You could call Saralyn Richard one of my pandemic friends – as in I got to know her when the pandemic forced a group of us authors to form a collective known as The Blackbird Writers. She’s also a Facebook pal. Today she’s sharing with us how her past work is part of her current writing.
My newly-released mystery novel, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, takes place at Lincoln High School, an urban high school in the Midwest. It was only a matter of time before I would write about that setting, because I spent a couple of decades working there as a teacher, administrator, and school improvement consultant.
The school setting is fertile ground. While the adults who work in a school are all ostensibly there for a single purpose, to educate students, each of them carries a host of individual motives, attitudes, goals, and emotions, setting the stage for drama worthy of Shakespeare. As I like to say, there are a million stories beyond the flagpole.
In A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL, maverick principal, R.J. Stoker, is hired from the outside to effect change. Aside from hiring assistant principal, Sally Pearce, from among the faculty, he starts the school year on the offensive, insisting on student-centered decision-making. He encounters resistance from every corner. Before long, someone sets fire to the school and kills the principal, leaving the new assistant principal in a precarious position. Sally never expected being an administrator would entail solving a murder, but her loyalty to the school community and her desire to live up to Stoker’s faith in her ignite a passion to do the right thing for the school.
I know there are readers who try to match Lincoln High School to one of the schools where I worked, and the characters to real people who worked there with me. I can’t blame them. I’m also the kind of reader who wonders how much of a story is autobiographical. I also know that an author’s experiences and attitudes play a huge role in the creative process of writing a novel.
At the same time, while I’ll confess to modeling the physical layout of the school after one of my high schools, the characters and situations in the book are wholly fictional. I’ve had lots of suspenseful and dramatic experiences while working in high schools, but, fortunately, I never had to solve a murder.
I’ve found it fascinating that readers who teach in schools I’ve never been to have commented that the characters in the book resemble their colleagues. That tells me how universal certain situations in schools must be. Maybe every school has to deal with race relations, grievances, gang activity, sexual harassment, and the other issues in the book.
These are all fine topics for discussion, but at its heart, A MURDER OF PRINCIPAL is a mystery novel with quirky characters and fun twists and turns. If the story were a song, it would be a snappy tune, perhaps a march. I hope you will sing along.
Saralyn Richard was born with a pen in her hand and ink in her veins. A former educator, she loves connecting with readers. Her humor- and romance-tinged mysteries and children’s book pull back the curtain on people in settings as diverse as elite country manor houses and disadvantaged urban high schools.
Visit Saralyn at http://saralynrichard.com, on her Amazon page at https://www.amazon.com/Saralyn-Richar…, or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Palmcirclepress