How my debut novel ‘Refuge‘ came to life
by Carole Rummage
I’ve always had a fascination with wolves, so when I found out that there was a sanctuary for the endangered red wolf right here in North Carolina, I was excited. I couldn’t wait to explore. According to the Red Wolf Coalition’s website, the wolves roamed freely over acres of public and private land in the eastern part of the state. Naively, I drove the three hours to the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge and meandered down bumpy dirt roads and walked overgrown trails, fully expecting to have an up-close-and-personal experience with a red wolf. After a while, I would have been satisfied with one little glimpse!
It didn’t happen. Discouraged, I found a wildlife biologist who told me (I’m sure he was hiding a smile) that I would probably never see one. He informed me there are only about a hundred wolves and thousands of acres. Red wolves, he told me, are smaller than their gray wolf counterparts, and form small packs. And, he added, they are very shy of humans. I signed up for the next nighttime wolf howling expedition and drove the three hours back home.
So, I didn’t see a wolf. But what I did see, if only in my imagination, was a young girl, who, like me, loved wolves. She accompanied me as I wandered along the paths of the Refuge. I knew her name was Laney and that the Refuge offered her solace in her grief because she’d lost her family in an accident. I pictured her walking the trails, comforted by the sights, smells, and sounds of the swampy woods, the Alligator River, and the abundant wildlife. I imagined who she might meet there and how they might become friends—or more. I could feel how very lonely and vulnerable she was.
This first visit to the area was followed by others. I discovered the adjacent town, Columbia, was a charming place of only about a thousand souls. I visited with and interviewed the director of the Red Wolf Coalition, Kim Wheeler, and knew Laney would find a job there with her. I visited Southern Dreams Art Gallery and realized that Laney’s new friend, Gabe, was a wildlife artist. I bought mosquito repellant in a charming little pharmacy (no credit cards!) and decided Gabe’s father was the pharmacist. I wandered along the Scuppernong River that borders the town and pictured the house Laney lived in with her Aunt Helen and Uncle Walter. I saw her sitting on the bank watching the sun set over the water, letting the river soothe away her anxiety. I imagined how Helen’s and Walter’s lives would change, taking in a grieving teenager whom they barely knew after being childless themselves. I roamed around the high school, the visitor’s center, ate at the local eateries, and drove the country roads, all the while picturing where Gabe and Laney would go, what problems they would have, and how they would overcome them. I knew the people in every small town, no matter how charming, kept some secrets and I imagined which ones Laney and Gabe might discover and how it would affect them.
Before long, the town, the rivers, and the Refuge all grew very special to me. It became another home, the birthplace of my debut novel. After all, it is the place where my characters, which are so real to me, came to life. Anita Desai, the author of “Clear Light of Day and The Artist of Disappearance,” said “Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow.” I couldn’t agree more.
“Refuge” came to life, as most stories do, while thinking about what if… What if there was a girl named Laney, who loved wolves and what if she met a boy… It sprang from wandering down trails on foot, and then wondering out loud, taking the wrong fork in the road and retracing my steps, until, finally, a story was born. It’s a story of loss and love, of secrets and sanctuary, of mysteries and murder, of a beauty…and a beast.
Laney Lowell moved across the country to escape her past, not to fall in love. But when she becomes friends with Gabe, a handsome artist plagued by a mysterious disease, she’ll have to decide between facing his dark truth or walking away from him forever. This thrilling romance is full of twists that will keep you guessing to the last page.
Available in bookstores and from online retailers.