right now, but most of the books are set in other states, ones that are more associated with ranching, like Montana and Texas. In California, Western history means gold mining towns.
My husband and I toured California Gold Country twice some years ago and I fell in love with it. The area is best enjoyed by driving State Highway 49. We started at the southern end, in Mariposa, and drove north to Sacramento, and then Grass Valley and Nevada City, where my book is set Valley in September 1868. I recall scribbling descriptions of the scenery as we drove along.
She watched mile after mile of open spaces pass by, all bathed in brilliant sunlight. In the distance, clusters of dark green trees dotted a hillside, standing out in contrast to the lighter yellow-green of the grass. Wispy white clouds, without a hint of rain in them, streaked the sky, separating shades of blue ranging from pale turquoise to bright azure.
We made the trip twice, first strictly as a vacation, though I kept thinking how I’d like to set a book in the area. The second was a research trip for me, if not for my DH. At one point, he threatened to divorce me if I dragged him through one more mining museum!
A lot of the old Victorian homes have been turned into bed and breakfasts, and we took advantage of that to stay in some lovely old homes.
Interesting stops along the way include:
Sonora, a lovely little town that hosts the Railtown 1897 State Historic Park. For the kid in all of us.
Columbia State Historic Park, the best preserved Gold Rush town.
Angels Camp, where Mark Twain heard a story on which he based his short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”
Placerville, formerly nicknamed Hangtown for the zeal of its law enforcement.
And my favorite, Grass Valley, a charming town with the attraction of having the wonderful Empire Mine State Historic Park, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of 19th century miners. I could see the rudimentary escalator they used to convey the miners down into the shafts, holding their lunch boxes, spherical tins that held tea in the bottom and a pasty on top. At the boarding houses, the cooks carved each miner’s initials into one end of the dough before baking them.
Grass Valley was especially interesting to me because of the large Cornish population in the 19th century. This area had deep gold veins that couldn’t be panned. The Cornish miners were encouraged to come because of their experience in the tin mines of Cornwall, which were petering out. To this day, the Cornish pasty is a local treat, and the city still celebrates a Cornish Christmas. I chose to make my heroine a Cornish lass looking for a respectable husband. Of course, she falls in love with a gambler.
If you’re up this way, do take a side trip to Sacramento, the state capital, with its charming Old Sacramento historic area, and the amazing California State Railroad Museum. This is one of my all-time favorite museums. It was fun to climb aboard the old trains and imagine a different time.
If Bob were still around, I’d be nagging him to take another drive north. After all the rain, the scenery should be gorgeous this spring, esp. when the poppies are in bloom.
by Linda McLaughlin
Blurb: Respectability is in the eye of the beholder, or so Lily hopes. After her lover’s death she pretends to be his widow and travels to California to marry a mine owner. Then she meets King Callaway, a charming gambler. King knows he’s found his Queen of Hearts. But can he convince her to take a chance on a foot-loose card sharp? Only Lady Luck knows for sure…
Linda McLaughlin grew up with a love of history, so it’s only natural that she sets most of her books in the past. She loves transporting her readers into the past where her characters learn that, in the journey of life, love is the sweetest reward. Linda also writes steamy romance under the name Lyndi Lamont, and is one half of the writing team of Lyn O’Farrell. A native of Pittsburgh, she now lives in Orange County, California.
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