Falls City, Virginia is a town I made up in my book The Travelers. Well, sort of. It’s based on a real place called Falls Church, Virginia, where I spent a large portion of my teenage years. Falls Church itself isn’t small. There are 3 high schools with the Falls Church designation, if that gives you a sense of how large it is, and I went to one of them. But, Falls Church also has a town within a town because in the heart of it is Falls Church City, voted one of the best small towns to live in the US. It’s a unique small town, in the middle of a very large and populous area.

And it’s a town I returned to yesterday, seeking inspiration again, this time for The Travelers part 2.

Musical Library

The afternoon started at Foxes, a music store I’d come with my daughter for our weekly guitar lessons. Normally, I’m focused on getting in and out for our lesson. We’re usually on a schedule. But, I had a secondary agenda yesterday. I needed a little inspiration. So, I took a moment to wonder – is this a place my characters might come? I quickly decided it might be, especially since Marc dabbles in playing the guitar. In that case, I needed to figure out what made Foxes special.

Like many stores and restaurants in Falls Church City, Foxes has its own personality, a unique energy organically grown from the city itself. It reminds me of an old bookstore, but instead of books, instruments line the walls and pile up precariously to the ceiling. Its sepia tint evokes a sense of history and the uneven floors that make it seem like it started out small and then absorbed the rest of the building piece by piece. It’s the kind of place that doesn’t need to be slick or exciting because it’s about music, not appearance. If Foxes were a person, it would be an old man, hunched over who looks like his bones can’t hold up his body anymore, but then jumps up, grabs an instrument – let’s say a harmonica – and starts blasting out a song while doing a jig.

Will this location make it into the sequel? That remains to be seen. But, its definitely a contender.

Chocolate Crush

The next stop on the inspiration tour was The Happy Tart, which happens to be a gluten-free bakery, be still my gluten-free heart. Here my family and I feasted on cake pops and macarons beneath an shining tin ceiling and ornate chandeliers. The decor is a playful take on a French patisserie. However, with its deep red walls, black tables, heart shaped chairs and metallic accents, if The Queen of Hearts opened up a bakery, it might look like this. I easily imagined the chocolate, junk food-loving Dagny sitting here with a book, drinking hot chocolate and nibbling on confections.

Turn Back Time

Right next door to the bakery is my home decor happy place, The Stylish Patina. We stopped over to take a look. I can rarely enter this place without buying at least one item. It’s filled with old dressers renewed by colorful chalk paint, topped with jewelry, plates or unique knickknacks. It also has books. Since, like I said, I can’t leave without buying something, we bought two. It also fills its floor with clothes, signs, maps and rusted antiques. The store has a feel of keeping one foot in the past and one foot in the present. So will this location make it into the book? I don’t know, but metaphorically it seems pretty spot on.

A Walk in the Woods

While eating chocolate and shopping are fun activities, my family and I really wanted to make sure we enjoyed what was left of the sunshine. Therefore, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon taking a walk down a nearby trail. As we walked along the brick paved sidewalks toward a path at the end of the street, it took a while for me to adjust to the weather. 70s in February isn’t normal. My body wanted to feel the heaviness of a winter coat, not a light breeze easily crossing through the thin layer of my spring jacket.

We stepped onto the trail, a tennis court to our right and small, snaking stream to our left. Since late January and early February is the time frame for the sequel to the book, I breathed in winter, trying to commit the blankness to mind, bereft of the aroma of blooming flowers or dewy spring scent. Normally I didn’t smell winter. Typically when it’s cold, I flit from one warm place to another, only staying outside as long as necessary. At best, that means I have a chance to maybe register a distant whiff of burning wood from a fireplace. But, I’ve never stopped to smell the nonexistent roses of winter. Today, amid Spring temperatures, there was no burning wood and I got a chance.

We walked a path, dusty with the remnants of leaves, under barren tress until we reached a small park. This is actually how I imagined the trail in The Travelers part 1, empty stretches thick with trees connecting playgrounds and neighborhoods. The arching wooden bridge overlooking as small creek or a weathered green bench seemed like the perfect place for Marc and Dagny to stop and talk. I think this place will return.

Beach in Winter

As the colors started to fade, our stomachs began to grumble. We reversed back over the trail and trekked over to Clare and Don’s, a restaurant that does everything it can to make you feel like you’ve stepped out of Virginia and landed on a sunny beach in California. With flip flops pinned to the walls and surfboards as tables, you can almost feel the sand between your toes. The unseasonably warm weather definitely helped too. As the soft yellow lights faded in and the sun faded out, we ate tacos and drank from mason jars. The casual atmosphere felt like a place my characters might come for bite to eat or to hang out on a Friday night, especially since it’s right next to The State Theater, which could be having a fun 80s dance night or hosting a great band.

After dinner, we headed back to the car. With a little sadness, I left the quirky and quaint Falls Church City behind. However, my afternoon in The Little City, as it’s known (and trademarked), will live on. The fictional Falls City, just got a not so little dose of inspiration.