Dream or Reality? By Patricia Smith Wood

I assume most folks reading this blog are either writers, want-to-be writers, mystery fans, fans of writers in general, or someone who might be looking for a life.

The dream of becoming a published writer can be a fun thing to entertain–especially if you don’t know any actual writers. Your imagination can go anywhere, picturing the wonderful life you would lead as a published writer.  Everyone daydreams as they go through life. I certainly did. As a kid, I daydreamed of all sorts of careers I might one day pursue. The younger you are, the more unrealistic your ambitions will seem to your older self.

When I was 6 years old, I saw Margaret O’Brien in a movie. She was a kid my age, didn’t look all that different from me, and she got to do “pretend” stuff. I was big into “pretend” stuff. Then when I was 8 years old, I saw Miracle on 34th Street. Nine-year-old Natalie Wood played the part of Maureen O’Hara’s daughter. I adored Maureen O’Hara. She very closely resembled my own mother, and I daydreamed endlessly about playing the part of her daughter in movies.

Fast forward to reality and the adult years.  A “movie star” career was not in the cards. But the idea of becoming a writer wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. So during boring tasks like washing dishes and folding laundry, I’d dream about my fabulous career as a writer. Rich, famous, toast of the town (which town I never gave thought to) and hiring people to do what I was currently engaged in doing. Yes, that was the life for me. Just become a famous writer.

Those dreams were so far behind me when I actually became a published writer. By that time, I knew a thing or two about how this journey would likely play out. Number one, rich and famous wasn’t even on the list anymore. When you consider the number of writers in this world who are actually able to completely live on their earnings as a writer, you realize the daunting challenge of it all.

Getting people interested in reading what I wrote was the thing for me. If everybody in the country each bought one copy of my first book but never read it, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? I’d make a one-time killing in sales, but nothing else.

I realized years ago the important thing is to pursue your dreams. The best way to do that is visualize what you actually want, and get busy doing it. And strangely enough, even a very low list writer like me (meaning not well known at all) can be admired by the people who read their work. On more than one occasion I’ve been asked to pose for a photo with someone who just bought one of my books. They are so impressed that I’ve written and been published. They think I’m the “somebody” I always wanted to be.

It’s a pretty terrific feeling to encounter a fan like that. It bolsters my confidence and does wonders for the ego.

Whatever your dream is, make a plan and see what happens. You never know how it’ll play out.

Why January Is NOT My Favorite Month!

Perhaps it’s because I was a summer baby—born in the high humidity and temperatures of Fort Worth, Texas, on an early summer morning in June.

Maybe it’s because for the next month I’ll be writing checks and letters dated with 2018 on them. When will 2019 FINALLY stick in my brain?

Some would say it’s fear—and maybe there’s something to this. I don’t know for sure, but the fact remains. I DO NOT LIKE JANUARY.

For one thing, January follows December. Yes, I know you already knew that. But let me clarify for you. December is full of sparkling lights, wonderful nostalgic music, people who are genuinely excited to participate in the Christmas and other holiday festivities. Even folks who were feeling curmudgeonly in November, seem to find their smile when the calendar flips to December. If you have children (even grown ones) it’s fun to remember their little faces on past Christmas mornings. I have a bank of old movies now, preserved digitally, to experience those scenes any time I wish.

All I know is New Year’s Eve is more fun than New Year’s Day. Depending upon how you spent the previous evening, you can be rested or roasted. Either way, you’re facing a brand new year, with brand new obligations, and maybe a host of problems to go with them. And, contrary to the fall and early winter, there are virtually no fun holidays! The only really good one for fun is Valentine’s Day, and even that has its pitfalls. We have to wait until at least May to get revved up for a fun holiday.

I become weary of the cold by January, and yet there are two or three more months of it to endure. Plus, there’s still a lot of darkness in January. Let’s face it, the sun won’t set noticeably later until at least March (and even that is RIGGED with what they like to call “Daylight Saving Time”).

Come to think of it, maybe it’s not just January that depresses me. I think I’d prefer to wake up in April on the day following New Year’s Eve.

Yeah, that’s it. Now we’re on to something!

Who IS this person?

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.