Location, location, location
My books focus on characters. Usually flawed people who are somehow involved in solving a mystery. Quite often that mystery is murder. The language, interactions, strengths and weaknesses of those characters is what drives the story and, hopefully, keeps the reader turning the pages to find out what happens. That has been my goal since I began writing; introducing strong, interesting and complicated characters.
There is another aspect of my books that is very important; that is location. All of the books have a connection to a real location; which creates the atmosphere that becomes a part of the story. Thought I would give you some background on how those locations came about for each series.
The Bootlegger’s Legacy. This book is set in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Texas and Mexico. Specifically, Oklahoma City, Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, El Paso and Juarez. If you’ve been following my blog or newsletter, you would know that those are locations that are connected to me. I was born in Oklahoma and spent my first forty years as an “Okie.” From there I moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico and fell in love with the desert. Working in Las Cruces introduced me to El Paso, Texas and Juarez, Mexico. I had many business dealings in both cites long before the rise of the drug cartels. Always felt comfortable and welcomed in those diverse communities. T or C is just north of Las Cruces and several of my clients had business dealings there. On many occasions I visited the small town next to a huge lake with the odd name: Elephant Butte.
The heart of TBL is connected to two places; Old Mesilla and Deep Deuce. One in Las Cruces and one in Oklahoma City. Deep Deuce was a mostly black area just north of downtown OKC which had been a thriving nightclub/bar district in the 1930s through the 1960s. During the 40s and 50s this was one of the stops for nationally known jazz and blues bands and singers. Most of the famous musicians and singers of the time made an appearance in Deep Deuce.
My connection was towards the end of this area’s infamous past. In high school, while seeking adventure and illegal booze, I began to frequent a bar that was still operating in the forbidden area of town. I loved it. I was not old enough by a bunch, but they seemed to serve any white boys who had the nerve to venture into their forbidden world. The whole atmosphere was mysterious and slightly sinister. But it was also odd in that I never felt threatened or in danger; and they had the best pizza on the planet. I only visited maybe a dozen times, but it made a lasting impression.
TBL is about a bootlegger, Pat Allen, who makes a fortune in Oklahoma in the 1950s selling illegal booze and leaves his son a huge amount of that money hidden in Deep Deuce. After the bootlegger has been dead for some time the son and his friend go on an adventure following clues left by the bootlegger to find the fortune. The places they visit following the trail of the bootlegger from many years before and how it changes them is the story of the book. It is people, places and different times; but with good and bad outcomes.
Pacheco & Chino. This series has its emphasis on that small town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Ray Pacheco, a character first introduced in TBL, has retired to T or C so he can fish and hide from everyone; but he soon becomes involved in a murder mystery. The first book in the series focuses on T or C as Ray and his friends become involved in the election of a new sheriff for that county.
The main location of the second book is Ruidoso, New Mexico. Another small New Mexico town that I have visited many times. The third book is set in Farmington, New Mexico. The main character in the third book was “loosely” based on a real person I had met in Farmington while working as a financial consultant. There is one scene in the book where that character is shot at by his very young wife while he swims back and forth while she’s shooting in front of him. In the book this scene ends in tragedy; but the real person told the story of this same event happening to him (including the very young wife) and it all ends with everyone laughing.
Farmington, as it states in the book, was one of the scariest places I ever flew into. The approach looks for all of the world like you are heading into the side of a mesa. I experienced some interesting things in my visits to Farmington, but I was always glad to leave.
Muckraker Series. These books all take place in Oklahoma City and Tulsa. They are based on a thin connection to the real world events surrounding a governor’s race in Oklahoma where the democratic candidate was bludgeoned by the local monopoly newspaper and as a result the loser opened his own competing newspaper. I knew several of the low-level people in this feud and had a good ring side seat to all of the ugly action.
Oklahoma City is my hometown and I know (or knew) it well. Many of the bars, restaurants and local places of interest visited by the characters were places I hung out or at least visited on occasion.
Oklahoma City took a major hit in the late 70s early 80s with the financial collapse of the oil industry. Everything in the state was somehow connected to oil and when that industry suffered an amazing collapse, it effected everything.
I enjoyed writing about my hometown, but I was also happy to leave the state in the 80s and have no plans to return.
Vincent Malone series. Malone spent much of his life in Denver, my current hometown, but based on some bad decisions and a loathing of cold weather found himself headed south when he stopped in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Most of these books are set in New Mexico and Colorado; with Santa Fe as a hub. My wife and I made many happy trips to Santa Fe while we lived in Las Cruces and Albuquerque. We enjoyed the town, but also found it a little odd; it was the perfect place for Vincent Malone and all of his faults to land.
As you can see the common theme in all of the locations is that I have been there. Obviously authors write about places they haven’t been (Mars?) but it’s a lot easier for me to visualize my made-up characters in places I have personally been. Plus, I think many of these locations while not exactly Paris are interesting in their own right and provide a unique background for a murder mystery solving adventure.