Traveling with a Mystery Writer by Ellery Adams
Ellery Adams’ family gets a little more than they bargain for while on vacation. Ah, the perils of being a mystery writer and a mom.
The term “family vacation” usually calls to mind images of parents and kids at Disney World, the beach, or another appealing location.
We have family vacations like these. But our journeys always include a detour or two. It doesn’t matter if we’re in Orlando, New York City, or Myrtle Beach. Whenever we’re away from home and I start a sentence by saying, “Hey, while we’re here, there’s something I’d like to check out…” my clan knows that things are about to get a little strange.
For example, I had several animal-related plotlines to research while we were in Myrtle Beach this summer. On a visit to Alligator Adventure, I produced a notebook and pen and said that I had some venomous creatures to investigate in the Snake House. I was interested in a particularly lethal poison dart frog and when my family asked why I wanted to see it, I explained exactly how the toxins would factor into my next book. Tourists were shooting me uncomfortable sidelong glances before I even reached the part about respiratory distress and organ failure.
Not only does this tourist attraction have deadly reptiles, but it also has a rare albino alligator. There are legends about this gator. Supposedly, if you see one, you’ll be given a dose of good luck. Since I’m always interested in stories of superstition and good or bad luck, we all had to stop and have our photos taken with the “ghost gator.” From there, we just had to hold a baby tiger. I knew I could use that in a book somehow.
On another trip, the kids and I struck out for Bald Head Island, North Carolina. I had a notion to set part of a novel on a very small, very isolated island somewhere in the South. Bald Head seemed ideal because it also had a lighthouse. Since a lighthouse features prominently in my Books by the Bay mysteries, I decided the island would make for the perfect Bayside Book Writers getaway. Of course, murders would have to occur. In order to capture Bald Head’s unique atmosphere, I rented a golf cart and toured the tiny island.
Sounds benign, right? Not exactly. I was specifically looking for places where the alligators gathered. Those would be the best places to a corpse. I also wanted to climb Old Baldy, North Carolina’s oldest standing lighthouse, to see if it would be possible to push someone off the top floor. Sadly (or happily, depending on your perspective), it’s not possible. Still, I had to check it out for myself.
Again, I got some funny looks from the other sightseers when I told my children how disappointed I was to find no outside access from the top floor. Being the offspring of a mystery writer, my kids nodded in commiseration. And then my son, age 10, said, “Just push the person off the ferry to the mainland. And Mom? Make sure they don’t know how to swim.”
Ah. It was a proud moment. We bought some T-shirts, boarded the ferry, and I spent the crossing in search of the ideal spot from which a murder could pitch an unsuspecting victim into the sea.
I love family vacations, don’t you?
Ellery Adams grew up on a beach near the Long Island Sound. Having spent her adult life in a series of landlocked towns, she cherishes her memories of open water, violent storms, and the smell of the sea. Ms. Adams has held many jobs including caterer, retail clerk, car salesperson, teacher, tutor, and tech writer, all the while penning poems, children’s books, and novels. She now writes full-time from her home in Virginia. Learn more and order your copy of her latest mystery, Poisoned Prose, here.
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