Call me crazy, but there’s one or two things in the world, you just can’t fake. Sometimes, you can go and make up a location, especially if no one had ever actually been there (think the bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise. Before Star Trek, you could imagine all you wanted what it looked like). Other times, you’ve got to put boots on the ground and look or in my case relook at one site your story happens in.

I was familiar with the small community of Las Sauces, Colorado where a couple of chapters of “Family Secrets” takes place. I’d always thought it quaint, but it’s a very quiet little place and never really got my attention much. Much of the action takes place in and around the small mission church of La Capilla de San Antonio de Padua.

Now, I’m aware that few of my readers will have ever been there. After all, Las Sauces is kind off the beaten path, and there’s little reason to go there. But I just didn’t feel right about making up too many details. So, on a recent trip back to the area, I had to do a look around. I could learn so much from the internet, but walking around was a whole different thing

So, some of what I had to confirm.

  • Were there steps in front of the church? (Concrete pad).
  • One door or two, and were the windows in the rectory stained. Two and no.
  • Where is the exterior lighting, and what kind is it. (Florescent, just like any street light).
  • Where are the trees and how much that impacts the fields of view.
  • Is the road big enough to allow several vehicles to run around easily? (Surprisingly, yes, if they don’t mind flirting with the bar ditch on the side, though it might still involve backing up to finish the turn around.)

One of the biggest surprises was a grave in front of the church. I had no recollection of it from the time I visited the church with my uncle, or on my patrols as a deputy.

Turns out the grave had been there since 1908 (slightly before my time), only it hadn’t been as prominent at the time. In more recent years, a metal fence was put around it, and it was painted up.

So, guess what got written in! It provides an area that is both an obstacle and provides at least some cover from bullets.

Another thing I had to do was look at the terrain because that plays a key piece in the action. I had to look at it with the eyes of a soldier. Things I had to decide were:

  • If I were attacking this church, how would I do it?  We’re not talking trained soldiers handing the attack, but more an armed mob.
  • Where were the points of advance?
  • As an attacker, where are the blind spots, and as a defender, how would I cover those blind spots.
  • Where might a sniper set up his nest?  It had to provide a commanding view, and still not be too far away.  (In once scene, Tomas, one of the people suspected of homicide shoots a subject who was about to shoot Jewell).  It takes X amount of time for a bullet to cover X amount of distance.  Taking into account the weapon he’d be using, speed of the bullet, obstacles and etc, where would that location be to fit into the story, and do I have to take literary licenses?
  • As a defender, where are my paths of withdrawal, and how do I get there.
  • I also had to determine if a MASH style ambulance wouldn’t end up in a ditch, or there were obstacles it couldn’t get past in the fields behind the church. There were no large ditches (a few small but they don’t present a problem to a small truck, much less something like that), and the fences that had been there since forever could easily be run over by such a vehicle.

I imagine this was kind of an extreme example of making sure you know what you’re talking about, but I guess sometimes every writer just has to see the place with their own eyes.

I wish I could have gone into the church and looked around a little more, but the place was locked up tight. So things I couldn’t confirm were is there a small ladder up into the bell tower. I took creative liberties and said there was, not to mention a small hatch where a man could pass through though it appears it might be a tight fit.

Maybe on another trip down there . . .