Setting/towns/geographies move me. I fall in love with the slope of a hill, the rustle of leaves, the way sunlight changes colors on the face of a rock cliff. I am fascinated with the how and why a place takes on a certain personality, how culture develops. Less populated areas intrigue me, where people are forced to be more self reliant, and where everyone knows everybody else’s business.

The Katie books came about because of my nearly ten years in the Caribbean. The Emily books exist because of my coming of age in the Texas Panhandle (Amarillo) and lifelong affection for New Mexico.

But not many people read a book with the setting as the main character; sure, a supporting role is good, but that’s all. So when I started planning a three-novel addition to the What Doesn’t Kill You romantic mysteriesover a romantic dinner at Cafe Amelie in New Orleans on a moist September night in 2013, with my partner-in-love/crime/storyboarding, my husband Eric—it wasn’t just the Texas Panhandle and New Mexico that came to mind. It was Katie’s former paralegal and BFF, Emily Phelps Bernal, too. I had in my mind a three-novel arc with titles Heaven to Betsy, Earth to Emily, and Hell to PayI wanted each title to work thematically with a female character.

Actually, that conversation was a follow-up to a longer one on the road a month before with one of my BFFs, Amarillo native Stephanie. She joined me for a few days on the 60-cities-in-60-days book tour. I was fascinated with her job helping kids and their families in the Child Protective Services system. I grilled her mercilessly about the possibilities for abuse in the system. We talked about mutual friends Betsy and Walt, a hilarious Amarillo couple who were an endless source of comic relief, and what I could pull from them. Stephanie poured her heart out, and I hung on her every word.

On a day of hiking in Pedernales Falls in February 2014, Eric and I batted around more ideas, some of them good, some not so much. We focused in on plots involving New Mexico, with motives and criminals that would be as different as we could dream up from the Katie books and, at that time, the soon-to-be-released first Michele novel, Going for Kona. Over the next six months, Eric and I continued to discuss Emily and the Panhandle/NM, and it rattled around in my brain. Every time I talked to Betsy or Walt, I incorporated humorous elements into scenes. Stephanie continued to inspire me with her heart for children.

Nearly a year after my first conversations with Stephanie, Eric and I were on our America the beautiful Redneck-Writer-Roadtrip, and the subject of the Emily books came up again. I took notes while Eric drove. We finished the trip with ideas for each novel. I burned up the internet looking for silver, turquoise, uranium, and other natural resources in NM. When I found areas with a history of minerals, metals, or gems, I researched the industry around it. I studied the topography on Google Earth and considered the towns: the people, the business/restaurants, the schools, the crime. I wanted to explore Native American religion and beliefs in the Emily novels, so I considered their history in each area. I traced routes on Google Maps. I measured distances. How long to fly in a small plane from X to Y? How long to drive from Y to Mexico?

I kept scribbling notes. A humiliating and painful end to Emily’s previous marriage sending her back to her hometown. An absent father. A troubled relationship with a conservative mother who had a checkered past. An Apache attorney/rancher with a wry sense of humor and dark secrets, as her employer and love interest. I’d settled on a small New Mexico town near the Mescalero Apache reservation as the New Mexico setting, triple decker sandwiched between glorious mountain ranges, with a number of horse ranches in the area. It was close to Los Alamos and the border to Mexico. The list grew. The re-entrance of Collin into Emily’s life. Horses. Beautiful, wonderful, heroic horses. I dreamed of bringing in my other protagonists for supporting roles. Of including anecdotes from my life growing up in Amarillo. (Another writer asked how I could come up with details such as a boat-like Toronado that could only turn left, which ended up driven through the front window of a Toot ‘n Totum convenience store. I don’t come up with them. I just observe them and include them. Thanks to my friend Robin for living that one. Great fodder, Robin.) A colorful cast of characters around Emily. I ran across pictures of houses and rugs and furniture and ranches and scenery to include. I bought books on Mescalero Apaches and the Panhandle Hopis and studied them, expanding my knowledge through internet resources until I’d identified elements I could use in the novels.

And I had come to know Emily. Big-haired, rodeoing, crown-wearing Emily. Wounded Emily, reckless and lacking in self esteem. A product of her own reckless, self-reliant rodeo cowboy father, the man who disappeared and left her doubting whether she could be loved. Her wonderful backstory (I always wish I could include more when I draft a novel, but it slows it down too much. I would love to write about her college days.) and the way her heart for children took her by surprise, almost too late.

Coming down to the wire, I got scared. I didn’t want to offend people I care about with my portrayal of the town that shaped me. I have a love/hate relationship with the past and the people and the place. I didn’t know if I could go home again, figuratively or literally. In fact, it had taken me twenty-five years to do just that. You can read me vomiting up my heart on that issue here, LOL.

Now, I’m not going to give away any of the stories here. I’ll just say the main characters were inspired by real people (sometimes more than one person went into the making of one character), and the plots ultimately were a mix of current and historical events and pure “piglets of my imagination,” as we say in our family.

Emily went home again, to Amarillo. And so did I.

And it was incredible.

{Get all the Katie & Emily novels in one download in their box set, HERE.}

phutchins signature

p.s. I’m behind on sharing Snoweresville snaps. Enjoy.

will sami eric pamela south fork

With our youngest Susanne and her beau.

eric walking on water park reservoir

I don’t just think he walks on water.

sami and me per usual little goose creek

Some things never change.

park reservoir temporary island

My crew at Park Reservoir.

fisher and photographer

Photographer and fisher.

twin lakes bull moose

Bull moose at Twin Lakes. This was a 6-moose trip over 36 hours.

Twin Lakes Overflow Pamela and Eric

Twin Lakes Overflow

Perfect Selfie Take 753

The 1 hour quest for the perfect selfie. Take #372.

Twin Lakes Pamela Will Sami

Yakking and hiking and eating wild raspberries. I love these two.

harmonious differences

Picked up this beauty on a quick trip to Nowheresville, from Candilynn Fite, a local artist of extraordinary talent.

Rhonda and Bill

Friend and double-co-worker Rhonda surprised Eric and me with these. Ohemgee!!


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12 Responses to Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again: The Story Behind the Story of the Emily Novels

  1. Steph says:

    Love you … Love Emily and all that she is…
    Thanks for letting me a part of her. My all time favorites are the Emily books… No explanation necessary on why.
    So proud of you my forever friend and your talent! I love all of your creative lovable characters.

  2. Jo Bryan says:

    “Coming down to the wire, I got scared. I didn’t want to offend people I care about with my portrayal of the town that shaped me. I have a love/hate relationship with the past and the people and the place. I didn’t know if I could go home again, figuratively or literally. In fact, it had taken me twenty-five years to do just that.” I think my daughter would agree. She has NEVER been to a reunion. My experiences in a VERYsmall town were so different. Is it me or is it the town or is it just life? I’ve made nearly ever reunion. I cherish those friends. But not all memories were good. ??????

    • Pamela says:

      My parents have made all their reunions too. My brother hasn’t gone back for any. Nor has my husband. I wish I knew what it was that is the “block”. Maybe more recent generations are less connected/participative? Has Facebook replaced face-to-face? I wish I knew. I’m just glad I finally started going. I got so much out of it.

  3. Eric Hutchins says:

    What can you say to a post like that? I love it. It is wonderful and heartfelt, and I know first hand that it is a true representation of how you feel and how you do this really neat thing you do (Writing). Glad to be along for the ride.

  4. Betsy Weaver says:

    What a privilege it was to see Emily come to life as a beautifully kind, yet damaged person based on someone I know and love. Emily’s hot-shot, criminal defense attorney boss/love interest from New Mexico came to life in a pretty spectacular fashion too. Everything about this series made me so happy. I’m crazy proud of you, Pamela.

  5. […] Who Says You Can’t Go Home Again: The Story Behind the Story of the Emily Novels […]

  6. […] wrote about the overall inspiration for writing the Emily novels in my last post. I want to focus in a little more closely now on each one, because I had a lot of fun with these […]

  7. Claudia Hurst Baker says:

    It is ironic that you say not many people read a book for Geographical reasons. While reading this book, a good friend of mine bought a house in Canyon, just south of Amarillo! They moved here to New York state years ago, after raising there family in Los Alamo, NM! They are retired and moving back to be near their children in Texas and New Mexico. So I told her I was reading a book about that area. And she wanted to know what it was. So I recommended it to her! Your descriptions of the place made me see where they will be living! It was great. Now I’m anxious to go visit, hopefully next year.

    Love your books! I’ve read several. I’m in a book club that’s been meeting for 36 years, so don’t read much extra, besides the assigned books. But I so enjoyed yours, that I’ve read most of this series and plan to read more.

    • Pamela says:

      What a great story of small world connections weaving in and out of life and fiction! Thank you, Claudia. Definitely go visit. If you get a chance to stay at Inn of the Mountain Gods on the Mescalero Apache land, snatch it up. It’s heavenly.

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