Digging for Treasure

Group_of_Gun_Dogs_from_1915

Gun dogs: in Dogs of All Nations (W.E. Mason, 1915)

While mystery fiction has quite a few dog-related series, none of them were set in a boarding kennel at the time Deadly Ties was published. Makes a great setting with plenty of characters coming and going—and dogs, of course!

The kennel becomes the physical “anchor” for the book, and for the entire series. As the series opens, kennel owner and dog trainer Maggie Porter is focused on attracting clients and getting the kennel up and running. Her opening coincides with the Merchants’ League’s latest campaign to promote tourism. It’s a new twist on a folktale: business leaders have created a regional “Treasures of the Ozarks” marketing campaign to encourage tourism. The world of business loves tag lines and slogans, and my fictional business leaders are no different. In the story, some clever PR person christens Waterside Kennels  “the newest treasure of the Ozarks.”

And here’s where I should confess: although I’m fascinated by Ozark myths and legends, I didn’t rush right out and buy a metal detector when I first heard the tales about buried treasure. I will tell you, though, that meeting  historian and folklorist Mr. Philip Steele fired up my imagination. With his encouragement, I began plotting a series of books that will include regional folktales and superstitions.

As I researched the old tales, I discovered a great many folks are convinced that treasure really exists, and they’re determined to find it. Others are just as convinced that the treasure talks are pure fiction, and are heartily sick of treasure hunters trespassing on their lands. Since many of those trespassers like to cut fences and dig holes—which they leave unfilled for some unlucky wanderer to fall into—I can certainly appreciate the landowners’ perspective, and I’ve taken care to alter some of the details I was given. That hasn’t stopped some from demanding more information. At one signing, a reader approached with a copy of the book in one hand and a map in the other, and wanted me to mark the location of the silver mentioned in the story!

I’ve also discovered that treasure hunting seems a recession-proof occupation. Since I started researching this series back in the late 1990s, I continue to see the topic of treasure active in online discussions. Even now the forums frequented by coin collectors have posts debating the best places now to use their metal detectors in their quest for Indian silver, Spanish gold, or Civil War relics.

One of the most active sites appears to be TreasureNet, with most participants passionate about metal detecting. That’s where I first came across the Treasure Hunter’s Code of Ethics. (Who knew?) You can find the code posted wherever you buy metal detectors; while the language might vary  from one site to the next, the key principles remain the same. It’s too bad the trespassing treasure hunters won’t abide by the Code.

The treasure hunters’ forums are full of tales and superstitions. And when a tale leads to a “find” that’s enough to keep them searching for more. And so the legends live on, and folktales are passed along, from one generation to the next, keeping the old tales alive. What’s truth? What’s not? Find the right mix, and you have a story waiting to be told.

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