Last holiday season my niece, a theatrical scenic designer, asked whether the historical mansion depicted in my mystery The Worried Man was real.
I told her no, but it was modeled after Chicago Gilded Age mansions.
A month or so later she said my Christmas gift wouldn't be ready in time. I never connected it to her question about the mansion.
First, our family has a long tradition of exchanging Christmas gifts in March or May and sending birthday presents months late. Second, she's a designer.
I assumed she asked about the fictional mansion out of professional interest.
A Chicago Gilded Age Mansion
So I was completely shocked when she recently brought me this scale model of a scene from my first Q.C. Davis mystery, The Worried Man, set in a Gilded Age mansion. In the tour, you'll see not just the outside detail but the furnishings inside and the characters.
Michelle put so much time and effort into this gift, and I'm always in awe of her talent. (And have coveted her models, which she creates for each set she designs.)
Also, part of why I love writing the Q.C. Davis mysteries is the Chicago setting.
For all its flaws, I love my city, and I love sharing the best it has to offer as a backdrop for my female amateur sleuth's efforts.
Chicago restaurants serve every sort of food you could want, and nearly all the restaurants and wine bars my protagonist, Quille, frequents are real.
Within a six-block radius of downtown you can enjoy a glass of wine on the Chicago River Walk, admire a historic Louis Sullivan building, and let your kids slide on a Picasso sculpture.
Turn another direction to see the massive stone lions guarding the Chicago Art Institute and the gardens flanking it, which are open to all. (Quille is meeting a Chicago police detective at the Starbucks across Michigan Avenue from the Art Institute in the novella I'm writing right now.)
The Gilded Age Mansions
As to the Gilded Age mansions themselves, the city's social elite commissioned famous architects to build them after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Some survive today.
The Glessner House and the Nickerson House are museums. Some remained private homes or turned into public buildings like banks. Developers subdivided others into condos or apartments, which is the case with my fictional John Dawes Mansion.
Looking at this model inspires me to keep writing when I hit a rough spot. It also reminds me of the beauty and character of my home city, which often gets so much bad press.
But mostly it fills me with gratitude for a gift created with so much love.