By Christine Bryant
Fans of authors like Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich don’t need to look beyond Columbus to find the newest addition to the amateur sleuth scene.
Only this time, the detective is a male lead – and he’s determined to crack the case.
Enter Darin Miller, 55, a Grove City author who has penned the mystery series, “The Dwayne Morrow Mysteries” that features an everyman, self-employed IT specialist who is successful, but caught in a rut. His social circle begins and ends with his black cat, Dexter, and they live in an isolated, old farmhouse in Grove City.
In Miller’s first book, “Reunion,” Morrow receives an invitation to his high school reunion and sees it as an opportunity to re-engage with people he has lost contact with over the years, Miller says.
“When he discovers his best friend from those days has recently been murdered and the police don’t seem particularly motivated to solve the case, he ends up taking on the task himself, despite his complete lack of know-how,” he said. “He’s in over his head before he knows it, but by the end of the story, he realizes he’ll never be satisfied returning to his life as it was before.”
In a way, the story is art imitating life. While Miller didn’t become an amateur sleuth, investigating his best friend’s murder, his life has changed since pursuing his passion for writing. With four titles already available, a fifth one will become available later this spring or early summer, he says.
Miller shared with the Grove City Messenger the inspiration behind his series and what readers can expect from his latest book.
Where did you grow up and how did that inspire your book series?
I have lived in Grove City for 23 years. I’m originally from Rosemount, a tiny suburb of Portsmouth, in the southern part of our state. I graduated from Clay High in 1986, and our 15-year reunion back in 2001 was actually the inspiration for my first Dwayne Morrow book, “Reunion.”
Although I wrote the first three books 20 years ago, I didn’t actually publish “Reunion” until 2021. I am also compiling a bunch of short stories, most of which I wrote before the first “Dwayne Morrow” book and expect to release it hot on the heels of the fifth “Dwayne Morrow” book.
What motivated you to write these stories under the mystery genre?
I’ve always been a voracious reader of all sorts of fiction, but I’ve been partial to mysteries and thrillers as well as mystery anthologies like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Mystery Magazine” and “Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.”
Back in 2001, I checked out a particularly underwhelming book from the library and thought, “Wow…I couldn’t possibly do worse.” That, coupled with our upcoming 15-year high school reunion provided the idea for my first “Dwayne Morrow” book, and I just started writing.
What challenges did you face that caused you to delay publishing your work?
The folks who read the book back then were very encouraging, and I loved the writing process, so I kept going until I had completed a total of three books and had started the fourth. But then life got very busy. During the day, I worked a full-time job, and in the evening, I was needed to try and help keep a family restaurant afloat.
I was also attending DeVry part-time, working toward a bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. When my wife learned we were expecting our first child, something had to give. I stepped back from both school and writing. I eventually did go back to finish up at DeVry, graduating in 2015, but I never really thought about the books again until, as fate would have it, I got another underwhelming book from the library and thought, “Wow…I couldn’t possibly do worse – wait a minute…didn’t I write a book or three 20 years ago?”
What gave you that final push to pursue this passion?
I decided to read (my books) again. Sure they’d be good for a laugh, if nothing else. So much time had passed I literally didn’t remember what happened in any of them, only little pieces. I started reading the first, and it was oddly like reading someone else’s work.
I started getting excited because I thought it wasn’t half bad. I just kept hoping I didn’t blow it in the next chapter or screw up an ending I couldn’t even remember.
After I finished, I decided it was time to take things into my own hands with Kindle Direct Publishing, an option that didn’t exist when I started writing in 2001. I was honestly shocked when people started reading the first book, and ratings and reviews started trickling in, and they were positive for the most part.
What is your most recent novel – the fifth in the series – about?
Dwayne Morrow Mystery #5, “Isolation,” finds Dwayne in a fragile state of mind after the events of DMM #4, “Diversion.” When Boggs Investigations is invited to join a trial mystery weekend on a private island in Lake Erie, Dwayne is pressured by his boss to rejoin the living and participate in what is supposed to be an exercise in teamwork.
But the island has a haunted history, and for Dwayne, the line quickly blurs between what is real and what isn’t. Time is running out, and Dwayne must decide whether the real danger is to his friends or to his own sanity.
Where can readers find your books?
Paperbacks are available locally at the Visit Grove City Guide and Gear Shop on Broadway and at Gramercy Books in Bexley. They are available in paperback, hardcover and on Kindle at Amazon.com. They are also available through the Southwest Public Library and Columbus Metropolitan Library.
I participate in many local events to sell my books, too, such as the Grove City Wine and Arts Festival and the Mid-Ohio Indie Author Book Expo. I have even started carting the paperbacks around in the back of my car, so if you see me out and about, don’t hesitate to ask.
How does your writing process evolve?
I always start with a “What if?” For example, what if you take a picture, but the subject of your photo isn’t the only thing you capture? I seem to always start by jumping into a scene where Dwayne is disgruntled for one reason or another and then just let it flow from there.
I don’t think there’s really a right or wrong way to approach writing. I know writers who meticulously outline before ever putting any of their story on paper. I know some whose scenes come to them fully formed but not necessarily in chronological order, and after they get those down, they figure out the proper order and write the segments that connect them.
I guess it’s more like improvisation for me, maybe even dictation, as strange as that sounds. I get into a certain headspace and my characters pretty much tell me what’s going to happen next. I’ve honestly been surprised by how many times I write a scene early in a book just because I find it amusing, only for it to figure heavily into the ending.
What advice would you have for aspiring writers?
Read as much as you write and do both just as often as you can. It’s all about flexing that creative muscle, and like with any other muscle, without exercise, it will atrophy. Look for a local writers’ group who will provide encouragement and share experience. We have a wonderful one right here, the Grove City Writers’ Group, and we meet at the Grove City Library on the second Thursday of every month.
What’s the most difficult aspect of developing characters?
I guess I’m lucky in that respect. Characters just seem to waltz right out onto my canvas, and they pretty much let me know what their backstory is from the get-go. I think it’s important for your characters to feel real, like people you could run into in your own life. I guess the biggest challenge is making sure their dialogue comes across as authentic, because not all characters would use the same vocabulary.
What was the most difficult aspect of your book to write?
The most difficult aspect actually comes after each book is written. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and the editorial process is absolutely brutal. Between me and my team of editors, four people exhaustively scan for issues before the final draft is published, and even then, little mistakes still sometimes make it to print. We seem to be getting better with each book, but it still drives me crazy.
Do you have a career in addition to writing?
Much like Dwayne, I have been in Information Technology for nearly three decades. I currently work for Kern, Inc., here in Grove City, providing software support for their proprietary mailFactory high-speed mail inserting systems. I do, however, long for the day when I can say I write for a living.
If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?
Don’t ever lose sight of something you love doing so much. While it seemed like my only choice at the time, I’m kicking myself for ever letting these characters go for 20 years. I feel like I have a whole lot of catching up to do, and I don’t have nearly as many years ahead of me as I once did.
What authors inspire you?
Stephen King is my ultimate inspiration, even though I really don’t write anything in his genre. He just has the most wonderful ability to build worlds and create characters that are fully fleshed out. His son, Joe Hill, is very gifted, too. As far as mysteries go, I am inspired by the late, great Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Linwood Barclay, Harlan Coben, James W. Hall and Patricia Cornwell.
Did you have a favorite book as a child?
I loved “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle, and I don’t remember very much about it all. I really need to add it to my queue and revisit it soon.
How long on average does it take you to write a book?
Five to six months.
How do you select the names of your characters?
My characters are often based on real people or amalgamations of real people I know, and I’m constantly winking and nodding to my friends by utilizing either their first or last names.