Author Esri Allbritten doesn't want you to mistake Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, the first of her new mystery series, for a paranormal story. In fact, she doesn't even believe in the paranormal.
"I live in Boulder and I went through the whole New Age thing. You know, lifted my arms to the moon, wore all those great clothes and accessories, which was lots of fun, and then I came out the other side and said, 'Gosh, I honestly don't think there is much to this."
Of course, there is a ghostly canine in her book — and the setting is Manitou Springs, the oft-rumored home of witches and warlocks — but as Allbritten says, the tale revolves around the staff of a "shoestring travel magazine that covers destinations of supposedly paranormal interest, but sort of à la Scooby Doo, every time they go to cover a story, it turns out that there is a crime behind it."
Paranormal elements are enjoyable to investigate, she says, because people love the inexplicable. Her books give her the fun of looking at "what people are attracted to — MothMan or lizard people or any of that stuff," as well as an opportunity for figuring out what might be the factual basis.
In Chihuahua, the Tripping Magazine staff learns about Charlotte Baskerville, the rich founder of a small dog-clothing company in Manitou, who is seeing what looks like a ghost of her deceased chihuahua Petey. They visit the town to check it out, and end up in the midst of the Emma Crawford Coffin Races.
It was Manitou's Author Fest that introduced Allbritten to the town in 2008.
"I'd never been to Manitou Springs and I just thought it was the cutest little-bitty town in the world. They got a little-bitty railroad. And they have an outstanding chocolate store. That was enough for me, right?"
Beyond this first book, though, her original idea for the series was to set each book, loosely based on classic novels, in a different tourist-oriented town.
"Something that would appreciate some promotion and something that has a really fun or unique festival or event that people can go to. I'm kind of into this whole Americana thing."
So might we see a book set in, say, Fruita?
"Mike the Headless Chicken Festival!" she exclaims with a laugh. "I have looked at that, and they are awfully small, so I haven't considered them real seriously." Actually, she likes to move around a bit more.
Book 2 in the series, The Portrait of Doreene Gray, with a yet-to-be-determined release date, is set in Port Townsend, Wash., which she says is a wonderful Victorian town that ended up in a time warp due to a railroad that never arrived and the subsequent population exodus. Rediscovered in the 1970s, she says it missed the typical city development, and now carries on the tradition of a Wooden Boat Festival.
Allbritten loves being a full-time writer because of the constant learning about different communities, subcultures and issues.
"When I went to Scotland to research a book on hedgehog smuggling, I got to ask perfect strangers if most Scotsmen were circumcised. And the answer is no," she says. "In case anybody's wondering."
Though she's gone a traditional publishing route with this series, and a few earlier romances, Allbritten emphasizes that it's never been a better time to be a writer, with more avenues opening from the rapidly releasing stigma around self- and e-publishing.
As an individual using these venues, she says, you can market your book however you want.
"It's not that publishers are the evil empire," she explains, "it's just that they have traditionally had to find books that sort of fit into something that was already selling. ... Publishers don't sell to readers. Publishers sell to bookstores, so they need to be able to communicate the idea of a book very quickly. ... If they can't do that, then they can't sell enough copies to pay the army of people that it takes to get a print book to the shelf."
And many of those print books — especially in genre writing such as romance, mystery and science fiction — will only have a shelf-life of a short three months.
"An e-book is forever," Allbritten says. "I mean you can sell it until you die and somebody goes, "Gosh, she hasn't picked up her PayPal."