Liz describes the writing experience--interview by author Gail Baugniet

This is the same story that appeared--as an interview--on Gail M Baugniet's blog. If you've already read that, click here to return to the beginning of the MacDavey blog.

Our protagonists are a retired couple who have just bought a small fiberglass trailer with the intention of visiting the country’s most spectacular national parks.

Max Berkeley is an ex-ornithologist with ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). He's a natural explorer--curious, restless, and eager for adventure. However, his more cautious wife Isabel, a former schoolteacher, thinks traveling in their new trailer is like stuffing two whales in a sardine can, one of whom is constantly wiggling.

Their first destination is Zion National Park. On Max's first hike, he discovers a, let's say, unusual item on the trail. One thing leads to another, and soon they join an alliance of misfits intent on stopping the election of a powerful Mormon candidate with a secret life in an isolated desert compound. His goal: to spread his own brand of evil throughout Utah and the nation. 

Polygamy, condors, drones, provocative Mormon tales, and one of the most beautiful parks in the country--we poured all that into 90,000 words! We bought our own trailer for the first-hand experience, took two extended trips to Utah, huddled over reference books, wore our eyes out on the Internet, and discovered a few unusual blogs, including one called Feminist Mormon Housewives. We even corresponded with an expert on mummies.

Every inch of ground mentioned in the book we saw, and we turned all of our trailer mishaps into plot devices. The explosions and dead bodies are, thankfully, imaginary. 

As retirees, Max and Isabel are not supposed to have a job. But retiring doesn’t mean you’re giving up your smarts, your social conscience, or your ability to hike 10 miles on a rocky trail. As Max and Isabel shed light on a century-old mystery, rescue women from the clutches of polygamy, and claw themselves out of a few jams, they discover that having a sense of purpose gives meaning to life. 

Unsolved historical mysteries

Our novel, though fiction, has an unusual grounding in both history and current events. There are two historical mysteries--never solved—that would be sensational if they saw the light of day in 21st-century America. One of these involves the first draft of the Book of Mormon, which was stolen before it could be published. The second is the story of the greatest foe of Mormon polygamy--Ann Eliza Young. She was the 19th (some say the 27th) wife of Brigham Young, the leader who oversaw the vast migration of Mormons to Utah in 1846. Ann Eliza divorced Young, wrote an autobiography, and lectured to huge crowds around the country. In fact, she was one of the biggest box-office stars of her time, and her crusade is credited with bringing polygamy down. But she disappeared. Nobody knows when or how she died. No record. No grave. 

What if Mitt Romney had several wives?

Now that we’ve mentioned Mormonism, the connection to current events is obvious. One of the main characters, Jesse Cage, is a rich Mormon businessman, running for high political office. When Max finds one of Cage’s female employees naked and dead in a canyon, Cage struggles to shield from the public what’s going on in his desert compound. As his desperation grows, he realizes that the answer to what happened to the Book of Mormon--and Ann Eliza--will provide what he needs to prevail. (We saw Mitt Romney’s candidacy on the horizon when we began this project a few years ago. But, as we keep telling the Secret Service, any resemblance to the circumstances in our book is completely accidental!) 

Writing together without mayhem

Another unusual aspect of Prey for Zion is that two people (Elizabeth McBride and David Thompson) wrote it. A few famous authors have said that collaborating with a significant other is a bad idea, even suicidal. But despite the keen odds, we had a great time traveling around, learning interesting things about national parks, reading articles in the paper about slimy characters, and trying not to strangle each other. And here we are, still together, fingers curled over the keyboard. 

Attention deficit isn't all bad

Max has ADHD because coauthor David has ADHD. David has a nose for trouble and the daring to get out of it, which we figured were fine attributes for a character in a mystery novel. Since Max is constantly roaming and sleuthing, it’s not surprising that he stumbles upon dead bodies--one of which is a hundred years old. Think Miss Marples on amphetamines.

Isabel is his foil--steady, deliberate, and thoughtful. She's also a former schoolteacher, which gives her a wealth of knowledge to draw upon, the smarts to figure out puzzles, and the people skills to develop relationships and pry clues out of suspects. 

Prey for Zion--first in a series

Prey for Zion was conceived as part of a series. As Max and Isabel drive around the country with their little trailer visiting the iconic parks, Max’s restlessness draws them into one scrape after another. Isabel brings him down to earth, dusts him off, and cringes at the prospect of still another misadventure. We’ve sketched out plots for about five books. In book two, when Max and Isabel set up the trailer in Isabel’s hometown—Jersey City, N.J.—so she can attend a high school reunion, they uncover her family connections to the Mob and a plot to set off a radioactive bomb next door to New York City. 

Exploring locations

We love to spend our time doing research and writing in exotic locations—including anywhere in the U.S we can bring our trailer. For us, writing a novel is the perfect way to explore a place.

You examine all of its quirks--the things no one else notices. While taking our trips to Zion National Park, we looked not only into the park’s history and geology, but also the dusty ghost towns, polygamous villages, and eclectic countercultural hangouts tucked away in the backcountry. We go everywhere we can and some places where we shouldn’t. Liz completed her first hike in a dry suit, wading up the Virgin River in thigh-high waters where it cuts through a thousand-foot slot canyon. David nearly got arrested by a nervous ranger while too closely examining the graveyard of deceased picnic tables.

We both do background research onsite and take notes on our experiences. Liz specializes in character development, plot details, and the overall writing. David comes up with the premise and drafts the action scenes and the chapters that are told from the perspective of Max or one of the various male villains. He also exhaustively explores the locations (including picnic tables) and documents everything with photos.

Bringing different talents to the project makes it a fruitful collaboration. But that doesn’t make it easy. David always wants to add one more twist to the plot, way past the deadline of “no more details” set by Liz. He also provides the rollicking unpredictability that gives Prey for Zion its humor, while Liz brings the insight that infuses the plot with universal emotion and the craftsmanship that gets the project done.

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See the full interview here on Gail M Baugniet's website. She's a fellow mystery writer, and a member of Sisters in Crime.

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