By Guest Contributor Larry D. Sweazy.
So, it’s no surprise to my friends and family that I admit to having a bit of rebellious streak. I think all writers and artists do. There has to be a core of sacrifice that thumbs its nose at public opinion for one’s art if it is to be authentic, if a piece has any chance of making it out into the world. But… also like most writers, I value my personal privacy, so I tend to avoid controversy as much as I can. I was the James Dean wannabe standing in the shadows alone at the high school dance watching it all take place. I was a quiet hell-raiser. Mostly… What’s this all have to do with writing a Marjorie Trumaine mystery? Overcoming limitations would be my first answer, and being true to a story is my second one. Let me explain.
As a matter of luck and timing seventeen years ago, I found myself in a position to become a freelance indexer. I had been writing fiction for several years with minimal to no success. I had attracted a New York agent for a mystery novel I had written and had published some semi-pro short stories, but that was it. I was struggling. But I also worked in a building where a major publisher’s technical imprint was housed, and my skills and personality translated well into the art of writing back-of-the-book indexes for this publisher’s books. I took to indexing like a young salmon heading out to sea on its life adventure. Not long after, my New York agent dropped me, and I was left out to sea as an indexer who still dreamed of becoming a published novelist.
As it turned out, I found success as an indexer far quicker than I had as a writer. Along the way, I stumbled across a few interesting tidbits that accumulated in my fiction writer’s mind about indexing that I never knew. I couldn’t let go of the fact that one of the main ways indexers received training was through a correspondence course administrated by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). It, along with a large variety of other courses, was designed to provide a second revenue stream for farmer’s wives. As if they didn’t have enough to do. But I loved the idea of an intelligent, deeply curious woman on some remote, isolated farm writing indexes like I did for interesting and challenging books, all the while keeping up with the daily demands of her life. I thought an organized mind and indexing mixed to make a great detective, a great amateur sleuth tale.
It was an idea I couldn’t shake, so I finally decided to write a short story, the place I always go when I want to try out an idea. After I had decided on a title, See Also Murder, which came quick enough in a self-explanatory way, and a character’s name, Marjorie Trumaine, which was not so self-explanatory and came from that magic place where character’s name live, the first sentence came out and startled me:
“I saw a plume of dust through the window over my desk, and something told me trouble was heading my way.”
The idea of writing the story in a first-person female voice was a scary proposition, totally out of my comfort zone. So, I tried to change it. But I couldn’t find the voice, my way into the story. It was Marjorie’s story and she had to tell it. I finally decided that no one else in the world was telling me that I couldn’t write a first-person female point-of-view story but me. “Just write the character,” I told myself. “Take a chance. Don’t let anybody tell you what you can’t do. Not even you.” And the rebel in me kicked in and and I sat down and wrote the story. I knew Marjorie’s mind and somehow, I hope, I found her humanity and her struggle to live a full life on North Dakota farm, and make her own world something more than ordinary. The short story went on to garner a nomination for the Derringer Award, given out annually by the Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS), and that gave me the confidence to continue Marjorie’s story, to write a proposal for a mystery series.
Now, almost ten years later, with a lot of publishing miles in between that short story and now (along with a new, persistent agent and eight previously published novels), Marjorie has come into the world fully realized in a novel. See Also Murder, has recently been published by Seventh Street Books, with the reality of a series being a certainty. Two more Marjorie Turmaine mysteries will come out in the next two years.
My grandmother used to say, “Can’t will never get you anywhere,” and she was right. I think she would have liked Marjorie Trumaine, who’s a little headstrong and rebellious herself. So, if you’re a writer, take a chance on something outside of your comfort zone. At least try. And if you’re a reader, know that all characters start with the same center. They are human, and most likely, a little rebellious.
Larry D. Sweazy (pronounced: Swayzee) is the author of ten novels, Escape from Hangtown, See Also Murder: A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery, Vengeance at Sundown, The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil’s Bones, The Cougar’s Prey, The Badger’s Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the Western Writers of America Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005 and for Best Paperback Original in 2013. He also won the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for books the Josiah Wolfe series. Larry was awarded the Best Books in Indiana in 2011 for The Scorpion Trail. And in 2013, Larry received the inaugural Elmer Kelton Fiction Book of the Year for The Coyote Tracker. Larry has published over sixty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled; and several other publications and anthologies. He lives in the Midwest with his wife, Rose.