Guest Blogger S.L. Smith – Murder on a Stick

Before explainingMurder on a Stick(3) why I wrote Murder on a Stick, I’ll tell you a bit about myself and my writing.
One of the first decisions I made, as an author, was where to stage my novels. It boiled down to creating a fictional setting or writing about the familiar. I chose the latter. The Pete Culnane mysteries are set in St. Paul, Minnesota––my home for the past three decades. One benefit is a built-in audience of locals who enjoy books set in locations they know. A drawback is my compulsion to get it right, portraying the sights, sounds, and smells in a way that rings true for locals and becomes real for those who have never been here.

Despite my knowledge of St. Paul, each novel requires lots of on-site and Internet research, and a variety of interviews. While looking for a location for book three, I thought about the Great Minnesota Get Together, otherwise known as the State Fair. Most Midwesterners have at least a passing knowledge of this fair. That gave me a shot at attracting them as readers. However, the overriding reason for selecting this venue was my love for this event. I’m not alone there. The 2015 attendance (12 days) was 1,779,738.

While writing Murder on a Stick, I spent four days at the fair, researching. My efforts included speaking with police and deputies from across the state. These are people who use vacation hours to ply their trade at the fair. A paramedic and an EMT from the St. Paul Fire Department explained the role they play and the tools at their disposal. A volunteer from one of the information booths provided pages of facts and trivia about the fair. I love learning when I read, and I used some of this information to provide that opportunity to my readership. The thing that surprised me the most was a fair-related tidbit about Teddy Roosevelt.

You can get almost anything on a stick at the Minnesota State Fair. Murder on a Stick takes that a step further. Due to my commitment to realism, I felt compelled to obtain a sample of the sticks on which 100+ foods are served. These delicacies include hot dish, s’mores, key lime pie, and walleye pike. Obtaining these sticks took a couple of days. Thankfully, the vendors gave me their sticks without the food. Hence, I saved a fortune and avoided gaining 50 pounds. I drew upon the expertise of a retired lead investigator from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office to determine if any of these sticks was a feasible weapon. The title of this novel provides the answer.  🙂  By the way, any idea what using one of those sticks as a weapon says about the crime?

The State Fair is located in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. My protagonists do not have jurisdiction there. You have to read the book to discover why that didn’t handcuff me.

By now, I hope it’s clear that I enjoy the research part of writing, and that there are few places where it’s more fun than at the Minnesota State Fair.

Book Blurb:

You can get almost anything on a stick at the Minnesota State
Fair. This year, murder is added to the list. Family and friends
construct radically different portraits of the victim, and the
list of suspects keeps growing. No suspect has a corroborated alibi. Three admit being at the
fair that day.

The investigation crisscrosses the Twin Cities,
and travels from the fairgrounds to Rochester. St. Paul
investigators Pete Culnane and Martin Tierney must separate
fact from fiction, truth from lies.


Sharon Newer Pipe PhotoS.L. Smith’s long career working alongside law enforcement and fire officials while with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety inspire and inform her mystery novels. Yearly trips to the iconic Minnesota State Fair addicted her to the unique atmosphere and the foods often found only at the fair.

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10 thoughts on “Guest Blogger S.L. Smith – Murder on a Stick

    1. The odd part is that I am very gregarious and outgoing most of the time and introverted and skittish around crowds; seriously, I wish I weren’t like that; gave up a fully-paid for trip to New Orleans for a wedding at St. Louis Cathedral, and I have always wanted to roam Bourbon St. for music, atmosphere, French cuisine and wonderful, wonderful jazz; however, the wedding was too close to Mardi Gras, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it.


    1. Sharon was having difficulties getting her responses to appear on on blog so I am putting them in for her.

      “Fortunately for the vendors, many of whom earn their annual income at the fair, lots of people don’t feel that way. :-)”


    1. Sharon was having difficulties getting her responses to appear on on blog so I am putting them in for her.

      “I shy away from crowds, but even that doesn’t keep me away from the Minnesota State Fair. I bite the bullet and dive in.”


  1. Prairie Home Companion fans should like this– Garrison Keillor talks about the fair and food on a stick quite a bit. Great post. I enjoyed reading about your research.


    1. Sharon was having difficulties getting her responses to appear on on blog so I am putting them in for her.

      “Glad you enjoyed my post. I, too, am a fan of Garrison Keillor. In fact, he and a Prairie Home Companion are mentioned in Murder on a Stick.”


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