Todd Ritter burst onto the scene a little over a year ago with the highly-acclaimed Death Notice, a small town mystery with some very sharp edges. While working at the Newark Star-Ledger (the same paper that brought us Brad Parks! Is there something in the coffee machine?) Todd's managed to publish an ebook novella, Vicious Circle, and another mystery, Bad Moon, all set in the same not-so-quaint town of Perry Hollow and featuring Police Chief Kat Campbell.
Today, Todd shares with us part of his creative technique - and asks for your help in solving a real-life mystery.
I like to think of writing as being a kind of Impressionist painter. With a few sharp strokes of the pen (or a flourish of taps on the keyboard), writers can conjure up images that, while perhaps brighter and more distorted, still resemble the world we live in. And like the Impressionists of yore, many writers — myself included — base those images on something we’ve seen in real life.
Yes, that’s my highfalutin’ way of saying that I use photographs to help me write. Sometimes it’s out of necessity, like when I need to describe a specific object or real-life location that I’m not familiar with. Usually, though, it’s more for inspiration. Looking at a picture of a crumbling Victorian house on the wrong side of town helps me conjure up a different crumbling house in my head, which I then place, with a few more alterations, on the page.
I do the same thing with characters, which is why, not too long ago, I found myself scouring the Internet for pictures of children from 1969. The research was for my second mystery, BAD MOON, which, although set in the present day, focuses on the search for Charlie Olmstead, a boy who vanished on July 20, 1969. Because I’m quite possibly the most neurotic writer in existence, I knew I couldn’t complete a word of the book unless I knew what poor, little Charlie looked like.
So I fled into the comforting arms of Google, using a combination of weird (and, out of context, quite shady) search terms to find a suitable image on which to base Charlie. I typed things like “Boys+1969.” Or “Sixties+children+boys.” And “Pennsylvania+missing boys.” Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the perfect Charlie.
Here’s the picture:
And here’s how I described it in BAD MOON: The page was a reproduction of an old newspaper article, accompanied by a photograph of a boy who had a tiny nose and jug-ears. He wore a shirt and tie and had spit-slicked blond hair, leading Nick to assume it was a school picture. And although the boy was giving a lopsided smile, there was sadness in his eyes. Above the article and photo was a simple, devastating headline: PERRY HOLLOW BOY, 10, MISSING.
Not exactly what’s in the photograph, but not too far off, either. Like the picture in real life, I wanted the one in the book to be simple, but haunting. Enough for readers to keep tucked in their memory as they slowly discover what happened to young Charlie.
As for me, that picture is seared into my brain. I can’t think of BAD MOON without that image popping into my head. I also know that I never would have been able to write the book without it. They say a picture is a worth a thousand words. In this case, a picture was worth roughly a hundred-thousand words.
There’s only one problem: I have no idea who this person is. I forget the exact search terms I used to find it and, despite repeated attempts, haven’t been able to locate it again. Which is a shame. I’d love to track down whoever this person is, send him a copy of BAD MOON and thank him for inspiring the book.
This is where you come in, awesome Jungle Reds readers. I want you to help me solve this real-life mystery. Have you seen this boy? Maybe one of you out there recognized him. Perhaps he’s your brother or now your husband. Maybe he’s an old classmate or a former neighbor from way back when. Any information on his whereabouts would be greatly appreciated. So if you have an inkling as to who he might be, shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know it’s a long shot. The Internet is crammed with images, and the fact that one of you might know anything about this one is unlikely. But stranger things have happened. And if your information leads to me finding him, then you, too, will get a signed copy of BAD MOON.
Until I hear from you, I’ll be searching the unruly vortex that is the Internet, hoping that I’ll once again come face to face with the picture of the boy I only know as Charlie Olmstead.
Todd Ritter is an author and editor. His second mystery, BAD MOON, was released in October by St. Martin’s/Minotaur. You can visit him online at www.toddritteronline.com, read his blog, friend him on Facebook and chat with him on Twitter (@ToddARitter).