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A mystery writer visits


Sun, Jul 23rd, 2000
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Monday, July 10, 2000

Running a motel in Helena, Montana, was a very confining business, the mystery writer and Chatfield native, Elizabeth Gunn told an audience last week at the Harmony Public Library. "There were whole years where we didn’t have one day off," she said.

Consequently, there was a lot of restlessness stored up, so when Elizabeth, and her husband, Philip, sold their business and bought a sailboat, they spent the next year and half sailing from port to port along the western coast of Mexico. "We decided not to let any more grass grow under our feet," Elizabeth said.

The couple eventually parted with their boat in San Diego and headed to the Florida Keys. It had been a long journey, an ‘epic adventure’, one that had changed them forever. And the journey was far from over.

"I decided that I wanted to tell my story so I started writing travel articles," Elizabeth said. When they sailed a trawler up the inland coastal waterway of the eastern United States, Elizabeth made sure that she had already sold six stories in advance to a boating magazine. It became a package deal when Philip started selling his photographs to go along with Elizabeth’s articles.

The incessant traveling continued overseas, where the Gunns spent a year learning Spanish in Barcelona and traveling around the recently liberated countries of the former Soviet Bloc. "Those were such euphoric times," Elizabeth said. "Nobody had yet started worrying about who was going to pay for everything."

After a few years of travel writing, Elizabeth couldn’t help but notice that she had collected quite a stack of newspaper and magazine articles with her by-line. "By gum, there’s my name on all those clippings," she realized, " I guess I really am a writer!" The idea of taking her work to another level, of doing something more ambitious, seemed like the logical next step. It was time to write a book.

After researching the book business Elizabeth concluded that the bread and butter of the publishing world were mysteries. Despite, knowing nothing about the genre, Elizabeth decided that she would write a mystery.

It was around this time that Elizabeth was visiting her sister in Rochester. She was sitting on the front porch one summer evening enjoying the peaceful and idyllic setting when it suddenly occurred to her what she could write about. "I decided I wanted to write a murder mystery which was set in a place where nothing bad ever happened," Elizabeth said.

"You haven’t lived here in quite a while," was Rochester Deputy Chief of Police John Sibley’s bemused reaction when Elizabeth approached him about her new project.

Sibley agreed to show Elizabeth around the police department and he introduced her to people, whose brains she has been picking for information ever since. She rode along in patrol cars and started to learn cop jargon and investigative procedures. She soon found herself being so dazzled and impressed with this new world she had entered, that she feared whatever she’d end up writing would be nothing but an unabashed booster book for the police department.

Now, three published books later, Elizabeth is putting the finishing editorial touches to number four, which will be titled Six-pound Walleye. The other books: Triple Play, Par Four and Five-Card Stud, are all set in southeastern Minnesota in the fictional town of Rutherford, which bears an un-canny resemblance in demograhics and personality to Rochester. Her central character, the police detective, Jake Hines, who was orphaned at birth, is a mystery within the broader mystery of the stories. He simply doesn’t know who he is or where he came from.

Elizabeth, who now makes Tucson, Arizona, her home, enjoys the many visits back to the land of her childhood, both for the family ties and the beautiful scenery.

"Just driving down tonight was inspirational," she said. "The air was heavy with the scent of barbecue grills and fresh cut alfalfa. The corn looked perfect and the pastures were a green velvet."

Minnesota, she went on to say, is always a main character in each one of her books. And then the seasoned world traveler smiled and said, "It’s hard to imagine why anybody would want to live anywhere else."

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