A Day of Beginnings by Susan Oleksiw

This month seems to be a time of new beginnings for me and for Ladies of Mystery, with four new writers joining the blog. I already know several of my colleagues from their books and blogs, and I’m delighted to find myself now writing among them.

Unlike many mystery writers, I came to crime fiction relatively late, in graduate school. Someone gave me a copy of They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie, and in the first few pages I knew this was the writer for me. I had the book in hand when I went to see my professor, and he saw it and smiled. “I read those when I was trying to improve my English,” he said. He grew up speaking Dutch and French, studied German, and then learned English. So, instead of talking about my research, that day we talked about Agatha Christie.

Christie’s influence, along with that of a number of other British writers, is obvious in my first series, the Mellingham series featuring Chief of Police Joe Silva. After reading lots of British and American mysteries, I knew not only what I wanted to write but what I didn’t want to write. I did not want my detective, in this case a police chief in a small town, to be depressed, an alcoholic, divorced, alienated from his birth family or children, a broken-down guy trying to get it together. (I said this once in a conference, and hilarity and applause ensued.) Joe is single but working on it in the first three books, calls his parents every week, and gets along with his siblings. He speaks Portuguese and is easy going except where crime is concerned. He knows what it takes to manage life in a small town.

In the Anita Ray series I got to indulge my love of India–palm trees, sunshine, the ocean, spicy food, lots of color everywhere. Anita is a young Indian-American photographer living at her aunt’s tourist hotel, resistant to marriage and a magnet for murder, to the despair of her Auntie Meena. When a reader picks up one of these books, I want her to smell the spices, feel the heat and the cooling breeze, and spot the moon through the palm leaves at night.

My third series features Felicity O’Brien, farmer and healer, who finds a body on her land while an out of town buyer is offering outrageous sums for what she considers substandard farm land. This story was fun to write for very different reasons. I got to explore a life I lived briefly but relived for years while listening to my parents and older brothers reminisce about our long-gone farm.

You can probably tell that setting is all important to me, and it’s the first element I think of when sitting down to write. Instead of a book in one of the series, right now I’m working on a stand-alone that covers some of the issues I explore in my earlier novels–the clash between old and new, the shock of unexpected change and how people cope with it. I plan to share some of these thoughts and others on writing issues here on Ladies of Mystery.

But today, while new readers are getting to know me, I’ll be driving most of the day to pick up our new dog, a rescue lab waiting for us in Brattleboro, Vermont. No doubt this pooch will play a role in a story to come. So, yes, today is a day of new beginnings, and I have lots to be excited about. Next month I’ll have photos of our new dog and more.