A Tourist in Your Own Town

My current work-in-progress is set in a fictional small town in California's Gold Country (fictional because it's an amalgamation of several towns) called Crow's Rest. So to help me establish the details and the atmosphere, my husband and I set out for a drive to some nearby Gold Rush-era towns last weekend.

Camera in hand, we visited some spots that the locals know about, like this historic cemetery:

where I found the perfect character name:

There's an interesting dichotomy, in that the locals are sometimes unaware of the nearby treasures. I used to be a docent at a historic park and the highway runs right through the middle of it; I'd have people tell me, "I've lived in the area for years and I never stopped to see what was here until now." Usually they were there with their child's fourth grade class, as a required field trip for California history.

As a historical fiction writer, one of my favorite places is a real snapshot of history in Sutter Creek: when the owner of a general store passed away in the 1950s, she left the store and its contents to the city, to be used as a museum or library. It's now a museum, with goods from the 1890s all the way through the mid-20th century, but it's rarely open because they don't have enough volunteers to staff it. My husband and I lucked out and got to go inside one afternoon, and I could have spent hours in there.

And yet, people that have lived in the area for years have no idea that it's there. I kind of like the feeling of it being a bit secret, but it's a shame that it doesn't get more attention. You know who usually knows about these kinds of places, though? It's the local kids. How great is it to grow up in a place where ruins and old mines are literally in your backyard?

What about you--have you recycled bits of your locale or hometown into your writing?


Katie Ashley said...

Oh, I love walking around in old cemeteries. My dad owned a marble and granite business when I was growing up, so I would go with him on jobs sometimes. They have great writing karma too

Anonymous said...

You know I have ; ) Re-imagining these magical places in my writing, to me, is another way to preserve them. I love exploring the Foothills for the natural beauty and the history.

Great photos and great post!


Rachel Harris said...

My current work in progress is a historical but is set in Italy which I have visited once and hope to go again soon (right now I'm using Google earth otherwise lol), but I have another project plotted out that is set in my hometown of New Orleans. It is such a rich setting and you're right--the most I saw of my hometown or learned was either on school trips or when I was taking friends from out of town around :-) That's why I love the excuse to research settings for my stories!

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Krista--I bet that upbringing gave you a completely different perspective on cemeteries; most people really get creeped out by them. Some of them are really peaceful, like "I could picture spending eternity here." Have you read The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman? Loved it on audio.

Janelle--I can't wait to see more of your CO town in your book, and which parts you took away from your experiences there

Rachel--welcome, and thanks for the follow! It cracked me up that you mentioned New Orleans; a friend recently returned from there, and the first question I asked was, "Did you get any pictures of the graveyards?" She's known me long enough that she just rolled her eyes.

I'm not that morbid all the time, really!

Unknown said...

Can I just say that the name "Crow's Rest" is amazing? It's reminiscent of "Blackbird Pond", which always sent shivers up my spine when I was younger.

I haven't used anything incredibly specific from my hometown (although my good ol' Texan upbringing seeps into everything I write, for better or worse), but I've always been fascinated by the story of the building of my elementary school:

On the playground, which is massive, replete with three separate plastic castles and swing sets, there's a huge segment completely sectioned off right in the middle. See, the school was originally going to be built on the land where the playgrounds are, but when they started digging, they realized that this sectioned-off part was actually an indian burial ground. They put up chain link fences and changed the location of the school.

Sometimes, when I was really little, I thought I heard drums.

And that always resonated with me. I think I'd like to put that into a story. I'd press my face against that fence and just STARE. I kept hoping I'd see a ghost. Because I'm also apparently morbid like that. But it was pretty cool.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Shayda--we lived in a subdivision in a sea of subdivisions in So Cal, except for this one stretch of woods. All the neighborhood kids gravitated to it since it was the best place to play hide and seek.

Turns out, it was not built on because it was a burial ground. Still, I kept going there after I found out because it was so quiet. Just me and the birds and the gum trees.

Sarah Nicolas said...

oh my gosh, these little trips are the best kind of research! I did a day at Stone Mountain in Georgia but I need to go back for a longer trip before I write that book!

Theresa Milstein said...

Loved that last photo. I know a writer who was inspired by a place that looks similar to your last photo. She wrote a whole book around it.

I've used bits of places I've lived or spent time at, but I can't recall if I've used history. I guess I did with Salem, MA.

Angelica R. Jackson said...

Sarah--I've had those trips, too, where you feel like you just dipped your toe in and then had to leave. What a good excuse to go back!

Theresa--There's a lot to pull out of Salem, I'm sure! Even if you were to ignore the whole witch connection, there's lots of other history. Your part of the U.S. has some fascinating stories.

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