Vicki Delany and Deborah Turrell Atkinson brought their Hot & Cold Mystery Tour to the Velma Teague Library on March 18. Vicki's British Columbia setting represents the cold, although the temperature is 107° in her latest book, Valley of the Lost. Deborah's Storm Kayama mysteries, including her new book, Pleasing the Dead, are set in Hawaii. They represent the hot, even though the temperature is moderate there.
Debby said she and Vicki paired up for the tour because they have the same sense of setting. She said that setting is one of the most important elements in mystery novels, not as important as the characters, but sometimes the setting can almost become a character.
Delany discussed her book, Valley of the Lost, the second book in the Constable Molly Smith series. When she decided to write a series, after writing two standalones, she had to pick a setting. She has a daughter who lives in Nelson, British Columbia, a small town eight hours east of Vancouver. Spokane, Washington is actually the closest city, so the nearest city is across the border. Nelson is a small town, with an insulated feeling because it's in the valley, surrounded by steep mountains. Vicki described some of the residents of Nelson as neo-hippies, sometimes transients. The girls have long hair and colorful skirts. The men have lots of facial hair, full beards, and sometimes dreadlocks. They are looking for peace and tranquility in Nelson, but often find they can't afford to live there. One group of residents are the comfortably retired, with lots of money. They are escaping to Nelson, so the town has, until recently, been expanding as much as it can. However, that's limited because the town is confined by the mountains. The third group of people is the long-time residents who aren't happy because their kids can't afford to live there. According to Delany, conflict is the heart of a novel. In Valley of the Lost, the beautiful scenery is part of the conflict. Delany changed the name of Nelson to Trafalgar for her novels. Then she mentioned that if anyone has seen Steve Martin's movie, Roxanne, it was filmed in Nelson.
When it was Debby's turn to discuss setting, she said she was always an avid mystery reader. When she read Tony Hillerman, she thought, nobody is doing the legends and folklore of Hawaii like Hillerman does for the Navajo and the American Southwest. Atkinson went on to say all of the Hawaiian islands are different. Kauaʻi is the oldest one, and it's velvety green. To the east is the big island with volcanoes. It's still growing. The beaches there are small with black sand. Hawaii has five out of the seven climate zones. She said it's easy to get rid of a body there because there is a great deal of wilderness. Atkinson tries to give readers a feeling of the islands as the people who live there see them. She said there are lots of different cultures, which leaves room for conflict.
Both authors then read from their latest books. When Delany read from Valley of the Lost, she introduced her character, Constable Molly Smith as a young woman born and raised in Trafalgar. The scene was a cop in the street scene in which Molly arrests a man for smoking a marijuana cigarette in front of her. The police in Nelson have a reputation for being lenient about marijuana use, but people can't flaunt it. She asked if any of us knew what the second most profitable industry was in British Columbia, after forestry. It's growing marijuana, called BC Bud.
Before reading from Pleasing the Dead, Atkinson said this one is set in Maui, where Storm Kayama, a fledgling lawyer trying to grow her practice, is working with a dive shop. The scene she read showed Storm going diving with the dive shop owner, Laura.
Afterward, Debby described Storm, as half Hawaiian and half Japanese. Her mother committed suicide. Depression and diabetes are prominent in these people. Storm didn't want to take her mother's aumakua, the family totem, because she was afraid she might have inherited some of her mother's tendencies. So, she took her aunt's aumakua, the pig. When a family member dies, people believe they come back in the form of the family aumakua to help the living. People believe in their totem, and they are proud of it. The scene read from Pleasing the Dead features Laura's aumakua, the shark. People who have the shark as their aumakua seem to be particularly proud of it.
Vicki Delany said she had been at a mystery conference, Left Coast Crime, in Hawaii, before coming to Arizona, and she took a tour of the islands. She picked up a piece of volcanic rock, but she was told it was bad luck to take it from the islands. There's always the feeling that maybe you shouldn't tempt fate, so she didn't take it.
The islanders believe in ghosts and spirits. According to Debby, some stories are about Madame Pele. If you see an old woman with streaming grey hair, pick her up. People have said they picked her up, and then looked over, and she was gone. Another story is about the Nightmarchers, who march on the routes of the old warriors. If you hear drums, you must hide your face, and not look. When people are found dead by the road, islanders say they shouldn't have looked at the Nightmarchers.
Delany said she called her book Valley of the Lost because she heard that native Canadians said Nelson was in the Valley of Lost Souls. But, that's not true, so she was glad she didn't use the entire name. But, Nelson attracts the kind of people who want to believe it sits on ley lines. That isn't true either.
Since Atkinson and Delany were headed to Sedona, audience members mentioned that it sounded as if Nelson and Sedona had a lot in common.
They were asked about the titles of their books. Vicki said her first book was called Scare the Light Away. It's a standalone, and in one scene a woman is in a dark cellar with a flashlight, and the dog snaps at it to scare the light away. The woman also had other reasons to want to do that. But, many people thought it was a horror story because of the word scare in the title, and they didn't want to read it. Delany said she struggled with the title of Burden of Memory. But, her first Constable Molly Smith book, In the Shadow of the Glacier, has her least favorite title. That title was a group effort.
Debby Atkinson said some titles were easy. Her second Storm Kayama book, The Green Room is a term surfers use when they are held under the water by a wave, and don't know which way is up. Her latest book, Pleasing the Dead, refers to Storm and Laura's past. In that book, Storm runs into the Yakuza, a Japanese crime ring. The Yakuza cut off their fingers to show allegiance. They also have many tattoos. In the book, they are trafficking in young women, called selling spring.
When asked how they became interested in writing, Delany said she had three kids, and while they were growing up she thought someday she would write a book. They say ten million people in the United States plan to write a book. When her kids grew up, she started writing. Vicki said she had been a systems analyst for a bank. She said that's very similar to writing mysteries because she designed computer systems, and had to know the end results. Now, when she writes, she knows who id it and why. She knows the ending first, then has to write the book.
Atkinson said she traveled all over Hawaii as a pharmaceutical rep, but when she had her first son, she retired. He's now a junior in college, but it took her that long. She took writing classes. Debby said her background is in the sciences, a methodical field. Like writing mysteries, that was solving puzzles.
Vicki Delany's next Molly Smith mystery, Winter of Secrets, will be out in December. She has a historical, Gold Digger, coming out next month form Rendezvous Books. She hopes to do two books a year. Debby said she's working on a standalone, and has an idea for the next Storm Kayama mystery.
Vicki Delany's address is www.vickidelany.com
Valley of the Lost by Vicki Delany. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590585955 (hardcover), 312p.
Deborah Atkinson's website is www.debbyatkinson.com
Pleasing the Dead by Deborah Turrell Atkinson. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 978-1-59058-597-9 (hardcover), 296p.