Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Stars Align... A Book Is Born

By Donis Casey, guest blogger

Did you ever wonder how an author comes up with story ideas? Sometimes the stars align...

I’m sitting in Pastimes Cafe in Enid, Oklahoma, with my husband Don and his sister Dolores.

It is October of 2006, and I’m on a book tour for Hornswoggled, the second novel in my Alafair Tucker historical mystery series. Enid is my husband’s home town, and I have been able to combine an event at the Garfield County Library with a visit to the relatives. Pastimes Cafe, one of Dolores’s favorites, is located in a refurbished old brick industrial building from the 1920s, and the walls are decorated with reproductions of historic photos of the town.

After a nice meal, the waitress brings the check, and Don and Dolores begin
their time-honored fight over who is going to pay for our grilled cheeses. Dolores is the eldest of that brood of seven children, and Don is the youngest. In the decades that Don and I have been married, Dolores has never allowed her mother’s baby to drive all the way home for a visit just to pay for her lunch. Over the last several years, though, Don has decided that it is incumbent upon him to do the manly thing and pick up the check for his widowed sister.

I keep my mouth shut. During this particular check-wrestling episode, just about the time it begins to look like two Social Security recipients are going to end up rolling around in a tangle on the floor, I employ a technique I learned long ago. I detach from reality and enter a pleasant altered state until negotiations are completed.

I’m facing the wall, upon which is a large framed historic photograph of the Enid town square, taken in the middle of the 1910s. Still in my very special happy state, I’m drawn into the photo, and find myself standing on the sidewalk in the fall of 1915, looking down West Randolph Street. All of the shops along the street are covered with striped awnings, which provide a cooling shade for shoppers during pre-air-conditioned Oklahoma summers. An electrified trolley is paused forever in its tracks at the bottom of the picture. A young man in a straw boater stands on the corner, waiting to cross the street, as a woman with her arms full of packages emerges from Klein’s Department Store. Rather like a movie in which the opening scene dissolves from a static to a moving picture, the young woman begins to walk, and I realize that it’s Martha Tucker, Alafair’s eldest daughter. And right behind her comes Alafair herself, with her youngest, Grace, in her arms.

What is Alafair doing in Enid, I wonder? She and her husband and their ten children live on a farm outside of Boynton, Oklahoma, which is some 150 miles southeast of Enid. Perhaps she, too, is visiting relatives, and Martha and Grace have come with her. It’s early autumn, though, a bad time for a farmer’s wife to go gallivanting around. Something important must have brought her to town.

It could only be an imminent death in the family. Apparently a relative of Alafair’s lives here - her sister Ruth Ann, of course, since in my experience, people’s sisters live in Enid. People’s widowed sisters, so it must be her sister’s husband Lester who is dying. Yes, I believe Alafair is visiting her wealthy sister and her husband, who live in the huge 1905 Victorian mansion that Don and I walked by over on Elm Street that morning.

He must be an important businessman in town, this brother-in-law - a founding father, who made the Cherokee Strip Land Run in 1893. He must have quite a history, and some powerful enemies, like Buck Collins, who would love to do him harm even as he lay dying. And even rich and important and ruthless men love their wives and children, and might do shocking things to protect them.

There’s a murder here, I can smell it, and some deeply buried family secrets.

Don’s persistence has prevailed. He will pay the check, and Dolores will leave the tip. Another family ritual has been honored, and I have the germ of a new book.

It’s January of 2009, and I’m holding in my hand the hardcover first edition of The Sky Took Him. It’s a good thing that Alafair and her daughters happened to go to Enid. If they hadn’t, no one might have discovered what really happened to Ruth Ann’s son-in-law Kenneth, or why Martha won’t marry the man she loves, or why Lester has hated Buck Collins for more than twenty years.

Visit Donis's website at for more information about the author and her books.


Kay said...

Donis, thanks for sharing your experience "through the looking glass". It adds to the charm of antipating this latest entry into one of my very favorite series.

Auntie Knickers said...

Fascinating! I'm doing a project of reading a mystery set in each of the 50 states and DC, and when I reach Oklahoma I know whose book I'll be reading!

Sharon Wildwind said...

This is a wonderful story. What I love is when those thoughts about characters flow logically into one another, like having to have a good reason to come to town in the autumn. Then, bingo, one logic leads into another and there's a story.

Donis Casey said...

Sharon, writing is such a mystery. I am sometimes amazed at where inspiration comes from. Usually, I feel like it doesn't have anything to do with my brain.

sexy said...