I haven’t shared much of my Lighthouse Mystery, FIRE POINT, which won the Mystery/Suspense category of Utah RWA’s Heart of the West contest and placed 3rd in the Crested Butte Writers’ Sandy contest last year, and this year placed 3rd in North Texas’ RWA’s Great Expectations.
Set in 1908, the historical mystery features artist Sydney Sinclair as an amateur sleuth assisting Captain Dean, the lighthouse inspector assigned to investigate a murder. I’m an artist — primarily in watercolor media, with some pen and ink illustration and a variety of crafts. My mother was also an artist, far more prolific with a soft, Monet-like style. I loved painting with Mom, and set my watercolors aside for fifteen years after she passed away. I’ve gotten back to painting, and feel very close to her while dabbling. But I prefer “word painting” now.
I utilized my years of experience in fleshing out Sydney’s character. In this excerpt, she’s teaching a class of students in the woods and begins to feel a bit uneasy. Hmm…
Sydney sent Garrett to dunk a rolled-up sheet of paper in the creek while she searched for the packet of round-headed map pins. She sipped water and blotted perspiration from her neck and face. Once she stretched the wet paper and pinned it to the board, the students gathered around her. They whispered among themselves until she addressed them.
“Watercolor is difficult to control outdoors, as I’m sure you’ve discovered. Oil paint dries much slower. You can return in a few hours or a few days later and keep painting. Not so with watercolors.” Sydney soaked a wide brush. “The sun and wind affects how fast the paper dries, and how each wash of pigment will bleed together.”
“Do you wait for each wash to dry?” one student asked.
“It depends on what you want to do.” She tested the paper with a fingertip. “First I’ll show you how to bleed colors for effect.”
“I can bleed, all right, if I stab a finger with my palette knife,” Garrett said, but Sarah hushed him.
Sydney dabbled a smaller brush in paint and chose a bottom corner. “Layer colors next to each other like this. Fade out the edges. Don’t go back in, or they’ll create a backwash with sharp edges. You want to avoid that, although you can work a few in for effect…”
She fanned herself, dizzy from the lack of a breeze. Despite the peace and tranquility among the dense woods, something bothered her. The humid air seemed suffocating, oppressive. Sydney sank down on a tree stump and winced. She hadn’t thought to bring a folding camp stool. Ducks bobbed their heads below the creek’s surface, their tails in the air. A floating log caught in the roots of a tree in the shallow end of a protected inlet, near the opposite bank thick with pussy willows. Or was it? There was an odd lump to its shape.
Sydney walked toward the bank. The lump reminded of the bundle of rags in the lighthouse at Fire Point. A frog jumped onto the rough surface, startling her, and her foot slipped on the sandy bank. She grabbed a nearby branch. Hand on her pounding chest, Sydney scrambled back to safety and peered at a patch of shimmering water below her. It didn’t look too deep, but she didn’t intend to find out. That must be a log.