When I was seventeen, I found this quote that touched my soul.
“We shall not cease from
exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we
started. And know the place for the first time.” – T. S. Eliot- 1955
Eliot’s words nail my experience with life’s adventures, none so much as my journey as a writer.
THE FIRST NOVEL
Back in the nineties, I wanted to write a novel, and though I could write, I
knew nothing about being an author or writing a mystery novel. To learn, I read several books on writing and took mystery courses at a writer's school in Maryland.
I was told that before I wrote a novel about a jockey named Nikki Latrelle, I should write her back story. The idea was to find out who Nikki was, and what made her tick before I began writing her into the novel, FULL MORTALITY. Hard work, but it
paid off. FULL MORTALITY was picked up by a small press and received Agatha and a Macavity best
first novel nominations.
wrote two more Nikki Latrelle books, but unfortunately, the small press provided little marketing and didn't stock the books in libraries and book stores. I was forced to abandon Nikki.
Click here to find the Nikki books
THE BIG CONTRACT
I wanted a publishing contract with one of New York's big five publishers. My agent said I had
to write a new series. So I did. My new heroine,
Fia McKee, landed me a two book deal with St. Martins, a thrilling and heady
moment, for sure.
But the huge gap between the last Nikki Latrelle, published in 2013, and the
not-available-until 2017, FLAMINGO ROAD worried me. I’d planned to start a
third in the Fia McKee series, but realized if the
first two books in this new series don’t succeed, St. Martins could drop me
like a hot potato.
|FLAMINGO ROAD, Coming April, 2017|
I knew that some
publishers are asking their authors to write novellas and short stories to remain in the public eye during intervals between full length
novels. I decided to self publish another Nikki Latrelle. And so, after
the long journey of writing five books, I returned to my notes about Nikki
Latrelle’s early years.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
Like the Eliot quote, I came back to where I’d started
and knew the place for the first time.
This tale of Nikki’s early years was poignant and loaded with reader
satisfaction. Imagine a fatherless thirteen-year-old girl whose mother
dies suddenly, leaving her
in the hands of a lewd, malevolent stepfather.
The fact that she does survive
and succeeds should make a good story, so I wrote the Nikki Latrelle novella, RACING FROM EVIL. The novella has
sold well and been a good stopgap.
Click here to find RACING FROM EVIL
I was still torn, for in my heart I believe the St. Martins/Fia
McKee series will succeed. After all, the unpublished series won
the Carrie McCray (South Carolina Writers Association) Award for Best First Chapter of a
Novel, and received a nomination for a Claymore Award.
A CALIFORNIA NOVEL
I wanted the next Fia McKee to
take place at Santa Anita Park in California, and even took a trip out to the
track, touring it and the Hollywood area nearby. I wanted a murder mystery set
at this well-known track surrounded by the glitz and deceit of Hollywood.
|Me and Ziconic|
|Checking out the lady's room in the "High Roller" section of Santa Anita Racetrack|
But again that fear niggled at me. What if the first
two novels don’t succeed? What good will this idea be then? If I want to sell
to another big five publisher, any book I write, has to be something new, which
means yet another series and a new set of characters.
A TRAVELERS NOVEL
Since I can’t afford not to
hedge my bets, I started a new book–a murder mystery about the American Irish
Travelers. By happy coincidence, the largest enclave of these
people is Murphy Village, not more than forty minutes from my home in South Carolina.
Travelers have a fascinating
culture. The children are taken out of school by eighth grade, if not before,
and the girls are married by contract and usually as young teens. Travelers
stick to themselves and have little dealings with outsiders. Society believes
the Travelers are scam and con artists. Truth be told, these families do take to the road in the summer doing odd jobs out of state, sometimes scamming or even robbing people.
|Travelers who haven't pulled in the cash live like this.|
What would it be like for a girl who grows up in this
atmosphere? What if she wants out? Where would she go? What would happen to
And so, another book starts. My research included a plan to
drive to Murphy Village, and shoot video and photos of the huge McMansions
these people build and the religious statues I had read stood in every yard. But friends in Aiken were aghast.
"You're going to drive into Murphy
Village? Don't to that! They'll surround your car, ask what business you have
in their village. They'll run you out!"
|Travelers with the cash build houses like this. |
Notice the old single-wide trailer still in the yard?
But mystery authors will not be
denied, and I went up there, anyway. I got the images I wanted. Amazing to see
these huge homes without any landscaping in the same yard with single wide
trailers, trailers that could still hit the road if necessary. I didn't have
any trouble with the natives, and the next morning, I found out why. Imagine my
shock to see this headline.
Of course, no one had both bothered me.
These people were in enough trouble already. Probably didn't want any
Below, are pictures of the evolving village. As the travelers make more money, they build more huge houses and even begin landscaping. But those with less money continue to live in their double-wides.
|The orange sign is a subject to forfeiture notice from the feds.|
Apparently the home belongs to one of the 32 people indicted.
And so for me, another story evolves, and another exploration begins. Only time will tell which way I travel, but at least I’ll be as prepared as possible for whatever happens next.
|Pondering the road we travel with Lee Child at Bouchercon|