I love cemeteries.
No, really. I’m serious.
Think about it: a cemetery—I mean a really old cemetery, not these new “memorial parks” where every headstone is flat to the ground and they all look the same—is really a museum without walls. Take a peek, and you’ll find interesting architecture, sculpture and art. There are stories, too, everywhere you look. One memorial can give you a glimpse into generations of family history. Another might suggest tragedy. Still others speak of undying love, precious memories, interesting lives and valorous deaths.
I’m lucky, I live near Cleveland, Ohio, and we’ve got some great old graveyards here. When I’m looking to hobnob with the city’s former movers and shakers, I head to Lake View Cemetery to visit the likes of President James A. Garfield, John D. Rockefeller and Eliot Ness. When I want something a little more down to earth (every pun intended), there are small country burial grounds that hold the remains of the settlers who tamed the lands of the Western Reserve.
In fact, I was in a cemetery when I got the idea for the Pepper Martin Mystery Series. Here’s the story: I began my publishing career back in 1992 with my first book, Twilight Secrets, a historical romance. I published somewhere around 15 historicals as well as a number of category romance, single-title contemporaries and even young adult horror novels. But the whole time I was writing romance, I was reading mysteries. And I was itching to write one. Trouble is, I never could find a hook that appealed to me. Interesting setting? Unusual protagonist? Fascinating time period? There are so many possibilities, it’s enough to make a writer’s head spin!
Then I got a job interview at a cemetery. They were looking for a part-time tour guide. I was looking to get away from my computer a couple days a week to remind myself there is life beyond writing (even in a place where just about everyone is dead).
I didn’t get the job, but I did get the idea for Pepper Martin, a cemetery tour guide whose enthusiasm for graveyards does not equal my own. Things really got interesting when I decided to add a little oomph to Pepper’s sleuthing resume—she just so happens to be able to see and talk to the “residents” of her cemetery.
Having ghosts and cemeteries in the mix adds an interesting dimension both to the writing and research. The book I’m plotting now (#5 in the series) involves the restoration of an old cemetery, so I’ve been in touch with a group that’s revitalizing Woodland Cemetery in Cleveland.
This dedicated group of volunteers gathers before Memorial Day to place flags on veterans’ graves. Sound easy? Not when old cemetery maps are inaccurate, records contain any number of misspellings, and tombstones are toppled, worn and hardly legible.
I had the time of my life, and it was gratifying to think that because we took the time to search and study and lay on our bellies to decipher just-about-unreadable gravestones, many veterans who’ve never had a flag before got one for the first time.
Thanks to Pepper, I’ve also taken classes in the paranormal, participated in ghost hunts and shot some amazing photographs at a “haunted” bed and breakfast, pictures that just might prove Pepper isn’t the only one who’s been in contact with the dearly not-quite departed.