Resources for the Teacher - Findings
Guide for the Incurably Curious: Teachers, Students and People Who Just Plain Like to Read
1. For those who have read Artifacts, what did you think of Faye’s return to her home on Joyeuse Island in Findings?
When I took Faye to Alabama in my second book, Relics, some of my readers were concerned. They had enjoyed the island setting of Artifacts so well that they thought it would be risky to move the action. I think they thought that Faye wouldn’t be Faye if I plucked her off Joyeuse.
I was convinced that I needed to take Faye on the road for a couple of reasons. First, how many mysteries could she possibly solve from the vantage point of a single island? And second, how could I explore her character if I never took her out of her comfort zone?
In Artifacts, I put Faye through hell, but I left her on her home turf. In Relics and Effigies, I tested her in unfamiliar territory. When I began plotting Findings, I felt sure that it was time to take her back home.
It was fun for me to revisit the setting of my very first published novel, and it was a bit relaxing. I didn’t have to spend effort on designing Faye’s world, because I’d already done that. I’d already read about the way barrier islands are built, and I knew an awful lot—both from reading and from personal experience—about the ways the environment recovers from such a hurricane’s brutal assault by wind and water. And I knew almost all the characters intimately. With Findings, I was able to concentrate on crafting a story that functions as a pivot point in the lives of each of those characters.
2. As I finished writing Findings, I realized that it was different from my other books in some important ways. I consider mystery fiction to be the “literature of justice,” in the way that science fiction has long been called the “literature of ideas.” So it is no surprise that I considered my first three books to be explorations of the notion of justice. The real surprise for me was realizing that Findings was about something altogether different. What would you say was the central theme for this book?
Reading my own book, after it was already written, from the point-of-view of a reader, gave me an interesting perspective on Findings. Suddenly, it became apparent to me that I had written a book about love. This story is permeated with romantic love—Faye and Joe, Faye and Ross, Douglass and Emma, Jedediah and Viola, Magda and Mike, Curry and Sharon—there is hardly a character in this book who is not affected, for good or ill, by romantic love. Romance has never been a major theme in my previous books. How did these love stories work for you?
3. I originally created Jedediah and Viola Bachelder and their Civil-War-era world strictly for plot purposes. As I wrote, they all came alive to me. Jedediah and Viola developed a habit of saying and doing things that I never planned or expected. Joe’s character developed in that same way while I was writing Artifacts, and he continues to “tell” me what I should do with him. Do these characters feel real to you? And are there any other characters you particularly enjoyed?
I always choose an unusual corner of history to explore in each book. I want to take readers to a place or time that they know little about. For this book, I wanted to take a peek at the short-lived government of the Confederate States of America. Many books, notably Gone with the Wind, have given us an image, factual or not, of everyday life in the American South before and during the Civil War. Battlefield scenes have been described in both fiction and nonfiction works. However, I don’t think the Confederate government is given much thought when most Americans think about the Civil War. Yet I wondered how one would go about setting up a government for a brand-new nation that was born at war.
Jedediah’s description of the CSA’s constitutional convention was based on descriptions of discussions said to have been held during the writing of the Confederacy’s constitution. His diplomatic trip to Europe was based on the real Duncan Kenner’s actual diplomatic efforts. Kenner is said to have recommended freeing the slaves as a way to solidify diplomatic ties with Europe to CSA President Jefferson Davis, but this plan never came to pass. It makes sense that a man like Jedediah would be chosen for just this sort of diplomatic mission.
Jedediah and Viola, when I first created them, existed only to provide an illustration of real situations that are often forgotten when we view the people affected by the American Civil War from this distance. Many citizens of the Confederacy owned no slaves simply because they could not afford them. A few, like Jedediah and Viola, owned no slaves because their conscience forbade it.
Though we often hear the cliché that our Civil War pitted brother against brother, we forget that this conflict extended to the non-military citizenry. Though I don’t say so, Viola was likely born in the North, since she mentions her mother in Pennsylvania. The story establishes that Jedediah spent his childhood on a Florida plantation, yet Viola mentions his aunt in Ohio. When war closed the channels of communication between family members, people were harmed in a way that’s not apparent by reading history books. To read Viola’s concern about their northern relatives puts the modern reader directly into this terrible enforced separation.
Viola Bachelder was simply created as a foil to receive the letters Jedediah sent. I never intended to include any of her letters in the book, but she wouldn’t agree to stay quiet. In the end, I realized that any woman who would so captivate a man like Jedediah after years of marriage would have to be loving, yes, but also strong and independent. I had already “killed” her during the plot development phase of the book, and it grieved me that I could think of no way to “save” her without weakening the story. The final two letters that passed between Viola and Jedediah were among the last passages of this book that I wrote, and it pleased me to give them a happy ending, even if it couldn’t come in this world.
4. How did you feel about the fact that Faye was looking for gold and diamonds in this book, rather than the arcane archaeological finds she’s usually hunting?
I’ve always felt that archaeology made such a good setting for mystery novels because, though it is a science, there is also the air of a “treasure hunt” about an archaeological dig. No, modern archaeologists are not looking for King Tut’s gold. They’re looking for rotted kitchen scraps in order to reconstruct a civilization’s diet. Yet the fact remains that they could, at any time, unearth a bag of gold or even a huge emerald that was buried for safekeeping years ago. You can never know where you might find hidden treasure. If you knew where it was and where it wasn’t, then you couldn’t call it “hidden.”
I was already toying with a story about Jedediah Bachelder and the Confederate government, when I realized that this story could send Faye on a real treasure hunt. The fate of the Confederate treasury still generates books and magazine articles and web pages galore. Some stories say the Confederate Gold passed through Florida. Other stories put it in just about any other place you could imagine…which made it easy for me to put it exactly where I wanted it to be. How did you feel about the fictional Faye discovering the fate of a real treasure? Does that blur fact and fiction too much? Or does it just make the fiction feel more real?