My Road to Mystery Writing

I started writing in the mid-1990s just to document a lot of information I had been gathering related to my art field. For material that has a Southwestern tinge to it, finding a publisher was not difficult. Maybe I was just lucky.  I’ve managed to have my books about Churches, personal shrines, Santos (Saints), a coloring book and even a memoir about growing up in Santa Fe published. I was pretty happy about all these events, and completed a book of short stories, which was also published.

Two years ago while attending the New Mexico Book Awards, Anne Hillerman announced that the Tony Hillerman Award for the coming year was going to be increased to $10,000.  The award would be a $10,000 advance and contract with Minotaur Press in New York, and would be given to a mystery set in any of the four corner states (New Mexico/Arizona/Utah/Colorado.) It also had to be from a writer who had never published a mystery.  Well, I thought I might be able to do that. How difficult could it be?  After reading about fifty of the most popular mystery writers the rest of the winter, at the beginning of the year I started writing.  It didn’t take too long before I found out how difficult it was to write fiction and a mystery at that. I really gained a great deal of respect for mystery writers and how so many of them could wind a story around the twists and turns and then leave you panting for more by the time you reached the last page.  I threw myself into perfecting this mysterious craft, and before too long I found I had a viable story, one with the twists and turns that would keep a reader turning the page.  But it wasn’t perfect and I didn’t have the skills to perfect it. A friend in Florida suggested I contact an editor who might be able to give me an idea of what the manuscript needed to fine tune it.

That was an adventure in itself. In the first two conversations, I discovered that I had piled too much information about the area into the first chapters.  Well, darn it, I figured if you’d never been to New Mexico you would surely want to know something about it. He said it read like a travelogue. My argument was that writers like Michael McGarrity and Robert Parker pepper the pages with descriptions of the area, as did Tony Hillerman. His response was that well-known published writers can get away with a lot more once they are established; that the rules for “beginning” writers are different. So … delete, delete, delete.

Working with a free-lance editor was also an unexpected adventure. First of all, I learned later that I had to be careful that even with the changes he suggested (and many of them were good ones), I still had to retain my own voice and the integrity of the story. When I reread the whole story at the end, I discovered that there were a few things he had inserted that worked to change how I had envisioned my character, so I changed them back. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t rewrite my text, he just made suggestions about what was lacking, then I would write and rewrite and send it back to him. Occasionally, he would insert a word or two to pull it together.  He also didn’t like the Epilogue and suggested I can it, but I liked it and felt it was necessary to give the reader an idea of what happened after the end. Three hundred pages and many of my edits later, I was fairly content with how the story read.

I have since written a sequel to that first story and am working on the third, which has been far more difficult as life events have interrupted my many personal projects.

Through a series of serendipitous events, in the past few months I have been fortunate to “score” a publisher. Shadows among the Ruins has just been published by Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press.

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2 comments on “My Road to Mystery Writing

  1. Forrest Fenn on said:

    I have just started reading your memoir, Tortilla Chronicles, and like it a lot but am a little disappointed that you let that bully get the best of you when you were a kid. I had a similar experience so I can relate. The way you told the story was wonderful. Now back to the book. f

  2. Forrest Fenn on said:

    Marie, your son Gregory’s picture is in the current New Mexico Magazine and he made some pretty astute comments about books and authors. And of course he said your book TORTILLA CHRONICLES is one of his favorites, mine too. Congratulations to both of you. f

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