by Fran Stewart.
Growing up in an Air Force family, moving often, changing schools frequently (sometimes four years in a row) meant that there was no hometown I could call my own. The one constant through all those moves was the library.
It was perhaps inevitable—or at least extremely likely—that when my first mystery was published eleven years ago, I’d set it in a small town with a library at the center.
I’ve always been in awe of people who grow up in one place and who have friends they’ve known all their lives. Other than Ellen and Diana, whom I met my junior year of high school in Fairborn, Ohio, I have no childhood friends.
Oh, I peopled my young life with friends. The first one was an alligator that accompanied me everywhere. Another was a horse (after I read Black Beauty). Various dragons and unicorns filled the hole where a best friend should have been, as well as some ghost-like, legless apparitions who were always benign. All right, I admit that those wispy friends came soon after I read my first Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book.
I’m happy to say that childhood without particular friends (except for 3rd and 4th grades, when Diane Marie Hart filled that niche wonderfully) gave way to adulthood rich with friendship.
Still, some of those friends continue to be imaginary: I people my books with them. In doing so, they become very real to me and, according to emails from fans, to my readers as well.
Just as in my first mystery series, I’ve again created a small hometown, the one I always yearned for (except for the murders). Hamelin isn’t on any map, but I could point to it precisely, where it nestles into the Green Mountains of Vermont. I even created a lake near the town, because I want all the children of Hamelin to learn to swim, the way I never did.
The town of Hamelin is as real to me as the people in it. I know where the streets intersect, where the grocery store is, the hardware store, the auto repair shop, and—since somebody’s bound to get injured in murder mysteries—where the hospital is. And of course Dirk, the 14th century ghost, comes from the real town of Pitlochry, Scotland.
When I was a kid, my life was pretty boring, or so I thought, so I told all sorts of fantastical tales about the very accomplished horse I owned (but I’d had to leave it at my grandmother’s farm), the amazing vacations my family took, and all the places I’d gone and the things that I’d seen (to paraphrase Dr. Seuss).
My mother called them lies and spanked me more times than I can remember.
What would have happened, though, if she’d said, “What a marvelous story! Why don’t you write it down?”
As it is, I waited decades to begin to write my stories. But by then I had a lifetime of experiences to bring to them. I could pull on ghosts I’ve seen, the places I’ve (really) been and some I’ve only imagined, and always, beneath it all, the hometown I always longed for.
So, let me ask, do you have a hometown?
Fran Stewart is the author of the Biscuit McKee mystery series (7 books so far with colors in
all the titles); A SLAYING SONG TONIGHT, a standalone mystery; FROM THE TIP OF MY PEN: a workbook for writers; Tan naranja como Mermelada/As Orange as Marmalade, a bi-lingual children’s book; and now A WEE MURDER IN MY SHOP, the first in the ScotShopMystery Series, published by Berkley Prime Crime.
Fran lives quietly with various rescued cats beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta.
She sings alto with a community chorus, volunteers at her grandchildren’s school library, and delights in being alive. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.