Let’s test your series and Nebraska trivia knowledge by playing a time-honored game called Two Truths and a Lie. (No Google cheaters!)
Which of these statements is NOT true?
1. There really is a Morton College named after J. Sterling Morton.
2. There really is a town called Carson, Nebraska, named after Johnny Carson.
3. There really is a town called Wahoo, Nebraska.
One of the first things an author decides when beginning a series is whether to set it in a real town or to create their own. There are pros and cons to each, not the least of which is inhabiting a real city with a bunch of murdering ne’er-do-wells. Cabot Cove Syndrome plagues longstanding mystery series and authors pull out every trick imaginable to avoid making their books completely unbelievable after the 20th body turns up dead.
While Robert Parker’s Spenser and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series include the personalities of Boston and Trenton as key characteristics, I followed in the footsteps of my other favorite mystery series.
It probably wasn’t until Sue Grafton’s S is for Silence when I did an internet search hunting for more details about Santa Teresa, California. We were heading to California on vacation, and I planned to visit iconic spots from the books like the boardwalk where Kinsey took her runs or the corner Hungarian restaurant where she ate gross food and drank cheap wine.
I remember my disappointment when I discovered Santa Teresa was fictional! She described the roads, businesses, and housing developments so clearly, I totally believed it must be near where Grafton lived in real life!
I’ve modeled the setting in my mysteries as a place a reader might find in any small town in Nebraska and included the names of famous Nebraskans, food, and of course Husker football throughout all the books.
So, which trivia was the lie?
FACT: J. Sterling Morton was a wealthy Nebraska newspaper editor, US Secretary of Agriculture, and the founder of Arbor Day due to his love of modern forestry. If you ever travel to Nebraska, consider visiting his 52-room mansion—a White House replica—on the grounds of the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park in Nebraska City. His son, Joy Morton, was founder of the Morton Salt Company. The second oldest community college in the state of Illinois is Morton College in Cicero, established in 1924.
FACT: Wahoo, Nebraska, located about 45 minutes west of Omaha, has a population of 4,500+ people. Wahoo became nationally known in 1996 when the townspeople successfully lobbied CBS’ David Letterman Show by bribing him with clothing, animals, alcoholic beverages, and free checkups at the Wahoo Medical Center to become the official “Home Office” during his nightly Top 10 list.
FICTION: In the Cassandra Sato Mysteries, Carson, Nebraska, is named after another favorite son, Johnny Carson, best known as the host of The Tonight Show for thirty years. Fictional Carson is about 20 miles west of Wahoo, and would be located smack in the middle of a cornfield if it were a real place. With a population just shy of 8,000 people—half of them college students—by Nebraska standards, Carson would be in the top 20 largest communities in the state. I had a great time naming the Morton College buildings after other famous Nebraskans like our beloved coach, Tom Osborne; Susan La Flesche Picotte, a Native American doctor; and “Doc” Edgerton, a renowned scientist and MIT professor.
Like Sue Grafton, I have found that imagining my own town gives me freedom to place business and homes wherever they best fit, while still including the surrounding real landmarks in my stories. One of these days, it would be fun to have an artist make a map of Carson. Maybe when I finish the next installment!
Until then, thanks for playing along and learning a little about Nebraska trivia in the process. I hope you enjoy reading Dead of Winter Break as much as I enjoyed writing it.
KELLY BRAKENHOFF is an American Sign Language Interpreter whose motivation for learning ASL began in high school when she wanted to converse with her deaf friends. In addition to the Cassandra Sato Mystery Series, Kelly writes children’s picture books featuring Duke the Deaf Dog and illustrated by her sister, Theresa Murray. The mother of four young adults and a German Wirehair Pointer, Kelly and her husband call Nebraska home.
Dead of Winter Break is the third book in Kelly Brakenhoff's popular Cassandra Sato Mystery Series. Death by Dissertation was a 2020 RONE Award Finalist. Publishers Weekly called Dead Week, "a diverting whodunit."
It's beginning to look a lot like murder . . .
And Cassandra is knee deep in . . .
Her boss is dead, and the police are calling it burglary gone wrong. But when the killer comes after her, it's going to take more than a pair of furry boots to keep the smart, witty Morton College administrator, Cassandra Sato, out of the deep. . .
Her first Christmas in Nebraska could be her last unless her friends help unravel the mystery and housebreak her dog.
Buy now for a fast-paced, holiday themed whodunit or enter the Goodreads Giveaway for your chance to win a print copy of the book.
Listen to Kelly Brakenhoff's podcast episode here.