“You can’t get away with it. You’re a scoundrel and a cheat.” Penn’s face was set into deep lines, hatred aging him prematurely.

“I’m not a cheat. I arrived first, fair and square.

You have to accept it.”

Tension twisted my shoulders. I held my breath.

“That’s what you think!” Penn pulled out a Colt and fired.

A flash of light—popping sounds—two men fell to the ground.

The feud between the Graces and the Gaynors is still going strong more than a century after its inception in the 1891 Oklahoma land run. Newspaper editor Penn Hardy is murdered during the reenactment of the most famous gunfight in the history of Grace Gulch, Oklahoma. Cici Wilde, owner of a vintage clothing store, feels compelled to investigate when police suspect people close to her. She soon discovers her talent for sleuthing equals her flare for wearing period clothing. Theater director Audie Howe never expected the reenactment to end in a real murder. He cares too much for the future of the Magda Grace Mallory Theater – and the charming Cici Wilde – to let her face danger alone. Cici and Audie take a dangerous gamble to nail the killer – and lay their lives on the line.

Today we’re chatting with Darlene Franklin, author of Gunfight at Grace Gulch. 

Q: Introduce us to Cici. What is it about her that appeals to you as a writer?

A: Cici is the first character I wrote in first person. The story flies out, her personality comes to life, and I know how she’s going to react. She’s is the middle Wilde sister. That should make her the peace-maker, and maybe that’s why she’s pulled between “Hurricane Jenna,” her older sister, and Dina, her younger sister who changes her hair color to match her clothes.

Cici’s an Okie, and proud of it. The longer I live in the state, the more I come to appreciate its turbulent history and its vibrant culture. She’s the kind of friend I’d like to have. She’s loyal to a fault, and will fight for her loved if she has to—and in Gunfight at Grace Gulch, she has to. Her little sister and her childhood friend are both suspects in the murder.

Q:  How much of Cici is you?

A: Cici enjoys living in other times vicariously, by wearing vintage clothing from different eras. I do that, too; writing is the perfect escape from the dreariness of half of a nursing home room. She feels overshadowed, and perhaps insecure, between her two sisters. I don’t have sisters, but I know the feeling of disappearing in a crowd. But she’s more of a people-person than I am. I couldn’t stand running a retail shop.

Then again, I don’t look a thing like Cici. My hair is fine and straight, nothing like the “dandelion seed” that describe her struggles with her hair. I also don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a town where everyone has known each other for a hundred years.

Q: Do you expect to keep your characters unchanged throughout the series, or will they develop and change circumstances?

A: Oh, I definitely expect them to develop and change. That comes from my background in writing romance. The basic theme and conflict always include personal change. The original publisher for the Dressed in Death series stipulated that our stories should be 50/50 romance and mystery. I had to learn to rein in the romance at times, but at other times, I got caught up in the mystery and forgot the romance.

Q:  If I didn’t know in advance that this was a Christian novel, would I figure it out by reading it? 

A: I believe you would. Cici is quite outspoken about her faith and brings God into her life on a regular basis. Her hero, Audie Howe, quotes the Bible as often as he quotes Oscar Wilde.

Q: Your author bio says that you write full time from a nursing home. How does that work?

A: People find the subject fascinating, so I always mention it. It’s really not that different from finding a way to write around other obstacles—working full time, raising children, housework, etc. Exchange those obstacles for uncertain health, unpredictable schedules, limited space, and you get an idea of my life here.

Q: How realistic is your setting? Do you take liberties, or are you true to life?

A: As realistic as I could make it. I took a trip through Lincoln County, Oklahoma, and took plenty of pictures. I saw a spot that looked like a gulch and that’s why I named the town Grace Gulch. I used real, historical, restaurants in the story—and then they were blown away by a tornado. That’s Oklahoma. I’ve also been told that OU’s colors aren’t red and white but crimson and cream. During the trip, I reached a point where which red clay changed to common brown dirt. The literal transformation inspired me to make the physical environment an element in the story. I didn’t include this in my story, but I also spent time in the town that served as the model for the animated movie Cars. A restaurant had memorabilia signed by crew members. I believe that was the restaurant torn down by the tornado. 

Q:  When the movie or TV series is made, who plays the major parts?

A: Ryan Gosling for Audie Howe and Kristi Wiig for Cici Wilde. And if we can add Meryl Streep for Magda Grace Mallory, that would be marvelous.

Q:  What’s the worst advice you’ve heard or received as an author?

A: I don’t know if I’ve had any terrible advice. I had one miserable encounter with an editor at a writer’s conference who said I was writing like a beginner—when I had won awards and been writing for ten years. That left me very shaken.

This isn’t bad advice, but it’s overused: write what you know. In writing nonfiction, that might be relevant. But my rule for writing fiction is write what you’re (a) passionate about and (b) what interests you. I considered writing a mystery series about a team of storm chasers, but decided I didn’t want to do the research required to make it believable. My next series, however, Murder on the Case, features a home health aide. After receiving help at home and living in a nursing home, I know a lot about the subject. But I’ve written about steamboat pilots, apple orchards, vintage clothing—all things I had fun learning about.

Q: And what’s the best advice you’ve received? 

A: These are the simplest but the most basic of all weapons in the writer’s arsenal:

  1. Read, read, read—everything. Bestsellers. Your genre. Other genres. The classics.
  2. Write, write, write—There is no substitute for writing to improve in the craft. Of course, today there are a zillion online tools to speed up the process that I learned by trial and error.
  3. Get involved with a critique group, in person or online.



Author bio: Best-selling author Darlene Franklin’s greatest claim to fame is that she writes full-time from a nursing home. She lives in Oklahoma, near her son and his family, and continues her interests in playing the piano and singing, books, good fellowship, and reality TV in addition to writing. She is an active member of Oklahoma City Christian Fiction Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the Christian Authors Network. She has written over fifty books and more than 250 devotionals. Her historical fiction ranges from the Revolutionary War to World War II, from Wyoming to Vermont.

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