What would you like to tell readers about yourself?
* A month-long trip to England during her college years introduced Jo to the joys of Things British. Since then, she has been lured back nearly a dozen times, and lived there during her professional folk singing stint. This intimate knowledge of Britain forms the backbone of both the Taylor & Graham mysteries and the McLaren cold case mystery series.
* Jo’s insistence for accuracy, from police methods and location layout to the general feel of the area, has driven her innumerable times to Derbyshire for research. These explorations and conferences with police friends provide the detail filling the books.
* In 1999 Jo returned to Webster University to major in English. She graduated in 2001 with a BA degree and departmental honors. Her cat Tennyson shares her St. Louis home.
Today Jo A. Hiestand will be talking about what sparked the idea for the story.
* A trip to Edinburgh, Scotland. My family gave me an expense-paid trip to Edinburgh for Christmas in 2010. The legendary Scottish folk singing group The McCalmans was having their last concert on December 10. Ian, the founder and original member, was retiring after forty-six years in the group. Since I’d been the group’s booking agent for their St. Louis, MO tour in the summer of 1980, and still corresponded sporadically with Ian, my family thought I should be there in the audience! They’d booked a bed-and-breakfast accommodation stay, airline ticket, and of course a ticket for the concert. All I had to do was pack!
* My sister went with me – we both love Scotland – and we roamed around the countryside via a bus tour, and walked around Edinburgh. I’d been in the city twice before, but that was before I’d started writing my mystery novels, so this time I really viewed the city with different eyes. We toured Edinburgh’s “underground city.” More properly known as The Real Mary King’s Close, it’s a phenomenal place. The Close is an underground dwelling dating from the 1600s. It was home to hundreds of people in the middle ages, and continued in that capacity until the early 1900s. Edinburgh is built on an incredibly steep hill. It was also a walled city. As the population increased, there was no place for people to build homes but upwards, if they wanted to live within the protective walls. Dwellings were built stacked on top of previous ones so that skyscrapers developed to around fourteen stories in height. Imagine medieval, cramped, narrow streets, then imagine fourteen stories’ height to these buildings. Hardly any sunlight would fall to ground level. But mostly the poorer people couldn’t afford to live in these structures, so they dug into the sides of the hill. They created a labyrinth of one-room dwellings and streets. No sunlight, of course, and no clean air. The air was foul with odors from the animals they kept with them in their homes, human waste, and smoke from cooking fires. The underground city was a perfect place for criminals to hide, too, as it was dark and cavernous. Anyway, I was fascinated by the place, that so many people lived and died there for these hundreds of years. I knew I had to use it in a book, but I didn’t have a book! During our bus trip to Glencoe and other areas of the countryside, I sensed I had to use the snowy moors somehow in the story, but again, I had no ideas yet.
* I got home, brimming with these wonderful visions and consumed with Scottishness, but I didn’t know how to use any of it. I began researching an area of Scotland I’d visited many decades before because I felt I remembered it well enough to also use it as a scene. It was The Trossachs and Loch Lomond area. As Fate would have it, the Clan home of my character Michael McLaren lived in that area! Amazing. The MacLarens lived in Balquhidder, and though I’d not been there, I’d been to Loch Lomond and Callander, which are in the same vicinity. I was getting excited! I had some areas in which to plot my story, but I had no story.
* That idea finally came to me as I was watching an old Perry Mason episode. It gave me the kernel of the plot, and I already had various spots for scenes; after a few days of thinking I had the entire story.
* So if I weren’t for my family’s gift, I wouldn’t have written this book.
* Oh, in case you’re wondering…when I lived in England I hired The McCalmans for a small party I gave. I didn’t know them but I loved their music. They performed and afterwards I asked them if they’d consider coming to St. Louis if I could get them some singing gigs in the area. They were enthused, wanting to establish themselves in the U.S. So when I returned home nearly six months later, I began the task of lining up venues for them. They subsequently came over for 2-weeks of gigs, and we developed a close friendship. And that’s how, thirty years later, I went to their farewell concert in Edinburgh…and AN UNFOLDING TRAP was born. Not too complicated, huh!
* In Edinburgh, a man standing beside McLaren in a bus queue is killed in a hit-and-run accident. After an attack leaves McLaren for dead on a wintry moor, he’s convinced someone from his past is trying to murder him.
* As McLaren trails the hit-and-run driver from the medieval ‘underground city’ of Edinburgh to the Boar’s Rock the MacLaren Clan’s ancestral meeting place the assaults intensify, and he’s plunged into a very personal hunt for a World War II treasure. The puzzle is fascinating; he just has to stay alive to solve it.
* He came to the second landing and the railing snaked back on itself, yet still angled downward. McLaren could see a small pool of light at ground level, a dozen stairs below. It seemed to come from a small door to the right. He took a deep breath, steeling his nerves, and descended.
* At the bottom of the spiraled staircase he stood for moment, letting his eyes become accustomed to the near darkness. The ceiling was not much more than head high and seemed to mock his fear of confinement. Ahead he heard a voice relating the Close’s history. The voice sounded thin, bouncing off the hard walls.
* He took a few steps past the bottom landing and looked around. The gloom intimidated him, threatened to suffocate him. Ahead and to his right pinpricks of weak yellowish light displaced some of the gloom and defined the areas through the maze, but murkiness filled the majority of the expanse. He moved slowly, his feet gliding over the rough ground, his hand skating over the wall. His fingers touched the bumps and small protuberances, skimming over them as though he were reading Braille.
ANNOUNCEMENT! Jo A Hiestand will be awarding a $25 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn winner via rafflecopter during the tour! So be sure to leave a comment AND use the Rafflecopter below. Also, visit the other tour stops for a greater chance of winning!
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