Research into a Real Town
Readers are sometimes curious about the research behind a book. The Copper Box is set in Jerome, Arizona, a real town. I needed lots of research to get the details right. Usually the book idea comes before the research, but this time the research came long before the idea. Here’s how it happened. For thirty years I lived about fifty miles from Jerome. I made many day trips to Jerome as well as a few overnight visits. Over the years, it became a favorite destination.
The Jerome State Historic Park
The Jerome State Historic Park has its headquarters in the Douglas Mansion. I love old houses, so I was drawn to the Park again and again. During my visits I did research without being aware of it. A three-dimensional display of the mine tunnels that riddle Cleopatra Hill taught me mining history. An ultraviolet display of rocks and minerals introduced me to the products of the mines. A wall of photographs of the Douglas family put me in touch with the history of the town. My interest piqued, I bought books and read: They Came to Jerome; Jerome, Legends and Legacies; Ghosts of Cleopatra Hill.
The Largest Ghost Town
Clinging to the side of Cleopatra Hill, the town of Jerome sits above and across a deep cleft from the Douglas Mansion. Jerome calls itself “the largest ghost town in America” for good reason. While some of the old houses and hotels have been reclaimed for art galleries, shops, and restaurants, many of the buildings still sit empty. One famous building is the “sliding jail,” so named because years ago it was jarred loose from its foundation and is slowing giving in to the pull of gravity. I wandered through the shops, the Mine Museum, and the Jerome Historical Society, absorbing details.
A Sense of Place
Over these many visits, I got a clear sense of Jerome—its present as well as its past. I heard the ghost stories. The idea of writing a story set in Jerome was never far from my imagination. A story called “The House of Joy” revolved around the owners of a small restaurant that was the fanciest brothel in Jerome. Blood Ruins Piano Wire, a mystery about a piano tuner who discovered a body, sprang from an antique square grand piano I saw in the Douglas Mansion. Those stories never made it into print, but each one taught me something more about the town. [To get a feel for Jerome, go to http://www.azjerome.com/jerome/gallery/]
The Copper Box
Fast forward seven years. I had completed two Young Adult novels, but my focus had changed to the adult Christian market. Each year the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) sponsors a contest for unpublished authors. I decided to write a new novel to enter. Where to begin?
Most writers begin their novels with plot or with character. But this novel began with setting: Jerome. I knew the homes—stately old Victorians and abandoned houses ready to collapse. What if an old lady died on a staircase in a Victorian house across the road from a tumbledown shack? What if the characters were in Jerome to face down ghosts from their past? The Copper Box began to stir in my imagination.
Fun Links to Explore
To get a feel for Jerome State Historic Park, visit https://azstateparks.com/jerome/
To get a feel for the town of Jerome, visit http://www.azjerome.com/jerome/gallery/