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  • Mark Wm Smith

Amateur Sleuth Amateur Hour

The story behind writing the next novel in the Connor Pierce collection.

Welcome to Amateur Hour.

(First published on November 1, 2019.)

Amateur sleuths. Amateur author. This is not to self-deprecate. My ego remains intact. It’s my acknowledgement of skill deficiency that illuminates the challenge.

When I first started working out details for the next Connor Pierce novel, Murder in the Glass Castle, it became apparent early in the process that my intuition proved insufficient to produce quality novels on a consistent basis. Much of my time in the past three months has gone to revisiting the craft of fiction.

Of course, obsessively studying methods and techniques kept me from the keyboard. I wasn’t actually writing or producing stories. I changed strategies to an OJT model: While I learn to develop depth in my writing, I’ve resolved to put the writing time into completing Murder in the Glass Castle.

This full-length novel puts Connor on the trail of a kidnapper and killer in the mountains of Western Montana. In the middle of closing a contract on several pickup trucks that will pull his father’s failing car dealership out of a downward spin, Connor gets an emergency call from his sister. She pleads for help with the mysterious disappearance of her girlfriend’s five-year-old sister in Northwestern Montana. His mother won’t go and he can’t trust her to manage the dealership.

Connor is desperate and resentful. It’s a dilemma he doesn’t need. Going might mean losing the family business. Staying could mean losing his sister. Loyalty sucks. But go he must.

When he arrives in Eureka, Montana, historically a surreptitious gateway for crossing the border into Canada, his desperate sister is nowhere to be found. Her girlfriend hounds him into confronting her “delusional” father whom she believes did something terrible to her little sister. Connor needs to solve this mystery and get home or lose his family’s primary source of income. So he goes to meet the man. And the man is actually delusional. It’s a nightmare with a bow on it.

Eureka, Montana came across my radar in high school. A friend travelled up their every year to visit another friend’s girl. (I’m pretty sure he took the friend with him.) My friend told me a person could see the road into Canada with vehicles, allegedly, carrying all manner of contraband.

The story wasn’t only intriguing on its own merit. It stirred memories of my own childhood when I lived for a time in that area. Mountains with spring water pouring out of conveniently placed pipes. Glacial snowbanks overlooking Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. Sled rides down a hundred fifty yard hill with every other kid in town. Good memories of which I have only a few.

Coming up with a setting for the next Connor Pierce mystery was a daunting task. I hadn’t really thought about writing another. Connor was my first genuine protagonist and as such, fraught with my personal demons. Making him into his own person is work. Happenstance prevailed. Eureka, Montana popped into memory, giving me the intrigue and somewhat exotic element I needed to carry the story. Its a great place from which to traffic people out of the country, if you’re into that sort of thing.

It has other conflict laden distinctions. Eureka was founded by fur trader David Thompson, who settled in, and name, the Tobacco Valley in the 1880s. While he relied heavily on the indigenous Kootenai Indian expertise for medicinal knowledge of local flora, these Native American people were ultimately pushed south, onto the Flathead Indian Reservation along with the Bitterroot Salish and Pend d’Oreilles Natives. That’s a deep wound and bound to contain at least one person with a festering sore on the matter.

My research is just beginning, so I can’t say what underlying conflict and suspense will rise from the year-2000 setting. I hope you will stick around to find out.

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