One of the things I most enjoy doing at my book readings and workshops, is telling the story of how Alice Ott was born. Audiences in New England often have their own stories about the Alice Ott prototype, activist Frances Crowe and the infamous Raging Grannies. Yet, to my surprise, it’s just as much fun telling Alice Ott stories in Florida, where I have also done many book readings. No matter where my readers live, Alice often brings to mind their own local heroes.
It was my good fortune to have superb role models for this feisty elder.
I had been captivated for decades by the notorious social justice activist Frances Crowe. She was a tiny woman with a radiant smile, enormous courage, and an endless capacity for keeping both her friends and foes charged up. Her charisma grew with each decade, even among those who opposed her.
One of my favorite stories about Frances has become legend. Aware of her long years of protesting injustice, interviewers invariably asked her “Frances, how many times have you been arrested?”
“I don’t remember,” she would reply, “but obviously not enough!” Then she would flash her signature smile.
From the beginning, Frances frequently joined me at Alice Ott book events. She was a wonderful story-teller in her own right, and a great friend. She passed away at age 100 on August 27, 2019, the day after the fourth book, Danger in the House, was published. I was able to put the book into her hands, and watch her delighted smile. It was a heart-opening last visit.
But Frances is not the whole story of Alice Ott’s origins. Another friend of mine is deeply woven into the character. Ann Wilson was my enthusiastic co-conspirator as I wrote the first two Alice Ott mysteries. Ann was that friend we should al be lucky enough to have, the one who cheers you on, asks the hard questions, and keeps you from taking yourself too seriously.
She became surprisingly attached to my characters, especially enjoying the romance between Alice Ott and her long-lost lover Gerard. One day I told her that I was probably going to kill off one of my main characters. “Not Gerard!” she gasped. “I shall mourn him ” she said, looking truly mournful. A second later, she began laughing as she saw my dismay.
I miss Ann and Frances, but I’ve learned something surprising: I can hold my two friends close to my heart by continuing to write these stories about Alice Ott! Truth be told, I realized I would miss Alice too much if I ended the mystery series. So, Dear Reader, now I’m hard at work on a fifth Alice Ott book, and we’re on the riskiest adventure yet. Watch for it!