How Secret in the Mist Came to Be


The fictional setting of Pine Hill in the first two books of the Abi Wunder series, Secret in the Stars and Secret in the Mist, is based on my neighborhood and surroundings in Purcellville, Virginia, where I lived for four years.


After Abi’s first adventure in Pine Hill in Book 1, Secret in the Stars, she travels back to visit Jess at the end of the summer in Mist. In this second book of the Abi Wunder trilogy, the story touches on the personality of my neighborhood and Loudoun County history that I have found compelling enough to include in the story.


The town of Purcellville is located about forty miles from Washington, DC, in western Loudoun County. Charles Town, West Virginia is a hop, skip, and a jump from Purcellville. The state line of West Virginia is on the other side of a hill that I could see from my bedroom window.


At the time I lived there, the old farmhouse and barn that appear in Mist, which were two of the original buildings in the neighborhood, most likely built in the early 1800s, sat at the bottom of that beautiful, grassy hill. Next to the farmhouse was a small marsh, about the size of a pitcher’s-mound-to-catcher’s-box in a baseball field.


Jess and Abi can look out Jess’s bedroom window at the old farmhouse and marsh on the other side of the road, just as I did from my own bedroom window. The main difference between fact and fiction, though, is that they saw the ghost of a young Quaker girl rise out of the mist!


History Helped Shape the Story of Secret in the Mist

Quakers, members of the Religious Society of Friends, from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, settled in Loudoun County as early as the 1700s. Among the earliest families were Amos and Mary Janney. Early in the 1700s, Amos Janney built a mill for grinding flour and sawing wood. By 1762, Mahlon Janney, Amos’s son, expanded the original mill. Farmers from all around brought the wheat they grew in their fields to the mill for grinding into flour. By the mid-1800s there were many mills operating in Loudoun County.


In the story, Abi and Jess ride their horses along a path in the woods. They stop at ruins of an old mill, where they see the ghost. While living in Purcellville, I passed by those ruins frequently, and have enjoyed including them in the story.


By the 1800s, more Quakers settled in Loudoun County, and soon a church or “meetinghouse” was built on Amos’s land. A few years later, a cemetery and school were also built. The buildings and cemetery provide the basis for the Quaker Burial Ground and meetinghouse in the story.


In true life, most Quakers kept their own burial grounds, though some cemeteries were mixed—Quakers and non-Quakers—depending on the make-up of the population. The headstones as described in Mist are true to Quaker headstone design, which is plain—consisting only of the name, date of birth and death, and age at death—with no further decoration. Some Quaker burial sites had no headstones at all.


Shady Pines horse stables, located about a mile down the dirt road across from Jess’s house, actually exists, though the name Shady Pines is fictional. And in real life, horses were a common sight, walking through my neighborhood to and from the stables.


The two stores and museum in the town of Pine Hill are based on the same number of stores, as I recall, in the tiny town center of Round Hill, Virginia, population 674 (2019). Residents and visitors must travel from the highway, through Round Hill, about 3-5 miles, to get to our house—which is Jess’s house in the story, and the old farmhouse and marsh across the road.


Abi explores the cemetery by the highway and finds WD’s grave. That area by the highway was a meadow when I lived there. Farmers would rent that land to graze long-horn cattle and other animals, perhaps for fairs and travels through the area.


Evidently a common practice in the area, the proprietor of the true Bed & Breakfast, modeled in Stars as the Hilltop Inn, which was located about a mile from my house on the road to West Virginia, rented her spacious property to a farmer for him to pasture his cows at certain times of the year.


Today, I love where I live now in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but a big piece of my heart never left my special “corner of the world” in Purcellville. I hope to go back to Purcellville one day and reflect on how my love of the area inspired me to write stories set there.


In Book 3, Secrets of the Heart, we leave Pine Hill and go to Abi’s apartment, which is located in a large town about a two-hour drive from Jess’s house. Now that Abi and Jess have seen and helped two ghosts, they realize that this has become their life’s work, and they begin a venture that they call Ghost Helpers. As in the earlier stories, in Book 3 they meet a ghost who asks for their help.


In this story, they encounter the biggest surprise of all: they learn that a secret ghostly presence had been guiding them all along, recruiting first Herbert and then Janney Browne, and now a third ghost, ghosts who weren’t quite done with their affairs on Earth, and needed Abi and Jess’s help.


You might guess who that ghost is. If you haven’t guessed yet, no worries! The identity of that special ghost will be revealed in Book 3! Please watch for updates on when Book 3 will be available.

Photo courtesy of: http://episcopalcemetery.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-quaker-cemetery.html

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