Usually in her studio.
Or spending time with family.
Or any number of places.
If those have to do with writing,
they'll be listed




Deborah Morgan

{ Article first appeared in Mystery Readers Journal, Spring 2002 }









He'd been there all along.

He is Jeffrey Talbot, former FBI agent turned antiques picker.

There is Seattle: land of coffee, rain, and the Space Needle. Right?

Hmm. We'll evaluate that interpretation in due time.

The series is one of the latest in the ever-growing sub-genre world of mysteries known as The Crossover.

It fell into my lap because the agent who had come up with the concept was aware of my love for antiques, and Berkley, in its marketing wisdom, had decided to jump on the Antiques Roadshow treasure wagon, and had asked said agent if he knew of anyone who might be interested in writing it.

Agent calls me. Do I want a shot at it?


I'd wanted to write novels for some time, but had moved that simmering pot to the back burner to concentrate on publicity efforts for my author-husband, Loren Estleman, when he brought Amos Walker back on the scene after a seven-year hiatus (Never Street, 1997). I had been successful in sales before I had met Loren, and self-promotion was (and still is) the name of the game.

I'm also a former managing editor, a deadline-driven person, and have had short fiction published in both the private eye and historical western genres. Combine all that with my passion for antiques, and the new series seemed tailor-made for me.

I needed to move fast. "Strike while the iron's hot," Agent had said.

Getting from asked to opening scene was like planning a shotgun wedding. Ideas popped like buckshot, and a lot of things got hit at once.

Agent's phone call had come only three days after I'd returned from a visit to Mackinac Island, Michigan, where I'd arranged for Loren to speak and sign at the island's library.

We live in Michigan, but don't often get to the Upper Peninsula, so the offer of putting us up at the luxurious Grand Hotel was a bonus.

While there, I picked up a brochure outlining the coming year's events. What most interested me was the annual antiques festival.

Perhaps, I thought after Agent's Call, my protagonist can attend that antiques festival I'd read about in the brochure!

Still, I needed to know where my character would be traveling from. Detroit was out. I've written some short stories featuring Detroit private eye Mary Shelley, so my view of the Motor City is hard-edged, noir.

"Coastal would be nice," said my publicist alter-ego, adding, "and, after all, you are adventurous."

True enough.

Surrounded by atlases, antiques reference books, and a large pot of coffee, I embarked on creating a world.

As I began to thumb through pages, a man materialized. He was a decent-looking guy--late thirties, I guessed--driving the slickest '48 Chevy woodie you've ever laid eyes on. That got my attention. I'm a sucker for classic cars.

He introduced himself as Jeffrey Talbot, explained how handy the roomy car was for hauling loot, and stabbed a finger at the Rand-McNally I held tight in my grip. Tapping the upper left-hand corner known as The Pacific Northwest, he said, "I live here."

"What's the city? I can't quite make out the name through that mist over my atlas."

"Very funny," he replied. "Seattle gets less rain than Miami; it's just that it takes longer to fall." He then asked if I wanted him to show me around.

"Wouldn't hurt, since I've never been there. Thanks."

"My pleasure."

Mannerly. Nice looking. A sense of humor. Not bad, I thought. Besides, honey, you're flying out of Sea-Tac in Chapter Three, so it's not like I need to memorize the place just yet.

"You're up to something," he said.

Astute. Good. That'll come in handy. "Don't worry." I gave him my best smile. "You'll have a good time, and I'll get you back home in one piece."

"I travel alone. You realize that, don't you?"

"Uh, that may be a problem. My publisher wants a 'quirky cast of characters.'"

It was his turn to smile. "Wait till I introduce you around. Believe me, you can't make these people up."

We'll see about that. "By the way, Jeff, have you been in the Space Needle?"

"You're kidding, right?"

I let it drop, and chastised myself for acting like a tourist.

Jeff went on to reveal that most of the antiques he unearths go to Blanche Appleby for All Things Old, her antiques mecca located under the Alaskan Way viaduct that runs perpendicular with Elliott Bay.

He also divulged that he's a descendant of a lumber baron, and that he inherited a Victorian mansion on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill where he lives with his agoraphobic wife, Sheila, and their gay butler, Greer.

Agoraphobic. So, that's why he travels alone.

The Internet, he told me, is Sheila's new best friend. It's brought the outside world to her, and has made life a whole lot easier for everyone.

My muse's heart quickened, savoring the juxtaposition of antiques and technology. I saw countless possibilities for a world in which the husband is gone much of the time and the wife is always in the house.

"What did she do before she . . . began staying home?"

"She was a chef," he said. "Now, do your homework. I'll be back to check on you later."

When writing a crossover mystery, one has the typical challenge of creating a good puzzle--and the responsibility of creating an interesting sideline. I spend an inordinate amount of time doing research about antiques, which is nothing compared to the time I spend turning that research into something that doesn't read as if I've cut and pasted the Encyclopedia Britannica.

In Death is a Cabaret (the first novel of the series, November 2001) an 18th century cabaret, or tea, set is crucial to the plot. Jeff attends the Antiques Festival at the Grand, with plans to be high bidder for a tea set that Blanche has long been searching for.

Before I knew it, Cabaret was in production and I was writing the second book. In it, Jeff and some buddies go on a fishing trip, only to discover that an acquaintance has been murdered. The title, The Weedless Widow (October 2002), is actually the name of an antique fishing lure--one that holds the key to the murder.

Where, exactly, was all this going to take place? It was time I visited the Emerald City. I needed to peruse Blanche Appleby's antiques, drive through Jeff's neighborhood, peer into the windows of Sheila's world, walk the waterfront, knock around Pike Place Market, see if Mount Rainier would come out of hiding, check the fishing spots, follow Greer as he dutifully kept the Talbot house running, and try the coffee. (Oh, and sneak up to the Space Needle without Jeff seeing me.)

I flew into Sea-Tac, arriving at dusk-thirty on an evening in late June. After claiming my luggage and getting the particulars for the shuttle to my rental car, I stepped outside. No rain. Good. Having read that Seattleites don't carry umbrellas, I had left mine behind. (I didn't want to appear too "touristy.")

I stowed my luggage in the car, then followed the signs to I-5 northbound. Destination: a friend's home where I would be staying.

Drizzle began just about the time I passed the Space Needle on my left. Ten minutes later, as I took my exit, the drizzle was fast on its way to being a bonafide rain--or, as we would call it in my home state of Oklahoma, a real frog-strangler.

Along with the information I'd read about the prejudice against bumbershoots, I recalled an additional tidbit: True Seattleites don't use their windshield wipers unless it's absolutely pouring. I squinted through my wet windshield, checked the vehicles around me. Not a moving wiper in sight.

Stay cool, I told myself as I inched along in the unfamiliar rental car. If these people can do it, so can you. By this time, it was inky black. I stuck to the road, guided only by the shimmer of dark water on pavement.

I thought about my former life as a newspaper editor, and wondered what kind of headline I'd be in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (or PI, as they cleverly call it). "Tourist Tries to Drive Like Native, Careens to Death," perhaps, or, possibly, a more alliterative offering, such as, "Precipitation Poses Peril for Pilgrim."

Better a live tourist than a dead one, I decided as I fumbled with knobs and buttons until I had the wipers going full-blast. Eventually, I arrived intact.

The ensuing week was chock-full of discovery. I rose early each morning, downed a cup of coffee, then headed out to anxiously uncover what I'd been missing.

Coffee: Tully's. Starbucks. Seattle's Best. Ah, the aroma. Thankfully, that one's true. You're never more than an arm's length from a mug of bean juice. Jeff is a java junkie, probably because I'm one, too. I made my first coffee stop at a Tully's, and quickly learned that the young man concocting my hazelnut latte hailed from Oklahoma. I was going to be fine.

There was an easy pace to the city, no doubt a wise attitude to embrace. Otherwise, how would one deal with the long lines at the docks while waiting for ferry travel, or the rush hour (oxymoron) crawl along the I-5 corridor?

Amazing, though, the ground I covered in that week: from downtown to Deception Pass, from Snohomish to Whidbey Island; east through the mountains, eye level with snow as I crossed Stephens Pass, then south till I hit I-90 and drove northwest, and back into the city; west, ferrying to the Olympic Peninsula, where I strolled through historic towns, watched herds of elk as they crossed streams.

I won at hide-and-seek with Mount Rainier three days in a row, thanks to the clear skies.

I even did the tourist thing and went to the Space Needle, then down to Pike Place Market where I stood unobtrusively and watched the vendors as they sent salmon flying through the air--hoping, praying, that they wouldn't actually sail one my way.

I can't wait to go back.

They say, "write what you know." I say, "know what you write." It makes for more research, but it's an approach I embrace.

In the course of my research, I realized that I was finding several good books. These are provided at the end of each novel in a segment called "Recommendations from Jeffrey Talbot." Jeff writes a letter to the reader--an epilogue, if you will--then provides a bibliography, as well as a webliography that's compiled by Sheila.

As Jeff reveals his old haunts in and around Seattle, I'll continue to listen and learn and research. Eventually, they'll become my old haunts, too.

Come along for the ride. Jeff's driving. For now.



Greer will be happy to help you contact the author.  Just click the letter on the silver tray.
Who's Greer?

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