I'd like to welcome Carole Shmurak, one of my fellow authors from the brand new e-book 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror, 52 Authors Look Back. Carole is stopping by as part of the 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror Blog Tour. If you enjoy magazine columns and Chicken Soup for the Soul books, then we're sure you'll enjoy our collection of essays, designed to warm your heart, raise your spirits and compel you to examine your own life. Get a full listing of authors, essay titles and retailers here: http://stacyjuba.com/blog/25-years-in-the-rearview-mirror-52-authors-look-back/
Follow the 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror Blog and Radio Tour schedule here and enter for some neat My Memories Suite digital scrapbooking software: http://stacyjuba.com/blog/25-years-in-the-rearview-mirror-blog-tour/
And don't miss the chance to join the 25 Years in the Rearview Mirror Yahoo Group, a fun and inspirational group that discusses the past and will help you to stay on track for the future. http://groups.yahoo.com/group/25YearsRearviewMirror/
Now, Welcome Carole.
When I see a movie that says “based on a true story,” I always wonder: what exactly does that mean? How true is it?
So, full disclosure here: I often base my books on events that really happened, but I transfer them to times and places that are purely fictional. And the people who inhabit my books are often modeled on real people — including myself. Authors have always done this; Dorothy L. Sayers, for example, based Harriet Vane largely on herself and used an unhappy love affair of her own as the basis for Strong Poison. My detective, Susan Lombardi, shares my work history: she’s a former high school science teacher who is now a professor of education at a state university in Connecticut, but as Sue Grafton once said of her detective Kinsey Millhone, she’s “smarter, younger and thinner” than I am.
When I started to write Deadmistress, I wanted to capture the fishbowl setting of a New England boarding school, similar to the one at which I’d taught for fifteen years. So, with tongue firmly in cheek, I created Wintonbury Academy for Girls, familiarly called WAG, and I populated it with characters based on my former colleagues and students. Such a closed community obviously called for a traditional Christie-esque mystery, with carefully planted clues and red herrings, as well as a map and cast of characters. So for Deadmistress, the plot was purely imaginary, but the characters and setting were essentially real.
The plot for Death by Committee, on the other hand, was “ripped from the headlines.” An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education bore the headline, “Worst tenure case ever,” and reported a tenure battle at a Midwestern university that had involved death threats, a hunger strike, and political infighting of the worst sort. All I had to do was transplant the tenure case to Susan’s department, and imagine how my university colleagues would react to such events. And of course, I had to have one of the death threats get carried out.
Death at Hilliard High was based on two true stories: one that I had read in a local newspaper about an African-American teacher harassed by her white students at a suburban high school and one that was told to me at my high school reunion about one of our former teachers who, rumor had it, murdered his wife. I combined the two stories and again transplanted them to a Connecticut setting, an affluent suburban high school at which Susan consults. This also gave me the opportunity to bring back one of my favorite characters from Deadmistress, Shauna Thompson, once a student at WAG, now a Yale graduate who is the only black teacher at the high school. Shauna too was based on a student I had known.
My latest book, Most Likely to Murder, came directly out of my own high school reunion. Having edited the reunion booklet, I had the life stories of nearly 200 people in my head, and I knew that some of them would make wonderful fictional characters. But since Susan Lombardi is quite a bit younger than I am, I had to make my characters younger than my classmates and I. That meant changing the names to those that were trendy among babies in 1962 (Carols and Barbaras became Sharons and Lisas), and updating the music that they danced to at the reunion to the late 1970s (the Everly Brothers morphed into the BeeGees). The real joy of Most Likely to Murder was creating Susan’s high school. Since I’d mentioned in an earlier book that Susan had grown up in New Jersey, I decided to name the school after a famous New Jerseyite. To my delight, I found that the jazz musician, Count Basie, had grown up in New Jersey, so I named the high school after him. That enabled me to name the school newspaper The Jazz and the yearbook The Jitterbug, and then to add some of my own high school reminiscences. And of course, I got to bump off one of my fictional classmates and make a few of the others prime suspects.
So there’s a lot of truth in my mysteries and a lot of fiction. Is there ever an instance when the line between the two gets blurred? Well, there’s Susan’s husband, Michael Buckler (also known as Swash) who is independently wealthy and a gourmet cook; my own husband Steve is neither of those. Yet a number of our friends and acquaintances have asked Steve about his blue silk pajamas (described in Deadmistress) — and our dentist repeatedly calls him “Swash.”
Carole B. Shmurak, Professor Emerita at Central Connecticut State University, is the author of eleven books, including Deadmistress, which introduced professor/sleuth Susan Lombardi, Death by Committee, Death at Hilliard High and Most Likely to Murder. Under the pseudonym Carroll Thomas, she is the co-author of the Matty Trescott young adult novels, one of which (Ring Out Wild Bells) was nominated for the Agatha for best young adult mystery of 2001.
You can find Carole online at:
Amazon page, http://amazon.com/author/carole
Facebook author page, http://www.facebook.com/carolemysteries.