THE BLOG
08/25/2014 02:27 pm ET | Updated Oct 25, 2014

The Abandoned Whore House at the End of Town

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Sometimes people ask me where I get the inspiration for my novels. Usually I don't know, but once in awhile, I can pinpoint exactly where an idea comes from. The other day I came across something I lifted right out of my childhood.

As a child, I spent my summers in a Western mining town that had seen better days. Abandoned buildings, left over from the gold and silver rush, were everywhere. Most days I walked to the swimming pool with my friends. As we walked, we sang pop songs, girl-group style. We were always in search of an adventure, such as taking turns almost drowning in the river (accidentally, of course) or trespassing into abandoned buildings where the floor boards could have given way any second and sent us to our death. If we were feeling really brave, we might see who could walk the farthest into an abandoned mine before running back outside to safety. I was definitely not the winner at this game. Dark, creepy mines full of hidden shafts and rotting timbers terrified me.

To get to the swimming pool, we took back alleys where there were even more abandoned buildings than on the main streets. One building in particular had been locked up tight, but the boards, nails and locks that had been put in place long before I was born were no match for the dry rot that summer. Without warning, the entire front of the building fell right off and into the dusty yard.

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From then on the building was open like a doll's house and we were fascinated with what lay before us. On the first floor was a stage with wine red, velvet curtains and painted backdrops of French landscapes. There was a long bar for serving drinks and the floor was well-scuffed. Upstairs there were 20 tiny rooms, with only enough space for one small, rusted bed frame.

We didn't know what the building was but we climbed inside and danced on the stage. We climbed up the dangerous, rickety staircase too, but each of the twenty rooms was locked up tight. We loved the stage so we played there often. Then one day an elderly neighbor walked by. "This was The Cribs. It was called that because of all the tiny rooms," she said. "Lots of young women worked here in the old days. They sang and danced every night for their customers. You could hear the music all over town."

"What happened to them?" I asked.

She just shook her head. "I don't know. A few of them stayed and married. I don't know about the rest."

I had forgotten about the events of those summers until I started writing about them. Suddenly the residents of the saloon and the wild town around it came back to life. Eventually I created a novel around it called The Concubine's Gift. That old, dusty building lives and breathes on the page, and so do my almost forgotten memories of the abandoned whore house at the end of town.