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Clouds – Reason 9

Here are my TOP TEN REASONS for writing The Clouds Roll Away.

Reason #9: Virginia’s Historic Homes

Clouds Roll Away

Along Virginia’s James River, the plantation houses date back as far as the 1600s. Elegant testaments to a bygone era, these homes are the birthplace of American history: Childhood stomping grounds of Presidents Tyler and Harrison; dinner parties for as many as eight presidents whose current events were the American Revolution and the Civil War.

Stepping into these homes—some of which are still occupied by descendants of original owners—is literally to touch history. Oil lamps and Flemish-bond brickwork. Slave quarters and Union-forged cannonballs stuck in the dining room walls. Soldiers in blue and gray, buried in the graveyards.

For historical fiction, these places make ideal settings.

But they also work amazingly well for contemporary crime fiction.

In The Clouds Roll Away, FBI agent Raleigh Harmon gets called to “Rapland,” a historic estate once known as “Laurel” because somebody’s burned a cross in the groomed lawn. It appears not everyone appreciates the “improvements” being made by the new owner, a rich black rap star who goes by the moniker RPM. Among the remodeling choices? Pink stucco, aluminum windows, and heavy-duty sound systems.

Was it fun for me to write about this clash of cultures? Oh, yeah. It’s my dream material.


At the same time, it was disturbing to explore just how invested people get in houses and history and lineage, and how that investment can twist their hearts and minds.

In Clouds, an old classmate of Raleigh’s named Flynn Wellington runs a B&B on the equally-historic property neighboring Rapland. Flynn’s blind devotion to Virginia history sends her to the top of Raleigh’s suspects for the cross-burning.

Here’s an excerpt from The Clouds Roll Away:

I drove down the oyster-shell road. A column of walnut trees reached for the blue sky like ancient black hands. It was mesmerizing land and I sympathized with Flynn’s devotion to it. But as I pulled onto Williamsburg Road, heading back to town, I wondered about the past’s magnetic hold. Flynn clung to her history like someone afraid of perishing, someone drowning who succeeds only in taking the saving grace down with her.

But most of all I wondered about her statement and the question it left hanging in the conservatory’s moist air.

She did not have time to terrorize an unwelcome neighbor, she said.

But if she did…?

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