History in Mystery (part two)
I love reading mysteries. As with so many of us mystery lovers, I started with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, continued with Perry Mason, James Bond, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, and on and on to Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, and Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander.
So when it came time for me to write fiction, it was natural that I would write mysteries. However, that I would write an historical mystery was somewhat less obvious.
When I considered a mystery featuring a judge in an historical mystery, I was uncertain how to proceed. I did not detect a mystery plot when reading the memoir of the real judge on which I wanted to base my story. Also, how could a judge be involved in solving a mystery? He is required to be objective and deliver verdicts based on facts presented to him—not solve the crime itself.
When I write my current-day mysteries, I start with my protagonist, setting, and mystery plot almost simultaneously. I base my puzzles on real California cases and fictionalize them with red herrings, villains, and amateur sleuths.
With my historical mystery, I focused initially on understanding my protagonist, the Judge, and his environment. In a previous article on this blog, I explained how I applied the values, beliefs, and emotions of a real judge to create my fictional judge.
Once I understood my fictional Judge’s persona, I narrowed down the setting to include the town where the real judge practiced law and lived, Ventura, Calif., and the year 1939. I chose this particular year because it offered a turbulent time for a background to accompany a mystery. I could exploit the scarcities of the Great Depression and the potential U.S. entry into the war in Europe to magnify my characters’ back-story in an interesting and credible way—using history to do so.
Choosing a real town provided the opportunity to research events there to develop a believable micro-world for my mystery, the Judge, and his supporters—and their antagonists. Again, I used history to make the story both more interesting and credible.
Unlike my current-day mysteries, the last element I created was the mystery plot itself, which I pulled from a few sentences in my real Judge’s memoir about two different juvenile criminals and how rehabilitation helped one but not the other. This created the theme of juvenile crime and the debate over rehabilitation versus punishment. I hasten to add, however, that the actual case on which the mystery is based is fiction.
Once I had devised the mystery, I had to figure out how it would be solved. The Judge could only do so much, given that he was a Judge. I used surrounding characters to help him out. I added an assistant with a husband who did detective work while going to school to become a lawyer. There was a juvenile criminal involved, so I added a precocious female teenager to help flesh out the juvenile perspective along with the issues of illiteracy. Since there were crimes committed, I included some representatives of local law enforcement. And, of course, I created the villains — always a favorite part of any mystery — the guilty parties.
With these characters surrounding him, the Judge could direct the outcome of the case.
So although I reversed my usual process and devised the mystery plot at the end of my writing process instead of the beginning, I realized that I nonetheless produced the familiar elements essential for any good mystery: a puzzle to intrigue us mystery lovers, an interesting and credible protagonist, a setting that enhanced the story, and some great villains — all augmented by the use of history. And I also found that in the process I learned how people lived and what they thought in the 1930s.
Morgen: I’m not a fan of historical books (history at school was almost as torturous as physics) but I do love Agatha Christie and it is the mystery aspect that is the important aspect – in my opinion – the house that the decorations hang on. Thank you, Joyce. It’s been great hosting you (twice) and I look forward to spotlighting you again sometime. (Folks, I spotlighted Joyce back in November 2014 – you can read that here).
Mystery author Joyce T. Strand, much like her fictional character, Jillian Hillcrest, served as head of corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Unlike Jillian, however, she did not encounter murder. Rather, she focused on publicizing her companies and their products. She is the author of the Jillian Hillcrest mysteries ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE and the Brynn Bancroft mystery HILLTOP SUNSET. Strand received her Ph.D. from The George Washington University, Washington, D.C. and her B.A. from Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA. She currently lives in Southern California with her two cats, a collection of cow statuary and art, and her muse, the roadrunner.
About The Judge’s Story
A Superior Court Judge with a passion for social justice as well as the law strives to discover the truth behind the mystery of a robbery-murder in a small California town in 1939.
When the Judge hears testimony against a 14-year-old teenager, he realizes that the boy participated in a robbery-murder. However, the accused did not actually pull the trigger. But unless the boy identifies his partner, the Judge must sentence him as a murderer, which would result in prolonged jail time. The Judge’s investigator, along with the precocious 16-year-old girl who identified the boy as one of the thieves, explore different approaches to uncover the murderer. In the backdrop of escalating war in Europe, the financial scarcities of the Great Depression, and the Judge’s caseload, their attempts to find justice for the accused boy and unmask the killer lure the Judge and his friends into sordid criminal activities.
You can find out more about Joyce and her writing from the following links:
- Webpage: http://joycestrand.com
- Blog: http://strandssimplytips.blogspot.com
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/JoyceTStrandAuthor
- Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5385246.Joyce_T_Strand
- Twitter: @joycetstrand
Where to Purchase:
- The Judge’s Story Paperback and Kindle Editions – June 23, 2015: http://www.amazon.com/Judges-Story-Joyce-T-Strand/dp/0996145400
- 1st Prize: Kindle Fire HD 7 or Kindle Paperwhite
- 2nd Prize: $50 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of The Judge’s Story
- 3rd Prize: $25 Amazon Gift Card and ebook or paperback copy of The Judge’s Story
- More details from http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/cfd1de2822.
and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are…
- mystery: Connie Knight, Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, DJ Swykert, Jim Webster, Marietta Miemietz, Marla Madison, Quentin Bates, Warren Bull, and Wayne Zurl;
- historical: Alison Bruce, Connie Knight, Lou Allin, Margaret Muir, Phoebe Matthews, and William S Shepard.
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