[Interview] Marilyn Meredith, Author of ‘Judgment Fire’


marilyn meredithMarilyn Meredith is the author of the Tempe Crabtree series of mystery novels and the Rocky Bluff P.D. series of police procedurals.

Her books have won awards that include the 2006 American Author Association’s Best Thriller Award as well as the 2006 USA Book News Best Book Award, which went to her psychological thriller, Wishing Makes It So (Hard Shell Word Factory, 2006).

In addition to working as a writer, Marilyn Meredith is a member of Sisters in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; EPIC — Electronically Published Internet Connection and the Public Safety Writers Association. She has also served as an instructor at the Maui Writers Retreat and other writer’s conferences and was, for ten years, an instructor with the Writer’s Digest School.

In a recent interview, she spoke about her writing.

When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?

I don’t know that there was a particular moment… I started writing from the time I could pick up a pencil and put words on paper… Actually I started before that because, before I could write, I drew pictures to tell stories.

My first published books [Trail to Glory (Leisure Books, 1986) and Two Ways West (Northwest Publishing, 1994)] were historical family sagas based on my own family genealogy. The books were fiction because I tried to fill in all the blanks… What happened to this person? Why did they move here or there?

It was like solving mysteries because I had to do a lot of research into the time period and places where my family members lived. When I’d written about both sides and trying to decide what to write next, I realized I was reading a lot of mysteries and supernatural stories. So the next book I wrote was The Astral Gift, a mystery with a bit of the supernatural. From there I moved on to the mysteries I’m writing now.

Who would you say is your target audience?

Anyone who loves mysteries… though my Deputy Tempe Crabtree series has a touch of Native American supernatural elements. I’m also writing the Rocky Bluff P.D. series, which is also mystery but in the police procedural category.

Judgment Fire and the other Deputy Crabtree mysteries can be read by young teens on up. The Rocky Bluff P.D. series, Fringe Benefits is the latest, is darker and geared more [for] adults.

Who would you say influenced you the most?

All of the great mystery writers — Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe and the new greats like Sue Grafton and Mary Higgins Clark.

How have your personal experiences influenced the direction of your writing?

Our first home was in a housing development where you could buy a house for $100. (This was a long, long time ago. Everyone who lived there had low-paying jobs: sailors (my husband was a Seabee), firemen and policemen. We were friends with and partied with them all. I knew the wives and the kids [and] was privy to the problems they faced.

Later, one of my sons-in-law became a police officer. My daughter didn’t like to hear about his work so he’d come to my house after his shift for coffee and say, “Well, mom, do you want to hear what I did last night?” And I listened. Once he took me on a ride-along — that was an experience.

A few years later, I went on other ride-alongs, once with a female officer who was the only woman on the department and a single mom. From about 2:30 a.m. until 6, she didn’t have a single call and she poured out her heart to me.

During this time period, I was writing personality pieces for the local paper and I interviewed our resident deputy — also a woman in a mostly male department. She told about the problems she had because of this. I wrote the article but feared she might lose her job because of what she told me. I had her read it and she said, “It’s all true, print it.” She did lose her job. Fortunately, she got a better one right away.

I met and became friends with a young Native American woman who grew up on the reservation near where I live.

I grew up in Los Angeles, but after I was married, lived mostly in small town. The mystic of a small town intrigues me, so most of my books are set in small towns… fictional ones — I draw upon all I know about the small towns I’ve lived in. Bear Creek, the setting in my Deputy Crabtree mysteries is remarkably similar to where I’m living now.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

Letting people know about my books is always in the forefront of my mind. Being published by small, independent publishers, I have to work harder at bringing my titles in front of readers.

What would you say are the biggest challenges that you face?

Having enough time to do all the things I want to do. For instance, today one of my granddaughters who is planning a family reunion wanted me to make the invitation — one with family portraits on the front and the back. While I was working on that, another granddaughter faxed me a letter written by one of the chairmen of the board for the country club she works for and asked me to edit it. Of course, I did.

And I had to stop and do the mundane every day things like wash clothes and cook dinner.

I also finished reading a manuscript for a good friends who wanted some feedback.

Because I do some other writing jobs that pay, I had a couple of phone calls about them.

What I wanted to be doing was getting started on my next book.

How do you deal with these challenges?

One at a time. That sounds simplistic, but that’s really how I handle it. I try to prioritize — but sometimes that’s difficult when you’ve got the people who want something waiting right in your office. Oh yes, and there is my dear husband who would like some attention every now and then.

Do you write everyday?

I do write everyday, but it’s not always on fiction. Mornings are my best times for creating and I do other things in the afternoons, like rewriting or promotion chores.

What is your latest book about?

Judgment Fire is about the murder of an abused wife. While investigating, Tempe comes to terms with her unhappy high school days and the reason why she ignored her Native American heritage for so long.

It takes me about six months to write a book and two to three to edit and rewrite.

Which aspects of the work that you put into Judgment Fire did you find most difficult?

I always try to find some Native American spiritualism to weave into the plot.

Because I don’t want to offend anyone, I try to fictionalize everything that I use while keeping it as real as possible. I also want Tempe to grow in each book, to learn more about her heritage and herself.

I read every book to the critique group that I’ve attended for over twenty years and get feedback from them.

Which did you enjoy most?

I always enjoy finding out what Tempe is going to do next. Of course I always think I know, but when I get to the writing, Tempe always surprises me.

What sets Judgment Fire apart from the other things you have written?

Because this is an ongoing series, I think what’s new in this one, is the unpleasant memories that come back to Tempe, which explains some of what has gone on in other books.

In what way is it similar?

Tempe and her husband Hutch have a really strong love relationship — but this is strained in nearly every book when she goes against his wishes and dabbles in Indian spiritualism. Hutch always fears that Tempe may lose her soul.

What will your next book be about?

The next book is done and with the publisher. Tempe helps investigate the murder of an artist and, to do this, must take a trip to Crescent City where she learns about the Tolowa, and to Santa Barbara where she’s nearly murdered.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

I’ve had many high points along the way. My books have won several awards. But the most significant is when a reader tells me how much they enjoyed one of my novels. Feedback from readers is always great.

How did you get there?

I’m not sure how to answer this except to tell you how I’ve gotten where I am today and that is through a lot of hard work, making myself write even when I didn’t want to, and never giving up.

This article was first published on OhmyNews International.

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