PORT ANGELES — Our heroine, single mother and sometime actress Rita Farmer, is headed into another steamy adventure — searching for her lost sister Gina, who’s been missing for days in the wilderness of the Olympic Mountains.
Oh, and her fiance, timber-company heir Lance de Sauvenard, is somewhere out there, too.
That’s the moss-covered setting for On Location, the seventh and latest mystery-thriller from Elizabeth Sims, a novelist who lives in Joyce — at least for a few more days.
Sims, a Michigander who spent her first career as a bookseller in San Francisco, fell in love with the North Olympic Peninsula years ago. In 2003, she settled in a house in the woods west of Port Angeles and has been writing about tough mystery-solving women ever since.
Rita Farmer series
Her series starring Rita Farmer — The Actress and then The Extra preceded On Location – has sparked praise around the country. Booklist, for one, pronounced The Actress “a gripping read,” and called On Location “crime fiction as smart as it is compelling.”
Sims has been eager for some time to set a book here on the Peninsula.
And On Location is dripping wet with atmospheric detail, from the weather system that “had decided to park here like a Greyhound bus” to the band of shaggy poachers Gina encounters deep in the forest.
But just as she published her Olympic novel, Sims had to make plans to move to the opposite corner of the country: Bradenton, Fla., where she can be closer to her mother, who needs her help.
Sims talk on Thursday
And Sims, who was originally scheduled to give a talk on On Location in late October, also had to move that up to this Thursday.
She’ll host a discussion of mysteries and writing in the Raymond Carver Room of the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St., at 7 p.m.
Admission is free, and more information is available by phoning Port Book and News at 360-452-6367.
During Thursday night’s talk, Sims will pay tribute to some real-life characters whose expertise informed the story — a neighbor who helped her do a small amount of lumberjacking, as in chopping down a giant maple tree that was threatening her house; Dr. Margaret Baker, who taught her the mountainside first aid she weaves into the novel; and retired Olympic National Park ranger Paul Crawford, who explained backcountry law enforcement and rescue.
In addition to writing novels, Sims is a contributing editor for Writer’s Digest, offers private coaching and workshops for writers — and relishes a discussion of how wordsmiths can develop their powers.
She’s not shy about using her own evolution as an example: For one thing, Sims wrote her first four books in first person, from the heroine’s point of view only.
That was limiting, she said, for reader and writer. So in the Rita Farmer mysteries, she stretched herself in several new directions.
In these books, Sims switches narrators, from Rita to her sometime paramour George Rowe, and even tells some of the story according to Rita’s 6-year-old son, Petey.
Seeing the world through these males’ eyes “is a lot of fun,” Sims said.
On Location thrums with colorful characters: the rough-looking woman working at a country store a long way from anywhere; the young gay man who handles fine art at a Seattle auction house; the Southern Californian who knows how to survive in the backcountry but likes to order cute cupcakes when he has a party.
Put such people in a story, and you run the risk of offending some readers, Sims acknowledged.
She has been criticized for typecasting — in one instance by a woman who believed Sims had stereotyped black people in The Extra by having some inner-city black residents speak in nonstandard English.
Elsewhere in the novel, there are black characters who speak standard English — but the woman hadn’t read the whole book.
“You can’t win them all,” Sims said.
And to her mind, any artist, working in any medium, had better take risks if he or she wants to develop.
On Location has our heroine taking risks to find her sister, making her way through the Olympic wilderness and up the Harkett River, a stand-in for the Elwha.
“Rita and her compatriots go through hell and back,” Sims said. The tale ends with “a lot of sturm and drang,” as in storm and stress.
For her next novel, Sims plans to give Petey a bigger role in a mystery whose working title is Best Boy. She’s also working on a proposal for a book about how to write a novel or a narrative nonfiction book.
And on Nov. 18, after she’s settled in Florida, Sims will teach a webinar on the mystery-thriller genre.
Details are available at www.WritersDigest.com, while information about Sims’ books and other activities is at www.ElizabethSims.com.
Four days after Thursday’s appearance, Sims said, is when she and her partner, Marcia Burrows, will begin their drive east.
“My heart is heavy about leaving this beautiful area and so many friends and book lovers,” she said, adding that she has had the great pleasure of knowing extraordinary people here.
So on Thursday night, Sims promised, she and friends will serve “special refreshments,” and offer something that won’t be plentiful here for the foreseeable future: autographed copies of On Location.
________Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at [email protected]