June 3, 2024

The Value of Details

When a body drops from a balcony at Ford’s Theatre, rumors begin to fly. Did she jump? Was she pushed? Was it intentional or an accident? To find the truth, Charlotte and Ruth Dupree have to go back decades to a mystery at the oldest girls school in Washington DC. A school that they both attended. A school with a tragic secret from their past. From the majestic setting of Ford’s Theater to the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress, join the Dupree Sisters as they employ their usual charm and wit to untangle the mystery around A Fall at Ford’s Theatre.

I have been writing fiction for more than twenty years. I’ve been quite lucky to find so much success and have such a broad readership. When I write a story, I try to think about what kind of story I would like to read. Fortunately, this perspective has helped me write my books.

One thing I’ve always enjoyed as a reader is being able to learn something when I read. Maybe it’s because I’m a retired teacher, but when I pick up a book, I like a good story, but I also like to learn a few interesting facts along the way. For the readers of my Dupree Sisters Mystery Series, I can sense we have this in common.

Set in Washington DC, my Dupree Sisters Mystery Series centers on two of Washington’s oldest socialites, Charlotte and Ruth Dupree. They have never been married, live in the home they were raised in and circulate through Washington’s social circles. In each book in the series, they use their social connections to solve mysteries.

In addition to enjoying a good mystery, readers of this series have told me more than once that they enjoy learning interesting facts about Washington DC when they read these books. As a writer, I find it helpful to know what this particular readership expects from this series, which is a good mystery and has interesting facts.

The fourth book in this series, A Fall at Ford’s Theatre, was just released. It took me a year to write. In addition to the plot and characters, there was a good deal of online research I did to provide readers with facts about Washington DC. Going to websites to read articles. Watching videos that provided tours of buildings. Pictures of interiors of buildings. Needless to say, it was tedious work, but that was only half of the process. The other half of this process was how to incorporate facts into the story.

One way I used the facts I found was to enhance a setting for readers. For example, when I began this book, I had an image in my head of a body falling from a balcony at Ford’s Theatre. All I knew about Ford’s theater was that it was where President Lincoln was shot. When I did some research, I was fascinated to learn how the theater had actually been shut down after Lincoln’s assassination. When it reopened in 1932, it was turned into a museum. Eventually, the theater opened in 1968. Gerald Ford would become the first president to attend a show there since Lincoln. All good facts that I was able to use in the opening chapters.

Along with Ford’s Theatre, I also did similar research into the Library of Congress. The facts I found allowed me to write in great detail about the appearance of the inside of the building. These facts helped to immerse the reader in the setting. This was especially true for the Great Hall and the Main Reading Room, two of the massive chambers in the Library of Congress. I think details of a setting really enhance the experience for the reader.

In addition to Ford’s Theatre and the Library of Congress, I also dug up some historical facts about Georgetown Preparatory Visitation School, the oldest girl’s school in Washington DC. I was able to incorporate facts about the history of the school into dialogue during a scene between one of the Dupree sisters and her goddaughter. Using facts this way not only educates the reader, but it allows the characters to share their perspective on something.

In addition to doing research on well-known places, I also did research on a few restaurants where scenes take place. The Monocle is known in Washington as a restaurant where Republican and Democratic legislatures come to dine. The establishment is close to the House of Representatives and the Senate. Inside The Monocle there is a wall filled with framed photos of famous senators, judges and representatives who were patrons from years gone by. Another nice touch, famous political quotes painted on the exposed beams of the dining areas. These details are shared with readers through dialogue when the main characters go to The Monocle for lunch.

Another location I researched was The City Tavern Club. This place is best known as the tavern where John Adams stayed when he would visit Washington DC to check on its construction. I have a scene with the Dupree Sisters attending a fundraiser at this location. While I didn’t do a lot with the details of it, the history again gave my characters some interesting dialogue to share these facts.

While setting and description are one way of establishing a scene, factual details can raise the level of writing for readers. Whether they are used in dialogue, or used to enhance a setting, or used to add dimension to a character, interesting facts will give readers an added level of pleasure. My wife loves to read and often says she loves to come home from work and “get lost” in a good book. Taking the time to research a place or an event, and to find some interesting facts, is the best way to help a reader get lost in a story.

Allen B. Boyer lives near Hershey, Pa with his wife and three children. He also lives near a retirement home that he visits with his children and his dog, Buster. If you enjoyed Gumshoe Granny Investigates, please check out Bess in the other books in the series, as well as his Dupree Sisters Mystery series and his August Summerfield Series.

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