Joan Schmeichel Writes Mysteries from Fairy Tale Characters to Football

by Erin Evans

Joan Schmeichel, 88, is always working on a story, and when she isn’t, she is thinking of her next one. When the idea of a character named Roman Boles — a 23-year-old football player — came to her, she was inspired to create his story. Schmeichel wondered what would happen if Boles was accused of attempted rape in the middle of the most important season of his life — and so began her latest mystery.

Roman Boles, published July 2020 on Amazon, tells the story of the titular college football player who is accused of attempting to rape a woman he claims to have never met. To make things worse, it is his final year of playing for his university team, and they are headed for victory. “If we did everything we were supposed to, we were headed for glory. If we didn’t? We could eat dirt,” Boles explains in the book.

While Boles and his coach try to keep the accusation secret so he can play in one of the most important games of his career, it soon becomes clear that the claim against him will not go away and could ruin his chances of playing on a professional team and permanently tarnish his reputation—unless he can find out what really happened. 

As the story progresses, the readers are kept on their feet, never entirely sure what is true until the end. Boles begins to question himself, as well as those around him. Could he possibly have done something so awful and remembered nothing of it? Could it have been one of his teammates, who everyone knows look similar to him? Could the woman be making the whole thing up, framing him to bring to light the way colleges seem to let football players get away with everything?

Things become more complicated with the addition of other characters’ perspectives. Each has their own take on what happened, not all of which line up, and all seem reliable. This leaves the reader not only questioning what happened but whom they can believe.

A hard part of writing this novel was getting inside the character’s head and making him believable.

“I wanted to make sure the character sounded like a 23-year-old man,” said Schmeichel, who I’ll remind you is an 88-year-old retiree.

“I became an avid reader of the sports pages,” she said. She started listening to how young men talked, picking up on their turn of phrase.

“The casual way they speak is a lot different from the way someone like me speaks,” she says. Nevertheless, she did not let this stop her from writing what turned out to be a character who appears remarkably alive and authentic.

She also checked with her husband over things like “locker-room talk” to be as accurate as possible. She mentioned that many lines of dialogue in the book are things she herself would never dream of saying.

Extensive editing also helped her to develop the character and his voice. While it was difficult to write from a perspective so different from her own, it was easier for her to see when something didn’t sound right. As the book is written from multiple perspectives, she focused on giving the characters their own ways of talking and thinking, different from each other—even if only slightly—and different from her own.

She said that every character needed to come across as sounding like they truly believe what they are saying, which adds considerably to the mystery of the story.

This is her eleventh, which she independently published through Mission Point Press. While working at the University of Michigan, she was hired by a professor and started writing short stories as part of a reading research project. After she retired, she started writing full-time.

Schmeichel has written both young adult and adult novels. Her other books include Who Killed Snow White?, which brings characters from “Hansel and Gretel,” “Snow White,” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” together in a village in Germany; Thorngar: A Bison Adventure, which follows a bison who escaped from the zoo; and the Laura Grey series, a coming-of-age story of a girl living in poverty.

“Stories usually come to me based on characters,” said Schmeichel, as happened with Roman Boles. Other times, her stories come from specific incidents. Once she has one—either character or incident—she uses that to develop the other and bring together the narrative.

Schmeichel’s advice to new writers is, “I think you just have to sit down at your computer and pound it out.” She says that anyone who has played with dolls as a child and made up storylines for them to follow can write a book.

As for her own books, she said, “In my computer, I always have about 15 stories that I’ve started.” She chooses the most promising one at the time to write, and is always thinking of new ideas. Recently, she said she is thinking of writing a mystery that takes place in a nursing home. When she isn’t writing, she also enjoys photography and puzzles.

Schmeichel lives about six miles north of Elk Rapids, Michigan with her husband in the house they retired to. She has continued her writing in the pandemic, and says it hasn’t changed too much in her writing life, as she already spends three or more hours a day writing at her computer and, as she puts it, is “not exactly out running the neighborhood.”

Roman Boles is available for purchase from Amazon (amazon.com) and Horizon Books (horizonbooks.com).

Erin Evans graduated from Bellaire High School and the Front Street Writers program. She plans to attend the University of Michigan in the fall, tentatively planning on a creative writing major. You can find her blog at www.frontstreetwriters.com.