Who? What? Where? When? Every writer knows those are some questions you have to answer when you sit down to write a new book. While the who and the what might command the most thought for a story, that when and where matter, too.
Some of you may know me because of the Shaker stories I’ve written, but I also write family stories set in Small Town, America. So, when I decided to try my hand at cozy mysteries, I naturally plopped my characters down in a little town where, much to the distress of the peaceful citizens, murder and mayhem can and does happen.
But it’s not enough to simply decide small town. That town has to have a Main Street where a lot of the action takes place. Fortunately, since I grew up on a farm near a two-stoplight town, I had a ready model for my story. My hometown has seen many changes in the last decade, but my fictional town nixed the bypass and the big box stores that might have killed its downtown. Hidden Springs has a courthouse, a newspaper office, barber shop, lawyer office, a hardware store, a grill, drugstores, banks, and anything else I might need to make my stories work. Those businesses are all modeled after the ones that used to be on my hometown’s Main Street.
While I use my town as a model for my settings, I did change its name to protect the innocent. Me! My hometown friends might get upset if I put the bank on the wrong corner. That’s not the only reason. I like my fictional towns to have catchy names and that rules out one named after some long forgotten politician. So in my 1960’s era stories, my town became Hollyhill. I’ve also written a series of stories set in the little community where my mother grew up in the 1930’s. That little community became Rosey Corner. Move ahead to modern times for my present-day mystery series and Hidden Springs was the perfect town name.
While to the best of my knowledge no bodies have ever been discovered on the courthouse steps in my hometown, that doesn’t mean I can’t imagine one there the same as I can imagine my deputy sheriff hero pulling a man back from the edge of a bridge to keep him from jumping. We have that bridge here in our county, too. Tragically, a few desperate people have actually jumped from it in the past.
That’s what happens when I drop my stories down in my own hometown setting. Little bits and pieces of local events sneak into my stories.
My hometown friends who read my books often ask me if I base any of the characters on real people. I always tell them no. Sometimes they believe me and sometimes they don’t. But a better answer might be that all my characters spring from people I’ve known or read about. A smile of someone here and the way of talking of that one there. All that goes into a creative melting pot where fictional characters can come to life.
The same thing happens with places. But sometimes it’s good to write about a place that feels like home.
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Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling author of many novels, including Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Love Comes Home, the 2015 Selah Book of Year winner. She’s also known for her Shaker novels and Heart of Hollyhill books. Now, as A.H. Gabhart, she is the author of the Hidden Spring mystery series set in a small town much like the Kentucky town where she grew up. She and her husband have three children and nine grandchildren and still enjoy country life on a farm near that small town.