How important is the setting? As a writer, I like to “live” the novel as I write it. So the setting is very important to me. I’m inspired by places I’ve been. Most of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER is set in the City of Fairfax. I began writing the novel when I was living in Northern Virginia and writing for THE CONNECTION, a local newspaper. I had a “Then and Now” column and later a real estate column. The historical column required a lot of research, so I spent many an hour in the Virginia Room in the old library in the City of Fairfax.
So it’s not a coincidence that my character “Effie Belle Butler” writes historical articles for a local newspaper. Neither is it coincidental that “Effie” lives in the City of Fairfax, a place that I love.
My first published article for THE CONNECTION was “Mosby’s Midnight Raid,” so I mention Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s raid on Fairfax more than once in the book and named the fictional cat (as well as my own cat) after the colonel.
My favorite restaurant in the City of Fairfax was the Black-Eyed Pea (now a pub). When I ate at the Black-Eyed Pea, I would sit near a window that gave me a view of the Moore House. Chapter 22 of my book opens with “Effie” choosing a table at the Black-Eyed Pea “with a view of the Moore House, an antebellum home that reminded her of the parsonage.” Indeed, the Moore House inspired the fictional parsonage where “Effie” lives with her guardian, “Rev. Baldwin,” and his step-mother.
The interior of the “parsonage” is a conglomeration of interiors I saw while writing the real estate column for THE CONNECTION. I wrote elaborate descriptions of houses that were for sale in various Fairfax County hamlets, including Burke, Springfield, Herndon, Franconia, Centerville, Fairfax Station, Clifton, and–of course–the City of Fairfax. Like the Moore House, the “parsonage” is near the old Fairfax Court House.
“Providence United Methodist” is located next to the fictional parsonage. (The interior of “Providence” was inspired by the interior of Berryman Methodist in Richmond, a church my dad pastored.) When I was writing the book, I was member of Westwood Baptist in Springfield, but I often went to Truro Episcopal (now Anglican) in the City of Fairfax. Sometimes I would go to Sunday school in Springfield and then make a beeline for the late service at Truro. Part of Truro’s allure was the nearby Gunnell House where Colonel Mosby captured Union Brigadier General Stoughton. And here’s where the Moore House ties in. The raiders went to the Moore House by mistake first, thinking Stoughton was there.
The City of Fairfax and its proximity to nearby battlefields, Manassas and Spotsylvania, makes a perfect setting for a contemporary romance that is partly a hats-off to Civil War history. In the novel, “Effie” tours the battlefields mentioned above and attends a Confederate Ball for re-enactors. So did I. She hikes to waterfalls off the Skyline Drive. So did I. Like I said, I not only wrote the novel, I lived it.
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