Wednesday, February 24, 2016


I love both travel reading and travel writing. Nope, I don't do magazine features that begin something like this: "The orange sand beaches of Orangapeelie Cove will take your breath away this time of year, and the meals at Nightmare's Inn manage to surpass my ability to describe them. For example, here is their recipe for . . . ."

You guessed it. There are other ways for me to travel, and at little cost. For example, when I want to escape extreme weather:

Ahh, the driveway is shoveled and my toes are thawing in fuzzy slippers. Think I'll re-read one of my favorite winter-read novels. Um, which one? Oh yes, this.  Page 1:

Summer in Benteen County, Kansas, is a season possessed of all the gentle subtlety of an act of war. A week ago the thermometer had risen past the unbearable mark . . . and, in automatic response, the humidity rushed after it--to a level technically described as obscene."  (From J. M. Hayes' mystery novel, "Mad Dog and Englishmen."

But it gets hot in the Ozarks too. In August I prefer reading something like "Iron Lake" by William Kent Kruger, where I can experience a white-out blizzard and frozen bodies in Minnesota, or, perhaps, "Virgin in the Ice" by Ellis Peters.

Mystery authors are master manipulators, aren't they? They create atmosphere and location inside minds, take us to places dark and stormy or sun burnt and hot, thrill us with chilly caves, steaming jungles, and worlds far away from the familiar. The more skillful the writer, the more willing we are to believe, share, travel, and enjoy; riding along eagerly with characters and events and seeing new places that become real--for at least the space of a novel.

Many works of fiction offer this real place reality, some taking us to actual locations. I love that type of novel. I don't have to pack a bag, endure airlines, or make long car trips, though quite often I do wish I could see the location for myself at a later date.

Meanwhile, here I am in the Arkansas Ozarks. My love for Arkansas led to an interest in writing about it, and I spent more than ten years selling articles, essays, and poetry about the Ozarks to publications in the United States and other countries. Then, after a non-fiction book set where I then lived ("Dear Earth: A Love Letter from Spring Hollow), was published in New York in 1995, I decided to try my hand at writing the type of book I enjoy reading most--the traditional mystery.

My first effort, "A Valley to Die For," (2002) was set in the same remote Ozarks area as "Dear Earth," an easy location to describe realistically. In my second novel, "Music to Die For," I sent my protagonist, Carrie McCrite, accompanied by her friends, to another Ozarks spot I love, Ozark Folk Center State Park. (Picture Sturbridge Village with an Ozarks setting and a theater where old-time music can be enjoyed.) From then on, each of my stories has taken place at a different Arkansas tourist destination.

It wasn't long before I, and my location destinations, discovered it was not only fun to site books at locations enjoyed by both tourists and Arkansans, it was good business. Settings are real enough that, at signings, I often give out actual tourist brochures and location maps to those coming to my signing table.

As a reader, I am excited when I find a new author who takes me to a real place and welcomes me into a mystery/adventure puzzle. As a writer I love telling stories set in places I have chosen to visit, absorb, and then share with readers. And, as a result, most story locations sell my novels, and tourist-oriented publications, including airline and National Park magazines, have carried articles and information about my writing.

My upcoming Oak Tree Press novel, "A Portrait to Die For," takes Carrie McCrite and Henry King, their family and friends, to a new and verifiably exciting real location, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. As a volunteer in the Crystal Bridges' Library, Carrie has behind-the-scene access to some of the events there, and, along with an aggressive reporter, uncovers art crime so well hidden no one has suspected. The problem? Prove it, and learn who is responsible without being hurt--or killed!
Join me?

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