“No one can be a really good writer without reading. A lot.” ~Linda Rodriguez
We are thrilled to welcome mystery novelist Linda Rodriguez to Book Country. Linda’s second novel, Every Broken Trust (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books), just hit the shelves with one reviewer calling it “one of the best traditional mysteries I’ve read this year.” Her first novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, which got her a publishing deal. We’re talking with her about her mystery novels and writing success.
Nevena: Thanks for chatting with us, Linda. Congratulations on the publication of Every Broken Trust! How did the adventures of Skeet, your college campus police chief, come to you?
Linda: I had spent years as the director of a campus women’s center, and I had occasion to work with the campus police, so I knew that most colleges have real police forces. I wanted to make Skeet a campus police chief with a big-city homicide division background. As I explored her character to discover why she would have left the Kansas City Police Department for a campus force, her irascible father and possessive ex-husband sprang into life. The further I went into Skeet’s character, the more this world and these people came to life around me.
Nevena: Tell us more about the two books.
Linda: In Every Last Secret, Skeet moves to a small college town to become the campus police chief. When the student editor of the paper is found murdered on campus, she must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. She unravels the secrets while dealing with college bureaucracy, a vulnerable teenager, an ex-husband, and an ailing dad.
In the sequel, Every Broken Trust, it’s the past that reaches out to destroy everything she holds dear. She must find the murderer of her best friend’s husband and solve a series of linked murders before her friend winds up in jail—or dead, and Skeet’s world unravels before her eyes.
Nevena: What new thing did you realize about Skeet in the sequel?
Linda: Skeet thought she had no time or patience for romance or passion. Then, a new man walks into her town and her life, a man who may not be a good man, at all. Skeet finds herself reluctantly attracted to him and determined not to give into such craziness. She finds this man dangerous in more than one way.
This was not a situation I expected Skeet to face. I really liked that she was a heroine who wasn’t looking for a man. This new male character was supposed to turn out differently, and none of this was supposed to happen. But as I wrote the scenes for this book, the chemistry between these two characters grew. Terry’s a bad boy, and Skeet is the last person in the world to be drawn to a bad boy, but here it is, and she has to deal with it.
Nevena: You followed your characters!
You have a very interesting path to publication: you sold Every Last Secret to St. Martin’s Press after winning a book competition. Can you tell us more about it?
Linda: St. Martin’s Press has four great contests for new mystery novelists: the Malice Domestic, the Private Eye, the Tony Hillerman, and the Mystery Writers of America. All four are free and are for first crime novels, and each has different requirements.
Someone suggested that I send Every Last Secret to the Malice Domestic Competition, so I did. And promptly forgot about it as I went on to other writing projects. Five months later, an email showed up in my inbox from someone I didn’t know with one word in the subject line—“Malice.” I started to mark it as spam and delete it, but I was curious about who would use that word for a spam email. So I opened it to find it was from a judge in the Malice Domestic Competition, letting me know I was a finalist. This was so exciting, and it got better. I was told that, as a finalist, I would probably be able to get an agent and publisher, even if I didn’t win. So I was floating for a month until I got a call from my now editor, telling me I’d won and would be published. I doubt if my feet touched the ground for the rest of the summer.
Nevena: What do you think tipped the scales in your favor?
Linda: The judge who first emailed me said the strength of my characters was what led her to send it in as a finalist, so I assume that played a part in my winning. As someone who’s been a poet for years, I’d like to think my use of language helped.
Nevena: What has it been like working with your editor?
Linda: I love my editor and publisher. Toni Plummer, my editor, almost always “gets” what I’m trying to do. The edits she gives me are very astute and designed to strengthen the very things I’m trying to make foundational to the book. I’ve loved working with artist Ross Jones on my covers. St. Martin’s asks for my input on the covers. They’ve even created a font based on the Cherokee syllabary, and I think they’ve given me some of the most beautiful covers out there. I feel very fortunate to have the publisher and editor I have.
Nevena: That’s wonderful. What draws you to the mystery genre?
Linda: I’m an omnivorous reader. I have been since before I ever went to school. I’ve read mysteries all that time, from The Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers to the many, many wonderful crime writers who have me claiming that we’re currently in a new Golden Age of crime fiction. I’ve also always read and loved science fiction and fantasy and literary fiction, but I don’t read as much literary fiction as I used to. I find that many of the finest writers today are writing in the genres of mystery and science fiction and fantasy, while a lot of, but not all, literary fiction has become tedious. I’ve published two award-winning books of poetry and am also a big reader in that field. I was actually quite surprised to find that many of the great mystery novelists are big poetry fans. It actually makes sense when I think of the grace and power of their writing, though.
Nevena: The attention to language is there! What’s your personal approach to crafting a good “whodunit”?
Linda: I call myself a plotter-pantser. I must write a scene-by-scene outline in order to get started. Otherwise, I’d be too intimidated. However, I’m congenitally incapable of following any kind of pattern or instructions—in sewing, knitting, weaving, or writing. So immediately I start to make alterations. The killer always changes before the end of the book, as do the motives of many of the suspects and many of the events that happen.
I used to feel bad about this until I read Elizabeth George’s marvelous writing book, Write Away!. Elizabeth George always outlines 50 pages, writes those, often making changes, then outlines the next 50 pages and writes them. This is how she works her way through the book.
I thought, if it’s good enough for Elizabeth George, it’s good enough for me.
Nevena: That’s great advice for our members, thank you. What’s your favorite part of the writing process?
Linda: I really like just about all of the process of writing. My absolutely favorite part is the period in the first draft when I’m deeply into the book, and it starts to take on a life of its own. The characters begin to move in ways I haven’t foreseen, and it all gets even more exciting than I think it would be. It’s an addictive feeling, and it keeps us poor writing junkies hooked even when the words won’t come and the characters are stiff on the page.
Nevena: We believe in the value of writers helping writers. Who has supported you along your path as a writer?
Linda: I have been fortunate to have a number of people help me in many ways, but there are three who come immediately to mind: my dear friend Sandra Cisneros, who has given me all kinds of advice, support, and encouragement (as she has given to so many writers); another dear friend, Luis Alberto Urrea, who volunteered to read and blurb Every Broken Trust; and the great mystery writer Julia Spencer-Fleming, who volunteered to read and blurb Every Last Secret when we’d never met or had any correspondence, just because she wanted to help my career.
The community of mystery writers is the warmest and most welcoming community of writers I’ve ever encountered, and I’m truly grateful to the many among them who have been kind and helpful to me.
Nevena: That’s so great to hear. So what’s your next project?
Linda: Currently, I’m writing the third Skeet Bannion novel, Every Hidden Fear. I have a deadline in a couple of months. Then, I’ll turn back to a trilogy set in the Kansas City Chicano community. It will have double protagonists: a single mom running a Mexican restaurant and the handsome homicide detective who was her high school sweetheart and whose heart she broke. A murder will bring them together and force them to deal with each other, in spite of the pain their shared past brings to each of them. And I’m doing research now for a historical novel about the Cherokee after the Trail of Tears.
Nevena: Finally, do you have any advice for upcoming writers?
Linda: Write, write, write and read, read, read, read. Learn to read as a writer. No one can be a really good writer without reading. A lot. Those are the fundamentals. There’s lots more to do with learning the publishing business that’s important to know, but reading and writing are critical. Without them, you have nothing.
Nevena: Thank you so much for being a guest on Book Country. It’s been lovely chatting with you.
Linda Rodriguez is an award-winning novelist and poet. She is president of the Borders Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, a founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community and International Thriller Writers. Follow her on Twitter @rodriguez_linda and on Facebook. She blogs about writers, writing, and the absurdities of everyday life at lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com.