A couple of years ago, I went for a hike with a friend of mine, another author. Really, it was just an excuse to get some exercise while we talked about stories and writing. He’d recently read my short story “Conjure Man” (which is being published this week in Strange Horizons), which is set at Forest Park here in Portland. It’s an urban fantasy story featuring American folk magic known variously as hoodoo or conjure.
So, we went for a hike in Forest Park.
Forest Park is so named, in my opinion, because it is basically a forest inside the Portland city limits. (Technically, I think it extends beyond city limits over into Beaverton. I’m not sure. I think it’s a county park.) Hills creeks and rivers, dozens of kinds of trees and thick undergrowth within feet of the many hiking trails.
It’s a little slice of temperate rainforest in the west hills, minutes from the heart of downtown.
We weren’t more than a half-hour into the hike when we found this little concrete building with no roof.
I was amazed. I had no idea such a place existed, what it was, anything. But it fascinated me. I must have taken a dozen photos (most of which, alas, were lost when my SD card died) but two survived. You can see them here.
This was what I refer to as a “writer moment.” Writer moments are when I encounter something that I know, with iron-clad certainty, that I must use that in a story. I won’t know what or how, but the details won’t matter at the time. Just that I need to remember this moment for later.
A couple of years passed, and I was writing The Patron Saint of Necromancers, a novel starring Heath Cyr, the same main character as in “Conjure Man”. Heath was running all around Portland, and suddenly I knew he needed a pivotal scene at that weird little concrete non-house in Forest Park.
That meant I needed to know more about it.
Just another reason I love the modern internet.
Turns out the place is known as the Witch’s Castle, and its history has multiple versions. One has it as being built as a bathroom about fifty years ago, though it had no plumbing that I could see. Another includes a story about the first hanging in the area over a hundred years ago, complete with a star-crossed lovers element.
Perfect place for a major magical confrontation.
That’s part of what I love about writing urban fantasy. Especially this new series, Ars Portlandia, which gives me an excuse to dig deeper into Portland and tell stories about little parts of the city that most tourists never see.
I can’t wait to see what comes next.