Author Interviews

A Group of Ragtag Friends Must Band Together to Solve a Michigan Mystery in NORTHERN LIGHT by Deb Davies

Debut Michigan author Deb Davies offers up an atmospheric psychological thriller in her Coast-to-Coast Michigan Mystery series opener, Northern Light.

Below, she shares more about the characters (both human and animal), writing a mystery, and her love of Michigan in this fun author Q&A.

“A band of ragtag friends solve a mystery. This book is an atmospheric psychological thriller that combines several strong characters in a race to bring a criminal to justice. Thoroughly enjoyed…”

— Lynn Beck, The Washington Post & Washington Life Magazine

About NORTHERN LIGHT: This new series by Deb Davies will especially appeal to readers of mysteries and stories based in Michigan. Rich in Michigan’s local flavor, beauty, and culture, Deb Davies brings that true “up north feeling” into her writing.

After the death of her husband, Claire is finding it hard to adjust to being a widow in northern Michigan. She and her cat quickly find themselves surrounded by visitors, including her best friend, Laurel.

The empty house soon feels more like home until a raven mysteriously appears inside, resulting in a disastrous mess, and a new friend for houseguest Charles, an eccentric ornithologist.

Although the company initially offers the support and distraction Claire needs, random attacks soon escalate and no one is safe.

When the unlikely group comes face-to-face with someone intent on murder, will their newfound friendship be strong enough to protect them?

  1. The book opens with Claire and Laurel, who are clearly lifelong best friends, catching up. What inspired the backstory of their friendship?

Claire and Laurel are each made up of parts of many audaciously brave and funny women that I know. But I have one woman friend who says we were “gutter buddies” together—playing hopscotch, biking through mud puddles, and climbing grape arbors. Our friendship inspired Claire and Laurel’s ability to be separated by changes in their lives but always care about each other.

  1. Tell us more about the characters in the book.

I didn’t want all the characters in my book to be defined by their professions, so Claire is defined by her wide-ranging interests, and Charles, though he’s a postdoctoral student of ornithology, is defined by his interest in all of the natural world and by his at times bumbling conversation. Laurel is burned out from teaching and from divorcing her bed-hopping husband. She wants to take care of Claire, who’s been recently widowed, but she needs attention too, and Arnie, who starts out as a stock cop figure, reveals determination, kindness, and blunt truthfulness.

  1. Ultimately, friendship plays a big, potentially lifesaving role in Northern Light. Is this something you planned from the start, or did this come about as the characters took shape?

Support for each other was bound to help the characters survive the grisly deaths planned for them. How that struggle would play out came about as the characters took shape.

“I really loved this book…a very special offering to me. The writing was so easy and flowed very well…”

— Carol, LibraryThing Early Reviewers
  1. The animals in Northern Light have personality. Tell us about Black Pearl and Oscar and what they add to the book. Was it always your intention to give a pair of animals some of the spotlight?

Animals—almost all rescued stray—have always been a part of my family life. My daughter’s talkative Blue-and-Gold Macaw helped pique my interest in birds. You can’t read much about Michigan without reading about ravens, so Oscar was a natural. Black Pearl and his friend Colby are composites of many cats we’ve loved, and we do currently have a black cat named Olive. The dog we love, Nellie the red-nosed pit bull, will turn up in the next two books. Nellie and Olive are friends and at times sleep together.

  1.  Charles is an ornithologist, and the reader will not get to the end of Northern Light without learning something new about birds (I certainly did!). Does Charles’s vast knowledge reflect your own, or did writing his character require research?

Writing about Charles’s love of birds and other animals took a lot of reading and research, especially when I had a vague idea about a bird, like a Bittern, but it took more than one book to find the quirky way Charles might refer to it.

  1. There’s no mistaking your love for Michigan. What was more exciting: setting your book in a place some readers will be familiar with, or introducing readers who are not familiar with Michigan to a place you hold so dear? What are some of the places in Michigan they’ll get to read about?

Most of the people I know do already love Michigan, but some, from the east and west coast know it from “big scenes”—forests, rivers, dunes, sunsets over water. I wanted to try to capture some of the smaller beauties of wild strawberries, small creeks, and gold tamarack needles. Northern Light is set in the area around Grayling, the Au Sable River, and Big Creek (one of many so named) that runs through the one blinker town of Luzerne, Michigan. The next book in the Coast-to-Coast Michigan Mystery series is set in the eastern and central parts of the Upper Peninsula, and the third is set in west Michigan on the “sunset” coast of Lake Michigan. I also included some outstanding restaurants, because the state has a lot more varied cuisine than many people know about, and my characters can linger and talk over food.

  1. Part of the appeal of your series is how you bring Michigan to life. What is your process?

To write about a real place in a fictional story, I need to know the place intimately. Long ago, I learned that I, at least, can’t write about places based on reading or Wikipedia. So, for instance, for the three books in this series, I know the sandy back roads, Northern flickers, and low growing blueberry bushes of the Au Sable area; the way Lake Michigan’s waves wash into small inlets in the Garden Peninsula; the wild roses that line fences on Lake Michigan’s southwest coast.

 I try to remember experiences with the concentration a child brings to the world: the first peony buds, the first dandelions, and the first bulging-eyed toad. What did a pebble feel like when you dug it out of the mud? What shadows did trees cast across sidewalks and grass?

To create memories I can draw on, I have to walk through the places I’m trying to describe, sit in the grass, maybe chew on a grass stem. I don’t mean I spent every minute of travel trying to jam things into my brain: that would be exhausting, and part of our memories are subconscious and can only be summoned by musing and dreams. But taking the time to experience a place, using all the senses, is a luxury most of us rarely give ourselves. And maybe it’s not a luxury. Maybe it’s a necessity, if we value the green world.

  1. Tell us a bit about your interest in writing mysteries. Is this also your preferred genre to read?

I’ve always loved writing mysteries. Even when we’re young children, we sense things are wrong in the world. The best of parents can’t protect their children from threatening news. Mysteries let us symbolically encapsulate evil and exorcise it. I love reading mysteries, though I also read books on nature, biographies, fantasies, histories, poetry, and books for young people. A well-written book is addictive regardless of genre.

  1. Often, when readers hear “mystery,” they assume murder mystery. While Northern Light is that, there’s a heavy dose of harassment before the events of the book take a deadly turn. How did you decide on this menacing, slightly unconventional buildup?

The first incident of harassment came from my interest in learning that ravens and owls being rehabilitated after being shot, or clipped by cars, and I’d read that ravens can recognize people who help them. I wanted a way to bring two at first incompatible characters, Claire and Charles, from Grayling to a cabin on big creek, and thought transporting a hurt raven would give them time to bond. After that it seemed natural to increase the level of tension gradually, using descriptions of nature and animals when I could.

  1. How long have you been writing?

I remember writing a story about a dog (illustrated, of course) in first grade, and poetry in fourth grade. I’ve always written, but concentrated on poetry for years. I took courses in poetry from Diane Wakoski when I got my master’s degree in Creative Writing. She was generous enough to read a mystery novel I’d written and said I lacked experience with the setting I was trying to describe but that I should keep on writing mysteries. The imagery from poetry stood me in good stead when mystery characters arrived in my dreams, years later, and demanded to be put in a book.

  1. What’s next in the series?

White Nights, the next book in the series, offers a sight-seeing tour of the Upper Peninsula, including a visit to the Tahquamenon Falls, where rescuing a starving dog spirals the trip out of control.

About the Author:

Deb Davies enjoys writing mysteries about her favorite place: Michigan. She is passionate about rescued animals and nature, and also enjoys classical music. She resides with her husband, Rick, in an old farmhouse and they summer in a cabin on a trout stream near Luzerne, Michigan. Northern Light is the debut novel in her Coast-to-Coast Michigan Mystery series.

Available Formats & Purchasing Information:

Hardcover: 978-1-64397-120-9

Softcover: 978-1-64397-121-6

Ebook: 978-1-64397-122-3

LCCN: 2019954386

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Visit our website to learn more about Northern Light and other titles available from BHC Press.

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