Posts Tagged ‘Arkansas and Missouri Railroad’

Sharing from Mystery Readers Journal

November 26, 2013

Are you familiar with the Mystery Readers Journal magazine?  It’s dedicated to all people interested in reading stories and articles related to the broad field of mystery fiction, and, in each issue, features one topic from that field.  For example — the recent issue featured “Mysteries in Transit,” and, since that fit right in with my novel, JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, I submitted an article.  The article was accepted and, with permission, is reproduced here.  For more information, go to



Whether you’re eight or eighty, isn’t there something about a train that causes a touch of excitement? These days few have opportunities to ride historic trains, but still, hear “whoooah-woo” and “choo-choo-choo,” and imagination can go crazy. (Need I explain why Murder on the Orient Express is one of Agatha Christie’s most popular mystery novels?)

My own elaborate train adventures began when six adults (parents, grandparents, great aunt and uncle) decided the time had  come for one seven-year-0ld to experience a ride on a real train. Access to such a train was easy. Near the aunt and uncle’s home in Northwest Arkansas, the Arkansas and Missouri Railroad’s restored 1920’s passenger excursion train makes regular weekly and special-event round-trips from Springdale to Van Buren, AR during most of the year.

Tickets were purchased, and excited adults, accompanied by one rather “ho-hum” little girl, spent a Saturday riding the rails, and exploring the historic Arkansas town of Van Buren during the train’s four-hour lay-over.  Six of us had a terrific time. The seventh had her hand-held whatever.

Wild imagination takes over.

The aunt in this story, name of Radine, is a mystery author with a series of  published novels set at Arkansas tourist treats. Novel number five in the series, A River to Die For, (want to experience thrills at Buffalo National River?) was ready to achieve publication at the time. What next? Well now, how about a story featuring the excursion train?  It would be–um–ah–a–Journey to Die For.

Yes! The train staff welcomes me and my novel idea being born.  For the second time I board the A&M Train and settle into a green plush seat to observe, absorb, and take notes.


So, what if?  That’s how must novels start.

Imagine this: On-going series’ main characters are riding the train as a special anniversary treat for the woman, Carrie McCrite. Husband, Henry King, who’s gift it is, accompanies her, and Journey to Die For begins its opening scene.

Two men, looking somewhat alike, but acting as strangers, sit in front of them on the train, attracting Carrie’s attention throughout the ride, though Henry reminds her several times this is none of her business. He fears her tendency to get involved in others’ complicated lives and problems will, once more, cause trouble and spoil his anniversary gift.

“Van Buren, Arkansas,” the conductor says. “Everyone enjoy the town, and be back here in the train station by 2:00 for the return trip.”

Van Buren was founded in 1809 (as Phillips’ Landing) to sell wood to steamboats on the Arkansas River. Today, unusual details along Van Buren’s vibrantly restored Main Street entertain the reader and Carrie as she browses jewelry and antiques shops, seeing some surprising items for sale. She eventually buys a lovely blue-green pendant that matches her eyes (Henry says) and looks like an emerald–but of course can’t be for the small price asked. Meanwhile, Henry has been sitting on a sidewalk bench, people-watching. When the two of them walk down Main Street to the bank of the Arkansas River (“Looks as wide as the Mississippi at Memphis,” Carrie says), a heap of wet rags seen from a park sidewalk is, at a closer look, a dead body. Is it one of the men from the train?


Henry, a retired Kansas City Police Major, is asked by the Van Buren Police Chief to help with research into the life of the murdered man. The man’s home was in Kansas City, and Carrie and Henry have already planned a trip there to visit Henry’s daughter and her family. Henry doesn’t want to be involved in the investigation, afraid secrets from his past will be uncovered. Carrie, knowing nothing about this, is “rarin’ to go” to help the chief. She prevails.

One of Kansas City’s tourist attractions is a transportation museum and, while visiting there, Carrie and Henry discover a link to the Van Buren murder. Henry’s friends in the Kansas City Police Department get involved when Carrie is attacked. The couple is then moved from their motel to a safe house while crime research continues.

(Isn’t this fun?)

Eventually, after a fire scare at the safe house and other dangers, we move from trains to steamboats. Treasures that could have come from boats sunk during the Civil War have begun appearing in Van Buren shops. And the “emerald?” Someone sure is eager to get it back.

In the exciting (!) climax, there’s a gun battle in a shop full of china and crystal. Oh, was that fun to imagine. Well, fun for the most part since three people–the good and the evil–do get in the way of gunfire and falling shelves of glassware. But isn’t that all in a day’s work for amateur detectives who will try to solve other people’s problems?

And, for now, that’s all folks!


Getting ready for a birth

March 30, 2010

The birth of a new novel, that is.

First there is the tremendous fun of writing it.  (Yes, it IS fun.)  Then there is the challenge of finding the right publisher. Here are three must-happens:  (1) That they like you.  (2) You like them.  And (3), you can work together harmoniously.  )

I had been with the same mystery  publisher through five books, but they closed that imprint after number five came out, and I needed to find a home for number six, already at least half-way done by that time.

Now, after the fact, I can say that there was very little tension during this period because–much to my amazement–when word got out that my initial mystery publisher was no longer in that business, a few small press publishers (I’m a small-press-gal) got in touch with me asking about my interest in submitting to them.  WOW.  This was not at all like the first time around (actually, that was selling my literary non-fiction), or the second (selling my mystery series).  But I still had to decide if any of those who contacted me sounded like a fit.  I communicated with several of the  publishers by e-mail and even had a face-to-face interview with one after a meeting we both attended.  Eventually the answer became clear.  Personalities had clicked, help offered pleased me, goals were similar, and on and on.  In August (at Killer Nashville) I signed a book contract with Tony Burton, my new editor at Wolfmont Press.

And now my book,  JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, will be out in May.  I barely have time to sleep.  I have signed on for at least 30 upcoming appearances, speaking events, seminars– sometimes three a weekend.  And that’s just in April through the first weekend in June!  I am sending out publicity hither and yon, e-mailing media folks, seeing to review sources my publisher does not reach, and ordering publicity items that don’t come from that publisher.   Does anyone outside the writing field understand what this is like?  (See the “Happenings” page on my web site for the events schedule: )

Today, being a published author is definitely is NOT sending a book off to be published and then sitting back to relax and enjoy your fame while the checks come.

Nunh-unh.  That is how it used to be, (I am told) but the times have changed.

A word to all those currently working on their first novels.  Decide NOW who your readers will be and how you will appeal to them.  Better yet, decide before you write the first word.  You can adjust your imagination and dreams enough to please that market.  Because, do you know what you will need to include in your submission to any agent or publisher?   Your “platform” which is pub-speak for your marketing plan.

Is it any wonder so many of us look back with longing on the days when the best and most enjoyable part of a writing career was found in what we did most of the time?   That was….writing!

So, writers, get ready for the future right now.

And, for fun away from that computer, all of you are invited to JOURNEY TO DIE FOR’s launch party!  If you are anywhere near Van Buren, Arkansas, come there on May 8 for the National Train Day Festival.  My newest novel opens on the Arkansas and Missouri Excursion Train’s day trip going from Springdale to Van Buren, AR.  Historic, entertaining, exciting.  And, when Henry King and Carrie McCrite King take it…chilling.   On May 8 you can pick up an autographed copy of the book and also, if you choose, enjoy a short ride on an “old-fashioned” train in beautifully restored passenger cars dating back to the 1920’s.     Do come!                                         Radine