One mysterious death. One lazy sheriff. Two seekers of the truth. Della Kincaid escaped to the mountains of N.C. to get away from it all. Didn’t work.
When she and her dog, Jake, discover a woman dead in the wilderness, Della realizes she can’t escape her past and gets embroiled in the investigation. The sheriff says suicide. Della says murder, and as a former crime reporter in Washington, D.C., she knows how to chase the truth. Without her usual sources, she turns to an interesting cast of characters—friends, forger, former husband, and new neighbor Abit Bradshaw, a boy who’s spent the first 16 years of his life plagued by small-town bullies and family lies. They team up to search for answers to the possible murder—but things don’t turn out the way they planned.
Will Della’s quest to seek the truth of the mysterious death be solved, or will he efforts be in vain? Della, her wonderful cast of associates and a taste of the mystery can be explored today when Lynda McDaniel and I, about her novel A Life for a Life. Lynda, I’m keen to get started, so can you set the scene by sharing what thoughts originally led to this book?
Years ago, I was an emigre from the big city, seeking a simpler life in the mountains of North Carolina. While living there for 15 years, I made mistakes by the wheelbarrow load, but I wouldn’t take anything for that experience. All the things I enjoy today—writing, hiking, gardening, putting food by, wildflowers, birds, bluegrass music—took root then.
Memories tend to fade, but my years in Appalachia stand out, the people still as vivid as when I first met them. So naturally, as a professional writer, I often mused about capturing their stories in fiction. Only I didn’t. I kept putting it off for so many (stupid) reasons.
It wasn’t until I moved to Washington, D.C. to pursue my magazine-writing career that my Appalachian Mountain Mysteries began to percolate. Maybe because I didn’t move alone. All those colorful mountain folks moved right along with me and wouldn’t give me any peace until I wrote their stories.
Pundits say “write what you know,” so I started the first book, “A Life for a Life,” with me in the guise of Della Kincaid, a former crime reporter who escaped Washington, D.C. for the N.C. mountains, where she ran a general store modeled after a store I once owned. I flip-flopped our histories a bit, but otherwise Della and I have a lot in common. (Full disclosure: I was never a crime journalist, and no one ever pointed a gun at me; the offbeat artists I profiled were about as wild as things got.)
I want to hear a bit more about those offbeat artists. How did they develop into the threads of the tale?
Some of my favorite mountain friends and neighbors morphed into my fictional characters. Cleva Hall, Della’s best friend, was fashioned after a generous (in body and spirit) woman who taught me how to can tomatoes and make blackberry jam. Elbert Tutherow, the gentle giant of a beekeeper, really did say to me every time I stopped by for honey, “Come on in. I know it looks like we’re moving, but we’re not. We’re here to stay.” His front porch was permanently stacked with what looked like the dregs of many a yard sale. The longer I lived in Appalachia, the more I understood that when things were that hard to come by, they were even harder to part with.
I love those little quirks of humanity. You can make them up in fiction, but it’s much better to get them from reality. Are all of the characters borne from your colourful friends?
They are all fictionalized versions of my friends and neighbors in the N.C. mountains–all except one. My favorite character—Abit Bradshaw, fictional son of Vester Bradshaw—never lived in North Carolina, at least not on our earthly plane. I had no idea he existed until the day he showed up while I was writing. I found I liked spending time with Abit so much, I kept writing scenes for him. And when the reviews came in? Readers told me they couldn’t wait to meet Abit again. That’s why he takes the lead in the next three books in the series.
Along the way, Abit has taught me so much. In fact, he continues to inspire me—every day. You may scoff and say, “Well, you made all that up. How can it inspire you?” But actually, no; I really hadn’t seen life quite that way until Abit showed me.
Writing is funny that way. The most interesting things come up and out of somewhere deep inside when you start writing. I don’t know why it works that way, but the act of writing unlocks amazing treasures. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
What treasures did your writing unlock for you? And what did you learn from what you unlocked?
I was surprised how many times I needed to edit the book to get the polished prose I wanted. I’ve been a professional writer of nonfiction for decades, so I knew all about editing. But there was something different about fiction; I really wanted my words to shine–and that took time.
What message did you really want to shine through to readers?
That everyone matters. We’re all different, and we need to honor our uniqueness. Like my mountain friends and neighbors in real life, my quirky characters have something wonderful to share with the world.
That’s a great message to share. And after so much talk about your mountain friends, I’m going to have to know more about that mountain region. Where’s it set?
For the setting, I fictionalized Linville Falls into Laurel Falls and borrowed real places like the Blue Ridge Parkway, Mt. Pisgah Inn, and Campbell Folk School.
With so many wonderful fiction and real places in your writing, I’m keen to know, have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?
No, I’ve been too busy writing!
YAY, more writing! What can readers be on the lookout for in the near or medium future?
I am beginning to outline and craft the fourth book in my Appalachian Mountain Mysteries series. The characters are older now, and they get involved with a murder investigation when it appears the perpetrator of unsolved murders from a couple of decades ago starts up again.
Wow, four books in the Appalachian Mountain Mysteries series is awesome! What keeps drawing you back to writing this kind of fiction?
I get excited by the storytelling aspect of writing. Sure, some days are more trying than others, but while I type, so many ideas pop up–from goodness knows where–that energize me. I’ve been a professional writer for decades, so I know if I’m having a trying day, I just need to hang in there. Something will happen, an idea will come to me, or I’ll see a show on television that sparks my enthusiasm again. For example, the TV series “Rectify” was so well-written and acted, every time I watched an episode, I was inspired to be a better writer.
Are examples of awesome writing like that what you try to keep in your mind as you write, or do you like to focus your thoughts on something else?
I think about my readers. I know I’m easily bored, and I want to make sure I’m sharing an engrossing story with them. Sure, I want to express my own thoughts, but I am constantly asking myself, “Am I spending too much time on this scene? Will my readers start to get bored? Will this hold their interest?” That’s so important. Too often I read in books on writing that you need to just express your art. That’s great, but you also need to keep one eye out for your readers.
I completely agree that it’s important to think of your readers at the same time you express your art, especially if it makes it easier for readers to engage with and support your art. Do you feel that your recognition of the audience and your dedication to your craft has changed as you’ve kept working on writing?
As a lifelong writer of nonfiction, I longed to write fiction. When I started, I felt unsure of myself. But gradually I realized that the discipline I developed as a nonfiction writer–treating every assignment as though it were for “The New Yorker” magazine, writing engaging profiles, keeping my readers in mind, doing plenty of editing–all paid off. I know I’m more relaxed about the fourth book than I was the first, but that early tension wasn’t all bad. It made me write my very best at the time.
Have you turned your discipline as a writer to the formation of your own author brand yet to help your fiction work be seen?
As an indie author, I know marketing is very important, and it’s an ongoing learning experience for me. I do quite a bit of self-promotion through my website and blog, as well as Amazon advertising, reviews, and PR interviews. I’m building my author platform day by day.
Day by day, that’s how an indie author brand is made! I’ve loved learning about your author journey today, and I can’t wait to hear more about it in the future. Lynda, before you return to taking those the next steps of your journey, can you share your favourite part of the A Life for a Life part of your journey. What’s the best line in it for you?
“My life was saved by a murder. At the time, of course, I didn’t understand that. I just knew I was having the best year of my life. Given all the terrible things that happened, I should be ashamed to say it, but that year was a blessing for me.”
Blessings and murder all rolled into one! And our readers today can find out about both of them when they pick up a copy of A Life for a Life. Lynda, thanks again for sharing your world with us today, I can’t wait to see more of it soon!
Excited to read the book we discussed today? Find it here on Amazon: ‘A Life for a Life: A Mystery Novel ( ASIN: B01KGVUREG )‘.
Want to find out more about Lynda McDaniel? Connect here!