Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Walk in the Woods

In August 1995, my wife and I were married before a judge.  It was a simple ceremony.  We were both new associates at a small law firm in Columbus, Georgia and did not have the money (or desire) for a big wedding.  Besides, we had our priorities.  We were saving our money to buy some land, build a home and start a family.  As part of our savings plan, we rented a small farm house just outside Columbus.  We paid two hundred dollars a month in rent.  The house was worth every penny.  It had four small rooms (including the kitchen), was constructed completely of cinderblocks, had a concrete floor, a tin roof and sat at the end of a long dirt road at the edge of a cow pasture.  It was also painted a hideous bright blue -- but the cows did not seem to mind.  

So what does this have to do with mystery novels?

Stay with me on this one.  I’m getting there.

Despite the limitations of our humble abode, the setting was beautiful.  Our landlord had several hundred acres of pasture land, forests, ponds and streams.  I would often take my nine iron into the pasture and hit golfballs among my bovine friends.  It was also at this time that my wife and I started going on our evening walks.  I’m proud to say that almost eighteen years later, we are still walking every evening.

But, again, I’m a little off track.

One late fall afternoon we took off walking in a new direction -- through some thick woods and over a small hill.  It was beautiful -- the leaves on the hardwoods were in full color.  It was cool and crisp -- exactly the way a walk in autumn should be -- that is, until we stumbled upon the grave stones.

Yes, grave stones.  Two to be exact.  They appeared to be very old, although I cannot claim to be an expert on assessing the age of grave stones.  Were they fifty years old or two hundred?  Any inscriptions had been lost to time -- worn flat by the weather.

The shadows in the woods suddenly seemed a little longer and a bit more menacing -- the air a little cooler.  On our walk back home, we discussed a million different scenarios that could explain the presence of two grave stones deep in the woods.  We assessed what we knew -- our limited set of clues -- and engaged in wild speculation as to the identity of our newly discovered neighbors.  When we finally made it home, we immediately contacted our landlord to find out what he knew about the graves.  We learned that we had stumbled upon the final resting place of the original owners of the property from the 18th century.

For one brief moment on one fall afternoon, my wife and I were engaged with a real mystery -- or at least it seemed real to us.  We had found two grave stones deep in the woods.  It was unexpected and -- as weird as it may sound -- exciting.  A well-written mystery novel, I believe, engages the reader in the same way.  The reader is not simply a passive spectator walking through the woods enjoying the view.  They are part of the action.  The reader is thrilled by the unexpected twists and turns thrown in their path.  Each clue -- or potential clue -- becomes the source of endless speculation. The reader can't wait to turn the page, to solve the mystery and uncover the truth before anyone else.  

      A great writer, in my opinion, convinces the reader to take the walk through the woods and discover what may be lurking in the shadows.

Deron Hicks finally saved up enough money to buy some land, build a house and start a family.  He lives in Warm Springs, Georgia with his wife Angela, daughter Meg and son Parker.  His first book - SECRETS OF SHAKESPEARE'S GRAVE -- was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Children in September 2012.  The second book in the series -- TOWER OF THE FIVE ORDERS -- is scheduled for publication in October 2013.  You can find Deron at his website or you can follow him on Facebook.


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