by Betty Jean Craige
Betty Jean Craige is the author of “Dam Witherston” (2017), and other Witherston Murder Mysteries published by Black Opal Books, and “Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot” (2010), published by Sherman Asher Publishing. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Dam Witherston.
When I started writing my Witherston Murder Mystery series—Downstream, Fairfield’s Auction, and Dam Witherston—I could use two hands to type. Now I am proceeding more slowly, at least during daylight hours, because Cosmo, my very talkative African Grey Parrot, wants to cuddle on my lap. If I don’t keep caressing her with my left hand she reminds me: “Cosmo wanna cuddle.” So I have learned to type with my right hand.
Today I wanted to type faster, so I asked Alexa (of Amazon Echo fame) to play the music of George Winston. Now Cosmo is saying “Wanna dance?” At first I ignored her, so she exclaimed “I’M HERE! Wanna dance?”
Cosmo has influenced my life profoundly since May of 2002, when she came to live with me as a six-month-old chick. Her intelligence, her sense of humor, and her ability to speak intelligently amazed me so much that I wrote Conversations with Cosmo to tell the world how she learned to talk and to entertain me. Her first joke, when the phone rang, was “Telephone for bird!”
An African Grey Parrot named Doolittle, modeled on Cosmo, plays an important part in my second novel, Fairfield’s Auction. Doolittle unintentionally helps solve the mystery. He reappears in my third novel, Dam Witherston.
I populated the north Georgia town of Witherston, which I invented, with eccentric but attractive individuals all of whom have pets; I named the pets. There are dogs named Swift, Mighty, Coco Chanel, Sequoyah, Harry, Ama, Renoir, Gandhi, and Maud Olive. There are goats named Grass, Weed, and Vincent van Goat. There is a cat named Barack, a parrot chick named Darwin, a donkey named Sassyass, and a sow named Betty the Pig. I took greater pleasure in naming the animals than in naming the people.
Why did I set my mysteries in north Georgia? I have lived in Athens, Georgia for more than four decades. I spent my career writing academic books as a professor of comparative literature at the University of Georgia. When I retired in 2011, I began traveling throughout the southeast to get better acquainted with the region and its history. I came to love the southern Appalachian mountains where the Cherokee people lived for a thousand years. The Cherokees left Georgia—most of them, that is—in the winter of 1838-39, when they were banished from their native soil and force-marched on the “trail of tears” to the present state of Oklahoma, because the white settlers wanted their gold and their land. Having always enjoyed research, I decided to explore north Georgia’s history in my fiction.
I set my novels in the present, which the past inhabits. In each of the Witherston Murder Mysteries I have connected crimes in Witherston’s present with crimes in its past. Witherston got its name from the Withers family, whose last descendant, centenarian Francis Hearty Withers, traced his wealth back to his great-great-grandfather, who took the Cherokees’ gold in the Dahlonega Gold Rush of 1829, and the Cherokees’ land in the Georgia Land Lottery of 1832.
Dam Witherston, a cozy mystery, is a tale of blackmail and murder in the present, and rape and pregnancy in the past. Genetic ancestry tests disclose unlikely relationships in 2017, 1977, and 1828, when intercourse between Cherokees and whites was considered an abomination in the racist South.
To enter to win a copy of Dam Witherston, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “cosmo,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 1, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
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