QUESTION: Mystery novels often feature exotic settings. But you’ve chosen to set your debut cozy series, the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency, in a tiny river town in the hills of Southern Indiana. Why?
DAISY’S ANSWER: Believe me, there is no shortage of quirky and exotic characters in rural Southern Indiana. I grew up in the sixties in the tiny river town of Medora, Indiana (population about 600). No matter which way I turned as a child I bumped into people who popped with quirkiness. That included most members of my own family.
People have always seemed very mysterious to me, no matter their locale, and I thoroughly enjoy the humor and lack of pretension that pervade small town life.
QUESTION: The town where The Shady Hoosier Detective Series is set, Knobby Waters, Indiana, is not a real place. Was it inspired by a real Indiana town?
DAISY’S ANSWER: True, you’ll not find a town named Knobby Waters on any Indiana map. This fictitious town is a composite of all the tiny rural towns I visited when growing up.
In Book 1, the Ghost Busting Mystery, I have the lead character and narrator, Ruby Jane Waskom, refer to Knobby Waters as “a small town, big enough to make it onto the map, but small enough that it’s barely a pimple of a speed bump in the asphalt on State Road 235.”
I place Knobby Waters in the same exact geographic location as the town where I grew up, Medora, Indiana. Like Medora, Knobby Waters has a brick plant, a tavern, a covered bridge, a lot of corn, melon and soybean farms, and a “knobs” or hilly area that overlooks sandy bottomlands which flood often in the Spring. Like Medora, Knobby Waters is located on the East Fork of the White River. The town also used to have a plastics factory that until the late 1970’s employed most of the population.
Taken as a whole Knobby Waters is a composite of the towns that surround Medora in Jackson and Lawrence counties as well as towns in neighboring Washington County and Orange County: Brownstown, Vallonia, Seymour, Ft. Ritner, Leesville, Freetown, Tunnelton, Sparksville, Bedford, Oolitic, Mitchell, Orleans, Salem, Clearspring, and so on. All of my biological family still live in Southern Indiana. For me, the farms and rolling hills along US 50 from Seymour to Bedford will always be “home.”
QUESTION: What types of references do you make that readers from Jackson or Lawrence Counties might recognize?
DAISY’S ANSWER: Quite a few. For example, an old root cellar threshold stone, made of carved limestone, is a key item in the Ghost Busting Mystery. If you’re from Lawrence County you know that Bedford and its sister city Oolitic (which is a type of limestone) are the undisputed Limestone Capitals of the World.
In Book 1 there is a lot of speculation about a Civil War train robbery and gold shipment that went missing. Some locals believe it might have been buried around the Knobby Waters area. This is my nod to the world’s first train robbery in Seymour, accomplished by the Reno Gang. The stories I heard as a child about the Reno lost gold fed my imagination for sixty years. My mind turned that lost gold into a sub-plot in the Ghost Busting Mystery.
Medora itself is famous for being the home of the longest three-span covered bridge in any one state. Much of the action in the Ghost Busting Mystery takes place around a mysterious purple Gremlin car that is camped on the banks of the White River by the Knobby Waters’ covered bridge.
QUESTION: Who are your favorite authors?
DAISY’S ANSWER: I think they number in the hundreds. Mark Twain, Fannie Flagg, Garrison Keillor, Carson McCullers, and Flannery O’Connor sit at the top of my heap of great entertaining story tellers. What they all have in common is the ability to tell a story that sounds like something you’d hear sitting on a porch on a summer day. My aim with the Shady Hoosier Detective Agency Series is to create that same type of feeling.
QUESTION: Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
DAISY’S ANSWER: I certainly do. My maternal grandmother had only an 8th-grade education but she was an avid reader. She began reading to me very early on as she read in the evenings after supper for entertainment. I wasn’t even in school yet when she tossed me a book and said, “You read to me.”
The first books I remember reading with her were The Bears of Blue River, and The Bobbsey Twins at the Seashore.
The Bears of Blue River by Charles Major is a true Indiana classic. That book is about a pioneer family that built a cabin along the Big Blue River in eastern Indiana. My grandmother had camped and hunted along that very same river as a child.
I remember being fascinated by the very idea of a bear and life in a house made of real trees. The boy in that book befriends a one-eared bear. For the longest time I wanted a bear as a pet. I got my first teddy bear out of that deal after much begging.
The “Bobbsey Twins” was a popular children’s adventure book series, created in the early 1900’s. Of course we lived in landlocked Indiana so it would be a long time before I saw a real seashore or the state of Maine. The idea that there was a seashore far away that I might never see enchanted me.
Reading was like riding a magic carpet for me. I was hooked from that very first word. If anyone wanted my attention all they had to do was wave a book under my nose. Nothing else worked. That’s still true.
QUESTION: The detectives in your novel seem unusual in several ways. First, they are women, and second they are both over sixty. In addition, both have lived in the same small town literally in the middle of nowhere all their lives.
DAISY’S ANSWER: True. I chose to craft my lead characters along dimensions that are less frequently found in what is called the “cozy mystery” niche. Cozy mysteries are those that often take place in a small town or village and which lack the blood and gore of a traditional thriller. Many are light-hearted or humorous. I turn sixty this year, so I’m naturally interested in how older women experience life, especially in rural areas.
Mystery books in the “cozy” niche today commonly feature lead characters in their thirties, college-educated, many returning to their home communities following a failure to launch into urban life.
Being a baby boomer I thoroughly enjoyed pulling in elements of the sixties and seventies, like the purple Gremlin that appears in Book 1 and the ’60 Chevy Impala that the oldster detectives drive. The first car I remember my family owning was a ’63 Chevy Impala.
QUESTION: Humor is a core factor in The Shady Hoosier Detective Agency mystery series. Why?
DAISY’S ANSWER: I really love to laugh. I don’t think there is enough clean humor in entertainment today. Much of today’s humor tends to be mean-spirited. I think America has an unfed appetite for clean, down-home humor about life and family matters. Mark Twain was a tremendous humorist who captured the spirit of rural America. It’s no coincidence that his key writings are about everyday people who labored and farmed in Missouri and along the Mississippi.
I think there is a renaissance going on in American humor today. People are trying to find and reclaim the can-do spirit of Mid-America and ordinary people. Look at “The Middle,” a sitcom set in Indiana (modeled after Jasper, Indiana) and “Parks and Rec,” a quirkier sit-com also set in small town Indiana.
I think people in the Midwest have the best sense of humor or ability to laugh at themselves. The Hoosier lack of pretension I grew up with is refreshing. It’s the one thing I missed the most when I moved into urban life where everyone is heavily credentialed; often so serious about themselves and their opinions that it can make your heart ache.
QUESTION: One reviewer said The Shady Hoosier Detective series was a flashback to the sit-coms of the sixties such as “Andy Griffith,” “Petticoat Junction,” and “Green Acres.” Is it?
DAISY’S ANSWER: Yes, the series is a deliberate attempt to tap into memories of a time when people weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves (or their neighbors). It’s also a nod to the notion that small town life is as full of drama as life anywhere in the universe.
I like to think The Shady Hoosier Detective series captures that feel-good notion that used to pervade American life (and still does, I think). If Knobby Waters had a town motto it would be: “A Small Town Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Unfortunately).”
QUESTION: The Shady Hoosier Detective Agency is designed to be an ongoing series. Book 1 is a sort of ghost story complete with a lost Civil War era treasure. Will there be more books?
DAISY’S ANSWER: Certainly. I have already completed Book 2, the Baby Daddy Mystery, where everbody in town develops a bad case of hanky-panky pants. It will be released before Christmas. Book 3, the Chickenlandia Mystery, is almost completed and involves chicken rustling, a chicken dance competition, and a lot of flying feathers. I aim to keep writing as long as I have an audience interested in going along with me and the lead characters, Ruby Jane and Veenie, on mysterious barnyard adventures.