June 11, 2014

Writing Where You Live: The Good, the Bad, and the Serial-Killer Suspicion

By LynDee Walker

I love Richmond.

Sure, the Texas girl in me still gets a little choked up at the sight of an old gray barn across a sea of bluebonnets, but Virginia has become home for my family in the last seven years.

Folks have asked me why I “decided” to set a mystery series here. I’m not sure I did. It just was. The first time Nichelle popped into my head, she was locked in a car trunk down in Shockoe Bottom. Her story grew from there, and Richmond was always as much a part of it as her Manolos.

Writing about the city where I live is a lot of fun. The bonuses are that I don’t have to keep track of fictional streets and businesses (I have very talented author friends who make detailed maps and spreadsheets for this, so if you go the entirely-made-up-town route, there’s a tip for you). The hard part is that I skate a fine line between make believe and reality.

For instance, before anyone comes to town looking to tour the Telegraph newsroom or go to a Generals game, I have fictionalized some things about Richmond. You won’t find Grant Parker (sorry, ladies) at the local newspaper office, and while the Diamond is a beautiful ballpark, it will never see major-league cleats. Our baseball team is a AAA Giants affiliate called the Richmond Flying Squirrels (you can’t make this stuff up, y’all).

Many of the places in Nichelle’s Richmond are real, though. I avoid using names when I can, because things change and restaurants and shops close, but I can’t go back and edit a published novel. Bonus: a lot of fun has been had with that at book club meetings around town this year. People like to guess the place Nichelle frequents. It makes me happy when they get it right, because I know I described it well.

Writing about Richmond makes for some interesting family outings, too. My husband came in from a run along the James River last summer, and the first words out of his mouth were “I know where your next body’s going to turn up.”

A few weeks later, we took a family hike around Belle Isle to investigate. He was so right. I found enough places for people to dump or hide corpses down there to last thirty books. My kids got really into helping, too. At one point, on a sunny September Sunday with dozens of people around, my son (he’s 5) shouted “Mommy! Look, you could put a dead body up there!”

People turned to stare, but no one called the cops. I still can’t decide if I’m relived or disturbed by that. I mean, I don’t think I look like a serial killer, but Ted Bundy didn’t, either.

Sans police intervention, my son won the day—Nichelle will get called to a body recovery in the location he picked in the fourth Headlines in High Heels novel, DEVIL IN THE DEADLINE. I’m writing it now, and it’s been such fun to describe that bit of Richmond. It’s super-creepy, and it’ll be fun to see if people can guess it when I’m through.
LynDee Walker’s award-winning journalistic work has appeared in newspapers and magazines across the nation. After nearly a decade covering crime, courts, and local politics, she left full-time reporting for motherhood with a side of freelancing and fiction writing. LynDee’s debut novel, FRONT PAGE FATALITY, is an amazon and Barnes and Noble #1 bestseller, and an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel. SMALL TOWN SPIN (Henery Press, April 2014) is the third in her Headlines in High Heels Mystery series. The fourth arrives January 2015.LynDee adores her family, her readers, and enchiladas. She works out tricky plot points while walking off the enchiladas. She lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she is either playing with her children or working on her next novel—but probably not cleaning her house. You can find her online at Twitter: @LynDeeWalker 
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