During an internship at the University of Wyoming’s Toppan Rare Book Library, the lies and misinformation on both sides of the polygamy issue fascinated me. My intent was to write a nonfiction book on women in early Mormon polygamy and examine the myths, lies, truths, and reality. Then, I had fallen in love with writing mysteries, so I
incorporated my accumulated research into this story. Raised in the Midwest U.S. and now living in the Mountain West, I’ve always been near an overland trail. The
pioneers’ sacrifices, their strengths under horrific conditions held me in
awe, especially the additional struggles of the women. In deciding on the
story’s locale, the eastern U.S.—where the church began—or Utah—where the
church is headquartered now—held little interest for me. The in-between
stage—the pioneer trail—hooked me.
How were you able to recreate this portion of history with such vivid detail?
You must have done an enormous amount of research. What was that process like for you?
Thank you for the enormous compliment! I have hundreds of hours of research into this novel. I first learned how the LDS church began, its tenets, and how polygamy came to be a requirement. Throughout Mormon history, members conscientiously wrote vivid accounts in their journals. Even now, those journals are transcribed into books for
easier access and reading. I especially enjoyed the women’s journals, which are windows to their home life and revealed their emotional wrestling about polygamy. Some details came about by luck and timing. I had been a member of the Mormon History
Association, and one particular quarterly publication, Journal of Mormon
History, included a comprehensive account of Winter Quarter’s crime and its
police force. That article led me to the transcribed book of the police chief’s journal. Paintings and details of the original Winter Quarters allowed me to assemble an image of the site in my mind’s eye.
Did you have the chance to visit any of the areas you write about in Blood Atonement? If so, did you travel before or after you finished writing?
Yes, but only after the story was written. From all my research, I had what I thought was a clear image of Winter Quarters and how people lived. Then I had a chance opportunity to visit the actual site of Winter Quarters in Florence, Nebraska. The Church of Latter-day Saints has an extraordinary museum there. Up the knoll is the Winter Quarters
cemetery that is mentioned in the novel, and where I am grateful to have been
able to pay my respects to those who died there. The museum exhibits an eye-popping
mockup of Winter Quarters, complete with cabins, the terrain, and even the
ferry crossing the Missouri River. From studying that mockup, I realized I
had flipped the knoll of the cemetery’s location. A full-size cabin stood in the museum, a
treasure-trove of information into its construction and its inhabitants’
accoutrements. That experience led me to some adjustments to the
story before submitting it for publication.
Are there other pioneer mysteries on the horizon?
Not right now, but I’d love to write another mystery set on the overland trail.
The Western pioneer era and the personal dramas are the most fascinating
aspects of American history.
Aveline is a strong female character. When faced with adversity she doesn’t yield to pressure. Where did you find the inspiration for Aveline?
I want to say she’s a part of my 1970s feminist streak. Aveline was strongly
conflicted between her former upbringing as a Quaker and her current
situation as a Mormon. My research into the early Quake relationships
led to writing about her expectation of being nearly a full partner in marriage,
yet her current situation required her to set aside that expectation
and become subordinate.
What, if you don’t mind saying, are you working on now?
I’m working on the edits for a second murder mystery, currently titled
Clear and Convincing Evidence and will be released in 2014. This story
is set in Wyoming. The main character is Jennifer, acollege journalism student
who a murder on campus and a cover-up conspiracy. She just has to live long
enough to prove it.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Wyoming’s bestselling author C. J. Box writes a series based on game warden
Joe Pickett. Box’s descriptions are crystal-clear, yet succinct. He takes his
addicting plots to places where I would never guess they’d go. Carl Van Doren
wrote Benjamin Franklin, a nonfiction tome of my favorite American.
Van Doren is the only writer who made me slow my reading in order to
absorb his every word. Lastly, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books are precious
and were the first to allow me into the world of life on a pioneer trail. I still have my
original books from when I was a kid.
If you could spend an afternoon with any literary character, who would you choose?
Sherlock Holmes. I’d love to study his deduction process face to face while
he explained how he knew that I used to play flag football and once owned a cat.
What advice would you give to new authors?
Take that leap of faith in yourself and your story because failure is better than
never trying. Life’s saddest thoughts are “I wonder what would have happened if I had...” and “I wish I had...”