- by Rebecca York
Sometimes I’m not sure where one of my novels comes from. An idea may bubble up from the depths of my brain–and I’ll begin to play with it. Other times, a story idea will spring directly from an experience I’ve had–like touring the hidden bunker under the Greenbrier Hotel, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The Greenbrier is a sprawling five-star resort set on 6,500 manicured acres about four hours from Washington, DC. Think luxury rooms. Golf. Tennis. Swimming. Fine dining. A world-class spa. High tea every afternoon.
And, oh yeah, a secret bunker where Congress could hole up in case of a nuclear attack.
You think I’m kidding? Think again. Your tax dollars built a lavish fallout shelter in Nowhere, West Virginia and maintained it for four decades. Blast door would seal off the facility in the event of a nuclear attack. But in the meantime, the chambers for the House and Senate could be used as auditoriums, and the mess hall could be a conference center for the Greenbrier.
I have no idea how members of Congress were supposed to get to their clandestine hide-away in the event of nuclear disaster. But the bunker was faithfully maintained by a government team posing as Greenbrier TV and telephone repairmen until 1992 when an article in THE WASHINGTON POST blew the lid off the operation.
Stripped of its former glory, the fallout shelter is now reduced to a document storage dump–and a tourist attraction for hotel guests. If you’re curious about this monument to the Cold War, you can still see the decontamination showers, the air purification system, the massive water and fuel storage tanks, the bunk rooms. No thriller writer worth her salt would turn down a tour of a place like that. And as I walked down the cinder block corridors, all sorts of diabolical plot ideas started spinning in my head. What if a guy were held captive in the bunker? Why? How did he get there? What if his former lover risked her life to help him escape?
The speculation led directly to a novel called SOLDIER CAGED that’s out from Harlequin Intrigue this month. Of course, I had to change some details–since real life doesn’t always fit my plot lines. For one thing, I separated the bunker and the hotel. It’s still in West Virginia, but now the “back door” is through a huge natural cave (like some of the real caves in the area). It’s also out in the wilderness, because I didn’t want my hero and heroine escaping into a comfortable hotel where they could get a warm bath and a hot meal. I wanted them to stumble from the bunker into the woods, where there was little chance of escape from the armed men hunting them.
No, that part got changed. I’m mean to my characters. I tend to put them through hell before they get their happy ending. While I relax in one of the sitting rooms of the luxury hotel with my laptop and the ideas spinning in my head.