Burying Secrets in my Novel
Except for making my Houston personal trainer the psycho in my first romantic suspense (hey, I could’ve cut him into pieces and stuffed him in garbage bags!) there was no ME in the story. I’m not an Olympic skier, (surprise!) nor a journalist, I’ve never been to Aspen…it all came straight from my imagination.
I can’t say the same for my new novel: Tall, Dark and Damaged, released last week. I set the story in Winnetka, IL, a sleepy suburban town north of Chicago. I took my 7-year-old-self’s memory of my grandparents’ sprawling house on Sheridan Road, overlooking Lake Michigan, and evolved it into a billionaire’s lost-in-a-maze mansion. There’s some creepy Gothic-toned scenes of a tight, spiraling back staircase (like right out of a Hitchcock film,) and my grandparents’ house had that…dumped out into the kitchen. Even had a hidden door halfway down that housed a secret passageway to a set of bedrooms. (Also in the story.)
Both feature a boathouse carved into a cliff-side that resembles a castle. The cliff was a shocking 30 foot drop from an expansive back lawn to the sand, which used to terrify me as a child. Even worse, the stone stairs to climb down to the beach were steep, narrow and weathered-smooth. I play the visceral fear up in the novel.
My copy editor cautiously advised me to make up a soda name when I explain the hero’s family fortune came from his great-grandfather inventing Orange Crush. The thing is–my great-grandfather invented Orange Crush. 🙂 Clayton J. Howel. (Wikipedia it!) Unfortunately, he sold the patent immediately or I’d be writing this from a cabana in Monaco! 😉
The epic thunderstorms over Lake Michigan would slam the surf into the cliff, and the reverberation would shake that enormous house to it’s foundation. Naturally a scene had to occur during the savage weather!
Quite a few character names were borrowed from friends and family (ex., cousins I used to play with in that house. The nanny my parents hired when we lived in England.)
A significant subplot occurs surrounding an area called Rogers Park, which is a real place, my uncle lived there many years, and he was a catalyst in correcting the story’s Chicago details. He and his sister, my Aunt Mary, read a full version in 2010, but sadly they’ve passed away now. I named them and my grandparents in the dedication.
I’m not sure this is very usual- taking a memory you had as a child and enriching details but burying many secrets and hidden meaning within the pages. However, it’s a story that touches my heart because it wasn’t just created out of my imagination. In many ways I lived it. Except, of course, for meeting a white-hot, emotionally damaged hero. 😉
I hope you enjoy this romantic-mystery/suspense/thriller. Would love to hear what you think!
Sarah’s website, Author FB Page and Twitter
Read an excerpt at the bottom of this page.
TALL, DARK and DAMAGED BLURB:
His Life Changed in a Heartbeat
Disinherited as a teen, Devon Ashby returns home twelve years later as a ruthless CEO, brilliant at negotiating deals, but emotionally stunted. In an instant all he’s struggled to build implodes. Amid the turmoil of saving his company from a hostile takeover, his engagement to a business partner’s high-society daughter hits the rocks. Compounding his troubles, he encounters his high school sweetheart, whose heart he smashed. The vulnerability she awakens leaves him at greater risk than all the crises he faces.
Her Dream Job May Get Her Killed
While restoring art in a billionaire’s private gallery, Hannah Moore is unwittingly drawn into the dysfunctional family’s confidences. When she discovers the rich developer behind her and her sick aunt’s eviction is the family’s black-sheep son—the lover she’s never gotten over—her desire turns to fury. Always one to avoid conflict, Hannah must stand up to Devon and the growing menace of someone who thinks she knows too much.
A Decades-Old Secret Turns Deadly
When a family member is murdered, Devon and Hannah become ensnared in sibling greed, festering jealousy, and a tragic secret that’s divided the family. Amid their reigniting passion they race to expose the killer before they become the next victims in this cat-and-mouse game of survival.
Tell us about a vivid childhood memory you have surrounding a house or location. One commenter wins a $25 Amazon gift card!