I have always found history interesting; it was always my favorite subject in school when I was growing up. When I’m learning about the past, I always find myself asking. What if?
That was how the Heart of Colton series was born. I based my little town of Colton on my hometown of West, Mississippi. A town so small if you blink when you drive down the 51, you’ll miss it. Just like West, my fictional town of Colton is in the Mississippi Delta.
Downtown West, Mississippi
My grandpa always had big dreams for the small town that my family has claimed as a home for over six generations. In the Heart of Colton series, I get to imagine what if some of his dreams come true. Grandpa would talk all the time about how he believed young people would come back to West and help revitalize the community, and that’s exactly what happens in my series.
My sister has a sweet letter from our grandpa where he talks about West getting street signs for the first time.
He wrote the letter in 1981, and I often wonder what he’d think about the challenges a community like West faces today. Grandpa had a servant’s heart, and he fought hard for every small improvement in the town he loved so much.
“I was surprise when I went out on the street to see new street sign this is the 1st time we’ve has street names although I do not have a house # but my street is Branch St.”
“I voted in the town board of aldermans meeting to erect street signs our little town is improoving a little we have a few resolution that’s not yet passed that will give some action in generating revenue for development.”
I’ve transcribed these portions of the letter exactly how grandpa wrote them misspellings and without punctuation. I did this to honor grandpa, whose grandfather was an enslaved person. Grandpa taught himself to read and write. He has such beautiful penmanship and took a great deal of pride in each vote he made as an alderman to improve his town.
The West Public library was my grandpa’s passion project. For a small town like West that has never had over 500 residents, having a library is a service that the town treasures.
Although West is very special to me, it is not unique. Across America, there are small towns on the verge of becoming lost to memory. Infrastructure is an enormous challenge to these small communities. Upgrading water, electricity and internet are just a few of the obstacles small towns face.
What happens to a small town when a new generation returns to restore a community that has been neglected for far too long? That question is one inspiration for my Heart of Colton series.
In the Way Forward, Dax Ellis returns to his hometown because he wants to do his part to help the community he took for granted so long ago. He’s surprised to discover he shares the same vision for the town with librarian Callie Colton. These are exactly the people I think my grandfather would have loved to see a return to a community like West.
Here is an excerpt from another letter from grandpa.
“also working with neighborhood Projects, you people, some Politics, Senior Citizens and Town Hall development. For the last four years I’ve served on the board of Alderman in our little town of less that 500 population Something few people would be believed could have happen in a Southern Town.”
In my new release, The Way Home, I thought about the important role trades play in revitalization efforts. A small town like Colton needs carpenters, electricians, and plumbers to help restore the community. There are just a handful of trade schools left around the United States that focus on teaching restoration techniques and historic skills like brickmaking. I wanted to reimagine a program like this for Colton. One. That builds a sound foundation that can help the town for many years to come.
I am very grateful that with each book in the Heart of Colton series I get to make my grandfather’s wildest dreams come true and share them with all of you.
Eliana West writes multi-cultural romance with diverse characters. When not writing, Eliana can be found exploring the many wineries in Oregon and Washington with her husband in their vintage Volkswagen Westfalia named Bianca.
She is the founder of Writers for Diversity a community for writers interested in creating diverse characters and worlds.