Last year when I was discussing my latest work in progress (which is the current release MERCY KILL) with another writer and I detailed some of the external conflicts, which are unique to this part of the country and to the people who live here. This author cautioned me about not getting too in depth about local issues or I’d risk being labeled a “regional” writer if I didn’t broaden my scope. Being a glass half-empty person, that attitude got my back up. Because really? Who wants to be labeled?
“With a gutsy heroine, sharp humor, and a strong sense of place, Armstrong has created a winning series (No Mercy). The female veteran perspective is particularly fresh…Highly recommended
The more I thought about it, the more I realized I don’t want to write a broad overview of the area I live in; I want to shove it under a microscope and break it down piece by piece. The good, the bad and the unpopulated. The South Dakota setting I write about isn’t fictional. It’s real, based on places I’ve been in western South Dakota—but I’ve taken artistic license, mixing the best and the worst together and putting it in one location. As a writer I want people who’ve never been to our part of flyover country to get a sense of what wide open spaces and high plains desert really feels like—watching the play of light and shadow through dust-covered prairie grasses or gauging the height of the rock cliffs in the distance. As I’m traversing the countryside, I scribble notes, sometimes I take pictures, so I can accurately describe not just the physical appearance of the setting, but also the feeling that scenery evokes. But my first, immediate impression of the land in that particular season is usually the strongest and that’s the one I want to relay to readers.
But setting is only one part of the equation. I didn’t want to create a generic “every woman” character, but a woman who redefines resilient. Who as a native in more than one respect, has a different perspective on the unique people that have chosen this area as their home. I’m a shameless—albeit stealthy—eavesdropper and people watcher. Building realistic characters is more than documenting physical characteristics or odd mannerisms, or even speech patterns. But I admit I love to incorporate stereotypes—the tough ranch girl, the grizzled rancher, the hot-headed cowboy, the wise Indian—into the stories to give readers a glimpse into the local color. What’s been both enlightening and disheartening to me personally, and as an author, is the learning curve I’ve undertaken in the last ten years. When I started specific character research, I realized I didn’t know much about Sioux culture. Happily, I’ve rectified that to some degree. I’m lucky to have friends who have helped me out with Lakota language, traditions, and are willing to answer my questions. I try to make everything as accurate as I can, but that means touching on the some of the issues on the reservations and within the culture that aren’t pretty.
I knew that my character, former Army Sniper Mercy Gunderson, who is part Sioux, had to be a generational product of this sometimes harsh landscape. In her I’ve created a universal character with regional flare—the best of both worlds—and that’s a label even I can live with.
Lori will be signing MERCY KILL at
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