Saturday, September 25, 2010

A Visit with Margaret Coel

Tony Hillerman's heir apparent, award-winning and bestselling author, Margaret Coel, writes about the Arapaho people of Colorado and Wyoming's Wind River Reservation. Her latest release, The Spider's Web, is the 15th book in her series.

Margaret, you’ve said that the Arapahos are your dream people. Why are you so fascinated with them?

The Arapahos lived on the plains of Colorado in what they call “the old time.” I’m a 4th generation Coloradan who grew up on the stories of our area, including stories about the native peoples. Something about them just drew me in, and the more I researched and got to know them, the more fascinated I became. My first book was a non-fiction book, titled Chief Left Hand, which is a biography of one of their leading men in the 19th century and a history of the people in Colorado. That was the book that took me into their world. It was published in 1981 by The University of Oklahoma Press and has never gone out of print.

How were you able to research the crimes and customs of the tribe? Have they allowed you to interview them or have you researched them mainly in libraries and newspaper articles?

All of the above. I do a lot of research in newspaper articles, and I spent 5 years in library archives researching the Arapahos. I visit the Wind River Reservation every year, and have for the past 30 years, and I visit with my friends.

How did your protagonists, Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden come about? Were they based on real people?

They were the kind of sleuths I needed for my novels. Amateurs, yet the kind of people that those in trouble would turn to and would trust. Father John is an outsider, like me. I wanted a character who would come to know the Arapahos and appreciate their history and culture, as I did. My thought was that the reader could come along on his journey. As for Vicky I wanted to write from a woman’s point of view, and I wanted a strong Arapaho voice in the stories. No, they are not based on real people, but I’m told one of the ongoing games on the rez is trying to figure out who they really are!

What is the most interesting fact that you learned about the Arapaho tribe?

They were traders, called the “businessmen of the plains,” in the early days. They were very sharp business people, and still are. They are also very spiritual.

Why did you leave Father O’Malley in Rome to write Blood Memory, a departure from your Arapaho series?

I thought he should go to Romewhile I write Blood Memory, and then I would have a tax-deductible excuse to visit Rome as well.

Were Tony Hillerman’s books your inspiration to write your own series?

Oh, yes, and so was Tony Hillerman. He really created the market for mysteries set among native tribes. Peope who read all of his books—and loved them—started looking around for similar mysteries in different locations. And there mine were!

What’s your writing schedule like? 

I write 6 days a week—this is a real job. Usually I write for 4 or 5 hours, then spend a couple hours on the “business” part of the writing business—dealing with editors, agents, publicist, requests for interviews and speeches. The type of thing I am now doing. Then I also do a lot of research and reading for each book.

How many books did you publish before you acquired an agent? And was acquiring an agent difficult?

With the mystery novels, I acquired an agent right away. The agent liked the manuscript of The Eagle Catcher, my first novel, and sold it to Berkley Publishing, still my publisher. I signed a 3-book contract, and I was off and running.

Which of your nonfiction books or novels was the most difficult to write? Which is your favorite? And why?

I wouldn’t say my non-fiction book, Chief Left Hand, was difficult, but it required a tremendous amount of research and documentation, as well as travel to the places I wrote about. So it took a chunk out of my life. But it was a terrific experience, and it allows me to write the mystery novels. As for my favorite book, it is always the book I am in the midst of writing. It fills up my head and consumes my life. When it is done, I send it on its way into the world and hunker down with my next “favorite” book.

Advice for aspiring writers?

One important word: Persistence. You have to keep at it no matter what. Keep writing and honing your craft. Keep getting better and better. Keep searching for the readers out there who are waiting for your stories.

Thank you, Margaret, for taking part in the series.

Margaret's website:
She's also on Facebook and invites everyone to join her there:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Visit with Elizabeth Spann Craig

Elizabeth Spann Edwards writes two diverse mystery series, her Myrtle Clover novels and  cullinary mysteries set in Memphis, written as Riley Adams for Berkley.

How did your latest novel, Delicious, Suspicious, come about? Also Lulu, your Memphis barbeque-restaurant-owning, grandmother-sleuth?

I think, like so many things in life, I was at the right place at the right time. Berkley Prime Crime was interested in acquiring Pretty is as Pretty Dies (I’d queried them with the manuscript), but it got buried in a slush pile and instead was published by Midnight Ink. But Berkley was interested in having me write a different book—a culinary mystery set in Memphis, a city they thought would provide a rich setting for a mystery. I set to work right away writing the book. Lulu is an amalgam of all the strong, southern women who helped raise me. I love her humor and common sense.

You’ve written under your own name for your Myrtle Clover novels but this new series is billed as Riley Adams. Why the pseudonym?

As a writer with another series with a competing publisher, Berkley asked me to write under a pseudonym.

You’re a writer with young children at home. Why have you decided to write about senior amateur sleuths?

As a reader, I’ve always been drawn to older sleuths and love the wisdom they bring to the table when they investigate a crime. Miss Marple was one of my all-time favorites. My grandmother, who was strong and smart and funny was also a tremendous inspiration for me. Currently, I’m working on writing the third Memphis barbeque book and also working on a separate project…and yes, it does involve an elderly sleuth!

How did you go about acquiring an agent?

It wasn’t easy! I researched agents for weeks—checking their preferences and client list against my manuscript to see if it was a match. I was rejected...probably fifty-sixty times over the course of a couple of years. Some agents were queried more than once, for different projects. I actually ended up with a publisher before I acquired an agent and negotiated my own contract. Fortunately, I found my agent, Ellen Pepus, before hazarding my negotiating abilities (more like inabilities) with a second publisher.

What’s your writing schedule like and do you outline your novels?

My writing schedule is nuts. There’s actually no schedule at all—just a daily goal. As long as I make my goal, I fit my writing in where I can—in the carpool line at the elementary school, late at night, early in the morning, while taking my kids to the skate rink…wherever. I prefer not to outline my novels, but sometimes editors like to see a full synopsis. And I aim to please! But if left to my own devices, I make up my mysteries as I go along.

What’s the hardest part of writing for you and the aspect that brings you the greatest pleasure?Do family members serve as consultants and first readers?And does anyone else in your family write professionally?

My mother is my first reader and my father will read for me, too, time permitting. My mother is an avid reader and my father is an English professor. It helps! My father and grandmother have always written—articles, newsletters, etc, but weren’t novelists.

Tell us briefly about your writing background.

Starting out, I worked as an intern at a magazine in London when I was studying abroad there. After graduation, I married and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, and wrote articles (and did whatever else they needed…help selling ads or laying out copy) for an art magazine there.

Advice to fledgling writers?

 My advice would be to figure out what you want, in terms of your writing. Are you happy just writing for yourself? Could you be happy just sharing your work with a small group of people? Once I figured out my direction and what my intent was for my writing, I was a lot more determined and treated it more seriously.

Thanks, Elizabeth.