Michigan mystery author Richard Baldwin will be saying, “TUT, TUT” to everyone now.
“Tip-Up-Town, Tip-Up-Town” is the destination location for Michigan lovers of ice fishing. In this year 2011, The Houghton Lake community celebrates the 61st anniversary of the popular winter carnival, and Baldwin’s 11th mystery novel: Murder in Tip-Up-Town: A Cold Case.
Baldwin, A.K.A. Detective Lou Searing, is in the festival spotlight as Grand Marshall for this year’s TUT Festival, which covers the weekends of Jan. 22-23 and 29-30, with parade at 10am on Saturday, Jan. 22.
I was mildly surprised to find news of the event plastered all over the Internet — from Frommer’s travel page to the Los Angeles Metro Area News. Somehow I like the L.A. description the best, although mid-Mitt resort might need a bit of explanation to a non-Michigander: “The 61st anniversary of the landmark winter celebration in the mid-Mitt resort area on the largest inland lake in Michigan.” So, it’s a huge event in Michigan, and Baldwin had better be ready to sign a few autographs.
A resident of Haslett, MI, Baldwin churns out a new mystery novel each year, publishing through his own Buttonwood Press. There you’ll find this synopsis of Murder in Tip-Up-Town:
“Baldwin’s 11th mystery outing takes you to the outdoorsmen’s paradise of Houghton Lake, Michigan and its famous annual ice-fishing celebration: ‘Tip-Up Town Festival.’ Detective Lou Searing and his assistant, Jack Kelly, are asked to investigate a true “cold case” — Harry Moody’s mysterious 1985 disappearance during the Festival. Intrigue, interesting characters, and Michigan settings within a profanity- free-tale – all what you’ve come to expect from the pen of Richard Baldwin!!”
Among his 15+ published books are a couple of children’s books and several skits which have been performed for theater groups, including rollicking comedy,The AARP Magazine Swim Suit Edition. Other Baldwin mysteries include: Buried Secrets at Bois Blanc; Murder in Thin Air; A Final Crossing: Murder on the S.S. Badger; The Lighthouse Murders; The Marina Murders; and Murder at the Ingham County Fair.
For all his books, Baldwin explores the locations of his story setting. According to his publicity, “He attended TUT last year to do research for his story. He attended the TUT parade, visited fishing shanties, talked to people, and looked throughout the Houghton Lake Resorter. He said the fictional editor of the Houghton Lake Resorter, ‘Max,’ is helpful in solving the case because “he has access to all the archives and helps look for the body.”
One of the fascinating aspects of Baldwin’s books is finding yourself, if you are a Michigan native, in familiar territory. You’ve most likely lived in or visited the locations. You might even recognize a name or two, albeit all fiction. It’s fun to be able to picture the setting; and it’s fun to imagine that person as the character portrayed.
Baldwin served the Michigan Department of Education for 20 years in the capacities of consultant, supervisor, and as State Director of Special Education from 1990-97. A Michigan native, he grew up in Grand Haven. He holds graduate and post graduate degrees from Western Michigan University, and a doctorate from Kansas University.
While I haven’t found myself as a character in a book yet, I’ve enjoyed the privilege of a couple of run-ins with the detective novel author, resulting in a couple of articles written. I’ve followed Baldwin’s books since 2002 when I was assigned an article for Steve Horton’s Mid-Michigan Reader.
We met at McDonald’s in Williamston for the interview. As sometimes happens in interviews, I wound up with a new friend. And, as serendipity would have it, I found out that Rich and I had some things in common. He grew up in Grand Haven (where my husband grew up). They knew many of the same people. Rich attended Alma College, my alma mater, just before I did. So, it was with even more delight that I wrote the story about Rich and his Lou Searing and Margaret McMillan mystery stories. I’ve been a fan ever since.
After the Lighthouse Murders was published, I learned that the next novel in the pipeline would involve Alma College — one of my favorite places on earth — and that I’d probably find some familiar names in there. Well, I did. Yes, it was a fun read for me, since I was able to place myself at all scenes in Murder in Thin Air (set at Alma and at the Battle Creek Hot Air Balloon Festival). Then followed Murder at the Ingham County Fair, and last summer, Murder in Tip-Up-Town. Always a new story spinning in the wings, Baldwin expects his newest creation, set on the Amtrak Blue Water Limited, to stream into bookstores sometime this year.
From what Rich told me during our initial interview, I realized that it is the pure joy of storytelling that propels him. At first he tried to explain it to me with the example of being back at camp as a kid, sitting around a campfire. “Someone starts a story. ‘It was a dark and stormy night….’ You take it, Sue.” And the story takes off. People love to tell stories, he’d say. For Baldwin, that love continued far beyond being a campfire pastime.
My favorite quote from that interview, that I love to share, gives a clue to the way he accesses the creative spark for each of his stories: “I don’t interview; and I don’t research first. I go to my imagination and it’s like going to a movie in slow motion; and I’m involved in it and record it. I sit at the computer and I tell a story. The first draft just rolls out.” Then comes the writing and rewriting, he says.
My other favorite thing to share is that Richard Baldwin‘s first career path was to become a minister. As a young man, this path diverged into his career in special education. But always, throughout his novels, Baldwin provides the reader with bits of insight that reflect his soul. Follow the trail, and you’ll pick up a crumb here, a clue there. He leaves thoughtful nuggets for the reader to chew on, many coming from his background in special education.
After you’ve read a book or two of these Michigan detective tales, you’ll probably find yourself conjuring up story lines and settings you think would make a great next adventure. That’s how Murder at the Ingham County Fair came to be, from an idea by Lou Searing fan Yolanda Vasquez of Lansing.
I’ve thought of a few ideas, myself, as to plots and settings in our beautiful state, although I have yet to pass them along to the author. There is wonderful idea of his, however, that I’ll pass along to his readers. You’ll find it on page 172 of A Lesson Plan for Murder, published in 1998.
Yes, Richard Baldwin, A.K.A. Detective Lou Searing, has been writing and publishing mystery novels for over a decade. In that book, on that page of his first Lou Searing novel, he discloses a dream that has yet to be fulfilled. Says Lou, setting the stage for his Louis Searing and Margaret McMillan Mysteries (when the topic comes up about him writing mysteries from his cases):
“Yeah. I enjoy putting some of these mysteries to pen. When I was in Talkeetna, Alaska a few years ago, I went into a writers’ store, The Writer’s Pen….I fell in love with that place! I could see myself having a spot like that right here in Grand Haven. I figured I’d work on my mysteries while tending the store. I’d have the coffee on, a sleeping cat and a lazy dog to add a little atmosphere and to give me a little company.”
“Sounds like a neat place,” says Fitz, a character in the book. “In my dreams, Fitz. I can see my Michigan writer friends stopping by for a visit. We could have some coffee and talk about our sleuth’s cases.” Fitz later tells Lou, “Go set up that store. Sounds like a great idea and a wonderful dream.”
Hmmm. “Tut, tut,” I say, in an impossible dream sort of way. But wait, maybe not. With writer friends and mystery fans from Mackinac to Battle Creek, from Lansing to Newberry, from Traverse City to Stockbridge, from Grand Haven to Houghton Lake, perhaps the quest for The Writer’s Pen is more than a figment of his imagination. The followers of the Lou Searing detective novels are a faithful lot. They’ll pick up the stories, and pass the word. The Writer’s Pen already exists in the virtual world at Buttonwood Press.com. We just need to figure out a sleeping cat, a lazy dog, and steaming coffee pot on.
Links for more information about Richard Baldwin and Tip-Up-Town