Thursday, June 26, 2014

Murder and Mother Love

Please welcome my Wednesday guest on Thursday: Donis Casey. She is the author of seven Alafair Tucker Mysteries: The Old Buzzard Had It Coming, Hornswoggled, The Drop Edge of Yonder, The Sky Took Him, Crying Blood, The Wrong Hill to Die On, and Hell With the Lid Blown Off (June 2014). The award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma and Arizona during the booming 1910s. She lives in Tempe, Arizona. Readers can enjoy the first chapter of each book on her web site She also blogs biweekly about writing at

Publisher's Weekly’s starred review of Hell With the Lid Blown Off, April 14 2014:  "A huge tornado brings unexpected trouble to the people of Boynton, Okla., in Casey’s excellent seventh Alafair Tucker mystery... As the action builds to a surprising denouement, Casey provides an engaging portrait of the close-knit society that was commonly found in the rural Midwest at the time. Alafair Tucker, her large family, and their friends are a pleasure to spend time with."

 For more information on Donis’ novels, visit


Write what you know, all the writing teachers say. I, Donis, am a childless urbanite ex-academic. So what do I choose to write about? That’s right, a mother of ten children. However: here is an experience to which all can relate. Once upon a time, while in a grocery store, I saw a woman being terrorized by her small child. “Johnny,” she kept pleading, “don’t do that. Don’t touch that. Be quiet.” And did little Johnny pay attention to his mother? He did not. My thought on observing this pitiful scene was this – my mother would have jerked my arm out of its socket if I had behaved like that in public. I know how to mother better than that poor woman, I thought, and I don’t even have any children.

The Alafair Tucker Mysteries feature a woman in her early forties who lives with her husband, Shaw, and their ten children on a prosperous farm in Muskogee County, Oklahoma, during the booming 1910s. Alafair never sets out to solve murders, but all those pesky kids keep getting involved in unsavory situations and need their mother to help get them out of trouble. Fortunately for me, the author, Alafair is the kind of woman who will do anything, legal or not so legal, for her kids. It gives me some interesting--and sometimes morally ambiguous--stories to tell.

But how, you may ask, can an early-twentieth-century farm wife and mother of ten solve murder mysteries? After all, she has to fix dinner and do the laundry. She doesn’t have the freedom or the inclination to go about gathering forensic evidence. She leads a life that is so busy that it wouldn’t be realistic if she could easily drop everything on a whim and go off to gather clues. But Alafair knows everybody in the county and doesn’t have a second thought about worming information out of anybody who crosses her path. She has her army of grown and half-grown children to snoop for her.  She knows the postmistress, the neighbors, and the ladies at church; a web of women who are willing to help her.  Her information network is better than the sheriff’s. She has a way of knowing things about people, too, almost a sixth sense that comes from having so many children. She doesn’t believe for a minute that being loving makes her weak or vulnerable. Love gives her teeth and claws. It makes her dangerous. It makes her a remarkable sleuth.

Once upon a time people learned to parent by observing their own parents and grandparents and
practicing on their many younger siblings, nieces and nephews. By the time a person grew up, s/he was already a skilled child caregiver. It’s not so easy for young parents any more. People don’t grow up in big family groups like they did in Alafair’s day. As for me, I have much younger siblings and observed expert parenting first hand. I was also an elementary school teacher for a while, which enlightened me, as well. (Interestingly, when I became a supervisor of adults, I found that the same techniques I learned for getting 12-year-olds to behave worked just as well on grown-ups.)

My observation is that twenty-first-century parents have different child raising goals than did parents in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In Alafair’s day, the general belief was that a parent’s job was to raise children to be self-sufficient, good citizens, and moral. Happiness and success, though hoped for, were secondary. (I do not intend to denigrate modern parents. It’s a hard task and a hard world out there. It’s just different.)

It’s true, though, that it’s easier for me to romanticize parenting, having never had to do it. Somebody asked C.S. Lewis how he could write so well for children, not having any himself. “I was a child, once,” he replied. All I can say about myself is that I’ve seen some pretty skilled mothering in my day. And I was a child once, too.






Sandy Cody said...

Love the sound of this, particularly that this mother puts her kids to work, finding out what she needs to know. There's something about big noisy families. Have to admit, though, that sometimes 2 seemed like a lot to me.

Sandra de Helen said...

I am going straight to your website to read a first chapter! You start out answering my first question, so I'm betting you have created a terrific series.

Donis Casey said...

Back in the day people raised their own workforce, Sandy.

Donis Casey said...

Thanks, Sandra, and thank you Judy, for hosting me.