Friday, June 6, 2014

Donis Casey

Donis Casey is the author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries. While researching her own genealogy, she discovered so many ripping tales of settlers, soldiers, cowboys and Indians, murder, dastardly deeds, and general mayhem that she said to herself, “Donis, you have enough material here for ten books.” The award-winning series that resulted, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. The latest installment, Hell With the Lid Blown Off, is now available from Poisoned Pen Press.

Casey is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She was born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and now lives in Tempe, AZ, with her husband.

Last month I asked the author about what she was reading. Casey's reply:
When I am writing, I generally do not read as much as I do in those precious interims between books, when I actually have a life. Not that I don’t read at all. I do. In fact, I read too much, if that is really a thing. I want to read every book I see. I am interested in just about anything except sports (unless the sports story is more of a human interest story). The problem with wanting to read everything is that even though I am a fast reader, it takes me forever to finish any one book. There are only so many hours in the day, after all, and I can’t possibly let a day go by without making some progress in every book in my current reading pile.

At the moment, I am reading five books at once. One literary novel, one traditional mystery, one short story collection, two non-fiction. I am almost finished with Nicole Mones’ novel Lost in Translation (no relation to the movie). Since I love exotic settings I couldn’t pass this book up when I saw that it is set in China. The story revolves around an ex-pat American woman, Alice, who lives in Bejing and works as a translator for English speakers traveling to China for business. She is hired by an American archaeologist who believes he knows the location of treasure that has been lost for years in the vast outback of the northwest border country between China and Mongolia. The government sends two Chinese scientists along on the expedition, and Alice finds herself drawn to Dr. Lin, who is as wounded by his past as she is by hers. Will the scientists find the bones of Peking man? After so many disappointments, they’re tantalizingly close. Will Alice and Dr. Lin ever lay down their ghosts and get together? I can’t wait to see.

Murder at Honeychurch Hall is a new mystery by my friend Hannah Dennison. The English country house setting is wonderful, and the characters are people you’d want to know--especially Iris, the mother of our heroine Kat. I love how it slowly dawns on Kat that she may have known her mother intimately all her life, yet never really knew her at all. If there isn’t a grown child who hasn’t discovered that very fact about her parent, she hasn’t been paying attention. The only problem with reading books by good friends is that I can’t help but see my friend in the book. The carriage house, the ghosts, the Englishness of it all are so Hannah, whom I love. So how can I help but love the novel even more than I already do? By the way, I still don’t know who did it.

The last three books on my current agenda mix business with pleasure. I decided that I’d like to study techniques for writing a really good mystery short story, so I checked out of the library a copy of The Complete Stories of Edgar Allan Poe. What a creepfest. There is a reason Poe is so well regarded. The language, the plotting, the pithiness. The weirdness. After reading the stories and scaring myself into half nights of wakefulness, I’m dissecting the stories with a scalpel to see how he did it. Nervous...very, very dreadfully nervous...

I had to pick up a copy of Total Recovery, Solving the Mystery of Chronic Pain and Depression, by Dr. Gary Kaplan. One of the perks of growing old, besides not dying young, is that one will likely get to experience quite a bit of ill health before one joins the choir invisible. My husband and I have had that privilege to the max over the past six or seven years. We’ve had enough of doctors and hospitals to last us, so if ever I see anything that could add to our ability to avoid the above, I have to check it out. The main thing that attracted me to Kaplan’s book was his assertion that disease is not just the result of a single event, but an accumulation of traumas--every injury, infection, toxin, and emotional blow work together to have a devastating cumulative effect on a person's health, and that doctors should treat their patients as one organic unit instead of a collection of symptoms. I like the idea. Of course, in my case, Kaplan is preaching to the choir.

And last, since I write a series set on an Oklahoma farm in the mid-1910s, I’m always doing research about daily life in that time and place. I know how to do laundry in an iron kettle, how to make household cleaning products, how to grow and put up vegetables, and how to slaughter a hog and preserve every last bit of the carcass. Not that I need to, thank goodness, but I know how it’s done. Right now I’m researching a much more pleasant topic; how to harvest and make herbal remedies. I’m reading Backyard Medicine, by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal. The book has encyclopedic entries for each wild medicinal plant, including many photos, descriptions, where to find the plant, when and what parts of the plant to harvest, how to preserve it, what ailments it is traditionally used for, how to administer the remedy. And counter-indications, of course. White willow bark for a headache, anyone?
Visit Donis Casey's website.

--Marshal Zeringue