Living the Dream…Or Not by Diane A.S. Stuckart
Running a bed and breakfast inn has been my dream business for a couple of decades, even before I wrote the first chapters of what would become my Georgia B&B mystery series. It was the late 1990s, and I didn’t much care for the daytime job anymore. And, for a few reasons, my publishing career had pretty much ground to a halt. Then a friend who knew about my fledgling B&B ambition sent me a page from the classifieds. Circled was an ad for a historic house for sale in a small East Texas town a couple of hours from Dallas, where I lived at the time. On a whim, I called the real estate agent and learned the place was still available. To my greater shock, my usually scoffing husband said we should go take a look. And so that weekend we hopped in the car and headed east.
At first glance, the house was everything you might have wanted…three-stories, white paint with green trim, the style vaguely Greek Revival. The crowning glory of its huge front yard was a magnolia that had to be 70 feet tall and probably had been planted the same year the house was built. There was also a huge side portico, which should have been a feature, except that it stretched across a broad broken driveway. And it was at the driveway that we began to have our doubts.
We walked inside to find that most of the first-floor walls had been long ago torn down to create a huge open space. Ah, the real estate agent said, did I tell you that the house was turned into a hospital during the Civil War? Then he disclosed that, sometime at the turn of the 20th century, the hospital had subsequently been converted to a funeral home. Said mortuary had operated for decades until the owners abandoned it for a brand-new facility right across the street.
Had this been a movie, ominous music would have welled up in the background. But as this was real life, and both the husband and I were paranormal skeptics, we shrugged and headed up to the second floor. There, we discovered abandoned mattresses and clothing, obvious signs of recent squatters. By this time, the real estate agent admitted he hadn’t actually been in the house before and thus had had no clue as to the state it was in. But would we like to take a look at the finished attic?
This was a feat, as the space was reached by a stairway that was more of a permanently mounted wooden ladder than code-approved steps. Still, we were nimble enough back then to risk it. And there, at the top of the ladder stair, is where we found the house’s true horror.
Water damage ravaged almost the entire ceiling!
Sounds of cash register bells ringing in our ears, we rushed back to our car, my husband muttering that the best way to remodel this house was with a match! That adventure pretty well ended my B&B dream, though I eventually lived it vicariously through my Georgia B&B mystery series. There, my protagonist, Nina Fleet, converts a lovely Queen Anne home into a bed and breakfast inn. And if you’ve read the first two books in the series, you might recognize the magnolia tree and the ladder stair. Yes, I borrowed them from that ill-fated house…a house that I hope someone with far deeper pockets than mine was able to bring back to its original glory.
But I suspect someone probably opted for a match.
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DIANE A.S. STUCKART began her writing career in the 1990s as the critically acclaimed author of historical romance under the names Alexa Smart and Anna Gerard. She later switched to the mystery genre and is the NYT bestselling author of the Black Cat Bookshop Mysteries (written as Ali Brandon) and the award-winning Leonardo da Vinci historical mysteries. Her Tarot Cats Mystery series launched in 2018 with FOOL’S MOON. Her Georgia B&B Mystery series (also written as Anna Gerard) debuted in 2019 with PEACH CLOBBERED. Kirkus Reviews describes that book as “Filled with Southern charm and enough ditzy characters to keep readers guessing and laughing.” Book 3 in the series, PEACHES AND SCHEMES—her 17th published novel—will be on the shelves May 2021.