A critic called my first novel, Downstream: A Witherston Murder Mystery (2014), an "environmental mystery." I admitted that it was. I had originally titled it "We All Live Downstream," but Black Opal Books suggested that "Downstream" would be more suitable for a whodunnit, and I agreed. The mystery involves the pharmaceutical pollution of our rivers by a longevity drug named Senextra that keeps people alive and healthy for well over a hundred years, though with some unanticipated side effects.
My second mystery in the series, Fairfield's Auction (2016), involves the sale of artifacts from the Cherokee civilization that dominated the mountains of north Georgia and western North Carolina for a thousand years before our state and federal governments sent a majority of them west to Oklahoma on the 1938-39 Trail of Tears. The mystery features a chicken truck stranded in Witherston during a blizzard and the liberation of the hundreds of caged chickens. And an African Grey parrot named Doolittle, who unintentionally provides clues to the murderer's identification. And a Cherokee village. And murder.
My third mystery, Dam Witherston (2017), involves three interracial (white-Cherokee) rapes and murders, one in 2017 and the other two in 1977 and 1828, which DNA tests disclose.
What do all three "Witherston Murder Mysteries" have in common? Most obviously, the mysteries all take place in a fictive town named Witherston, Georgia, twenty miles north of Dahlonega. Witherston got its name from the long line of rich Withers who obtained their wealth in the 1928 Georgia Gold Rush and the 1932 Georgia Land Lottery. The mysteries all include the same eccentric characters. The mysteries all allow the reader to participate in the detection through an online newspaper and documents such as maps, deeds, letters, and DNA ancestry results, as well as the narration.
But the mysteries have something else in common: an ecological view of the world, that is, a vision of nature and culture as an interconnected whole. If we view the world as an interconnected whole we see that we (people and non-people) are all dependent on the well-being of each other, that what we folks do here affects what other folks (and animals and plants and ice and rivers) do elsewhere. In other words, there is no outside. So we should be kind to each other and to the land, for our own well being.
This conviction motivated my teaching and research for decades at the University of Georgia, and it motivates my writing in my retirement.
My close friends called my first novel "preachy." They also criticized me for naming the animals. Thanks to a group of distinguished biologists we understand now that all mammals and birds, and some other animals such as octopuses, have consciousness. (See 2012 "Declaration on Consciousness.") So I say that the animals we know deserve names. In Fairfield's Auction and Dam Witherston, I strove not to preach, but I still named the animals.
Dr. Betty Jean Craige is University Professor Emerita of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia. She has lived in Athens, Georgia, since 1973. Her first non-academic book was Conversations with Cosmo: At Home with an African Grey Parrot (2010).
Dr. Betty Jean Craige has published books in the fields of Spanish poetry, modern literature, history of ideas, politics, ecology, and art. She is a scholar, a translator, a teacher, and a novelist. http://www.bettyjeancraige.com/