Friday, July 15, 2011

Making My Child's Life Difficult

Frankie here. It's a simile that I've heard writers (is it only women writers?) use. That writing a book is like giving birth. And then you send your child out into the world. I have a new book coming out at the end of this month. I finished it last year. It made a brief appearance at the end of April at Malice Domestic becasuse I asked my publisher to rush to print and have copies available because I was on a panel. Then my book disappeared again until its official release date at the end of this month.

I fear I may have given my child (uh, book) a rocky start by creating confusion about when it was available. Anyone who contacted the publisher has been able to order it (as I explained on my website), but it has been invisible. The book by the way is titled Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave. And I hope I can keep my poor child from drowning. You see aside from its awkward debut, I set my book in a real place -- the Eastern Shore of Virginia -- and then instead of using the setting only as backdrop, I really used the Eastern Shore in the book.

The story happens in 2004, and an early scene was inspired by a newspaper article that I read when I was doing research. The article was about hit-and-run automobile accidents involving migrant laborers happening then on the Eastern Shore. The book has a subplot running through it about migrant labor on the Eastern Shore. My protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, has lunch with someone who works with migrant laborers. And the subject creates some tension during the weekend gathering because the friends that Lizzie and her fiancé, John Quinn, are visiting own a large farm and have next door neighbors who are a struggling farm family. Did I mention the next door neighbors are African American (inspired by an exhibit I saw in Baltimore about the disappearing black family farm and a class action lawsuit and the fact my family once owned a small farm).

And then there's the issue of "Big Chicken" and environmental pollution from chicken processing plants on the Eastern Shore. But these social issues come up in the context of a "Big Chill"- type gathering of Quinn's old West Point buddies to celebrate a birthday. So there's also a lot of talk about their lives. The group even spend a pleasant day (although a hurricane is on its way up the coast) visiting Chincoteague and Assateague Island (home of the wild ponies), And Lizzie enjoys her visit to the Barrier Islands Center. Of course, she does make some observations along the way about things like tombstones in a soybean field and that becomes a part of another historical subplot about a murder that I made up. . . but, hey, it's a mystery. Question is, how the folks on the Eastern Shore are going to react to the fact that I didn't just use my setting as a lovely backdrop.

The Eastern Shore isn't the only watery location in the book. Chapter One opens with a murder in Newport, Rhode Island. And another character claims to have spent time on Vinalhaven, Maine, prompting Lizzie to look up the island and comment on what she reads. I spent two weeks in November on Vinalhaven, and it was perfect for what I needed in the book. For the record, no murders happen on Vinalhaven. Lizzie even comments that she would like to go there to visit.

I also spent two weeks on the Eastern Shore doing research. I had a great time there -- charming small towns, delicious seafood, and I stayed at a wonderful, pop culture-inspired bed and breakfast during my second visit. But I kill some people on the Eastern Shore and not all of them are visitors. And I fear I may have made life difficult for my child (uh, book) about to go out into the world by not describing my setting in glowing terms that would have gotten me invited to speak up and down the peninsula and gotten the book into every bookstore and shop on the Eastern Shore and in nearby Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach as a "fun read" for visitors to the Shore.

In my last book, You Should Have Died on Monday, I also used real places -- Chicago, Wilmington, North Carolina, pre-Katrina New Orleans -- but what I forgot is that in Chicago and New Orleans, you expect noir and murder and nothing bad happened in Wilmington.

Anyway, the end of the month is coming. I've sent out copies of Forty Acres and a Soggy Grave to bookstores, shops, and the library on the Eastern Shore where I did some research. Soon I'll know if my child is going to get a friendly reception in its birthplace. This weekend, I'm going to get an essay about the locations in the book and some photographs up on my website. For the record, I highly recommend a trip to the Eastern Shore. I'm a native Virginian, and the Shore is one of Virginia's treasures (the reason I wanted to set a book there).

Just make sure you aren't going there for a birthday gathering of your fiance's old West Point Army buddies. Did I mention, I also get into the impact of war on warriors? But there is a lighter soap opera thread . . . except the character who is a former soap opera star was once kidnapped by an obsessed fan and . . . Oh, my poor child. What did I do to you?


Liz V. said...

Perhaps you could salvage your effort by promising to have yor next child kill off a few (lots of) tourists.

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

LOL, Liz. That promise might be the only thing that will save me.

Of course, they know the issues there, and it is set seven years ago in 2004. I'm hoping that as a tourist destination, they'll be a little pleased to have a mystery featuring the Shore. The any publicity idea. . .

But that subplot about the tombstones in the soybean field might have been a mistake.

Of course, the vicitms of the two present day murders are from elsewhere. So that might help.