the body snatcher

I was about eight when I encountered my first corpse.

It was at the funeral of a woman my grandmother knew, the woman from whom we’d bought our piano. Which apparently meant we owed her the courtesy of attending her funeral. My brother was the one who’d been playing piano since he was like five, and as luck would have it, he had a piano lesson. Convenient excuse. So I got to represent the family by attending the funeral with my grandmother.

Attending my first funeral would have been disturbing enough. But this one had a viewing. That’s right, everyone filed up to stare at a corpse. Because that’s not weird at all.

So I found myself standing with my grandmother at the edge of an open casket.

My grandmother was studying the body. “Doesn’t she look good?”

She looked dead. I didn’t particularly care whether her makeup was expertly applied. I couldn’t get over the fact that she was dead and we were standing there looking at her like she was an exhibit in a museum. After a few minutes of that, we followed the crowd into the small chapel along the side of the funeral home.

Once everyone was seated, they rolled in the casket. No pallbearers at this funeral. They rolled it in like a dessert tray. My mind flashed to a worst case scenario, and I could see the whole thing playing out in front of me: one of those wheels would hit a bump, causing the cart to tilt. The lid would fall open and I’d end up with a corpse draped all over me. But at least she looked good, right?

I’m sure the service was lovely. I was too busy staring at the casket sitting in front of us. Did we really need it in there? It wasn’t like we were going to forget who was dead. Granted, the lid was closed, but I couldn’t figure out why it was important to have the casket in the service with us.

After the service was over, we all journeyed to the cemetery for the burial. An electric motor lowered the casket into the ground with a mechanized whine.

And that was that.

My grandmother and I walked around the cemetery, her pointing out people she’d known, me trying not to step on bodies. Some of the plots had sunk down, slumping like a kid at the back of the class.

“That happens with older caskets,” my grandmother explained. “They start to collapse after a while. Sometimes they bury other people on top.”

It wasn’t a fact I really needed to know, but it lodged itself squarely in my brain. No shaking that one out. Between the lesson on interring humans and the viewing, I’d had my fill of corpses.

I slept in my brother’s room for a week after that. Other kids were afraid of monsters under their beds. I was afraid of dead bodies, was sure I’d swing my feet out of bed and step right on a squishy corpse.

People ask me why I write murder. I guess I don’t seem like the type. I’m not emo, all black hair and nails, and I don’t look like Stephen King. When I say I write books, I bet most people assume I write romance.

Why do I write murder?

Maybe it all goes back to that funeral. Maybe it’s my way of facing that childhood fear of dead bodies, regaining control. Instead of letting them haunt me, I’ve snatched those bodies up and put them in books. I create the bodies. I choose where they are, how they’re found, why they died. I have taken that which used to scare me and have used it to create story.

Granted, I’m not going to be hanging around morgues or funeral homes any time soon. But I can tell you, they know how to make the bodies look good.

Setting the Stage

Last week I talked about the importance of setting, including the role it can play in a book and how much thought I generally put into selecting mine.

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to the setting of my current work-in-progress. With this book, I’m going back to my roots, to the state where I was born and raised: North Carolina.

Like the details-obsessed writer I am, I took a vacation to immerse myself in the city of my current work. Ladies and gents, allow me to introduce you to Wilmington, NC.

Wilmington Downtown

That’s a shot of the historic downtown, next to the riverwalk that runs along the Cape Fear River. (I grew up a couple hours upriver.) Like with every Southern city, it’s steeped in history. Founded around 1740, it’s home to 112,000 people, EUE Screen Gems Studios (the largest American television and movie production facility outside of California), and the USS North Carolina, rescued from a scrapyard demise by a slew of devoted North Carolinians.

USS NC battleship

One defining characteristic of Wilmington is its coastal location, beaches only minutes away from downtown. Including this private beach neighborhood, where my characters happen to live in their gorgeous houses with their less gorgeous secrets.

F8 Island beach long

It is on this picturesque beach, complete with tide pools, where a body is found. (Hello, I write mystery. You had to know there’d be a body.) The Find occurs in a spot exactly like the one in the pic below. And by that I mean, this is the spot.

F8 Island beach tidepool

There’s nothing quite like NC beaches. I grew up playing in that sand, splashing around in those waves. (And no, I never encountered a shark.) A NC beach is one of my favorite places in the world, so it felt natural to take people there with my book, to introduce you to the South, NC-style. I can’t wait to share it with you.

F8 Island beach reeds