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Writing My Dad Into a Book

A true character

In reading the reviews of my debut cozy mystery Grounds for Murder, one character stands out as most readers’ favorite: Peter Lewis, the father of Lana Lewis, the book’s heroine-sleuth. Peter is in his late sixties, a widower, and the biggest gossip on Devil’s Beach, the fictional Florida island where my series is located.

Perhaps it’s his enthusiasm for life, or maybe it’s his love for his daughter—readers seem to adore him. Some have written me and asked for a book focused on him, while others want him to team up with his daughter to solve more murders in upcoming installments of the Coffee Lover’s Mystery series.

Some comments on Goodreads:

I love her dad – he has a nice hippie vibe.”

“Lana’s dad is a laid back hippie kind of dude that does seem fazed my much but supports his daughter 100%.”

“A sweet and funny man, a hippie that loves his daughter immensely and always tries to make the best of a bad situation.⁠”

Here’s a secret: that character was based on my own father! My dad is from California, and quite quirky in a very 1960s-counterculture kind of way.

I didn’t set out to write him into a book. In 2019, when I started plotting the first in the Coffee Lover’s Mystery Series, I initially wrote the character as Lana’s mother. Of the cozies I’d read with a parent sidekick, most involved moms.

Then something awful happened while I was working on the first few chapters of the book: doctors found something suspicious on one of my dad’s medical tests.

Suddenly everything seemed to come into sharp focus. One doctor said it was likely my father had cancer.  He was scheduled for tests, and the results seemed to take forever.

Meanwhile, I was thousands of miles away in Florida. I kept on writing and decided to make a casting change in my sidekick character. I named the parent character after my dad and drew from some of my father’s quirkiest traits while writing.

It brought me so much joy and laughter as I wrote, thinking about my dad and trying to capture him on the page.

Happily, he didn’t have cancer. He was given the all-clear at the end of 2019, and he’s doing incredibly well.

I recently went to visit for his 75th birthday, and for a solid week, we laughed, took walks, and chatted about random things. Like space (he reads a lot about other planets and aliens). Or terrible reality TV (he’s an avid 90 Day Fiance viewer). Or cat food (he loves his two cats and has become something of an expert on feline food).

He’s considered moving to be close to me in Florida, and my favorite quote of his came when we were discussing such a move.

“If I lived in Florida, I’d never have to wear pants again!”

Now, I’ll definitely be using that quote in my next mystery.