Janet's Jargon

Fun lifestyles, charitable acts, great fiction, author support, Patrick and Grace Mysteries, Keith clan trilogy,

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Fact or fiction--or both?

Janet Elaine Smith with Kimmy, the nanny hunter

Janet Elaine Smith with Dorothy, director of the Haven of Hope Homeless shelter, and her grandson
 Little did I dream how much fun it could be by combining my favorite fictional characters (Patrick O'Mally and Grace Johnson, from their own Patrick and Grace Mysteries) with real places and people.

I had done that in all of my historical novels, but never in a contemporary book. However, since the idea came about from a visit last summer by my youngest son, Kevin, to the Marinette WI and Menominee MI area for my senior sleuths to pay a visit to the area, I began to do research for the story.

As a writer, I enjoy the research process as much as I do the actual writing. Most of my research, however, has been in reading old history books, looking at maps to get the lay of the land, Googling a ton of things, and (in contemporaries) getting some brochures from the area Chamber of Commerce offices. This time, however, it led me to real places of business and delightful people who were more than willing to answer any questions I had. The biggest thing that I didn't see coming from this research came when I would ask the owner of various businesses if I could use the actual name of their establishment in the book. In all cases, they were quick to agree, but they all wanted to be sure THEY were included in the book as well as their business.

Let's start with the basic idea that Patrick and Grace won a week's stay at a bed and breakfast. That led to the Riverside Manor Bed & Breakfast in Marinette, whom I found on Google. As luck would have it, they were planning a murder/mystery event about a week after I called and spoke to Becky DeWitt, the owner. It provided a perfect opportunity to explore the place, so Joan Carter, a good friend of mine from Amberg, and I headed for the night, which was on Valentine's Day. It was great fun, even though I turned out to be the "whodunit."

Last summer Kevin and I met Tom Schloegel when we were selling books and produce at the Menominee Food Market, situated right on the Bay. He was the owner of Schloegel's by the Bay, my favorite restaurant in the area. Yes, the restaurant was perfect picking for a very special occasion for Patrick and Grace.

Since Grace is an employee at the Haven of Rest Homeless Shelter in New York City and a (seemingly) homeless man named Peter that Kevin and I met as he fed the ducks at the Menominee Marina, it was necessary to see if there was a homeless shelter in Marinette. I not only found the lone homeless shelter, but it was named the Haven of Hope Homeless Shelter! It could have been a sister organization to the one in New York City, except that one was real and one was fictional. Dorothy, the director of the one in Marinette, was wonderfully helpful, and yes, she ended up in the book too.

Then there were the people from the marinas in both Marinette and Menominee, the jewelers at Anderson and Denardo, and on and on it went, with wonderful real people weaving their way through the fictional antics of Patrick and Grace.

Perhaps the most unusual entry into the story was when a good friend of mine, Jay Hudson, who heads up the JWW2 Writers group, sent me an email that a Facebook friend of his, named Kimmy Elizabeth, lived in Menominee and she was all excited about my upcoming book. He asked me to contact her. I was more than happy to do so. You see, part of the storyline of the book was that Mai-Ling, a Cambodian from the first Patrick and Grace Mystery (a purely fictional character) had gotten a job in Menominee as a nanny. Grace had taught Mai-Ling English when she was at the Haven of Rest Homeless Shelter, and she had "won" the free trip for Patrick and Grace at the Bed & Breakfast. As I talked to Kimmy on the phone, I learned that she was hunting for a nanny for her granddaughter. Coincidence? Fate? Who knows. I just know that this whole concept of using real people was so much fun, I have to do it again.

The final benefit came when the people at the Visitors' Center in Marinette learned about the book and they invited me to participate in the annual Logging/Heritage Festival, which would take place less than 2 weeks after the book was released. They even asked me to be a judge for the kick-off parade on Saturday morning, where I was in the fine company of the head of the Chamber of Commerce, the newly elected mayor, a handsome young DJ from a local radio station, an editor of the local newspaper, and a fun-loving elderly gentleman who apparently knew everybody in town.

Becky DeWitt, the owner of the B & B, also hosted a booksigning at Riverside Manor on Friday night, before the official start of the festival.

So where does fact begin and fiction take over? You'll just have to read the book to figure it out. It is St. Peter by the Bay, and it is available wherever fine books are sold.


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