On New year's Eve I posted a conversation with one of my favorite mystery writers— Sally Wright— talking about her love of Scotland and how using international settings enhances her Ben Reese series.
(In case you were doing something more exciting on New Year's Eve than reading blogs you can catch up with the earlier post here http://j.mp/Nun5Js )
So, Sally, after all those wonderful books following Ben Reese through Europe and various places in the States, you've begun a whole new series with your architect heroine, Jo Grant. How did Jo take root in your mind?
Jo came to me, in many ways, through parts of my own experience. I would’ve been an architect, like Jo, if I hadn’t been a writer. Architecture speaks to me wherever I go, sometimes with pleasure and awe (most times here in the States with horror and disgust). I took care of my mother, who lived next door to me, a little like Jo did hers, through ten years of dementia – not daily with my own hands, but working with the humblingly kind caregivers who did the day-to-day. She’d been my best friend (except for Joe), and I watched her fade away with a deep sense of sadness and loss, without really knowing how to communicate and make her feel loved. There’ve been other losses and stresses in my life (my own pancreatic cancer among them) that made me want to examine the emotional strains of caregiving and suffering on someone somewhat like me – conscientious, but selfish and impatient. Jo grew out of all that, and then became herself.
Like Jo too, I had horses for years (one who was a rescue, like Journey in the early Ben Reese books; the best one was Max, the one eyed horse in Watches Of The Night) and I still dream about them. I was thrown badly five years ago (by another horse, after Max died) and I can’t ride anymore, so giving Jo Sam helped me relive my years learning and working and having fun with Max.
Neighbors of ours too, in Ohio, had a broodmare business next to us just like Jo’s and moved it to Versailles, Kentucky, twenty years ago, and they took me around to famous farms there during our various visits and explained the business to me as I wrote Breeding Ground.
That broodmare business part of Jo’s life, and the other businesses in the book, allowed me to write about something that’s an important part of my world. My father was an orphan, raised in an orphanage, who got to college (in 1929) because a teacher helped him, then became a chemist who invented a product and started his own business with my Mother. It’s been a pivotal part of my life. And the conflicts that arise when choices have to be made between making good business decisions and catering to family feelings drives a lot of what happens in eighty percent of the businesses in the US. And I thought the time had come for me to analyze and explore that. Although BREEDING GROUND is set primarily in Lexington, Kentucky, in current times, events in wartime France play an important role. Were you able to visit those scenes for background research?
Sally: The WWII backstory in Breeding Ground takes place in the Loire Valley, where we saw gorgeous chateaux (Chenonceaux in particular, where Resistants were hidden and passed to safety), as well as the house where Leonardo Da Vinci died (which came as a surprise to me). We drove down through Burgundy – stopping in vineyards and enjoying the landscape – making our way south to Lyons simply so I could do research in the Resistance Museum.
It never occurred to me that it would be closed on a Tuesday. But it was – and we had to fly home the next day - illustrating only too clearly that I had committed one of the most avoidable mistakes made by rooky researchers. I took my revenge by using the "staff only" bathroom in the office wing next door.What's next for Jo? In BREEDING GROUND she had to put aside her dream of studying architecture in Europe to deal with more pressing matters (like murder). I'm hoping she might get across the pond soon.
Sally: My hope is that the next book will take place three years later in 1965. Jo will have traveled to see great architecture in Europe, married the obvious candidate from Breeding Ground, and had their first child.
The plot will have to do with the most terrifying experience Jo and her husband ever faced, which resulted from conflicts within the equine pharmaceutical company where her husband worked as a chemical engineer, stirring the pot (pardon the pun) and forcing change that threatened more than one.
Also in the second novel, another character from Breeding Ground (who’d been an OSS agent working with the underground in France during WWII) will go back to Tours to try to discover who’d set him up as a Nazi collaborator in 1944.
Still, it’s the choices the characters make - the way they harm, and heal, and take revenge, or find a way to forgive - that interests me most. Character can alter a whole community, even a culture that’s dependent on fragile, four-footed, athletes. And in Jo’s community – grooms and jockeys to aristocratic breeders – human nature, fallen and redeemed, has given me much to think about.
That’s wonderful, Sally. And there’s no question but that Breeding Ground delivers on all your goals. Here’s my review:
Sally Wright’s many fans know they can open one of her books assured of excellent writing, living, breathing characters, a fully developed background and an intricate plot. Breeding Ground never disappoints in any area.
Joe Grant is sure to become as popular with Wright’s readers as her perennial favorite Ben Reese. Jo is an architect who dreams of going to Europe to study historic buildings and give scope to her love of restoring heritage homes. The need to nurse her dying mother and then the untimely death of Jo’s beloved brother, however, have forced her to put her life on hold. And just when things are looking up for Jo her uncle suffers an accident with an obstreperous horse and Jo’s desires are once more forced aside as she must rescue the family business. And then a dear friend dies in suspicious circumstances.
Like the Ben Reese mysteries, Breeding Ground is set in the 1960’s and acts of valor and treachery in World War II still cast their long shadow over lives. Although firmly grounded in the rolling green horse pastures around Lexington, Kentucky, the reader also gets glimpses of wartime France.
This is a complex novel about horses and about family business but most importantly, it is about the choices people make. Every character, like every human being, is faced with choices in his or her life. Some choose healing and some don’t. That choice makes all the difference.
You can see more about Breeding Ground here: http://j.mp/1i2E81m
Visit Sally’s website here: http://www.sallywright.net/
Posted by Donna Fletcher Crow the author of The Monastery Murders: A Very Private Grave, A Darkly Hidden Truth and An Unholy Communion as well as the Lord Danvers series of Victorian true-crime novels and the literary suspense series The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries.To read more about all of Donna’s books and see pictures from her garden and research trips go to:
http://www.donnafletchercrow.com/ You can follow her on Facebook at: