Sunday, January 06, 2008

Note from Donis Casey

Two lucky readers will receive autographed copies of Donis Casey's books this week in my blog contest. Donis was kind enough to write a note to readers to discuss her books, and her character, Alafair Tucker.

Dear Readers,

I write a historical mystery series set in Muskogee, Oklahoma, in the 1910s. Thus far, three novels in the series have been published, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, and the recently released The Drop Edge of Yonder. I'm just finishing the manuscript for the fourth novel, The Sky Took Him. (You read it here first.) I chose to write about the early 20th Century in Oklahoma partly because most people don't know much about either one. The 1910s in Oklahoma was a time of tremendous upheaval, with people coming in droves from all over the world to make their fortunes in land, and cattle, and oil. And make their fortunes they did. It was still the Wild West, and yet it was wealthy and modern, as well. People in that time faced many of the same frightening, world-altering situations that we're facing now at the beginning of the 21st Century. It's a wonderful time and place to set a murder mystery.

My sleuth is a forty-ish woman by the name of Alafair, who lives with her husband Shaw and their ten children on a prosperous farm. She never sets out to solve murders, but all those pesky half-grown kids keep getting themselves involved in unsavory situations, and need their mother to help them get out. I've been amazed and gratified at how people love Alafair. Maybe it's because she's the mother everyone either wishes they were or wishes they had. Her family matters to Alafair more than anything, and yet being loving doesn't make her weak in the least. It makes her tough as nails. It makes her dangerous.

How Alafair came to be is a wonder. This series is different from anything I'd ever written before, because it's about a traditional woman. I was a big feminist in my youth, but when I got to a certain age, it began to dawn on me that perhaps by so totally rejecting the qualities that have always been associated with women, I was buying into the idea that there was something inferior about them! And that's not a very good thing for a big feminist to think.

The character of Alafair is inspired by my grandmothers, and my mother,and my mother-in-law, and she's quite a bit like me, too, if I were entirely different than I am. I do a lot of research. I love to create a world in which the reader can feel like she's really there. I try to get Alafair's world right, and I've discovered that there's a lot more to getting it right than just getting your facts straight. I would like for readers to feel like Alafair is a real person, with a life that matters to them. I'd like for you, Dear Reader, to know her and her family, to care about them. I want you to say, "Oh, no! What is she going to do now?"

A character, like a real person, is a product of her past, her place, and her time. Nothing annoys me more than a character in a historical novel who thinks and acts like a modern person. I want to know where she lives, how she talks and thinks and relates to her place and situation. I want to believe in her.

One of the most important things about writing fiction, I think, is that it's the delicious little details of life that make a story ring true. I learned early on about the effective use of detail from my mother, from letters she wrote me, back when people still wrote letters. She was a great letter writer. She wrote about nothing, but somehow her letters were endlessly fascinating. Little details can show a reader something about the place, the times, the character with just a few words, an image. Just the right image can give a reader a jolt of recognition; or a feeling of discovery, as though she's seeing a place or meeting a person for the very first time.

So I write about what's for dinner. If you have ten kids, you're always thinking about what to fix for dinner. I write about doing the laundry, and mopping the floor, and weeding the garden. Because if I want to be realistic, Alafair has to take care of the business of living at the same time she's trying to solve a murder. And she's always having to stop and deal with the kids. Anybody who has kids knows that they don't care what important issues you're involved with. They have their own agenda.

Writing is not easy. And I'm not talking about the sheer work it takes to sit down every day without fail and face page after blank page that you have to fill with brilliant words when you don't feel very brilliant. I think that in order to be at all successful as a writer, you have to be incredibly brave and willing to tell your own truth in spite of what people may think of you. And I don't mean that you have to be shocking, either. Sometimes it takes infinitely more courage not to try to be shocking or cutting edge, but to be plain and true! At least that's the way it worked for me. The plain truth is plenty shocking as it is.

I hope you'll visit Alafair's world, Dear Reader. I think you'll recognize it, no matter where you're from. And drop by my website ( sometime and let me know what you think. Thanks to Lesa for allowing me to join you today, and for all the wonderful support she gives to us toiling authors.

Happy New Year,


Joy said...

What a delightful letter. Thanks for sharing. I have to start at the beginning, so I'd love to enter into Alafair's world and give The Old Buzzard Had it Coming a try. :)

Lesa said...

Joy -

Do start with The Old Buzzard. Not only is it an award-winning mystery, but I enjoyed all of the family background, and family life in that book.

Kay said...

I've said this before on this blog and on mine, but I will say it again. This mystery series ranks as one of my favorite ones ever. It is a must-buy for me. My maternal grandmother was raised in a family very much like Alafair and Shaw's. She was from Weatherford, Oklahoma and had 7 brothers and sisters (and 2 or 3 deceased siblings in addition). Her father had a big farm and then as the town developed, he bought property and at one time owned several buildings and the movie theater. He made his children work hard and taught them the value of commitment. Unfortunately, my great-grandmother was in ill health after so many babies and she passed away at a young age. This series reminds me so much of the stories my grandmother told me about her brothers and sisters and growing up in a busy household. My great-grandfather died a fairly wealthy man but he worked very, very hard for everything he had and he was just 'plain folks' his whole life. Thanks for the letter and thanks, Donis, for writing such a great mystery series.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kay.

It's always a pleasure to hear your comments about your family.

Donis said...

Thank you for the lovely comments, Joy and Kay, (and Lesa, too, of course)! I've heard from so many people, even those whose backgrounds are quite different, that there's something universal about Alafair's family that touches them. I really appreciate readers who go to the trouble to let me know they like the books. It makes me want to keep writing!

Lesa said...

Thank you for writing today's note, Donis. As you can see, there are some of us eagerly awaiting the next Alafair story. Please do keep writing!

Corey Wilde said...

[Groan!} I wish I'd discovered your blog back when you first posted this. For all my love of noir and the bleak and twisted forms of modern crime fiction, there is something about Donis Casey's more temperate, familial tales of early 20th century Oklahoma that has me hooked.

Lesa said...

And, she has a new one coming out in January or February, Corey.

You're right. I love Donis' family stories. In fact, for me, the family part of these books is the best part.