Elementary, My Dear Dachshund - Trip to Eureka Springs sets author on the write track

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Susan Holmes holds a copy of the first Waterside Kennels mystery in the garden of the Crescent Hotel, where she will be signing books and talking to readers at Books in Bloom on May 18.

"Maggie followed the county road to the intersection with Highway 62 and turned in the direction of Eureka Springs."

That line on page 35 of Susan Holmes' book, "Deadly Ties," also describes what inspired her to take the unfinished manuscript out of the drawer and finish it.

"I thought about all the places in the book that were in Eureka," Holmes said. "Eureka is a unique gem. I want people to discover what a magical place it is."

Holmes writes mysteries set in the Ozarks when she's not teaching communications at Northwest Arkansas Community College. Like her main character, the author is a frequent visitor to Eureka Springs and incorporates local landmarks into her books, including the Crescent Hotel, where she will be a guest at Books in Bloom on May 18.

"It's my first book festival as an author," she said.

Holmes started "Deadly Ties," the first book in the Waterside Kennel series, a number of years ago, working on it in fits and starts, she said. The action centers on a pet boarding kennel the main character inherits from her grandparents on the south end of Beaver Lake. Although Holmes fictionalizes specific locations in Eureka Springs and the Beaver Lake area that appear in the book, a Eureka gallery was modeled after Zark's, she said, and the gallery owner after someone she met here.

Other local slants: the main character's mother is a noted landscape artist, and her neighbor is a Raku potter. In the second book of the series, which Holmes is finishing up, the Eureka Springs Dog Park is used as a location, and Save the Ozarks is mentioned.

"It's important that people know about our way of life-- the people and families, the land and our heritage," Holmes said.

Holmes grew up on the east coast, and is third-generation military -- her grandfather was in the Canadian service and her father in the Army Air Corps. She enlisted in the Air Force after graduating from Absegami Regional High School in New Jersey. She was stationed in the north of England for the first three years and lived in Crete for two years before returning stateside. Retiring from the Air Force in 1995, she moved to Fayetteville, which she discovered while touring Arkansas with a friend. It fit her two requirements: four seasons and a university.

"From the moment my feet hit the sidewalk, I knew this was where I was meant to be," Holmes said.

Holmes, a technical writer and editor in communications intelligence, earned two associate degrees and a bachelor's degree while in the service. After retiring, she completed a master's in organizational and personal communications at the University of Arkansas, where she was a lecturer. She earned her doctorate from Walden University, and now teaches public speaking and interpersonal communications at Northwest Arkansas Community College. Her students find her alter ego intriguing.

"They ask, 'Who did you kill off this weekend?'" Holmes said.

One of her students helped her along the path to completing her first book, she said, by introducing her to Phillip Steele. Steele writes books about Ozarks myths related to treasure -- hidden caches of money, the family silver or Civil war relics.

"I thought, treasure-hunting might be the backdrop for this story," Holmes said.

In "Deadly Ties," the local business league is holding a treasure- hunt promotion. Holmes said she was careful to avoid clues that sounded like real locations to prevent trespassers digging up someone's backyard. Readers had other ideas.

"At one book-signing, two people came up with books and a map, and asked me to point to the spot where the treasure is buried," she said.

Holmes said she did extensive research for the series, both in libraries and on foot, touring local caves, including the Spanish Treasure Cave. She also hung out at kennels, talked to dog trainers, handlers and groomers, and interviewed search and rescue teams. She got to know Eureka the best way: by getting out and tromping around.

"I'm trying to make Eureka a focal point in the series," she said. "It's a magical place -- you can feel the spirit shimmering, and the possibilities. It's almost as if Eureka keeps it secret."

Holmes' aged cocker spaniel, Alix, appears in "Deadly Ties" as Sweet Pea, who is usually napping. Alix passed away before the book came out, but receives a note of gratitude in the author's foreword. Holmes now has a rescue cat who gets miffed when she leaves the house for day trips.

"He thinks I ought to be home writing," she said.

Susan Holmes is one of 15 authors scheduled to appear at Books in Bloom on May 18 at the Crescent Hotel. Billed as a literary garden party, the event, put on by the Carroll and Madison Public Library Foundation, is free. www.booksinbloom.org.

For more information about the Waterside Kennel series, click here.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: