Originally published 12/17/2009
My cozy mystery, Lacing up for Murder, was a challenge to craft. My heroine couldn’t whip out a bit of magic from her arsenal to get out of trouble. She had to rely on her own resources and mundane weapons. I had to reveal clues slowly and physically, no mind-reading.
But in many ways this book was pure joy to write. I got to introduce readers to my mountain.
I’ve lived in the foothills of Mt. Hood in Oregon for 14 years now. I’ve weathered some severe winters as well as some mild ones. I’ve endured blizzards, floods, mudslides, power outages, and 100+ degree heat. That makes me more reliable than the flatlanders who move up in the summer and then desert the place when the rains come. We get nearly twice the rainfall of Portland. Hey there’s a reason native Oregonians are nicknamed webfoot. I learned to walk with a flutter kick. Too many dry summer days in a row and those webs start to dry up. All kidding aside, I love my little corner of Oregon. We may live in a manufactured home development but I have protected wetland forest 10 feet from my back door. The deer trail goes right under my office window. I’ll introduce you to the bears in another post. And yet I’m ½ mile from the doctor, dentist, post office, yarn stores, and video rental. Another ½ mile west takes me to the bank, hardware store, and favorite restaurants. Or ½ mile east to the fire station, community center, middle and elementary schools–where we have our dance studio–and more favorite restaurants. All this only 40 miles from downtown Portland. The best of small town rural America and modern convenience. The only thing we are missing is a railroad.
I love exploring hidden canyons for restful waterfalls and chuckling creeks. Watching the seasons change could take a lifetime to become boring. The massive evergreen trees have secrets they tell only to the wind. I’ve listened and the language wasn’t meant for human ears. But it’s there. If I’m patient enough and live long enough, I might be allowed a few hints. Even the local golf course conforms to the mountain lifestyle with grottos tucked back into the hillsides and creeks that wind around copses, sheltering birds and squirrels. There’s an otter in the river I’ve glimpsed once. Others tell me he’s quite playful and shows himself at odd times to a lucky few.
I’ve based my fictional town of Whistling River on this community of people, flora and fauna. Anyone who knows the Salmon River will recognize stretches of it as the infamous Whistling River in the book. In reality the Salmon River canyons don’t whistle like a ghost seeking its lost soul. At least not at my end of it. Who knows what happens on its journey from the mountain slopes to its junction with the Sandy River and thence to the mighty Columbia River.
The Whistling River Lodge was inspired by a number of historic hotels I’ve visited. I combined the best parts of each into a unique building with as much personality as any of the characters who run the lodge.
And that is where my story started, with the Lodge. It is what I think a historic resort hotel should be. A maze of added wings, eccentric boilers, dusty secret rooms and passages, with whimsical murals and heavy wood wainscoting. It dominated my plot genes long before I started writing the book. It haunts me still. In my mind the Whistling River Lodge is as important a character in Lacing Up for Murder as Glenna and Craig, Joy Dancer, and Pete. Oh, and don’t forget the dogs. The dogs are as important as the people and the hotel.