I’m often asked where I get my ideas. The idea for Eat Crow and Die came to me back in 2008 when a boat exploded on the Black River in South Haven, Michigan. The explosion injured two men, a woman, and a child.
Back then I didn’t know how I would use that idea. It wouldn’t fit in with the book I was working on at the time—which was As the Crow Flies, the second P.J. Benson mystery—so I stored the idea of an exploding boat in my subconscious, only to have it sneak out as I was writing the ending of As the Crow Flies. That book ends with P.J. wondering if she is pregnant and with Kalamazoo Sheriff’s Deputy Wade Kingsley, P.J.’s lover, on his 32’ cruiser with his ex-wife, her new husband, and Wade’s six-year-old son, Jason,
Having consciously—or subconsciously—written that ending, I decided having Wade’s boat explode would be a perfect way to start Eat Crow and Die.
In the actual explosion, the boat was in its slip, and the fire damaged several boats around it as well as the dock. Although two of the people on the boat were critically injured, no one died. Several days after the explosion, I walked over to look at the damage. The remains of the boat had been taken away, but parts of the fly bridge were still on the dock, where it had been thrown during the explosion, and the boat slip was badly burned.
Rather than have Wade’s boat explode while in its slip, I decided to put it on Lake Michigan, not too far from shore. (So the explosion could be seen and filmed from South Beach.)
I loved the idea of the explosion, but then I had to come up with a “Why and how?” Why did the boat explode; what caused it to explode? It took me a long time to find the answer to that question. I read books, researched explosives, and looked at articles about other boat explosions. Mentally I tried and ultimately discarded several possibilities…until I came up with an answer.
Besides the explosion, since I wanted to make Wade look suspicious, I had to figure out how investigating law enforcement would treat one of their own. So I called and talked to a detective in the Van Buren Sheriff’s Department. I told him I was writing a book and then asked him who would investigate a boat exploding on Lake Michigan.
“A boat exploded on Lake Michigan,” he repeated, his voice raising an octave.
“It’s fiction,” I quickly reassure him. “Fiction. A made up situation.”
Once he calmed down, he was very helpful.
So now I had the event, the steps that law enforcement would take, and a reason for P.J. to be involved. (If she didn’t figure out who planted the bomb, the father of her unborn child would go to jail.)
Next I had to figure out who did it and why. To be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly who did cause the explosion until I’d written two-thirds of the book. When I did figure it out, I had my story.
Eat Crow and Die is now available as both a hardcover and an e-book. If you live near Kalamazoo, the book is available at Kazoo Books (either store). Eat Crow and Die is also the July Staff pick for the Grand Rapids Public Library System.