Recently my little town of Springville hit the national news when one storm after another caused the Tule River to flood and fill houses with water and mud. We were among those ordered to evacuate because we live near the river—however despite the rushing water taking out trees and bridges as it headed toward the lake, we were in no danger. However, the first day the only roads to get out of town were flooded and closed.
Long ago I wrote a mystery called A Deadly Feast about a storm that caused a raging river to take out a bridge and strand those who lived on the other side for several days.
Raging Water is a Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery written several years ago about the flooding of Bear Creek which forces people living along the river to evacuate and causes a huge mud slide which makes it impossible for anyone to leave.
Both books have a great similarity to what recently went on in our small town.
This is happened before.
I wrote Bears With Us when we had an occasional bear sighting in an around Springville. At the time, my grandson was a police officer in Aspen CO and many bear encounters he shared with me. I used his expertise to add excitement to the story.
Last summer several bears decided Springville would be a great place to dine. People reported bear sightings regularly. We had two different bears who decided to visit our trash trailer on different nights looking for hand-outs. One was a big black male, the other a smaller brown bear. They didn’t bother anything else, but were scary if you came home during their visits. Believe me, on those occasions we scurried into the house. We haven’t seen them since early fall.
Since I’ve written my final and the last offering in my Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery series, I’m no longer worried about writing fiction that predicts future events. But it was fun telling readers about it.
I confess I have an odd history of collecting miscellaneous bits and pieces – a compelling smile, a story in the news, a flowering meadow under sunlit skies that almost defies description. For the most part, I have no clue how or if these snapshots will come together in a novel. But I am not surprised when that compelling smile one day lights the face of a character, or when that flowering meadow becomes the very place where the lovers in chapter three come together.
Let me see if I can help you understand how the magic and mystery happen.
In 2019, we checked in for a weekend at a seaside hotel in California – a boutique hotel, the brochure called it, which I interpreted as small, over-priced, a little bit quirky, and not necessarily solvent. The pretty young desk clerk who checked us in seemed to be a bit frazzled – all the more so when a colleague tapped her on the shoulder.
“I’ll take over,” she whispered. “Your daughter’s on the phone. She says it’s urgent.”
The desk clerk heaved a sigh, managed a wan smile, and ran for the nearest phone.
Months later, we went to South Dakota to see Mt. Rushmore. The colossal sculpture, breathtaking in the shadow of the brooding Black Hills, is truly a sight to behold. We toured the national park to watch the buffalo roam, stopped for a night in Rapid City, and moved on to the storied town of Deadwood.
Deadwood, as popularized by the TV series, was the dusty little gaming mecca where Wild Bill Hickok met his Maker. It still supports itself as a gaming mecca, but its neighbor, Lead, is home to the Homestake Mine – at one time the nation’s largest, deepest, and most productive gold mine in the nation. The mine closed in 2002, but it’s still open for tours – so in we went.
I felt a chill as I took a step into the dark, dank interior of the mine, its concrete walls damp with decades of moisture and crosshatched with the remnants of rutted trails embedded by trams and miners bringing up the precious ore.
I leaned forward, peering over the rails into the darkened mineshaft. All around me I heard the quiet buzz of tourists. But in my writer’s mind, I heard the anguished cry of someone falling into the depths.
Who was it? Had they fallen or been pushed? And if they had been pushed, why?
Out of nowhere, the frazzled desk clerk walked into my head and began to tell me a story. By the time I got home, I could hardly wait to get it down on paper.
If you’re curious to know how a California desk clerk wound up in a mine shaft in South Dakota, please read “The Miner’s Canary.”
As for me, I’m busy connecting bits and pieces for my World War II historical, “Winter’s End,” due out this coming October.
Thanks for caring –
THE MINER’S CANARY
They say you can’t go home again… For single mom Julie Goldman, who long ago left the ghosts of her troubled youth behind her, inheriting her aunt’s old Victorian in the Black Hills mining town of Deadwood, South Dakota, is as much a test as a blessing. Her aunt was not the person she thought she knew, and a diary left by her long-dead cousin Kate sets Julie on a path to find her killer. But with two new murders in town, and a series of vague threats, Julie must overcome her personal demons to protect her daughter and stop the killer who has them clearly in his sights.
Barbara Pronin saw her first byline in a community newsletter at age eight and was forever hooked on writing. She has worked over the years as an actress, a probation officer, a news editor, and a substitute teacher, the last of which inspired her first book, a non-fiction guide to effective subbing still in print more than 30 years later.
Her earlier mysteries, including three as Barbara Nickolae, earned kudos from such best-selling writers as Mary Higgins Clark and Tony Hillerman, and have recently been republished. Her latest mystery, “The Miner’s Canary,” was published last October. Her newest work, a World War II historical titled, “Winter’s End” is set for publication in October 2023.
A lover of dark chocolate, Greek sunsets, and Dodgers baseball, Barbara lives and works in Orange County, Calif., where she writes on real estate for RISMedia and is eagerly waiting for the next cast of characters to take up residence in her head and demand that she tell their story.
After landing on the moon…that could have been a fun location for a murder.
The Egyptian Pyramids, Eiffel Tower, or White House? They would be great locations for a good murder. In fact, they have been.
Major cities, small towns, and many made up villages have become the location for a murder mystery and, especially, several very successful mystery series.
There were plenty of murders in cities along Rt. 66. John Steinbeck named it the Mother Road. I think of it as the Murder Road.
Location was once considered everything in business…before technology. Location is still essential in a good mystery. Location is place, and place is as much a character in mysteries as the people.
Murder on the Orient Express—what a great location for a murder, moving and stopped. As was the apartment in Rear Window, and another apartment in the haunting film, Laura. In and around London there were many murders with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and a fascinating one on an English Country Estate in Godsford Park.
We lovers of mysteries know that murders and other crimes have occurred on all sorts of moving vehicles, in different rooms in small homes and large estates, and possibly even in our own back yards? Well, hopefully not!
The lover of mystery books enjoys envisioning the place where a story takes them, and in movies and on television the place often becomes central to the appeal and importance of the story. It helps the viewer to become caught up in it, perhaps even feel a part of it. Some plots are dark and frightening and provide an extra sense of anticipation for lovers of thrillers like the type written by Stephen King, and his locations add to the suspense.
The art of a murder mystery and investigation includes a private detective or the police or, in a cozy mystery, an amateur sleuth. The dialogue needs to create suspense with some foreshadowing and fake clues are followed and soon ignored. Finally, the arc of the murder mystery starts having the story lead to the chase of the real villains, who are caught—dead or alive—of course.
But, what about a location, where murder and mayhem terrorize the residents. Doors are locked and there are whispers and secrets behind those closed doors. Questions remain. Who killed their neighbor’s wife in the alley next to the post office? Who stabbed the old man as he walked across the bridge late at night? Who pushed the young man off his apartment balcony? Why did the murderer run his or her car over the victim on a country road, the moon hidden behind the trees? Were there witnesses to any of these murders? Ah, where are they possibly located?
As a mystery writer, I believe location plays a huge part in the plot and ultimately when and where the murder is solved. To escape murderers hide in a location fitting the plot, one designed to build up a sense of suspense and anticipation.
We as readers and viewers also enjoy explosive endings. There are gunfights and car chases up and down city streets. There are threats and demands until the final moments of capture. The movie Witness ended in an Amish barn. In the book TheName of the Rose, written by one of my favorite authors, Umberto Eco, the murders and the ending take place in an Abbey in the 1300s. In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the finale is on Mt. Rushmore. Another favorite of mine is Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Series taking place somewhere along the California coast. And, in historical fiction, the landscape fits the century and the plot.
Location, location, location. The book ends. The film is finished. Surely calm prevails, the dark sky is lighter, and all is right again. Or is it?
Send me your favorite mystery location. Author, MarciagRosen@gmail.com. We’ll add it to my site or possibly one of my social media posts. Thank you.
An Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock, and Me Mystery: “Murder at the Zoo”
A body is tossed into the lion’s habitat at the zoo where Miranda Scott is the senior vet. She and Detective Bryan Anderson join forces to unravel that mystery and several more murders. A fan since childhood of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Sherlock Holmes they seem to live in her head, frequently telling her what to do…and not do. Murders, family, deceit, revenge, and a gangster father and godfather often get in the way of a fine romance between Miranda and the Detective.
Marcia Rosen (aka M. Glenda Rosen), award winning author of eleven books including The Senior Sleuths and Dying To Be Beautiful Mystery Series and The Gourmet Gangster: Mysteries and Menus (With son Jory Rosen). She is also author of The Woman’s Business Therapist and award winning My Memoir Workbook.
Marcia is a member of numerous writing organizations and frequent guest speaker.
We’re all drawn to what we don’t understand. It must be a primeval survival instinct. We have our daily world, which mostly consists of routine habits and familiar surroundings. But when something quirky intrudes, we find ourselves on high-alert mode. Like at night, when our usual surroundings fade into shadow, and we hear a strange noise, we stop to listen. The appeal of experiencing what’s unknown in the safety of our own cozy world creates our great demand and interest for the mystery novel.
Many authors preach “write what you know” to wanna-be writers. To me this doesn’t make sense. What motivates us to solve problems and engage in dreams comes from our not knowing. Writers are readers, and reader’s read to experience something new and maybe learn. As authors, we need to write what we don’t know.
If you don’t know something how can you write about it?
Maybe you’ve dreamed of being a double agent. Possibly you’ve longed to experience what it would be like to be in a Witness Protection Program. Perhaps you’ve wondered how it would feel to have the hot breath of a serial killer on your neck just before your heavy wrench smashes his face into the dirt. Only human beings can enjoy danger safely, living vicariously, through the words spoken or written by others. No other animal on our planet has this luxury.
My first novel, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur, Kirkus Reviews (starred review) started with scant knowledge about an estranged aunt who was an ex-flapper. Inspiration for this novel came to me because her story felt too important to ignore. My ancient aunt had slammed into my busy life, vying for attention with my demanding career. This redoubtable, chain-smoking, rum-drinking woman made a game of criticizing me, turning the air blue with smoke and cuss words, and enchanting my husband.
I’d come home exhausted from my job of problem solving as an administrator in a heavy-handed bureaucracy of educators and also from my layman position, working with a veterinarian to evaluate research protocols at the Lovelace Respiratory Medical Research Laboratory. Every evening, I’d find this tipsy woman telling outrageous tales of her Roaring-Twenties life as a flapper in dangerous 1923 Chicago. She never revealed much about her own antics, except on occasion she’d toss out tidbits of her wild life like delicious appetizers.
Too good not to be told:
What if I combined this ancient flapper’s ramblings and fabrications with today’s devastating corporate espionage problems, using what I did know about biomedical research labs? Then this would be much more than just another Roaring-Twenties flapper story. Even though I’d fashioned an unusual combination, I thought it might be quite an intriguing mix. However, I knew nothing about the 1920s and even less about corporate spying.
Playing around with my knowledge of bits and pieces, tiny kernels of ideas developed into miniature tales. I shuffled them together using fictional characters, places, events, and conflicts. For my strange story to be engaging, each character would have to be connected with the others characters through powerful motivations. This meant even my secondary characters must be three dimensional. I had huge holes in my knowledge. I needed to know more.
Use what you know to figure out what you don’t know:
After untold hours of researching, I made likely guesses to fill in as many empty spaces as possible. I buried myself under a search and find mode. I had started out knowing only the Hollywood version of a flapper’s life along with scraps of information my aunt had given. This wouldn’t do, and I knew nothing about corporate espionage, but spies have always intrigued me. The more I learned the more fun I found in bringing my Flapper, Scientist, and Saboteur to life.
Writing the unknown:
I believe your story deserves to be startling and robust. I always research more than I can possibly use. Then I select only what’s rich and on target. For fun, I throw in some quirky stuff. Here’s the best part: I put all of the above together, mix with my wildest imagination, edit, delete, select the most powerful verbs, revise, revise, revise, then polish my story—with joy.
My award winning stories happen because I dare to write what I don’t know. How does your imagination help you write what you don’t know?
The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur intertwines a corporate espionage mystery with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos to restore order and a free-spirited aunt who needs her niece to live in the moment.
Beth Armstrong, a Denver biomedical scientist, wrestles with the impossible choice of saving her sabotaged, groundbreaking cure for multiple sclerosis or honoring an obligation to care for her cantankerous old aunt. Playing nursemaid ranks just a notch above catching the plague on Beth’s scale, yet her ex-flapper aunt would prefer catching anything deadly to losing her independence under the hands of her obsessive-compulsive niece.
While a murderous culprit runs loose in the science institute, Beth finds her whole life out of balance. Unpredictable nefarious activities at the institute–which is rife with suspects–cause Beth to wonder if she can trust anyone, while at home her chain-smoking aunt entertains Beth’s neglected husband with nightly cocktails and raucous stories from the Roaring Twenties. The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur creates a compelling mystery intertwined with a generational battle-of-wills story between a dedicated professional intent on fighting chaos and restoring order, and a free-spirited aunt who insists her niece listen to her heart and learn to live in the moment.
Charlene Bell Dietz, raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, now lives in the central mountains of New Mexico. She taught kindergarten through high school, served as a school administrator, and an adjunct instructor for the College of Santa Fe. After retirement she traveled the United States providing instruction for school staff and administrators. Her writing includes published articles, children’s stories, short stories and mystery and historical novels, winning awards from NM/AZ Book Awards, Writers Digest, Public Safety Writers, and International Book Awards, along with earning two of the coveted Kirkus Reviews (starred review) and having two books named to Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2018.
I’m heading on a road trip Wednesday to check out some locations I’ve written into the 4th book, The Squeeze, in the Spotted Pony Casino Mystery series. While I grew up close to the area and had quite a few trips to there, it has changed since I was a teenager.
I’m also going to the library in Pendleton to use their archives of the local paper to go through the motions my character will be doing in my book. And I need to see a restaurant and store that I use in the book. Then I’ll be headed to the Umatilla Reservation to drink in more of the atmosphere there. I plan to sit for an hour or more in the small store with a sandwich shop to watch interactions and if I’m lucky I’ll find someone to talk to about living there. After that, I’ll go to the museum and check out the books at the store in the museum to see if there are any books that I can use to learn more. And finally, I’ll sit in the casino an hour or two to soak up that atmosphere and add it to my story. I may even venture out to where I have my character’s house just to get view of it in a different season.
I’d hoped to visit with a tribal member that has been helping me with the culture of the reservation. He can’t get away to talk to me the days I could get to the Reservation.
It will be a five-hour drive from where I live to Pendleton. I’ll either spend the night at the casino if I don’t have enough time to do all I want, or if I do get my research finished and don’t have to go back, I’ll spend the night at my oldest daughter’s an hour from Pendleton and head home on Thursday.
This isn’t the first nor the last time I’ll be taking research trips for books. The 5th book in the series is set at an Indian casino on the Oregon Coast. I’m headed there in March with a friend to do research for that book.
And over the summer I took a trip with my sister-in-law for book 10 in my Gabriel Hawke series. Bear Stalkeris now available in ebook and print and we are working on the audiobook.
Here is the blurb, cover, and buy link:
Book 10 in the Gabriel Hawke Series
Greed, Misdirection, and Murder
Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke’s sister, Marion, is on a corporate retreat in Montana when she becomes a murder suspect. Running for her life from the real killer, she contacts Hawke for help.
Hawke heads to Montana to find his sister and prove she isn’t a murderer. He hasn’t seen Marion in over twenty years but he knows she wouldn’t kill the man she was about to marry.
As they dig into possible embezzlement, two more murders, and find themselves trying to outsmart a wilderness-wise kidnapper, Hawke realizes his sister needs to return home and immerse herself in their heritage. Grief is a journey that must be traveled and knowing her fiancé had wanted Marion to dance again, Hawke believes their culture would help her heal.
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