Sunday, January 22, 2023

Recycled Houses by Annette Dashofy

You might say, after making up a story full of characters, murder, and mayhem, I would run out of imagination when it comes to houses and cars. However, I prefer to think I simply use my writing to relive happy memories.

In the first three books of the Zoe Chambers series, Zoe lived in half of a big old farmhouse. In Death By Equine, Dr. Jessie Cameron lived in a big old farmhouse too. Both are, in fact, the same house, although Zoe lives in one half and Jessie lives in the other.


My grandparents' farmhouse 

 Let me explain. The house is based on my grandparents’ farmhouse. Prior to its demolition, it perched on the hillside across the road from my current home. I spent a lot of my youth in that house. Divided by a center hallway with two rooms on each side downstairs and two more on each side upstairs, the house had at one time been used as a pseudo duplex. My grandparents let their nephew and family live in half. Hence the idea of Zoe renting half of the house. Her side was the side my cousins lived in. When I was writing Death By Equine, Jessie lived in the side my grandparents used and was renovating the other half. 

So while it’s the same house, it really isn’t. Both Jessie and Zoe live in Monongahela County, but they don’t live in the same area. 

Still confused? 

Basically, in my mind, I planted a duplicate house in two different spots. 

Now we have the Detective Honeywell series set in Erie. The farmhouse didn’t move north, but I still used a familiar home for Emma Anderson’s character. She currently lives in a seventeen-foot camper, based on one which my husband and I used to own. Once again, in my mind, I picked it up and placed it somewhere else. We had it set up in Confluence, Pennsylvania, on a permanent campsite near the Youghiogheny River where my husband likes to fish. Emma’s camper is on a permanent site at Sara’s Campground near Lake Erie.

Camper NOT at Sara's Campground

Camper kitchen

Emma doesn't have a cat, but we do! #KensiKitty

Let me clarify one point. Sara’s Campground is real. I am very grateful to the owners for giving me their blessing to use it and their restaurant. However, don’t go there and drive around looking for Emma’s site number. It doesn’t exist. I made up a fictional area in the campground to protect the real residents’ privacy. 

Houses aren’t the only thing I recycle for my fiction. I do it with vehicles too. Has anyone noticed that Zoe and Jessie both drive Chevy pickups? Until recently, I owned that pickup. 

Not our proudest moment but one 
of the most memorable

It’s gone now and I miss it as much as I miss the farmhouse and the camper. But pay attention. Zoe now drives a white Subaru Forester. So does Emma.

"Our" Subaru

Guess what. So do I! 

I really intended to change Emma’s vehicle to something else, but forgot to make the switch before the manuscript went to my editor. Oh, well. 

From here on, I promise there will be no more old Chevy pickups, Subaru Foresters, or seventeen-foot Terry camper trailers in any additional series. Nor will Grandpap’s farmhouse show up anywhere other than future Dr. Jessie Cameron stories. I think I’ve recycled all of those houses and cars as much as I reasonably can. 

Fellow Writers Who Kill, do you use actual houses or cars you’ve owned in your fiction? 


  1. Hi Annette - I love how you use real world places and things in your books. I think that's why I get sucked into your stories. Your descriptions are so vivid. Also, I'm thrilled about your new Erie series. Can't wait to read it and meet the new cast of characters!

  2. Your settings are terrific!

    Yes, I use houses and apartments where I've lived in my stories and books. All the little details including a dusty section of stair-railing only accessible with a duster on a long stick.

  3. I don't see why you can't continue to use familiar structures & vehicles in your work. The Forester could always turn red (mine was, as was the 4WD shortbed pickup I had for 23 years.)

    I've used houses & apartments where I've lived, but also work sites. A steel fabrication plant; a fiberglass factory, compete with lethal glass melters (if someone is thrown or falls into a glass melter, there will be pretty much nothing left. So they take out glass in that person's weight from that batch & bury it;) a large state prison; a county lock-up; an alternative school.

    While certainly one can research vehicles and locations, using a familiar one means accurate details are right at the fingertips, and it lends an authentic feeling.

  4. Hi Annette,

    Yep Seamus lives in places I've lived (even if relocated to different streets). His Uncle Mike lived in a Waltham Ma apartment I lived in back in the 70s. Seamus drives vehicles that bear a very strong resemblance to vehicles I have owned. (He's harder on them than I am.)

    Makes it easy to keep the details straight!

  5. The unique setting of most of my Endurance mysteries is a 1870 Victorian I lived in when I was first married. It was raised in 1990, but I feel like I’m keeping its spirit alive.

  6. Thanks, Martha!

    Margaret, I LOVE the dusty section of stair railing detail! That's the kind of thing makes a setting really pop!

    KM, my husband has a Subaru Crosstrek that will likely end up in a future book. I feel like Subaru should give me some kind of credit for advertising!

    Jim, exactly!

    Susan, that's how I feel about the farmhouse, which is also long gone. It lives on in my books.

  7. Yes, yes, and yes! Hayden Kent lives in a Conch house in the Keys. Conch houses are unique, and rare these days. It’s based on a house I fell in love with and almost bought when I was looking for my first house. Catherine Swope’s house is based on my first house and is located in a fictional treatment of the town I lived in. Both women drive Chevy Tahoes. When Hayden wrecked her Tahoe, her next car was a Subaru Forrester – once again, life is imitating art. I like the feeling of comfort the familiarity gives. And it’s something I don’t have to research!

  8. Kait, I guess we writers are basically lazy where some research is concerned! ;-)

    And Foresters are great cars.

  9. Annette,
    In my books, real places I know merge with places I create. That goes for towns, homes and other buildings. Then the newly created places takes on lives of their own.

  10. Perfect example of write what you know! I love the vivid details—I say keep doing what works so well. Great post! (And l so enjoyed the photographs.)

  11. I agree, Marilyn.

    Thanks so much, Lori. I confess I had fun digging through my old photos to find those pictures.

  12. When I need another car, house, character, town, shop, nervous tic, nose, eyes, clothing style - whatever - I draw from the people, places, and things around me or in places I've been. I call it "shopping."