My wife Janet Lynn, and I have been writing together for several years and are just completing our fourth co-written murder mystery novel. Since our stories are set in the 1950s, we have to research many of the locations that have either changed or no longer exist. And because our storylines take us to distant places, we travel to many of those sites in order to get it right. Google Earth is great, and the web is invaluable, but there is only so much you can learn from these resources. Nothing beats being there in person. This works out great because we both love to travel.
For our first Skylar Drake Mystery, SLIVERS OF GLASS, we traveled to the northern California wine country, including Sonoma County, Bodega Bay and Santa Rosa.
STRANGE MARKINGS took us to Molokai where we researched pre-statehood Hawaii. This was the only Hawaiian island that wasn’t overly developed and gave us an idea of Hawaii before all the high-rise buildings.
Las Vegas in the mid-1950s was the setting for DESERT ICE. Most of our time was spent in the Special Collections at the UNLV Library, the Clark County Library and the Nevada State Museum. The Mob Museum to really give us the flavor of Vegas in 1955. We also had the opportunity to interview a Las Vegas Dancer and the daughter a notorious mobster who lived there in the 1950s.
When we tell friends and family about our trips, they turn green with envy and mistakenly think we are on a vacation. Nothing could be further from the truth, although we do learn things a “normal” tourist wouldn’t. We are entertained by the people we meet and the historical tidbits that come to light during our research.
Success in our research may stem from the questions Janet asks hotel staff, restaurant wait staff and sometimes random residents we meet on the street. She’ll ask, “If you needed to dump a dead body around here… where would you put it?” The result is one of two different reactions. First: The person will take a couple of steps back and look around for an escape route. Or Second: They’ll provide specific locations of abandoned buildings, intersections, cemetery names, coves, cliffs or other places. This can seem a bit disconcerting, because that response means they’ve thought about this in depth. There are times I’ve felt like taking a couple of steps back myself.
Our most recent book is a prime example. SLICK DEAL is set in 1956 on Santa Catalina Island. (only twenty-something miles off the coast of southern California.) We did exhaustive online research before consulting the Long Beach Main Library. We happened to be on Catalina Island for other reasons a few months ago and stopped in at the Visitors Center. They also referred us to the Avalon branch of the L.A. County Library , which happened to be closed at the time we visited. We next visited the Chamber of Commerce, who, once again, referred us to the Library. This wasn’t going to work, so we visited the Catalina Conservancy. Guess where they referred us. Yes, the Library. We thought we had it solved when we went to the Catalina Island Museum. Again, they said, to try the Library. This prompted another visit to the Island when the Library was open. We scheduled it during the month our story took place and many questions were answered. The staff was helpful and even provided white cotton gloves so we could rummage through their archives.
Some of the most interesting facts came from the guide at the Avalon Casino “Frankie of Avalon,” who grew up on Catalina. There was also a fellow at the golf-cart rental shop, and a couple of waiters. Does that sound like a relaxing vacation?
Once we visited these locations, we were struck with inspiration and appreciation for the locales.
Online research is great, but physically visiting the places where your story takes place can supply all your senses with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and the personality of the people you meet. As a couple writing together, we have a great time and, after four books, we’re still married.
If you’ve never read any of my books you might not know that I love to write about spirits, ghosts, witches and the like. Over the years I’ve developed a growing curiosity about the paranormal world. I’ve filled my personal library with books on everyday spells and rituals and located several websites where I’ve come in contact with some intriguing folks. Most recently I’ve become enamored with the use of crystals and natural healing remedies as a means of tapping into our earth’s truly magical gifts. I find it all quite fascinating.
So it makes sense that I’d use some of this new found knowledge to create a mystical world of my own by writing my first series The Witches Of New Moon Beach. At least it makes sense to me, although my father (if he were still alive) would surely call me a “kook”!
Thankfully, my husband has patiently supported my interests and helped me to seek out curious sites, stores and book shops to aid in my research. And my children have done their part by alerting me to unusual stories, websites and people they’ve come in contact with.
For Christmas, my daughter jumped right into my kookiness by giving me The Ghost Tour on the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California where we went this past weekend.
We were both so nervous and excited and arrived on the ship at 10:45 p.m. ready to hunt for spirits. What we didn’t know was that the guide planned on extending this evening’s event until 3:00 in the morning… a little more time in the bowels of a supposedly haunted ship than either of us were prepared for.
After lengthy instructions from our supernaturally sensitive spirit hunter – aka our guide, we set our cell phones to record and wandered the engine room; stopping occasionally to pose a question or two to any waiting spirits. Sitting in cold metal steps in the dark we asked repeatedly for any sign of spiritual existence.
Sad to say, if there were ghosts aboard, they must have been traveling in a different part of the ship. Or maybe they just weren’t very talkative that night.
By 1:15 a.m. my daughter and I were both beat and opted out of the rest of the tour. Armed with recorders, movement sensors, a compass and other data collecting devices the rest of our troop happily continued on with their supernatural investigation while we jumped in our Uber and jaunted home. I understand that we missed the best part – the haunted pool area. Oh well.
You might wonder if I thought the trip was a bust because we didn’t run into any visitors from the other side?
No way. Absolutely not. I learned a lot about collecting paranormal data, the inner workings of the Queen Mary Ship and how much people really do want to engage with the spirit world. Would I do it again? Maybe.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you – when I got up the next morning I hid out in my bedroom where listened intently to my cell phone recording of the evening before. Was that a spirit I heard softly whispering and who was that giggling in the background? Was the tapping I heard a natural mechanical sound emanating from old pipes or was it a spirit attempting to communicate with me?
I guess I’ll never know for sure, but I can tell you that no spirits followed us home and I did get some great ideas to add to my next book.
Next research investigation? The castles of Scotland.
As many tourists will tell you. One of the most recognizable landmarks of Hollywood (besides the Hollywood sign and the Chinese Theater) is the round Capitol Records building. It opened on April 6, 1956. That evening a red light on the tip of the spire atop the building at 1750 Vine Street (a couple blocks north of Hollywood Boulevard) began spelling out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D in Morse code. Then Capital president Alan Livingston ordered the light be added as a symbol that the Capitol Record label was the first with a presence in Los Angeles. Except for the years 1992 when the light blinked out C-A-P-I-T-A-L 5-0, celebrating Capitol Records fiftieth anniversary and 2016 when it flashed C-A-P-I-T-O-L 7-5 for the company’s seventy-fifth anniversary, the red light atop the spire continues to flash the original message.
World famous singers and musicians made Capitol Records their label, including: Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and many more.
Even the most casual observer can see that the wide curved awnings over the windows on each story and the tall spike emerging from the top of the building resembles a stack of records on a turntable. But, Lou Naidorf, the building’s designer, didn’t have that in mind at all.
While Hollywood has undergone a lot of changes, this landmark has held its ground. Even in the 21st century, while many well known artists are recording music in a digital format. Turntables and vinyl LPs have regained popularity. Perhaps the meaning of the Capitol Records building’s design will once again be connected with the entertainment capitol of the world.
This iconic building was featured in several movies, including the 1974 movie “Earthquake,” 1997’s “Volcano” and 2004’s “The Day After Tomorrow” where it met an undignified demise. Despite these cinematic disasters, the light atop the building blinks out its H-O-L-L-Y-O-O-D message to this day.
Rain has been pouring off and on for two days. My driveway is a small pond, the backyard is more than saturated, all of our plants look perky and happy, and so am I. As long as I know that my guys are all safe, and I don’t have to go anywhere, I love a rainy day. When I was a little girl, cold rainy days meant that my mother probably had a simmering pot of soup on the stove, meatball, chicken noodle or navy bean…meatball was my favorite… and more importantly, there would be warm cookies waiting when I got off the bus from school. My boys could count on much the same when they were growing up.
It’s funny how a rainy day makes me think of my mother’s cookies, or my own little boys walking in the door inhaling deeply hoping for the aroma of their favorite chocolate chip, peanut butter or snickerdoodle cookies.
I just finished a Valentine’s novella, that will be releasing next month, and I’m working on my 1920’s historical women’s fiction novel, and even while I’m writing, food comes up. Some of my characters love to cook, others eat in fine restaurants, others eat absentmindedly at their desks while they work.
As a former food writer, it’s not surprising that I love to write about the dishes my characters enjoy…or not. Some of my favorite research is looking for recipes in antique cookbooks, new cookbooks, online or perusing restaurant menus. Old restaurant menus can give you a real taste of the times, great descriptions and even prices. And antique recipe cards or cookbooks can tell you how differently we cook today. The ingredients, cooking tools, and terminology all can be clues to the era or region of a story.
Since I love both books and cooking, I have a ridiculous number of cookbooks. I have culled the number after a couple of recent moves, but I look for them whenever I’m in used bookstores, and people often give them to me for gifts. One of my favorites is The One Maid Cookery Book, printed in London in 1913. I found this in an antique store. The minute I saw the title I knew I had to have the book. One maid, I have no maid! Oh, wait, I might be the maid!
Another is The American Woman’s Cook Book edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, and published by Garden City Publishing Company in New York, 1943. This book was left behind in a house my husband and I rented years ago. It’s filled with information on table setting, entertaining, menu planning for every day, holidays, or a limited budget. The pictures are wonderful and set a real flavor for the time.
The rain seems to have slowed outside, and my husband and youngest son will be home soon. I think I’ll go get something warm in the oven. Today I think I’ll go with the chocolate brownies that are loved by Lucy, the main character in my Valentine’s romance #PleaseSayYes.
What are your favorite food memories? Do you use food to set the scene or add to the story when you write? When you read do you skip the food descriptions or do they speak to you? Can you be found sitting in the bathtub reading a cookbook like a novel? Or maybe that’s just me…