CUMBERLAND – The iconic Milk Can coffee shop on Route 146 in North Smithfield is a familiar landmark to nearly every Rhode Islander. Originally an ice cream stand, this thirty-two-foot tall bottle was built in 1930 at a time when every roadside business was looking for a creative way to entice passing motorists. The structure has been closed since 1968, but Rhode Island-based writer Sharyn Haddad Vicente found a unique new use for this National Historical site – she has turned it the setting for a grisly crime scene. Vicente writes mysteries and psychological thrillers and northern RI is her favorite setting for those dark, thrilling tales.
I asked Vicente about her unusual interest in the macabre. She laughed.
“I am finding out that I am not like most people. When most people see abandoned buildings, they think: what a shame!” said Vicente. “When I see one, I think: that would be perfect for a body dump.”
Although she has taught composition and other writing classes at the Community College of Rhode Island campus in Lincoln for many years, Vicente makes it clear that this is very different from writing novels. She considers herself a newcomer to that genre – she didn’t begin work on her first book until 2019.
“I had a great idea for what I thought could be a really cool scene in a movie…or a book,” said Vicente. “When my daughter Kaitlyn challenged me to put my money where my mouth is, it was the start of my mystery writing career.”
At first, it was just a matter of jotting down ideas, but when the pandemic hit, Vicente began writing in earnest. Once she got started, she says she just couldn’t stop. The Milk Can on Route 146 is where the first body is found in Love Me, Vicente’s debut novel, and other locations in northern Rhode Island were soon to follow..
What was it about northern Rhode Island that made it seem particularly apt for these mystery stories?
“I’ve lived in northern Rhode Island for most of my life and I felt that it was time that this part of the state was given the attention it was due,” she told me. “I discovered that 85 to 90 percent of local authors write about the beaches in the southern part of the state.”
Vicente was inspired instead by the Cumberland Monastery in her own town, along with other NRI locations such as Diamond Hill and Lincoln Woods.
“I thought it would be fun for readers to be able to really envision where these things were happening,” she said.
In the first book, Love Me, we meet Paige Vale, the protagonist and main character.
Author Sharyn Vicente and her daughter Kaitlyn Vicente with the first of Sharyn’s mystery novels.
“There are a lot of dismembered bodies around northern Rhode Island and the police and the FBI think they have the case solved,” Vicente explained. “But our observant heroine sees something that leads her to believe otherwise.”
She never planned to have a second book after finishing Love Me, but after receiving numerous emails when her reviews came out Vicente realized that readers really wanted to know more about Paige and what comes next. Their interest inspired the next book, Obey Me.
Vicente is now part way through the third book, Forgive Me. Intrigued by the progression of her titles, we asked if the fourth book might be dubbed, “Kill Me.”
“Stop Me,” Vicente solemnly replied.
Each book stands alone, and people don’t have to read one in order to read the others, but there are characters and some story arcs that travel from book to book. The characters sometimes travel to other states, but they always end up back in northern Rhode Island.
After she completed her first book, Vicente consulted some experienced writers and after making a list of pros and cons, she decided to self publish her books. She wanted to be able to maintain control over the cover art and title; everything that made it personal.
“I’d heard horror stories about what publishers did when they got ahold of a book,” said the author. “Self publishing was the only option that made sense to me.”
She initially went through Amazon, but her paperbacks are now available at a number of shops and venues in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including Lincoln Gardens in Lincoln and Phantom Farms in Cumberland.
Vicente makes it easy for new readers to find her books. The promotional bookmarks for Obey Me provide a QR code that takes you directly to her website and all of the other sites where you can order her books. The e-books can be downloaded on Amazon, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Smash Words.
According to Vicente, there is no better place to be in October than northern Rhode Island, and her first novel, Love Me, takes place in this haunting month. This year, Vicente was selected as one of five local authors to be included in The Stadium Theatre’s All Hallows Eve production on Thursday, Oct. 26, where a dramatic reading will bring two of her spooky short stories to the stage. Tickets and full information are available at https://www.stadiumtheatre.com/events/all-hallows-eve/639.
For more about the author and her work visit https://sharynhaddadvicente.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100067788625014.