Where in the World is Winchester, Colorado?

posted in: Various Musings | 0

Originally posted on November 17, 2011

So…my reader friend Sara finished Worst Mother this week, and her father read it too! I must admit I was pleasantly surprised, because I know my writing speaks to women. I have no problems if men want to read my writing, but I know it’s not for everyone (in fact, I’ve had to ban my significant other from reading my books, and I’m afraid there are other men who just wouldn’t get it. I guess my writing is like Secret: “Strong enough for a man but made for a woman”). Anyway, Sara told me her father suspected the fictional town of Winchester referred to the real Colorado town of Rifle. That’s a great guess, and I completely understand why he’d think that. First of all, Winchester is a brand of gun, and secondly, Rifle is also a small mountain town nestled in Colorado’s beautiful high country.

The truth, however, is not quite so glamorous. First of all, Winchester is a big lumpy conglomeration of some of my favorite Colorado towns, places like Salida, Gunnison, Cañon City, Rye, Westcliffe, Montrose, Trinidad, Cripple Creek, Steamboat Springs, El Jebel, and Frisco, to name a few (and believe me when I say I could go on and on!). Of every town in Colorado that I’ve visited and lived, I’ve found something to like about all of them. Unlike these places, though, Winchester, Colorado, is purely fictional, and it exists only inside my crazy head.

However, those of you familiar with Colorado geography will probably have already picked up on several real locations mentioned in my books (not only cities, towns, and counties, but even colleges), and you might have already guessed that the fictional town of Winchester is located in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. Yes, I know there are real towns in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, but you’d be hard pressed to find Winchester.

So, you’re probably also wondering where the name came from. Well, I didn’t choose the name to be evocative of the gun. Truth is, I’d tried dozens of names for what eventually became Winchester (and I mean dozens—and I came up with some crappy ones too, things that just didn’t feel or sound real to me). So I’d plug in something but not be happy. Until one day…

I finally thought part of my problem with coming up with a name was that I was dreaming up things that sounded far too exotic. I’d spend hours re-reading Colorado history and think of a name that would be something that sounded like a town that should be in Colorado…but it just didn’t work. Seriously, they sounded awful. And when you live in a state with as rich a history as ours, you want it to feel authentic. (I mean, really…isn’t Tincup the coolest friggin name for a town ever? You really can’t make that stuff up!) So I started doing more online searching and found the inspiration for what eventually became the town for my characters and books. I went to Wikipedia!

Turns out Wikipedia really does have everything. They have an article called the “List of the most common U.S. place names,” and they literally have over thirty city/town/village names listed, along with a note of where those towns are. For instance, the most common place name in the United States is Greenville, and I didn’t know until I read the article that there’s even one here in Colorado. Boy, do I feel sheltered! So the first thing I did was eliminate the places that already existed in my fair state. Then I went through and excluded some that just didn’t feel right for my town (like Franklin and Madison, for instance). I finally settled on Winchester, and I’m glad I did. Winchester feels right.

Now, since we’re on the subject, you might also wonder why most of my books take place in Winchester. Well, I wanted a place that could be anything I needed it to be. I didn’t want a large city (otherwise, anywhere in the Denver Metro area would have done just fine, and I think I could have gotten away with having my stories just take place in, say, Aurora). I wanted a more intimate venue, though, because even though I like the city, I love Colorado towns and feel more comfortable in them. Winchester is a large town, though, so it’s not so bad that everyone snoops in everyone else’s business. Think of it instead as a small city.

Still, you might be thinking, “Well, Jade, that’s nice. But why do almost all of your books take place in Winchester?” Well, think of it as the Stephen King approach to writing. You write what you know, and I know Colorado. I love Colorado. If you go back and reread your King, you’ll see book after book that takes place in Castle Rock (aha! also based on a Colorado town…there’s a pattern here!) and Derry. And, considering Stephen King is an awesome writer, I take his advice most of the time.

So there you are. How Winchester came to be! So…if you know of some Colorado towns (or even live in one), chances are there’s a little bit of it in Winchester somewhere, even if it wasn’t on the surface of my brain when I envisioned it (except, of course, there’s nothing about Greenville…but now I’ll have to visit and see the Colorado I’ve been missing!).

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