A novel set in Wisconsin? That gets my attention.
Chicago writers have a fascination with my state in large part because many vacation here. Come summer, they join the invading masses of Illini who jam the streets and beaches of Lake Geneva and our way-up-north peninsula of Door County. Some even crush into Wisconsin Dells, which we Wisconsinites visit only in the off-season when we have a good chance of getting a table at Applebee’s without waiting.
So when I learned that Gail Lukasik would launch her new crime novel, a crime novel she had set in Door County, at a book event in Chicago in which I would have a part, I knew I was in for a good time. Read on.
Illinois mystery writer storms Wisconsin
Every story has to take place somewhere, so that’s often the first question a reader puts to a writer: “Why did you put your story there?”
“I like the area,” Libertyville, Illinois, writer Gail Lukasik says of Door County, Wisconsin, the locale for her Leigh Gerard mystery series. She’s vacationed there and traveled it extensively once she decided Door County would be a great place for her books.
Lukasik has two out, Destroying Angels and Death’s Door, both from Five Star, and two more planned.
Door County for Lukasik is Jessica Fletcher’s Cabot Cove—Jessica Fletcher, the mystery writer and sleuth of the old “Murder She Wrote” television series—lots of dead bodies. And in Death’s Door, two pile up along the Mink River where a would-be serial killer is dumping them.
The title has a double meaning, the first which you would expect and the second the name of a specific site in Door County—Death’s Door, a treacherous water passage between the tip of the Door County peninsula and Washington Island. Lots of boats have gone to the bottom of Lake Michigan there.
In earlier working lives, Lukasik danced with the Cleveland Civic Ballet, worked as a choreographer, wrote news and features as a newspaper stringer, and taught literature and writing at the University of Illinois/Chicago. She’s also a poet of note, and well published.
Writing fiction came late.
“My son said to me in the late ’90s, ‘You’re always reading these mysteries, why don’t you try writing one?’” recalls Lukasik.
That was the genesis.
Lukasik liked crime novels of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, Tony Hillerman, and P.D. James.
Paretsky and Grafton both created strong, tough women as their sleuths. That was empowering for Lukasik. However, she wanted her sleuth to be, well, more human, more like you and me. So her sleuth, Chicagoan Leigh Gerard, is a cancer survivor. She has had a mastectomy, and this brings real problems she has to deal with when she retreats to Door County’s Egg Harbor to heal.
“She’s faced death,” Lukasik says, “her own cancer. That changes you.”
That first book, Destroying Angels, wrote itself. A month and Lukasik had the first draft done. A couple months to polish it, and then ten long years to get it published.
“I got an agent. She said the first half of the book is good, but you have to rewrite the second half. I did and it’s a better book as a consequence.”
She got a contract in 2002. The publisher took the book through editing and all the steps for publication, and then went out of business.
Two years lost.
So in 2005 Lukasik attended Love Is Murder, a mystery writers conference in Chicago, and, while there, she pitched Destroying Angels to John Helfers of Tekno Books. He acquired the manuscript and placed it with Five Star. Five Star brought the book out in 2006.
Three years later, in March of this year, out came Death’s Door, the second book in the Leigh Gerard series.
You can find out more about Lukasik and her books at her website. Here’s the link: gaillukasik.com
© Jerry Peterson.