Riveting Researcher

photos by Kayla Wolf

Columbia author Carolyn Mulford creates strong storylines enhanced by thorough research honed through her years as a journalist and non-fiction writer. In both her award-winning Show Me mystery series for adults and her YA (young adult) historical novels, accurate details shine.

“I became a journalist partly to satisfy my curiosity,” says Mulford. “When I phased into fiction, I found it liberating to create characters and dialogue and to assure justice triumphed. But I still couldn’t bear to get the facts wrong.”

Her latest novel, Thunder Beneath My Feet, set during the New Madrid earthquakes of 1811-1812, is attracting particular attention from librarians and educators. Using a Louisville, Ky., engineer’s records, Mulford created an accurate story timeline, accounting for the frequency and severity of the earthquakes. Further research into the time period, as well as personal experience growing up on a farm near Kirksville, helped Mulford to fill the YA novel with accurate historical details. “All these freed my imagination to create the characters and the plot,” she explains.

Mulford’s creativity, informed by careful research, has produced another novel that is as historically relevant as it is entertaining for young readers. Mulford applied similar methods to her first published novel The Feedsack Dress, a YA historical novel set in 1949.

Mulford’s Missouri-based Show Me mystery series for adults also features the interplay of fact and fiction. While her rural childhood provides inspiration for her YA work, Mulford’s adventurous years between earning a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Missouri and returning to Columbia 45 years later, provide ample worldly inspiration for her mysteries. Mulford’s experience includes magazine editing in

Washington, D.C., Peace Corps volunteer work in Ethiopia, and writing for the United Nations in Vienna, Austria, as well as extensive international travels throughout the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Australia.

In this fascinating series — Show Me the Murder, Show Me the Deadly Deer, and Show Me the Gold — an ex-CIA covert operative and her two childhood friends reunite in Missouri.

“Each mystery [in the series] presents many small and at least one major research problem,” Mulford says. “In the latest, Show Me the Ashes, the protagonist takes on a cold case involving murder and arson. I read books and online sources on firefighting and arson and sent questions to two firefighters and a chemist specializing in arson investigations.”

“Facts,” Mulford says, “make fiction believable.”

The work it takes to write compelling fiction is not a light load. “Being a writer is satisfying but tough,” Mulford says. “Fortunately, writers support each other, both with encouragement amid the inevitable rejections and with tips on improving writing and marketing. The Columbia chapter of the Missouri Writers’ Guild is my chief local group. It serves neophyte and veteran writers of poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction.”

Fans of Mulford can anticipate the next Show Me mystery, Show Me the Sinister Snowman, in spring of 2017. As publication details fall into place, Mulford is hard at work on the first in a new series. She says, “Writing, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, continues to stimulate and entertain me.”

More information about Mulford and her work, including teaser chapters, can be found at carolynmulford.com