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Author Talk: March 16, 2017

Charlotte Hinger is an award-winning novelist and Kansas historian. In FRACTURED FAMILIES, the fourth installment in her mystery series starring Lottie Albright, the undersheriff of Carlton County, Kansas, investigates a series of murders in which the victims are found in the arms of statues in a sculpture park. In this interview, Hinger talks about her decision to set these novels in Western Kansas (although later she reveals a change of scenery for book five), the emotional challenges of writing FRACTURED FAMILIES, and the mystery writers who were the most influential in her creation of Lottie.

Question: FRACTURED FAMILIES is the fourth novel in your Lottie Albright mystery series. Why did you choose to set the books in Western Kansas?

Charlotte Hinger: I’m a native Kansan with a passionate state loyalty, and everything I write either as a historian or in my historical and mystery novels is set in the quarrelsome sparsely populated half of the state. It’s in perpetual crisis and turmoil. I was born in Eastern Kansas, but my husband and I moved to Western Kansas when we married. In a way, I literally grew up there. As I struggled to make sense of the culture, the self-mockery, the curious pride in being able to withstand hardship, and the unreasonable sense of defiance, the prairie altered my soul. For a novelist, the setting is a hotbed of intrigue. 

Q: Among past and current mystery writers, who were the most influential in your creation of Lottie?

CH: As for current writers, I love Louise Penny, Lisa Gardner, Greg Iles and Jonathan Kellerman. And past writers such as Daphne Du Maurier, Elizabeth Goudge and Marcia Davenport. A common denominator? They all are fearless about presenting flaws in their protagonists. But none of them influenced the creation of Lottie. She simply emerged. Part of the joy of writing a novel is getting to see who shows up.     

Q: Did you have any contact with law enforcement agencies while researching this, or any of the other, Lottie novels?

CH: Yes, I had a long interview with the beloved Sheriff Jimmy Johnson of Sheridan County about the challenges of law enforcement in a small town. As with my character Sheriff Sam Abbott, he had been reelected many times, and supplied priceless background information. Later, Sheriff Jimmy Johnson was murdered in his own office by a suspect with mental health issues whom he was trying to help. There was a massive turnout throughout the state for his funeral. Afterwards, the next sheriff tightened procedures.

Q: What were the biggest research challenges in writing FRACTURED FAMILIES?

CH: Since I was on my home turf, the research challenges weren’t as intense as dealing with my emotions about some of the issues. I despise private prisons. I’m sickened by the damage done by sexual predators. And my heart goes out to handicapped children like my precious little Duck Boy, whose love was only returned by the animals. 

Q: Looking ahead, where do you see the Lottie Albright series going? And do you have any plans for other kinds of mystery fiction?

CH: The next book, tentatively entitled “Silent Sacrifices,” is set is Eastern Kansas and taps into Josie’s skills. I have an idea for another series, but right now the Lottie Albright series is keeping me busy.

Q: You have begun a serious study of forensic psychology. How did that arise? And what will your ultimate goal be with these studies?

CH: As to my all-consuming (and rather unseemly) interest in forensic psychology, I’ve always read about the subject in general, but my interest switched to forensics with FRACTURED FAMILIES, and I became obsessed with studies about sociopaths. I raided the bookshelves of a friend who is a forensic psychologist and depended on her to steer me toward reliable material. Sadly, our society is all too quick to attach sinister labels to persons who were simply known as “characters” in the small towns of yesteryear.

The series is character-driven, and Josie is a clinical psychologist. In FRACTURED FAMILIES, she has passed the boards in forensic psychology and assumes a major role in the story. As a historian, I have a thing about accuracy, so I’m burying myself in even more psychological material because the setting will shift to Eastern Kansas --- Josie’s territory --- for the next book.