How I Came to Write this Book:
BONES OF A FEATHER is the 11th in the Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series. To talk about this book, I have to go back to the very beginning. I would love to say that I’ve “planned” my writing life, but that would be a lie. Then again, my ex-husband used to say that writers are “nothing more than professional liars.” He said it without malice, and it always got a laugh out of me and my writer friends.
I started the series back in 1998 when I’d finished a two-book contract for Dutton for some general fiction novels, TOUCHED and SUMMER OF THE REDEEMERS. I was the writer who started out writing short stories for the love of writing with no intention of publishing. I didn’t know what an agent was. My world was journalism, though I loved writing fiction and telling stories, a practice that was “a family affair.” Everyone in my family tells stories—or lies, as the case may be.
At any rate, I was at a place that is both joy and dread for a writer. I wasn’t under contract, and I could write anything I wanted. Oh joy! Oh dread! I’d started out with a few ideas that died on the vine. But as I sat at my computer, looking out over my horses grazing, I heard Sarah Booth Delaney arguing with Jitty. The were going at it tooth and nail. As usual (I didn’t know this at the time) Jitty was winning.
So I started writing what they were saying, and as I wrote I began to see the characters. Imagine my surprise to discover that Jitty was an antebellum-era ghost! But the story unfolded with rapid speed. Imagine my surprise to discover I was writing a mystery! I’ve always loved mysteries, but I never thought I was smart enough to plot one out.
So the story began with one book, THEM BONES. My agent sold the book at auction, and Random House wanted a three-book contract. So I was writing a series!
Again, I wish I could say that I had some grand plan where I knew exactly what I was doing, but that wouldn’t be true. (And when has that ever stopped me, you might ask? But don’t. That’s a rabbit trail with endless loops.)
As it turns out, Sarah Booth, Tinkie, Jitty, Coleman, Graf, Cece and the rest of the Zinnia, Mississippi, gang have become as real as my flesh and blood friends. They are ornery and hard-headed and determined characters who sort of “fall” into the story lines.
At the end of BONE APPETIT, Tinkie had been injured—again. (Tinkie is Sarah Booth partner in the Delaney Detective Agency and a real Daddy’s Girl—from a wealthy background and used to twisting men around her little finger) The men in Sarah Booth’s and Tinkie’s lives are more than a little annoyed at their propensity to get into danger. So, I thought, what about an insurance case! No bodies, no guns, no dire consequences. And lo and behold, the Levert sisters stepped into the scene to hire Sarah Booth and Tinkie to verify the theft of a very, very expensive ruby necklace.
The Leverts are wealthy, and they live in Natchez, Mississippi, a small city on the Mississippi River with a wonderful, sordid, and exciting past. It’s only a couple of hours from the fictional town of Zinnia.
Okay, so now I have Sarah Booth and Tinkie on a case without danger, in a great city with a fabulous history. This will be fun to write. A heist—not a murder. That’s exactly what I was thinking. Wrong!
Nothing about the Leverts is real. Talk about liars! But I didn’t really know any of this until I started writing and Sarah Booth and Tinkie started investigating.
So yet again, I was led into the story by my characters. They do seem to get themselves into some dire circumstances. I can see why the stay in hot water with their friends and loved ones.
All I can say is that I love writing about my home state of Mississippi. I worked as a journalist for 10 years before I started writing novels, and I traveled around the state a lot. Natchez is a unique and wonderful place—the perfect setting for the dark story told in BONES OF A FEATHER.