Clarion, where art thou?

25th Street, Ogden. Photo from the archives of the Standard-Examiner, Ogden, Utah.


A few weeks ago I was again asked why, if Tiff obviously lived in Ogden, Utah, I didn’t call the place Ogden in the Whisperings books (yes, I mean you, Kenny!) As always, I was so flabbergasted at being approached by a person who actually knows who I am, and asked about my books, my intellect flew off into the ether and I became all but unintelligible. I mumbled something about thinking Tiff might insult someone (by which I meant an Ogden establishment or proprietor, or lifestyle) so decided to avoid that by not calling her city Ogden. As it was, Tiff didn’t insult anyone, but at the beginning, before I thoroughly settled into her personality, I did worry she would, so it was a concern. As it was, Tiff calmed down a lot as she took over the story and isn’t anywhere as mouthy as I thought she’d be so that problem didn’t arise.

But it was, originally, one of the reasons Tiff doesn’t live in Ogden. I have to stress, though, it was the least of them.

I always knew Tiff was a woman who lived in the mountains, and I pictured her in my mountain valley, the Ogden Valley – which is confusing to some because it’s several thousand feet above Ogden City, while Ogden City itself is in the Salt Lake Valley. But Tiff’s environment needed certain features, like a police department and city streets where her story unfolded, none of which are found in my valley. For me, being a lazy author, it was easier to picture a city layout I already knew, so Ogden became my grid map. Readers who know the area well will detect that although some of the locales I used are similar to Ogden’s, others are not. And the street names are different

I had an imaginary town in a mountain valley and I don’t think anyone would have been the wiser, until I indulged myself by including one of my favorite places in Ogden: 25th Street with its long, narrow shotgun style buildings, now transformed into unique stores, eateries, galleries and clubs, and Union Station facing from the west, became Clarion’s 22nd Street. And as Ogden’s history fascinates and entertains me, I couldn’t resist mentioning it in the books. Popularly known as Two-Bit Street, the area obtained such a bad reputation in the early 20th century due to gambling, prostitution and narcotic sales that Al Capone was rumored to have said Ogden was too wild a town for him. It is also said the connecting basements below the street were used for all kinds of naughty things during that era. Tiff’s 22nd Street (aka 25th Street) is what makes local readers say, wait a sec, this is Ogden!

Now I ask you, as this city is up in the mountains, not down in the Salt Lake Valley, and is not exactly alike, how could I call it Ogden? It became Clarion. And because it is Clarion, not Ogden, the street names, restaurants, etc., are not the same.

How, with a city stuck in the middle of it, can Tiff’s valley be the Ogden Valley? Hence the names of lakes, mountains and canyons in comparison to their location are also different.

This is what is meant by “based on.”

Many of the locations in the Whisperings books are “based” on places I know. The house in Arkansas: my brother-in-law’s house. The farm in Nebraska: another brother-in-law. Janine’s house in a gated community in California: my husband’s uncle’s place. Little Barrow in Wiltshire, England: a blending of Upavon and Rushall, where my parents used to live.

Why Clarion? I thought I invented the name. It seemed to me to have a Biblical sound to it, as so many towns and cities in Utah have. I had no idea there actually is, or was, a place called Clarion in southern Utah. Jewish families from Philadelphia and New York settled a piece of land in Sanpete County, west of Centerfield and Gunnison, beginning 1911. At its peak, 156 people lived in Clarion. But farming the dry land was difficult and water scarce, and the colony as a farming community was a failure. Most of the community had disbanded by 1916. A state order terminated the colony’s title in 1915 and Utah began to auction off the land in 1916. Local residents continue to refer to the area as Clarion although it is now in the Centerfield postal district.  Now, only a few weathered concrete foundations, and two lonely graves, are left of the original Clarion settlement.

My husband and I went to southern Utah to find Clarion. The landmarks and roads spoken of online didn’t seem to exist anymore. We were lucky to find a local lady at the Gunnison Valley Senior Citizens Center who gave us directions. Either the old foundations were hidden by grass, or we got on the wrong dirt road, because all we found were a few early 1900s homes, still occupied, which were not built by the colonists and part of the original settlement. Still, it was a nice day out, apart from all the flies congregated around the nearby dairy, some of which snuck in the pickup and annoyed us most of the way home to northern Utah.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen: the process by which Ogden became Clarion and the reasoning behind it. Not that I “reasoned” it out beforehand; no, it was a gradual process during the writing and many, many painful revisions of the first two Whisperings books.

Have a good day!


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