Sunday, November 13, 2016

My Piper

Birthing Piper Blackwell

I love reading mysteries with plausible characters; they tug me through a novel. But an unbelievable character, or one who does things that make no sense, cause me to set the book on my giveaway stack and reach for another.

So when I started to write The Dead of Winter, first in the Piper Blackwell mystery series, I wanted a plausible character with a background that justified her motivations and actions.

I picked up the telephone and called the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. My sheriff—Piper Blackwell—was going to have served with the Screaming Eagles. And she was going to be young.

Back in that proverbial day I was a reporter, and I ran the Kentucky news bureau for Scripps Howard. Several times I hopped in my car and drove to the base to cover various stories. They were never feel-good-features. It was either the occasional murder or the not-so-occasional incident of domestic violence, and once—thirty years past—it was for the devastating plane crash that killed more than two hundred and forty-eight soldiers. Here’s a link to an article about the tragedy:

Way back then I thought about writing fiction with a character who’d been a soldier. But after my news reporting days, and until recently, I’d only been writing fantasy and science fiction. When I switched to the mystery genre, I knew it was time to dust off that plan.

Enter Piper Blackwell.

When I called Fort Campbell, the man on the other end of the phone—Bob Jenkins—helped me build her training program, where and how often she deployed, her assignments, and showed me how she could have attained the rank of sergeant and been decorated by the ripe young age of 22. He taught me about the MP program, where women could excel, what she would have covered while on the base, and about the dangerous downrange assignments in the Middle East that could have shaped her.

He helped me craft a believable, plausible character…who I had run for sheriff of Spencer County, Indiana.

And Piper won that election, trading on her family name…the previous sheriff being her father. On my research trip through the county I chatted with local folks, some of them involved in campaigning, and learned that quite a few of the county politicians had family ties and that there was a scattered bit of nepotism.

It was believable that she could win.

Should she have won? Probably not, and hence that provided me with a little friction within her department. Her chief deputy was more qualified; he has a granddaughter the same age as Piper.

I enjoyed writing Piper and her first murder case. It brought back memories of my newspaper days and when I used to traipse around southern Indiana. Some good times there…and some unfortunate, awful incidents I had to report on.

I’m plotting her next adventure right now. She’s got to hire a new detective for the department, and another deputy. She’s got another murder to solve, a cold case. The sequel is tentatively titled The Dead of Night.

There will be a dog in it, a nod to the Robert B. Parker books I loved to read. Spencer and Jesse Stone had dogs.

I hope you join Piper in not-so-sleepy Spencer County. I promise to keep her real.

USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 35 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Winter, her 36th, is her first mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.

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