This is a short audio click about the town where Sylvia Wilcox lives, and why I chose to that town as the setting for the first two novels in the Sylvia Wilcox series. The audio is not super polished, but here’s the thing…If I don’t put it out now, I probably won’t put it out. This will get better as I go along. The transcript is below but it is not an exact copy. Transcription will be completed for the longer episodes.
Storytime is a short, relaxing stroll through memories from author Braylee Parkinson’s life, the lives of others, or the world of her characters. Everything is a story. There’s the story of your day, the story of the first time you met your beloved, the first time you drove a car, and the first time you lost someone you loved. Stories are used for entertainment and education. What we’ll do in these short sessions may be one or both.
Let’s get on with the show.
Today we are going to talk about the town where Sylvia Wilcox, the main character of my mystery series lives. Ypsilanti, Michigan, which is a small city in southeastern Michigan. There are around 21,000 give or take, residents, and it is about 30 miles from downtown Detroit. If you were to hop on Interstate 94, you could probably get there in about 25 minutes. It is also about 10 minutes from Ann Arbor, and there are several other small townships and cities in the area. In the past, Ypsilanti was surrounded by fields of crops, and unpaved roads were plentiful. Things have changed over the past twenty years, but there is still a hint of rural living in the area.
Ypsilanti is named after Demetrios Ypsilantis, who was a hero in the Greek War for independence. I lived in Ypsilanti from 2001 to 2010. Eastern Michigan University is located there, and that is where I completed my graduate studies. One of the reasons I went to EMU is because my eighth-grade teacher took our class there for a weekend, so that we could experience college life. She is one of the most influential teachers I’ve had in my life, and that experience really endeared me to Ypsilanti and EMU.
It was a very special trip. We got to stay in a dorm room with two students, and my good friend Tanya was in that room as well, so we got to experience dorm life together, which was great because we’ve known each other since first grade, and were very close at the time. I’ll never forget that trip because we got to do all these fun things that you can do on a college campus. So, when I graduated from the University of Detroit Mercy, the economy was not good in Michigan, and I decided to go to graduate school. I decided to go to EMU, and that is how I ended up in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Surprisingly, I ended up loving Ypsi. I fell in love with the quaintness of the town. Historic marker houses, small businesses running up and down Michigan Avenue and friendly neighbors-I just loved it. Some of the historic marker homes have been turned into frat houses or multi-room housing, but you can’t really tell that when you walk down the street, so there is a certain quaintness to a stroll in Ypsilanti.
The first place I lived in Ypsi was this old boarding house. My friends called it the Freddy Kruger house, and it had this terrifying bad wallpaper from the 1970s, and there were about six other people that lived there. We shared the kitchen and the bathroom, which was not great. It was interesting, but I loved walking around the city, it has a small-town feel. Riverside Park and Frog Island Parks are right off of Michigan Avenue, and the Huron River runs through the parks, so I would walk down there and sit by the water and write, and it was wonderful. It was just really a nice place to be. There’s kind of like a southern swagger there, which makes sense because a lot of people migrated to the area from the south because there were high paying jobs that didn’t require a high school diploma. This is true for a good chunk of lower Michigan. Henry Ford paid a wage that southerners couldn’t find in their areas, so they moved north. Of course, there were other factors as well, but that is one of the major reasons many people from the south came north.
I ended up moving because I couldn’t find any full-time employment there. So, I moved to Utah. Ypsilanti holds a special place in my heart. I dealt with some demons from my past; I grew up, I became the person who was strong enough just to turn her back and say a prayer, selling everything, and buy a one-way train ticket to Ypsilanti. So, I am very thankful for the experiences I had in Ypsilanti because I think if I’d stayed closer to my family and friends, I might not have evolved into the person I am today. They weren’t that far, but the aloneness of living in Ypsi taught me to reach for other forms of development, such as meditating, doing yoga, and figuring out my life, and I have to credit Ypsi with the person I am today, because I couldn’t have grown the way I did without it so, I choose Ypsilanti for the setting for my story because I was living there when I started the story, but also because I have a connection with the place.
At the time I started Who She Was, I was also writing a literary fiction novel that took place in Michigan and Ontario, Canada, but something was missing. There was this disconnect, and initially, I couldn’t figure out why, but eventually, I realized that I wasn’t in those places I was writing about, and I needed to write about the places where I was at. I was so connected to Ypsilanti, and that is why I started to think about writing about the town where I lived. That was when I started thinking, “I’ll write a detective story that takes place in Ypsi. So, I started thinking about the characters and plot, and all that good stuff. At that time, I was living in a ground apartment in a complex where a series of break-ins and rapes took place. And that was the first time I’d felt like Ypsi might be a dangerous place. Of course, all places have their dark sides, but I started to think about how I could use the events in my story. Then, a strange and disturbing crime took place in Superior Township, My apartment was on the edge of Ypsi, close to where the crime took place. That was when I started to think,”What if this turns into something more sinister?” It didn’t, but my imagination was already running wild.
Displacement is the story that I started writing, but I switched to Who She Was because I was stuck and couldn’t get Displacement into the order I wanted. I also was having trouble with the literary fiction novel, so I gave myself over to Who She Was. I spent time wandering around Ypsilanti, soaking in all the place had to offer. Even though it was 2009, I had no plans of moving away at that point. Little did I know, but I would be on a train to my new home in less than a year from that time.
I still miss Ypsilanti. There is not a day that I don’t close my eyes and remember those leisurely walks down to the Huron River. The sound of the rushing water soothing my soul, and that special aloneness that made me strong. I live in Utah, and it’s beautiful here, but it doesn’t have anything on my home place. I love Michigan, and miss it every day, so I am so excited that Sylvia allows me to accompany her through the streets of Ypsilanti.