Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Deb Pines' Chautauqua series set in an edgy Cabot Cove

HALLIE EPHRON: I met Deb Pines in NYC at an event for mystery writers. She was writing crime novels, but her day job was as a headline writer for the New York Post. She wasnresponsible for THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING headline (remember the JetBlue pilot who lost it?) In other words clever, smart, and a dab hand with words.

Now she's back, launching her 5th(!) mystery (Vengeance is Mine) in her series set in Chautauqua and featuring a former copy editor (right up Deb's alley) Mimi Goldman. Reviewers call the series "enjoyable," "twisty," "fun," and "snappy." The setting especially sets them apart.
My first question: Why Chautauqua?


DEB PINES:
Good question. First, two things it’s not. It’s not Chappaqua, New York, Bill and Hillary’s New York City suburb that it’s mistaken for the most. It’s also not a fictional creation like Agatha Christie’s sleepy British village of St. Mary Mead, Louise Penny’s Canadian town of Three Pines or “Murder, She Wrote’s” Cabot Cove, Maine.

Chautauqua is a real place. A gated, leafy lakeside community
of narrow streets—with quaint Victorian cottages, modern homes and public buildings—it is located in very far western New York state, about 400 miles north and west of New York City but only 60 miles east of Ohio.

Chautauqua, which has a tiny year-round population of several hundred, comes alive for a nine-week summer season of lectures, concerts and church services often compared to a summer camp for adults.

But the tradition-bound spot is also a little culty—drawing many of the same families, generation after generation, to the place that began in 1874 as a tent retreat for Methodist Sunday school teachers.

Nowadays Chautauqua offers TED Talk-like lectures, Tanglewood-like concerts and Burning Man-like spiritual recharging in a far less hip, more white-bread, All-American setting.

HALLIE: OK, so why murder mysteries there?

DEB:
For many of the same reasons, other writers set spooky stories and murder mysteries in idyllic small towns.

Sin intruding on an Edenic paradise feels like a greater trespass.
It’s shocking.  And, I think, it gets readers more behind my newspaper reporter sleuth Mimi Goldman’s relentless quest for justice.

My Chautauqua mysteries have a lot of small-town Us-(locals)-vs.-Them (outsiders) drama; close-knit neighbors with secrets; quiet, dark locales that, to a city girl like me, seem extra scary; less-savvy cops; beautiful settings with poetic names; and trusting inhabitants.

In VENGEANCE IS MINE, Chautauquans never dream there’s a killer lurking among them at the annual July Fourth concert when spectators pop paper bags to simulate cannon fire during the “1812 Overture.”

But in the giddy commotion a visitor is shot. An outsider is arrested.  Most Chautauquans are satisfied.  But not series hero, Mimi Goldman, a former New York Post copy editor and wary granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors.

Mimi, an outsider herself, shares the skepticism of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and, apparently, Miss Marple’s model, Christie’s grandmother.  Writing about her grandmother, the author once said she “always expected the worst of everyone and everything and was, with almost frightening accuracy usually proved right.”

While Miss Marple drew upon lessons about human nature learned from her small-town St. Mary Mead neighbors, Mimi often draws on lessons she learned from her past editing big-city tabloid crime stories
.

HALLIE:
Sounds like cozy with a lot of wit and a bit of an edge. I love this picture of you at Chatutauqua... perhaps surrounded by some of the characters in the books?

DEB:
It’s fun to be a mystery writer in a small place.  Readers of all ages volunteer plot suggestions and gotcha corrections. The model for a character in my first novel, SHADOW, introduced herself and asked me if Meryl Streep could play her in the movie. Another woman, the model for the Lost & Found character in VENGEANCE, said that after her recent book cameo, her husband mock-complained, “There’ll be no livin’ with her now.”

HALLIE:
This got me thinking about other kinds of seasonal venues, like Tanglewood or Jacob's Pillow or Aspen or Breadloaf or Burning Man... that are temporarily full of strangers who could easily inspire characters in a murder mystery. Has anyone been somewhere like Chautauqua and imagined it as a stage set for murder?


DEB PINES, an award-winning New Post headline writer and former reporter, is the author of three other Mimi Goldman novels and one novelette including In the Shadow of Death, a Chautauqua Bookstore top-seller, and Beside Still Waters, an IndieReader-Approved Title.

A SoulCycle indoor cycling nut, Deb also loves puns, Scrabble, cooking and hiking. A mother of two, she lives in New York City with her husband Dave and had her 15 minutes of fame this summer when “Jeopardy!” featured one of her Post headlines in a question—that stumped the contestants.
VENGEANCE IS MINE: Deb Pines’ fourth Chautauqua murder mystery starts with a bang—when Maureen Donahue, a filmmaker and speaker at the historic Chautauqua Institution, is killed at a raucous Fourth of July concert. There’s a quick arrest. But reporter and relentless snoop Mimi Goldman, even with her own wedding to plan, is on the case. Mimi’s questions about a racist personal trainer, shadowy piano teacher, chatty chimemaster and others lead to more questions—and to Mimi unearthing an ugly secret that points her to the surprise real killer.
PRAISE FOR PAST MIMI GOLDMAN ADVENTURES:
 “REQUIRED READING”—NEW YORK POST
 “AN AGATHA CHRISTIE FOR THE TEXT-MESSAGE AGE”—INDIEREADER
 "IF YOU ENJOY AN OLD-FASHIONED WHODUNIT, IT’S PERFECT”—JAMESTOWN POST-JOURNAL
 “THE JUXTAPOSITION OF MURDER AGAINST THE TRANQUIL SETTING OF THE INSTITUTION WORKS ITS MAGIC ONCE AGAIN”—KIRKUS REVIEWS
 “A CLASSIC WHODUNIT BRIMMING WITH PAGE-TURNING TWISTS AND TURNS”—THE BOOK REPORT

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Peak of Summer

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: If August is the top of the ferris wheel of summer, this week is the very tip, the moment before the wheel begins to fall back to earth. It's the arc of a baseball just before it descends into the waiting glove, the three-scoops cone about to start dripping onto your hand - but not yet, not yet.

For those of us in the civilized regions of the country, it's still two weeks before the school buses call us all to duty - three before Labor Day puts the final coda on the summer of '18. Its the perfect time to assess what you've done and, more importantly, what you want to do before the first cool breezes of September start to blow.

For me, I've done more traveling than I planned this summer, some celebratory (being there for the Jungle Reds appearance at Brookline Booksmith) some fun (time with extended family in the mountains of Vermont) and some sad (My mother's death and funeral.) I've cooked less than in previous years, giving away a lot of my wonderful CSA produce. I've read more, however, and had many lovely lunches and dinners with friends.

What's left on my summer bucket list? More open-faced tomato sandwiches. Fresh-picked corn from the local farmstand. The last concert of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, this coming Saturday. I went to this past Saturday's performance and it was amazing! So I'm very much looking forward to the evening.

We usually see several Shakespearean plays each summer, but with the sad demise of Maine Shakespeare, its been more difficult this year. Instead, Youngest and the Smithie and I are going to see a family favorite, A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, at the Lakewood Theater on the shores of Wessenrunsett Lake in north-central Maine. 

The big event for me isn't very summery - it will be moving Youngest into her dorm at the University of Maine (Orono) at the end of the month. So I guess I'm looking forward to lots of runs to Target and Bed Bath & Beyond to buy dorm stuff.

Afterwards, however, one of my bffs and I will celebrate with our annual visit to Old Orchard Beach, Maine's largest white-sand sea shore. When our kids were little, we would park our butts in our chairs and watch them run in and out of the surf. This time around, instead of packing  a picnic for seven, we'll have grown-up snacks and Mojitos - made from Lucy's recipe, of course! - in the cooler.

How about you, Reds? What are you trying to get done on these last days of summer? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah, ah, ah. I have to write five million blogs and articles about Trust Me. Do seventy five billion interviews about Trust Me. FINISH A WHOLE NEW BOOK. Plan a launch party, confirm a book tour, have the launch party (you're invited! August 28 at Brookline Booksmith!)  Keep up on social media. Sleep, see my husband, remember to go outside, remember to do laundry, think every single solitary minute about whether people will love TRUST ME

It got a starred review from Booklist, YAY! Which called it "A knockout." So, that's good. And Library Journal says: It's sure to be a late-summer hit! So, yay.
So no lazy-hazy says for me. Just crazy! But TRUST ME, wonderful. Now, back to writing A WHOLE NEW BOOK!


JULIA: Okay, so we're crossing you off the "Lazy haze of summer" list and putting you on the "New York Times Bestseller" list.

INGRID THOFT: Where did the summer go?  I feel so old saying that, but it’s true.  I feel like I’m just getting in the summer groove, only to have it end in a few weeks.  So what are my plans for the remaining days?  I have a lot of writing to do, particularly because September is full of travel, which always translates into less productivity.  I have some niggling errands to run: the cobblers for a pair of shoes, the tailor for the lining of a purse that has become a black hole, and Goodwill to donate various items that need a new
home.  We also have some events on the social calendar including a cookout we’re hosting on the 39th floor roof deck of our building, and a Tuscan-themed dinner our friends are cooking.  There aren’t many weeks left, but there’s a lot to look forward to!

JULIA: I have to mention that August has been very good to Ingrid so far - her novel DUPLICITY is a finalist in the fiction category of the Washington State Book Awards!

LUCY BURDETTE: I knew the summer would be hectic and it certainly has been! Book launched, family hosted, friends seen, family reunion, golf played, and of course you know about losing my precious Tonka. All that said, there is more good stuff I need to cram in. We have a dear niece coming to CT with her little kids--will want to see plenty of her. I have a number of events still planned--are you near CT? Hope to see you at one of them. Our garden is bursting so I'm *hoping* to get some pickles made etc. And I want to play more golf because I'm playing well for the first time in several years and it's so much fun when that happens. And reading--I want to read and read and read! Rhys's new book and Hank's and Jenn's, just to name a few. Oh, and write a little too???


HALLIE EPHRON: Summer has been super hectic for me, too. I've been at Yale teaching at their annual summer writing conference, in Oregon teaching at Willamette Writer, in Sacramento giving a writing workshop for their Sisters in Crime chapter, and just back from NYC presenting at the Writer's Digest NYC Conference. I love my life!  In NY I got to see my kids and 2 grandbabies who live in Brooklyn. 




THREE more weeks of summer and I plan to enjoy doing nothing. I have some writing to do, but mostly I shall eat lobster (they're so cheap this year), eat local peaches, take walks, slow down and sit out in my backyard. And I have Rhys's FOUR FUNERALS AND MAYBE A WEDDING and Lucy's DEATH ON THE MENU to read, so life is good.


JULIA: Yes! They're on my nightstand right now!


JENN MCKINLAY: The Hooligans go back to school during the first week of August (no idea why they do that in AZ - we all hate it) so summer is pretty much over for us. Wah! Now it's school, homework, activities, go, go, go. *Sob*

JULIA: That is just wrong, Jenn. So very wrong.
 
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Only three more weeks??? I would say, YAY, only three more weeks, if I didn't have so much writing to do. We are so over summer here. We always are here in Texas by August, but after our record-breaking heat in July we are just
dreaming about cooler weather. The bucket garden is pretty shriveled, although we may get some fall tomatoes. We certainly didn't get any summer ones--it was too hot. We did have a good peach season but that's finished as of this last weekend. I'm just back from my one August trip/event, so nothing on the calendar for me except writing until Bouchercon! 

JULIA: How about you, dear readers? What are your plans for the last days of summer?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Reader's Question About Setting


LUCY BURDETTE: A friend of JRW (name suppressed to protect the innocent, LOL) wrote me recently with a question about setting. She wondered how the Reds would answer, but I thought lots of you might like to weigh in. So here goes...

Here's the dilemma: suppose you come up with a whole story that you like, pretty high concept. BUT for some reason in your head it is based in a place you don't know very well. Would you develop the character in a setting you knew better, assuming the plot points would work the same (and adapting to do so) or would you stick to the way it plays out in your head and research the area? Boy, I hope that makes sense. It feels like such a fanfic question. 🙂 But I suspect the reason the setting is stuck in a place I don't know is the idea came to me while watching TV. Not the same character, but loosely based on one.

LUCY again: I use real settings, including of course Key West, and find the more I immerse myself in them, the easier it is to write. But there are drawbacks such as what if reality doesn't work for the story? And what if you get something wrong? And what if reality changes?

What do you all think?


Saturday, August 11, 2018

HURRAY for our Faux Hemingway Contestants



LUCY BURDETTE: FOUR FUNERALS AND MAYBE A WEDDING and DEATH ON THE MENU are launched, thanks to so many friends, readers, and fans! We had a mini-reunion of Reds at the Brookline Booksmith and a fabulous second event at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison CT. 



And now for the faux Hemingway contest--you made us howl with glee and appreciation!

Marla Bradeen:

"A Meowable Feast"

He was a six-toed cat who had now gone three hours with nary a bite. He was thin and getting thinner. He could feel his fur losing its luster, his orange stripes fading. Everything about him was getting dull.

Except his eyes. They were the color of an elusive marlin swimming at sea, and allowed him to see in the dark of night.

"Meow," he said. He touched his human's face with six, cramped toes.

His human grunted and turned away, dragging the pillow over his head.

The cat sat and waited. He would try again, because cats are not made for defeat. Perhaps next time he would use his claws. But he knew his human wouldn't wake until the bell tolled at daylight. He had learned long ago that when the sun rises, the human also rises. This time of year the days were short, and the nights stretched long.

His stomach rumbled. He was now almost into the fourth hour of starvation.

Some days nine lives seemed like a blessing. Other days, like a curse.


Ann Mason

I am into plagiarism this morning, so here comes my bad Hemingway discovery, courtesy of Norman Lessing, who made me laugh:

"The Snow Spiraled Down Like Dandruff
The snow spiraled down like dandruff, flaking the head and shoulders of hatless Angelenos. It was
strange weather for L.A.—especially strange for August. The man came into Harry’s Bar & American
Grill. He shook snowy pearls from his matted hairpiece. The woman wore leather pants. She twisted
around on her stool. It made a noise like stepping on a frog.
She looked at the man, oddly. “Dandruff?”
“Nay, but my name is Robert Jordan.” He spoke in the pure dialect of bullrings the world over. “I know
naught of a sucker called Druff”….
He spat an oyster at the spittoon. It missed. The shiny opalescence put him in mind of the eye of a
slaughtered bull, left overlong in the sun. “And what of the girl,” he said, “the close-cropped one?”
“Nay, but the earth moved for her twice more, Ingles. Then it stopped.”
“It is a matter of small wonderment. After forty-two years.”
Norman Lessing

Margaret Turkevich

Fish thrashed in the farm pond. Big fish. Hybrid blue gills. A large hand surfaced. Bigger than a fish. Blue gills all over it.
“Seen the new fish guy? Wonder if the blue gills got him. They bite on anything.”

Flora Church

Madeleine lay under the mosquito netting and watched the smoke of her cigarette curl away, each puff more languid than the last, the spirals spelling out a message of 'more'. More what, she wondered? Coffee? Cheetohs? The man (she thought of him as The man now, the last of the whiskey flaming in the fire burning away whatever had been left, the tatters of her feelings for him). The man was out in the bush again, his gun bigger than his ego, after the lion which had roared in the night, challenging him to bring his gun and new khaki shirt, his polished boots—not that he had ever done the polishing—his beaters and yes the whole damned camp to chase forever across the endless veldt in search of the one thing he could never reclaim. His soul? Or so he said. Madeleine snorted, stubbed out her cigarette and threw back the netting. For Gawd’s sake, he was a dentist from New Jersey, with too much money and no—none at all—common sense. She hoped the lion ate him.

AJ Pompano, with apologies to…

A Clean, Not-So-Well-Lighted Place
It was very late and everyone had left the Truman House except a young food critic who stood in the shadows the boxes of the storeroom made against the electric light. In the evening the house was busy with diplomats. But now the police had removed the body and the young girl wanted to get her own take on what had happened because she was curious and now at night it was quiet and she felt the difference.
Her mother still in the kitchen had catered the event. She knew that the young critic was about to get in over her head. And while she was a good daughter she knew that if the girl became too involved there would be more death on the menu. 

Rhys Bowen

It was hot in the plaza. damned hot
"Rodrigo" said the old man. "My son, come with me."
"I ?" Said the youth.
"thou," said the old man. " today we face our destiny in the sun and the blood and the sweat. Today is the day we stuff the olives."

Coralee Hicks

The old woman was thin and guant with wrinkles on the tips of her fingers from the wash water. Everything about her was old except for the soap that stood pristine near the wash board. She was an old woman who washed alone and had gone eighty four days without a shirt,
the first 40 days the girl had been with her but after 40 days her parents told her she was unlucky. It made the girl sad to see each day the laundry hung without a shirt and she always went down to hand close pins. The laundry hung unfurled moving in the sodden plodding wind.

Donamae Kutska

A good and fine weapon senor, who is its maker? The barman reached for the gun but it recoiled when it growled at him. 

Pat D


-->
He sauntered in. He sat. He stared. He stared at me. He slowly blinked. And stared. He groaned. Four o'clock. Dinnertime for the dog.

Amanda LeRougetel



And our winner is Marla Bradeen for A MEOWABLE FEAST!! Please email me lucyburdette at gmail dot com with your snail mail address and we'll get those books in the mail!

Friday, August 10, 2018

David Corbett and Doc Holliday



DEBORAH CROMBIE: I didn't really grow up watching westerns. Well, I do remember The Lone Ranger (should I even admit that?) And my favorite cousin and I watched Gunsmoke together and then acted out our own plots with what served as action figures in the day. I remember we had a lot of fun hanging Bat Masterson from the stairwell in my house. (Okay, so we were weird. We both grew up okay.) But, that said, there was always a certain allure to the stories of Wyatt Earp--and, of course, Doc Holliday. He was just such a tragic, romantic figure. And, now, thanks to the talent of David Corbett, he's downright haunting. Here's David to tell you about him.


The Gunman and The Nun
By David Corbett

First, it’s a delight to be invited back to Jungle Red Writers. Deborah Crombie asked me to talk a little about how I came by the idea for my upcoming novel, THE LONG-LOST LOVE LETTERS OF DOC HOLLIDAY. In truth, the idea’s been floating around in the back of my mind for decades.

I grew up in the era of the great TV Westerns— Have Gun, Will Travel; Wagon Train; Maverick; Gunsmoke; Rawhide; The Rebel; The Rifleman; The Lone Ranger; and, of course, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, where I first made the acquaintance of John Henry “Doc” Holliday.

I would meet him again in various incarnations: Victor Mature in My Darling Clementine, Kirk Douglas in The Gunfight at the OK Corral, Jason Robards in Hour of the Gun, Stacy Keach in Doc, Val Kilmer in Tombstone, Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp. Several of these portrayals proved compelling, but none of them, I’d learn, were all that accurate. (I somewhat sheepishly harbor a certain fondness for Victor Mature’s performance; though certainly the least heralded of the actors named, and the one bearing possibly the least physical resemblance to Doc, he nonetheless comes closest to capturing Doc’s fatalistic desperation. Then again, maybe that’s just because of John Ford’s majestically stark lighting.)

The fact that so many attempts to capture Doc failed to faithfully evoke his essence only made him all the more intriguing to me, through the sheer fact that he proved so elusive.

But what particularly piqued my imagination was the fact that Doc had a life-long correspondence with his cousin, Mattie, who was rumored to have been his sweetheart—a theory made all the more beguiling by the fact that she subsequently entered the convent.

I mean, what about that isn’t fascinating?

Adding to the intrigue is the fact that Mattie destroyed the letters near the end of her life, meaning we’ll never know for sure what they contained—a situation any self-respecting writer of fiction would consider a call to arms. (More on that in a moment.)

In all of my novels, one way or another, I’ve addressed the notion of redemptive love. By that I mean the ability, through loving and accepting that we are loved, we can move beyond our guilt and shame, our fear and weakness, to reclaim a place in the human community. Love grants us both the dignity and the humility to do that, if honestly given and acknowledged.

The trick lies in the honesty. Often the shame and guilt and fear are unrelenting, and we fool ourselves into half measures in order to avoid a full reckoning of what we’ve done and who we’ve hurt. Sometimes love, especially romantic love, can fool us into thinking that since someone sees us in a favorable light, maybe we’re not as weak or scared or guilty as we know ourselves to be. Maybe love can give us a pass, and we can slide by. When that happens, we all too often end up jeopardizing not just the love but the forgiveness, the wholeness we crave.

Doc offers a perfect example. He was clearly heartbroken when his mother died from tuberculosis, and was enraged when, only three months later, his father remarried. Making matters worse, the bride was a young woman a mere seven years old than Doc himself (he was fifteen). Her family lived just down the road, suggesting the elder Holliday had been courting her while his dying wife lay suffering at home.

Doc’s father didn’t merely betray his wife, however. Shortly after the war, dedicated to making the best of post-war circumstances, he became head of the local Freedman’s Bureau, which a teenage Doc, utterly dispirited by the Confederacy’s surrender, saw as little different than consorting with the enemy.

This kindled in Doc a simmering rage that haunted him throughout his life. His Herculean consumption of alcohol only exacerbated that. Before he left Georgia for the West, he was diagnosed with the same disease that had killed his mother, so he knew he would not live to a ripe old age. Trained as a dentist, he also knew that he had two recourses for the pain he would suffer—laudanum and alcohol. He chose the latter, and arduously self-medicated for the rest of his life.

The quickness and vehemence of his temper was legendary, prompting a reputation as “the touchiest drunk in the West.” But as Bat Masterson pointed out, despite Doc’s genius for getting into seemingly endless, desperate scrapes, the irony remained that very few were his own doing. Rough men just thought they could get the better of a frail, natty, tubercular drunk who they suspected of cheating, no matter how keen his intelligence, sharp his tongue, violent his disposition, or true his aim.

That reputation, though inflated or outright fabricated in many of its details, has been handed down from the beginning. What has only been guessed at is why such an irascible, volatile fatalist kept up a life-long correspondence with his saintly cousin?

The most incriminating letters were burned by Mattie, despite her belief that, if people could only read them, they would have a far more generous impression of the kind of man Doc was. This begs the question—if the letters were innocent, and her relationship with Doc was completely Platonic as the family has consistently professed, why destroy them?

It’s been conjectured that the reason Doc and Mattie did not develop their relationship openly was because the Catholic Church forbade marriage between first cousins. This becomes all the more compelling when one learns that the name Mattie chose upon entering the convent—Sister Mary Melanie—references a saint who did in fact marry her first cousin. (Another interesting fact: Margaret Mitchell, who was related to Doc and Mattie, based the character Melanie in Gone With the Wind on her aunt the Sister of Mercy, and it is often conjectured that Rhett Butler owes no small inspirational debt to Doc.)

All of this points to a far more interesting question: if Doc and Mattie were in fact sweethearts, what was the nature of their attraction? And what kept it alive for the rest of Doc’s life?

Mattie helped Doc care for his mother, and no doubt saw in him a profound capacity for affection, devotion, and sacrifice. The more I learned about Doc, the more I came to believe that the bond between them lay in the fact that she knew the man Doc could be, and refused to allow him to forget that. She echoed the angel in his nature that so often got shouted down by the devil in it.

For Doc’s part, I think he truly hoped that Mattie would decide that their love was more important than her Catholicism. His mother, on her deathbed, turned away from Presbyterianism— her husband’s faith, with its harsh Calvinist devotion to the concept of election (predestination)—and converted back to the Methodism of her youth, with its belief in grace through good works. “Deeds not creeds,” was how the distinction was known. Doc’s mother did this as an example to Doc, because she did not want him believing he might be damned with no recourse, or that his deeds meant nothing. If his mother could convert for his sake, why couldn’t Mattie?

This created an unrelenting tension between them. As I came to imagine it, Mattie continued trying to appeal to Doc’s better nature, hoping he would turn away from his nihilistic pursuit of danger and chance and return within the fold of faith and family. Doc, for his part, hoped that his slow-motion self-destruction would lure Mattie west, to save not just his soul but his life, and that once they were reunited he could convince her to stay with him.

I decided against simply writing an epistolary novel consisting of the letters alone, and instead, inspired by A.S. Byatt’s Possession, elected to write a novel with two parallel story lines, one contained in the correspondence, the other a modern-day narrative based on the sudden, unexpected, and questionable reappearance of the letters. Since the letters no longer exist, of course, I would have to do what any honorable writer of fiction would do: I wrote them myself. (One of the most gratifying, if inadvertent compliments I’ve received was from someone who asked, “Where did you find these letters?”)

The key, however, was always the notion that love can somehow make us whole. It’s a very seductive lie. When Mattie entered the convent, effectively ending any hope of her and Doc as a couple, Doc’s life entered the inexorable downward spiral that would end in his lonely death four years later. I think it was only near the end he realized he had lived in the false hope that, with Mattie by his side, he would not have to face his demons directly; they would just magically vanish through the grace of her affection. And conversely, Mattie’s decision to become a nun indicated a long-resisted acceptance on her part that love is not enough—she could not lure Doc back to virtue (or Georgia) simply by using their connection as bait.

This same dynamic—hoping love can absolve us of shortcomings we refuse to honestly admit ourselves—animates the present-day story line of the novel as well. Though the letters serve as a MacGuffin for the characters, and they pursue them relentlessly, even violently, the letters aren’t the real thing of value any of them craves. What motivates them all is the need for validation through love. And several characters endure incredible hardship and suffering in the effort to prove themselves worthy of that love, as though hoping their punishment will finally allow them at last to be forgiven. To her credit, my protagonist, Lisa Balamaro, comes to recognize the bait-and-switch this kind of love represents, but she has to travel a pretty rough road to reach that self-awareness.

DEBS: Although I say I'm not well-versed in westerns, I've actually seen at least half of the films David mentions, and I have to say I'm voting for Dennis Quaid in Wyatt Earp. (But then I always vote for Dennis Quaid.)

The most notorious love letters in American history—supposedly destroyed a century ago—mysteriously reappear, and become the coveted prize in a fierce battle for possession that brings back to life the lawless world evoked in the letters themselves.

Lisa Balamaro is an ambitious arts lawyer with a secret crush on her most intriguing client: former rodeo rider and reformed art forger, Tuck Mercer. In his newfound role as expert in Old West artifacts, Tuck gains possession of the supposedly destroyed correspondence between Doc Holliday and his cousin and childhood sweetheart, Mattie—who would become Sister Mary Melanie of the Sisters of Mercy.

Given the unlikelihood the letters can ever be fully authenticated, Tuck retains Lisa on behalf of the letters’ owner, Rayella Vargas, to sell them on the black market. But the buyer Tuck finds, a duplicitous judge from the Tombstone area, has other, far more menacing ideas.

As Lisa works feverishly to make things right, Rayella secretly enlists her ex-marine boyfriend in a daring scheme of her own.

When the judge learns he’s been blindsided, he rallies a cadre of armed men for a deadly standoff reminiscent of the moment in history that made Doc famous: The Gunfight at the OK Corral.


David Corbett is the award-winning author of six novels, including 2018’s The Long-Lost Love Letters of Doc Holliday, the story collection Thirteen Confessions, and the writing guide The Art of Character (“A writer’s bible” – Elizabeth Brundage). His short fiction has been selected twice for Best American Mystery Stories, and his non-fiction has appeared in the New York Times, Narrative, and Writer’s Digest, where he is a contributing editor. www.davidcorbett.com

David and his wife, Mette


DEBS: Readers, are you western fans? Do you have a favorite Doc Holliday? Stop in and chat with David!