Author Nancy Haddock — an Oklahoma native living in Florida — will return to the Columbia County Library 4-7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14, to sign copies of her latest book, A Crime of Poison. The book is the third and final in the Silver Six Crafting Mystery Series set in the fictional southwest Arkansas town of Lilyvale, which is modeled on Magnolia.
Because her publisher owns rights to the series, it may be a while before Haddock uses Magnolia as the setting again for a book. But, she said, “I would love to set another book there. I can pitch the idea to my current publisher or I could pitch it to another publisher.”
While Haddock’s books are available from amazon.com and other online booksellers as well as bookstores, she is selling autographed copies at the library event for only $5 and donating all the profits to the Columbia County Animal Protection Society (CCAPS) and the Columbia County Nutrition Center. She will donate books to the library and others to use for fundraisers.
Last year’s book signing raised more than $650 for CCAPS. “I was blown away by the patronage last year, how much Magnolia loves CCAPS and supports it,” Haddock said. She will come armed with more books than last time, when she ran out and had to mail books to the crowds who showed up to buy the first and second of the Lilyvale series. “If anyone wants to give them for Christmas gifts, there will be plenty,” she said.
Haddock explained a bit about the term cozy mystery: “Cozies feature amateur sleuths. Think Nancy Drew or ‘Murder She Wrote.’ There’s no murder on the page. You can have just a little bit of finding the body kind of thing, but there is no graphic detail. It’s not as hardcore in terms of violence and graphic detail. Having an amateur sleuth is one of the big keys. You can have police, private eyes, somebody else who might help or hinder the amateur sleuth, but the main sleuths are usually not in law enforcement.”
Even though Haddock reads authors who write more intense murder mysteries, she prefers to write in the cozy genre.
“The target audience is anybody who likes a mystery, really. I’ve been told that the target audience is between the ages of approximately 35 to 40 up to 80. There’s a wide range. I do have some younger readers. Again, it just depends on whether you’re into mysteries or not,” Haddock said. “There are six seniors in the series — the Silver Six — and one younger character who’s related to one of the seniors.”
Last year’s book signing brought in dozens of readers who were anxious to get the second book, Basket Case, as well as the first, Paint the Town Dead. Haddock quickly ran out of both books and had to mail autographed copies to those who purchased them at the library.
Haddock’s connection to Magnolia is one that runs back to her childhood. In Sapulpa (Okla.), Haddock said, her parents had a couple of good friends named Tom and Yvonne Allen. Yvonne’s maiden name was Souter, and she was originally from Magnolia.
“Yvonne and Tom are very good friends of my parents. We lived in a neighborhood with lots of good friends, the kids all played with each other and whatnot. Yvonne has the prettiest accent. I always thought, ‘I need to visit Magnolia.’”
She got her wish when she and her husband were returning to their home in St. Augustine (Fla.) after a trip to Oklahoma.
“About three years ago, I finally got to come. We were visiting my mother in Tulsa, and I said to my husband, ‘Oh, please, let’s at least stop in Magnolia.’ We finally got there and stayed overnight. The next morning, we started exploring the town square.”
During that visit to Magnolia three years ago, Haddock’s parents’ friends Tom and Yvonne traveled from their home in Sapulpa to Magnolia to show Haddock and her husband around the town. “They showed me where Yvonne lived, where her grandmother lived, some of the old stomping grounds, some of the sites. I just had a blast with them,” she said.
Although her current home of St. Augustine also has a small-town feel, according to Haddock, “Every time I tried to move this story to anywhere other than southwest Arkansas, it just didn’t work. That’s when I knew, absolutely, that I had to model the town after Magnolia. It was just perfect. My dad was raised in Fort Smith, so I have Arkansas connections.”
Her upcoming visit to Magnolia will include staying at The Loft on the Square, having pie at Backyard Barbecue, visiting the Magnolia Bake Shop, and getting in some Christmas shopping around town.
“In my books, The Inn on the Square is loosely based on The Loft on the Square. But in my book, instead of being a former bank building, it’s an old saloon, one of the original buildings in town. It has a big old bar and a café called The Lilies Café. The upstairs is called The Inn on the Square. I named it that before I knew about The Loft on the Square,” she said, laughing. “There were a lot of things that came together to make it absolutely imperative that the stories had to be set in Arkansas, particularly in southwest Arkansas, and that Magnolia was going to be the model.”
The Columbia County Courthouse is instead the “Hendrix County” Courthouse in Haddock’s books. “I made the downtown buildings brick and limestone. I gave the courthouse a white gazebo. I gave the Lilyvale square similar businesses — a jewelry store, a pharmacy, a computer sales and repair store, a business center, clothing and shoe stores, a bakery, and a candy store. I put a technical college in Lilyvale, and it was inspired by SAU. I’ve also referred to Camden, McNeil, El Dorado, and other locations around the area.”
With A Crime of Poison being the final book in the series, this may be her last trip to Magnolia for book-signing purposes in the near future. But Haddock said she is excited to return and hopes to set more books in Magnolia at some point.
Of her trip to Magnolia last October, Haddock said, “I had a fantastic time! Not only did I have a lot of fun last time, everybody was super nice, answering questions, and not making me feel like I was intruding. I really love it there. If I could live there and here, I’d probably do that.”
Knowing that the courthouse and other locales are decked out for Christmas, Haddock added, “I’m excited about experiencing the holidays there.”