Guest Post: Cemetery Inspiration

Guest Post by Jean Erhardt

Award winning Southern author, Allen Gurganus, best known for his 1989 debut novel, Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, once wrote:

“The novelist needs both a dictionary and a cemetery. Graveyards offer more than your eventual remaindered resting-shelf. Approached in the joyful spirit of mortal play, they provide historic bullet points, bird sanctuaries, excellent fictitious names, and the lifelong source of such sweet calm.”

Perhaps, Gurganus’ words were floating around in the back of my mind when I accepted a position as a family service counselor at a cemetery in Portland, Oregon. My job is to assist families with their preneed arrangements as well as those who are at need. I spend a lot of time in the cemetery, or park as we call it. Every day I am reminded of all of the many lives and stories that are evidenced when I pass each grave and headstone, from Hattie T. who lived 103 years to infants who never took their first breaths.

I visit with those who have come to pay their respects to their loved ones like Melanie S. whose young husband’s life was taken in a tragic car accident. She brings along a CD player because he was a jazz musician and loved music, and she sits for hours at his grave each week and listens quietly to Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck and Ornette Coleman. Sam H. brings apples and leaves them on his sister’s grave because he knows that the deer will come for them. Holly R., who is five years, old recently lost her mother to breast cancer. She comes on the weekends with her cousins and aunt who sits by the grave quietly as Holly and her cousins run and play in and around the headstones.

Life and death, the inescapable circle, and everything that happens in between is what we as writers are responsible to observe, absorb, filter, allow to marinade in the juices of our own experiences and record. This is a weighty responsibility, but one that can bring great satisfaction, even joy and, occasionally more than a bit of humor.


About The Author

Jean Erhardt Photo
I was raised in the small rural town of Amelia, Ohio, about twenty five miles out of Cincinnati. My younger brother and sister and I had a pony, a horse, many great dogs and a couple of motorcycles. We raised a lot of hell. My father served in The Big One at 17 and, after riding a motorcycle around Europe, became a lawyer and later a judge. My mother worked as a homemaker and nurse, a skill she had to use a lot with all of the injuries my siblings and I subjected ourselves and one another to.

I wrote my first mystery story when I was in fourth grade. It was about a kid a lot like me who heard strange noises coming from the attic and became convinced that the attic was haunted. Eventually, the mystery was solved when she investigated and found a squirrel eating nuts in a dark corner. It wasn’t a terribly exciting conclusion, but my teacher gave me an A anyway.

As a teenager I worked at a lot of different jobs. I worked at a gift shop in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, which is a frequent locale in my books. I was a swimming instructor and a lifeguard where my primary goal was to never get wet. I did a stint in a stuffed animal gift shop at the Kings Island amusement park where I actually sort of met the Partridge Family when they shot an episode there. After graduating from high school, I went on to attend Maryville College in Maryville, Tennessee, a stone’s throw from the Great Smoky Mountains. There was some more hell raising at college and I made some very good friends and occasionally we have our own private reunions.

In high school and college I played basketball and I graduated from Maryville College with a degree in Phys Ed. I went on to teach at Amelia Junior High, the same junior high that I had attended. There was something a little weird about passing by my old school locker every day when I walked down the hall as a teacher. Plus, some of the teachers I’d had back when I was in junior high were still working when I started to teach. Some of them had been none too fond of me as a student and I don’t think they were much fonder of me as a teacher! I coached the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams which was the best part of my job.

In my late 20’s I moved to the West Coast to get a broader perspective on life or something like that. I ended up working in retail security, or loss prevention, as it is now known, at an upscale Northwest retailer. I kept getting promoted and with each promotion, the job became less and less fun. It was a lot more fun catching shoplifters than sitting in endless meetings and crunching budgets. After ten years of that, I quit to try my hand at some serious writing. I wrote two books of fiction (not mysteries), Benny’s World and Kippo’s World, as well as a book of not-especially-reverent poetry called A Girl’s Guide to God and numerous short stories, articles and poems which have appeared in The Sonora Review, The Quarterly, Word of Mouth, Blue Stocking and 8-Track Mind.

After that, it was time to go back to work. I got my private investigator’s license and hung out my shingle. At first, I took a lot of the cheaters cases. It seemed to me that if a guy thought his woman was cheating, he was usually wrong. On the other hand, if a woman thought her guy was cheating, she was almost always right. Eventually, I moved on to take mostly criminal defense investigation work which often involved trying to figure out what the client did and didn’t do and then minimize the damage of what they usually did do. There were so many crazy ways that people could get themselves in trouble. In one case, the attorney I was working for represented a wife who had gotten so enraged about all of the time and affection her husband lavished on his pet iguana that she shot the poor iguana and killed it. The husband was furious and wanted the district attorney to press charges. The wife was eventually charged with reckless endangerment and took a pretty sweet deal because even the DA felt sorry for the fact that she was married to such a schmuck.

It was an interesting ten years. Somewhere in this time period I began to write the Kim Claypoole Mystery Series, which was a great distraction and a lot of fun. I liked the idea of having many of the same characters appear in each book. So here I am now, working on the fifth book in the series.


About The Book

The Fourth of July isn’t going at all as Kim Claypoole expected. It starts with a bang, including a run-in with a dead body, and ends with her juvenile delinquent nephew, Little Bucky, disappearing from her double-wide trailer on a souped up Suzuki.

When Little Bucky fails to return and no one seems concerned but Claypoole, she sets out to find her wayward nephew. Nothing ever goes easy for Claypoole, and her investigation soon involves several trips to Krispy Kreme, a visit to Jesus Our Savior Bible Camp and some nasty encounters with a series of backwoods characters, including hillbilly counterfeiters and a major league Smoky Mountain dope dealer. In the midst of this chaos and while Claypoole is desperately trying to keep a rocky romance on track, her kooky mother and redneck cousin Alonzo show up for a surprise visit. Relatives, murder and love—all ingredients in a recipe for Deep Trouble.


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2 Responses to Guest Post: Cemetery Inspiration

  1. Thank you for being part of the tour and for hosting today 🙂

  2. Sonya McAlister

    I enjoyed your review and how one person can get into so much trouble on their own because of their family and friends. This seems like it would be funny and am adding it to my TBR list. I cant wait to read this book. Thanks for the Give Away