Friday, September 24, 2010

Flinging with the Bard and Other Life Experiences

This week's guest is Donna Fletcher Crow, the author of the Monastery Murders Mystery series. She is the author of 35 astounding books! She's stopped by today to tell us about how her three latests mysteries have come about.

“Write what you know” is the oldest chestnut in the arsenal of advice to writers. And probably the silliest. How many of us could write any sort of novel— let alone a murder mystery— based on what we know?

And yet, I’d have to say that all of my books have grown out of my real life experiences. Again, except for the murders, you understand. The fact that so many of those experiences grew out of research trips once I had set the course for my novel makes me think that the far better advice would be “Write what you’re willing to research.” And not just willing, but really, really passionate about.

So, I believe, the best advice is “write from your passion.”

But to get back to how all three of my current books have grown out of life experiences, let me start with my ecclesiastical thriller A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, Book 1 The Monastery Murders, whose North American release I’m celebrating with this virtual tour. I was visiting Durham Cathedral more than 20 years ago (yes, as a side trip to another research project) when I first learned of St. Cuthbert. I knew immediately that I knew I wanted to tell his story. Over the years I proposed the story to three publishers— all of whom offered contracts. But the story didn’t get written. Other stories did, but not St. Cuthbert’s.
Then our daughter, a former ballerina and classics major who hated teaching school in London went off to a theological college in a monastery in Yorkshire. And my heroine Felicity was born. The setting for  A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE is a thinly fictionalized version of the community where Elizabeth studied. Many of the monks in my story are real life people, but fortunately, Fr. Dominic has not been brutally bludgeoned to death, but rather is still happily tending his roses in the monastery garden.
I try never to write about a place I haven’t visited, so all the wonderful, out-of-the-way sites Felicity and Antony visit whilst chasing and being chased by murderers and struggling to save a treasure for Fr. Dominic’s African Children’s Hospital are places I have had the great pleasure of visiting. But my visits were far more peaceful than Felicity’s. I was never shot at with a crossbow, fed ground glass or nearly drowned, for starters. I was, however side-railed as the only passenger on a tiny commuter train and walked up the track on foot by solicitous Britrail officials. All the while thinking, of course, “Oh, this is going to go in the novel!”

THE SHADOW OF REALITY Book 1, the Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, now available in Ebook and soon to be in print, is based entirely on a mystery weekend my husband and I attended several years ago at Mohonk Mountain House, high above the Hudson River Valley. That is to say, the structure of the mystery week, and therefore the structure of the novel, is the format of that week. The plot line and the characters are my own invention. The Eyrie is a fairly faithful representation of Mohonk Mountain House, but I moved it to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Elizabeth’s 1930’s style wardrobe, however, is an exact description of what I wore— in the case of the novel, fictionally designed by my heroine’s sister who is a costume designer for a Shakespeare festival.

A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2, The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, which will be out next spring, is the “fling with the bard” of the title of this piece. For more years that I can recall (I think Shakespeare was alive when we started) my husband and I have attended the Oregon Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, Oregon. So when the fictional Elizabeth’s sister Victoria begs her to come help her with strange goings-on backstage, I was able to use my years of festival-going including backstage tour, ventures out to the surrounding area and my life-long love of Shakespeare.
So, to get back to exploring the clich├ęs of our craft, does art follow life; or does life follow art?

I’d have to answer, “Yes.”

About Donna Fletcher Crow

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 35 books, mostly novels of British history. The award-winning epic GLASTONBURY, is her best-known work, an Arthurian grail search covering 15 centuries of English history. A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. THE SHADOW OF REALITY,Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook.

Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren. She is an enthusiastic gardener and tea-drinker. To see the book video, to order A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, or to see pictures from Donna’s research trips, go to