Guest Post: Writing About Real Issues and Places by Charlotte Stuart

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Guest Post

Writing About Real Issues and Places
by Charlotte Stuart

The motto for the island is “Keep Vashon Weird.” And some residents go out of their way to do just that. But for the most part, the island is filled with caring people who love trees, farms, and beaches. People who believe that a retainer wall is an excuse to paint a giant bird, a mailbox should make a statement, and even tractors have a right to an opinion.

I moved here from Seattle four years ago. The downside of living on an island that can only be reached by ferry is that you are subject to ferry schedules and ferry breakdowns and ferries getting off schedule…you get the idea. The good thing is that there is a feeling of community reminiscent of my days growing up in a small town. At times I miss the excitement and diversity of the city, but Seattle is still only a 20-minute ferry ride away.

Almost immediately after moving to Vashon, I knew the island was the ideal place for a murder…a murder mystery, that is. It didn’t take me long to decide where the incident should take place – I’ve always been fascinated by wetlands and bogs. But at the same time, I didn’t want to encourage people to check out an ancient, fragile bog that only allows visitors once a year, and then only with a guide. In addition, I wasn’t sure how precise I wanted to be about things such as where my main character lived, restaurants she favored, and landmarks that might play a role in the storyline. One year on a trip to Venice, we tracked incidents and places from several Donna Leon mysteries. She is incredibly detailed about specific locations. We really enjoyed seeing the places we’d read about, but striving for that level of accuracy poses a number of challenges. Finally, and perhaps most significant, was deciding whether the motivation for the murder would be based on a real issue or a made-up one.

After weighing the pros and cons of realism versus fiction, I decided on a combination of the two. People familiar with Vashon Island will recognize some places and know that others are the product of my imagination. But anyone who followed the story about Vashon’s cougar in the news will know that the issue of the wilding of the island is a very real concern. There may be the occasional coyote spotted on the subway in NYC or the assertion by some wildlife experts that all city dwellers are within a few miles of a coyote whether they know it or not, but when you know there are four family packs living near trails you frequent, that makes the possibility of an encounter very real. And a cougar is a predator to take note of whether for your own safety or the safety of domestic animals. To me it seemed like the perfect controversy for a mystery novel.

Another issue I faced in writing Bogged Down is that I wanted it to be a cozy. After all, the small community is only a few degrees away from being a village, my protagonist is an amateur sleuth, and the lighthearted tone and humor lets the reader know they won’t need to worry about encountering any graphic violence or sex. Still, one of the cardinal rules of a cozy is that you never put animals in danger. But how can you talk about the wilding of an island without acknowledging the threat of wilding to domestic animals? I finally decided to label my mystery a “modern cozy” or a “cozy 2.0” to let readers know there was something different about it. Although my plot involves the conflict between domestic and wild animals, I don’t dwell on the consequences. Instead, I let the reader fill in the blanks with as much or as little detail as they prefer.

Vashon Island is a real place, but Bogged Down is a mix of realism and fantasy. I hope I’ve captured the essence of the culture while throwing in enough make-believe to stimulate a reader’s imagination.


Review

a tour group led by reluctant replacement guide Lew Lewis finds a dead body in a bog far off the beaten track. The man, Jake Williams, was a member of a conservancy group and a champion for local wildlife to remain untouched on the island. Lew, being considered a local by law enforcement, is asked to nose around for information about who might have had an issue with the dead man. She isn’t at a loss for suspects or theories. The wildlife issue runs so deep among the residents of Vashon Island that even other conservationists/activists stridently disagreed over whether local predators should be protected or be protected against. With plenty of discord there, Lew also discovers that Jake’s disagreeable stepson has returned to the island and seems to be up to no good. Jake may have also discovered a secret about a real estate developer from the city who is looking to purchase land on the island. Lew and her snooping friends have a lot to sift through.

Bogged Down grabs the reader on the opening page and keeps up a constant pressure of clues. Lew may protest that she isn’t a criminal investigator, but she sifts through the mystery with a steady ease. Her relationships with her closest companions demonstrate that she is not the aloof outsider that she believes she is, also she is far more interesting than she gives herself credit for.

I truly loved the lush descriptions of the island with its flora and fauna along with the efforts toward conservation and study such as the coyote study and the bog tour. The author has done a wonderful job of showing the issues the local population faces with trying to preserve their wonderful little island while dealing with finite resources for the human inhabitants. Not to mention, her depiction of the closed group of town citizens who have known each other all their lives and new people are seen as interlopers is bang on. The reader feels from the first that they are not privy to this private community, yet as the story progresses with more characters introduced, this changes from an outside looking in perspective to the reader feeling like part of the whole.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.


BOGGED DOWN by @quirkymysteries is a mystery set on Vashon Island, a place that has been described as Mayberry-meets-Burning Man.

About The Book

About The Book:

An ancient bog hidden away in a forest is the perfect backdrop for murder…

BOGGED DOWN is a mystery set on Vashon Island, a place that has been described as Mayberry-meets-Burning Man. Its motto: Keep Vashon Weird.

Lavender (Lew) Lewis moved there because it is only a twenty-minute ferry ride from Seattle, yet light years away in tempo and character. She grew up on a commune in Alaska, joined the army at 17, does woods parkour for exercise and HR investigations to earn a living. Life in her waterfront cabin with her two food-obsessed cats is predictable and relatively stress free. Until she leads a tour group into an ancient bog on the island and discovers a body.

Purchase Links- Amazon – B&N – Vashon Bookshop – IndieBound 


About The Author

About The Author:

In a world filled with uncertainty and too little chocolate, Charlotte Stuart has a passion for writing lighthearted mysteries with a pinch of adventure and a dollop of humor. She began her career in academia, spent nine years commercial salmon fishing in Alaska, was a partner in a consulting group, and a VP for a credit union. Currently, she is the VP for Puget Sound Sisters in Crime and lives and writes on Vashon Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. She spends time each day entertained by herons, seals, eagles, and other wildlife.

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