Setting matters—join author of Assault on Asheville Kate Merrill for an exploration of exactly why.
Asheville is magic. To New Agers it represents a spiritual vortex where ancient energy paths intersect, ley lines with stones and crystals to heal the soul. To nature lovers it offers the mystical mountains of the Appalachian—trails alive with flora, fauna, waterfalls and seasonal moods merging the hills with the heavens.
To me Asheville means friendship, where one day about fifteen years ago, my wife Susan and I reconnected with Nita, a high school friend of Susan’s. We had no idea that she, like us, had also fled the urban northeast to live in North Carolina. This led to us knowing her wife, Sandra, and later their friends Alice and Ranice, who had also left the cold behind. We six have become great friends. We vacation together to the Outer Banks (see Homicide in Hatteras) and along with several other lesbian pals are known as “The Blue Bunnies,” in honor of the ice cream sandwich.
It is also home to John and Dianne, our best “straight friends,” as noted in my dedication in Assault in Ashville. John, a retired Navy chaplain, had appeared before Congress and was instrumental in striking down “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Asheville also means sharing exquisite meals and nurturing conversation with this couple.
Writing about Asheville gave me a unique cultural palette unlike any other. Some call it “the lesbian capital,” and my first visits there, long before gay marriage, startled me with the openness of women holding hands or kissing in public. It made me hope that someday I’d be courageous enough to act out that way.
With tie-dyed T-shirts, the occasional scent of incense or marijuana in the streets, import boutiques and vintage record shops, Asheville is a throw-back to Hippie culture. At the same time, it is youthful, progressive, and alive with political protest. It is exotic with global cuisine, sidewalk bistros and street performers.
My readers likely know that I am a longtime art gallery owner, also a sculptor and potter (though not as accomplished as Amanda, my heroine). This series, especially Assault in Asheville, allows me to write about my favorite subject. The River Arts District was a joy to explore and describe in this book.
By contrast, this part of North Carolina is also populated by folks living in poverty, by right-wing extremists and Evangelicals completely at odds with the liberal Asheville mindset. In short, the tensions make it a perfect setting for a mystery novel.
Writing about Asheville was a delightful opportunity to put all my actors on my favorite stage, with all the right props to hopefully bring them to life. I sincerely hope my readers will fall in love, as I have, with both the characters and the setting.