Monday, April 29, 2013

Guest Author C. Hope Clark on Setting Fiction "Out in the Sticks"

I'm delighted to welcome C. Hope Clark as my guest today. If you have seriously explored resources for writers, you already know about her website, selected by Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the last 12 years. Her newsletters reach 35,000 readers. She is also author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, as well as The Shy Writer and The Shy Writer Reborn, how-to guides for the introverted writer in a noisy publishing world. To learn more, visit  and  And if you'd like to know more about the Carolina Low Country setting of Clark's mysteries, check out the links at the end of this post. Frogmore Stew? Really?  ~ Sheila

When a Mystery Leaves the City Lights


by C. Hope Clark

In the Carolina Slade Mystery Series, Slade investigates agricultural crime. Death, murder, fraud, you name the crime, happens in the country as easily as in the city, only in more unique manners. And yes, there is a federal agency that specializes in agricultural crime.

A bribe in Lowcountry Bribe turns deadly as landowners die shortly after deeding away their farms. Children are kidnapped. Two attempted rapes. Murder by shotgun in a barn. The hog farmer isn’t quite the hayseed he likes people to believe he is. Then in Tidewater Murder, fraud and embezzlement become wound around voodoo, drugs, and modern day slavery leading to bodies in deep, dark, coastal water.

Out in the sticks, as some people call it, people think they can get away with, well, murder. Wide open spaces give ample chance for body disposal, and rural residents often possess talents and wiles a city dweller can’t imagine. Often that naivetĂ© by urban types gives those rural folks greater odds of getting away with that murder.

Who knows what happens in vacant barns, forty miles from town? Or in distant marshes along the edge of property nobody ever sees from an Interstate? Ever wondered what would happen if you broke down on a two-lane road and had to knock on an old farm house? Most people assume a sweet couple comes to the door, offering lemonade to offset the summer heat, when they could be serial killers with a dozen bodies at the bottom of an irrigation pond, or buried two-feet down in mud and feces, half-eaten by hogs.

The American countryside has an ample supply of heroes and villains. A wide porch on a white-washed home doesn’t necessarily interpret into homespun. That genteel man with the farmer’s tan, John Deere hat and boots could make a girl’s heart beat faster as the perfect gent with strong arms and hands, but he might perform all sorts of sick, maniacal deeds deep in the woods.

On the other hand, the rural countryside, in its wide-open, fresh air image, can steal one’s breath. The smell of autumn in a harvested field or fresh-turned soil in the spring. The undulating waves across a soybean field. Cardinals, wrens and larks singing morning songs. The freedom of letting a dog run for miles, and the beauty of a sun-set from that wooden porch swing. Standing on the edge of a lake watching a heron swoop in like some prehistoric bird.

Then there’s the history factor. In Tidewater Murder, we learn about the Gullah culture, and how Gullah predecessors on St. Helena Island were the first slaves freed in the Civil War, allowing them in 1861 to assume control of farmlands, successfully raising rice and indigo. In Charleston, in trying to solve the land control mystery, we learn how General Sherman’s march through the state burned many records, a perpetual reminder of the northern domination of the time.

And who can overlook the food? Every locale has cuisine specialities. Frogmore stew, fried green tomatoes, shrimp, even barbecue assume a role in Slade’s stories. Fresh vegetables and home cooking.

A writer can take any profession, say farming, plop it into almost any setting, say the rural South, define the culture and history, and have a wonderful, colorful, mind-boggling tale. It’s all in the telling. No longer do we need our mysteries only in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. Hollywood, South Carolina may not be the glitter and gold of its sister city in California, but you might find a whole new world well worth the visit, with crimes you never thought possible, performed by mannerly people you swore were pure Americana. Which is why you never see the evil coming.


Opening to Tidewater Murder

One of the sharpest rural loan managers we had, Savannah Conroy slung attitude like paint on a canvas, wore sweaters like a Hollywood starlet, and managed an office like Steve Jobs. They’d built the Beaufort office around her to harness that charisma, and then added two more counties to keep her busy.

I glared at the new permanent marker stain on my carpet, as this Beaufort wonder shrieked in my ear. My breakfast, a bowl of instant grits with no butter, sat like a rock in my gut. My empty twenty-two-foot rental truck sat outside my apartment, awaiting boxes I’d packed for a week. Thunder rumbled. It started to rain.

Days didn’t come any more thrilling than this.

I pulled the phone further from my ear. “Savvy,” I said. “Chill. What’s wrong with you?”

“Monroe’s ransacking my files, Slade. He won’t answer my questions when I ask what he’s snooping for.” She exhaled hard. “He’s not listening to me.!

“Dammit,” I grumbled, sitting on the floor and dabbing at the marker stain with a paper towel. “Maybe you need to ask nice.” 
“Bite me,” she replied.
The sky roiled with angry, gunmetal gray clouds. Trees arched. Wind whistled as it whipped around the building, warning me Mother Nature ruled my moving day.
Want to learn more about the culture of The Carolina Slade Mysteries?
·         The Gullah/Geechee Corridor -
·         Recipe for Frogmore Stew -
·         Certified SC Grown -
·         Edisto Island Preservation Alliance -
·         US Department of Agriculture Inspector General’s Office -
C. Hope Clark is editor of, selected by Writer’s Digest’s 101 Best Websites for Writers for the last 12 years. Her newsletters reach 35,000 readers. She is also author of The Carolina Slade Mystery Series, as well as The Shy Writer and The Shy Writer Reborn, how-to guides for the introverted writer in a noisy publishing world. / She’s published by Bell Bridge Books out of Memphis, TN.


  1. Hello, Hope and Sheila,

    Hope, I appreciate your newsletters and read them with interest. Your novel sounds wonderful! I think mysteries imbued with local color are the most interesting.

  2. Hope, a great premise and a window to this vibrant area!

  3. Thanks Jacqueline. I try for the novels to open eyes to the country. It's so fresh and unusual, and crime happens everywhere.