There Came Along A Kitty

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in book #2 (Dangerous Deeds) that were inspired by real events. One of those is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

The roots of that story go back to the mid-1990s when my own beloved spaniel Alix found a raggedy bundle of fur in our yard and dropped it at my feet with a “Fix this!” look. Beneath the raggedy coat was a near-starved Calico we promptly named Katie. We nursed her back to health under the watchful eyes of the dog Alix and Amy, our Silver Tabby (another rescue). The three of them immediately became collaborators, conspirators, and loyal-to-the-end friends.

About six months before we lost Katie—the last of the three—in 2012, Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten weighing just 2½ pounds. One of the reasons he’s called the Wonder Cat is because it’s a wonder he’s still alive. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion he injured his foot, fracturing or dislocating most of the bones and mangling one of his claws. In the fear and pain that followed, Buddy’s feral instincts came roaring back and nobody escaped unscathed before the vet managed to get him sufficiently sedated to examine. If the vet clinic keeps a “Look out for…” list, there’s probably a picture of Buddy with the warning “don raptor gloves before handling.”

Thanks to the fabulous skill of our veterinarian and the clinic crew, our only reminder of that experience is one razor-like claw which to this day does not retract. I channeled a good bit of Buddy the Wonder Cat into the fictional feline you’ll meet in Dangerous Deeds. (That probably explains why he tends to sprawl on the desk when I’m writing.) In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.

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Reflections of Life in Fiction

fountain pen

I write mystery fiction. I write from experience, from observation, from research. The characters living in the world I create are good, bad, and sometimes both. They have virtues and vices. Some of my characters will share your view of the world and some won’t. In short, they’re the sort of people you already know or might expect to meet. And, like many people you know, some of these characters aren’t shy about voicing their opinions and fighting for what they think is right. And when opposing viewpoints collide, therein lies the conflict at the heart of the story.

My job as a writer, then, is to present those opinions and messages as part of the plot development. It’s far easier, frankly, to write a character whose values and beliefs match some of my own than it is to write a character at the other end of the spectrum. Both kinds of characters, however, are essential to the plot, so it’s my job as storyteller to present each as authentically as possible.

In Dangerous Deeds (forthcoming), you’ll find multiple characters with the common bond of military service but with differing opinions and interests. Writing these characters proved easy because I’m third-generation military. My paternal grandfather served in the Canadian Infantry in World War I, my father served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, and I served in the U.S. Air Force. I enlisted a year after the fall of Saigon and served through the Cold War of the 1970s and 1980s right through the first Gulf War before retiring from active duty in the mid-1990s. I was fortunate to serve alongside honorable and courageous men and women; the bonds we forged still hold and inform my writing.

While veterans of all ages share a common bond of service, our experiences vary and every generation has stories unique to their time. That’s where observation and research come into the writing process and allow me to create an assortment of characters of varying complexity. Take my protagonist’s neighbor Zak Henderson, for example, who was introduced in Deadly Ties. His time in uniform included three deployments to Afghanistan. If you were to say “Thank you for your service” to Zak, he’d likely nod and tell you that he was just upholding the family tradition of serving others.  Since leaving the military, he’s done his best to settle into civilian life as a single parent. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, Zak’s ready to stand in defense of what’s right.

Just like any other segment of the population, the military ranks include some who crave conflict and seek power over others. As much as we might like to believe everyone in uniform holds firm to the highest ethical standards, the reality is that some do not. In Dangerous Deeds, you’ll meet the character Karl Shackleford, former second-in-command to Sheriff Johnson’s corrupt predecessor. Karl opted for the Army rather than fall in line with the new law-and-order regime, and only came home after falling afoul of Army conduct regulations. Now he’s back on the job thanks to Veterans’ Reemployment Rights and eager to see his old boss reinstated as sheriff and resume his own position of power. He’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen, legal or otherwise.

Some veterans return with physical or psychological wounds, and more than a few find themselves without a place to call home. Some estimates suggest that nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Another 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness because of poverty, insufficient support networks, and housing issues. That’s true for some of my characters, too.  In Dangerous Deeds you’ll meet Martin Grimes, homeless after the family’s hilltop farm was auctioned off while Martin served overseas. Now he’s getting by one day at a time, doing odd jobs that come along, spending nights rough camping in the woods not far from Waterside Kennels and wondering just what he’d been fighting for. When trouble comes to Eagle Cove, he’ll have to decide, once again, where his sense of loyalty and honor will lead him.

Three men, all veterans, each with his own story to tell. Although fictional, each reflects some element of reality for military veterans today.

This week, the United States will recognize Veterans Day, originally known as Armistice Day in recognition of the ceasefire on the 11th hour of November 11, 1918 which ended World War I. If you’d like to learn ways to support military veterans in need, visit the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans or learn about the Lifeline for Vets.

Veterans Day 2015

 

And the Winner is…

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Congratulations, Barbara Tobey! You’ve won the 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Barbara, please email me (dogmysteries [at] gmail) and let me know where to send your prize! Remember you can keep for yourself, give as gifts–whatever you like!

Coming up: a sneak peek this week at Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Sharing a Love of Mysteries

One of my favorite places in the world is a library. That’s where I’ll be today, visiting with fans and friends at the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library. If you’re in the area, I hope to see you there!

Susan Holmes Book Discussion-Signing 10-11-15

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I’ll be back here soon to share more about facts and folktales in regional mysteries. Remember there’s a giveaway in progress, so be sure to leave a comment!

Folklore in Fiction

Yoachum Dollar Sprinkle CoinsI’m an “up close and personal” kind of researcher. So when I’m working on my regional series, that means I’m often out in the hills, meeting people and listening to the stories that have been handed down, one generation to the next, keeping the old legends alive. The story of the Yokum Dollar is one of those legends that I heard on multiple occasions, with each storyteller claiming some connection with the families involved. I stayed true to the heart of the tale when writing the legend into my own book, while fictionalizing elements as needed to suit the plot. Here’s the excerpt from Deadly Ties:

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….Maggie wandered among the exhibits, watching craftsmen make brooms and baskets, tapping her foot to the dulcimer music, and listening to the storytellers who had drawn a sizable crowd in the shade of tall oaks. She stopped to listen to a woman dressed in a style Maggie imagined was common among frontier women long ago. Sturdy boots peeked out from beneath the hem of her skirt, and the simple cotton blouse she wore looked homespun. Her steel gray hair was tucked beneath a bonnet.

“This here story has been handed down through my family ever since 1826,” the woman told the audience. “That’s about the time the first Yokum—that’d be Jamie Lee Yokum—settled along the big river herabouts. My family farmed the land down-river from the Yokum place, which is how I come to know this tale.”

“This land belonged to the Chickasaw tribe, and they were good neighbors, always sharing what they had. They were good traders, too, and pretty near famous for their beautiful silver jewelry. They always had plenty of silver but nobody knew—’cept the Indians, of course—where it all came from. Some said it was from a silver mine, and some claimed it was Spanish silver, but nobody knew for sure.

“When the government decided they wanted the Indians’ land, the Yokums traded some of their wagons and supplies in exchange for information about the source of that silver. As the story goes, the Indians shared their secret with Jamie Lee. They told him where he might find some of that silver, and he told his brothers. Times being what they was, and money being about as hard to come by as an honest politician, the Yokums decided to use that silver and make their own coin. They minted their own dollars with that there silver. For years, people all over the Ozarks used the Yokum dollars as legal tender.”

The storyteller looked across the crowd. “Well, you can probably guess what happened next. The federal government didn’t take too kindly to somebody else making money. They didn’t like the competition, my granddaddy said.” There were chuckles and murmurs of agreement from some in the crowd.

“The federal agents confiscated all the Yokum dollars they could get their hands on. What they really wanted was the source of that silver, but Jamie Lee wouldn’t tell ‘em where to find it. After a while, the agents gave up and went back to Washington.”

The storyteller paused for a sip of lemonade. “It wasn’t long after that when Jamie Lee Yokum passed away. His two brothers died soon after, crossing the Rockies on their way out to California. Those men were the only ones who knew the Indians’ secret and they took that secret to their graves, but they did leave some clues in letters they’d written to their cousins. Over the years, a lot of people have searched high and low for that silver, but nobody’s ever found it. But who knows? Maybe you’ll be the one to learn the truth about the Indian Silver Legend.”

Deadly Ties © 2013

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To this day, people continue to search for the famed silver, with many a treasure hunter convinced a mine or cave does indeed exist somewhere in the hills. Some believe the answer lies near or under Beaver Lake in Arkansas while others argue the location is Table Rock Lake in Missouri. And so the legend lives on…

Fact, Fiction, and Folklore

Books Image croppedI’m honored to have been invited once again to the Fayetteville (AR) Public Library for a book discussion and signing of Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series. If you’re in the area, please join me from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, October 11th. This presentation will explore the art of blending fact, fiction, and folklore when writing a regional mystery series, with a focus on the Ozarks where I’ve set my books.

In honor of that event, I’ll be running posts through the month about the Ozark legends and folklore which inspired my series. You’ll also find stories and information about dogs—after all, this is dogmysteries.com! At the end of the month, I’ll share a teaser from Dangerous Deeds, the next in the Waterside Kennels mystery series.

Enter to Win iconEven better—through the end of October, I’m running a special giveaway here on my site. Leave a comment and you’re automatically entered into a drawing for a 3-for-1 Deadly Ties package prize: a Kindle edition of the book, the audiobook (narrated by the top-ranked voiceover artist Robin Rowan), and a signed paperback. Keep for yourself or give as gifts! You’re welcome to comment as often as you like from now through October 31st; every comment equals one entry for the drawing. On November 1st the winner will be selected at random and announced here, so stay tuned!

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Being a total research geek, I loved digging through the archives for stories about the region, and was thrilled to have regional historians like Phillip Steele share their knowledge with me. In addition to helping me sort through stories, Mr. Steele kindly introduced me to others, including some whose families settled here a century ago. One of the stories I came across repeatedly involved the famous Yocum Dollar. I should note there seem to be almost as many variations in spelling of Yocum as there are versions of the tale!

I first came across the Yocum Dollar in a 1985 article published in the White River Valley Historical Quarterly whose author, Lynn Morrow, suggested that “for the past 150 years various folk legends about silver have circulated in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas.” Morrow notes:

Beliefs in secret mines and buried treasures form a substantial part of the folklore of the Ozarks and the Ouachita Mountains….From the 1880’s to the Depression, regional newspapers reported numerous silver and gold “discoveries”; and the “Legend of the Indian Mine” in Arkansas’ Boone County tells of a mine which contained “such an abundance of silver that the Indians shod their horses with it.” Petroglyphs in Ozark caves have been reported to be codes for the location of gold and silver bullion, and as late as 1882 a family owned business—the Yocum Silver Mine Corporation—purchased a clam-shell crane with a six-ton bucket and a bulldozer to dig out the “famous Yocum mine.”

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Another version of the Yocum Dollar story comes from the genealogical records of H. Ronald Gines and Wanda Lee (Brink) Gines. While I haven’t yet discovered their connection to the Yocums, their narrative, like Morrow’s, refers to a government agent’s description of an “outlaw character” named Solomon Yocum who devised a plan involving Indians, liquor, and silver:

 

Making peach brandy, while perhaps providing Solomon and the Yochums a bit of local, short lived infamy in connection with their Indian “clientele”, somewhat pales on a historical note compared with the most popular bit of Yoachum, and Ozark history. While some may take slight exception in referring to the Yocum silver dollar as history, and not strictly as mere “legend”, enough has been told, and written about it to qualify it as a true icon of Ozark history. Perhaps no other legend, (as we might as well refer to it), in American history has yielded a more profitable return than that of the Yocum dollar. An entire industry, theme park Silver Dollar City, and its off shoots have now “mined” the legend for what must surely be billions of dollars.

Many people have searched away countless hours, days, months, and even years looking for the source of the legend, the famed Lost Yoachum Silver Mine. Some people believe that it is a canard, or hoax, the typical tale told often by the evening fire, usually with the sure knowledge of someone who knows someone that once saw one of the dollars, or the molds that made them, or knew of someone that knew of someone that had a map. Enough interest has been raised at various times to attract persons schooled in geology, mining, and formations, and reports of a professional nature seem to suggest that there is very little likelihood of silver being found in an quantity and quality to justify believing that a mine actually existed.

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Stories of the Yocum Dollar persist to this day, as evidenced by a 2006 post by Tom Maringer in the ‘US Coins Forum at Cointalk.com. Details included in the post and many of the comments match other accounts. One comment in particular sums up many of the tales I heard myself while visiting with families across the region:

Many people in that area believe wholeheartedly in the Yocum Dollar legend. In fact, I was taken to task by an elderly Yocum descendant for my analysis of the legend… and was told in no uncertain terms that her uncle actually had one, and as a child she’d seen it. But of course she couldn’t remember exactly what it looked like, and nobody in the family knows what happened to it after he died! Sound familiar?

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Thanks to the success of Silver Dollar City, the legend of the Yocum Dollar is alive and well today. I’ve adapted the stories I’ve collected for use in the series and hope readers enjoy the tales as much as I did. Tune in next time for an excerpt from Deadly Ties which tells the tale of the Yocum Dollar as it’s known among the storytellers inhabiting my fictional Hogan County, Arkansas.

It’s Giveaway Time!

Enter to Win iconI had so much fun with the first giveaway that I’ve decided to run another one! Here’s your chance to win a copy of the audio edition of Deadly Ties, narrated by the exceptionally talented Robin Rowan. You can keep it for yourself or give it as a gift to somebody who enjoys mysteries as much as you do. The rules are simple–all you have to do is post a comment and complete this sentence: “I love mysteries because …” Just click on the title of this post and scroll down to leave your comment. How easy is that?

To increase your chances to win, share this post through Twitter, Facebook, or your own blog; each verified “share” is worth another entry in the giveaway. Include your own links in the comments section of this post. The contest runs through Sunday, November 2nd, and one winner will be drawn at random on Monday, November 3rd.

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Prefer reading your books in print? Get your copy at Indiebound, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble. If you’d like an autographed copy, send me an email and I’ll get one out to you right away.

If you’re an ebook fan, there’s an edition for you, too! Read Deadly Ties today on your favorite device. And if you’re a fan of both ebooks and audiobooks, be sure to check out Amazon’s special “Whispersync for Voice” offer.

If you’re in the UK, follow this link to find current prices and ordering options. Canadian? There’s a link for you, too!

Now, let the giveaway begin! Remember, to be eligible to win the audiobook you MUST post a comment and tell us why you’re a fan of mystery fiction. Finish this sentence: “I love mysteries because …”