What made you choose Red Adept Editing?
Let me first say, I’ve learned from every editor I’ve had. Like parents, editors get smarter the more one matures. But my first editor, while he taught me many valuable things about the nitty gritty of writing, never really “got” my book, trying to turn my mystery into a thriller. I would have continued to work with him, but his company charged rates that I simply couldn’t afford, even at my glacial book-a-year pace. When I mentioned this to my cover artist’s wife, the writer T.L. Haddix, she recommended Ms. Red Adept Herself. In a fit of temporary insanity, Lynn took me on. That is, until the publishing side of the house took off and gave her the excuse to unload me and my abhorrent attraction to sentence fragments.
You’ve worked with a couple of editors on the RAE staff. Most recently, you worked with Stefanie. What do you enjoy most about Stefanie’s editing style?
Stefanie worked on my latest book, Dead Quiet. I’d been warned that, like her boss, she wouldn’t pull punches so I was a bit apprehensive—not about taking it on the chin, as two rounds with Lynn had inured me to that, but what kind of jab she had. She came through admirably, subduing my fragments and untangling my twisted prose. She also had many helpful comments on the story line that kept me from confusing if not outright outraging my readers. Last but not least, she’s from the rural Midwest and caught things I missed, like how to pronounce .30-06 (thirty-aught-six) and how far a bullet might reasonably travel when shot from such a rifle.
Are your books standalones, or do they need to be read in order?
While it’s possible to read the Dakota Mystery Series out of order, the four books written so far (Dead White, Dead Dreams, Dead Wrong, and Dead Quiet) build on each other, mentioning mysteries solved and character arcs revealed in prior books. But I never tell my readers how they should tackle my books, as at least one (nameless) reader admitted to reading the end before the beginning. That seems to sort of defeat the purpose of reading a mystery, but maybe that’s just me.
Your main characters are police officers in a small town. Do you have personal experience with that?
I’m not a police officer, nor do I play one on TV. But my brothers have graced me with two sisters-in-law who were, respectively, a Dakota farmer’s daughter and a rural sheriff’s daughter, so I pick their brains every chance I get. While the town I grew up in was small (population 10,000) compared to most outside of South Dakota, it wasn’t anywhere near as small as my fictional Reunion. I did, however, grow up outside the town limits on a bluff filled with alfalfa fields. Corn fields were within sight down in the Missouri River flood plains. As a teenager, I also endured that East River Dakota hazing known as corn detasseling, even though I got a rash from the corn and I had to wear long-sleeved shirts during the heat of the day. One of these days I’ll have to kill someone off in a cornfield just to exorcise that memory.
Do you think you’ll stick to the mystery genre?
For now, while I’m still working full-time, I will probably continue to write mysteries. I have a number of books planned yet in my current series. But I’ve always had far more ideas for books than time to write them. My first attempt at a novel was a fantasy à la David Eddings and my second a regency romance à la Georgette Heyer. It would be fun to revisit both genres one day, hopefully in a less derivative way, but likely not until I can retire from the gerbil race (why should the rats get all the discredit?).
Do you consider your books to be cozy mysteries or some other mystery sub-genre?
No, I don’t consider my books to be cozy. The only person who drinks tea—and Native American at that—is one of the deputies. Like most self-respecting East River Dakotans, the rest drink coffee. Black. Seriously, though, I’ve had this discussion many times. The mystery field is wide. However, Americans don’t seem to have a category for a book that is neither cozy nor hardboiled. Anything in the middle these days seems to end up roadkill. Since my protagonists are a female sheriff and a part-time male detective, I label the books as character-driven police procedurals of a rural bent.
What part of self-publishing do you enjoy the most?
Being read! Like many who weren’t born digital, I dreamed of being traditionally published. But I learned about the glacial pace of the business when I was still in my twenties and an editor asked for the first fifty pages of my fantasy novel. I waited with bated breath—and turned blue. A year later, I finally got a letter saying he didn’t think the book was publishable but to send him the next fifty pages. I said, pfft. Whoever heard of responding after an entire year? Only later did I realize that I’d let a prime opportunity slip through my fingers. By then, the editor had moved on to another company. Not until I hit the big Four-O, did I try again to fulfill my dream, only this time I had another hurdle: agents. When I finished the first Dakota Mystery, Dead White, I believed in it more than any other thing I’d written. And I did everything I could, including hiring an expensive editor, going on a writing retreat, and going through brutal critiques of my pitch to agents to get it published, all to no avail. So when self-publishing came along, I felt like I’d been given the key to the kingdom: my book could sink or swim on its own merits. Besides, I like having the final say. Dreams change. I’m happy being an indie writer.
You have some great covers. Who does your cover work? Feel free to put in a link.
The wonderful Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics does my covers. I found him on the Writers’ Café on the old Kindleboards back in 2011. My first cover artist, while quite talented, kept sending me pictures of swamps and woods when I’d asked for a rural prairie landscape. Glendon not only “gets” what I want, he does it better. That takes a skill that many talented artists don’t have, and I’m lucky to have him doing my covers. I hope he never stops.
What do you do when you’re not writing?
Sleep. Work. Eat. Oh, and I am a big family history buff. The detective aspect appeals to me—the thrill of the hunt without the gore. Some ancestral puzzles take years if not decades to unravel with few clues and many twists and turns. My readers would undoubtedly prefer I was digging up more dead bodies than dead ancestors, but I combined my two avocations in my last book, Dead Quiet. I based it partly on a fictional German Anabaptist group (like the Amish) similar to the one an ancestor led in Ohio.
Name a few of your favorite authors and tell us what you like about them.
In mysteries, I’ve always loved re-reading Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, especially The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night. She manages to combine exploration of serious issues with a good story. I aspire to someday do that as seamlessly as she did. For the sheer beauty of their prose and the psychological depth of their characters, I like P.D. James, Giles Blunt, and Karin Fossum. For the likeability of their characters and the freshness of their settings, I like spending time with Donna Leon’s Guido Brunetti, Barbara Nadel’s Inspector Ikmen, and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire. For sheer fun, I like to read J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas series. Robb (aka Nora Roberts) writes fantastic dialogue unique to each character—and the books make for great audio on long stretches on the road.
What advice would you give to a new author?
Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep learning. And, most especially, keep your chin up. (Or keep it protected, depending on the editing and the reviews!) There’s room for all kinds of writers in the brave new world of self-publishing, from side gigs with day jobs like mine to full-fledged careers. Finishing a book is a major accomplishment, but beginning the next one is what makes you a writer. As someone who literally had started tens if not hundreds of books when a new idea was shinier than the old, I can only say: finish what you start. If I’d done so earlier, I’d have a much bigger backlist than I do now.
M.K. Coker’s Books Edited by RAE: