Welcome to Ogallala!

Picture for 10 15 15 blog post

This photo was taken in May of 1988 when I graduated from Northeast Missouri State University, now known as Truman State University. My first professional job out of college was as news editor for the Pleasant Hill Times. This year-long stint provided much of the inspiration for “Death Goes to the County Fair.”

Today, I join the ranks of mystery writers. My novel, “Death Goes to the County Fair” premiers.
When I put this book together, I had to include a disclaimer. Mine looks like this:
“This book is a work of fiction. All characters in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the author and have no relation to anyone bearing the same name or names. Any resemblance to individuals known or unknown to the author are purely coincidental. The town of Ogallala, Missouri does not exist. It is a fictional location.”
Most of that is true; there is no Ogallala, Missouri. Ogallala is a town in Nebraska that my husband and I drove through in May of 2014. I just loved the name of the town.
The main character, Joni Harte, is a recent college graduate who accepts the job of photographer and reporter at the Ogallala Gazette. She is a figment of my imagination. Well, sort of.
Almost 30 years ago, I worked as a journalist. My first job out of college was for a weekly newspaper in Pleasant Hill, a small Missouri town south of Kansas City. I did all of the things Joni does – I covered city-council and schoolboard meetings. I took photos of toddler beauty-contest winners. I had two amazing co-workers – one named Nancy and the other Ed. And like Joni, I was late for a parade and threatened with the loss of my job. I struggled to learn the intricacies of small-town life.
As in my novel, many of the town residents reached out and welcomed me. The small convenience store next door started stocking my favorite beer: Lowenbrau. Do they even still sell Lowenbrau? A couple I wrote a feature article about invited me to be a judge at their BBQ contest. And like Joni, I lived next door to my landlords: Barry and Ann, who fed me dinner on more than one occasion. Barry used to call me a “greenhorn.”
Any murders happen while I was the news editor for the Pleasant Hill Times? Nope. Not a one. House fires? Yes. Two. Including one house fire in which the old woman who lived there did not escape. I still remember standing by the remains of the house, sick with the sadness of it. That’s likely what inspired the book’s prologue.
What about Sheriff Cletus Butane? He is, I admit, my favorite character in the book. I don’t remember the Pleasant Hill police chief’s name in 1988, but I do remember he was gracious and patient with me. I know. I know. We’re not supposed to like our police, but I do. I like to think Sheriff Butane is a mix of Andy Griffith and Marshall Matt Dillon.
There was a small restaurant across the street from the Times office. It wasn’t named the Wagon Wheel though. That’s actually the name of a small restaurant that my aunt owned in Linneus, Missouri. And yes, her pies were amazing. My fictional protagonist, Joni, loves the banana cream, but I loved my great aunt’s chocolate cream pie.
Like Joni, I made a few mistakes, including writing a feature article about a disabled woman and not getting her guardian’s permission to publish it until the day we went to press. I also misspelled a name or two. This is very frowned upon in the journalism world.
No, sadly enough I did not drive an AMC Gremlin. I drove a 1970-something Pontiac Grand Am until the day a man rear-ended me and totaled it. Then, I bought a very old and beat-up Chevrolet Impala from my landlord. Like Joni, I longed for a car made in the decade in which I lived.
This book is the first in a mystery series. I have lots of ideas for sequels, including titles like “Death Goes Spelunking,” “Death Goes Antiquing,” and “Death Goes to College.” Lots of ideas. Now to turn those ideas into books. Therein is the challenge.
What’s next for me? Completing the two sequels to Celebration House. The trilogy will publish in 2016.
Meanwhile, I wait to hear what readers think about Joni Hart and Sheriff Cletus Butane. It’s my strongest hope they will love these two characters and the others who live in my fictional town of Ogallala, Missouri.
Hands and arms inside the cart: Next, learning how to manage Celebration House.

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