D. R. Martin & Richard Audry Books


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Where the heck is Beaver Tail County?

For fans of the classic Cat Who series, one of the enduring mysteries has always been where exactly is Moose County? Where do Qwilleran and his two sleuthing cats—Koko and Yum Yum—actually live and bust crime? The author, Lillian Jackson Braun, described the location as “400 miles north of everywhere.” But readers are pretty sure that the place is somewhere in Michigan. I’ve always figured the Upper Peninsula. But others speculate that it’s north of Detroit, on the thumb of the mitten that Lower Michigan looks like.

When I came up with the idea for the King Harald mysteries, I set it in a place called Beaver Tail County. And I’ve purposely been vague about where that is. All I’ve ever said is that it’s about two hours up the interstate from “the Cities.” I wanted Beaver Tail and New Bergen to be my own creations, taking bits and pieces of my home state and mashing them together.

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Now if you’re from the American Upper Midwest, you’ve probably guessed that “the Cities” is shorthand for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, here in Minnesota. I’m not aware of any other urban areas in this part of the country that are so nicknamed, although Iowa and Illinois do have their Quad Cities. (I’ve visited there several times, once for a project involving John Deere. A fun four town. Bix Beiderbecke country, too.)

But even though I’ve located New Bergen two hours north of the Cities, in my mind it’s a medley of areas that I love in the state. Beaver Tail County is farmland and prairie and pine forest and lakes and rocky cliffs. It has pretty little towns that resemble Grand Marais and Ely and Lanesboro and Northfield and New Ulm. It even has a well-ranked college, St. Magnus.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a cozy series like the King Harald Mysteries is that I get to create a little town that I myself would love to live in. And since I’ve made Andy interim mayor of New Bergen, I can even control the politics. Now if only someone could create a Holodeck simulation of New Bergen, I’d be ready to take up residence.

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Looking to Agatha Christie for Inspiration

Book three of the King Harald Mysteries is moving along, though slower than I had hoped. The tale plays out in only about twenty-four hours and all the action takes place at a vacation resort socked in by a blizzard. As I anticipated, I’m finding it tougher to write within those constraints of pacing and plot. All my other mysteries have had more elbow room, in terms of time and real estate. Although my work-in-progress is not a locked-room mystery per se, I thought I might find some inspiration watching how one of the titans of mystery handled a similar situation.

Several years ago Acorn, the distributor of British TV shows, bought a controlling interest in the Agatha Christie estate. And one of the first fruits of that new arrangement is the moody, stylish production of And Then There Were None. A few decades ago the title had been Ten Little Indians, now considered culturally insensitive. And Christie’s original title can no longer even be said in any kind of polite company. In this new three-part television version, the bit of doggerel nursery rhyme that the murders embody is called “Ten Little Soldiers.”

The plot, of course, is that ten strangers are invited to a house party at a mansion on an isolated island. The first evening there, they are accused—via a phonograph record—of all being murderers. Then they start dropping like flies, each in the manner of the little soldiers. The first one chokes to death (cyanide), the second fails to wake, etc. And, to everyone’s dismay, the boat that is supposed to fetch them fails to show up. The ten are stranded with a secret killer in their midst. Or, more properly, I should say that nine are stranded with the killer.

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I haven’t read or seen the story in many years (in fact, since I was in a high school production of it, playing Dr. Armstrong). Even though I didn’t find much in the TV show that helped me out of the pickle I’ve gotten myself in, I still enjoyed seeing again how the great lady of mystery deals with murder and mayhem in a grim, isolated location. Of special note in this Acorn production is the performance of Toby Stephens in my old role of Dr. Armstrong. Of course, he does a much better job than this former seventeen-year-old member of the National Thespian Society. But then I wouldn’t expect anything less from the son of Dame Maggie Smith.

Thank goodness, nothing as dark and deadly as Christie’s plot is going to unfold at the Beaver Tail Resort and Conference Center. No one will die horribly. But—spoiler alert—at least two toes will be broken. And so will my heart, if I can’t figure out how to bring all the plot threads together for a really gung-ho finale. Maybe I need to pack up my unfinished manuscript and book a nice quiet room for a few days on an isolated island…

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St. Paul Pioneer Press Reviews Mary MacDougall

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Two of my Mary MacDougall books just received a very nice review from Mary Ann Grossmann of the St. Paul Pioneer Press—one of the Twin Cities’ two major daily papers. Here is some of what she had to say:

“In the spirit of Nancy Drew and the Corner House Girls… Likable Mary is a bright, inquisitive young woman, although she’s sometimes too headstrong. It’s an old-fashioned series in the best sense of the word. Audry captures the turn-of-the-century period perfectly, when young women like Mary were trying to burst out of Victorian expectations to become their own person.”

You can read the whole review here, as a part of Mary Ann’s Minnesota authors roundup.


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Third & Last Johnny Graphic Under Way

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It’s been three years since I published the second Johnny Graphic novel. And I’ve been thinking about the third and final tale on and off since then. Well, one can brainstorm and outline only so much. Which is why, a couple of weeks ago, I started writing the thing. The working title—which may become the actual title—is Johnny Graphic and the Last Ghost.

You’ll recall that Johnny and his friends had just helped vanquish the zombie threat in the Royal Kingdom. Now it’s off to Okkatek Island to search for the dark mage Morbrec, who taught Percy Rathbone his evil tricks. Johnny, though, has other plans—plans that get him into big trouble.

Though the Johnny Graphic books are classified as “Middle Grade,” I’ve had lots of very positive reviews from grown-up readers, too. One of them even said that I did for ghosts what Isaac Asimov did for robots. That’s high praise indeed. (Pats himself on the back.)


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Vivian Maier Legal Dispute Resolved

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Many months ago I did a post here about the Chicago street photographer Vivian Maier. She was the children’s nanny who, over several decades, shot tens of thousands of street photos. Her work, of very high quality, was only discovered after her death, when photography collectors bought the bulk of her negatives at an abandoned goods auction. In 2013 there was a riveting documentary about Maier called Finding Vivian Maier. I highly recommend you check it out.

Well, subsequently a fly flew into the ointment, in the form of an attorney who located a cousin of Maier’s. This cousin, in all likelihood, owned some or all of the rights to her images. This led to the legal standoff just now apparently resolved.

On one side you had collectors who owned the negatives needed to make and sell prints and posters and other imagery involving Maier’s work. On the other side was the cousin who owned the intellectual property rights, without which none of the images could be sold. Kind of a legal deadlock.

But now, hopefully, we can begin to see more of the photographic riches that Maier mined over the course of her adult life.

Go here to read the Chicago Tribune story on the settlement. The details are being kept confidential by order of the judge.


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King Harald & Johnny Graphic Updates

It was about a year ago that I published my second canine cozy mystery, King Harald’s Heist. I’m happy to report that the first draft of Harald and Andy’s third adventure is better than half completed. Its working title is King Harald’s Snow Job and it finds our two heroes snowbound in a luxury resort with the indomitable Aunt Bev, and several hundred other women. Needless to say, mayhem and mirth ensue.

In a cozy mystery, the clockwork of the plot is always challenging to work out. But in humorous cozies, such as the King Harald series, equally challenging is how to earn laughs without waxing corny. Sometimes to know if you’re doing it successfully, you have to put some distance between yourself and the story. So I’ve decided to let King Harald’s Snow Job marinate for a week or two, while I think it over and come back to it fresh.

During my break from Andy and Harald, I’ll be starting the third and final book of the Johnny Graphic trilogy—tentatively titled Johnny Graphic and the Last Ghost. I’m excited as heck to return to Johnny’s world, c. 1936. All hell is about to break loose, and only Johnny and his friends can stop it.

While Johnny Graphic isn’t primarily a humorous story, there are plenty of laughs and smiles. But unlike King Harald, the jokes in Johnny Graphic arise naturally from the people and ghosts and situations. I’m not looking for them—they just happen. It’s an easier type of humor to write. Just consider some of the classic kids’ stories, in books and in film. From Inside Out and Matilda to the early Harry Potters and Wind in the Willows. Serious stories unfold, but funny things happen along the way. They’re tales with humor, but not humorous tales.

I think that most authors would agree that humorous tales are hard to write. Simply consider the humorous yarns of P.G. Wodehouse. Those gut-busting waves of gags with Jeeves and Wooster were the result of meticulous, obsessive hard work—charted on walls like a military campaign or a complex piece of architecture. Humor, as they say, is a very serious business.


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New Paperback Edition for Travis McGee & Me

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A couple of years ago I took my twenty-two blog posts about the adventures of Travis McGee and turned them into an e-book. I’m happy to note that it has been a steady seller ever since. Now I’ve put Travis McGee & Me into print in this slender paperback edition. I guess it’s an appropriate sort of commemoration of my eight years of blogging on John D. MacDonald’s famous fictional hero and related topics—my first foray into blogging.

You can order it from Amazon here. To get the book from CreateSpace, click here.

The book will become available from other leading online booksellers in coming weeks. If your local bookstore has the capacity to order print-on-demand books, you will be able to buy the book there as well.