I started working on GIDEON back in 2007. I enjoyed UF series such as LK Hamilton’s Anita Blake books, where the existence of vampires, weres, and witches is widely known if not accepted by society. But then I started thinking about a story that went into more detail about how the supernatural element became part of this world. I decided to set the story in Illinois, searched online for information about state legends or weird events, and uncovered references to the Winter of the Sudden Freeze.
On the 20th of December 1836, a fast-moving cold front swept across the northern Midwest. According to some accounts written at the time, the temperature dropped so quickly that people and animals died where they stood. That struck me as a really good way to start a story, so I invented the settlement of Gideon, which was founded by witches calling themselves the Children of Endor. They believed that the Old Testament Witch of Endor travelled the world in search of ‘thin places’, gathering followers along the way and appointing them to guard those places and prevent invasion by demons and other evil beings.
I located Gideon near the Rock River, in north central Illinois, along a tributary I invented and named the Ann. Along with the Sudden Freeze, the town also suffered through its own version of the Chicago Fire–not many folks know that many other towns across the Midwest, including Urbana in Illinois, Peshtigo in Wisconsin, and Manistee and Holland in Michigan, also burned around the same time as Chicago. A hot, dry summer and strong winds were blamed for starting the fires, but other causes have been proposed, including the break-up of a comet and ignition of the resulting debris. That cause is not considered feasible, but accounts of flaming objects falling from the sky inspire ideas about all sorts of causes, including spells gone badly awry.
I did most, if not all, of my GIDEON research online. Along with information about the Great Fire, I found a fantastic page by Keith C. Heidorn Ph.D in which he compiled weather reports of the day of the Sudden Freeze and determined the route of the passing cold front. I will admit that while I used his information to help me write the scenes, what happened in Gideon weather-wise is fictional. The men of Gideon experienced conditions prior to the temperature crash that would not have occurred in reality.
Also along the way, I took detours into the Pseudepigrapha, Old Testament books often named for but not actually written by biblical personalities. I was particularly interested in the Testament of Solomon, which contained instructions for the summoning and control of demons, and used it as a template for the Book of Endor, a work that may or may not have been written by the Witch of Endor or her followers, but which the residents of Gideon consider their sacred text.