~ By Becky Lower
Blog for Contemporary RWA
I write both historical and contemporary romances, both set in America. My most recent contemporary takes place in the fictional town of Comfort, Nebraska. So, when the opportunity came to meet up with my sister in Salt Lake City and drive from there to Ohio, I leapt out from behind my computer and dashed to the airport.
The mass migration along the Oregon Trail may have ended more than 150 years ago, but the route is still celebrated, with landmarks enshrined, and ruts from the thousands of wagons who traversed it still scarring the earth. We went west to east, which I’m sure some folks did back in the day, becoming disillusioned with the wild west, or having struck it rich during the gold rush. Seeing the South Pass in a blinding snowstorm with gale force winds made me realize how much I owed to those who had come before me, and how their fortitude in the face of adversity helped settle the continent. As I snapped off a picture and jumped back into the car, I thought how lucky I was to be climbing into an auto with the heater running at full blast rather than a wagon with canvas sides.
From there, we progressed on to Courthouse Rock and Chimney Rock, in Nebraska. Or we thought we would, anyway. We stopped at a welcome center, and were informed that the road leading from I-80 to those landmarks was closed due to bad weather. The man behind the counter gave us information on all the stops we could make that didn’t stray as far from the interstate, and we decided to stop for the night in a small town called Ogallala—simply because we loved the name.
In our chosen town, there was a restaurant and a museum, connected to each other with an old-fashioned wooden sidewalk set up off the ground. The restaurant wasn’t open for dinner yet, so we wandered into the museum and spent some time there. It connected to an old-fashioned saloon, strategically placed between the restaurant and the museum. It resembled a place from the 1880s, complete with a piano. We decided to eat there instead of the restaurant, and sat ourselves down. The authentic setting was a perfect backdrop for a historical romance. The scene played out in my head as I perused the menu. A comely bar wench named Becky, maybe, a handsome, studly man packing a six-gun and a whole lot more…
Just as I was taking in the full measure of the place, the phone behind the bar rang. Talk about intruding on my daydream! The phone call was for one of the men in the corner, and as he rose to take the call, I studied him instead of the wallpaper. Tall, muscled, big black cowboy hat, shiny belt buckle holding up his jeans, which hugged his thighs. Sigh. Talk about inspiration! So what if it was 21st century instead of 19th. I am nothing if not flexible.
As he wandered back to his buddies, I realized they all had cowboy hats, or handlebar mustaches, and they were playing cards. What an iconic moment. I moseyed over and asked if I could take a picture. They were friendly and accommodating, and made dinner in the saloon one of the highlights of the trip.
So, while I thought this trip would expand my knowledge for my historical romances, I got a healthy dose of present-day as well. The moral of my story is to never turn down an opportunity to explore your world, because you never know where inspiration is waiting.
Becky Lower has traveled the country looking for great settings for her novels. She loves to write about two people finding each other and falling in love, amid the backdrop of a great setting, be it present day middle America or on a covered wagon headed west in the 1850s. Contemporary and historical romances are her specialty. Becky is a PAN member of RWA and a regular contributor to USA Today’s Happy Ever After column. She has a degree in English and Journalism from Bowling Green State University, and lives in an eclectic college town in Ohio with her puppy-mill rescue dog, Mary. She loves to hear from her readers at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at www.beckylowerauthor.com