- the Official Site of Author Carol Cox


Getting into Character


I love making on-site visits to a book’s location while I’m writing. It’s exhilarating to walk in the steps of my characters and experience the sights and sounds they would have encountered, even if getting inside their heads sometimes means getting odd looks from the people around me . . . and occasionally from my family.


Sometimes an actual town works perfectly for a story. At other times, creating a fictional setting serves the story best. That was the case when I wrote Love in Disguise. While exploring the back roads of southern Arizona with my husband and daughter, we came upon the site of an old ghost town. Its location near the banks of the San Pedro River was made to order for what I had in mind, and so the town of Pickford was born.


San Pedro River - Carol Cox


Once I’d settled on the town’s location, I needed to plan its layout. We were using Tombstone as our headquarters during that trip, and while we walked from our hotel to a restaurant for dinner one evening, it occurred to me that the way Tombstone’s streets are laid out was exactly what I needed for Pickford.


I picked up a local street map and spent the evening locating the points where different scenes would take in the book and marking them on the map. The church, the stage depot, the telegraph office . . . eventually I’d chosen places for them all. It was like creating my own little SimCity!


Tombstone/Pickford map - Carol Cox


The next day we set out for the corner where my heroine’s house was situated. My breath caught when I realized I’d been given a perfect opportunity to experience what Ellie would as she went from one spot to another around Pickford.


“Let’s walk to the Grand Hotel.”


My husband and daughter peered over my shoulder as I pointed it out on my revised street plan. “The Grand Hotel . . . which is actually The Bird Cage Theater?”


I nodded happily. It made perfect sense to me, and by now they’ve learned to recognize the signs when I start to slip from the real world into an alternate reality.


I heard sighs of resignation as they looked at each other. “Okay, let’s go.”


In no time at all, I felt as completely immersed in my role as Ellie was when she took on the roles of Lavinia Stewart and Jessie Monroe in her job as an undercover Pinkerton operative. Every step that echoed along the boardwalk seemed to anchor me more firmly in that earlier time as I strode along, nodding to the passersby.


Tombstone Boardwalk - Carol Cox


My daughter nudged me. “Why are you holding your camera like that?”


I looked down at the camera, dangling by its strap from my wrist in front of my waist. “It isn’t a camera anymore. It’s my reticule.”


Was that a faint whimper I heard? I thought about reaching out to give her a comforting pat on the arm, but my other hand was busy holding up an imaginary parasol to protect my delicate complexion from the harsh Arizona sun.


As we passed the Pickford stage depot (or in Tombstone, the site of the Longhorn Restaurant), I stepped down off the boardwalk to cross the street, ready to investigate the Pickford Bakery.


Longhorn Restaurant - Carol Cox


A sharp yank on my arm jolted me from my reverie as my husband pulled me to a halt. I blinked and tried to get my bearings. Had the dear man just saved me from being trampled by a runaway horse?

 Tombstone stagecoach - Carol Cox



Not exactly. A car was pulling up to the stop sign on the cross street, and he wanted to keep me from stepping out into its path. The realization brought me back to the 21st century with a thud.


Truck on Allen Street - Carol Cox


That research trip turned out to be one of the most enjoyable I’ve had to date, and I hope I managed to make Pickford seem as real to my readers as it did to me . . . minus the runaway horses and oncoming cars.


Love in Disguise - Carol Cox


Until next time . . .

Share this Post!


    When I read books set in this time period, I imagine myself in the story. I can’t wait to read this book! Love your books!


    Sep 13, 2012 | Reply

    Thanks, Joy! I hope you’ll have as much fun reading the story as I did writing it. And now you’ll have a better idea of how Pickford came to be. 🙂

    Carol Cox
    Carol Cox

    Sep 13, 2012 | Reply

    Love it! Was the other town Fairbank, close to Tombstone on Hwy 82. We visited there last spring and it really caught my attention. Especially the graveyard on a hill. But it was a book I picked up in their visitor’s center in the old schoolhouse that gave me an idea for a series, if I ever find time to put it together. We also visited Tombstone, but didn’t stay there. We were at an RV park. Would love to go back and visit again. Can’t wait to read your book and revisit the area in the old west.


    Sep 14, 2012 | Reply

    You nailed it, Sunni! It was a fascinating town, and that graveyard . . . wow. We wound up visiting it on one of the coldest days they’ve had there in over a century–but that’s a post for another day. 😉 So glad to know you’ve been there, too!

    Carol Cox
    Carol Cox

    Sep 14, 2012 | Reply

    Oh, Carol, you always make me laugh! I thought I was the only one who slipped into “alternate reality” when touring a ghost town or other such place;)


    Apr 20, 2013 | Reply

    Sounds like we’re kindred spirits, Robyn! It’s all too easy to slip into that alternate reality mode, isn’t it? I’m so glad my family puts up with my tendency to “time travel” like that!

    Carol Cox
    Carol Cox

    Apr 20, 2013 | Reply

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