Author Sylvia A. Witmore of Laurinburg will be bringing more mysteries to the Victor Small House this week when she visits the local haunted house Thursday, Jan. 17 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. for a book signing and discussion.
Witmore is a mystery writer who has published eight murder mystery novels in the past four years. Her most recent book, published this past fall, is “Madness at Midnight: Revenge,” a sequel to her original “Madness at Midnight” story.
“We are so excited to have Sylvia Witmore coming to do a book signing,” says Kara Donatelli, executive director of the Sampson Arts Council. “We like to have book signings at the Small House because Dr. Small was an author and poet. The literary arts are part of his history, and he wanted the house, when he left it, to be used for history purposes.”
Witmore, who tried for 35 years to get published before being sucessful, says “I write about what I know.” Don’t worry. The murders in her novels are not from personal experience but from her imagination. “I just love to create crimes and make sure that the criminal gets caught. I never want to see a criminal go free.”
Inspiration for the sensational crimes in her novels often comes from simple, everyday things like watching tv and hearing a specifc word or phrase that triggers a story idea.
“I remember watching the news and the cop asked this young woman how she knew she had a stalker. She said that she heard the echo of his footsteps behind her. Whenever she stopped to look behind her, she never saw anyone but as soon as she began walking again, she heard the echo,” relays Witmore. “That phrase just stuck with me and I ended up writing a book called “Echo of Footsteps.”
Sometimes Witmore simply dreams up story plots. “My most popular book, “A Strange Encounter,” actually came to me in a dream,” shares Witmore. “I’ve always kept a journal by my bed so that if something comes to me during the night I can write it down. That night I woke up, wrote the idea down, and woke my husband up to tell him that I had just dreamed up a mystery.”
Aside from the crimes, Witmore’s novels are full of personal experiences and details.
Witmore notes that all of her novels are set in North Caroliona in locations that include Wilmington, Asheville, Hamlet, and of course, Laurinburg.
Although she knows all these settings very well, she still does a lot of research in order to ground her stories in reality. “I research all the settings, their area, their history. I loved researching Charleston, SC for “Madness at Midnight.”
In addtion to using familiar locations in her novels, Witmore has also made people she knows into characters. She tells about a professor whom she met through one of her sons. “He was a quirky character and actually asked me to put him in one of my books,” says Witmore. “I ended up making him and his wife characters who are on their honeymoon in “Madness at Midnight.”
As much as she gives to others through her writing, whether it’s giving a friend a character fashioned after them and giving her readers a new mystery to read, Witmore shares that writing gives her so much in return.
“I’ve taken some criminal justice classes, and I remember telling the men in the class that whenever I get the blues, I just go home and kill off a character,” she shares with a laugh.
On a more serious note, Witmore acknowledges that writing has been somewhat of a sanctuary for her during tough times. “After my husband died in 2009, I didn’t feel much like writing but eventually I got back into it. I’ve been writing a lot ever since. It’s a good outlet and form of therapy.”
Reading has also been a source of comfort for Witmore, and she recalls the books of her youth with fondness.
“My mother loved to read and I remember seeing her read,” says Witmore. “I once told her, when I was about five years old, that if I could wear glasses like her then I could read too.”
“Once I lerned to read, I cut my teeth on Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. I read every one I could get my hands on,” continues Witmore. “I’d go to the library after school on Fridays and check out three books for the weekend. I’d finish them and return them all on Monday.”
She also remembers taking every opportunity to read, even if meant doing more schoolwork that wasn’t even her own. “The boys in school with me didn’t like to read, so they would help me with math and I would read their books and write their book reports. I liked reading that much,” shares Witmore. “We had a pretty good arrangement,” Witmore adds with a chuckle.
Reading is still a treasured activity for Witmore. “I still read three books a week. I read myself to sleep every night.”
Now, however, she enjoys authors much like herslf inculding Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Catherine Anderson, and Julie Garwood, to name a few. “When I find a writer I like, I read everything by them that I can get my hands on.”
Currently, Witmore is trying something new, writing her own story which includes memories of her parents, how she dealt with the loss of her husband a few years ago, and other significant markers along her life’s journey.
“It’s hard to write something that’s true,” says Witmore of the project. “It’s hard to have to kill off someone you love but that’s what I have to do in this book. It’s about the love my husband and I shared for forty years and it suddenly being gone when he passed away.”
As she works on future books, including a new mystery titled “Shadows of Merrill Hill” set to be released in February, Witmore is very content with life. “I live just outside of the city limits of Laurinburg and some of my grandchildren live right across the street. Our homeplace has been in the family since the 1800s, and there’s many tales of ghosts and such, so I’m in good company,” shares Witmore.
Sounds like she’ll be right at home at Clinton’s beloved Small House.
The Victor Small House is located at 709 College St. For more information about the Small House and the Sampson Arts Council, visit sampsonarts.com.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 123 or via email at email@example.com.