Friday, August 05, 2011

Oh! The Places I'll Go

Frankie here (with a bow to Dr. Seuss). Well, after a two month delay, my fifth Lizzie Stuart mystery, Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave, was "officially" released on July 26. My publisher is featuring it as the book of the month (

On Wednesday, I did a "five question" interview with a local reporter. He asked where the books in the series were set and why. I started rattling off locations – fictional "Drucilla, Kentucky", London, and "St. Regis" in Cornwall (stand-in for the real St. Ives) for Death's Favorite Child; "Gallagher, Virginia" (fictional stand-in for my hometown of Danville, Virginia) for A Dead Man's Honor and Old Murders; and then, You Should Have Died on Monday, set in Chicago, Wilmington, North Carolina, and pre-Katrina New Orleans.

Why these places? Well, to be honest, when I started writing mysteries, I thought I'd better write about what I knew. I decided that I would use my historical research and a fictional version of the Southern city I had grown up in. That was what I did for the five years that I spent grinding out draft after draft -- often making plot changes faster than my writing group could read and provide feedback. I drove them crazy with all those re-writes. But the happy result of that prolonged and painful process was that I was ready when an old friend invited me to come to England to meet her and her son for a holiday. I knew my character Lizzie well enough that I could tell my writing group that I was going to pack her up and take her on a vacation.

And I did -- plotting the crimes before I left (my tribute to Agatha Christie with murder among the guests at a private hotel) and then writing the first draft as my friend, her son, and I enjoyed our week in Cornwall. That was the book I sold first, written on-site, revised, and submitted in less than a year. Since I needed a second book to follow, I revised the book I had spent five year tinkering away at. Then another book set in Gallagher, and it was time for me and Lizzie -- and John Quinn, the cop, she had met in Cornwall -- to take it on the road again.

Why Chicago and New Orleans? I like both cities and I thought it would be fun to spend a week in each doing research. And since the theme of the book was blues and murder, where better? As for Wilmington -- I had been there several times for the Cape Fear Crime Festival, and I knew the size of the city would work as a place where Lizzie could arrive, ask questions, and find the lead she would need to get her to New Orleans.

And this time around with Forty Acres -- I wanted to spend some time on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and in Vinalhaven, Maine, and ever so briefly in Newport, Rhode Island. But more important each place worked for what I needed it to do in the plot.

The cover of Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave is a photo that I took when I was visiting the park and wild life reserve on Assateague. I wasn't too sure about using it since I am not a great photographer. In fact, I rely on technology to correct my mistakes. But my publisher used the photo for the ARC and then decided to keep it for the book. So I have the book cover reminding me that I have not done what I should have done by this point. I was supposed to have gotten my research notes about the Eastern Shore of Virginia together and written an article for my website. And put up more photos. I also have a recipe for “Eastern Shore Crabmeat and Grits” created by my good friend, Alice, who comes up with a recipe for each of my books (a habit going back to the first book when my publisher decided to put together a giveaway of authors' recipes).

So . . . a salute to the place we all go in our writing. I think if there should be a book seven and eight in this series, Lizzie, Quinn, and I are going to Santa Fe and then to Paris -- both places completely necessary to the plots I have in mind.


Donis Casey said...

Perhaps I should let my protagonist get out of the Oklahoma boonies for a change and travel to Paris.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I've planned ahead on this one. I've had John Quinn mentioning Paris for the last two books. We will all be disappointed if we don't go.

Rick Blechta said...

Congratulations! A book release day is always a good one. Hope it sells like gangbusters.

I can heartily recommend Paris as a setting. ;)

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Rick.

I think before trying to use Paris as a setting, I really should work on my French. Last time (second time) I was there, I was very lucky that I was with my cousin and his wife. She's fluent in French -- which won't help me with my story unless we happen to be there at the same time.