Published: December 7th, 2021
Every small town has secrets...
...most won't get you killed. Maddie Decker escaped Sterling Falls just after high school and never looked back. She was sure nothing could convince her to return. Until an urgent message from her high school best friend arrives begging Maddie to come back before he dies changes everything.
Maddie can't refuse.
Once there, tattered relationships and long forgotten memories are pushed aside when a mysterious presence appears, Maddie uses her professional training to help discover who is killing the residents of Sterling Falls, even if no one wants her there.
Can Maddie survive the homecoming she never wanted?
Secrets of a Small Town
Sterling Falls is like any other small Midwestern town. It has annual festivals, idyillic surroundings, and more secrets than a corn silo could hold.
I was fascinated by Flannery O'Connor's short stories as a teenager; how she delved into the macbre small town mystique and contributed to the Southern Gothic tradition. I thought about how most small communities were the same, no matter what part of the world you were in. Everyone knows who you are, who your parents are, sometimes who your grandparents were, and on it goes. They know your business but never mind their own.
Stephen King is another master of this concept. Derry and Castle Rock — as well as some of his other more isolated settings — have characters who use the things they know about each other as weapons. Even the heroes are tempted into wrong-doing, because they're often held down by local traditions or prejudices.
Some secrets are darker than others, which is prevalent in Sterling Falls. I mention that the theater in the novel burned down and was renamed The Flame, which actually happened in my mom's home town. People have macabre senses of humor. When I went to visit her town in my youth, people on the street would ask me if I was part of her family. I look nothing like the typical family member, red hair is a rarity there, so it always shocked me that they knew who I was. It weirded me out. I wanted to put that level of unease in my novel, so I hope it comes through.
Being part of a tight-knit community isn't all bad either. There's a level of comradery, so long as you belong to the right groups. Although if anyone from a neighboring town badmouthed your worst enemy, you'd stand up for them, just because they were a part of your town. For instance, Joshua Sterling from my novel is a screw-up of the highest caliber. But if someone from Calvert pointed that out to another Sterling Falls resident, they'd get an icy Minnesotan stare. Cold and unforgiving.
One thing to remember about secrets in a small town: they usually stay buried. Rumors, innuendos. Those remain alive and well through the years, but does anyone ever remember the exact truth? In the Midwest, people will talk a lot of crap, but they still keep it locked down to the town. What happens in my novel might be talked about by the people directly involved, but the facts? No one is spilling. Not to outsiders. That's how resentments fester, how the drama builds between citizens, fosters distrust. That's where the author's fun begins.
Secrets in Sterling Falls linger, like a bag of trash tossed into a lake. They will eventually emerge.
About the author:
Born and raised in Minnesota, my writing focuses on the Midwestern United States. I've been a writer since I could pick up a crayon, pencil, or pen; there are more than a few stories about my macabre grade school writing interests, to which I just shrug. You can't blame a second grader for wanting to set a scary scene!
I attended the University of WI, River Falls for my undergraduate degree and completed my Master's degree in creative writing at the University of Kent, Canterbury, in the UK. For my dissertation research and inspiration, I lived in Canterbury, Paris, and Edinburgh. Paris is my second home and favorite city, so don't be surprised if it turns up in my work.
My two most influential authors are Stephen King and Flannery O'Connor, and my dream is to establish a Midwest Gothic tradition.
I currently live in Minnesota with my jerk of a cat, Duncan. I love living in the most beautiful state in the country, but I always feel Europe's pull...
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