Thursday, August 9, 2012

Creating Snowflake, Vermont by Connie Archer

What could be more fun than having free rein to create your very own town?  A SimCity in black and white?  And not just any town, anywhere, but an old-fashioned Vermont town! 

Lucky Jamieson, my protagonist in Spoonful of Murder, the first in a new soup shop mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime, returns home to Snowflake after the sudden death of her parents in a car crash on an icy road.  She learns she has inherited their business, the By the Spoonful Soup Shop.  And that’s where the mystery begins. 

Vermont is magical.  It’s the state that Jo Stafford sang about in 1956, the state that Moonlight in Vermont was written for.  How many states can claim such a lovely song? 

For Snowflake to come alive, I had to fill in the blanks, which meant locking myself away in my lair – an act my family calls “Going to Snowflake.”  I had to return to my New England roots and draw upon what Vermont means to me.  I also had to consider what Vermont means to those who live there today.  I asked myself, “Does this Vermont evoke the right mood?”  “Is the scale right?”  “And does Snowflake have everything it needs to survive autonomously with murderers afoot?” 

Snowflake, I decided, should have a population of 953.  I said it was small, didn’t I?  Nine hundred and fifty-three is a good number for a village where everyone pretty much knows everyone else, even if they’re not close friends (or enemies).  A town of that size conjures up the best of the village mysteries, from Agatha Christie writing about Miss Marple and St. Mary Mead to Louise Penny and her town of Three Pines. 

So – first of all, weather!  A Spoonful of Murder takes place in the dead of winter.  A serious blizzard was a must.  And after the blizzard, a winter tourist is found frozen to death behind the restaurant.  What better time of year than winter to hunker down with a good mystery and a hearty bowl of soup cooked by Sage, the Spoonful’s chef? 

Snowflake, I felt, needed to be nestled in a valley in north central Vermont, somewhere near Camel’s Hump – hmmm, maybe between Bristol and Starkboro, I thought, or perhaps closer to Montpelier?  I studied the map and kept changing my mind.  Couldn’t decide.  All that was really important, I finally realized, was that Snowflake should have access to a state highway, but several miles way.  Snowflake is charming enough that tourists will come to visit, but not so connected to a larger city that it could be overwhelmed with traffic. 

Snowflake isn’t large enough to have its own hospital or courthouse, so I needed towns nearby.  I did not want to name any real Vermont towns, so I spent a lot of time studying the names of all the cities and towns in the state, and finally decided that Lincoln Falls

would provide a large hospital along with some crime scene techs, and that Bournmouth would have a real prison.

The Snowflake Resort and Lodge occupies the top of a nearby mountain.  The Resort attracts winter tourists and provides employment for the town.  The residents of Snowflake are not particularly fond of having an expensive ski resort nearby, but on the bright side, the Resort enhances the local economy. 

Next, I had to build and populate my village.  The By the Spoonful Soup Shop on Broadway is the place where everyone meets.  It’s the center of news and gossip.  Snowflake’s main street also boasts Bettie’s Bakery, Flagg’s Pharmacy, a small ladies’ clothing store, a pub for locals, and a food market.  Around the corner is the Snowflake Clinic where the handsome Dr. Elias Scott works, and next door to that is the small apartment building where Lucky Jamieson, my protagonist, lives. 

It was essential to have a Village Green with a white-steepled Congregational  Church, as well as a small police station and a jail that could accommodate at least one suspect. 

As I wrote and created the settings for the action in Snowflake, I found I needed to keep a map.  I was seeing the streets and neighborhoods in my mind’s eye, but by drawing an actual map, I was able to keep the town straight in my head. 

Next came the streets:  Broadway, the main street, was a given, and since many  New England towns have a Water Street, well, I decided that I would have a Water Street too.  Beyond that, what could be more charming than naming many of the streets after trees? 

Lucky lives on Maple.  Her grandfather Jack lives at 24 Birch Street.  And as for the rest of the streets  –there’s an Elm Street, Birch Street, Chestnut, Ash and Spruce. 

Snowflake is surrounded by woods.  Woods are very handy because lots of things can happen there– murders, thieves in the night, mysterious sightings, disappearances and the howling of wolves.  I needed roads that led up to the mountain or into the woods, so I invented the Mohawk Trail, Bear Path Lane, Ridgeline, Pilgrim’s Trail and the Old Colonial Road

I searched for pictures of Vermont as inspiration and discovered the photos of Gwen Roolf, a Vermont photographer.  Her photos evoked the essence of the village of Snowflake and breathed life into my imaginary town.  Gwen was also kind enough to allow me to use her Vermont photos on my Facebook page and my website. 

Here’s just one of Gwen’s fabulous photos.  You can find more of her work on Flickr at

If you’d like to get to know Snowflake better, you can come on down to the Village Green and hang out with some of the townsfolk, or open the pages of Spoonful of Murder for a longer visit. 

Connie Archer is the author of Spoonful of Murder, the first in a new soup shop mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. 
You can visit her at or or

Winter is big business in small-town Snowflake, Vermont. Tourists arrive to hit the ski slopes--and what could be more satisfying after a chilly day of carving powder than a steaming bowl of soup?When Lucky Jamieson inherits her parents' soup shop, By the Spoonful, she realizes it's time to take stock of her life. Should she sell her parents' house or move in herself? Does she really want to run a restaurant business? And what about her grandfather Jack, who seems to be showing signs of Alzheimer's?

But her life decisions are moved to the back burner after an icy blonde tourist is found frozen to death behind the soup shop. and Lucky is bowled over when her soup chef, Sage DuBois, is led out of the kitchen by the police. As suspicion and speculations snowball, Lucky decides that the only way to save her employee and her business is to find out herself who iced the tourist--and landed her chef in the soup...


emaginette said...

Well, I'm sure to book is worth reading. I also found the review very entertaining--just saying.

I'm new to following you thanks to RCCleanup and am inviting you to visit my blog at when you have some time.


Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

Great post..i am enchanted by the small Vermont town, adding this to my list..sounds perfect for a cold Dec afternoon :)

kiki said...

I love small Vermont towns and how the snow looks so pretty in winter.

Nancy said...

I enjoyed the first two books in the series and look forward to this one. How interesting to read about the way you created the town!

Gram said...

I'm putting this one on my t-b-r list right now! :-)