Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Interview with Donis Casey Day 1

Today we welcome Donis Casey, author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries.
The award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. Her first novel, The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, was named an Oklahoma Centennial Book. Donis lives in Tempe, Arizona. Readers can enjoy the first chapter of each book on her web site at www.doniscasey.com.

Donis is giving away a copy of her new novel Hell with the Lid Blown Off: An Alafair Tucker Mystery to anyone who leaves a comment today or tomorrow answering one of these questions:

Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website. www.doniscasey.com


Welcome to PASTimes. Tell us a little about what you write.
I write a historical mystery series featuring Alafair Tucker, a woman in her early forties who lives with her husband Shaw and their ten children on a prosperous farm in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during the booming 1910s.  She never sets out to solve murders, but all those pesky kids keep getting involved in unsavory situations, and need their mother to help get them out of trouble.  Fortunately, Alafair is the kind of woman who will do anything, legal or not so legal, for her kids.

But how, you may ask, can a farm wife and mother of ten solve murder mysteries? After all, she has to fix dinner. She doesn’t have the freedom or the inclination to go about gathering forensic evidence.  She leads a life that is so busy that it wouldn’t be realistic if she could easily drop everything on a whim and go off to gather clues. But Alafair knows everybody in the county and doesn’t have a second thought about worming information out of anybody who crosses her path.  She has her army of grown and half-grown children to snoop for her.  She knows the postmistress, the neighbors, and the ladies at church; a web of women who are willing to help her.  Her information network is better than the sheriff’s. She has a way of knowing things about people, too, almost a sixth sense that comes from having so many children. She doesn’t believe for a minute that being loving makes her weak or vulnerable. Love gives her teeth and claws. It makes her dangerous. It makes her a remarkable sleuth.

Are you a full-time writer or do you hold a day job? What is the biggest challenge/obstacle you face in protecting your writing time?

I am a full-time writer, but I am only able to write full time because I reached a point where I could "retire". I did hold a day job and write in my spare time for most of my adult life. I don't have children at home and I have a husband who encourages my avocation and is perfectly willing and able to take care of himself, so the biggest obstacle I face in protecting my writing time lies not in my circumstance, but in myself. It's far too easy for me to become bogged down in public relations activities and promotion. I can spend hours writing blog entries, my own and guest blogs for others, working on social media, accepting every invitation to speak and every opportunity (I can afford) to attend conferences. Writing is a job, and I find that I must set aside a certain amount of time to write every day without fail, just in the same way I had to report to work in my salary-earning days. Do not even think of getting online before producing your work, Donis, I tell myself, for that way lies folly.

What historical time periods interest you the most and how have you immersed yourself in a particular time period?

I love historical novels and will read and enjoy a good story set in any place at any time you care to mention. I love to time travel, to go to a place and live there for a while. I want to immerse myself in that world and know what it was like to be a citizen of that civilization. But when I decided to write a historical mystery myself, I wanted to choose a time and place and people I know well so that I can invite the reader into their world and let her walk around in their shoes for a while.

Before I started the first Alafair book, I decided to write a family genealogy for my siblings as a Christmas present. In the course of the research, I ran across stories and anecdotes about ancestors, which led me to remember stories my grandparents and parents had told me about their parents and grandparents, and life on the farm. I began questioning my mother, and then to write down my own memories. When I shared my stories with my husband, he began to reminisce about his (extremely colorful) Oklahoma pioneering family. This led me to begin questioning his siblings. At the end of the process, I had a book length genealogy packed with stories from the French and Indian wars, the Revolution, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, ambushes, murders, adoptions, divorces and adultery — settlers and Indians, massacres, poisonings, axings, shootings, drownings, and smashing people in the head with beer bottles.
I chose to set my series in the 1910s, because at that time Oklahoma was the fastest growing state in the Union, full of opportunities. Fortunes were to be made, in land, cattle, and oil. The cities were brand new and cutting edge modern, yet it was still the Wild West, full of cowboys and Indians, cattle barons and Socialists. Oklahoma was boisterous, roiling, and exciting in the early part of the 20th Century.
I decided that I wanted to take the opportunity to try and evoke not just the events of the time, but the smells, the tastes, the sound, the hot and cold of it — the daily one-foot-in-front-of-the-other life of a farm wife with ten children. I love the language, too. One of my uncles walked into our house one day and said, “What in the cat hair is going on?” How could I let that fade into oblivion?
I plumbed my own memory as well as interviewed many relatives. Many of the details of farm life come from my mother, such as using kerosine-soaked corn cobs to start a fire. Many of the incidents related actually happened, both in my family and my husband’s (the less savory ones, he points out).

Introduce us briefly to the main characters in your most recent book.

Alafair Tucker is the busy mother of ten living children, running the domestic side of a successful farm and sharing a loving supportive relationship with her husband Shaw, children, in-laws and neighbors. In Hell With the Lid Blown Off (June 2014), Alafair's middle daughter Ruth has just turned seventeen, and is preparing to go off to study music at a conservatory in Muskogee. This fact causes a great deal of consternation to young Deputy Trenton Calder, who has surprised himself by falling in love with this sweet and lively young woman whom he has known since she was a little girl.
In the summer of 1916, a big twister brings destruction to the land around Boynton OK.  Alafair's family and neighbors are not spared the ruin and grief spread by the storm.  But no one, not even his own mother, is going to mourn for Jubal Beldon, who made it his business to know the ugly secrets of everyone in town. It doesn’t matter if Jubal’s insinuations are true or not. In a small town like Boynton, rumor is as damaging as fact.
When it becomes apparent that Jubal was already dead when the storm hit, Sheriff Scott Tucker, cousin to Alafair's husband, immediately suspects that he was murdered. And considering that the victim is the evil Jubal Beldon, there are dozens of potential killers to investigate. As Scott and his deputy Trenton Calder look into the circumstances surrounding Jubal’s demise, it begins to look like the prime suspect may be someone very dear to the widow Beckie MacKenzie, the beloved music teacher and mentor of Alafair’s daughter Ruth. Ruth fears that the secrets exposed by the investigation are going to cause more damage to her friend’s life than the tornado. Alafair has her own suspicions about how Jubal Beldon came to die, and the reason may hit very close to home.

Don't miss the continuation of this interview tomorrow. Remember to leave a comment answering the following question to win a copy of Hell With the Lid Blown Off:

Alafair Tucker has eight daughters. Four of them are spoken for. Name any son-in-law or fiance`. --OR-- Six of the Alafair Tucker books take place around her home outside of Boynton, OK. In the other two novels Alafair travels to another city. What is the title of one of the travel novels, or what city does she travel to?  Answers can be found by reading the book pages on my website. www.doniscasey.com