Elmwood, Indiana, the fictional town in which the ELMWOOD CONFIDENTIAL series is set, is much like the town where I grew up and lived three-quarters of my life. Both communities are tight-knit and revolve around a diverse assortment of citizens, high school sports, parades, festivals, chicken-and-noodle dinners, traditions and local folklore. While my hometown is generally peaceful 24/7 and murders are rare, Elmwood is plagued with murders. In real life, murder is tragic. But in a cozy mystery, murder is its lifeblood.
Long before I became a cozy mystery author, I noodled around with short-fiction. After noodling for almost ten years, I finally took the leap and started writing my first long piece.
I set it in a small, Indiana town that I named Elmwood and populated with an array of distinctive, often quirky, characters from which I could cast the story’s many roles. The starring role of protagonist went to Crystal Cropper, a Boomer-aged, former big-city crime-beat reporter, who’s as smart and fearless as she is snarky and stubborn. She had been content working at her West Coast newspaper, but due to changes she could not control, she returned to her hometown and became editor of the Elmwood Gazette.
Filling co-starring roles are Crystal’s life-long and dearest friend, Verlin Wallace, the crotchety sheriff who leans on the newspaper editor and her superior detective skills more than he wants to admit; and Gertie Tyroo, an eccentric, 80-year-old cleaning lady, whose natural curiosity, observation skills, and access to her clients’ personal business have positioned her as Crystal’s most trusted confidential informant. Besides that, there is a secretive side to Gertie that even Crystal isn’t sure about. She suspects Gertie might have been in Dallas on November 23, 1963, and as a result, might be in the FBI’s witness protection program.
I wasn’t certain what I was doing as I developed my plot, hammered out scenes, killed the victim, introduced suspects, planted clues, and clumsily cobbled everything together. Thankfully, my loyal writers’ group approved of the way the story was going, offered helpful feedback, and encouraged me to continue.
And continue I did.
As I cranked out page after page, I looked everywhere for ideas. Nothing … or no one … was off limits. The town where I grew up and returned to after living in L.A. for 21 years, the neighboring community where I’d worked as the newspaper editor, city leaders, scandals, rumors, my best friends and acquaintances, people I didn’t know, and even my own life experiences — they were all fair fodder for my novel.
Once I established all the required elements of a whodunit, I drafted a basic outline. After that, I turned my characters loose and let them react organically to the situations I’d plopped them into. Then all I had to do was sit back and take notes. More or less.
For Book 1, “DUST BUNNIES & DEAD BODIES,” I followed the characters as they worked through the mystery and cover-up of the death of a young man, who had suffered a heatstroke during football practice, and the disappearance of his classmate. They took me places I might never have explored, such as the illegal use of steroids in athletics, elder abuse, and family secrets. For Book 2, the just-released “DEAD AIR & DOUBLES DARES,” they taught me to have empathy for the most hateful people we know because unbearable heartbreak might be what drives their hatred. That was the case for my victim. In addition, they also taught me about self-forgiveness and risk taking.
My characters never cease to surprise me and show me new ways of looking at life. I hope that carries over to the readers, along with a few good laughs.
I also hope readers who decide to take a chance with Book 1 and/or Book 2 of my ELMWOOD CONFIDENTIAL series learn something about human nature that they haven’t previously thought much about. And if they do, I invite them to send me a note at email@example.com to let me know.
Most of all, I hope they have a good time in Elmwood and come back often.
* * *