I just finished proofreading the advance reading copy (used to be called the galleys) for my November release, The Wrong Girl, which is the first episode of a new series for me, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. I’m hoping that the review copies will be available soon for book reviewers, so if you are one, Dear Reader, keep an eye peeled. I have no cover for the new book to show you yet, so until I do, I thought I’d recap the Alafair Tucker series for you, since those books are what directly led me to write the new series. Want to know about Bianca’s background? Well, here it is!
Remember that you can read the first chapters of any of my books by clicking on “About this Book” under the cover thumbnail, to the left.
One of the cliche questions authors are often asked is where the story ideas come from. After Bob Dylan received his Nobel Prize, 60 Minutes showed a brief clip from an earlier interview with Dylan in which Ed Bradley asked him that very question. The answer is: who knows? Dylan said it was rather like magic, and I can’t argue with that. I think sometimes you just achieve the right state of consciousness, and the ideas are bestowed upon you out of the aether. In every book I’ve ever written, I’ve used ideas that have come to me in every conceivable fashion.
The character of John Lee Day in the Alafair series came to me in all his fully realized glory several years ago when I was at a concert of the Black Watch and Cameron Highlanders Massed Bagpipe Bands and watching a very young, very serious, athletic, rose-lipped, red-cheeked Scottish sword dancer with dewy black eyes and a shag of black hair. The murder in The Drop Edge of Yonder is based on an actual incident that happened to one of my great-great-grandfathers on my mother’s side during the Civil War. (A lot of the incidents in my books are inspired by my own and my husband’s wild and wooly family backgrounds.)
The Sky Took Him began with an idea that came to me while I was on the Oklahoma leg of a book tour for Hornswoggled in 2006. I had set up an event in Enid, OK, which is my husband’s home town. I was sitting with my husband and his sister in a restaurant called Pasttimes, the walls of which are covered with historic pictures of Enid. I was facing a 1915 print of a street scene showing two women going into Klein’s Department Store on the town square. You know how they sometimes do the opening of a movie by starting with a still photograph that dissolves into a moving scene? As I sat there and looked at that picture, those two women became Alafair and her daughter Martha on a shopping spree. What, I asked myself, are Alafair and Martha doing in Enid, of all places?
I decided to set the sixth Alafair Tucker mystery, The Wrong Hill to Die On, here in Arizona, where I live, rather than in Oklahoma, where Alafair lives. I figured this would be a nice little diversion for Alafair, and for me as well. But Alafair has ten kids and a large farm, so there are a couple of problems I had to solve before I even begin: 1. Why on earth would Alafair go to Arizona in the first place? 2. Once she gets there, what is going on that she could get herself involved in, how, and why?
So I hied myself off to the Arizona State University library here in Tempe and begin perusing the files of the Arizona Republican newspaper for March of 1916, the date I intended to set the novel. I knew I’d find something really good, for after five previous novels set in the 1910’s I’ve learned that life in the early Twentieth Century Southwest was nothing if not action-packed. Was I ever right. Plot points and atmosphere galore, and all I had to do was spend an afternoon unspooling microfilm.
Hell With the Lid Blown Off is about a tornado. Because, I thought, I can’t write a series set in Oklahoma and not write about what life is like in tornado alley. I didn’t need to make anything up. I used some incidents from my sister’s experience in the Joplin tornado and some very strange tornado experiences from other relatives and even some pretty odd ones of my own. But it’s impossible to exaggerate reality when it comes to what a big tornado can do.
The Return of the Raven Mocker revolves around the flu epidemic of 1918. No one knows for sure how many died in the flu pandemic, but modern estimates put the number at somewhere between thirty and fifty million people worldwide. More than six hundred thousand of those were Americans. Twelve times as many Americans died from flu in 1918 than died in battle during World War I. In early 20th Century America, every housewife had her arsenal of remedies for common ailments, and many of were quite effective. Even so, it is likely that more than a few people died from unfortunate home remedies such as turpentine, coal oil, and mercury. Some scientists think that many who died during the epidemic were killed by aspirin poisoning rather than the disease.
For the latest book in the Alafair series, Forty Dead Men, I’ll let Lelia at the CNC book blog tell you about it:
“This latest of the Alafair Tucker mysteries sees Alafair’s son, Gee Dub, home from WWI. Unfortunately, although he reconnects with his large family and puts on a good face, Alafair knows something is wrong with her strong, quiet son. When he finds a young woman in a field behaving oddly and brings her home to his mother, the situation only grows worse. Alafair befriends the woman, but then a murder is committed and suspicion falls on Gee Dub. Even Alafair has her doubts when she finds an ammunition case that generally holds forty bullets, but now holds only one, which then goes missing.
Soldiers have always suffered from PTSD. In WWI it was called shell shock and Gee Dub has more reason to suffer from it than many. He often struggles with what is real and what is not, but even so, this story holds some surprising twists and turns.
This is a powerful story of family, love and kindness, and hardship, too. Not to be missed. “