In the midst of getting my third Mrs. Meade Mystery into shape for publication, it occurred to me that I've never really talked here about where and how the series came into being. Partly, I suppose, because its beginnings are shrouded in the fogs that always seem to obscure the details of my initial inspiration in hindsight—leaving me with a complete sketch of a story idea in hand, wondering, "Now where exactly did this come from, anyway?" A guest post that I wrote several months before the release of The Silver Shawl mentions some of the things that inspired Mrs. Meade, but sheds no light on when the ideas first entered my brain or how they came together. I do remember vaguely that the plot of The Silver Shawl may have started as something I mentally tried out as a Western story and found that it didn't quite work that way; but the characters in the final version are totally different. Exactly when and where Mrs. Meade herself first appeared, or where Sheriff Royal went from a useful side character to a full-fledged sidekick, I couldn't say.
There is one element of the series' development that stands out pretty clearly in my mind, though; something which I feel is an integral part of it—the setting. Colorado in the first decade of the 20th century. Again, I can't say exactly when I picked this time and place, but I do remember how and why. It came about mainly because of two books I read, and a random sentence in a third. The first was Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden, and the second was Clover by Susan Coolidge. The former was nonfiction, the latter fiction; both were set in Colorado, and the descriptions of the setting in both books fascinated me. To begin with, I've always adored mountains. In addition, the juxtaposition of early 20th-century modernity with the remnants of the frontier West, as portrayed in Nothing Daunted, presented all sorts of fascinating possibilities for stories. Edwardian-era Colorado had both thriving cities and remote settlements. Ranching, mining, railroads were industries that held plenty of interest. Also, the plot of Clover was driven by the heroine's accompanying her younger brother to Colorado for his health—which opened up even further possibilities. As a popular resort for invalids and travelers of all sorts and social classes, where could I find a better place for bringing in whatever characters I needed to fill the cast of a mystery?
The clincher might have been a sentence in Initials Only, a 1911 mystery by Anna Katharine Green, which I read just a short time after reading Nothing Daunted. A family of travelers staying at a New York hotel, filling a small but important role as witnesses to the murder that takes place in one of its lobbies, was referred to as being "well known in Denver." Green's work in general had a significant influence on the development of Mrs. Meade—not only did she create one of the first lady detectives in her Miss Amelia Butterworth, but the milieu of Victorian and Edwardian life portrayed in her books was one of the things that I enjoyed most about them, and which I wanted to reflect in my own historical mysteries. The reference to Denver seemed to link this in neatly with the Colorado setting that already attracted me.
I feel I've yet to fully explore the possibilities of the setting. Hopefully that will develop further in future stories. But it has provided me with a distinct backdrop to work against, and has even sparked the beginnings of some plots by itself. One thing is certain: I know I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of its potential!
(And incidentally, after searching for a picture to illustrate this post, I really want to go to Colorado myself...)
image credit: Telluride, Colorado (Wikimedia Commons)