A Good Scene for a Crime

Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art inspired the setting for my latest novel.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art inspired the setting for my latest novel.

BEFORE I BEGIN WRITING any of my “To Die For” series novels I know two things–major characters, and location. I always need a good scene for a crime, and usually I have a feeling about the crime(s) that will occur.

All my books, short stories, essays and articles feature special locations in Arkansas. So, how do I choose those locations? Would any special place, tourist attraction, National or State Park be eligible?

They are in the running, but not necessarily chosen.

If it’s to become a setting for an entire novel, any location must say S T O R Y to me. I have to feel a story on an initial visit to any potential book setting. I need to understand how both history and current times there could foster a crime suitable to the place, and how people, landscape, and architecture will roll along naturally as my characters fit into their adventures in that area. I must also see that I can do complete justice to architecture and landscape realities at the location. Major locations featured in any of my books are exact, usually down to the last wildflower and doorknob.

51iayJ4fOPL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_            That said, I had a strong prejudice toward the major location chosen for  Why? Because a connection to art museums and what they display is second only to an interest in literature and writing in my life. My first job as a teen was at Philbrook Art Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When traveling, my husband and I visit art museums as primary destinations. I was close to an art history major in college, though my named major was English and Journalism. So, having a new, acclaimed, and thriving art museum in my Arkansas neighborhood (so to speak) begged for a story. Therefore, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art had to be large part of novel number eight in my series.

It took longer than normal to write this book. Of course I spent hours in the museum, even to the point where, I think, some volunteers and maybe staff members became a little antsy about my presence. (Why was I just standing in a location, not really “doing anything” and why was I asking such peculiar questions? ) I did have kind support and help from staff members who knew about and had approved my “project,” however it’s a very large museum and a lot of people work there.

But, of course, as I stood and thought, I was planning Carrie McCrite’s job and her activities as a volunteer at Crystal Bridges, and I wanted that to be as nearly real as possible. Also, I had decided at the beginning that I did not want any crime to involve the museum’s own staff or collections. It had to be an “outside” job, and that’s why I invented the (not real!, not real!) Port View Museum’s portraits on display in a loan exhibition at Crystal Bridges. I could plan any crime I wanted with Port View, its staff, and its paintings.

So–I did!

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  • An art museum is a great place for a story – I used the tiny Art Museum at Princeton University for my first published short story.

    The problem is deciding which of the people associated with it can be used as the bad guy! Is it the new director – but this is the dream job she finally landed? Is it the docents – but they work for free and love the museum? Is it the visiting faculty member – from the prestigious university? Is is the security chief – with the spotless military record?

    Art is such a great target.

  • Caleb Pirtle

    Radine, every location is a great location for a murder. Some, however, are better than others, and I understand how you keep looking out for them. You just can’t help yourself. Neither can I.

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