Our guest blogger today is Patricia Skalka, author of the Dave Cubiak County Mystery Series. The fourth book in the series, Death Rides the Ferry, comes out today.
Ideas are like plants. Some seem to come out of nowhere and burst into full bloom. Others hibernate for months or even years before they cautiously reach up toward the light of day. And like plants, ideas can be grafted, one to the other. Which is what happened in Death Rides the Ferry.
The “aha, full-bloom” idea was suggested by my eldest daughter Julia on a bright summer day several years ago. We were in Door County riding the ferry across the Porte des Morts strait between Washington Island and the Door peninsula. By then, I’d written the first two books in the Dave Cubiak Door County mystery series and was working on the third. “How about a death on the ferry?” Julia said, citing the obvious. Until that moment the thought had never occurred to me. Of course! I thought, as the ferry plowed through the water. What a great idea!
There was one problem: I had nothing with which to nurture this terrific suggestion. Who dies? How many victims? Why are she/he/they traveling to the island? Who’s the killer? What’s the motive?
For days, I struggled to fill out the storyline. After rejecting one plot after another, I was ready to shelve the fledging project. That’s when the magic happened and an idea that had been lurking beneath the surface for decades emerged from the fog of memory.
Twenty years ago—at least—a friend who was also a professional musician told me about the viola da gamba, a stringed instrument popular in the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The term meant nothing to me, but I was intrigued. The more she talked about the kinds of viols played in early music, the more interested I became. At the time, however, I was a nonfiction writer working on assignments for the Reader’s Digest and other national magazines. There were no opportunities to write a story featuring something as esoteric as the viola da gamba, so I filed away the information, hoping that someday I could use it. In effect, I’d sent the idea into hibernation.
Fast forward several decades to the recent past when I was mulling over Julia’s suggestion about a death on the ferry. To create a story from that nugget I needed an event that would draw people to Washington Island. A music festival would do it. But why not a festival with something different or unusual as the focus? Like magic, the memory of that long-ago conversation with my musical friend awakened.
Immediately, I knew that the island event in my book would be a viola da gamba festival. As soon as I made the decision, the pieces started to fall into place. I linked the current festival to a previous event, one held forty years earlier that ended in catastrophe and left important questions unanswered. The tragic events of the past would be mirrored in the present; the victims (more than one, I decided) and the killer would be tied to both. My protagonist Dave Cubiak would solve not just the current mystery but he would discover the solution to the puzzle that had haunted the festival organizers for years.
In short order, Death Rides the Ferry grew from two seeds or ideas that I grafted together. The newly formed hybrid story had to be tended and nurtured and allowed to grow. And while there was plenty of work left to do, I was off to a solid start on book four.
Death Stalks Door County, Death at Gills Rock, and Death in Cold Water, winner of the Edna Ferber Fiction Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. She is president of the Chicagoland chapter of Sisters in Crime and divides her time between Chicago and Door County, Wisconsin. A former staff writer at Reader’s Digest, she presents writing workshops throughout the United States. Her nonfiction books have been published by Random House, St. Martin’s, and Rodale.is the author of
Author website: www.patriciaskalka.com