As I get older (but not necessarily wiser), I realize I’m getting pickier about what I read. For years, I’ve read mysteries, thrillers, and suspense novels of all kinds. Many of them, like The Da Vinci Code, were set across several countries and had sweeping, world-changing plots. Some dealt with global and national political themes and organized crime. While I enjoyed those books, I now prefer to read books with plots and settings on a smaller scale that focus on the threats closest to us.
Wilkie Collins liberated the mystery story from drafty castles and clanking chains. He realized that creepier forms of terror can be found in the suburban house next door, that villains need not be one-dimensional incarnations of malignity, that harm is likelier to come from a con man than a ghoul.
Perhaps it comes with age: you learn that sometimes the people you trust the most are the the ones you cause you harm. And how well do we know anyone these days? We’re all connected–and yet so disconnected. The people you think you know on Facebook and Twitter … but don’t. That’s what scares me these days.
As Enid discovered in Murder in Madden, danger often comes disguised as someone you wouldn’t suspect.
Rosie is a young girl who was murdered in Madden. Her story was inspired by a real-life murder that happened years ago in Columbia, SC. My husband’s cousin Hope, like Rosie, was a troubled teenager who turned to drugs. She fell in with the wrong crowd and was murdered. Her body was found tossed in the woods and covered with an old mattress.
Hope’s murder was never solved, and it has haunted me for years. I suspect that because of her “bad girl” reputation the police didn’t try too hard. I didn’t know Hope well, but I plan to dedicate this book to her. I don’t want Hope to be forgotten like Rosie.
The protagonist, Enid Blackwell, was also haunted and was determined to find out what happened to Rosie. As I’ve said earlier, Enid is far braver and more determined than I. The book is about her quest for the truth.
Disclaimer: Murder in Madden in fiction. All of the characters are figments of my imagination and are composites of multiple real-life characters I’ve known.
The past is always with us. Events we think are behind us can significantly influence our present thinking in ways we can’t imagine. Unresolved issues can cause us to make decisions that might seem right at the time.
Enid is haunted by a decision she made years ago, and she’s trying to rewrite her past … but can she?
Enid Blackwell is determined, no question about it. Even I, as her creator, questioned at times whether she was admirably determined or just bullheadedly stubborn. Perhaps both. Either way, she has more courage than I.
Over the past three years, as I’ve been working on this novel, there have been many moments of “why am I doing this?” In those low moments of self-doubt and frustration, Enid kept me going. Her steadfast determination to accomplish her goal, which I won’t give away here, encouraged me to stay focused on mine.
Enid also reminded me to be mindful of the cost of the decisions we make. She paid for hers, and I’ve paid for mine. I’ve only put three years of my life on the line to accomplish this book, often at the expense of spending times with friends and family. I’ve also spend restless nights agonizing over scenes I was struggling with. None of my angst compares to the price Enid paid.
I invite you to come with me to Madden, a small fictitious town in South Carolina, where ten years ago a seventeen-year-old girl was murdered and dumped at the edge of town.
Writing this mystery novel has been a journey, but I haven’t been traveling alone. Many people have supported me in various ways, and I will forever be grateful for the people who believe in me, even when I have occasionally lost my way. I want to give a particular shout-out to my wonderful husband who is an amazing storyteller and my biggest fan. I also want to thank Al Watt, who teaches The 90-Day Novel workshop. Without him, I would never have produced a first draft. I’ve learned so much from Al, especially about story structure and what this story is really about.
I won’t give away too much about the story, because I want you to enjoy the discovery on your own. I will, however, share in future posts some of the life lessons I’ve learned from getting to know Enid and the other characters. As Stephen King said, “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”