I wanted to share with you, dear Kendall O'Dell readers, some of the interesting details, stories and events that occured during the writing stage of my novels. First of all, researching and writing a novel is NOT easy and it takes a lot of time to do it right. I learned that the mystery genre is quite different from mainstream fiction because the writer must be aware that the reader is an active participant. There are set rules to which the writer must adhere.
Even though I had started writing at the age of seven and read mysteries voraciously throughout my life, when I began taking the manuscript writing classes, it became clear how much I didn't know about the writing process. The additional fact that I had decided to base my novels on actual cases and newspaper articles meant my research had to be exact. Mystery readers are a sophisticated lot and nothing turns a reader off faster than an author who has not taken the time to ferret out the facts. My work began in earnest.
During the many months it took to research Deadly Sanctuary, the first novel in the Kendall O'Dell series, you might like to know why I chose Wickenburg for the setting and where I got the name of the fictional town of Castle Valley that becomes Kendall's home when she relocates to Arizona from Philadelphia. Also, over these many years, scores of fans have asked how I came up with the name Kendall O'Dell.
It's a fascinating process to begin laying the groundwork for a novel. I was one year into my writing classes at Rio Salado College when I decided it was time to begin the mystery novel I had always yearned to write. The working title was The Wind Stops at Sunset. Sounded good at the time, but by the end of the book, it was obvious that title didn't work anymore. At that time, a neighbor of mine in Prescott was going through the difficult and very expensive private adoption process and at the same time, an article concerning an adoption scandal in Scottsdale, Arizona was breaking. The confluence of the two events sparked an idea and the story began to take shape in my mind.
I wrote a rough plot outline and decided to make my protagonist a female journalist, someone I could identify with as it had been my original intention to pursue jounalism as a career. Due to various life circumstances, that hadn't worked out, so I thought it would be great fun to write about a reporter. I spent many months researching the job of an investigative journalist and hours accompanying several of them from the Arizona Republic as they researched and wrote their assignments. I also hung out at the Wickenburg Sun to compare working at a large newspaper as opposed to a very small one as Kendall would be coming from the Philadelphia Inquirer to the Castle Valley Sun with only 8 employees. Everyone was friendly and so helpful.
Wickenburg had all the elements I was looking for. It was and is still a small town that has retained the flavor of the "Old West" that was quickly disappearing in Arizona as more and more people from other states flooded in. I loved walking the quiet streets, listening to the old timer's stories of the past and visiting the many ranches that surround the town. The fun thing about fiction is the writer can take a little license: move scenery around, change the names of streets and businesses to suit the storyline.
Magnificent Vulture Peak, the scenic landmark that dominates the horizon and can be seen for endless miles became Castle Rock. I actually borrowed the name of Castle Valley from Utah. People laugh when I tell them where the name Kendall originated. We own a home in Prescott, Arizona as well as one in Phoenix. Along Cortez Street in Prescott is Kendall's Famous Burgers & Ice Cream. I was striving to find just the right name for my Irish protagonist (my mother's family all came from Ireland) and it struck me as I was enjoying one of their delicious, gigantic burgers that Kendall was the perfect name I'd been searching for! I'd had a childhood friend by the name of O'Dell and the two names just felt right together and rolled off the tongue easily. I always tell aspiring writers when I speak to writer's groups to choose the name of their characters carefully and make it one that they LIKE because they will be used over and over again in the story and the writer can get dreadfully tired of hearing them!
So, there you go! I've only scratched the surface regarding the many stories that served as a backdrop for this series. Because the theme for Deadly Sanctuary revolves around the mysterious deaths of two teenage girls whose bodies were discovered in the desert, my research took an interesting and startling turn after a phone call to the Yavapai County Medical Examiner's office. More to come!!