One of the pleasures of writing a series is watching the recurring characters change and develop. Yes, “watch.” Any serious author will tell you that at least half the time the characters in a story will tell the author what they’re doing or thinking or wanting. My sleuth, Betsy Devonshire, has gone through several boyfriends (I really liked Morrie, but apparently she didn’t like him enough); her best friend Jill has quit the police force to get married and have children (we’re up to three); her formerly flirtatious store manager has settled into a healthy relationship with a Spaniard who collects medieval silver English coins (so do I, so that’s a happy way to use something I already know about). Betsy’s current beau wants to marry her, but so far she’s resisting. So while every novel features a new murder for her to solve, there is a stable undercurrent of familiar faces. Sometimes I think my fans are at least as interested in what my characters are getting up to as they are in the crime—which is fine by me, as I’m interested, too.
The title of the newest mystery in my current needlework series is Darned If You Do—a cute title, but not one I came up with myself. I was going to call the novel A Needle Case, because a needle case is an important clue in the story. (It’s a container needle workers use to hold needles.) But my editor asked me to suggest something else. Since my brain was stuck on A Needle Case, I got on my Facebook page, gave a limited outline of the novel, and asked for title suggestions. One faithful reader sent in a list of titles, which I forwarded to my editor. And she jumped on Darned If you Do. She loved it, and said they had never before published a book with that title.
But nothing gets darned in the novel. So create something, I told myself. Thank God for Google. I did a search and came up with a method of knitting a patch over a hole in a knitted sock. It even had a video lesson. I watched it until I was sure I understood how to do it, and then had one of the employees in the needlework shop Crewel World show a customer how to do it.
Joyfully, electronic information abounds in this twenty-first century. In Darned If You Do, for example, the plot revolves around a house full of junk and treasure. There are a lot of reality shows on television that give endless examples of the kind of stuff one can find in attics and basements and even living rooms and bedrooms. Antiques Roadshow, Pawn Stars, American Pickers, Hoarders Buried Alive – all feature heaps of extraordinary things found in houses, barns, and sheds. Or, in some cases, the shows discover someone who has allowed his or her habit of never throwing anything away to fill a dwelling to bursting. And there are endless resources on the Internet on valuable antiques and art. So I had all the material I needed to invent an eccentric recluse whose ability to differentiate between what was valuable and what was merely interesting was seriously flawed, and whose house is overflowing with broken bicycles, chipped glass jars, moldy books, radios and record players missing their insides, rusty cans of vegetables – and a cookie jar full of very valuable Morgan silver dollars.
The next book in the series, Knit Your Own Murder, features poison, knitting your own animals, secret hatreds, and an Episcopal celebration of Easter. In this case, much of my research was more direct. For example, I was blessed to be in London this past Easter and attended the Easter Vigil service at Westminster Abbey. I transferred my experience of the service to the Episcopal cathedral in Minneapolis, and sent my heroine and her boyfriend to it – all is grist for my mill!
DARNED IF I DO: A Needlecraft Mystery, by Monica Ferris, Berkley Prime Crime, paperback, February 2, 2016, $7.99.