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  • Sue Hawley

In the know

The old adage ‘write what you know’ is a smart way to go. Janet Evanovich’s most popular character, Stephanie Plum, lives and works in Evanovich’s home state of New Jersey. Agatha Christie’s many characters and story plots are taken from her own experiences and travels. Living in Bath, Ohio has given me a great backdrop for the Peg Shaw series.

Bath was founded in 1818 and has a rich history filled with opportunities for story telling. Many of the properties are old family farms with the original farmhouse still inhabited. Our own house is over a hundred years old, but many other homes are pre-Civil War. Sit around over a cup of coffee (or glass of wine) with family members who still live in their family homes and eventually stories of strange noises, voices, and even the scent of pipe tobacco begin to emerge.

I used to ignore stories of haunted homes until my own children began describing their experiences. Imagine our shock hearing them tell us of long deceased great-grandparents being seen, along with people walking around the property that weren’t actually there. A bit disconcerting to say the least- but on the positive side the information they shared with us lodged somewhere in the back of my mind and years later bloomed into a series of books.

Bath also provides local landmarks which add flavor to the Peg Shaw stories. A township cemetery is mentioned (naturally) a favorite drive-in hamburger joint, nature preserves and our local living history farm, Hale Farm and Village, all make appearances in the books. An Indian village which existed at the top of our hill inspired the ghostly Indians Peg has in her backyard.

It’s actually quite amazing the nuggets of information that find their way into the stories. It helps that my husband is a walking history book! Talking to him over a cup of coffee saves me hours of research and allows me to add color to the stories, such as including an interesting snippet about the Erie Canal.

I have to admit, it is fun to include bits and pieces of the township and it’s history into the storylines. I imagine a local reader getting a thrill from seeing a place they know described in print and someone from a far-flung place (my books have been read in Europe!) learning a tiny bit about real life in America. The bottom line? Writing what you know adds flavor to your stories but it also enhances your own appreciation for what you do know.

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