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August 22, 2013
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October 6, 2014
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Discovering Artemis

The following is posted with sincere thanks to the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Author’s Award:

Aside from two years in Hawaii, I’ve spent my life in rural Indiana. From the first icy flakes falling on a peaceful night in December to the muddy tromp through the woods in May in search for the coveted morel, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. I just can’t write about Indiana. The land and the people are so much a part of who I am that I struggle to see the quirks and habits that make us who we are. The old writing advice—write about what you know—never worked well for me.

Two things influenced my decision to set a mystery series in West Texas: the allure of the desert southwest, and the proximity to the Mexican cartels in Juarez. I opened my Rand McNally atlas, drew a red dot on top of Juarez, and followed the Rio Grande along the US border with Mexico. Along the river I looked for remote desert and found a highway in Texas that passed through one ghost town and ended in another. Using Google Earth I confirmed the area was as isolated as it appeared, and stuck a pin on my map. I staked my claim and christened the new town, Artemis. Next, I tracked down the closest newspaper to the ghost towns, subscribed, and spent a year reading the local news, researching and absorbing everything I could about life in the rugged Chihuahuan Desert.

Beyond the unforgiving desert landscape, what fascinates me most about the area is the incredible story of the Mexican cartels, and their impact on small towns along our 2,000 mile border. Police departments along the Rio Grande are understaffed, underfunded, and in most cases ill-equipped to handle the violence that rages just across the river. Amazing to me is the fact that the violence has for the most part remained in Mexico. Juarez is often cited as the most deadly non-war-zone city in the world. Crime in northern Mexico is rampant. It is a Pandora’s Box busting at the hinges, and once that violence spills over across the river, how will we ever push it back?

With enough conflict across the border to support any number of mysteries, and my new town situated firmly along the Rio Grande, the townspeople began appearing with their mess of dreams and disasters. It wasn’t long before my police department was taking calls and Chief of Police, Josie Gray, was investigating her first murder.

So this winter I’ll be sitting in front of a blazing fire contemplating the overwhelming problems in Mexico. As the light begins to fade, I’ll throw another log on the fire and imagine Chief Gray receiving a call from a local rancher reporting gunfire along the Rio. She will groan and climb out of her warm bed, call dispatch and the border patrol for a status report, and then drive her jeep along the dusty, unpaved roads of Artemis to face dangers that I can only dream about. Writing each new book in the series is a fascinating journey into a world that is scary and exotic, and sometimes murderous.

 

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