The Proof is in the Details
“I kill people for a living; I just make ’em up first.” That’s my author tag line. I write murder mysteries. When I walk into a restaurant I see a plethora of plot possibilities. One of my quests as an author is to make you, the reader see what I want you to see. Here is the first few lines of my self-published novel, Battle of Wills.
“Flames from pecan logs stacked in a five-foot Italian fireplace warmed the front parlor at Twelve Oaks and reflected amber light on its occupants. Jon Royal Pennington scribbled numbers with a quill in a leather-bound book. His wife, Elizabeth Fielding Pennington sat across the room near the fire working on a cross-stitch likeness of the Greek revival mansion in which she sat. The room smelled of wood smoke and freshly-cut fir from the Christmas tree, which stood next to Jon’s desk.”
So did I succeed?
One of the other rules pounded into would-be author’s heads is to write what you know. It makes the details easier. Therefore, because I am a displaced Southern Belle, I write about Southern people from Southern places. Characters are a mesh of my quirky family members, and they know it. My work history–everything from frozen yogurt shop squint to greenhouse supervisor to optician–has given me plenty of experiences from which to chose. Travels with family and friend gives me places tucked away in memory for possible use in a later book. I like to think my characters are colorful while being wracked with faults, uncertainties and dreams.
My son once told me my stories held a great sense of place. Later in “Battle…”, I describe a church revival at Pennington State Park. My grandfather was a minister and I attended many a revival as a child. Oaks dripped with Spanish moss appear as giant monsters to a seven-year-old. In many rural parts of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi the Methodist churches still hold annual revivals under worn circus tents lit by strings of bare bulbs. Attendees squeeze together on wooden benches, worn family Bibles in one hand, a paper fan in the other. Sermons are interrupted only by the sound of a bare hand on the back of a neck, slapping at ubiquitous mosquitoes. Women and girls in white dresses await baptism in the shallow end of the pond.
I pulled upon another event in my life when later the protagonist’s best friend disappears into the night. My brother walked away from our cabin on a family vacation. One difference–he wasn’t kidnapped. He hadn’t wanted to join us on vacation so he snuck out.
Now I’m going to contradict myself. When writing “Red Dreams and White Lies,” a novel about a horse farm I had to research keeping horses so I contacted a local stable. I explained the circumstances and asked if I could spend a day with her. She told me I couldn’t possibly learn what was needed to do justice to the book. She suggested a week of chores. It was the perfect solution. She gained a week of free labor and I gained invaluable knowledge of the daily workings of a stable. I mucked stalls, bathed and brushed, even learned the secret of a currycomb. For the medical issues I called on our local large animal vet and my nephew, also a large animal vet in Michigan. I’ve discovered that most people are willing to help and thrilled to be asked.
It also helps if I can create characters in which my readers see themselves, their families and their friends. My newest novel, Two Under at Willow Creek revolves around members of an exclusive country club in a suburb of Birmingham. I golf. My father insisted I started lessons at the age of eight. I’m a member of my local club and the characters are a blend of those folks and the members of the club my parents belonged to in Alabama. We have the bigoted old-boys, those couple hiding marital issues and those with money–lots of Old South money.
Available on Amazon:
BLOOD DREAMS and WHITE LIES
BATTLE of WILLS
TWO UNDER at WILLOW CREEK