When I was a little girl dreaming about being an author, I thought what authors did was sit down behind a typewriter and write a book. Now, there are some authors who write this way, using computers instead of typewriters of course, but I’ve found that almost every book I write requires poking in the corners of the Internet or opening up a non-fiction book to research something I’m not familiar with. This is a lot of fun for someone who once wondered if she could get a job as a professional student.
For Holly Green Murder, one of the things I needed to research was poisons. I already knew that several of the traditional Christmas plants are toxic, but using one of those as a murder weapon presented several problems, not the least of which was that it’s highly unlikely anyone would choose to eat the leaves of a poinsettia plant. I’d also already used a plant-based poison in a previous book.
I have several books on poisons on my reference shelf, so I started flipping through those for an idea. The problem with those is that most of the “common” poisons used in mysteries in previous decades (arsenic, strychnine, and cyanide) are no longer used in household products because they are poisonous. I spent several hours using Google to try to find out how an average person in a small town might have access to them. That proved not to be as easy as I thought.
I wound up on various chemical company websites, all of which required information about a business before allowing you to place an order. With today’s awareness on terrorism, I was pretty sure creating a dummy business to order cyanide would get you flagged by the FBI or Homeland Security or something.
While I put that problem to simmer on the back burner of my brain, I also started brainstorming a character for the killer. Since lethal poisons were so hard to get hold of, I zigged over to “angel of mercy” serial killers. These are medical professionals who kill their patients, often those with long-term illnesses, as an act of mercy. They want to help these patients quicken their inevitable end. A variant of this is the “angel of death” killer. In many of these cases, the nurse, doctor, or nurse’s aide doesn’t actually want to kill the patient. They want to bring them close to death so they can save them. But this would require either eliminating Kirstie Wallace, the retirement home nurse, from future books or introducing a new character, perhaps a new doctor in town, as the killer. Neither of those appealed to me.
But that led me to other serial killers, which got me looking at news stories from the recent past. I managed to discover a different poison which just might work for my killer. After more clicking to find out such things as what the lethal dose would be, what it tastes like, what the symptoms are, where you can get it, etc., I decided that this would work with very little fudging of the truth. If you want to find out what it is, you’ll have to read Holly Green Murder.
Not all of my research is as gruesome as reading about poisons and how to kill people.
For a long time, I’ve contemplated writing a cowboy romance series. I grew up watching cowboy shows, not only on Saturday mornings but with my parents at night. During the fifties and early sixties, cowboy television shows and movies were all the rage. Gunsmoke was one of the longest running shows ever. It ran for ten years on radio and twenty years on television.
When I moved to Tucson, in a way it was recreating my childhood. I was tickled that there was an annual rodeo, La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, each February. There’s Old Tucson, just west of the city over Gates Pass, where many famous movies and the TV series High Chaparral were filmed. The trip to Tombstone and its re-creation of the gunfight at the OK Corral is a must-see when visitors come to town.
Life was simpler then, or at least that’s how we remember it. There were the bad guys in black hats and the good guys in white hats. Crises were resolved by Matt Dillon, Wyatt Earp, and the Lone Ranger in thirty minutes to an hour. John Wayne took a little longer.
I’ve become intrigued by the history and everyday life of that time period. Currently, I’m reading Arizona: A Cavalcade of History by Marshall Trimble. I’m thoroughly enjoying learning more about the colorful people who populate Arizona’s past.
I have a bunch more books on my shelf waiting to be read—several by Barbara Marriott—and a long list on Amazon that I haven’t bought yet. I also have a list of places to visit starting next month, when the weather gets cooler.
I’m not 100% sure I’ll write that romance series (although I’m looking forward to giving it a try in 2019), but I’m having a ball doing the research.