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Mystery Author Continues to Mine His Roots in New Jersey for Story Ideas
John Dandola's Hometown of West Orange Offers Him a Wealth of Subject Matter
"Society evolves," Dandola says, "but change is not always for the better and the loss of knowing the same neighbors throughout your lifetime is a regrettable casualty which began in the last few decades. When I was growing up, neighbors were your close friends and people congregated on front porches for hours to visit and talk about anything and everything. I was lucky to have experienced what that neighborliness was like during my childhood years. Don't get me wrong, people are people and there were all sorts of feuds that went on but, by and large, the entire scheme of things gave you a sense of belonging to a whole. Nowadays, people are just passing through. There's no anchor."
Dandola has certainly succeeded in capturing the 1940's warts-and-all flavor of a small New Jersey town in his novels and critics have praised his research often acknowledging how he blends fact and fiction so seamlessly that it is difficult, if not impossible, to discern one from the other.
"Fiction rings true when an author brings a thorough knowledge of the subject matter and some sort of personal experience into the equation," Dandola explains. "My family has lived here for a very very long time so I've always had this drive to get things historically correct. If you get the historic setting right, the characters take on life."
The storyline of this newest mystery entry, Dead in Left Field, involves a body found on the baseball diamond at Colgate Field during the summer of 1943. The book's cover shows how the location once looked with its chalk scoreboard. It's a place full of fond memories for the author as well as literally thousands of children in multiple generations. Dandola refers to the formative years spent at that playground as "the social experiment of our growing up."
That 'social experiment' also included his well-known decade-long tenure running the town's Olympic-sized pool which is attached to the playground. Those experiences lent inspiration for one of his first sold screenplays and even gave rise to his writing the pool's history for its fiftieth anniversary this summer (https://www.prlog.org/
"That playground is where I first met my wife—we were eleven. She practically lived there because her backyard abutted it and, being a tomboy, she was one of the star athletes. She started out as a batgirl for the minor league baseball teams that played there on weekends. She'd sit on the benches with none other than Yogi Berra, Larry Doby, Gil McDougald, and Ralph Houk all of whom lived nearby so they always came to watch the games. They were sort of surrogate uncles to her. Much later, she and I worked together at the pool."
So how did the playground make it's way into the setting for a murder mystery?
"It took a trip abroad to bring that about," Dandola explains. "One of the places I love most in the world is Northumberland in northern England. I remember driving to Bamburgh Castle [pronounced Bam-boro] to scout a film location for one of my movie scripts and just below the castle is a cricket field and that day a game going full steam with this castle looming in the background and I thought how much more English can you get? When I got back to the States, I was walking through Colgate and there was a little league game going on with Edison Junior High in the background—Edison Junior High is designed to look like Independence Hall—and although it was something I'd witnessed a thousand times before, on that day, after the English cricket thing, it dawned on me how utterly American this scene looked and I tucked it away in my mind for future inspiration."
What made it finally gel at this particular point in time was the development of secondary characters in the mystery series and the natural progression of including the interests and habits of those characters. (Dead in Left Field is the sixth novel in the series with three more completed and slated for debut throughout 2017.)
Although books and music typically debut on a Tuesday, this novel will make its first appearance on Saturday, August 12, 2017, because that would have been the one-hundredth birthday of movie actress Marjorie Reynolds who continues to be one of this mystery series' stock characters (https://www.prlog.org/
Descriptions of the forthcoming novels can be found on Dandola's website at http://www.johndandola.com/