Gilbert Brewery in Virginia City
When I wrote the Montana Series, originally titled Goldspun Promises, Moonspun Dreams and Brightspun Destiny and published by Penguin/Topaz I had never set foot in Montana. Breaking all the rules such as write what you know, write about places you’ve been, create characters you’re familiar with, I wrote this first book after the first three chapters won first place in a Western novel contest judged by Dusty Richards, who barely knew me at the time and did not know I had written the book.
He urged the anonymous me to get it to an editor. The rest is history and I have written about it in various places. My point here is we can write about stuff we absolutely do not know, and have never seen. The method is called research.
After the first book was originally published in October of 1994, I received a phone call from a reader who said she had moved to California from Montana and reading my book made her feel like she’d gone home. So, did I do a good job of researching? Obviously.
Virginia City, Montana, where the three Montana books take place, is today one of the West’s best preserved ghost towns. It lies 20 miles west of Yellowstone National Park as the eagle flies, 90 miles by road. It was a Victorian gold mining town not far from Alder Gulch, where gold was discovered in the late 1860s, just around the time the Civil War ended. At the time it was Idaho Territory.
While Tressie was searching for her father and Reed was hoping to clear his name after stealing a horse from a Union soldier, the area became Montana Territory. There were no courts or statutes. Miners established mining districts, passed their own laws and elected officials. Mining trials and murder trials fell within the jurisdiction of miners’ courts. Murderers and thieves were hung for their transgressions.
It is here that Tressie goes to work cooking for a mining company and loses the baby she and Reed adopted when his mother died birthing him and his father disappeared. Befriended by Rose Langue, the owner of the Golden Sun Dance Club, she despairs that Reed will ever return. Excerpt from Montana Promises #1
Virginia City is a living town of 150 year round residents. Visitors walk the same boardwalks that desperate vigilantes once patrolled. Guests are transported to a time when rowdy miners mingled in saloons and restaurants with women of negotiable affection. If you enjoy going back in history, plan on visiting Virginia City, Montana next summer.
Oh, and by the way, several years after writing these books, I did visit this ghost town, and walked along the wooden boardwalk where all my characters were very much alive. Montana was just as I had written about it, only more so.
This is the Thomas Francis Meagher House in Virginia City.