That old chestnut “write what you know” is one that I adhere to in a very broad way. I know the story. I know the characters. Anything I don’t know, I can learn later. Then I’ll know it for next time.
However, sometimes I take that advice more literally and write what I actually know. Like working in customer service. And I frequently set stories in my hometown. Now, the people who live here would probably argue that there’s nothing about this small town in the middle of a cornfield that’s worth writing about, but to the people who don’t live here, it’s an exotic locale.
Only a handful of people that I know who also know this town actually read my stories. In most cases, my friends who don’t read my work don’t read it because I don’t write what they like to read (a far from exclusive club since strangers feel the same way). So, there are only a few people who can actually pick out the real locations I’ve used in stories.
One of those locations is the Zombie Car Wash.
It wasn’t always called that, though.
It was an actual car wash (that I always used despite the other two in town) that happened to be down the street from the grocery store. There were only three stalls, two vacuums, and the back lot was lined with trees. Despite being able to see the rear lot of the grocery store right across the street and the house next door, it felt weirdly secluded. It was a great spot. I loved it.
I loved it so much that I made it the opening scene in my short story “Another Deadly Weapon”, which I published in the short story collection Yearly. I didn’t think much about it at the time until one of my friends, Natalie, read the story and it ended up scarring her for life.
You see, if you parked on the east side of the grocery store parking lot, you could see the car wash that I used in the beginning of the story. So, whenever Natalie went to the grocery store and would see the car wash, she’d half-expect to see a zombie stumble out of one of the stalls over there. She couldn’t not think of the story when she was there.
A compliment, indeed.
And it also led to us calling it the Zombie Car Wash.
So imagine my heartbreak when I turned down the road to go to the grocery store one day and saw the stalls down, the vacuums gone, and the lot empty. A landmark gone. It wasn’t just my preferred place to rinse the rural off of my vehicle; it was also a standing reminder that once upon a time I actually wrote something that someone couldn’t get out of their head.
At least the Zombie Car Wash will live forever in “Another Deadly Weapon”. So, if you haven’t read it yet, do so. And if you have read it, read it again.
In loving memory.