Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout (see linked interview for further insights) describes “place” as a major character in her novels. She goes so far as to suggest it is the major character, the backbone of her own very special New England tales.
Which brings us to the location of my second Emma Golden mystery. The first was set in the vineyards and wineries of Oregon’s northern Willamette Valley, an important place/charcter in the series. This is definitely Emma’s turf. She owns it. She spent the prime 20 years of her life here. However, as you will see, something happened in Emma’s and Melody’s lives that required a radically different locale.
June 2008, even before publication of An Unholy Alliance, the “Sister” was taking shape in my mind. It would be set in Montana–until a friend and I spent the night in a beautiful home outside Port Orford. I’d known the Oregon Coast since childhood, but this was new territory. Once we turned off the main highway and inland this region became a different world than the one we associate with fabulous Oregon getaways. It gripped me. This was the place–the true setting for the book.
One year later, a friend joined me on an investigative trip to Bandon. We dined and shopped in charming downtown. We discovered the Face Rock and learned the story of the foolish girl who drowned in shallow water. Mist engulfed us near the legendary rocks. We even pulled into the parking lot of the second-hand store where, in the story, Crabby Daniels…. Oh, I can’t tell you that part yet.
We drove the backroads of Coos and Curry counties and witnessed the poverty and hopelessness that are hidden where the tourists don’t see them. It was not a great leap in my mind, given this wild and disparate setting, to go in very short order from hidden to sinister. I had found my major character for The Difficult Sister here on the southern Oregon Coast, and it is one that tests Emma to her limits.