I'd like to welcome Joyce T. Strand to my blog to talk about her latest release. In a guest post she writes about writing an historical Mystery and her new book The judge's Story.
Why write a Historical Mystery?
by Joyce T. Strand
Why write a Historical Mystery?
by Joyce T. Strand
Why write an historical mystery? How could a mystery set in the past improve on current-day sleuthing tales?
I first understood that I loved history in high school, when I received the award for outstanding history student. I didn’t know that I excelled at history. Quite frankly, I just enjoyed reading historical novels—along with mysteries and some literary books by John Steinbeck and Dostoyevsky. I recall that when I studied and learned famous dates, I was inclined to imagine the people who made those dates significant and how they must have lived.
So when I considered writing a novel about a judge in the 1930s, the idea enticed me. And reading a Memoir by an actual California Superior Court Judge dated 1941 added to the allure. (For those of you who might be interested: Louis C. Drapeau, Senior; Autobiography of a Country Lawyer; 1941, available at the Museum of Ventura County/Library, 100 E. Main St., Ventura CA 93001).
As a writer of mysteries, however, I wasn’t quite sure how to create a 1930s protagonist, deliver a book with a puzzle, clues, red herrings, and villains—all the characteristics of a mystery—and, still attract 21st century readers.
That’s when “history” came to my rescue. First, I delved into the 1941 memoir, which was full of descriptions of the actual judge’s cases as a lawyer, people he met and defended, and his beliefs and ethics. So I started to build my fictional Judge’s character based on these insights.
Next I searched for legal trends of the 1930s to buttress the actions of my fictional judge. I was surprised to find that in Ventura County, the Peace Officers recorded in their “Manual” [the Ventura County Peace Officers’ Training School Ventura 1939-1940] a “pronounced change” in the “attitude of the law towards criminals.” The change emphasized reforming a criminal and having the punishment fit the criminal rather than the crime, with the ultimate goal of convincing a young wrongdoer to do what was right. This trend amplified the actions of my Judge and, again, improved both the plot and its credibility.
With the professional part of my Judge’s life underpinned by both the actual judge in his memoir and writings from the peace officers, I next wanted to comprehend how the judge and other characters lived in the 1930s—without the internet, cell phones, and Amazon.com. I turned to reading a year’s worth of the daily newspaper [Oxnard Daily Courier, January 1, 1939 to January 1, 1940). I was rewarded with gobs of interesting details—more than I could possibly use—and also learned that books of the day were serialized in daily papers.
But I wanted more. If possible, I yearned to actually see people from this time period. I have viewed enough Hollywood movies from the 1930s to appreciate their contribution to our culture and issues to our collective psyche. So, yes, I could pull from there. But I also wanted to observe real every-day people.
I am fortunate to have friends who are librarians who tracked down recordings of newsreels and documentaries, which added to my understanding of the time period. One of them sparked a scene at a drive-in movie theater, and another documented the rise and concern for teenage crime.
I suspect that I could have continued to research the time period for much longer. I was fascinated with the events and learned that some things just didn’t change, such as, the argument over universal healthcare. However, it came time to write the mystery, so I set aside my curiosity and applied what I’d learn to produce The Judge’s Story.
Yes, it was critical to me that the history in the book be accurate. But what was even more imperative was comprehension of how people lived in the 1930s, what events had the most impact, and who were the heroes. The mystery itself is a huge bonus, but the story was definitely enhanced by applying the trends and character traits of the period in which it takes place.
One final thought: what’s fascinating about studying history isn’t just learning the dates of various battles, elections, or trends, but rather connecting to the people of various time periods and how they lived. To me, that is the most valuable lesson of writing and reading a novel set in historical times—even a mystery.
A Superior Court Judge with a passion for social justice as well as the law strives to discover the truth behind the mystery of a robbery-murder in a small California town in 1939.
When the Judge hears testimony against a 14-year-old teenager, he realizes that the boy participated in a robbery-murder. However, the accused did not actually pull the trigger. But unless the boy identifies his partner, the Judge must sentence him as a murderer, which would result in prolonged jail time. The Judge’s investigator, along with the precocious 16-year-old girl who identified the boy as one of the thieves, explore different approaches to uncover the murderer. In the backdrop of escalating war in Europe, the financial scarcities of the Great Depression, and the Judge’s caseload, their attempts to find justice for the accused boy and unmask the killer lure the Judge and his friends into sordid criminal activities.
Inspired by a memoir of a real California Superior Court Judge
Purchase Links for The Judge’s Story
About Joyce T. Strand
Joyce T. Strand is the author of who-done-it mysteries.
Her newest novel, THE JUDGE’S STORY, published June 23, 2015, is a historical mystery set in a small California town (Ventura) in 1939 and features a California Superior Court Judge.
Her most recent contemporary novel, HILLTOP SUNSET, is the first of a trio featuring protagonist Brynn Bancroft, a financial guru in transition to winemaker from corporate executive. Brynn Bancroft is a minor character in Strand’s novels ON MESSAGE, OPEN MEETINGS, and FAIR DISCLOSURE—three mysteries solved by Jillian Hillcrest, a publicist whose boss was Chief Financial Officer Brynn Bancroft.
Much like her protagonist Jillian Hillcrest, Strand headed corporate communications at several biotech and high-tech companies in California’s Silicon Valley for more than 25 years. Today, in addition to creating mysteries, Strand writes and publishes a blog, Strand’s Simply Tips, is a writer for a regional wine magazine, and is working on the second Brynn Bancroft mystery, to be published in November 2015.
Strand lives with her two cats and collection of cow statuary in Southern California, and seeks out and attends as many Broadway musicals and other stage plays as she can.
To find out more about Joyce go to her Website or Blog, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Goodreads.