One day, when my husband and I were out exploring our new neighborhood, we came across an old cemetery tucked into a dense wood, and went in for look. There were graves that dated from early 1850s—during the Gold Rush—and some that were less than a year old. Among the elaborate memorials and simple stones, there was one that caught our attention, and my imagination. There was a ten-year-old handmade wooden memorial that did not mark a grave, but instead the spot where someone was shot, and died.
Intrigued by this discovery, when we got home I set about researching who did what to whom, and what the repercussions were, and are. The further I got into the details, the more interesting the story became. I had been thinking about writing a stand-alone mystery set in our new community, and now I had a poignant story that belongs to this place and its people around which to spin a set of fictional events and characters. Which leads to a bit of conundrum. We live in a small town. Many of the people who were involved in the event are still around. The question is, how much do I need to fictionalize an actual event, and how much may I keep before the locals come after me with pitchforks and torches?
I’ve talked this over with friends here, some of whom remember the event, and some who know a person or two who was caught up in it. The consensus is, write the story, and of course, I will. In fact, I’m already several chapters in. I like the this book, so far, though now and then I still have qualms because, unlike the big city we fled, in our small town, like most small towns, very little happens that isn’t widely noticed and discussed.
Generally, this is a peaceful, low-crime place. And when anything happens, everyone hears about it. Every morning when I pick up the local newspaper from the end of the driveway, I turn first to the police blotter column to see what sorts of bucolic mischief has occurred. The majority of calls seem to have something to do with alcohol, drugs, and/or disappointed love; domestic disputes abound. There are transients who set up camp in private woods and make a mess or set a fire or break into something. Bears get hit by cars or won’t leave a swimming pool. Herds of goats, random horses, cows, and llamas get loose and wander into someone’s field or stray down the road, or look neglected. Cars and trucks go over the edge and down into canyons or get wrapped around trees. But shootings? Very rare.
I have a fair idea what happened in the cemetery one night. And a vivid imagination. Qualms or not, when I put them together, I have a story too good not to tell.
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