COTTREL: A mystery and suspense author blossoms in Mad River Twp.

“If something happens to my husband and if anyone looks at my search history and bookshelf,” she said, “Well I’m in trouble. I’m going to need bail.”

You might think that statement is somewhat suspicious unless you knew that the lady speaking was mystery and romantic suspense writer Debra Gaskill.

Gaskill, a retired journalist who is the author of 14 mystery and suspense novels, has been writing from her home in Mad River Twp. since moving here more than 30 years ago. She has accumulated a mystery writer’s dream library with reference books on poisons and crime that help her with her story telling, and she tends to Google strange things on her computer that might help her protagonists solve a murder.

Debra and her husband, retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Greg Gaskill (who at this writing is in good health), have lived on their five-acre farm near Enon since Greg returned from an overseas assignment in Korea. (She bought the house while he was deployed, but that is another story.)

The first animals on the farm were 4H goats and calves that belonged to son Scott and daughter Rebecca. After the two graduated from Greenon High School, the regular farm animals were replaced by alpacas and llamas.

There were 35 animals at one time, but now the Gaskills are down to three llamas, and two alpacas.

Those five animals, however, still supply enough wool for Debra to dye the yarns at the space she rents at The Hatch in Springfield. She had to find a more industrial place for the dyeing because the dyeing process smelled like “hot pickled llama.”

Fun phrases like that and Gaskill’s ingenious way with words make her writing style stand out.

Trained locally, she graduated from North High School, and then earned a degree from Wittenberg and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University.

Her first jobs as a journalist were working as a stringer for this newspaper and the Dayton Daily News and writing for the New Carlisle Sun and the Enon Messenger. That is where I met her. Then she quickly worked her way up to managing editor of the Washington Court House Record Herald and some work for the Associated Press. She retired in 2010.

Gaskill had excelled in courts and crime coverage and because of her experience felt the urge to try her hand at mysteries.

In 2009, she wrote her first novel about a newspaper editor in the fictitious town of Jubilant Falls, Ohio. There were five books in that series and each from a different person’s point of view.

“What was I thinking?” she said, explaining that she set herself up with a difficult task.

Her most recent release Counterfeit Life (2020) is the sixth novel set in Jubilant Falls but instead of the newspaper it focuses on lost identity and family secrets.

The six mysteries in her award winning The Fracktown Gumshoe Series were written from the viewpoint of private investigator Niccolo “Fitz” Fitzhugh. What a character.

I asked if it is difficult to write from a man’s point of view, and she explained that it took some adjusting and some advice from guy friends. In fact she has made presentations at writers’ and book conferences on that very subject.

She must have it figured out since the awards keep coming in. The first book in the series, Call Fitz (2015), was named “Best Thriller” at the Queen of the West Book Bash in Cincinnati. Kissing Fitz was the winner 2018 Silver Falchion Award for best suspense at a convention called Killer Nashville.

Next mystery to be released is Hidden Fitz in April. All of Gaskill’s books are available on her website, and on Amazon. The books are available in print and as eBooks. Her son, Scott Shelton, was the narrator for the first audio book. And there is also a Fracktown Gumshoe podcast.

Debra Gaskill not only writes. She also handles the marketing, designed the website and provides different author services which are listed on the site. Somehow she still manages to weave and knit that alpaca and llama wool in her spare time.

Every year she sets up a book display at the Enon Apple Butter Festival and spends the weekend visiting with friends and fans. She enjoys discussing the novels and the characters with her readers. Last year she only had four books left at the end of the festival.

During the last 30 years I’ve watched Debra’s career blossom then take off. It has been amazing and I’m sure there are more awards in her future.

About the Author