This week, schools are celebrating “Read Across America” with a wide variety of reading activities. Definitely a positive thing, in my view, as it promotes lifelong reading, which is good, as no readers in the world would result in my life not having any meaning.
I don’t write a lot regarding the intricacies of crafting my novels, which is actually a little surprising, when you consider the plethora of blog topics I could come up with just on the books I write. Therefore, in celebration of “Read Across America,” I’m going to blow the door off my top-secret vault for the novels and give a glimpse into my process.
For your review this week, would it surprise you to know that, despite the fact that my novels fall under the classification of fiction, there are actually hints of facts woven into the storyline? It’s true. I didn’t let my imagination go too far off the beaten path and kept some aspects entrenched in reality.
One constant theme streaming through my recent mystery series has been the ongoing struggle of America’s soldiers once they come back from war. One of my secondary characters, Alexander, has a boyfriend who fought overseas and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. Starting with Death by Order of the Queen, Murphy was given form. (He was mentioned in the first installment, As American as Apple Pie.)
Besides seeing his symptoms, readers also get to see the frustration that Alexander and other characters go through because of the fact that soldiers leave as innocent kids and return as embattled adults, and the system in place to help soldiers deal with their trauma is slower than molasses and leaving the people who sacrificed for our freedom out in the cold. For me, it was important to show that, despite the main theme of who committed murder, real life still goes on.
While I was writing the fourth book in the mystery series, When Beef Jerky Met Cherries Jubilee, I found something rather interesting while absentmindedly surfing the web—RED Fridays. RED is an acronym for Remember Everyone Deployed. Red shirts are sold with RED Fridays emblazoned on the front as a reminder that many of our friends and neighbors are still in war zones, and they still need our support. I used the cause to develop the characters of Alexander and Murphy, who ask my protagonist to sell the T-shirts in his bookstore to support the troops.
Current events also help to develop the plots in my books. I’m currently working on my Christmas mystery novel, Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles, and have a couple of real-life things surfing through the book.
One is the current backlash that some gay members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are dealing with in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding same-sex marriage. News reports have revealed that those members who are in same-sex relationships or marriages are receiving letters threatening church proceedings that could result in excommunication from the church. Alexander is a part of a family raised in the Mormon faith, and he’ll be facing the same situation—just in time for the holidays. (Yes, I’m twisted.)
The other true-to-life thread running through the tapestry of Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles is the terrorist attacks in Paris. As folks know, the horrible events occurred Nov. 13, 2015, just as the holiday season was starting to hit its stride. Worldwide support and sympathy soon followed. Since the time of this latest novel is around Christmas 2015, I have our characters showing Paris the love, including a makeshift Eiffel Tower built by—again—Alexander.
While the very definition of fiction is to make stuff up, it’s still important to try to balance fantasy with reality. Obviously, the solution to a contemporary mystery wouldn’t involve a witch shooting lightning bolts from her finger to slay her victim. It’s helpful to have real-life events to keep your story believable.
That doesn’t mean I won’t stretch the truth a hair in the novels. Take the first book in the mystery series, As American as Apple Pie. I had the Applefest taking place in Gresham, but in real life, Shawano County’s Applefest takes place in another village, Tigerton. (Also, there are no poisoned pies at the event in real life.)
While books can be a great escape, as America reads this week, take heart in the reality of the stories, as well.