Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Edgar-winning mystery writer Sally Wright

I'm so happy to have Sally Wright visiting again. Please welcome her as she talks about her new book, Breeding Ground.

Kindle $2.99

About the book:


A Jo Grant Horse Country Mystery
Lexington, Kentucky, 1962:
Another painful death in Jo Grant’s family . . another injured relative she suddenly has to care for while running the family broodmare business she wants to leave behind . . another casualty from WWII turning-up in need at her door – right when she and a WWII OSS vet are trying to stop the killer of a friend caught in the conflicts of another family horse business in the inbred world of Lexington Thoroughbreds, where the family ties from grooms to estate owners have tangled together for a hundred years.


What do I love about this book?
I love the horses, and most of the folks in Breeding Ground who take care of them on working farms around Lexington.
When I visited there on a book tour years ago, I met two Woodford County women who opened their homes as B&Bs. I stayed in their classic 19th century brick farmhouses and grilled them about the history of the houses, and local tales as well.
They and their husbands and friends became friends, and I kept going back - till my husband and I wished we could move there.
Friends from Ohio too - who’d had a broodmare farm next to us (caring for mares that belonged to other people, birthing and training their babies) - had moved to Versailles (in Woodford County just west of Lexington) to start another broodmare business, and they took me to meet owners and trainers – and then I met Secretariat at Claiborne, and became obsessed. (I had a horse for years, which was part of the Lexington appeal, and I’d still be riding now if I hadn’t gotten hurt.)
But it wasn’t till I did research there for the Ben Reese mystery, Watches Of The Night, that I knew I had to write a series set in that world of hills and horse farms and well-remembered history.
I’d been reading about the French Resistance too, and the British (SOE) and US (OSS) espionage services that helped them in WWII. I got so caught up in the stories of the agents and the danger and the death, I wanted to work with that too.
I saw the horse people and the OSS veterans as part of an on-going horse country community in which most would be workers in three family businesses – a small hands-on broodmare farm, a ma-and-pa horse van manufacturer, and a family firm making equine pharmaceuticals.
I grew up in a small family business. For my father was an orphan, raised in a Christian orphanage, who (because a teacher helped him get a college scholarship in 1929) was able to become a chemist, who dreamed for years about inventing a product and starting his own business – and did, with my Mom, when I was four.
It’s been a pivotal part of my life, and I wanted to examine the conflicts that come when whatever-family-members-are-in-charge have to choose between what they think is good for the business (all the employees and customers included) and their children’s (or siblings’) feelings. Christian decision makers can find the choices especially difficult, and with eighty percent of American businesses still family owned, I thought I ought to talk about it.
I also decided to write about a caregiver who’s reached her emotional limits – or at least feels as though she has. Jo Grant put aside her work as an architect to care for a mother with terminal brain cancer, then has to cope with her brother’s sudden death, plus two more situations that force her to abandon everything she wants – again - and care for them too.
God’s place in all that – allowing the suffering, and helping you through it – gets considered (subtly, I hope, and indirectly) in Breeding Ground as the fundamental struggle we face living on this earth. God’s gotten me through two years of pancreatic cancer, and I’ve wanted to talk about something of what I’ve experienced – the peace and joy and sense of God’s care in spite of outward appearances.

Tell us something you learned doing the research, and any research tip you’d like to share.
            After I’d read a biography of Mack (MacKenzie) Miller, interviewing him meant a lot to me. He’s a Hall Of Fame trainer, and a self-effacing Christian gentleman, who trained for years for Paul Mellon, and he and his wife couldn’t have been kinder. He’s a well-documented example of how, even though racing can bring out the worst and the ugliest, honesty and family commitment and real concern for the horses still exists and succeeds (or did, when he was training).
It was my research on the French Resistance, and the US Office of Strategic Services that nearly drove me to distraction.
I read book after book on the French Resistance – all over France, all through the Nazi occupation – and became totally overwhelmed. I couldn’t make sense of it without going to France. But my mother (who was ninety-nine, and lived next door, and was very sadly demented, with care-givers round the clock) was my responsibility, and I couldn’t stay long. I also had no one in France to help me the way I’d had in Scotland when I wrote the Ben Reese mysteries.
            So God led me to the book I needed, then to a tiny B&B in an old mill in the Loire Valley where He gave me a gift I’ve been given before – the kind that saves books.
Sitting beside black-and-white ducks, green glass river sliding by, the mill owner spoke of the Resistance in the Lorraine with real knowledge and passion. He’d filled the whole mill with WWII books, and though we talked hour after hour, it was his description of a real event in the village beside the mill – and the local reaction in 2010 – that I put into Breeding Ground (which takes place in ‘62) that gave me the perspective for the OSS backstory that helped drive three characters to do what they needed to do.
Which leads me, finally, to a research tip. Studying the French Resistance across France was too broad an approach. A History professor at Hillsdale College handing me a paperback on the French Resistance in the Lorraine region alone narrowed my focus to the Loire Valley - and made the research doable.
So. When you get bogged down in research that seems overwhelming, narrow the search till it’s manageable.
Just as importantly: If your setting’s a real place (and you can get there) take a ridiculous number of photographs; Interview as many people as you can think of who relate to the book, and record every conversation; Make yourself stop when research becomes an excuse for not writing the book.

How do you hope readers will talk about the book after they’ve read it?
            I hope readers will be drawn to the horses. They’re not pets. No, but they can be twelve-hundred-pound partners. They can read your mind and your body. And we need to train and treat them well. As Jo Grant says in the preface, “. . . the horses we’ve got here, I’ve got to tell about them. The ones that run our lives, and get planned and pampered and brutalized by us too, for the best and the strangest and the worst of reasons.”
I hope readers will be interested in the folks who plan and pamper and care for them – the grooms, white and black, the aristocratic owners, the everyday folks doing their best to make horse vans, and de-wormers, and teach a foal manners.
I want readers to feel as though they understand more about family businesses from the inside out, and that knowing a little about the stresses involved ends-up being useful.
            I’d also like readers to learn enough about the OSS and the French Resistance in Breeding Ground that they want to read more. There’re wonderful books about both that have a whole lot to teach.
            I also hope that by the end of Breeding Ground, readers – like Jo Grant, the narrator - see the mercy of God at work in her life, and in others’ as well, and recognize the good that can come out of suffering.
            It’s enemy occupied territory here (as C.S. Lewis said). And character comes with living through difficulties; for as strength and perseverance develop, they can lead to joy and hope - the kind that’s a gift from God. 
About the author:

Sally Wright is the author of six Ben Reese mysteries: Publish And Perish, Pride And Predator, Pursuit And Persuasion (a Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Award Finalist in 2001), Out Of The Ruins, Watches Of The Night (published in June 2008) and Code Of Silence, a prequel to the series (published in December 2008).

Wright was born obsessed with books, and started pecking-out florid adventure stories with obvious endings by the time she turned seven. She wrote and performed music in high school and college, earned a degree in oral interpretation of literature at Northwestern University, and then completed graduate work at the University of Washington. She published many biographical articles, including pieces on Malcolm Muggeridge and Nikolai Tolstoy, Leo's grandnephew, before she wrote her Ben Reese books.

Reviewers repeatedly compare Wright's work to that of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. Wright herself says that her literary influences range from all of those to Tolstoy and Jane Austen, from P.D. James to Dick Francis.

Sally Wright moved with her husband many years ago from Cape Cod to the country near Bowling Green, Ohio, but they think they'd like to someday live outside Lexington, Kentucky. Their daughter is an opera singer (a la Out of the Ruins), and their son works for a industrial manufacturing company. The Wrights have a young boxer dog, a young mare (who’s a lot less reliable than the old one-eyed gelding), and too many gardens to take care of the way Sally would like. She loves to cook, and wants to play with painting again, if she ever stops trying to learn dressage.


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