Wednesday, September 01, 2010

My mystery author guest: Margaret Coel

As promised yesterday, Colorado mystery author Margaret Coel is visiting my blog today to answer my interview questions and ones asked by my blog readers. Above is the cover photo for the fifteenth book in her Wind River reservation series, The Spider's Web, which will be released on September 7th. To find out about Margaret's stellar career, please read yesterday's post.

As for The Spider's Web, it is the time of the annual Sun Dance on the Wind River Reservation, the ancient sacred ceremony that unites Arapahos in prayer and peaceful renewal. Yet when a blond, beautiful outsider arrives on the rez, murder, suspicion and recimination follow in her path. Marcy Morrison claims to be engaged to Arapaho Ned Windsong, even though Ned never mentions a fiance or plans to marry anyone—before he is found shot to death. Marcy, brutally attacked at the scene, identifies two Arapaho troublemakers as the men who burst into Ned’s house and shot him. Nothing ties Marcy to the murder, yet all eyes on the reservation turn to her—the outsider—and Ned’s family is convinced she is responsible. When Vicky Holden agrees to represent the outsider, she finds herself at odds with her own people.

Soon Vicky also finds herself at odds with her long-time friend Father John O’Malley who has glimpsed something in the beautiful outsider that shakes him to his core and convinces him that Marcy Morrison may not be the innocent victim she claims to be. When the men Marcy has accused are found murdered in an abandoned barn, another suspect surfaces, Roseanne Birdwoman, Ned’s former fiance. Except that Father John fears Roseanne may be the killer’s next intended victim.

As Father John and Vicky are drawn into the web of lies and deceit cast over the reservation, they realize they are up against a master—a psychopathic killer determined to play out the game to the deadly end.

Ooooh, chills are traveling down my spine over this description! How about yours? See what Margaret Coel has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in comments.

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

Books inspired me. Probably the earliest inspiration came from the wonderful books my mother read to me and my brothers when we were young. I loved stories, and I wanted to write them. Sometimes an offhand comment can be a huge inspiration. In college, an English teacher, a elderly Jesuit, handed a paper back to me and said, “I expect to read your published stories one of these days.” Published stories? I had never thought I could write well enough to actually publish anything, but that offhand comment made me start thinking—Gee, maybe I can do it.

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

My characters seem to reveal themselves to me as I’m writing. They are always full of surprises. We play a kind of game: I set up the touchy situations, place them in all kinds of jeopardy, give them hard things to figure out. Then I sit back and see how they’re going to handle things. It’s always great fun, and they always surprise me. Especially Vicky Holden, my Arapaho character, who never does what I expect her to do.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I do a very loose outline, what I call a “road map.” But before I start that, I spend time reading about whatever I’ll be writing on. For The Spider’s Web, due out on Sept. 7, I read a lot about the Arapaho Sun Dance and about the characteristics of psychopaths—very interesting reading. Then I start work on my road map, basically jotting down how the story will start, where it will go, and how it will end.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Character, character, character. I do love plot but let’s face it, plot is nothing more than what the characters do. Characters come first. They are what readers care about and get involved with. I challenge any reader to give me a blow-by-blow account of a mystery novel she read five years ago. But chances are very good she will remember the characters in the novels, and may even feel nostalgic about them, as if they are old friends she hasn’t seen in five years.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

I would have to go with Hemingway, who said the challenge was always “getting the words right.” I write the rough draft of my novels very fast, without editing as I go. Then I take the whole big mess—which is what it is then—and knuckle down and get to work. Rewriting, editing, deleting (I’ve sometimes deleted a hundred precious pages!), shaping and just getting the words right. It is always a challenge, but what fun!

What keeps me inspired? I’m not sure, but I usually get an idea for my next book while I’m hard at work writing the current book. Then I can’t wait to finish up what I’m doing so I can plunge into the new story. I always fall in love with my ideas for books.

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

Up early, walk three miles, shower, breakfast and go to work. Pretty much my boring routine. I write about five hours, five and sometimes six days a week. And sometimes seven, if I’m on deadline. After the writing time, I spend a couple hours on the “business” past of the writing business—dealing with editors, agents, publicists, bookstores, invitations to speak, whatever. I also spend a couple hours each day reading.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

One word: Persistence. You have to stay with it. Keep writing, keep improving your craft, and keep sending pieces to editors and agents. Write short stories for small magazines. Agents read these, so you could be in the position of having an agent contact you. Never give up. Most writers suffer through a wastebasket full of rejections before they finally get published.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

I’m a movie nut. I especially love old movies. I have no self control when it comes to movies; I will pop in a DVD and sit mesmerized in front of the TV for two hours when I really should be doing something constructive.

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

I’m now finishing a suspense novel for 2011, titled The Perfect Suspect. The novel is a sequel to Blood Memory, set in Denver with reporter Catherine McLeod. I’m also about to start a book tour in September for The Spider’s Web. When all that is over, I’ll be starting the next Wind River mystery with Father John O’Malley and Vicky Holden, and I’m eager to start!

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

The book tour for The Spider’s Web may bring me to a store near you. Please check my appearances schedule on my website or my Facebook page. I’m always available to join a book club conversation by phone, and you can contact me through my website.


Donna Volkenannt said...

Hi Beth and Margaret,
Thanks to both of you for your great interview--questions and answers.
I agree that characters make the book. Several years ago I attended a session Margaret gave at OWFI about creating characters worth rooting for; her advice is golden!
Donna Volkenannt

Stacey said...

Beth, thanks for the interview with Margaret. Margaret, I love your Wind River mysteries. Wyoming is a favorite place of mine and the characters of Vicki and Father John keep me reading each new book. I keep hoping they'll get together someday, but I know that will never happen with him being the good Irish priest and all. lol

Unknown said...

Very cool interview.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Interesting interview and The Spider's Web sounds like a must read.

Kathleen Ernst said...

Thanks, Margaret! I consider your series an airplane read--meaning that I can count on it to be engrossing during long flights! Looking forward to the new one.

Beth Groundwater said...

Some Facebook comments on yesterday's post about Margaret's visit:

"WOW! She was the highlight of the PPWC I attended where she spoke. I still use her talk to plot out my work. An awesome and talented writer. Good for you, Beth, on having her a guest blogger. :-)"
- Olgy Gary

"I love her books. Great coup Beth."
- Whitney Malone

Barb Goffman said...

Bi, Beth. Thanks for inviting Margaret here today.

And Hi, Margaret. I'm so glad to read more about your books. And you're so very right that character trumps plot any day. I can hardly remember the plots of most books I've read. For the authors I return to over and over, it's because of the characters and the setting.

And while I'm here, I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage you, Margaret, to come to the Malice Domestic mystery convention, which is held each spring in the DC area. Next year it will be April 29 - May 1. I'm sure our fans would love to see you. You can learn more at, or you can contact me privately. (I'm the program chair.) Beth is a regular. She can fill you in, too.

Barb Goffman said...

Bi, Beth. Hi, Beth. So close and yet so far...

Beth Groundwater said...

I wanted to add to Barb Goffman's mention of the Malice Domestic conference that this absolute best and most fun mystery conference there is. I really look forward to it every year, especially the tea on the last day (and Barb, I hope you bring back the hat contest which is so much fun!). If you're a mystery reader, writer, or just plain lover of the mystery genre, check out the conference website at: and sign up to attend!

Ricky Bush said...

Thanks Margaret, thanks Beth. Good ideas shared--but I ain't adding a mile to my 2 mile walk.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I enjoyed the interview very much. Thanks Margaret and Beth. Margaret, you'll be in my town on a day I'll be down in Denver at the Colorado Gold Conference. Sorry to miss you.


Margaret said...

Thanks to everyone for reading mu post and commenting. It's always great to be able to "talk shop" with other writers who know what you're talking about!

Marni said...

Beth, great interview, and Margaret, thanks for the birds-eye-view of your writer's process. I agree character's are what stays in your readers mind the longest.