The Interview — Part I

Tell us about your writing career…
I started writing when I was an English major at Northwestern.  One of the things you hear when you first start writing is “write what you know”.  So I started writing about the girls in the dorm and every week they would be waiting eagerly to hear what I had to say about them.  It was my first experience of having an audience.  After I graduated from Northwestern I knew I wanted to be a writer but I also knew  needed to find a job so I took the Publishing Procedures Course at Harvard.  I was walking across Harvard Square when I passed two middle aged men who looked like professors.  They looked at me, looked at each other and said “English Major”.   I felt like I had been branded with a big E in my forehead, destined, perhaps, to become a writer.
            Then I went to New York, got a job in publishing and was too busy working during the day and partying at night to do much writing.  After a few years I got married and moved to Vermont where my husband and I started a business.  I began writing poetry when I could take a break from work.  When I got divorced in my 30’s I thought about what I really wanted to do with my life and that was be a writer.  I joined a writer’s group and moved on to short stories.  
Then I sold my house and the business and moved to San Miguel de Allende in Mexico where I studied writing for a year.  I met some people from Santa Fe there and moved on to Santa Fe where I joined another writers’ group.  I was sending out a lot of short stories then and getting a lot of rejection letters back but I finally sold a story to the Capilano Review in Vancouver.  It was the first work I had published.  Years later after I’d had several mystery novels published James Cahill Press issued a collection of my short stories and poetry called Mercury Retrograde.  It was great to finally see them all in print.
In Santa Fe I had a lawyer friend who introduced me to the work of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler and I thought wouldn’t it be interesting to write detective novels from a woman’s point of view not realizing how many women were already doing it.  I began working on my first Neil Hamel mystery North of the Borderabout a female lawyer/sleuth who lives and practices in Albuquerque.
Before I finished it, however, a friend from Vermont who had started the Choose Your Own Adventure Series asked me to write a Choose Your Own Adventure children’s book for him.  The way I learned how to write one was to read a lot of books in the series.  Once my book Track of the Bear was done I went back to finishing North of the Border.
Those of you who have tried to get published know how hard it is to get an agent.  Hard as it was back then it  is even harder now.  From my experience in publishing I knew it was the only way to get published.  When North of the Border was finished I sent it to a couple of agents I had connections to but didn’t get anywhere.   I attended a writer’s conference in Cambridge where I met Suzanne Kirk who was a very successful mystery editor at Scribner’s.  I told her about North of the Border.   She had grown up in the Southwest and she said she would like to see the manuscript so of course I sent it to her.  She sent me back a nice letter saying she couldn’t publish it because Scribner’s had been bought by another publisher and she couldn’t take on any new writers which happens all too often these days.  But Suzanne recommended an agent who has been very successful with mysteries.  With a recommendation from her he was likely to take on North of the Border and he did.  He has been my agent for twenty-eight years.

Check Back February 15 for Part II

Elena Hartwell

Author and developmental editor.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Jack

    “write what you know”. So I started writing about the girls in the dorm..what a good place to start. Looking forward to Part 2

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