Answered by Steven K. Smith
I’ve always loved history, but when I moved to Richmond from New Jersey four years ago, I didn’t know much about Virginia. I knew it was ‘For Lovers’ but barely knew UVA from VCU. I knew more about George Washington crossing the Delaware than about Mount Vernon, more about Gettysburg than Appomattox—you get the idea.
While I was writing my first middle grade adventure book, Summer of the Woods, I didn’t plan on placing historical themes into my writing. My son was learning about Patrick Henry in third grade at school, so I added a few clever lines about ‘Liberty or Death’ into the story. No big deal. But it got me thinking, and I began some basic research. I quickly discovered what should have already been obvious,(even for a transplanted Yankee like me), Richmond is swimming in history.
Not knowing where to start, I visited St. John’s Church, the scene of Henry’s famous speech leading up to the revolution. At one of their weekly summer reenactments (which are outstanding), I stumbled upon the grave of George Wythe. I’d never heard of Wythe, but once I learned to pronounce his name, I realized his life was full of fascinating story-ready facts (signer of the Declaration of Independence, mentor to Thomas Jefferson, poisoned by his relative, still-standing home in Colonial Williamsburg). I decided to throw my story’s young characters (brothers Sam and Derek) onto this canvas of cool historical facts, added a fictional but somewhat plausible mystery, and the rest, as they say, is history. Mystery on Church Hill was born.