I wrote Blue Rope to be a novel that provides hours of entertainment. It’s the story of a failing marriage set against the backdrop of several brutal murders – stranglings – in a small town. Every novel draws strongly on its author’s experience and this one’s no different. I thought you might enjoy hearing the facts that permeate the novel, parts of my life that are real.
Near the beginning of the book I describe Rose, the first victim of the Blue Rope murders. When my husband Bill had a land survey company, he rented an office from a woman who was nudging one hundred. I believe she lived to be 103 and Bill always took his rent to her house each month to pay her. She liked him and shared some stories with him. She owned tons of rental property in town, both residential and commercial. Back in the 1930s she wanted to start purchasing real estate to rent out – something very few women did at the time. Her husband, a farmer, wanted nothing to do with it. He said renting was nothing but a mess. At the time, a woman couldn’t buy property without her husband’s signature. She had a banker looking for her who found a couple of small homes he thought she’d like. She chose one and called her husband from an attorney’s office so he could come sign papers, but he refused. So she said, well, come on down and sign either the mortgage papers or a divorce document. He drove over and signed some divorce papers and she bought her house. Her grandson told me that she sent her ex-husband – his grandfather – a monthly check throughout his life to help him out.
My protagonist, Dee Tamarack, is probably 80% me, and her husband Mark, a land surveyor, is 90% my husband Bill. Dee’s description of designing greeting cards is accurate – I designed greeting cards for Recycled Paper, a division of American Greetings, for twenty years.
There’s a scene in the book where Dee and Mark have dinner at a Mexican restaurant. It’s not easy for Dee to get him there – she had to pry him away from watching Red River on TV. Again. This scene is regretfully true. So they run into another couple at the restaurant and discuss surveying. It just so happens there was a six-month stint when I worked with Bill as his rodman in our land survey business – beginning in early March and continuing through August. So I started out by freezing and ended up by roasting. If there’d been two or three more hours in the day, you could have had me for dinner. Slow-cooked. During the afternoons of that hot summer I learned just how delicious plain, cold water is. No drink can possibly match it and that’s in the book. Several true instances from my survey experience are included in that conversation: the time I did my business accidentally in a patch of poison ivy, the time Bill and I walked between a huge white bull and his cow and calf – a necessity in the job we were doing. The time we almost stumbled over a fawn.
As the two couples leave the restaurant, one of them pats the life-sized glass horse that’s El Caballo’s signature piece. Many years ago I had a dream that was extraordinarily real. My mother and I were visiting my grandmother in the dream. In real life, my strong, lovely Grandmother lived a simple life in a simple house. But in this dream, we all three sat in the living room of her mansion…it had a spate of two-story windows that looked out on rolling hills, her acreage. We laughed and had a great time as we talked together. I remember that one of the many incredible artifacts in her home was a life-sized transparent glass horse, filled with red wine. So the horse made its way into the novel.
Talking about mothers, Dee’s own mother is never seen. She stays far in the background, an empty alcoholic who leads an isolated life. This woman was drawn from someone who lived in a garage apartment not far from where I grew up. She had a daughter who I visited a couple of times and who visited me, and a son. They grew up…as kids do…and the daughter didn’t have the best sort of life, but the boy grew into the kindest adult and he and his wife took in foster kids and were a constructive community force. John Grisham once said that it’s good to include something to help your readers care about your protagonist, and I hoped having a mother who was barely a mother would help Dee in that way.
I’ve never been the cause of a car accident, but during the time I was writing the novel, a car backed right into me and the girl got out and said, “Oh, did I run into you?” To which there was just one correct answer. So I used that in the book as a way to introduce one of my major characters, Angel.
I also managed, while working on the book, to drop a coconut popsicle stick down the kitchen sink drain and had to call a plumber to get it out. So I used that, and the plumber, in the story. He became a major character, as well.
In Part Two, Dee tells her husband’s colleague, Perry, about a butterfly she saw chasing birds, and that’s a true story. When Bill and I lived on the edge of town several years ago, we watched a small tan and orange butterfly chase birds that flew overhead. The butterfly would come back after herding them over the roof and land on the same spot on the walk, fanning those little wings up and down, looking downright cocky, then dart off after another bird or two. We watched it do that about four times during an hour before going back into the house. I named it Top Gun. I told my husband that no one was EVER going to believe us. He said he was telling no one.
Butterflies figure pretty heavily in the novel. In fact, I first called it The Butterfly Affair but that sounded too much like a romance novel, so I changed the title. There’s nothing wrong with romance novels but I didn’t want the title to be misleading. A famous romance author, Carolyn Brown, lives in the town next to mine, and she’s sold almost 3 million copies of her books to date. I can recommend The Ladies Room. Great read!
At one time the Greeks thought butterflies were the actual souls of loved ones who have died. Their word for butterfly was Psyche. The color blue is also used quite a bit throughout – for instance, a signature blue rope is used by the person who strangles victims. Blue rope from Walmart.
There’s not much actual gore in this murder mystery – just enough to raise some goosebumps. One woman had this to say about my book in her Amazon 5-star review:
What an excellent read! The murder mystery is interesting and not at all predictable, but it’s not the main point of the book. The characters and their relationships are what pulled me in, especially the longtime female friendship that forms the book’s emotional core. The main character’s thoughts and feelings are realistic and relatable, and Dee makes fascinating connections between ideas she has learned about during her life just like real people do. Sometimes characters’ lives seem to begin and end with the story being told in the book, but Dee is what we learned in school to call a “rounded” character. I feel like I know her after reading this book, and she’s someone I would like to be friends with. If you normally avoid crime-related fiction, don’t be scared away by the murders in this book. Dee’s story is serious, but she’s fun, and this novel is definitely literary fiction.