Amy Engel: The Childhood Memories Behind The Roanoke Girls’ Small Town Setting

Amy Engel: The Childhood Memories Behind The Roanoke Girls’ Small Town Setting

Before I go any farther, let me get one thing out of the way: my childhood was nothing like that of the Roanoke girls. While the setting is drawn from my own experiences, the horrors are not. But I did draw from certain childhood experiences to write the novel and shape the setting. I used to go for rides in my great-grandpa’s old boat of a car, and he’d take me to a nearby town that had a park full of giant metal slides and a carousel that I must have ridden a thousand times over the years. For dinner, my great-grandma often served fried salmon patties studded with tiny bones that crunched when you bit down. And dessert almost always involved some form of jello salad—lime peppered with cottage cheese and canned pears, orange mixed with shredded carrots and pineapple. At least a few times a summer, we would make homemade ice cream on the back steps and I would be in charge of sitting on the frozen barrel while an adult turned the crank. In the evenings, I’d catch fireflies in the front yard and put them into jars with holes punched in the lids. I was obsessed with the heirloom hair books my great-grandma kept in her closet and always begged her to take them down so I could touch the locks of hair sewn to the pages (I’ve included a few pictures for those curious about what a hair book actually looks like). Before bed, I bathed in the old clawfoot tub in the upstairs bathroom as there wasn’t a single shower in the house. And on hot nights, my great-grandma would open all the windows and I’d crawl into bed on the sleeping porch, a wet washcloth draped across my forehead.

So no research was necessary for me to bring the insular world of small town Kansas to life. I was able to use my memories to create a place that was both comforting and stifling in equal measure, and then, hopefully, infuse it with a creeping sense of dread. When I close my eyes, I can still transport myself back to that small town. And I hope my readers are transported as well.