April 5, 2015

The Varied Landscape of Indiana with Sheila Webster Boneham

Setting is an essential part of many works of fiction. Some settings are important enough to be regarded as "characters" of a sort – Tony Hillerman’s Four Corners area, John Connolly’s Maine, J.A. Jance’s Arizona and Seattle, Carl Hiassen’s Florida, and of course the many books featured on this blog.
In my own Animals in Focus mystery series, animal photographer Janet MacPhail, her Australian Shepherd Jay, and her orange tabby Leo, spend their time in and around Fort Wayne and other parts of northern and central Indiana. I chose the area partly because I grew up there and know it well, and partly because it is a beautiful part of the country that often gets short shrift from outsiders who think all of Indiana is flat farmland merging into the industrial landscape just east of Chicago. Indiana does have its share of corn, beans, and steel mills, but the state is also rich in lakes, rivers, forests, and ravines as well as the vibrant cities, small towns, and occasional quirky attractions. I can’t do it all justice here, but maybe I can pique your interest enough to consider exploring the Hoosier State in more depth.

We’ll begin our ramble in the north, where the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore stretches for fifteen miles along the southern shore of Lake Michigan where, in addition to the beach, the national lakeshore's 15,000 acres offer forty-five miles of trails through dunes, wetlands, prairies, and forests. If that’s not enough, nearby Indiana Dunes State Park offers more opportunities to enjoy the wildlife and natural landscape of this beautiful area. In fact, the northern and northeastern parts of Indiana are known for inviting lakes, some small and quiet, others big enough for speedboats. A bit south of Lake Michigan we find Jasper-Pulaski State Park, where some ten thousand Sandhill cranes congregate in the fall—a spectacular sight and sound!
If you’re in the mood for something a more rugged, travel to Turkey Run and Shades state parks in the west-central part of Indiana. Ancient glaciers carved deep ravines into this landscape, which is filled with gorgeous rock formations and varied flora and fauna. Shades also protects one of the last remaining virgin hardwood forests in the region. If you hike these trails, be sure to wear your slip-proof shoes or boots, and be ready for a workout, and for some gorgeous scenery and wildlife sightings.

An hour or so east, we roll into Indianapolis, the “Crossroads of America” and home to the Indianapolis 500. Even if you’re not into race cars (I’m not), no encounter with Indy is complete without a visit to the Indianapolis 500 Museum, complete with a bus ride around the famous track. Try it – you might enjoy yourself. (I did!)

The southern part of the state is limestone country—in fact, stone from Bedford, Indiana, is regarded as the highest quality limestone in the United States, and many iconic American buildings are made out of Indiana limestone, including the Empire State Building, the Washington National Cathedral, the Pentagon, and more than half of the current state capitol buildings.

Southern Indiana is also famous for its hilly terrain, with rugged ravines and gorgeous hiking trails in many areas. The Hoosier National Forest, which is split into four separate areas, consists of some two-hundred thousand acres of mostly deciduous forest spread over a karst foundation underlain by many caves. The largest cities in southern Indiana are Bloomington, home of Indiana University, and Columbus, famous for its architecture. When I was a grad student at IU, I spent many happy hours hiking the hills and valleys of McCormick Creek and Brown County state parks, and beautiful Yellowwood Forest, one of my favorite places in the world. In autumn, tourists flock to Brown County and, farther south along the Ohio River, to the Madison area for the leaf display, but I have always loved spring in southern Indiana, when white dogwood and deep pink redbud blossoms dance at the edges of the forests. Maybe it’s time for a visit.

Catwalk (Midnight Ink, 2014), Animals in Focus Mystery #3:
Animal photographer Janet MacPhail is training for her cat Leo’s first feline agility trial when she gets a frantic call about a “cat-napping.” When Janet and her Australian Shepherd Jay set out to track down the missing kitty, they quickly find themselves drawn into the volatile politics of feral cat colonies, endangered wetlands, and a belligerent big-shot land developer. Janet is crazy busy trying to keep up with her mom’s nursing-home romance, her own relationship with Tom and his Labrador Retriever Drake, and upcoming agility trials with Jay and Leo. But when a body is discovered on the canine competition course, it stops the participants dead in their tracks—and sets Janet on the trail of a killer.

Visitors this week are eligible for a great prize!  Leave a comment with contact information to gain your chance at a copy of Catwalk in choice of paperback, Kindle, or Audible format.

Sheila Webster Boneham writes fiction and nonfiction, much of it focused on animals, nature, and travel. Drop Dead on Recall (Midnight Ink, 2012) won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Best Fiction Book from the Dog Writers Association of American and was named a Top Ten Dog Book of 2012 by NBC Petside. The sequel, The Money Bird (2013) was a Maxwell finalist in 2014. Shepherd’s Crook, the fourth Animals in Focus Mystery, will be out in fall 2015. Six of Sheila’s non-fiction books have been named best in their categories in the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA) and the Cat Writers Association (CWA) annual competitions, and her book Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009) has been called a "must read" for anyone involved with animal rescue. Her work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in literary nonfiction. Learn more at http://www.writersandotheranimals.com or http://www.sheilaboneham.com
Sheila’s books are available in paperback, ebook, Audible, and large print editions from all the usual sources. Personally autographed books are available from Pomegranate Books at http://www.sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/p/autographed-books.html 
Also contact Sheila Webster Boneham for more information on her work and Indiana life at these sites:
(All information provided by author)


  1. "Jasper-Pulaski State Park, where some ten thousand Sandhill cranes congregate in the fall—" If that were all Indiana offered, it would be worth the visit! Sheila, you've done an excellent job treating us readers to a wonderful travelogue to your beautiful state.

  2. Good morning, Sheila. I enjoyed reading new information about your state. I have very happy memories of my time spent there on two occasions in the late 70s. I attended week- long writers conferences at IU and also at Ball State the same summer. And I recall a wonder little restaurant en route to IU in a small town I believe was called Nashville.
    Happy Easter to all, Linda

  3. We have driven through Indiana a few times, always on my way somewhere to its east or west. Each time, my wife and I have stopped for lunch or a late breakfast. Once in Evanston, but more typically—as is our want—in smaller towns. Each time other than in Evanston we have felt distinctively unwanted, stared at, and perhaps even condemned by those staring eyes. Sorry, but that has not been our experience in small towns in other states. Indiana was just not experientially welcoming. Perhaps it was because of our weight, our appearance, our dress. Perhaps the fault lay in us; although it had not been present in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, or Iowa. Perhaps, however, there really is something unwelcoming about Hoosiers. Whatever the cause, I rued those stops. The scenery was lovely, the towns nicely laid out, but the people—the staring people—I found very unpleasant.

    Oh, and the food in those little restaurants, it was generally okay but lacking in seasoning. It all tasted fresh from the Betty Crocker Cookbook. Perhaps that was the problem and still is in Indiana; it was a Betty Crocker state and I am decidedly not that kind of Middle American.

  4. Salvatore, you are so right - seeing the cranes is a mystical experience. I recall many autumns, too, when huge flocks of waterfowl came stopped by on their way south. Thank you for stopping by!

  5. Linda, thank you, and Happy Easter! Nashville in the 70s was a quiet little town, and I suspect the restaurant you remember was the Nashville House. And of course it's in beautiful Brown County.

  6. Ken, I'm sorry you didn't feel welcome in Indiana. Perhaps people were just curious.

  7. I know Sheila but didn't realize she's from Indiana. I've passed through several times on my way from North Carolina to St. Louis and beyond. On one trip, my husband and I stopped in Ferdinand for the night. We rode into "town" and walked through the glorious cemetery, passed the nunnery and wanted to tour the Benedictine monastery but it had closed. I am planning to return there for research on the novel I'm writing now. Thanks again for a great showcase of a beautiful state and a talented writer, Annette!

  8. Thanks, Susan! We should have that lunch we always talk about, and I can hear about your new book-in-progress!

  9. As an Earth and Physical Science teacher (as well as a fellow author) I really enjoyed reading about the geology of your state. Thanks for sharing these beautiful photographs and best of luck with your writing!

  10. We're literary neighbors: My first two novels and related short story collection are set in the fictional town of Hurricane, in Noble County, and the areas around it. My YA novel is set in southern Indiana. I'm a small town Hoosier boy, through and through!

  11. Thank you, Debbie. My husband is a geologist - he taught at Indiana University (he's retired now). Indiana has a rich and varied geology!

  12. Hi Mark! Thanks for stopping by.

  13. Very interesting. I've never traveled to that part of the country and had no idea Indiana has so many parks and is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    email: carolyn4books@aol.com

  14. Cara, you're not alone. A lot of people know very little about Indiana. Thanks for dropping by!

  15. And the winner of a copy of CATWALK is.....Linda Swift! Linda, I've sent you a message privately through Facebook. Thank you all for playing!



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