My friend Ann Charles writes the Deadwood Mystery series of novels…and has “Boot Points,” a new Deadwood short story, coming out June 25th. In this guest post, she talks about how her “summer fling” with the legendary South Dakota town unexpectedly turned into an enduring relationship…
Once upon a time, I thought my crush on Deadwood, South Dakota was going to be just a summer fling. Boy, was I wrong. I had fallen head-over-heels.
My fondness for this western town full of rowdy old tales spurred me to write the first book in my Deadwood Mystery series, Nearly Departed in Deadwood. As I filled the pages, I realized the ideas for the colorful characters and their stories had been rattling around in my mind for decades, possibly starting when I was a teenager waiting outside the Prospector Gift Shop in Deadwood for my mom to finish work. Over the years, I soaked up the local history while hiking all over town, strolling around Wild Bill Hickok’s and Calamity Jane’s gravestones at Mount Moriah Cemetery, sitting on the steps outside the Deadwood Public Library, and perusing the tourist shops lining Main Street.
As times changed, so did Deadwood, with casinos replacing many of the stores on Main Street. At first I was sad to see them go, but then I realized that Deadwood had to transform in order to survive.
The same is true of a mystery series. In the second book of my series, I introduced Deadwood’s neighboring town—Lead (pronounced Leed), a five-minute drive “up the hill.” The two towns are like sisters, each enchanting with separate yet intertwined histories. While Deadwood was busy leaving its mark on the history books with tales of Wild Bill Hickok and Seth Bullock, Lead was busy staking its claim on the land. The home of the Homestake Gold Mine for over a century, Lead was the industrial center of the Black Hills. It still has the huge Open Cut mine smack dab in the middle of town.
The Open Cut has always fascinated me. I studied “before” and “after” pictures, read all about its creation (at the Black Hills Mining Museum), and stared at the geological timeline in its terraced walls through the chain-link fence at the Homestake Visitor Center. Why was I so fascinated with a big hole in the ground? Because it revealed a history of hard work, spent lives, and change. It intrigued me how people had adapted to these changes. The stories of their lives could fill books … or a series. If I tossed in a few dead bodies, there would be plenty of material to draw from to fill a mystery series.
These days, Homestake is no longer an operating gold mine; most of the drifts and shafts below the town are filled with water rather than men. But Lead’s industrious spirit is still alive. Coupled with Deadwood’s rough and rowdy past, the towns provide enough fodder, with the right mix of genres, to make a long, twisting tale full of “who-dunnits,” history, humor, paranormal (after all, Deadwood is famous for its ghosts), and a hint of romance.
I’ve now written four novels in the Deadwood Mystery series, as well as two short stories that give backstory on the main character, Violet Parker (a real estate agent and amateur sleuth who also happens to be the single mom of nine-year-old twins). I’m often asked how many more books there will be in the series. When I consider all of the rich, gold-laden history Deadwood and Lead have to offer, I smile like the love-sick fool that I am and say, “A lot more.”
After all, this isn’t just a summer fling I’m having.