It's funny how real life often imitates fiction. It's not unusual for me to write about something and then a few weeks or months later see it in the news. One of the characters in One Deadly Sin is Ellen Garvey. There are several scenes that take place in her home, and here's how I imagined it in the book:
[It was a] wide, rambling structure that dominated [a small hill]. On the east and west side a sharp set of wings jutted out. In one corner, a round turret gave it a fairy tale touch. Edie tried to imagine a fantasy childhood there, with lost princes in the tower and herself to the rescue, cardboard sword in hand...
A long series of steps led up from the street, and a pulse thrummed insistently in Edie's throat as she climbed up. Did Ellen know anything? Did her mother leave notes behind? A secret diary, a scheduling book, something that would point a finger at someone or something?
A bramble of shrubbery formed a wild, improvised arch that created a dark tunnel and obscured the front door. Edie paused. It seemed like the passageway between now and then. Between happy and unhappy She'd made peace with the past, hadn't she? What good was the truth now? .... [But] she plunged into the cool dimness, then out the other side into sunlight again. Face to face with the house front, she saw sadly that the shutters were falling off, the porch was rotting, and ivy had climbed the walls and cracked the brick in places.
A few weeks after the book's release (and many months after I'd written it) I was in Boone, North Carolina, and saw this house. I immediately recognized it as Ellen's. Looking at the picture, I wish I had mentioned the cracks in the steps!
Small Town Living
I'm a big city girl and had no idea what living in a small town was like. So of course I decided to set One Deadly Sin in a small town. Which meant, of course, the dreaded research (cue spooky music).
Lucky me, I now live in Nashville, where there are small towns aplenty all around me. And I'd much rather have a personal experience than read a book. So... I have this friend—tall, blonde—your typical small town southern beauty. She grew up in Bradford, which is in west Tennessee, north of Jackson, about an hour east of Memphis. For years I'd been hearing stories about her home town and her family—stories I won't repeat here for fear of embarrassing certain nameless parties, Suffice it to say that small towns DO have their quirks and characters.
Anyhoo—since my friend was eager to show off her home, and I was interested in being shown off to—we trekked there one spring day, and then, later, in the summer. That latter adventure is told in detail on my blog, so I'll leave you to dig it up here if you're interested.
Suffice it to say that Bradford is a teensy tiny dot on the map. The kind of blink-and-you'll-miss-it kind of place that sparked my imagination largely because it was so different from the malls-and-halls of Long Island and its accompanying hub—Manhattan.
The area around Bradford used to be largely rural and my friend's father owned one of the largest businesses in town, the tractor dealership. All that is gone now, and like many small towns, Bradford has shriveled to a fragment of its former self.
The downtown is two or three blocks long and mostly boarded up now. The train depot is dust though the tracks are still there. The old bank is now a senior center, the pajama factory is abandoned, and about the only "old" building that still stands as firm and tall as it did in my friend's day is the funeral home—a little detail I used in One Deadly Sin.
But it was fascinating to see that despite the lack of outward prosperity, there were few abandoned homes, the high school still has a killer women's basketball team, and the annual Doodle Soup parade is still well attended (for more on doodle soup and the parade, check out that aforementioned blog entry).
All this became fodder for my small town—Redbud, Tennessee where One Deadly Sin is set.
The name, by the way, came from a street sign I passed on my way to somewhere or other in Nashville—Redbud Street. I'd been searching for a name and, since I love redbuds, the idea popped into my head.
A lot of reviewers of One Deadly Sin mentioned the small town setting, which was gratifying, as I tried to create a place that wasn't a stereotype but had its good and bad as well as its ups and downs. The thing about personal experience—as opposed to book learning—is it tends to shape your perceptions in ways you don't expect. Once you shake hands with living breathing people it's hard to write about them in a narrow, one-sided way. I set out to do justice to the town of Bradford—and all those other small towns I've never lived in. I hope I succeeded.
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