FAQS: Sunflower Dungeon


Where did the name Sunflower Dungeon come from?


Sunflowers: On my first trip to Europe with my daughter Andrea, we were enroute from Paris to Italy by train on a hot July night. I was awakened at first light by one of the passengers in our compartment, who was fascinated by the endless fields of flowers we were passing through—millions of sunflowers. Thus sunflowers became the floral star for the new novel. Once I had plotted the plants into the medieval background and the modern clues I realized that the sunflower was not native to Europe and was not found there until after the Spaniards began their New World explorations. It took some creative reworking of plot ideas to get the story to fit with reality.

Dungeon: This was a natural outgrowth of castles the Middle Ages. On our tour of Montrottier, a castle north of Lake Bourget, our guide, learning I was researching for a novel, decided to give us an authentic medieval experience and locked us in the tower keep.


Why did you include the Medieval segment instead of just giving Torrie a contemporary mystery adventure?


This is a story I have wanted to write since I was twelve. Family lore from my mother’s side told of a family fortune in France that had gone unclaimed. I determined one day that I would go to France and get the story. (I wasn’t interested in looking for the fortune, because I’d have to share it with my 30-plus cousins. Maybe that’s why Torrie and her mother are only children.)


What inspired this story?


The Burgett family lore, mentioned above, said that there were three brothers. One earned a fortune, but the other two wouldn’t have anything to do with it because of the way it was earned. Speculation has ranged from pirates, to slave traders, or worse. No one knew for sure the nature of the fortune, but my Burgett uncles Don and Lynn came back from World War II indicating they had found a clue. I wasn’t interested at the time and never questioned them about it. A cousin who had visited France years later claimed it was land, but that the time limit had passed for claiming it.


How did you do your research?


My usual MO for researching a story is to pick a likely place for a mystery/adventure to take place, in this case it had to be France. My first trip is just to get a feel for the place, experience the culture, and get a general idea of the sort of mystery that could happen there. Step two is to return home and hit the libraries and Internet to research the history, geography, and culture more thoroughly. I do some preliminary plotting at this stage. Finally, I return to a locale I have pinpointed for important scenes, and see what could really happen in that setting and learn specific details to add to the description.


How accurate are the facts in your novel?


I attempt to establish a setting that is realistic, although not 100 percent accurate.


Why don’t you write historical fiction?


I love historical fiction, probably my second favorite genre, but I don’t feel well-versed enough in history to write an entire novel set in a historical period. The backstory method worked well for me—I could include touches of the historical setting without attempting to reproduce a complete era.


What is your favorite genre?


For reading (and viewing) I love “soft” suspense/adventure/intrigue, a la Indiana Jones, Romancing the Stone, and anything by Irving Wallace. I soon learned that this is not a woman’s genre and I couldn’t allow my strong female lead to perform the exploits reserved for macho men.


What genre do your novels fall into?


Broadly speaking, they are mysteries, although the mystery genre has numerous sub-categories. Officially mine would be called “amateur sleuth.” I originally converted my first adventure/suspense manuscript—my “practice novel”—into a mystery by adding a dead body. You can’t imagine how difficult it was for me to kill off one of my characters. He was an innocent young boy and I knew his mother would be devastated. From the next book on I decided before I started writing who would have to die so I wouldn’t get too attached to the characters.


Why do you have to kill off your characters?


Sorry, it’s a rule of the mystery genre. Some of my readers have become quite upset with me. I do manage to contain the murders to “off stage,” rather than describe them in graphic detail. My goal is to keep my writing family friendly.


Why do you write mysteries?


I don’t remember ever reading mysteries all that much, but some of my favorite television programs were Murder She Wrote, Diagnosis Murder, Barnaby Jones, Quincy, and Magnum, PI. (Well, that one may not have anything to do with the mystery.) Before starting to write novels, I researched which genre was selling the best. No sense writing something that no one is interested in reading or buying. My first “mystery dramas” were created with my next-door neighbor Betty, when we outgrew playing with dolls. In my incredible back yard with its aging pools, trellises, and stone walks, we created “The Mansion,” where our characters Lynn and Susan scared us out of our wits in broad daylight. We never wrote any of them down. While in graduate school when I was supposed to be writing research papers for my degree in composition I was writing short stories. It was one of my professors, Dr. James “Bo” Grimshaw, who suggested that I write mysteries.


Who is your audience?


My readers love adventure and language, and like to learn from their reading, even when it’s fiction. They enjoy writing that makes them think and is not predictable. They are people with family values, who appreciate Truth with a capital T.


Why don’t you write under a pseudonym.


For one thing, I don’t fear the notoriety of fame—I don’t expect to become a household name. The second, probably more important, is that I have lost track of many good friends over the years. It’s my hope that some of them will find my writing and say, “That must be the Jeanette I once knew,” and get in contact with me. I’m not sure how to handle the twenty-some Jeanette Mosier years. I may have lost those friends forever.


Will Torrie have more adventures?


Absolutely. This, I hope, is my life’s calling—and my retirement plan. I have several exotic locales picked out for her adventures to continue. And when I am no longer able to travel I’ll continue my research online and in the library.


Who are your characters based on?


Torrie is a complex combination of my daughters and me. She’s in their generation, but has a lot of my values, interests, and attitudes. Suzanne is the closest to representing me, at least as a placeholder for the Baby Boomer generation. Brad, in Fireweed Glow is loosely based on a friend of mine, a daughter’s then-boyfriend, and a real ranger we met at Mount St. Helens. Stéphane is somewhat based on a young man we recruited in France for the part. Historical characters and characters based on real people are highly fictionalized. Other characters are themselves; they just developed from the plotlines.


How long have you been writing?


I have a collection of my earliest writing; my first was a song I wrote at age seven. I began a novel when I was twelve and started getting pieces published in local publications. My first paying assignment was a children’s story in 1979.


What prompted you to write novels?


I have always enjoyed reading novels more than anything else. As a child I would hide in trees to be able to finish a book, and one time I almost set my headboard on fire hiding under the covers to read after my bedtime. I learned somewhere that writing short stories was good practice for writing novels, so I began there. I now believe that the best preparation for writing novels is—writing novels. I wrote my “practice novel” while in grad school.


What training have you had in creative fiction?


Mostly I am self-taught, and I have read every book I could get on the subject. And of course, reading widely has prepared me more than any course could do. I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I attended a novel writing course at the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival. I enrolled in graduate school at what was then East Texas State University, ostensibly to study composition, but largely because they had a good selection of creative writing courses. My professor/mentor Jo Cockelreas encouraged me to pursue my writing.


What else do you write?


My writing career has spread out over several decades and my published work has included short stories, poetry, personal experience and travel articles. I have self-published a Self-publishing Guide, a Dairy Spanish Handbook, home school publications, and Loaves and Fishes, a children’s magazine.


What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?


I like spending time with friends and family. I enjoy outdoor activities, especially around water, and I love to travel, especially when I can practice Spanish or French. Next to writing novels I like to help beginning writers advance their careers.