I’ve always been drawn to the Grand Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. Its lofty goal to collect every book ever written tickled my imagination. What books had they collected? And then after thriving for 300 years its subsequent destruction is such a tragic tale. As a teen, I would weep whenever I’d read about it. Big, ugly sobs. It wasn’t a pretty sight. But I’m sure you agree with me that it is horrible to think about. All those books lost. All that knowledge lost. What could be worse than that?
I’ve always wanted to write about it. But if I did write about it, I’d want to change history. My writer mind would desperately try to save all those books. Plus, I’m not a historian. It would take years of research to get even the most basic details right.
Still, I love the story idea. It nagged at me. And nagged at me. And NAGGED at me. All right already! I’ll do something. Just not in ancient times. And I WILL change history, thank you very much.
While trying to figure out how to manage this history-changing task I’d set out for myself, I stumbled upon an article about how some libraries were being converted into bookless technological centers. Ebooks, computers, maker spaces, and online resources would replace the slightly musty, leathery-scented stacks. This article got me to thinking about the tug of war between the digital and analog world.
When I researched the burning of the Grand Library of Alexandria, I learned that historians couldn’t identify one main fire that caused the destruction of the scrolls. Many agree that the library suffered loses over time from various sources. Invading forces swept through the city. Various religions moved in and out of the city, which kept values shifting. Some scrolls were burned when Julius Caesar laid siege. Some scrolls were used to fuel the Roman baths. And some scrolls may have been removed and taken to other places. Like the changes that happen in any society, over time the importance of the Grand Library of Alexandria (sadly) faded away.
And that, dear reader, is how the idea for my Beloved Bookroom Mystery series was born. I decided to blend what I knew about the ancient past with what is happening in our world today. With the restrictions of sticking to writing a historical mystery saga lifted, I decided to set my books in a small South Carolina town because I live in South Carolina and small towns are my passion. Next, I created a heroine (Trudell Becket) who is an unassuming assistant librarian. She has never traveled outside the southeast. After all, the unsung heroes—the quiet ones who work diligently without the fanfare—are the heroes who keep the world going. I wanted to explore and celebrate the life of someone like that, someone who might have worked at the Library of Alexandria but whose name never made it into any history book.
Before getting too far into the writing process, I visited a librarian who works for the library in the Southern town where I grew up. She walked me through the process of how libraries periodically purge books from their collections. This is necessary to make room for new books that are fresh from the printers. If the older books being removed still have some value, the library will sell them. Otherwise, these old, time-worn books will find themselves shipped off to the landfill.
This librarian, who was so generous with her time, also told me about her personal passion, a passion I didn’t know about when I asked to talk with her. She collected and sold rare and antique books. Some books, you see, can be worth quite a bit of money. Hearing about her experiences in the antiquity book market played into the idea for the book I wanted to write quite nicely.
Oh, and what is her role at the library? She is the Emerging Technologies Librarian. When working at the library, she has her feet firmly placed in the digital world while her personal passion is antique books. If you can’t tell, I loved that about her. She was the living embodiment of the book series I had tasked myself into creating. How lucky can an author get?
And that’s how my mystery about the burning of the Grand Library in Alexandria with a small town twist sprang to life. I hope you take a moment to check out, The Broken Spine and its delightful cast of characters as my spunky assistant librarian scrambles to save the books in her library.
The Broken Spine, which has been called a mystery that “is destined to become a favorite of all book lovers” by Miranda James, New York Times bestselling author of Cat Me if You Can, is the first book in the Beloved Bookroom Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. It arrived in bookstores everywhere January 19, 2021.
When a small-town librarian sets up a secret bookroom in her newly modernized library, she discovers that protecting the printed word harder than she’d ever imagined.
In fact, it’s murder.
Dorothy St. James is the author of the White House Gardener Mysteries and the Southern Chocolate Shop Mysteries. She lives in the Lowcountry of South Carolina with her sculptor husband. Dorothy is a member of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW) and Sister’s in Crime (SInC). This is her first Beloved Bookroom Mystery.
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Indie Bound: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781087855806