Inspiration


The places we write about—whether it is the fictional Echo Bay Michigan of "A Thousand Bones" or the actual Captiva Island, Florida—are very real to us. And we work hard to bring them to life for you. So, take a trip through our "location pictures" and see the real places of Louis Kincaid's world.

 

Heart of Ice

 

The Killing Song

 

The Little Death

When we created Louis and selected Michigan as the home of upbringing with his foster parents, we didn't realize he was destined to become a snowbird. But because of what we put him through in DEAD OF WINTER, we had to kick him out of Michigan, and we picked Florida only because Kris was living there. Now, ten books into the series, he shuttles between the north and south—and our fans in both states are always asking us, "when is he coming back?"

Louis had been in Michigan for the last two books, so with THE LITTLE DEATH, we decided he had to come back to Florida. But where? We were a little burned out on Sanibel-Captiva, and we certainly didn't want him digging in the over-tilled earth of Miami. And we wanted to team him up again with his buddy Mel Landata for some kind of "fish out of water" tale.

Kris, when she was a dance critic, had gotten an insider glance at Palm Beach society. So we thought, "Palm Beach?" What's not to like for a mystery writer? It's an island populated with rich people who will do anything to protect their privacy. It has been a hotbed of real scandal, secrets and debauchery. And, like the beautiful woman who Louis meets there, it is utterly seductive. So the setting was definitely the inspiration this time out. Then we decided we wanted to write about one of Palm Beach's strangest denizens—the walker, a stylish gent whose sole job in life is escorting lonely socialites when their rich husband are too busy. It wasn't hard to figure out a crime after that.

But it still wasn't enough. Then, one day, while looking at a map of Palm Beach County, we saw a tiny town 50 miles due west of the island city of Palm Beach called Devil's Garden. Intrigued, we went there and discovered the rural and equally cloistered "island" world of the Florida cattle ranchers. We saw an abandoned cattle pen and knew that is where our killer left the first victim. But why? And what was the connection to ritzy Palm Beach?

Three hundred pages later, we knew the answer. Like Louis, we had quite an experience dipping our toes into these two strange worlds. We hope you do, too.

 

South of Hell

Although it didn't begin this way, it seems now that many of our stories have sprouted from our childhood experiences, and have been flavored with our affection for history and what once was. Hell, Michigan is a real place, as any Michigander can tell you. It's not a scary town ripe with monsters and cults. It's a cute little speck of a place tucked in the rolling hills of southern Michigan. Though the devilish souvenir stores might seem silly to most, its people are friendly and proud, using their imaginations, ingenuity and their town's name to become one of the "hottest" tourists' stops in the state.

That said, as writers, we couldn't resist the fiendish imagery that the name of the town offered. We wanted to put Louis and Joe back together and when we chose Michigan as our general location, the idea to use the real town Hell as a base was a natural pick. When we discovered that Hell rested right along the forgotten paths of slavery's Underground Railroad to Canada, we knew immediately that we would weave that slice of tragic but inspirational American history—and a piece of Louis's personal history as well—into our book.

The result was a story that connects two worlds and two periods of time: The dangerous world of the brave people who operated, and used, the Underground Railroad and a strangely haunted and tortured young girl, who turns to Louis to help her recapture her life—both this one she is living now and one she believes she lived a hundred years ago.

As for the reincarnation part of the story? Well, we've always been interested in the subject, and several years ago, when Kris met Dr. Brian Weiss (author of Many Lives, Many Masters), she began to look into the clinical applications of past life regression therapy. It was a difficult subject to deal with in the book, but in the end it worked well because we used it to play up Louis's core belief as a law officer—that you can only depend on the evidence that you can really prove.

 

A Thousand Bones

Going "up north" was a ritual for any kid who grew up in Michigan. No matter how rich or poor your family was, a vacation to some resort, lake or campground north of Lansing was something you always had to look forward to. We were no exception. After our parents divorced, we were pretty much raised by our father Al. And every year, he would bundle us up in the sedan and we would make the trek "up north." Usually, it was to Houghton Lake, the big inland lake that sat like a watery wart on the I-75 spine that runs up the state. Houghton Lake was a kids' paradise with Dairy Queens, Go-Kart rides, Putt-Putt golf—and for the teenagers, the Music Box, where you could dance under the stars with your summer romance. But our dad took us to all the other hot spots up north. The Sleeping Bear Dunes on Lake Michigan, Frankenmuth, Holland, across the Mackinac Bridge to Tahquamenon Falls and the Soo Locks, and of course, to Mackinac Island.

When we decided to spin off our character Joette Frye (who first appeared with Louis in A KILLING RAIN) into her own series, we weren't sure where to put her. Although she was a Miami homicide detective, Florida just didn't feel right. But then we realized "up north" was the place she belonged. Her fictional town of Echo Bay is modeled after a real village called Leland up in the Leelanau Peninsula. We wanted to give her a home where she could truly implant her heart. We think Leelanau is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Her first case there as a rookie is a horrific experience. But after her baptism by fire, we know Joe is going to have a long and happy life there. Louis will continue to live in Captiva. So now Louis and Joe have come to represent a part of ourselves—Michiganders who went south, but who always feel the pull of home.

 

An Unquiet Grave

When we were kids, we used to ride our bikes a couple miles down to Michigan and Merriman avenues to the place we knew only as Eloise. It was a sprawling mental institution, a creepy red-brick place behind high iron gates. We used to stare at the patients sitting in swings in the yard and wonder what horrors they had they done, who had they killed to be locked away inside Eloise. Kids do that—inflate reality. But mental illness was scary back in the 50s, and Eloise loomed large in our imaginations. Forty-some years later, we were in Michigan and visited Eloise. Most the buildings were gone, but the nice folks who are trying to preserve Eloise's history let us look around. They didn't know where the old Potter's Field was, however. So we trekked across the highway, past a crumbling viaduct and into an abandoned corn field. We were lost, until we saw two giant pine trees that rumor said guarded the lost cemetery. Inside were thousands of small numbered gravestones imbedded in the grass, the only signs of the Eloise's lost souls. That was the moment we knew we had story to tell.

 

A Killing Rain

We started with the calculated idea that we wanted to write a "ticking clock" story, one with a compression of time and urgency. Then we asked ourselves: What would Louis care about? He was trying to start a relationship with Susan Outlaw and we realized Louis's ambivalence about her young son Ben was worthy of exploring. So when Ben is kidnapped, it set in play not only a roller coaster plot, but a personal quest for Louis to make sure the boy is saved—both physically and emotionally. What we didn't foresee was that Louis would find a soul mate in Joe Frye. She was to be a man originally, but because we had to accommodate the winner of a Name A Character contest, we decided Miami PD would have to have a female detective. Thus was Joe born. And damn, it was past time for Louis to have a woman in his life, as our readers kept reminding us.

 

Island of Bones

Kris had a long-favorite song by the J. Geils Band called "Monkey Island." Its haunting lyrics say, in part:

No one could explain it,
what went on that night.
How every living thing
just dropped out of sight.
We watched them take the bodies
and row them back to shore.
Nothing ever like it happened here before.
There ain't no life on Monkey Island..."

The song's ambiguity had always bugged her so she played the song for Kelly and asked: "What the hell happened on that island?" But it wasn't until we were sitting at a book signing in Fort Myers and a lady told us she was writing a book about multi-generational families living together that the plot clicked in our heads. From there, we decided our island family was of Spanish descent and we researched the culture of the isolated villages of Asturias in northern Spain, where even today some remnants of old Latin-tinged customs survive. Everything fell into place after that. A year after the book came out, Kris had a chance to go to Asturias. She was amazed to find it exactly as we had envisioned it.

 

Thicker Than Water

This is our "quiet mystery." A true puzzle, heavy with twists and turns and bread-crumb clue trails. It isn't as "thriller" oriented as our other books, and we can't even recall where the original idea came from. It was somewhat inspired by the famous quote, "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." But that was too easy. So we went and read the quote in its context in Shakespeare's "King Henry VI." We discovered the quote referred to a man falsely accused of a crime, and how he feared that once accused, he could never redeem his reputation. That became the theme behind the story about the despicable ex-con Jack Cade and the murdered teenage girl Kitty Jagger. It's our only real whodunit.

 

Paint It Black

We didn't really want to write a serial killer book. It's so hard to make it fresh. But our editor insisted, so we mulled it over and couldn't come up with anything that floated our boat. Then Kris was talking to a family member over breakfast one day. The young man, Dave Donson, had just finished part of his residency in a psychiatric ward and told the fascinating case history of a black man, a schizophrenic who "confabulated" (told lies he truly believed) to the point that he thought he was a white racist who hated black people. We used that germ to get inside the mind of our killer and to create a story that had personal meaning for Louis as he explores his biraciality.

 

Dead of Winter

This was a hard book to write because its plot changed so much during the writing process. We rewrote this book at least ten times until we got it right. Kelly wanted to set a book in northern Michigan, where we had vacationed as kids. And there was something emotionally resonant about the bleak isolation of the winters up there that worked with the themes we were playing with. We also knew we wanted to explore the intense familial bonds of a police department. Another theme emerged: the limits of loyalty among families and the family of cops. What we didn't see coming was who the killer was. We ended up changing it almost at the very last minute.

 

Dark of the Moon

Kelly was living in rural Mississippi and every day, on her way to work, she drove past a dense area of swampy woods. She found herself wondering, "What would happen if they found some old bones out there?" And because of where she was, in a small town infamous for its civil rights history, she wondered further, what would happen if the bones belonged to a long-forgotten lynching victim? Thus was born the idea for Louis's first adventure. But what about Louis himself, where did he come from? Kelly had two very young biracial grandchildren and things were not always easy living in the small town where old habits and prejudices died hard. We realized that by making Louis biracial, we could explore the dichotomy of his living in two worlds. That one decision gave us many more layers to peel back as we delve into Louis's past—and chart his future. Louis Kincaid has many years ahead of him and many things yet to learn. It's our job to just trail behind him, pen in hand, writing it all down for you.