The Real Life Whittier Alaska
For my new novel, S.P.I.D.A.R., I decided it would be fun to set it in a place cut off from the rest of the world. A place where it would almost be feasible that the actions taking place within the novel could happen. That meant creating a place totally cut off - perhaps one where pretty much the entire population lived in one very large building.
Well, for inspiration, I turned to the real-life town of Whittier, Alaska, then named my own fictional version after it and filled in the blanks to fit my story.
This is the benefit of being a fiction writer when you write horror and fantasy and other things. You can pretty much add anything you want and turn any town, anywhere, into whatever you need to fit the action and needs.
Of course, the real Whittier is also fascinating. I first heard about it while listening to NPR and hearing about this town in Alaska where almost the entire population lives in a giant building. Known as Begich Towers, these massive buildings were originally made for military use and eventually turned over to the citizens of Whittier.
Whittier is a harsh environment, not too horribly far from Anchorage, but separated by mountains. The only way in or out is a tunnel and that tunnel shares its space with a railroad and is only wide enough for cars coming or going. People have to monitor the traffic carefully so that the train and the cars do not end up in the tunnel at the same time. Plus, every so often, both ends of the tunnel need to be closed and giant fans turned on to push the carbon monoxide produced by the vehicles out and fresh air put in - otherwise people in their cars could suffocate. Also - the tunnel itself shuts down about 10 o'clock at night, every night, so if you leave Whittier and head to Anchorage for a meal or movie and don't make it back time, you'll need to go back and get a hotel or sleep in your car until morning.
Given the harsh nature of the area, there are people who live entirely within the tower. Just about everything inside of the tower is designed to provide what people need. There is a tiny grocery store. There is a police station, doctor's office, pharmacy, school and pretty much everything else the residents there might need.
Most of the population live in the tower. However, about half also live in homes and buildings around it. For the sake of my story - I put them all in the towers.
At the top of the tower is a part set aside for tourists who can book their rooms and get spectacular views of the mountains and bay. For my story - I also added impenetrable doors.
During the short summer, the little town thrives. There are restaurants and an ice cream shop and people can tie up their boats and go out on the blue waters. They can rent boats and other water vehicles, too.
Most of the residents work for the railroad or help with the tunnel or work for the tower itself, helping with repairs and maintenance.
There are some residents who end up not needing to ever go outside. Teachers live just down the hall from their students. The grocer lives where he works.
It is a fascinating place and, for some reason, a large portion of the residents come from tropical islands in the Pacific. Go figure.
For the purposes of my book, I added a lot. I made up residents, added things to the school, played with the layout of the tower and fooled around with the people who live outside of those towers. As such, my Whittier is NOT the same one you'd find if you travel there and decide to take a boat out onto the sound.
But that's the fun part of writing fiction. In my mind, and the minds of readers, Whittier can take parts of the real world, turn them around, and turn into something else - something horrifying.
COMING FEBRUARY 23 - S.P.I.D.A.R.
The town of Whittier is isolated in Alaska and the people all live within towers once used by the military. The tourist season is over and winter is on the way. Then a body washes up on shore. A body that says it's from the government facility across the sound at Esther Island. With a storm coming, the citizens of Whittier have to deal with this on their own. They put the body in the basement of the towers, but their doctor wants to find out what killed this man. Was it a disease? How dangerous is it?
Then the horror begins.