Sally Wright on the Ben Reese series
I write the Ben Reese mysteries about a university archivist who'd been a World War II Scout who uses those skills to investigate murder in the early sixties. I started writing the Ben Reese books after I'd badgered an archivist I knew into telling me what he'd done in the war. The contrast between what that was, and what he did when I knew him, made me want to create a fictional character with those internal contrasts.
I talk about that (and a lot more) throughout the website, for I'm trying to give you a sense of where the books came from - artistically and philosophically, as well as geographically. As I chose from the pictures I took at the places where the books are set for the website Photo Gallery (England, Scotland, Lexington, Kentucky, small-college-town Ohio, the southeastern coast of America, Florence, Cortona, Siena in Italy, parts of North Carolina), it brought back a lot of vignettes from interviewing people, and getting lost in strange places, as well as the several serendipitous events that gave me exactly what I needed to know when research time was running out.
You meet people you never would otherwise when you're doing research for a book: an inebriated doctor who puts words in your mouth and gives you bad information; a retired policeman at the table next to you in a tiny Scottish town who knows exactly what you've been trying to find out about law and order in the sixties; a retired housekeeper at a Scottish estate with stories of house parties as far back as the thirties; a gillie who tries not to humiliate you when teaching you how to flyfish; a falconer who takes you hunting with a female Harris hawk and a male ferret who has to provide for his litter; pathologists on two continents who give you fatal ideas; a beekeeper who's easily offended by remarks about bees that're "unsympathetic"; a well-thought-of stone sculptor who helps you carve a small stone; an old fishermen on the coast of Georgia who knows every creek and tidepool and alligator-wallow, who smiles shyly and uses few words and makes you want to move there; a highly cultured Scottish Earl who gives you lunch and shows you his castle and lets you eavesdrop on his phone conversations.
Writers are nosey (if anyone had any doubts.) And yet people still put up with us, telling us things they wouldn't tell their family, going out of their way to help—especially the ones who love books.
That doesn't mean that doing research is a painless undertaking. Not if you're caught in what you're looking at and forget to glance at the ground. I fell down a flight of stone stairs at Donnottar Castle (Pursuit And Persuasion), slicing my arm badly (which meant I drove an hour to my Banchory hotel while blood pooled in the rental car). I made a spectacle of myself when I sprained my ankle on Broad St. in Charleston (Out Of The Ruins). I was chased across a Scottish valley by a large herd of cows, being watched the whole time by the inmates of a gracious country hotel (Pride And Predator). A wild bay stallion stalked and charged me on Cumberland Island, Georgia (which was actually a good thing, since I needed a plot twist in Ruins).
But long before any of that, thirty-six years ago to be exact, a college archivist I'd known for years told me (after much toing and froing) what he'd done in World War II—and gave me the idea for Ben Reese and a whole series of books.
The content’s substantially different from one book to the next. Watches Of The Night is concerned with the Tech Teams we sent into Germany during and after WWII and the controversies that resulted. Code Of Silence revolves around a real-life Soviet code (we partly decoded and kept secret) and its implications.
Writing all the Ben Reese books has made me study history, biography, science and art. It's made me learn, and meet people, and live through stuff I never would've otherwise. It's opened my eyes. It's taken me places. (Real and imagined.) It's given me experiences worth remembering to pass on to the people who pick up my books.
Other Links of Interest:
Special Website Features:
- New Pictures in the Photo Gallery of locations in Watches, including free desktop wallpaper
- Short Story - Accommodations For The Summer [PDF] [Text]
- Article on Dorothy L. Sayers published in Mystery Muses: 100 Classics That Inspire Today's Mystery Writers, edited by Jim Huang & Austin Lugar [PDF] [Text]
- Writing the Ben Reese series - Two articles published in Mystery Readers Journal [PDF] [Text]
- A review of the Ben Reese series - Paradox And Principle by Tawn O'Connor published in Mystery Readers Journal [PDF] [Text]