Why I Chose Pahokee, Florida As the Backdrop for My Ghost Girl Book Series

When I began writing Ghost Girl, I hadn’t intended to turn it into a series. It was going to be a single, stand-alone novel that told the story of a teenaged girl from Pahokee, Florida named Diedre “DeeDee” Olsen who inadvertently acquired unique abilities after suffering a traumatic head injury.

For that story, I resurrected stores and businesses that I remember from my youth and used actual landmarks and locations to tell her story. Then the lightbulb appeared over my head, and the “what if” was born.

There were too many tales to tell to make it a single book. DeeDee had many adventures she needed to go on and crimes that needed to be solved.

I could’ve created any make-believe town I wanted to, built it to my liking, and added anything and everything I wanted to add. So why Pahokee? Because I was born there. I grew up there. I graduated from high school there. I had hundreds of friends there. It was the ideal place for me to grow up, so why not make it the ideal place for Dr. DeeDee Olsen Blanchard to live and work in? With some adjustments, of course.

To make the town of Pahokee prosperous for my novels, I had to recreate it. I built a utopian-like town by recalling memories of what used to be from long ago, and by using my animated imagination.

In the novels, you will find mention of now defunct places. Stores such as Royal’s, Dave’s Palm Beach Shop, the toy store where I bought a pack of sea monkeys thinking I was going to be the proud owner of a chimpanzee, but instead the seeds developed into worm-like yuckies. Who could forget B&B Paint Store and the day it burned down and lit up the entire town of Pahokee? All of these places have been reborn, all from the stroke of a pen. (Well, a keyboard, actually). I also brought back the vegetable packing houses, the sugar mills, and other beloved things of the past that meant so much to so many people.

I should file a disclaimer for my creation, one that advises readers that the Pahokee I created for my novels is nothing more than a pipedream, a fantastical, beautiful town sitting on the shores of Lake Okeechobee that no longer exists anywhere other than in my mind. But I don’t think that’s necessary. Anyone who lived there in the 60s, 70s, and 80s knows what Pahokee used to look like and they don’t need to be reminded of its demise.

It’s so much fun writing these books because I get so engrossed in them, especially when I recall how life was growing up there.

I can still smell the celery on the packing house workers while they’re shopping in Thriftway. I still remember the layout of Pahokee Elementary School and all of my teachers there. I remember the Halloween carnivals, trick-or-treating, the Pahokee Army Store, Circle S Pharmacy, Pahokee High School, Rashley’s Dry Cleaners, Paul’s Parts, Eagle, Army, Navy, Biff Burger, A & P, the Elks Club, how carnivals used to come to town and set up right next door to the Elks Club, picking oranges and tangerines off trees on my way to and from school, the public swimming pool, mango trees, Hendrix Hardware, Law Office of Ralph Johnson, A Blooming Business, Pahokee Flower Shop, Union 76, Glen Carrick’s gas station, PDQ, Dardin’s, Stanley Chevrolet, Dr. Lane, The Apple Green, Pahokee Flower Shop, the Prince Theater, Fourth of July fireworks shot from the Pahokee pier, the observation tower, visits from Mel Tillis, George Lindsay, and Lorne Greene, homecoming parades and football games, …whew! Those are just a few of the wonderful, wonderful memories I have of my hometown.

My memories are fond ones. I think of the old Pahokee quite often and how everyone knew everyone. How friendly and neighborly our town was. How prosperous the businesses were. The pride that the residents took in their town.  

I knew I could never bring all of that back. Not for real. I’m not a magician or a miracle worker. The Pahokee of yore is gone forever, but I refused to let it die. So I did the only thing I knew to do. I created a new Pahokee with all the old, memorable trimmings.

My soon-to-be-released new book, A Killing Of Sparrows, is dedicated to all of my fellow Pahokeeans. This new book is chock full of names and places you’ll remember if you’re from Pahokee. If you read the book, I hope you’ll recall the places with the fondest of memories, comparable to mine while I was writing it.

If you’re reading this post, you’re from Pahokee, and you noticed a place that I missed that you’d like to remind me of, you recall a business or place that I didn’t, or if there’s a particular location or business that you’d like to see mentioned in any future books, please let me know.

To read Ghost Girl is to remember Pahokee the way it used to be. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

{Sequence of books: Ghost Girl, The Children In the Woods, A Killing of Sparrows (not yet released).}