Tag Archives: Fairfax County

Creating a Fictional Landmark

The church loomed before her like some aged monument preserving the memory of its founders.  Clutching vines of ivy encrusted the walls and  scaled the towering steeple, as if to hold the bricks in place and keep them from crumbling.  Like sentinels, a pair of massive, gnarled oaks guarded the entrance.

As Effie took the key out of her pocket, she recalled Mrs.  Baldwin saying, “I hope you’re not superstitious.  Providence is one of the oldest churches in Fairfax County.  It predates the Civil War.  Some say it’s haunted.  Can you imagine calling a church haunted?”

Timidly she unlocked the door and peered into the sanctuary, deluged with light from stained glass Palladian windows.  Each was part of a series depicting the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Resurrection.  She walked down the center aisle, carpeted in red, towards the cross that loomed over the choir loft and dropped to her knees at the altar.  Surrounded by all the trappings of spirituality, she prayed and pictured the throne of God, the “sea of glass,” the cherubim, and “the four and twenty elders” clothed in white.

But the vision was short-lived.  Like a clap of thunder, the specter of doubt jarred her with a question:  What if her circumstances were accidental, not providential?  What if coming to Fairfax was a mistake?  She waved the notion aside and seated herself at the organ. 

A careful examination of the instrument found it nearly identical to the one she’d practiced her lessons on in Columbus.  “What harm is there in playing the organ?” she asked aloud.  Her words hung in the air, unanswered, undisputed, and soon “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” resounded throughout the sanctuary. 

She poured herself into the composition, mindless of time and place, until a rapping sound arrested her attention.  Her eyes scanned the church before resting upon a stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion.  Like a metronome, a branch was tapping the pane. 

As she resumed playing, the melancholy fugue fired her imagination, bringing “The Phantom of the Opera” to mind.  A mental picture of Lon Chaney lurking behind one of the pews prompted the feeling that someone was watching her.  To counter the thought, she abandoned the organ for the piano and played a hardy rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”  But halfway through the song, a scraping sound sliced the air, immobilizing her fingers.

Excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER (pages 7 and 8).

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St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

When I started writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I wanted to give the story a familiar setting with historical landmarks.  I chose the City of Fairfax, one of my favorite stomping grounds.  Most of the landmarks mentioned in the novel are real, but Providence United Methodist Church is fictional.

The name “Providence” is not a coincidence.  Not only does it mean God’s will, but prior to 1859, the City of Fairfax was known as the village of Providence.

My description of Providence Methodist was partly inspired by the architecture of Berryman United  Methodist  in Richmond.  Truro Anglican Church in the heart of the City of Fairfax influenced me also.

CITY OF FAIRFAX: A “Novel” Setting

Library of Congress description: "Col. , ...

Library of Congress description: “Col. , C.S.A.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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 Moore House

The Moore House

The Moore House

The Moore House

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 Brigadeer 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 Gunnell House

The Gunnell House

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This plague is on the grounds of Truro Episcopal Church.

This plague is on the grounds of Truro Anglican Church.

Fairfax Court House

Fairfax Court House

Fairfax Court House, Virginia, with Union sold...

Fairfax Court House, Virginia, with Union soldiers in front and on the roof, June 1863. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.  “Effie” tours the above battlefields 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.

For more details, click on the book below.

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