Please welcom my guest today, Susannah Sandlin, as she talks about her novel, Redemption and what inspired her to write. Susannah will also be giving away a copy of her book to one lucky commenter, so don't forget to post.
Authors get inspired by all kinds of things--books, TV, songs we hear, people we meet, people we eavesdrop on, er, I mean observe.
I'd recently moved to East Alabama after many years of living in urban areas all over the country, so I pulled out a map of Alabama and began circling areas that were small and not within twenty or thirty miles of even a small city.
Then I found LaFayette, and fell in love. Chambers County has an interesting history. It was originally Creek Indian lands, and many battles were fought in the area before they were forced out. The county has produced Pat Garrett (the western sheriff who took down Billy the Kid), and boxer Joe Louis. The economy of this part of Alabama and western Georgia was built on the textile industry.
But the textile industry has moved overseas. So on my first and subsequent visits to LaFayette, I was struck by how many of the beautiful old homes sat empty. In the charming downtown area, abandoned storefronts mock visitors with what might have once been there. The county courthouse sits majestically overlooking a town that's struggling for its survival. The mayor of the town is a rosy-cheeked, optimistic 21-year-old.
I went home and began writing. In Redemption, the first book of the Penton Legacy series, I have moved things around. The town of LaFayette, minus the courthouse, provided the inspiration for Penton, which has become a virtual ghost town after the local cotton mill shut down. A handsome, charismatic Irish-born vampire named Aidan Murphy began systematically buying up the land, and eventually moved his scathe, or family, to repopulate the town.
I'm not sure how the folks of LaFayette and Penton will feel about their beautiful area being taken over by vampires, but they're really sexy vampires. Well, some of them. Yeah, some of them aren't nice at all.
Has a visit to a place ever inspired a story? How do you decide on your settings?
Krystal Harris pulled to the shoulder of the two-lane road—highway was too grand a word—and punched the button to turn on the old green Corolla’s dome light. She counted to five before thwacking it with the heel of her palm, and a dim light blinked as if considering her demand. It stayed on―this time. The car was a dinosaur, but it was a paid-for dinosaur.
She dug a folded Alabama road map from beneath her briefcase on the passenger seat, smoothing the creases to make sure she hadn’t driven past Penton, which she suspected was no more than a wide spot on a narrow road. She didn’t want to get lost out here in the boonies.
Yep, County Road 70. The highway to Penton just looked like the express lane to nowhere.
A gust of wind rocked the car, sending icy air around the loose door seals. Maybe the chill of this night was an omen that she should take this job if they offered it, just so she could buy a more respectable form of transportation. Still, doubts nagged at her. What kind of clinic conducted a job interview at 9:00 p.m.? She should never have agreed to it, but the Penton Clinic administrator had waved big bucks in front of her huge college and med school debts, and she’d trotted after them like a donkey after a carrot
“You had the goody-two-shoes idea of practicing rural medicine, plus you’re already here,” she chided herself, clicking off the overhead and pulling back onto the road. “And you’ve gotta admit, this is rural.”
Another omen, and not a good one: she was talking to herself. Out loud.
A couple of miles later, her headlights illuminated a battered wooden sign covered in peeling paint: Welcome to Penton, Alabama. Founded 1890. Population 3,275.
Twenty years ago, maybe. Krys had done her Penton homework, and that was the boomtown population, when the mammoth East Alabama Mill still churned out threads and batting. It had wheezed its final belch a decade ago, and the town had suffered a slow death by attrition even before the pandemic. The most recent listing Krys found online estimated a population of three hundred. She was surprised they could afford to hire a doctor, much less pay a more-than-competitive wage.
But this was what she wanted, right? A place to practice medicine and be her own boss, to find a community where she could belong? After growing up in Birmingham—the wrong side of Birmingham—she hated the grime and crowds and noise of the city.
Lost in thought as she approached the outskirts of town, she thought she saw an animal in the road—a deer or a bear, maybe—God only knew what wildlife lived out here. But it was a man. He wore a long coat that flapped in the wind and was backlit by a lone streetlight in front of an abandoned convenience store. She’d have blown past him if he hadn’t moved into the middle of the road when the glare of her headlights hit him like a spotlight.
He stood with his hands in his pockets, feet planted apart, watching calmly as she floored the brakes. The Corolla’s old tires squealed, stinking up the air with the smell of hot rubber and stressed brakes.
Good Lord. Was he nuts?
She got the car stopped and took a deep breath, hands frozen to the wheel, her muscles jittery from the aftershock. The man walked around and tapped on her driver’s side window, motioning for her to lower it. Krys’s foot hovered over the accelerator, indecisive. Should she drive on and get the hell out of here?
No, by God, she should not. She’d at least lower the window enough to tell the jerk how close he’d come to ending his life as a hood ornament on a green Toyota Dinosaur.
He held up his empty hands in a gesture of peace. Right. Like he was going to hold up a sign that said Beware of Murderous Backwoods Whack Job.
She snaked her right hand to her purse in the passenger seat, wrapped cold fingers around the handle of a small pistol, and slipped it into the pocket of her suede jacket―after she was sure the man had seen it. The .38 Smith & Wesson snub-nose was her security blanket, and she knew how to use it.
His only reaction to the gun was a raised eyebrow. “I have a man injured here.” His voice was deep and melodic, and he had a trace of an accent, as if he’d grown up not speaking English but had been around a few too many Southerners. “You the doctor coming to Penton for the interview?”
She lowered her window an inch and stared as he knelt next to the driver’s side door, putting his face at eye level. And damned if it wasn’t one of the most beautiful faces she’d seen since…maybe ever.
He’d pulled his dark hair into a short ponytail except for one wavy strand that had pulled loose and blew against his cheek. The streetlight cast enough illumination for her to see the dark lashes fringing blue eyes that reminded her not so much of summer skies or robin’s eggs but of
the richness of an arctic sea flowing over darker depths. They appeared to lighten as he studied her with an intensity that almost robbed her lungs of air. He had a strong jaw, full lips, and a slight cleft in his chin. If he was a serial killer, he was at least a pretty one.
He cleared his throat. “Are you Dr. Harris?”
Krys caught her breath. Good Lord, what was wrong with her? She’d been practically drooling through a half-open window as though he were Adonis personified. He could be Charles Manson’s separated-at-birth, unidentical twin.
And he knew her name.