Setting is the bedrock of a story and Detective Jo Wyatt and Echo Valley are inextricably linked in Shadow Ridge.
At its most basic, setting grounds a reader in time and place. But setting also hints at mood, reinforces theme, presents physical and emotional obstacles, provides motivation, and may even offer an explanation as to why a detective such as Jo Wyatt would take an oath to protect it—regardless of the personal cost.
For Jo, Echo Valley is home. In a place that defined its locals by the depth of their roots, she’s a native child. Located in southwest Colorado, Echo Valley is urban enough for a craft brewery, but rural enough that bears rummage through the trash at night.
While you won’t find Echo Valley on any map, the inspiration for the setting of Shadow Ridge derives from an area in Southwest Colorado. The San Juan Mountains make up the southernmost portion of the Rocky Mountains and their current beauty belies the brutality of their birth: volcanic explosions, repeated floods, ice fields, and earthquakes.
The Animas River cuts through the heart of Echo Valley in much the same way the river wends its way through the real City of Durango. And like Durango, Echo Valley shares a history of mining, a traditional street grid with a historic downtown corridor, and several other aspects common to small jurisdictions scattered across the state. But Echo Valley is not Durango—it is smaller, less populous, and a bit more isolated. But if you squint, you can imagine what Echo Valley will look like when it grows up.
While I don’t live in Durango any longer, the area still has my heart. Many of my friends keep the area alive for me—including my critique partner. I’m fortunate that I can show you Echo Valley through Jo’s eyes. But the photos themselves were taken by one of my former colleagues, DL Bender. He continues to feed me a steady diet of photos depicting the area, the seasons, and the details of a landscape that on the page reads as Echo Valley. As a former member of the La Plata County Sheriff and their Search and Rescue team, his knowledge of the backcountry is impressive. That he is never without his camera is a bonus. I’m even more fortunate that he graciously allows me to share his photographs.
Until Shadow Ridge launches on October 6, I will be posting an image each Thursday on Instagram. Please stop by and see for yourself why Jo and I both find this part of the country inspirational.