I Lived in Steve Berry’s House!

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

I was recently lamenting my lack of writing inspiration with an author friend and I had an epiphany. While I was blaming the demise of my muse on now being an editor, which makes me agonize over every word and comma, the answer hit me. I’ve stopped daydreaming.

Years ago, when I first started writing novels, I was caught in a loveless marriage, so I started making stuff up. I read romance novels, surely, but I also put myself into romance situations…in my mind. I pictured meeting handsome strangers and being swept away. I would fantasize while washing the dishes, force myself to stay awake in the bed until the wee hours, pretending I was something I could never be. But in my dreams, I could be anything I wanted. 

Then at some point, I realized this obsessive compulsion to avoid real life wasn’t healthy. I thought, “Well, if I sit down and write this story out, maybe it’ll get it out of my system.” So I did. I sat down at a bulky computer (in the mid-90s, computers were not sleek), opened up Word Perfect, and started telling my daydream.

The Process

My editor-in-chief

Putting my visions, thoughts, ideas into concrete words was exhilarating. One day I typed in a full fifty pages. Another day, I was so wrapped up in the story I forgot to hit “save” – well, you know the outcome to that story. Power failure and total loss. I cried for two days then got back on and rewrote it. (I’m still bad about hitting “save.” So much for lessons learned.) I could sit at that computer for 18 hours, kids and husbands be damned, and crank out the word count. The entire book, which ended up at a whopping 160,000 words (that’s close to 600 pages), was pretty bad.

The end of that part of the story is when I finished the book, I felt so empty, and so drained, that I sat down and wrote another book. That one, 20 years later, became Hitchin’ and it’s published. And it’s still my favorite of all my stories. I ended up writing four full books in two years before we moved back to Norfolk, Virginia.

So what’s that got to do with Steve?

Downtown St. Marys – The Riverview Hotel is the white building on the far left

Which brings me to Steve Berry. A couple of years ago I made a trip to St. Marys, Georgia (where we’d been living when I wrote those stories) because one of my books was based there, and I wanted to see how much the area had changed. (The area, a lot… the small, quaint downtown of St. Marys, very little.) I stayed in the Riverview Hotel – it was there in the early 90s when I’d lived there, and I thought it would be fun. (It’s supposed to be haunted, but I didn’t see any ghosts.)

Very unlike this complete introvert, I started talking to people. I wandered into small shops and chatted up the owners, and as is often the case in small towns, gathered a whole lot of town gossip. Not the least of which was the fact the Riverview’s owner had been married to Steve Berry.

Wow. I love his books!

Historic Riverview Hotel, St. Marys, Georgia

When I returned to the hotel (which was just one block away) that evening I joined the local crowd at the outdoor patio for a drink (where the brick columns are in the photo). The owners invited me to sit with them, so I did, meeting more locals and chatting them up. I told Gaila how I’d lived there before, near Crooked River State Park. She told me she’d lived in a house out there, also. As we compared notes, I said, “The house I lived in was on Live Oak Lane,” and she responded, “Our house was on Live Oak Lane.”

Imagine my shock when we determined I had lived in her and Steve Berry’s home that Steve had rented out after their split. I was blown away. Talk about coincidences (you can’t make this stuff up).

That house had been added onto over the years, and had a long hallway leading to four bedrooms, with the master at the end. In the middle of the hall was a niche, wide and deep enough for an upright piano, and we had our computer there. And that’s where I spent all those hours, writing those four books.

In retrospect, I like to think that house had some kind of psychic vibe…some energy left behind by Steve. Or maybe it was the house itself. I can’t even swear Steve did any writing within its walls.

But it’s sure nice to think so.

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