We writers hear: “write what you know,” and that’s probably good advice. But even better, I think, is this: “Write what you don’t know.”
Every time I’ve gone on a journey to gain knowledge about a subject, I have found that people are remarkably generous about sharing their expertise. This was true with my second novel, Eli’s Heart; my fourth novel, Jamie’s Children, and of novels number five and six, Memories of Jake and Man with No Yesterdays.
I’m currently at work on a totally new genre, a “cozy mystery” (I think this book falls within the guidelines, though there’s definitely a budding romance throughout the book. Maybe a “cozy romantic mystery”?). My as yet unnamed novel takes place in Cincinnati in 1963, on the campus of a women’s college. I lived in Cincinnati—a city I loved—at that time, but fortunately was never on the wrong side of the law. Consequently, I had no idea how law enforcement in the city of Cincinnati worked.
What to do? Well, I couldn’t write without my computer and Google, and searches took me to a perfect place: The Greater Cincinnati Police Museum and retired CPD Lieutenant Stephen Kramer, Director of the Museum, which is staffed entirely by volunteers. The Museum’s website is impressive, and photos show displays of guns, badges, murder weapons, and even uniforms from different eras, as well as newspapers, plaques, and other memorabilia. The organization has a Facebook page as well, which attests to visitors finding it worthwhile to stop in and browse. It’s a place I hope someday to visit.
Their website also contains a gallery of tributes to fallen law enforcement officers not just from Cincinnati, but also from the eight-county surrounding area that makes up Greater Cincinnati. Lt. Kramer authored these, and those I have read are factual and moving accounts of not just the incidents in which these brave policemen and women died, but also the story of who they were and of what happened to wives, children, and other family members following the loss of their loved one. There are over two hundred entries.
Equally important for my novel, Lt. Kramer has generously and eloquently shared his thoughts as a former homicide detective to help me better understand my principal male character. Detective Malcolm Mitchell is a homicide detective and very different from the men who have appeared in my other books, who are mostly musicians and artists. It’s engrossing to begin to understand Malcolm Mitchell. The more I get to know him, the more I like him and appreciate what he does.
My female protagonist is a musician, teacher, and stage director for two colleges in Cincinnati, so I am combining what I don’t know—but am learning about—with what I know well. While Augusta McKee may bear some resemblance to the author in that she is a singer, a voice teacher, and a stage director, Augusta, independent and self-sufficient, is a woman who has never married, loves fashion, and has had a sometime career as an opera singer. She’s also five feet nine inches tall and wears stilettos.
The murder of a young female student and the ensuing investigation take place against the background of a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s farcical operetta, The Pirates of Penzance. Linnea Murphy was to have played the leading role of Mabel, and her death occurs within a few weeks of opening night. The idea of this dichotomy … an intense murder investigation, a light-hearted stage production … I hope the reader will find intriguing.
Who killed Linnea Murphy? That’s the mystery Augusta McKee and Detective Mitchell will face together.
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