For the past four years, I have lived at the International House at the University of Chicago. International House is located in Chicago in the south-side community of Hyde Park. International House is a graduate residence for students from around the world and it hosts many cultural and educational events. The gothic architecture of International House and the University of Chicago campus and the cozy atmosphere of Hyde Park with its townhouses, Queen Anne homes, Gothic Revival mansions and tree lined streets made it the natural setting for a murder mystery written with an amateur sleuth. I was attracted to the idea of contrasting the majestic architecture and academic persona of Hyde Park with the bad behavior of the characters who live in this community. During my many walks around Hyde Park, I often wondered what went on behind the limestone walls of the university and the hand carved double doors of the large homes that adorn the community.
I decided to have my amateur sleuth, Geneva Anderson, be a poet because to my knowledge poets are not typically portrayed as being crime-solvers. I admire poets for their ability to turn words into verse that can speak to the soul and comfort the heart.
I have always been fascinated by psychoanalytic therapy and the hidden subcultures in America. In The Poetry of Murder, Geneva attends psychoanalytic therapy sessions. I believe that psychoanalytic therapy can and does help people to confront and resolve issues. We all need someone to talk to and sometimes family, friends, and spiritual leaders are either not available or are just not sufficient.
Psychoanalytic therapists generally spend time listening to patients talk about their lives. The therapy provider looks for patterns or significant events that may play a role in the client’s current difficulties. Psychoanalysts believe that childhood events and unconscious feelings, thoughts, and motivations play a role in mental illness and maladaptive behaviors.
During Geneva’s treatment, her therapist provides an empathetic and nonjudgmental environment where she can feel safe in revealing feelings or actions that have led to stress or tension in her life. In Geneva’s case, simply sharing these burdens with another person has a beneficial influence.
In the novel, I also explore the topic of hidden subcultures in America whose members are from social classes and professions that we would least suspect. There are a countless number of hidden subcultures in America whose members invest a large portion of their time and money into such things as collecting exotic knives, baby dolls, rabbits, go-cart racing, and etc. One of the supporting characters and Geneva’s sidekick, Zain Valdez, is a fencer who becomes involved with the hidden subculture of underground fencing. The idea that there are organized groups of people who meet in secret to carry out activities that don’t fit the norm fascinates me. These subculture groups have their own vocabulary, traditions, and rules that bind them together.
Because The Poetry of Murder is the first book in a series of mysteries, I had to set up certain elements that would facilitate the stories for future books. One of these elements included having her live at International House, a place where people from all around the world come to live and where various cultural and educational programs take place. A second element was to have her be a poet with extensive financial resources. Thus, enabling her to have a reason and a means to encounter a variety of situations in which she would meet people and travel. The third element was to have Geneva participate in psychoanalytical therapy. This story element helps to bring out issues that the character faces and aspects of her personal life.
As the Geneva Anderson mysteries continue, I look forward to seeing Geneva solve more mysteries in Chicago while working with her therapist and navigating her love and writing life.
Bernadette Steele is a native of Chicago, Illinois and is currently a PhD candidate at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She is a technical writer, website designer, speaker and the author of The Poetry of Murder. Visit http://www.bernadettesteele.net to learn more.