One of the things I love about writing is that I get to research things that interest me under the guise of work. When I was planning Murder in Trastevere, one idea that kept calling me was the sport of ultra running. I can’t tell you how I got this bug in my bonnet. I’m a casual runner,
topping out at about fifteen kilometers at a pace even fast walkers could beat.
But there was something about people pushing themselves to the limits and coming out the other side that intrigued me. It’s nothing that I would ever do, and I wanted to learn more about what makes people like that tick. I read one book about ultra runners, then another. I interviewed a-friend-of-a-friend who competes in long distance running races to learn more.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the information, but it was percolating, so I kept
researching. Ultra runners come from all walks of life, and many are corporate folks who like to
challenge themselves by doing crazy things like running a hundred miles while the rest of us
lounge on the sofa.
Some folks with that intense spirit are drawn to triathlons, but ultra runners like the no-fuss
aspect of running. You don’t have to invest in expensive bikes or mess about with their
maintenance before a race. Ultra runners just lace up their shoes, put on their lightweight
backpacks and go.
Ultra races take all forms. Technically they are any competition over the marathon’s twenty-six
point two miles, but the most typical “short” ultra is fifty kilometers (thirty one miles), and the
gold standards are one hundred kilometers (sixty two miles) and one hundred miles. There are
road races, mountain races, four-day dessert races, and even races that run around and around
(and around and around) high school tracks for twenty-four straight hours.
Competitors cheer each other on, encouraging their rivals to keep going through the toughest
points. It’s a sport where women can compete directly against men and actually win. And it’s a
sport where sponsorships are small, so it still has a grass roots feeling that other sports lose as
they gain in popularity.
I liked the idea of creating a character who inhabited this world, and I quickly decided an ultra
runner would be my victim. Rowena Burke, a corporate highflier who’s beginning to make a
name for herself in that crazy sport, was going to die.
My series is set in the expat world of Rome, so it was only natural that Rowena would be an
American expat newly arrived. Her husband, like many spouses of ultra athletes, supports his
wife’s hobby, but also can’t help resenting all the times his wife falls asleep at 5 p.m. or gets up
in the middle of the night to practice running in the dark. It can be hard to be married to
someone who appears to put both work and play ahead of spending time with you. Add that onto the stress of relocating to a new country for a job, and I had a marriage that might be in
trouble. For crime writer, that’s called a motive.
But the story needed more. And as I planned, I discovered that Rowena wasn’t the only person
a murderer might want dead. Faye Masters, the woman in whose home Rowena dies, is in the
middle of a nasty divorce herself. Plus, she’s lived in Rome long enough to make some enemies.
Rowena might have been my victim, but whether she was the intended target suddenly wasn’t
This is the way writing always seems to go for me: I start in one place and end up somewhere
And that discovery of a story is the part of the process that I love. I get to research many worlds
before I know which belong in the story and which will hide away in my subconscious until they
pop up for another project.
Did Rowena’s hobby of ultra running make her the perfect victim? I say yes, because it gave me
a complex character to build a world around.
What do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts.
Social Links: Facebook Threads: @jennifercollinsmoore
Italy. Intrigue. And a mission to see all of Caravaggio’s paintings.
Faye Masters is Queen Bee of Rome’s expat set. Or she was, until a rival is poisoned. The gang think Faye is behind it. Or the intended victim. They aren’t quite sure, but either way, Faye needs to clear her name if she’s going to regain her life in the world’s most beautiful city.