If you’re asking yourself that question, I’d like to answer it for you. I am brand new to The Ladies of Mystery Blog.
My name is Pat Wood. My pen name is Patricia Smith Wood, and I write the Harrie McKinsey cozy mystery series. Cozies have always been my favorite mysteries, so that’s what I wanted to write. As it happens, it took me only thirty years from the time I found my story idea to actually write the first book and be published. Obviously, I’m a bit of a late bloomer. So let me tell you (briefly, I hope) how it came about.
I was a small child during World War II. The 1940s were ablaze with fantastic radio dramas every night. I spent most of my evenings listening to these radio programs with my extended family. I could see it all in my mind as I snuggled up to the radio and heard the exciting stories acted out by talented actors. I became enthralled, and the writing seed was planted.
Right after the war, my dad became a Fort Worth police officer. Then in late 1950, he became an FBI agent, and we moved from Fort Worth to San Diego for his first assignment. By that time television was getting pretty big—especially in California. Now you could see the dramas unfold—mostly through old movies. Then in June 1951, we were transferred to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wow. Talk about a change in scenery and culture. Albuquerque was just emerging from being a sleepy little town and waking up to the post-war boom. Television was a joke in New Mexico. We had one station in Albuquerque, and it was only on from 6 pm until 10:30 pm.
That’s when I became hooked on reading mysteries. I discovered the Judy Bolton mystery series written by Margaret Sutton. I started a collection of them and raced to the bookstore each time a new one became available. I decided someday I would write books like these.
I didn’t actually start on my first book until around 1978. I tried three different sets of characters and approaches before I got my inspiration. Then one day it dawned on me what I wanted to write about.
In 1949 in Las Cruces, New Mexico, there was an eighteen-year-old cocktail waitress who kept company with a lot of politicians from around New Mexico. Her name was Cricket Coogler. In the early morning hours of March 31, 1949, Cricket had been wandering around downtown Las Cruces for hours, having drinks with first one guy, then another. The last time anyone confirmed seeing her was around 3:00 am. She disappeared for 16 days. Then on Saturday before Easter, four young men went rabbit hunting in the desert outside Las Cruces. They stumbled upon the partially buried body of Cricket Coogler, and a chain of events was set in motion that destroyed the careers of many politicians. The rampant illegal gambling in New Mexico came to a halt. It also stopped organized crime from establishing their gambling mecca in New Mexico. Instead, they hightailed it out of here and went to Las Vegas, Nevada. All of this because of one young, headstrong girl.
One man was tried for the murder but exonerated. The FBI became involved when three law enforcement officers were accused of violating the civil rights of one of the early suspects in the case. They were tried, convicted, and sent to federal prison at La Tuna, Texas for a year. All three were released early.
Yet, Cricket’s murder was never solved. My dad used to talk about the case occasionally. I met people over the years who either knew Cricket or had lived in Las Cruces around the time of the murder. One of those people was a newspaper reporter who had lots of information from various people in the area. We talked about it often, and it stayed with me.
In 1975, my parents moved back to Albuquerque from Washington, DC. My dad had retired from the FBI in 1974, and he quickly joined the local Albuquerque chapter of the Society of Former FBI Agents. In the summer of 1978, my parents planned to attend the annual picnic the agents enjoyed. I was recently divorced, and they invited me to accompany them. It turned out to be one of those serendipitous events. I’ve been to many of those picnics since that one in 1978, but I’ve never again seen such a large collection of former agents. Many of them had firsthand investigative knowledge of the Coogler murder. I had the opportunity to interview them, and by the time I returned home that night, I was fired up. I had the theme. But I still didn’t know how to begin.
Over the next 23 years, I worked on it sporadically. I became frustrated and confused about the process. I needed help, but where does one who is approaching 60 find a teacher? Then, at just the right moment, I joined SouthWest Writers. That began my late-in-life writing education. I attended dozens of classes and seminars. I went to conferences. One writer critique group then another invited me to join them. Surrounding yourself with writers helps you become one—provided you pay attention to all they have to teach.
In 2008 I had the book half finished. I attended a conference where they announced a competition for best first mystery. The prize was $10,000 and a contract with St. Martin’s Press. I decided to finish the book and enter. I had four months before the deadline, and I wrote like a person possessed. But finish it, I did.
Edit it, I didn’t. You won’t be surprised to learn I didn’t win. But somehow, just finishing the book was a win for me. From 2008 until 2012, I edited. And I edited the editing. I snared people to help me edit, and after the 28thedit was finished, a remarkable thing happened. I was offered a contract to have The Easter Egg Murder published by Aakenbaaken & Kent.
And now you know a little bit about me—the new girl on the block.