Sunday, April 22, 2012
Interview with Linda Rodriguez
Cover image of Linda Rodriguez's Every Last Secret, winner of 2001 Malice Domestic First Best Traditional Mystery contest. Linda's debut is April 24, and at the Malice Domestic Convention in Bethesda, April 27-29. She moderates Saturday AM panel "Have Gun, Will Travel," and is a panelist on the Sunday AM panel, "Well-Schooled in Murder."
1. When did you begin writing? Why?
I had a childhood that made Mommie, Dearest look like a fairytale, and reading and writing helped me survive it. So I started writing when I was quite young—poetry and stories that I wanted to think of as novels—but I really began in earnest when I was a young, college-drop-out mother and wife. At various times in my life, poetry has taken precedence over novels and vice versa, usually because of time constraints. Novels, I have found, require a longer chunk of writing each day and over a longer period of time. Poetry takes as much work—one poem may go through twenty or more revisions—but that work can be done in shorter bits of time with longer absences from the work in-between.
2. When and why did you begin writing mysteries?
I began as a poet and writer of literary fiction, but I’ve always read mysteries (and science fiction/fantasy), along with the literary stuff. I’m an omnivore when it comes to reading. When I came up with this character, Skeet Bannion, she seemed to belong in a mystery.
I like the premise of the modern mystery, which is focused less on locked rooms and impossible methods of murder and more on relationships among the characters and emotional fallout from those relationships as motive. The great mystery is always “What goes on within the heart of this person to make him/her capable of killing another?”
3. Explain your basic idea for your series.
Half-Cherokee Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion thought she was leaving her troubles behind when she fled the stress of being the highest ranking woman on the Kansas City Police Department, a jealous cop ex-husband who didn’t want to let go, and a disgraced alcoholic ex-cop father. Moving to a small town to be chief of the campus police force, she builds a life outside of police work. She might even begin a new relationship with the amiable Brewster police chief.
All of this is threatened when the student editor of the college newspaper is found murdered on campus. Skeet must track down the killer, following trails that lead to some of the most powerful people in the university. In the midst of her investigation, Skeet takes up responsibility for a vulnerable teenager as her ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Time is running out, and college administrators demand she conceal all college involvement in the murder, but Skeet will not stop until she's unraveled every last secret.
Every Last Secret is the first in a series with Skeet Bannion as the protagonist. Skeet, like most of us, has some internal issues she has to learn to deal with. Each book is a complete mystery novel in itself, but I see the entire series as a kind of meta-novel following Skeet’s growth as a person. I like Julia Spencer-Fleming’s categorization of “traditional mystery-thriller” as a description. Every Last Secret is, indeed, a traditional mystery set in a small town, but the small town is right outside a big, dangerous city, and there’s a darker edge to this character, this book, and the series as a whole.
4. Tell us about your journey to publication with this book.
I had written Every Last Secret several years ago, set it aside to edit at some mythical future period when I had time, and continued to focus on poetry and literary fiction. I won a big award for my poetry, which included a free one-month stay at Ragdale, the famous writers and artists residency. I was to write a new book of poetry while there, but I took the novel manuscript with me, just in case. I wrote that new book of poetry and edited Every Last Secret, as well. At the later suggestion of a friend, I entered the manuscript in the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Competition. To my surprise, I won, and St. Martin’s offered me a publishing contract. I can’t say enough about the four first-novel contests that St. Martin’s offers to aspiring writers. I’m not aware of another publisher showing that kind of commitment to finding good, new novelists.
My editor also had me fill out a lengthy author questionnaire to be used in-house so the rest of the staff could get to know me and the book and promote the book effectively. They also asked for my suggestions on cover art and photographs of some of the towns and campuses that went into the creation of my fictional college town. I was surprised at how hard they worked to give me a cover I’d be happy with, and I do love my beautiful cover. Then, I had to cut the book by over 20,000 words because the longer hardcover book would have to be published at a higher price, and they felt that would rob a first-time author of readers. This necessitated going through the book several times as if it were a very long poem, tightening and compressing wherever possible. It was a pain, but I think the book is even stronger for it.
The next thing St. Martin’s wanted was blurbs from other authors for Every Last Secret. I had already lined up a couple of writer friends who knew my work, but the amazing thing is that some well-known authors I didn’t know previously offered blurbs. I think in particular of the great Julia Spencer-Fleming, who emailed me out of the blue after hearing I’d won the Malice Domestic Competition (as she had at the beginning of her career) and asked to read the manuscript, later writing a dream blurb for Every Last Secret. I have been repeatedly stunned at the kindness and generosity of established mystery writers.
5. Why did you choose to write about the topic, community, issues you chose?
I spent many years running a university women’s center, and that has translated directly for this series of books into background knowledge of the university setting and campus politics and procedures. It has translated also in a more general way throughout all my work into a concern for women’s issues and an option for and understanding of strong female characters.
I also spent a good deal of time in my childhood with my Cherokee grandmother and aunt, whose influence on me shows daily in how I live my life and in almost everything I write, especially in this series of novels. I have another series I hope to write someday that would be centered in Midwestern urban Chicano culture—and food. I once wrote a Mexican cookbook that remains a steady seller.
6. How have you found it to be published? Share that experience.
I have loved it, but I’m finding this time right before Every Last Secret launches to be quite hectic. There is so much to be done right in those months right before publication to make certain that the book is promoted properly and gets the right attention. I’m fortunate that St. Martin’s has given me a great publicist, but the big houses don’t do as much as they used to in that regard. (I suspect that they may never have done as much as we think they did for most first books.) Anyway, much of that promotion burden falls on the shoulders of the writer. When we write, we’re artists. When we publish, we have to become business people.
7. Do you have comments from readers or reviewers you’d like to share?
“Fans of tough female detectives like V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone will be pleased.” – Publishers Weekly
“Fans of Nevada Barr and Sara Paretsky will relish Linda Rodriguez's stellar debut. Her sleuth, Skeet Bannion, is a keeper. Every Last Secret is a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters.” – Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times bestselling author of One Was a Soldier
“Every Last Secret offers that rare and startling thing in the universe of thrillers: a truly fresh voice. Rodriguez's tale spares nothing. Skeet is an all-too-human heroine, and we just want more, more, more.”— Jacquelyn Mitchard, #1 national bestselling author of The Deep End of the Ocean and Second Nature: A Love Story
“There's a new cop in town and she has smarts, courage, and a good heart. Mystery readers will find a new favorite in Chief Skeet Bannion.”— Nancy Pickard, author of The Scent of Rain and Lightning
“Linda Rodriguez has created a captivating female detective with a mind for justice and a heart for those who’ve been unfairly treated. Skeet navigates university politics and a nest of deadly secrets to find the truth, even when it means investigating people she cares about.”— Carolyn Haines, author of Bones of a Feather
“Murder on a college campus, plenty of bad people, and all kinds of puzzles to solve. Linda Rodriguez has written a highly enjoyable procedural introducing a rough and tender heroine, Skeet Bannion.”— Kathleen George, author of The Odds and Hideout
"Rodriguez’s debut is an action-packed ride featuring an intriguing heroine you won’t quickly forget."—Sally Goldenbaum, bestselling author of The Wedding Shawl
8. What other books have you published and where, when?
I’ve published two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Tia Chucha Press, 2009), winner of the Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, Midwest Voices and Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisnero Award, and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award, and Skin Hunger (Potpourri Publications, 1995; Scapegoat Press, 2007), and a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican (Adams Media, 2008). I’ve also recently edited the poetry anthology, Woven Voices: Three Puertorriqueñas Look at Their Lives (Scapegoat Press, 2012).
9. Do you have a work in progress now? Is it part of a series?
I’ve just turned in the second Skeet Bannion mystery novel, Every Broken Trust, and am currently beginning work on the third in the Skeet Bannion series.
10. If you belong to Sisters in Crime, and/or the Guppies, has that been helpful? How?
Yes, I do belong to Sisters in Crime. I was a founding member of the very active Border Crimes group in Kansas City and am slated to become its president next year. I’ve found SinC at the national level and our local group to be fantastically helpful. Border Crimes had for three years a monthly book dissection group, led by NYT bestseller Nancy Pickard, in which we took apart successful published mysteries, focusing on various elements of craft. Nancy has finally had to bow out, but I hope to find a way of reinstituting this group later this year when my book tour is over. I felt it was like taking a graduate-level workshop in mystery writing, and I’d like to keep offering that great benefit to our members.
11. What benefit to you has it been to go to mystery conferences like Malice Domestic?
The only mystery conference I’ve attended so far has been Malice Domestic, which I loved and found terrifically useful. When I arrived at Malice Domestic last year, I knew no one. My editor and two writer friends weren’t arriving until the next afternoon. Still, several writers and fans took me under their wings and introduced me to other people and told me about must-see panels (Luci Zahray the Poison Lady!). One of my book blurbs came from a lovely NYT-bestselling writer I met at Malice. And the panels I attended were full of helpful information for my writing and the business-promotion side of my career
I hope to attend Thrillerfest and Bouchercon. I have heard lots of great recommendations for them, as well. I heard a professional publicist say that she recommended for writers just starting in the field to use their promotion budget to attend as many big mystery conferences as they could afford to make contacts in the field and build a public profile.
12. What else would you like to say about your books, the next one in your series?
Every Last Secret is currently available for pre-order and will launch on April 24, 2012. If you’d like to know more about Skeet Bannion and Every Last Secret, please visit www.LindaRodriguezWrites.blogspot.com.
Linda Rodriguez has published one novel, Every Last Secret (Minotaur Books), winner of the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, two books of poetry, Heart’s Migration (Thorpe Menn Award; finalist, Eric Hoffer Book Award) and Skin Hunger, and a cookbook, The “I Don’t Know How To Cook” Book: Mexican. She received the Midwest Voices & Visions Award, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, KCArtsFund Inspiration Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Rodriguez is a member of Latino Writers Collective, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.