Borrowing from Real Life

When I was still trying out ideas for what would become the first Liss MacCrimmon Scottish-American Heritage Mystery, Kilt Dead, I was faced with the problem every author of a series featuring an amateur sleuth has to deal with–lack of access to information the police have. The most common way of dealing with this is to give the heroine a love interest involved in law enforcement. And that was the problem–way too many female amateur sleuths have cop boyfriends. I wanted to do something different.

I solved the access-to-information problem by inventing gal-pal Sherri, who starts out as a dispatcher at the Sheriff’s Office and later becomes a police officer in Liss’s home town, Moosetookalook, Maine. And I gave her a cop boyfriend. But what about Liss? Although she does, in two books, engage in a flirtation with a state trooper, Liss’s true love interest (and now husband) is Dan Ruskin, someone she grew up with and gets to know again when she returns to Moosetookalook after a knee injury ends her career as a professional Scottish dancer. Liss’s backstory is crucial. So is that of the villain in each book in the series. But continuing characters are important, too, especially one destined to become a permanent part of Liss’s life.

For law enforcement questions, I’ve always consulted my in-house expert. My husband, a former sheriff’s deputy, was at that time the local probation officer. He was also starting to think about second careers for his retirement (trust me, no one can live on state retirement checks!). One of the things he wanted to do was custom woodworking. You can see where this is going–write about what you know, or about something someone close to you knows, right?

I’ve known and followed this rule for a long time. Since we don’t have kids, I used to borrow things that happened to friends’ children when writing for the 8-12 year old set. Once, when a long-ago editor suggested that the romance novel I was working on would be better if the heroine had a young child, I kept a close eye on the three-year-old of a critique partner. Just about everything she did went into that book.

Anyway, in Kilt Dead, Dan Ruskin is a partner in his father’s company, Ruskin Construction, along with his older brother, Sam and, as a hobby, makes hand-crafted furniture, clocks, decorative boxes, and other items that my husband tried his hand at in the early days. Gradually, for Dan, this turns into a business. By the sixth book in the series, Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides, he’s ready to open a showroom and retail store to sell the things he makes.

display of "magic" wands

In my husband’s case, woodworking became one of his two retirement businesses and he gradually got away from making all sorts of things in wood and narrowed his product line down to one. He now specializes in jigsaw puzzle tables ( Dan, however, continues to turn out all the items my husband experimented with before finding the one he liked best. Dan still makes magic wands, cradles, tables, and so on.

Next year’s adventure, Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones, is already in production and will be out in time for Halloween 2013. That means I’m now about to start work on the one after that. It doesn’t have a title yet, but it will be another holiday book, in stores in time for Christmas 2014. And once again, I’ll be borrowing from real life. You see, my husband’s second retirement business is our Christmas tree farm. I wrote about life on a Christmas tree farm here last year ( but what I haven’t done until now is murder anyone on one. In real life, this would not be good for business!

the "netter" at work

There will be some big differences between our Mystic Valley Farm ( and the fictional tree farm in Liss #8. For one thing, the imaginary tree farm will have been shipping trees out-of-state. We’re a cut-your-own operation and don’t do that, for a couple of reasons. There isn’t a lot of profit in it on a small scale and there are different regulations on inter-state shipping from state to state, making the whole thing much too complicated.

the “wilderness” in summer

I’m still in the planning stages of this book, but I already know a few things about the murder and how Liss and Dan get involved. For one thing, there is a . . . shall we say unorthodox? . . . use for the netter. I don’t yet know who dunit or why. I do know that I want to use the vast wooded acres in a very rural locale as the setting for a scene in which Liss is in grave danger and has to think fast to get herself out of it. And, as usual, Liss will have to deal with a cast of quirky characters. That part is easy to take from real life. Maine is filled with eccentric people . . . myself included.

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2 Responses to Borrowing from Real Life

  1. Lea Wait says:

    Hi, Kaitlyn! It was fun sharing a room with you and catching up with your “real life” at Crime Bake last weekend! And after reminding my husband, Bob, about your Christmas tree farm … I might just be seeing you sooner than the next mystery conference! We didn’t have a tree last year, and maybe I’m beginning to suspect I wasn’t the only one who missed it. Loved your post! (And I’ve seen Sandy’s puzzle tables — very cool!)

  2. Hi Kaitlyn,
    I love your books and own a number of them (courtesy of being a Kensington reviewer). I actually started collecting them before I ever thought of writing reviews about the books and authors I enjoy.

    Looking at the link for the tree farm got my 3 brain cells fired… I was imagining someone showing up to buy trees, but not to cut down… they brought shovels so they could plant them in their front yard. LOL

    Have a wonderful Holiday Season. Oh, I’ve already added the new 2013 title to my advance title release list. I post them in 3 month batches as each year progresses.


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