Where can you set your Western Historical Romance? The quick and most logical answer is that it can be set in any state west of the Mississippi River. But…and this is a big But, your book may or may not start in the west, but it does end up there. Since I am familiar with my own work, I will show examples of this from my published books.
The mail-order-bride book is an example of the life of the heroine beginning in the east and her accepting the hand of a man located in the west. In DRINA’S CHOICE, Drina Hamilton lives with an abusive father on his run-down farm in Georgia. She knows she needs to get away from him. To do so, she accepts the proposal of Aaron Wilcox, a rancher in Arizona. After her trek west, the rest of the story takes place in Arizona.
Another type book is when the entire family moves west for another reason such as wanting to start a new life, hoping to strike gold or any other reason you can come up with. In OPAL’S FAITH, Opal Barnett’s father lost his job because he tried to report his unscrupulous banking boss. It isn’t long until the family has lost everything they have in Memphis, Tennessee. Though he knows nothing about ranching, father inherits his brother’s ranch in Arizona. Feeling he has no other choice, he moves his wife and four daughters there. With the help of Jace Renwick, a wondering cowboy with his own agenda, the family survives.
The third is when an easterner goes west for an unusual reason. In XENIA’S RENEGADE, Xenia Poindexter and he sister are lured from their home in Virginia by a vicious lie that their uncle is in trouble. They go to Arizona to help. On the way, Xenia’s sister rescues an orphaned baby who happens to be a half-breed. Faced with prejudice they are forced to accept help from two cousins, Ty and Wilt Eldridge, who also happen to be half Indian. These men are accepted in the area because they happen to be the richest ranchers in the area.
Some books begin in the west and stay in the west. AMELIA’S MARRIAGE, the first in the Settler’s Ridge series, is an example of this. Amelia Donahue was born and raised on the huge Double D ranch in Wyoming. She is kind of a rebel and her father thinks the only way he can settle her down is to force her to marry his foreman, a horrible man who has the elder Donahue fooled. Amelia goes into town and hires Jed Wainwright, a bounty hunter, to marry her for six months so she won’t have to marry her father’s foreman.
Occasionally you will come across a book that takes place in different places. BELINDA’S YANKEE, is one of these. Shortly after Belinda Babcock sees her father murdered and their home in Alabama burned by Yankee troops, she finds Victor McKay, a wounded Union Yankee officer. She nurses him back to health. In turn he helps her get to her relatives in Louisiana. He goes home to New York to resume his life and finds his life there is not what he expects it to be. He decides to find Belinda again, but she and her relatives have moved to Colorado. The book concludes in Colorado.
Once in a while you’ll find a western book set in the east. HANNAH’S WISHES is an example. Most of the book takes place in Savannah, GA. Hannah Hamilton, confined to a wheelchair because of a birth defect, has been raised by an aunt that has her own sinister reasons for letting the girl live with her. Because her sister in Arizona is concerned she sends western detective, Jarrett MacMichael to Savannah to check on Hannah. In the last chapter, Hannah does move to Arizona to be near her sister.
Then there is the different western such as paranormal or time-travel, etc. RENA’S COWBOY (a time-travel) is an example. Rena Dumont, a present day, widowed, Atlanta, GA police officer is on vacation in the west. Caught in a cave-in in she is pronounced lost and probably dead. But she regains consciousness and finds herself on the Arizona ranch of Jake Haywood in the year 1876. She has to cope with living in a different century and under different expectations of what a woman should be and do.
As you can see, you can set any or all of your novel anywhere. You are the author and you have the power. But there are a couple of things you must remember. First be sure to know the state you’re using in your novel. If you don’t live there or have never traveled there in person, make sure to research it. Most states and cities have great websites. They also have lots of information in historical writings and photos. There is no excuse to set you novel in North Dakota if you have the action located near the Grand Canyon, an Arizona location. And if you mention the Rio Grande River, be sure you’re using Texas as a setting, not Kansas. Not only will mistakes like this, make you seem careless, it will assure that a reader will never want to pick up another of your novels.