The small town—its name isn’t so important—where I grew up in rural Virginia today (in 2011) hardly resembles the vital one I can remember. Indeed, the town is a scant shadow of its former self. The first big blow to its begin slow demise came when the highway department ran the four-laner as a by-pass to circumvent the town’s corporate limits.

I believe the antiques stall was the first place to sell off its inventory and close its doors forever. Perhaps one of the service stations closed down next. The locals still needed to fill their tanks, but the number of vehicles pulling up to the pumps dropped off. I was still riding my bicycle for transportation when the by-pass first opened. Over the next few years, the town seemed to lose its luster in my eyes.

Main Street grew less interesting and grittier. The streetlights seemed dimmer. My pals moved away. The florist boarded up her doors. Fewer trains whistled through the R/R crossing. The old timers turned ancient and died off, one by one. This rather dismal withering on the vine isn't the way I prefer to remember my town, at all.

Who wants to say they came from a dying town? Of course, sub-urbanization brought the influx of more people with their houses that all but swallowed up my town. Nonetheless, I was just concerned with my town itself and its inhabitants when I wrote the setting for my debut cozy mystery.

The town I wanted to create would be patterned after the vibrant, colorful town I knew before the by-pass choked off its life force. My fictional hamlet needed a distinctive name, and I took Quiet Anchorage as its designation. There’s some back-story telling how the name Quiet Anchorage came into being.

As it would so happen, I had a pair of elderly but spry ladies to also draw on to establish my amateur sleuths. My two aunts, Alma and Isabel, both long since deceased, fit the role just fine, and writers write about what they know best, so what the heck? I had to tinker and change a few things about them. For instance, the real Alma and Isabel devoured romances by the bushel, but the fictional ones read mysteries.

The impressive library they maintained in their house follows what my real aunts actually did. I don’t think either of them could bear to give away a book after it’d been read. Both pairs of Almas and Isabels also kept a pet dog around the place. In my first eponymous title, Alma and Isabel are forced to investigate a murder after their niece Megan is arrested and charged for the homicide of her fiance Jake. The local sheriff is pleased over his quick, tidy resolution of Quiet Anchorage’s first murder in ages.

Imagine his chagrin when he catches wind of whom Megan has on her side. The sisters are determined to poke holes in his version of the events until he relents and agrees to release their niece. Their test of wills helps to drive the conflict. Alma and Isabel soon enlist the aid of Sammi Jo, a young lady with rough edges and a sharp mind to match her sharp tongue. Even active seventy-somethings can’t be expected to perform all the physical rigors the private eye trade demands, so Sammi Jo is their muscle.

I now reside in a 1970s-built suburb. My neighbors are jammed in their homes on top of each other, but we never speak to each other. The lady next door asks us to fetch her mail when she goes out of town. She then returns the favor for us. But that’s it. Just the opposite is true in Quiet Anchorage. Alma and Isabel as lifelong residents know every face they pass by on the streets and in the stores. Their extensive knowledge comes into play as they sift through the likely suspects to nail the guilty culprit.

Cozy mysteries, I learned, follow certain conventions. Alma and Isabel never curse, though the salty Alma veers close a time or two of cutting loose. All the bloodshed occurs offstage. There’s no violence to speak of. Sex? Well, let’s just keep it inside the bedroom and behind closed doors. Banter and humor are okay if left tasteful. If the real Alma and Isabel were still with us, I believe they’d get a kick out of seeing themselves in print and living in a small town called Quiet Anchorage. Or maybe they’d not even recognize themselves after the changing I did to their personalities since that’s what fiction writers do.

*First appeared in Tina's Book Reviews Web Blog in July 2011.
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Published on December 05, 2012 13:57 • 210 views • Tags: cozies, ed-lynskey, mystery, romance, writing
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message 1: by Marietta (last edited Dec 05, 2012 07:52PM) (new)

Marietta I really liked this book. Alma & Isabel reminded me of someone, but I could never quite figure out who.
I still live in a small community of about 400 people, give or take a few. This little town has been slowly dying over the years. First the grocery store then the hardware store. It use to boasts three bars! Now it's down to one that may close soon. The post office will be shortening it's hours to 4 hours a day instead of 7. But that's happening all across the country. We use to have two gas stations too. only one now. They're talking about retirement. That's what this little town has turned into, a retirement community. Most of the people I talked to on Main Street are retiring or have moved. So many people live here that I don't know. A few young families, but not many. We live only a mile out of town and that seems like miles away. Sad.
Alma & Isabel could have been a couple of the older ladies that lived here. There were quite a few at one time. The same ladies that were at every wedding or funeral working in the parish hall kitchen for the lunch after the big event. The same ladies who worked in the kitchen serving lunch to the kids before the school closed. I think these sweet ladies conjured up some very pleasant memories for a lot of us.
Thanks Ed, for helping us to remember those days and people that are so ingrained in our memories. Our young days. :)

message 2: by Ed (new)

Ed Marietta wrote: "I really liked this book. Alma & Isabel reminded me of someone, but I could never quite figure out who.
I still live in a small community of about 400 people, give or take a few. This little town h..."

Hi, Marietta. Thank you for sharing your small town comments and liking the Alma & Isabel book. They're fun to write about, giving me a break from the grittier books. My small town is close enough to D.C. to be swallowed in the suburban sprawl. It amazes me. Still, the downtown core to the hamlet, like where you live, is slowly going extinct. I agree with you. The town of the past seemed a lot more thriving and vibrant. Meantime I hope your holidays prep goes well!

message 3: by Pamela (new)

Pamela I enjoy a cosy mystery, like a bit of desert. I have not yet read your Alma & Isabel book so I need to get it.

message 4: by Ed (new)

Ed Pamela wrote: "I enjoy a cosy mystery, like a bit of desert. I have not yet read your Alma & Isabel book so I need to get it."

Hi and thanks, Pamela. They've been fun characters to hang out with. And I agree, it's escapist entertainment. I hope you enjoy their adventures.

message 5: by Michele (new)

Michele bookloverforever It's not just small towns that die. I grew up in Manchester, NH a former Mill TOwn. Home at one time to the largest fabric manufacturer ever (Amoskeag Mills), then too many shoe manufacturers to count. whole families labored there. then everything went elsewhere. Manchester still exists. But it is no longer the vital place it once was and many of its rresidents now work elsewhere. The Mill buildings have been rehabbed and now house service industries and a branch of the University of NH but the city is in stasis.

message 6: by Marti (new)

Marti It sounds interesting. I'll be looking for it. Marti

message 7: by Ed (new)

Ed Marti wrote: "It sounds interesting. I'll be looking for it. Marti"

Thanks, Marti.

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