Liz Adair has a new book out, Cold River, a fast-paced romantic suspense novel that grabs you from the first page, and keeps you on the edge of your seat as you ride the current of this mystery. Who is trying to run her out of town and which man will win her heart?
Liz has had six novels published, including the award-winning Counting the Cost, based on family history. She lives in the Pacific Northwest, where her latest book takes place.
Liz, you’ve set your story in the fictional town of Limestone, Washington. Tell us why you chose this locale. People like to read about exotic places and cultures that that are different from where they live. Face it, I’m never going to visit the Riviera or Paris or Budapest. But here’s a place right in my back yard that has great potential to be, if not exotic, at least different. I based the town of Limestone on my memory of the town of Concrete as it was when I taught school there in the 1970s. That was before the proliferation of cable TV, so reception came through antennas. I think there wasn’t much of a signal that far upriver, and the leveling influence of television hadn’t yet eroded the local culture.
Your main character, Mandy, feels out of her element in this small-town atmosphere. But she finds satisfaction in teaching a woman with dyslexia how to read. How prevalent is this among adults? Have you had experience in this field?
I was a reading specialist my last few years of teaching, but that was with school-age students. I have only taught one adult to read, and I can’t say how prevalent dyslexia is among adults. I do know that the fellow I taught to read was adept at hiding his handicap and found ways to compensate. I didn’t know about the Ron Davis book The Gift of Dyslexia when I taught him. I was introduced to it by someone who uses the Davis method in teaching dyslexic students.
You talk about the “Tarheels” who live in this area. Can you explain what that refers to? Spanning several decades during the early 1900s, many families from North Carolina migrated to the foothills of the Cascades along the Skagit River: Sedro Woolley, Concrete, Marblemount. They brought with them their music, dances, seeds and speech patterns. Traces still remain in the area, but thirty years ago, particularly upriver, the Tarheel culture was stronger, and you could still sometimes hear a slight twang in the spoken word.
You’ve used some rich colloquialisms from these natives, such as “I love you like a mule a-kickin’.” And you’ve also used words from the Lummi Indian Nation. Tell us how local slang and idiosyncrasies can enhance our writing. I think local slang and idiosyncrasies can enhance our writing if two things are operative. First, the use has to be unforced. It has to flow naturally and not be shoehorned in for window dressing. Secondly, I think it has to be presented with respect, not as a way to get a cheap laugh.
I have to tell about something that happened one time while I was teaching in Concrete. I had been appalled to discover that few, if any, of my students knew what Camelot was, so I organized a full-court press to try to expose them to as much ‘culture’ as I could. One day in the spring, I asked if anyone knew where to find morel mushrooms. Almost every hand went up, and a young man who, until that time, had been reticent told me in great detail where to look for morels. I realized then that these kids weren’t deprived. They were simply enriched in different areas than I was. I was comfortable in books; they were comfortable in the woods.
Music also plays a large role in this story, both jazz and bluegrass, and music is used as an innovative way to teach mathematics. Can you elaborate on these subjects in your book? I didn’t mean for this to happen, but in the book, music becomes a symbol of the difference in cultures between Mandy and the people of Limestone. It’s also a bellwether of Mandy’s attitude change. She plays jazz, you see, and regards it as an intelligent form of music that allows, through improvisation, for musicians to express their individuality, and she looks down on bluegrass as hillbilly music.
As far as the teaching of mathematics through music, I did a little experimentation with that when I was in the classroom. Knowing that it’s easier to memorize when things are set to music, I tried it with the times tables. I don’t know how successful it was, but that’s the wonderful thing about fiction: you can have your hero succeed where you may have failed. I felt that the brilliant thing about the program they had going in the book was that it would address auditory and kinesthetic learners’ styles of learning.
Other than the exceptional historical novel Counting the Cost, you seem to specialize in mysteries. Is that your favorite genre? It must be. With Cold River, I set out to write a romance, but I just can’t get away from a puzzle, I guess.
Are you working on a new project? Yes. I’m working on another romantic suspense, this time set in the high desert of Nevada. It’s got opal mines, off-road racing and flying cars in it.
Liz’s books are available at Village Books in Bellingham and Amazon.com
For our readers in the Skagit Valley area, Liz will host a launch party on Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Sedro Woolley Library. Door prizes will include books and homemade apple pies, and she will have copies of Cold River for sale.