When the Setting Writes the Novel

Fifth of 10 Reasons I Wrote, “Someone They Can Trust”

I have a love-hate relationship with my neighborhood, which is also the setting for my new novel. We moved here to be near downtown, be near our church, and be present in an urban neighborhood that was struggling. We figured that at the very least, we could help by paying city taxes and keeping up a pretty old house.

That was 26 years ago, and the place is pretty much embedded in my heart, for better and worse. College Hill is a mix of beauty and despair, with crumbling public housing right next to fairytale old mansions. I love its huge trees, surrounding woods, elegant architecture and the outstanding kindness of many of its residents. I hate the poverty, the garbage on the streets, the emptiness in the eyes of young people hanging out on corners.

The novel I just finished, “Someone They Can Trust” is set in this neighborhood, with characters attending a church there that is grappling with the brokenness of the community. Belonging to a church a lot like the one in the novel has shaped most of my adult life. There I’ve learned everything from staging plays to running a tutoring program, to trimming hedges..

I’ve been enriched by the goodness of hundreds of people, hundreds of events, thousands of worship services. I’ve been tired out to a point of flatness by the problems of poverty, racism, violence and faithlessness in our community.

All those years of the best and the worst of this place have shaped the story arc of this novel. The fictional events take place in a real church, real houses nearby, a real coffee shop and a beautiful bed and breakfast down the road. Spring Grove Cemetary is as much as a gorgeous retreat property for the main characters as it has been for me.

“Someone They Can Trust” is a book about God showing up and healing people in a challenging neighborhood, because that’s what I’ve experienced here. It’s good to know that God does wonderful things even in tough places. That’s why I wrote this book.

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7 thoughts on “When the Setting Writes the Novel

  1. Colleen, Im enjoying your “10 REASONS” posts. This one in particular: succinct description of your ambivalent feelings and poignant description of the neighborhood in so few words. Love it!

  2. Amen to “God shows up and does wonderful things even in tough places!” I’m thinking of an urban church my pastor husband was called to serve years ago. The church was in decline–most of the members were older folks who’d been there a long time. But God blessed! One by one he brought us young families, most of whom were moving into the neighborhood where houses weren’t so expensive. We thrilled to watch the church begin to thrive, not only with increasing membership but with spiritual rejuvenation, camaraderie, and joy. That’s what I felt while reading your book and coming to know your characters. Across the pages they grow in their love for God and for one another, experiencing joy in the process!

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