I have had the privilege of being a professional writer for over twenty years. I live in a small Texas town with my husband, James Reasoner, and two daughters.
Awards: American Mystery Award and Shamus Award, both for Wild Night
Author Web site: www.liviawashburn.com
Murder by the Slice is the second book in the Fresh-Baked Mystery series. Retired schoolteacher Phyllis Newsom and her friends once again enter a baking contest and encounter a murder, this time at an elementary school carnival.
One of the things I really enjoy about the writing process is the research involved. There’s a lot of truth to the old adage about writing what you know—or what you can find out. For example, the novels in my Fresh-Baked Mystery series are set in Weatherford, Texas. While I don’t live in Weatherford, it’s nearby and I’ve been there many times and know the town well. It’s close enough so that if there’s something I don’t know, I can drive over and investigate it. The first book in the series, A Peach of a Murder, centers around Weatherford’s annual Peach Festival. I was able to attend the Peach Festival before I wrote the book. While I took a few dramatic liberties (this is fiction, after all), my descriptions of the festival itself are fairly accurate.
For the second book in the series, the recently released Murder by the Slice, my research drew heavily on personal experience. For several years, my husband and I were very involved in the Parent-Teacher Organizations at our children’s schools. We helped out with the elementary school carnivals, and we served as members of the PTO board. When I had an elementary school carnival play a prominent part in Murder by the Slice, I knew how such things worked and I also knew about the inner workings of a PTO board. (Although I should hasten to point out that none of the characters in Murder by the Slice are based in any way on any of the wonderful ladies who served with me on various boards! Fiction, total fiction!)
In an upcoming book in the series, my characters will get out of Weatherford for a change and travel to the Gulf Coast of Texas, where they will take part in a dessert competition at the annual SeaFair in Rockport, Texas. The SeaFair is a real event and has been going on every autumn for years, but this is the first year for the Just Desserts competition. When I read about it I knew this would make a perfect background for a mystery novel. My husband and I not only attended the SeaFair and Just Desserts—and got to sample all the entries!—we also spent several weeks in the Rockport area, getting to know it better. We had been there before, but a place tends to look different when you’re researching it as the setting for a novel. You have to find just the perfect spot for your murder to happen, and once you’ve settled on that, it opens up all sorts of exciting questions that have to be worked out for the plot, such as “Who’s the victim?” “Why was he or she killed?” and the all-important “Who’s the killer?” The setting can be a vital part of the answers to all of these questions and more, so it helps to be as familiar as possible with it.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the expenses incurred in a research trip are tax-deductible, however. Day-to-day living expenses aren’t, even if you’re in a different place and there only to do research. Only expenses pertaining directly to the trip are deductible.
Of course, it’s possible to do a great deal of research in libraries and online, too, and I certainly do my share of that. It’s not unusual for me to have stacks of research books piled up around my desk as I write (and for the Fresh-Baked Mysteries, that includes recipe books to get ideas from, naturally!). But there’s something special in writing about places that you know, a freshness and authenticity that it’s hard to get any other way. So if you’re an aspiring mystery author, look around. There could be a good place for a murder right there under your nose. . . .