A Mystery Writer Evolves by Patricia Skalka

Patricia Sk



 Writing is a strange business. Sometimes you go looking for stories. And other times, the stories come to you. When I was a Reader’s Digest Staff Writer, I scoured newspapers and obscure publications searching for true-life situations I could mold into magazine articles. I wrote mostly medical pieces and human interest and competed with both in-house and other freelancers to uncover the next great story line. I have a thick folder of ideas, most of which caught my eye because they were interesting to me, not necessarily to my editor.

But since I turned to writing fiction full time, I find that mostly I don’t go looking for stories; instead, they come to me. The idea for Death Stalks Door County emerged from the depths of the starless, moonless night that enveloped me as I sat on a stretch of deserted beach along the peninsula’s Lake Michigan Shore. The water was quiet that night, the stillness broken by a soft shushing of waves along the sand.  I held out my hand. Nothing. I wiggled my fingers and but couldn’t see them moving. I could only imagine my hand in the tarry blackness, just as I imagined shadows floating through the forest at my back. Anything can happen here, I thought. So much must have happened here I realized as I listened to the almost silent footfalls of the tens of thousands of people who had slipped along the water throughout time.
 As a girl I’d spent summers on my grandmother’s farm in central Wisconsin. A city kid who learned to drive the tractor and milk cows and feed the chickens. Hard work and the kind of life many people ran away from. As an adult, I discovered Door County, a Wisconsin place that people flocked to – for vacation, for camping trips, for retirement, for a chance at a quiet life. Hours spent walking the sand, reading on the beach, nurturing the story that was forming in my head. A man flees the city; he is damaged and morose, pained with guilt and grief. He comes to Door County seeking solace and finds death instead. I had friends who were cops and my character is a former cop; he suspects the worst but wants nothing to do with the troubles of this adopted home. Until he faces the ghosts of his past and then…

The underpinnings of life are much the same in the city and the small town. Congestion, noise, turmoil, pace of living vary tremendously. But people do not. They have similar dreams; they love and hate and plot revenge on those who have wronged them.  Some have kind, giving hearts; others are motivated by arrogance and greed. One by one, the characters took shape in my imagination and the plot line developed. What if? And then, what if again? What leads a person to commit the ultimate crime; How does the human heart justify the most grievous wrongdoing? And how does a stranger stop the killing?

 For many years I wrote nonfiction, human interest stories that were limited by the parameters of reality; I turned to fiction because I wanted to tell stories of my own making and set my own limits of what was possible. I read mysteries, have always read mysteries, and recognized the inherent value of pitting good against evil and of understanding the extreme pressures that twist an ordinary individual into a tortured soul, capable of the vilest of deeds.

There were many discouraging moments on the path to publishing Death Stalks Door County. What kept me going was both an affinity for my characters (I would have recognized them walking down the street) and a strong sense of obligation to tell their story, because only I knew it and if I didn’t tell it, no one would.  Originally I intended the book as a stand-alone mystery. But by the time I finished, I was so caught up in the fictional people and their world I couldn’t abandon them. One book would lead to another. I’d do what I’d always considered impossible: I’d write a series.


Death              Book Blurb:    Introducing The Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries: smart, hard-edged detective fiction on a popular vacation peninsula, a scenic wonderland surrounded by the pristine waters of Green Bay and Lake Michigan

Six deaths mar the holiday mood as summer vacationers enjoy Wisconsin’s beautiful Door County peninsula. Murders, or bizarre accidents? Newly hired park ranger Dave Cubiak, a former Chicago homicide detective, assumes the worst but refuses to get involved. Grief-stricken and guilt-ridden over the loss of his wife and daughter, he’s had enough of death.
Forced to confront the past, the morose Cubiak moves beyond his own heartache and starts investigating, even as a popular festival draws more people into possible danger. In a desperate search for clues, Cubiak uncovers a tangled web of greed, betrayal, bitter rivalries, and lost love beneath the peninsula’s travel-brochure veneer. Befriended by several locals but unsure whom to trust or to suspect of murder, the one-time cop tracks a clever killer.
In a setting of stunning natural beauty and picturesque waterfront villages, Death Stalks Door County introduces a new detective series, “The Dave Cubiak Door County Mysteries.”

Author Bio
              I was born and raised in Chicago, in a little-known neighborhood called Hegewisch. Strictly blue collar, nestled along the southeastern border of the great metropolis amid belching steel mills and factories. My mother was a homemaker who passed along her many fine skills. My father was a carpenter determined that my brother and I would be college educated.
 Books were scarce in my working class home and family tales were not passed from one generation to the next, so I don’t know how I acquired the propensity for putting words together into sentences and stories. But even as a young girl, I sat at the kitchen table and scrawled simple yarns on sheets of coarse lined-paper. Stories about people always drew me in. I grew up reading the biographies of famous women – Molly Pitcher, Marie Curie, Clara Barton -- and came naturally to writing about women and men who accomplished notable deeds or faced down great challenges. For my high school and college newspapers, for national weekly and monthly publications and finally for the Reader’s Digest, I wrote about people’s accomplishments, heartaches and dreams. I kept journals during both of my pregnancies so I could give my daughters a portrait of the world they were about to join.

             All the while I wrote about reality, I read fiction and imagined that one day I would write a story that was entirely my own. I always loved mysteries: devoured Nancy Drew and read the Boxcar Children series to my own children, got teary eyed over Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. Eventually I realized that all of life is a mystery and that in terms of books, a really good mystery isn’t just a story about who done it; a really good mystery teaches about life. That’s the kind of mystery I most enjoy reading and the kind I set out to write.

Links
 www.PatriciaSkalka.com
Buy sites:
http://www.indiebound.org/hybrid?filter0=Death+Stalks+Door+County&x=0&y=0
http://uwpress.wisc.edu/books/5315.htm
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/death-stalks-door-county-patricia-skalka/1117596268?ean=9780299299408
http://www.amazon.com/Death-Stalks-Door-County-Mystery/dp/0299299406



 Patricia Skalka




Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of City of the Dead

Reunions: You Can’t Go Back Again (Because ‘There’ Is Gone) You hear about people going to Reunions: high school, college, family, war vets, et cetera. Well, not me. For example, my high school, St. Augustine’s Diocesan on Sterling Place in Park Slope, Brooklyn, was already out of business when the passenger jet made an unscheduled crash landing on its doorstep in the late 1960’s, erasing all prospect of reunions. No matter, I wouldn’t have been attending anyhow. As for St. John’s University College, whose ‘campus’ was in a seven-story former bank building on Schermerhorn St. in Downtown Brooklyn---it’s condos now and even if the doorman would let me in for old times’sake, I’d pass. I spent all of 1956 and half of 1957 at St. Augustine’s as a transfer student, having come from a low-rent seminary that was supposed to prepare you to become a member of the Franciscan Order of Teaching Brothers. St. Anthony’s ‘Juniorate’ (odd name for a high school, right?), no doubt why we boys simply referred to it as ‘Smithtown’, located as it was in the Town of Smithtown on Long Island, among the potato fields of Suffolk County. My short story: I got kicked out after two years, told I was mistaken in thinking I had a ‘vocation’ (I won’t bore you with my sins). So how’d I get there in the first place? Well, you’re graduating from eighth grade in St. Anthony of Padua grammar school (same ‘St. Anthony’, no coincidence); you’re twelve years old and, since the age of five-and-one-half, been shuttled from the school to the looming red brick Church next door when the steeple bells summoned us to prayer. There, all us boys, in our dark-blue worstered trousers, white shirt and clip-on black tie, have been kneeling for all eternity on the hard wood kneelers in the pews in the Lower (basement) Church, interminably humming the five Decades of the Rosary amidst the fourteen Stations of the Cross, as the priest parades up and down the marble-floored aisles spewing swirls of sweet smoke from his incense-burner. No surprise then: After the Good Franciscan Brother reveals to our class that some among us may be ‘called’, on Easter Sunday, at Mass in the Upper Church, drunk on incense fumes, I actually see God point a long index finger at me through the fog, and over the swell of the organ while the choir pounds out the Hallelujah Chorus, I hear Him say to me, clear as a bell: “You! You! Pack your bags!” Upon graduation in February, 1954, I boarded the LIRR, Ronkonkoma Branch, with my ticket punched for Smithtown. One recent Sunday, in the grip of an irresistible impulse to see Smithtown once more, I get on the LIE and head for the North Shore of Long Island. To get to the school, you must drive through the hamlet of Kings Park, once home to the Kings Park Psychiatric Center, which I see from my car on Route 25A, is still there, sprawling on top of a hill but empty, decommissioned. And I remember then being aboard the ancient yellow school bus, the name ‘St. Anthony’s’ painted in black on its sides--captive boys being taken to the movies in Kings Park on a Sunday afternoon more than half-a-century ago--the hospital full of life, the inmates hooting and hollering to us from their barred windows as we speed past. It’s a high point of the trip, riding past the Looney Bin: a happy feeling, I remember, as if them up there and us in our bus were connected. No more acres of potato fields as far as the eye could see along Rte. 25A now-- replaced by row upon row of suburban tracks, Divisions and Sub-Divisions. I drive onto the grounds of St. Anthony’s. It is not a functioning school, it’s obvious. There are some broken windows in the elongated two-story structure, and the white paint is peeling. I think of Iroquois Longhouses, I suppose because of the stretch of the building. I get out of the car and what strikes me is how small-scale everything appears: the buildings, the playing fields behind the main house, the grass badly in need of cutting. The chicken coops are gone as well as the fenced-in execution ground where I beheaded and plucked my first chicken for the Sunday dinner, on orders from the Brother in charge of the Refectory. Everything smaller than I remember it. For it’s vivid, larger-than-life in my memory. Jerome Megna, the pool shark; Joe Rogus, the polio-stricken basketball star; Bill Cullen, the gay librarian from Brooklyn and my best friend; the school’s principal Brother Henry, vain about his PhD in history; Brother Patrick “The Claw’, who taught Latin, had a crippled left hand and the DTs from drink; Brother Linus, the math teacher, who’d feel you up if you weren’t fast on your feet. I swear I remember them all, the faces and their names. I even remember the movie we saw that Sunday in Kings Park in 1954. The Bridges At Toko-Ri; William Holden, Grace Kelly and Mickey Rooney starring. I wrote the movie review for the school paper, The St. Anthony Star. Funny how it all stays with you. The important stuff.

Five Books for Christmas Giving