Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Research – The Best Part of Being an Author by Mary Ellis

Besides a good story, there's nothing more thrilling for this reader than feeling as though I've been transported to a place or time I've never been before. Today, Mary Ellis stops by to give us some insight into the on-location research she did for her newest series. -- Sandy

Mary: Personally, I love to travel. As my husband and I investigate spots where we may someday retire, I find plenty of settings for my books. My newest series, Secrets of the South Mysteries, involves a variety of locations south of the Mason Dixon line. My current release, Midnight on the Mississippi, takes place in New Orleans and in the backwaters of Terrebonne, Lafayette, and St. Landry Parishes, Louisiana. In preparation we stayed in the French Quarter at least a dozen times, taking in the sights and sounds both pre and post-Katrina, and sampling every Cajun and Creole dish on the menu. Despite several hurricanes and bad-behaving partygoers, the French Quarter retains its age-old dignity. Utterly charming is the only way I can describe our favorite hotel, The Provincial. In my story, a New Orleans securities broker is accused of murder when his business partner turns up dead. Danger swirls like the mysterious dark water of the bayou as my stockbroker and his greenhorn P.I. encounter sophisticated shell games, blackmail and death threats in Midnight on the Mississippi.

The second of my mystery series takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, home of the blues and plenty of tasty barbeque. I enjoyed plenty of both during my trips to study the after-hours life of a saxophone player and stage his untimely murder. People in both the clubs and in the Mississippi Blues Trail museums were eager to help another music lover. The landmark Peabody Hotel turned out to be so amazing, I wrote the subplot around a fictionalized version of the hotel. It fit well in with the romantic intrigue of What Happened on Beale Street, which will release in February.

The third in the series, yet unnamed, takes place in the sleepy town of Natchez, Mississippi. Perched high on a bluff above the Mississippi River, Natchez becomes the vortex of a murder veiled as a suicide and an elaborate scam to dupe unsuspecting non-profits of every dime they have. Two new private detectives, both burned badly in previous relationships, discover friendship can often be the first step to true love. In a couple of weeks my husband and I will return to Natchez for another go-round of research. So nice to stay in a town too small to get lost in, yet large enough to have friendly people willing to answer a writer’s nosy questions. Then we’ll travel down to Bay St. Louis on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, perfect for the subplot of my mystery. Bay St. Louis has been almost totally rebuilt since that devastating Katrina, ten years ago this month.

Ahhh research…where it’s warm and sunny and a soft breeze blows in from the water to cool a writer’s weary brow. What a lovely way for a Midwest country girl to see the U.S. and be able to deduct part of her expenses along the way.

Do you combine your novel research with your travel? If you don't actually have a book in mind, do you take notes during a trip anyway ... just in case? Do you tend to set your books only in those places you're familiar with?


Mary Ellis has written twelve award-winning novels set in the Amish community andseveral historical romances set during the Civil War. Her latest, Midnight on the Mississippi, first of a new mystery series, Secrets of the South, is set in New Orleans.Mary enjoys traveling, gardening, bicycling and swimming, and lives in Ohio with her husband, dog and cat. She can be found on the web at: or!/pages/Mary-Ellis/126995058236