Posts Tagged ‘Buffalo National River’


May 4, 2013

I haven’t been on a vacation since my first mystery novel (A VALLEY TO DIE FOR) was published in 2002.

Until that year, husband John and I went on yearly vacations in August.  The gift/decorating/antique shop where I worked closed for three weeks in August to have cleaning and painting done, and so I could take a vacation.  Since it was August and we were camping–sleeping in the back of our van–we went north for comfort.  We love the ocean, so most frequently headed for a northern coast in the United States or Canada, though we saw quite a bit of the Great Lakes and central Canada as well.  I have wonderful memories of all those vacations.

However, by the time my second novel, MUSIC TO DIE FOR (Ozark Folk Center State Park), had appeared, vacations turned into book research/and/or book promotion trips.  In some ways, these were mini-vacations as well.  Conferences and conventions?  We have seen Austin, TX at a Bouchercon Writers’ Conference, and El Paso at Left Coast Crime.  We fell in love with Omaha over and over during repeated visits to Mayhem in the Midlands, and enjoyed visiting the Washington DC area after a long trip by car to attend Malice Domestic.  We have seen some of  Indiana and Tennessee, several additional locations in Texas, plus Missouri and Kansas and, of course, Little Rock and Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Which brings me to another type of “vacation.”  Book research trips.  Since I site my novels at tourist destinations in the Arkansas Ozarks, most of my research is done on day trips.  One of the more distant exceptions is A TREASURE TO DIE FOR,  set in Hot Springs National Park. That required one two-week vacation stay, and two additional overnight trips. This was all the fault of my major characters, Carrie McCrite and Henry King.  Carrie wanted to attend what was then called an Elderhostel, sited in Hot Springs. (As did her creator, Radine. What a happy coincidence.)

John and I enrolled in the chosen Elderhostel.  Carrie, wanting to lure Henry into attending with her, followed friend Elinor Stack’s advice, and made a meatloaf, since (Elinor assured her) feeding a man meatloaf and oven potatoes was guaranteed to make him say yes to most anything. However, Carrie is no cook, and her road to meatloaf is covered, I hope humorously, in that novel.  The eventual result did the trick, and Henry agreed to go along. ( He may have had regrets later because he ended up in more pain and more danger than even Carrie, though she had trouble enough on her own.)  At the end of the novel, moved by many exterior and interior hazards lived through, he finally asks Carrie to marry him.

Which takes us to A WEDDING TO DIE FOR (The 1886 Crescent Hotel and Eureka Springs, AR), A RIVER TO DIE FOR (Buffalo National River), JOURNEY TO DIE FOR (A&M RR Passenger Excursion Train ride to historic Van Buren, AR), and A FAIR TO DIE FOR (War Eagle Craft fairs and Hobbs State Park).

Coming next year, A GARDEN TO DIE FOR.  Now that doesn’t require a long trip at all.

Radine, at



OHMYGOODNESS . . . It’s a real person!

April 13, 2012

I’m reading a delightful mystery novel right now (NO BELLS, by Marilyn Meredith) and, because of rather unique circumstances, am experiencing a “hiccup” every time one character’s name is mentioned–which comes up frequently.

First, let me explain that it is the practice of many authors to honor people by giving book characters a real person’s name.  This can be an individual decision by the author (with permission from the “namee,” ) or, frequently, the right to have a book character named after yourself or someone you want to honor is auctioned at writers’ conferences to raise money for a cause related to writing and reading.

So, finding real names in books is not uncommon, even when the book is not a historical novel or a biography of some “worthy” person, past or present.

So, why the hiccups?  Because I KNOW the real, living,  (delightful) person so honored in this book.  It’s never happened before in any work of fiction I’ve read, but, every time the name comes up, I see and hear the person I know, not the book character. It is a unique, and somewhat bizarre reaction on my part, and, to some degree, it interrupts my involvement in the story .

Odd, because one thing I love most about this on-going series set within the lives of various members of a police department is my belief, while reading, that these are all very real people, living real lives, and I am privileged to be hiding (a fly on the wall) to know their thoughts and actions.  In other words, this is one of my favorite novel series, ever.

That said, have I ever used real people in my own books?  Yup, I sure have.  Twice I’ve used people who actually played the parts in novels that they play in real life.  One was a ranger who was very much involved in helping me develop the setting and plot of A RIVER TO DIE FOR, a story that takes place mostly in the caves and abandoned mines at Buffalo National River in Arkansas.  It turned out to be challenging to write him into the story.  Though he was eager to be part of this work of fiction,  I didn’t want to “make” him do anything he might not do in real life.  Truth be told, I didn’t want to upset either this man or his bosses.  Everything came out okay, but it was a challenge I wouldn’t repeat.

In JOURNEY TO DIE FOR, I used Chuck Dovish, host of a popular PBS program called “Exploring Arkansas” as part of the story, filming a ride on a restored 1920’s passenger train as Chuck has actually done more than once for his program.  In this case I had no problem because Chuck simply did in the novel exactly what he does for AETN.  And, when Carrie McCrite, Henry King, and their friends view the resulting program in the story, they discover a valuable clue to a murder that occurs following their ride on this (real) train.  It was great fun all around.

99% of the people reading either of these novels wouldn’t know the real people taking part, so I assume no problem. If they do know them, since both are really doing what they would do or actually do in real life, I suppose it isn’t distracting.  (But I don’t know this for certain.)

In my latest novel (A FAIR TO DIE FOR, to be released by Oak Tree Press later this spring), I again use the names of two real people as a big part of the story.  One, Carrie’s mysterious cousin, Edith Embler (“Edie”) is named in honor of the real person by the same name who was a reviewer for “I Love A Mystery” review site, and became a real-life friend of mine when she and her husband came to Arkansas to visit the locations where my novels are set.  I enjoyed my time with this delightful couple. Edie passed on shortly after their visit, and I, along with other writers who knew her, promised to honor her by naming a book character after her.  I have done that in this story.  The second real person, who has been a frequent poster to the mystery fan site, DorothyL, is John Bohnert, who, among other things, often told DorothyL members what delicious-sounding meals he was cooking.  I don’t know John face-to-face  as I came to know Edie, but he is definitely a real person, and appears in A FAIR TO DIE FOR as famous Chef John Bohnert from Grass Valley, California.

In spite of what I’ve just written, I don’t often have any problem with confronting real names in fiction, mostly–as I have discovered–because I don’t really know them and can’t picture a real person owning the name.  In the case of the character in NO BELLS, I’ll gladly put up with it because I know the name honors a friend of the author’s, and of mine!

Does Branding Hurt?

December 23, 2011

Does branding hurt?  Nope, not when you’re talking about author branding  Brands are considered a good thing when it comes to identifying cattle and some other four-footed farm animals (though cows may not agree) and branding of another type is good for authors.

Why?  Because in the case of an author, branding means the special niche or type of writing or some other significant continuing quality that readers will find in the work of that author.   Want vampires, or women with peculiar life experiences?  Then think of  CHARLAINE HARRIS.   How about cozy mysteries featuring a sometimes bumbling but very caring ghost?  Try CAROLINE HART.  You all know about what to expect from Stephen King, or Kathy Reichs (“Bones”) or Nora Roberts.  Right?  If you enjoyed one book from these people, the assumption is that you’ll enjoy them all, and that often proves to be the case.

For canned goods or candy bars, motels or restaurants, shirts or shoes, branding of a good product helps build customers.  This is just as true when the product for you to buy and enjoy is written on paper or a screen.

For example:  If you want to learn about the Ozarks and what life is like here,  I suggest  I’m one brand for you to try.  (Learn more at Whether in fiction or non-fiction, all my writing is inspired by my love for the Ozarks area, its hills and hollows and forests, its people, its unique caves and geology and . . . . everything else Ozarkian.   You can trust the Ozarks you visit in my writing because extensive research spurred by the mentioned love and appreciation saturate the stories I write, the tales I tell.  And there’s plenty of material here for me, whether I’m writing about gardening or weaving a tale of mystery and adventure.

The history of the Ozarks,  its landscape and tourist attractions, offer fertile ground for mysteries to happen and, indeed, in many areas, real mysteries already have.  My non fiction writing reflects that, and, though the fiction IS fiction as far as most characters and the plot are concerned, you can rely on the locations to be about what you’ll find if you choose to visit them yourself.  (And, many people have after reading stories set there.)

Though I will never be wealthy, I am rich in happy experiences.  Though I will never visit far-away places I once dreamed of seeing, what’s better than discovering the wonderful tourist destinations near home?  And, after all, what’s better than daring to be me, doing what I enjoy, and sharing it with people who find they like the brand.

What can you be besides a writer?

June 23, 2009

I dreamed of being an archeologist.
Daddy insisted on secretarial school.  (Yes, this was back in the dark ages when fathers did that.)  The dream died.

Fast forward thirty-five years.  My husband and I chucked city jobs in Tulsa, Oklahoma and moved to the hills of northern Arkansas.  I soon discovered I was meant to be an Ozarks-dweller.  I began writing about the area I loved, and before long was a regular contributor to regional, national, and international publications; as well as an Ozarks-based reporter for radio news.

Then I decided to try my hand at mystery writing.  The “Something to Die For” series was born.  Two books into the series I was doing research for a third novel set in Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas, when the park curator mentioned she’d been cataloging artifacts for Dr. Caven Clark, Staff Archeologist at Arkansas’ Buffalo National River.

Archeologist?  I knew the Buffalo area as a three-county-long landscape with a wild river known to offer canoeing, fishing, and hiking amid spectacular scenery.  I knew the river had cut deep canyons like a mini-Grand, but…archeology? Timidly I picked up the phone and called Dr. Clark.  Yes,
he was willing to help me.  I was IN.

After repeated discovery trips to the Buffalo, after exploring bluff shelters with Caven Clark, after many questions and interviews, I now know that the Buffalo National River area rivals the canyons of Arizona and New Mexico for archeological wealth.  Ten thousand or more years ago Paleo Indians hunted and camped along the river, leaving chipped points.  Centuries passed, and families began accompanying their hunters.  The family groups spent more and more of the year here, learning to scratch soil and scatter seed gathered from wild food plants.  They stayed during the winter, living in dry bluff shelters and caves along the Buffalo and elsewhere.

The word dry is important because, just as happened in the American Southwest, even fiber objects like woven garments, nets, sandals, and cradle boards survived inside the dry shelters.  More commonly preserved throughout were chipped stone hunting points and tools, as well as pottery. (Pottery making began about 500 BCE.)  A legacy of life, a cultural heritage, was collecting.

Then Europeans came.  Spaniards passed through the area during the 16th century, including a party led by Hernando de Soto.  By the early 1800s, white settlers were moving into valleys near the river.  Children and adults enjoyed exploring the world around them, often picking up curious-looking objects they found in caves and shelters or dug up in their fields.  This collecting by individuals continued, year after year.  A cultural legacy began vanishing.

Such “looting” was not yet a crime.  But, by the beginning of the last century, the cultural heritage found in Arkansas had been recognized, and archeologists came to collect artifacts for museums in the East.  The struggle to preserve what was left had begun.  As Dr. Clark now writes: “My job as an archeologist is no longer the digging of square holes for the extraction of scientific data, but the struggle to leave as much in the ground as is possible, to preserve what remains of the past for future generations…(and to) responsibly interpret these remains.”  (Epilogue, A RIVER TO DIE FOR.)
It’s not easy.  There isn’t enough staff to patrol the 36,000 acres of the Buffalo National River.  In recent years, due partly to the ease of advertising and selling objects on the Internet, as well as to the hunger of European clients for American Indian artifacts, looting at the Buffalo and elsewhere has become big business.  It’s often linked with the production and purchase of methamphetamines and other drugs.

Finally, after years of “slap on the wrist” law enforcement, some looting cases have been successfully prosecuted under the 1979 Archeological Resources Protection Act, which bans the removal and sale of artifacts from public land.

You can see where I am going with this.  Radine, now an archeologist by proxy, was on her way to creating a mystery novel about archeological looting.

Challenging?  Yes.  Fun?  You bet!  Caven Clark let me poke my fingers through the dusty floors of remote bluff shelters, identifying such things as the tiny shells of river creatures that long-ago people used for food.  After one hike I sat in a now well-known Buffalo destination, the Indian Rock House, imagining (as does Catherine King in my novel) what living there might have been like several thousand years ago. Then, stuffed with atmosphere and information, I returned to my office to dream like an archeologist, and to write.  A RIVER TO DIE FOR is the result.

I never worked as a secretary but, by golly, I have brushed the life of an archeologist.  And I was right.  It would have been a great career.