Welcome back to the blog Jean Rabe, who is here to talk about her own experience with vindication.
V is for Vindication
It’s also for Virginia Huffman, a classy old woman
Piper Blackwell gets a measure of vindication in her second outing, The Dead of Night, scheduled for a September 15 release from Imajin. She’s been sheriff of Spencer County, Indiana, four months. Her deputies and the folks in the community are starting to think that maybe she’s right for the job, that maybe it wasn’t a mistake electing her. Those who voted for her in a very close contest feel vindicated with handing her the badge.
Bringing a serial killer to justice during her first week on the job—The Dead of Winter, helped. But it isn’t until she deals with some of the rural perils…drunk drivers, dangerous gossip, local politics, and an unbalanced hoarder that makes her “fit” with the residents. She’s starting to resonate with some of them.
A reader emailed me after the first book came out: Why write about such a young character? How is it plausible she could be elected sheriff in the first place?
I studied up on young sheriffs across the US before crafting Piper Blackwell. It seems that the youngest sheriff elected in this country was Sharon Mendenhall, 22, of Rush County, Kansas. Her husband, Jack Mendenhall, had been the previous sheriff. Hmmm, she was a year younger than Piper, whose father was the sheriff before her. James R. Metts was elected sheriff of Lexington County, South Carolina, at age 25. Yeah, Piper’s election was plausible. History vindicates my fictional character.
There’s some of me in Piper. Oh, I was never in the military…but I covered news stories out of Fort Campbell, KY, where Piper had served with the Screaming Eagles. (A few of the guys at Fort Campbell built her military career to make her “real.”) And, like Piper, I was told I couldn’t do something because I was a woman.
When I was Piper’s age I worked as a newspaper reporter in Quincy, Illinois. The paper was the Quincy Herald-Whig. I covered education, health, assorted features…and when the police reporter and city hall reporter went on vacation, I got those beats. I was good at those beats, and I liked it because it was hard news. Front page stories above the fold…what reporter doesn’t like that? When the city hall beat became open because the reporter transferred, I applied. After all, I’d been covering city hall, right? I got an interview, and the managing editor called me in his office and said what a great job I’d been doing…but that I couldn’t have that beat full-time because it would not be appropriate. He said I could continue to have it when the reporter he selected went on vacation. And that said reporter would be a man.
He told me I couldn’t have the beat because I was a woman. Yeah, flat-out to-my-face discrimination. He said that the city hall reporter got the low-down on what was really going on in Quincy by going to a bar called The Abbey after the public meetings were over. He said it would not be appropriate for a young woman to go to the bar and drink with the aldermen. I remember that my fingers shook and I squeezed the arms of the uncomfortable plastic chair I was sitting in. I could’ve got him on discrimination, went to some government employment agency and made a big deal. Maybe I should have. But it was my first bout with discrimination, a deer-in-the-headlights moment. Regardless, I knew I couldn’t stay at the paper; I didn’t want to work where someone judged me because I wore lingerie instead of boxers.
So instead, I updated my resume, sent it out, got some quick offers, and took a job running a news bureau for Scripps Howard. It was a bigger city, a bigger and better newspaper, more authority, and being in charge of the bureau I could cover whatever I wanted. I picked up a few news-writing awards. Scripps Howard didn’t care that I was young, and a woman. They cared that I was a reporter who could do the work.
I was vindicated.
I understand Piper Blackwell.
A news editor for Scripps Howard—a hard-working fellow I remember fondly—once told me that if he had to hire a reporter, and was picking between a man and a woman with equal credentials, he would always pick the woman. He said in his experience women tried harder, maybe because they were aiming to prove something.
Piper’s a little like that, I think, aiming to prove she can handle the job. I don’t make it easy on her…a cold case, sending bullets her way…easy isn’t interesting to read about.
Piper’s cases in The Dead of Night take her into some of the county’s smallest communities. She deals with teenagers to nonagenarians in pursuit of putting a name to a skeleton she discovered on the bluff. The process is eye-opening to her, and she—and the readers—discover that rural doesn’t necessarily mean safe and slow-paced.
I mentioned at the beginning of this column that V also stands for Virginia. She’s an old woman who plays a key role in The Dead of Night. I’m kind of fond of her. Here’s a snippet:
“I’d like to speak with you, Mrs. Huffman.”
Her eyes widened. “You caught the shoplifter! Come in! Come in, Sheriff.” She opened the door and gestured Oren inside.
Virginia Huffman was stunning.
Old, sure, older than Oren by more than ten years according to her grandson. But she was stunning. Nothing wrong with applying that word to someone elderly, he thought, especially when the word fit so well. Stunning shouldn’t be a word relegated to the young.
Her hair was a pale gray that shimmered like spun silver, short and swept around her head in lazy curls. She wore makeup, but not a lot, and likely had tinted contacts because her eyes were a vivid shade of blue that matched her sapphire drop earrings. Certainly she had wrinkles, but they were tiny, at the edges of her eyes and her lips, insignificant lines on her forehead. She wore navy pants with a slight crease down the front, a black blazer, and an off-white blouse with pearl buttons. She stood with shoulders square, no rounding to her back like a lot of old women exhibited. He picked up a hint of lilacs, probably her perfume.
ABOUT THE DEAD OF NIGHT
In Spencer County’s history, mysteries are numerous—and lethal…
As Sheriff Piper Blackwell rushes to a clandestine meeting with an aging, paranoid veteran who believes spies are trailing his every move, she is caught in a fierce thunderstorm. Pounding rain drums against the bluff, washing away the earth and revealing a grisly secret someone tried to bury a long time ago.
Putting a name to the skeleton on the bluff, and searching for the thief who robbed the old veteran of his life’s earnings, sends Piper delving into the sleepy towns that dot her rural county. Now she’s digging into pasts perhaps best left alone.
Accompanied by Chief Deputy Oren Rosenberg, Piper seeks to expose a truth someone wants to remain forever hidden. The investigation may have started with a thunderstorm, but Piper aims to finish it and find justice. Uncovering fragments of Spencer County’s history could prove more dangerous—and deadlier—than she ever expected.
USA Today Bestselling author Jean Rabe has written 37 fantasy, urban fantasy, and science fiction novels. The Dead of Night, her 38th, is her second Piper Blackwell mystery. She has roughly 100 short stories in print, has edited a couple dozen anthologies, and has edited more magazines than she cares to tally. When she isn’t writing or editing, she tosses tennis balls to her cadre of dogs, visits museums, and tries to find gamers who will play Axis & Allies with her.
The Dead of Night
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