Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Traveling for Research! with Author Donna Fletcher Crow

  Debra E. Marvin

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of preparing one of our monthly backlists of fiction. I chose Celtic settings and characters and started asking around for suggestions. One of the nicest things about that research was meeting
Author Donna Fletcher Crow.

 I can't possibly cover all of Donna's writing accomplishments (36 books!)  so I ask you to read her bio at the end of this post and use the link to her website. You won't be disappointed. Wait until you see her garden photos. She's agreed to share with us her love of fiction and the traveling she does to make every aspect of her story and setting vivid for her readers.

Donna, you are such an accomplished author, published in multiple genres, but can you tell us how your writing interests have changed over the years as well as what has been constant?

Oh, lots of constants, Debra.  First of all is my love of story.  I have to have a good story to tell— one that engages me enough to spend months telling it and one that I hope will engage my readers.  Also, my love of history, primarily British history, has remained constant.  Almost all of the stories I tell are based on historical events and I try to make the history as absolutely accurate as I can.  Even contemporary novels like the Monastery Murders series has a lot of history in the background.  What really brings me up short, though, is that stories I was telling as contemporary when I first started writing are now classes as historical.
The thing that has changed is me.  As my spirituality has moved more to the very traditional, sacramental worship so have my characters and my settings.  Hence the monastic setting with my very modern American heroine considering becoming a nun in book 2 A Darkly Hidden Truth which will be out this fall.

Do you usually brainstorm a book with a character in mind, or a story nugget? Has setting ever been the instigator of a new story?

Ah, you’ve noticed how important setting is in my stories.  One of my goals as a writer is to give my readers a “you are there” experience.  Therefore, I try never to set a scene in a place I haven’t been myself.  That gives me the freedom to craft stories around places I want to visit.  But again, there has to be a story there.  I don’t pick a location just because it’s exotic— and my idea of exotic is usually a crumbling castle or church in some remote place with the rain bucketing down on me— but because something happened there that really interests me.
Whitby Arches

Having said all that, it does come back to character.  The story is people— what they do, what they think, how they feel and react.  An evocative setting is great, but without people in it, you’d have a picture book, not a novel.
Durham Cathedral roof
That’s why all my exotic settings in A Very Private Grave— the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne with the echo of Viking drums on one side and the sea rushing in on the other, the ancient Whitby Abbey high on its windswept cliff with shadows of Dracula and the holy St. Hilda, Durham Cathedral magnificent on its rocky hilltop enshrining the Venerable Bede and St. Cuthbert— are all glimpsed at breakneck speed as Felicity and Antony are chasing and being chased by murderers. 
Whitby Arches
Toward Cuthbert's Island
Have you visited the settings for all of your stories, and if so, can you share a moment that most surprised you in your research?

As I said above I try to visit every place I write about.  I also try to experience everything my characters are going to experience— except the murders, you understand— so it’s very important to stay open to the surprises and use them in my stories. When I was the only passenger on a train that broke down on the isolated Northumbrian coast and I had to be taken off the train and walked up the tracks I knew that would show up in my book.  I was furiously scribbling notes and the engineer said to me, “Makes a good postcard home, eh?” And I thought, You don’t know the half of it.

Visiting a place for the first time is almost always a surprise because I always do a great deal of background research and I have a pretty good idea in my head what a place is going to be like— and it’s always different.  Part of the surprise, of course, is that so much is still there.  I have just returned from a Youth Walk from London to Walsingham as part of my research for book 3 in the Monastery Murders.  We were retracing the route Medieval pilgrims would have walked.  I got chills at St. John the Baptist, Cotterell, when we encountered a medieval fresco of St. Christopher carrying the Christ Child and were told it was painted to encourage Pilgrims to Walsingham.It was like hearing a voice from the past.

Donna, I have to say I’m very jealous of all your travels but right now I’m very interested in your recent trip to Wales! What were some of the highlights of this trip and where will we see those delicious details show up in story form?

Thank you for asking, Debra.  I’m currently working on book 3 in the Monastery Murders where Antony and Felicity lead a Youth Walk like the one described above, but the medieval pilgrimage route they are following is from Caerleon to Penrhys in southern Wales.  I have wanted to tell the story of Christianity in Wales for many years so here’s my chance.

April was an idyllic time to be there— swathes of blazing daffodils everywhere and baby lambs in every field.  Also rain like I’ve never experienced in my life.  Absolute sheets of it blasted in sideways.  We were nearly blown off a hilltop in the Rhonda.  And then the magnificent ruined Bishop’s palace at St. David’s, full of hidden passages and niches, a gift to a mystery writer who wants to set her big final scene there.

St. David's

Donna! Thank you so much for sharing some of the incredible travel you've done and for a little taste of Wales. The daffodil is a very important flower to the Welsh people, so I'm not surprised to see them in such quantity. As you know, A Very Private Grave is the book on the top of my To Be Read pile, so I see this cover every night--I can't wait to get into it!

A Very Private Grave

Felicity Howard, a young American studying for the Anglican priesthood at the College of the Transfiguration in Yorkshire, is devastated when she finds her beloved Fr. Dominic brutally murdered and Fr. Antony, her church history lecturer, soaked in his blood.

A Very Private Grave is a contemporary novel with a thoroughly modern heroine who must learn some ageless truths in order to solve the mystery and save her own life as she and Fr. Antony flee a murderer and follow clues that take them to out-of-the sites in northern England and southern Scotland. The narrative mixes detection, intellectual puzzles, spiritual aspiration, romance, and the solving of clues ancient and modern.

“With a bludgeoned body in Chapter 1, and a pair of intrepid amateur sleuths, A Very Private Grave qualifies as a traditional mystery. But this is no mere formulaic whodunit: it is a Knickerbocker Glory of a thriller. At its centre is a sweeping, page-turning quest – in the steps of St. Cuthbert – through the atmospherically-depicted North of England, served up with dollops of Church history and lashings of romance. In this novel, Donna Fletcher Crow has created her own niche within the genre of clerical mysteries.” – Kate Charles, author of Deep Waters

Donna Fletcher Crow is the author of 36 books, mostly novels dealing with British history.  The award-winning GLASTONBURY, an Arthurian grail search epic covering 15 centuries of English history, is her best-known work.  

A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE, book 1 in the Monastery Murders series is her reentry into publishing after a 10 year hiatus. Book 2 A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH will be out in 2011. 

THE SHADOW OF REALITY, Book 1 The Elizabeth & Richard Mysteries, is a romantic intrigue available on Ebook. A MIDSUMMER EVE’S NIGHTMARE, Book 2 in the Elizabeth &  Richard series is her newest release.
Donna and her husband have 4 adult children and 10 grandchildren.  She is an enthusiastic gardener.  To see the book video for A VERY PRIVATE GRAVE and pictures from Donna’s garden and research trips go to:  

Donna's Facebook Author Page is a great way to keep up with her latest news!
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  1. Thanks for visiting, Donna. Your new books sounds fascinating, and your travel stories have stirred up my own memories of England. Have you also been to Scotland? If so, what differences did you notice between Scotland and say the area around Cambridge?

  2. Donna, I enjoyed reading about your travels, especially the trip up the train tracks. LOL, you're right, people we come across never know the half of it. Tour books sound great! Daffodils are my very favorite flower. They're like little bits of sunshine. :-)

  3. How neat to have traveled to all those places. I would LOVE to visit the places I write about. It sounds like a very interesting story.

  4. This was great fun; thank you for sharing! I love to feel like I'm there too.

    The books sound wonderful!!!

  5. I'm sorry to say I have no control (duh) over these things, but I am going to be away from the computer most of the day.

    Donna should be checking in later.
    thanks for your comments, ladies!

  6. I just had the privilege of reading and reviewing Donna's A Midsummer's Eve Nightmare. As I wrote the acronym for it, both Donna and I were astounded that it spelled AMEN. :o) But I was so entertained with Donna's voice, and her ability to bring the traditional British cozy murder mystery up to date. I highly recommend this author to those who love that genre like I do.

  7. What wonderful comments from you all, thank you! Debra, I'm amazed that you managed to use all the pictures I sent you. Thank you.

    Oh, yes, Dina, I did Scotland intensely for my epic THE FIELDS OF BANNOCKBURN which covers Scottish history from the coming of Christianity through Independence (the *real* Braveheart). Scotland is much more rugged, there's a sense of wildness and freedom. It felt a lot like Idaho. I also write about Scotland in my Idaho pioneer saga The Daughers of Courage because I get in my own Scottish ancestry. You can see these on my website under Other Books.
    I better quit before this comment turns into another blog.

  8. Thanks for visiting the Inkwell, Donna. Your books sound wonderful, and I am going to have to get my hands on them! I know my husband would enjoy them, too.

    I loved the photos and reading about your travels.

    Deb, thanks for introducing us to Donna.

  9. Oh my! Another author to add to my list! You said the magic words - Scotland and history and a modern-thinking heroine. Her epic centuries-spanning series sounds wonderful, too. Bless you Donna and Deb! Covers are wonderful, too!

  10. Donna--

    I'm moving A Very Private Grave to my to-be-read list.

    While I've read a number of mysteries with priests, nuns, pastors, or pastor's wives as detectives, I've never heard the term 'clerical mystery' used as a genre. But according to Google, it has quite a history. I feel enriched.

    Thanks, Donna, and Thanks, Deb, for the great interview!

  11. I'm finally home from work. Sorry for missing so much of the day.

    Suzie= I have miniature daffodils and they are so adorable!

    Thanks for commenting Naomi. My dream is to travel to the UK and I hope to use it as research as well, but there's so much I want to see I doubt I could do it all in one trip!

  12. Debra, what wonderful readers you have! The comments have all been great. I'm so delighted for this chance to meet you all. Thank you, Debra.

    No, you're quite right. One trip certainly can't do it all. Just pick one theme for a trip and stick to that, otherwise you'll drive yourself crazy. And take time to linger in tea shops and walk down country lanes. Truly, I don't think even people who live there can ever do it all--the history is so rich.

  13. Thanks Cheryl! I am foremost a mystery fan so I was quite excited to find Donna's books.

    Christine, I know you are very familiar with the international writers of which Donna is a member. She may be based in the U.S. but she writes with the knowledge of a British subject!

    Hi Laura! thanks for stopping by. Doctor Ian would be happy to know how devoted you are to his homeland!

  14. Donna, you are making me want to go more and more. I have no trouble lingering in a tea shop!
    My dream in life is to be able to live in a place for three months and immerse myself in it and then move on. I could pretty tour the U.K for a long time before I accomplished that.

    I know I could take Susie along but I'd probably lose her somewhere!

    And I hope you get to read one of Barb's mysteries yourself. She's laugh-out-loud funny!

  15. Barbara, tell me about your mysteries. I didn't have any luck with Google--must have done something wrong.

  16. No you did nothing wrong, Donna. I'm not published yet. Hopefully some day.

    I guess I could classify mine as a clerical cozy. I'm querying agents.

    But I envy the rich setting your travels must add to your books. A number of women in my book club love what they've called British mysteries. I'll certainly pass along your name.

  17. Thank you so much for visiting, Donna. I know we have a lot of lurkers who don't comment and at least one new fan on my facebook page for the Monastery Mysteries series.

    Congratulations on your success entertaining so many people, and enlightening them on the rich history of faith in very well loved part of our world.

  18. Hi Donna and Debra,

    Having traveled throughout Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, I'm always intrigued to read stories that are based in a region that I have visited. With the travels I have done in Europe, one of these days I will have to set a story there. Loved the photos. Makes me want to book a flight for another trip.

    I recently read A Midsummer's Eve Nightmare. Good mystery. A Very Private Grave may need to be my next read.

  19. Thanks AJ!

    I didn't know you had traveled the UK and Ireland. How wonderful! It would be a big change from the west and a certain cattle driving cowboy!

  20. Welcome, Donna. I love listening to your travels because I'm a traveller myself. Unfortunately, my hubby has turned into a homebody and doesn't want to travel anymore, but that's sort of worked to my advantage - nowadays I'm so busy trying to capture everything for later I don't have time for pleasantries. LOL

    Thanks for visiting us. It was very interesting hearing about your books. :)

    Anita Mae.

  21. Ah, Barbara--pre-published, as they say. Every good wish! I want to read your clerical cozies. We're a small subgenre and can use more company.
    Thank you again, all. This has been a grand visit!


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