Writing Where I Live

  • April 11, 2019

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 thirteen years.

Folks have asked me why I “decided” to set my Nichelle Clarke series here, and I’m not sure I did. It just was. The very 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 the newsroom and her crazy shoes.

Now, before anyone comes to town looking to tour the Telegraph newsroom or go to a Generals game, I have fictionalized some things about the city. You won’t find 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).

Other than that, though, most of the places in Nichelle’s Richmond are real. A lot of fun has been had at book club meetings around town, with people guessing at the restaurants and coffee shops Nichelle loves. It makes me happy when they get it right, because I know I described it well.

If you ever do come to town, you must see Carytown, Shockoe Slip, and the Jefferson Hotel (especially at the holidays). Narrow cobblestone streets and beautiful old buildings: growing up amid the sprawl of Dallas/Fort Worth, the old-world feel of many parts of downtown Richmond and all the early American history in the area are some of the things I love best about living here.

That, and the trees. And the seasons. We didn’t have either in Texas. The year we moved, it was 103 degrees outside my house in Fort Worth on Easter Sunday. That’s not Spring. They make up for it with great Mexican food, but still.

Writing about the city where I live makes for some interesting family outings and dinner table conversations, too. My husband came in from a run along the James River one 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, and he was so right. I found enough places for people to dump or hide corpses down there to last thirty books. My littles got really into helping, too. At one point, on a sunny September Sunday with dozens of people around, my son (he was 5 at the time) shouted “Mommy! Look, you could put a dead body up there!”

People turned to stare, but no one called the police. Years have passed, and 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 got called to a body recovery in the old Virginia Power plant in Devil in the Deadline.

A fictional version of the vineyard our friends were married at the following spring plays host to the wedding in Lethal Lifestyles—poor Darling told everyone at that event I was a writer, as I was poking around examining the barns and polo ponies and hidden rooms musing under my breath about dead bodies and hideouts.

My favorite thing about writing Deadly Politics, hands-down, was being back in Nichelle’s world and catching up with all my old friends at the Telegraph (with revisiting a Richmond where Nacho Mama’s still exists a close second), but I also got to take a few research drives downtown with the new book, and I love learning new things about the city. Did y’all know Virginia is one of just a handful of states with a Capitol building that has no dome? I do now. And our Capitol was also designed by Thomas Jefferson, which makes the political history nerd in me practically giddy. Walking the streets around Capitol, stopping to read the plaques instead of rushing by, and driving out into the country scouting plausible sites for other big story elements were all a blast.

The Capitol is every bit as breathtaking in real life as it is in the book.  And while some of the other places in this story are real and some aren’t, they were all equally fun to send Nichelle into—and I’m already looking forward to what comes next for her.

With much affection,