FINDING A LOST TOWN by Sarah E. Glenn
When you’re writing a story, you form a lot of mental pictures. Your characters, the furniture, the people on the street. When you’re writing about real places, though, it helps to actually see the locations you’re talking about. If you’re geographically not close, photos and videos are a great help (Googlemaps, if nothing else). If you can visit a place in real life, though, you really should.
The first short story with Cornelia Pettijohn and Teddy Lawless was set in Cornelia’s home town, Fisher’s Mill. At one time it was an important stop for riverboats, and had even earned the nickname “Little Sodom.” In modern times, though, the town no longer existed. It had been absorbed into the area around Midway, Kentucky. We’d written some scenes with Cornelia’s farmhouse, Mr. Scroggins’ “rustic cabin,” and Burgess’ Drugstore (none of them real locations). We had an important scene, though, in which the ladies needed to enter the town center after dark. Teddy used a cane, and it was important to know how difficult this would be.
We lived in Lexington at the time, so we hopped into the car and went in search of a place that didn’t exist any more. There was supposed to be a stone house on the Register of Historic Places, so we used that as a starting point. There were no directions outside of “off US 421,” though, so we turned off at the most likely road and began driving up and down.
There were some rural areas left, but most of the area had been turned into fashionable suburbs for well-to-do folks that wanted a place in the country. We traveled up and down the roads, looking for the ones that were the oldest, not the cul-de-sacs of recent construction.
The first thing we decided was that Cornelia, the local person, should be driving. There were a lot of curves with blind entrances from homes to watch out for. The area was hilly, which needed to be taken into account as well. Walking to and from places would not be easy for anyone, especially Teddy.
It was getting dark when we turned up a gravel road that passed between two older houses—a steep climb—and entered a flattened, grassy area. Across the expanse, close to the trees, was a semicircular road flanked by old, rundown buildings. A sign, propped up against one of them, dated to the 1880s. In the center of the grass was the rusted-out shell of a 1950s Pontiac. We’d discovered a lost town, one that possibly no one cared about besides us at that moment, but it made all the difference in the world to how that critical scene was written.
Gwen and I have made it a practice to visit the locations in all our stories—the town of Fisher’s Mill for that first short story, the University of Indiana for another short story, Homosassa, Florida for the first Three Snowbirds novel, and even what remains of The Gangplank, Saint Petersburg’s first nightclub, for Murder at the Million Dollar Pier. The best part? It’s all great fun.
Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She is the author of the Nessa Donnelly Mysteries and co-author of the Three Snowbirds stories with Sarah Glenn. Her stories appear in A Whodunit Halloween, Decades of Dirt, Halloween Frights (Volume I), and several flash fiction collections. She belongs to Sisters in Crime, SinC Guppies, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the Independent Book Publishers Association. Gwen has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Kentucky. Her most interesting job, though, was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983-1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives.
Sarah E. Glenn is a Jane-of-all-trades. She has a B.S. in Journalism, mostly because she’d rather write about stuff than do it. She also spent time as a grad student in classical languages, boning up on her crossword skills. Past occupations include: interning at a billboard company, helping doctors navigate a continuing education website, and updating listings in telephone books. Her most interesting job was working the reports desk for the police, where she learned that criminals really are dumb. Sarah loves mystery and horror stories, usually with a sidecar of humor. Her baby is the Strangely Funny series, an annual anthology of comedy horror tales by talented authors. Sarah’s great-great aunt served as a nurse in WWI, and she was injured by poison gas during the fighting. After being mustered out, she traveled widely. A hundred years later, 'Aunt Dess' would inspire Sarah to write stories she would likely disapprove of.