Renewal and Reinvention: Why Grand Openings Can Be Murder is Set in Galveston
Thanks for letting me stop by and introduce everyone to Felicity and her world. I’m excited to kick off the Bean to Bar Mysteries series with Grand Openings Can Be Murder, and I’m so happy to get to share.
In this first book, I wanted to tell a story of loss and renewal. Felicity has left her career as a physical therapist to return home and open a craft chocolate factory because she is grieving the loss of her husband and wants to follow her passion. Despite that, she retains her sense of humor and her optimism, even as she tumbles headfirst into solving a murder when one of her employees is killed at her grand opening party. It’s a balance of fun and adventure, with a guy who used to be a bodyguard, her ex who is now a cop, a matchmaking aunt, and her best friend the mystery writer all pulling her into ill-conceived situations – but at the same time grounded in introspection.
Galveston, Texas seemed the perfect place to set such a story. After all, the ocean itself is cause for reinvention, and I wanted that to become a metaphor in the novel. While I’ve visited beach towns on both the East and West coast, as well as parts of the Caribbean, Hawaii, Mexico and Japan, none of them resonated with me for this metaphor as much as Galveston – the island closest to home for me.
I grew up in Southeast Texas, and members of my family still live close to the island. So we all keep a close eye out any time the weather forecast shows any sign of a tropical storm heading into the Gulf. This year’s storm season was brutal, but let me talk about a hurricane from a few years ago: Hurricane Ike, 2008. Ike was rough on the island’s landmarks.
The Balinese room, which was built out on a pier over the water, hosted acts like Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, George Burns, and The Marx Brothers back in its heyday in the 1940s-1950s. With varying reputations (including one that sparked an undercover operation by the Texas Rangers), the structure stayed open – eventually becoming a venue for public dancing – until Ike tore through it, reducing it to a few pieces of wood sticking up out of the water and a commemorative plaque. No one seems in a hurry to rebuild it, so perhaps it’s time is past.
In contrast, Murdoch’s Bathouse was originally built in the 1880s, predating the seawall. It was leveled by the Great Storm of 1900, then rebuilt as an elevated structure in 1901, after the seawall raised the island as much as 17 feet in places. (The original seawall has since been extended.) Murdoch’s was severely damaged by several hurricanes and rebuilt each time. It was also leveled by Ike. But it has been fully restored, still offering bathrooms for visitors and a shaded place to sit and watch the ocean, even if you don’t buy food or gifts.
And then there’s the Flagship Hotel. Originally, the site of the Flagship was a military recreation hall, but in the 1940s, it was transformed into a pleasure pier, with a dance hall and facilities for watching movies under the stars, as well as a midway and an aquarium. In 1961, Hurricane Carla severely damaged the structure, which was then rebuilt as a hotel. The hotel in turn was severely damaged by Ike – and it was then rebuilt back into Pleasure Pier, bringing things full circle.
On a smaller scale, Ike soaked the island in salt water, killing a lot of mature trees. Many of them were oaks planted when the island was raised in 1901, to help prevent soil erosion. Rather than remove the stumps of these century-old trees, homeowners turned to chainsaw artists Earl Jones, Dale Lewis, and Jim Phillips, who left the stumps in place and turned them into sculptures. From what I understand, new sculptures are still being carved. In my book, I have Felicity discover that someone has anonymously carved a new one at the edge of a parking lot she parks in. She Instagrams this sculpture, and it becomes part of her personal symbol for triumph over adversity.
This is actually the third novel I’ve written set on Galveston Island, but the first two were early works that will never see the light of day. Honestly, I’m not even sure I can still access the media they were written on. One was set in the middle of the 1900 Hurricane with two children who manage to survive. I spent a lot of time upstairs in the special collections of the Rosenberg Library researching that one. And then I had a go at a time travel piece, where some teens traveled back in time to try to find Lafette’s treasure before the island gets buried under all that sand, so I did extensive research on historical pirates, and treasure diving.
I feel like all that research is finally going to pay off all these years later, with this series. My personal road to publication – and then to becoming a hybrid author – was never straight or easy. I feel like I keep undergoing reinvention and renewal, just as much as my characters. Which is why I tend to write about that theme. Also bringing things full circle.
I hope you enjoy reading Grand Openings Can Be Murder. Try to have a little chocolate handy. I’ve been told my books make people hungry.
Learn more about Amber Royer at amberroyer.com. Did you like this guest post? If so, click here to read my Behind the Story interviews from your favorite authors.