You may find yourself living in a shotgun shack And you may find yourself in another part of the world And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife And you may ask yourself-Well…How did I get here? – The Talking Heads, Once in a Lifetime
I started imagining this scenario—being a published mystery author—at about the age of ten, when I faced up to the fact that being a cowgirl wasn’t a viable career plan for someone raised in a Massachusetts mill town. I moved a small table and chair into the bedroom I shared with my sister and claimed it as my writing space. I am sure I was insufferable about needing time to create. I no longer have any of the stories I wrote at that little table, which is an excellent thing.
A couple of years later I appropriated my mother’s stand up Underwood and set up shop in the basement playroom, where my hunt-and-peck style was less audible to the rest of the family. After passing through the requisite bad poetry stage, I circled back to crime stories, inspired by the amateur and professional detectives in the mysteries I read constantly.
The moment I got to high school I joined the school paper, and eventually became its editor. I went on to study journalism at Northeastern University in Boston, spending my co-op terms at the Boston Globe, but during my academic semesters I managed to sneak in some courses in writing fiction. In one of those truth-is-stranger experiences, my writing prof was Robert B. Parker, who was a few books into his Spenser series and still teaching on the side. I was 20 years old, and my work reflected my limited life experience. But Parker offered feedback and enough encouragement for me to stick into my back pocket the idea that I was capable of writing a publishable novel.
After a number of years working as a newspaper reporter, I went to law school, and have practiced that profession for the past 25 years. For reasons I cannot quite explain, about seven years ago the characters in my Joe Gale Mystery Series began creeping into my consciousness. When their voices grew insistent I realized if I were ever going to write fiction in a serious way, it was then or never.
I took some classes. I read a few books. I began going to Crime Bake every fall and took copious notes during the workshops on character, tension and voice. Some friends and I formed a critique group. I gave myself a two-pages-a-night goal. Two pages a night is 15 pages a week, rounding up. That added up to 60 pages a month, I told myself, which would translate to a novel-length manuscript in about six months.
Of course, it didn’t work out that way. It took years for the first manuscript to be written, many months for me to realize it was far from ready for prime time, maybe a year and a half to write the second book. That one became Quick Pivot, with enormous help from thoughtful beta readers, many kind colleagues who bucked me up when I felt discouraged, and an incredibly supportive spouse.
Now I’m finally moving into the world of published writers. I know the work ahead makes the work I’ve already done seem like zippo. But I’m not mystified about how I got here. It was always my destination. I simply took a circuitous route.
Brenda Buchanan is a former newspaper reporter with a deep reverence for small town journalism. Her Joe Gale Mystery Series features an old-school reporter with modern media savvy who covers the Maine crime beat. Brenda holds a journalism degree from Northeastern University and a law degree from the University of Maine. She writes and practices law in Portland, where she lives with her spouse.
Brenda can be found on the web at www.brendabuchananwrites.com and on Twitter at @buchananbrenda
Quick Pivot is available in digital format wherever fine ebooks are sold.
Here’s a plot summary: In 1968, a cunning thief skimmed a half a million dollars from the textile mill that was the beating heart of Riverside, Maine. Sharp-eyed accountant George Desmond discovered the discrepancy, but was killed before he could report it. After stashing the body, the thief-turned-killer manipulated evidence to make it appear Desmond skipped town with the stolen money, ruining his good name forever.
In 2014, veteran journalist Joe Gale is covering a story for the Portland Daily Chronicle when a skeleton falls at his feet: Desmond’s bones have been found a basement crawl space at the long-shuttered mill. For Joe, digging into the past means retracing the steps his mentor Paulie Finnegan had taken years ago, when the case was still open. But the same people who bird-dogged Paulie four decades ago are watching Joe now. As he closes in on the truth, his every move is tracked, and the murderer proves more than willing to kill again.