Ideas for stories, characters, and settings come from a variety of experiences—and not all of them good. After sharing numerous travel horror stories with a writing friend, she said, “You should write a book about this!” Ta-dah!! I drew from these trips to create my fictional Victorian mansion and setting for my Hotel LaBelle Series. Tallulah Thompson, Hotel Inspector and her partner and pug, Franny.
My husband and I travel a lot for business and pleasure. Over the forty plus years of our marriage, we have stayed at everything from a stunning boutique hotels to fabulous bed and breakfasts to corporate chains. We even stayed at a Motel 6 in a blizzard in Davenport, Iowa in the late 1970s. It was so cold, my husband had to keep going out and starting the car every two hours so it wouldn’t freeze and we had to put towels at the door to keep snow from blowing in (you may see a theme here). I will share Good, Bad and Ugly hotel experiences.
The Good: Here are the reasons why this stay with a family run bed and breakfast, the Foster Harris House in Washington, Virginia is always a slice of heaven. Elegant and cozy, each spotless room has its own unique personality. We prefer the Mountain View Room which has a sitting area and a shower with about six showerheads, maybe more. I lost count. When you arrive, a covered dish with homemade cookies awaits . As you can see from the photos, breakfast alone was worth the trip, with creative and exciting combinations of taste and visual delight. Dinners were a lovely, leisurely affair. This is not fast food. This is divine food.
Washington, Virginia was George Washington’s (yes, that one) first planned city. Now, not to be too critical, but the town is pretty small and boasts about two stop signs. Don’t let it’s petite stature fool you. It is filled with artists, great cuisine, and is nestled at the base of the Shenandoah Mountain range, right outside the National Park. It is also a short distance to Luray Caverns if you want to see how our earth began. Breathtaking on both counts!
The Bad: Here are the reasons why this stay with a large corporate chain was a bad experience (no name because after I launched a letter writing campaign to the corporate customer service department, we did receive a refund).
One of the basic things a human needs in a home, car, or hotel room is heat. When we arrived in Chicago on a windy day in the perpetually windy city, it was overcast and chilly. We were put into a room on the 41st floor that had a sloooooooow flushing toilet and no heat. The next day, we complained and were moved to a newly renovated room on the 45th floor. Soon we discovered the new room (furnished by IKEA, without even dresser for your clothes) also had no heat.
We called and were told by “at your service” (not) that there would be no heat forthcoming, and that “you are the only ones complaining.” They would turn the heat on only after receiving sufficient complaints from the entire hotel. What that magic tipping point was for a majority vote, I do not know, however, the entire hotel system it seems had two settings: hot and cold. And all we got was cold and colder. The thermostat in the room was a fake for show, as it did not work.
In shades of Motel 6, we obtained extra towels to block the draft coming under the door and while in the room had to wear overcoat and blanket to work at the computer. I had no gloves sans fingertips, so to keep writing I had to get up and warm my hands under the hot water in the bathroom.
Downtown Chicago, Illinois is a great WINDY city. We lived there for over a decade. I recommend visiting only during summer and early fall, as the weather is either HOT or COLD, just like the hotel thermostat.
The Ugly: A business trip to St Louis took us to yet another corporate hotel which boasts a low price, free WIFI and complimentary breakfast (powdered eggs, but we won’t go there). When we arrived, my husband dropped me off with the luggage and took off. He did this so I could take a desperately needed nap—and I checked in to Hotel Hell.
The hotel was under construction. Not just a minor renovation, we’re talking jack hammers on every floor, going from 9 am to 7 pm. When I approached the desk, I gave my name, received room key and a bag of goodies: ear plugs, a water bottle and a granola bar. The clerks at the desk found it amusing when I said I really needed a nap. They LAUGHED at me and suggested I put a pillow over my head to go with the ear plugs.
But wait, there’s more…the room had heat and a comfy bed, which was all I really wanted at that point in time. I put on my leopard pajamas, put ear plugs in my ears, eye mask on my face, played my white noise app and dozed off—only to be awoken by the claxon of a FIRE ALARM, lights flashing and instructions to exit the building via the stairs. I leaped out of bed, into my boots, threw my down coat over my leopard pajamas and raced down the stairs of the closest exit, which was somewhere in EAST NOWHERE behind the hotel. I wandered about a half-mile to get to the front entrance, searching for signs of fire engines, smoke, or any other hotel guests outside. There were NONE.
Out of my mind with fatigue and anger, I went back to my room to discover my room key had been DEPROGRAMMED with the drill. I could not get into my room! If it hadn’t been for a sweet maid who let me into my room with her pass key (she was also not told about the fire drill!) I think I would still be in jail on homicide charges. No jury in the world would have convicted me.
I decided to create my own happy space, a historic hotel on the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Montana, the Hotel LaBelle. In my first book in the Hotel LaBelle Series, The Haunting of Hotel LaBelle, Tallulah Thompson, a hotel inspector and her pug Franny meet the man of her dreams—but he’s not in our world. Cursed by a powerful Native American Medicine woman, Lucius Stewart, the original hotel owner, is in between worlds in limbo and stunned she can see him. She’s there to help the new owner and he wants to stop the clod from destroying the property. Can she reverse the curse without making matters worse? I took my bad and ugly experiences hotel experiences (including that ugly IKEA furniture!) and threw in a shady operator to keep readers in suspense in this tale.
In Legacy of Evil, readers have the opportunity to check back into Hotel LaBelle, catch up with their old friends, Tallulah and Lucius, and make some new ones while visiting the Crow Reservation and an abandoned Air Force base. When Special Agent and remote viewer Bronco Winchester is dispatched to assist horse whisperer Emma Blackfeather, it’s hate at first sight. There’s a way to get into a domestic terrorist group wreaking havoc from the skies. Will posing as newlyweds cause their mission—and budding romance—to crash and burn?
What about you? Have you ever stayed at a hotel and thought, “There’s a story in this place”?