Why an Upcoming Mystery Novel is Very Much a Personal Memoriam


Dandola was vacationing with several other media and entertainment professionals who had no personal knowledge of the church but they all were offended that the tragedy was given such short shrift. It was difficult even for those strangers to imagine how a building could exist for nearly two-hundred years and somehow suddenly be gone. A few years ago, when writing one of his West Orange histories, Dandola had contacted the diocese for information about the church other than what he had in his files. The diocese was surprised that someone was actually taking an interest and happily supplied some materials. The building was taken so much for granted that it had become almost invisible and it was on the verge of being placed on the market due to a drastically dwindling congregation.

"All I kept thinking about was that communication back and forth with the diocese," says Dandola. "Here I was in the tropics on a beach but my mind was in New Jersey in January. I needed to somehow come to terms with the loss of a structure I had never entered but was still so much a part of my life."

His solution? Work the fire into one of his mystery novels. Currently,
there are five West Orange-based mystery novels written by Dandola and set in the 1940's (one of the decades from the town's heyday). Three more novels were already completed and slated for release but soon there will be a fourth about the St. Mark's fire joining that lineup.

"I just couldn't leave it alone," Dandola confesses. "The building linked to so much just by silently standing there overlooking everything that was going on. It almost had a human presence."

As the West Orange Fire Department's historian, Dandola not only knew how the aftermath of such a fire would have been handled in the middle of the last century but he knew which actual people would have handled it. Such details are what make his novels seem so real. But how does an author go about creating a 1940's mystery around a twenty-first century tragedy?

Dandola's explanation is an insight into how an author's mind works. "First of all, the cause of the fire is fertile ground for speculation. That building stood without incident for nearly two centuries. Candles, oil lamps, gaslights, and early electricity never endangered a thing but suddenly in this day and age of safeguards upon safeguards upon safeguards a stone building is gutted by flame. I write fiction. That's more than enough to spur imagination. Since it's fiction, I simply moved the time period from 2016 to 1944 and let my characters undertake an investigation. When the pieces fall into place and my characters begin talking to one another I know I'm on track and the story takes on a life of its own. I'm not out to solve the real reason for the fire but I get to pay homage to the landmark and give its accurate history. I'll settle for that."

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Copyright 2016 by John Dandola, Ltd. All rights reserved.
Author Finds Inspiration
in Local Landmark Tragedy
PRLog  (Press Release) February 23, 2016 Almost two months ago, just before dawn on New Year's Day, St. Mark's Episcopal Church in West Orange, New Jersey, was entirely gutted by fire. The brownstone church had been a landmark perched above Main Street since 1828 and enlarged with various almost imperceptible additions throughout the nineteenth century. Author John Dandola, whose own family has been a town fixture since before The Revolution, was away on vacation when news of the destruction reached him. He was stunned.

His recollection is quite vivid: "I got a phone call about what had happened and it was like being told a family member had died. I retrieved the televised coverage online. As expected, they went for the usual spectacular images that that kind of architecture supplies when engulfed in flames. Then they did the usual on-the-street interviews with bystanders who had no real clue as to the building's significance. The television reporting was scant and historically incorrect. Newspaper coverage just repeated the same erroneous material."
St. Mark's Episcopal Church
The original nave was built in 1828
and gutted in 2016.