Margaret Coel recently released her 17th Wind River mystery. For this interview, the New York Times bestselling author talked about what it’s like to be a working writer and her new book “Killing Custer.”
As a New York Times bestselling author, people might think that Coel could sit back and enjoy her success. That, however, is not the case. In fact, Coel sets an example for all writers, both new and seasoned. She said, “I am a professional writer, which means I work six days a week, whether I feel like it or not. In other words, I am not sitting around waiting for the muse to arrive.”
Part of her dedication to producing quality new content means staying focused on the process of writing, not analyzing it. “I never think about issues or themes while I am writing,” said Coel. “I’ve always loved the advice the author Bill Kittredge gave to new writers: Don’t worry over what your story is about. When it is published, the PhDs will write to you and tell you what it is about.”
Even though she advocates writers not overanalyzing their work, Coel doesn’t really wait for others to tell her what deeper issues she might have addressed subconsciously. “After I have finished a novel and stepped back a little, I can usually see what the novel was about. It struck me, after I had finished writing Killing Custer, that it is about borders and the way in which we have to negotiate borders throughout our lives. Vicky and Father John have both crossed geographic and cultural borders. The re-enactors in the story cross the borders of time. A gay character crosses gender borders.”
“An entertaining and layered mystery that brings the past into the present” is how Coel bills “Killing Custer,” which begins, in a sense, with history repeating itself. Coel said, “I’ve read a lot about Custer and have visited the site of the Battle of the Little Bighorn many times, so I think it was natural that sooner or later I would have to write about Custer. Also, there were a few Arapahos who took part in the battle, which made it easy for me to relate the battle to the Wind River Reservation. Instead of approaching the Custer story from the historical point of view, I wanted to approach it from that of the Indians.”
To ensure that the Wind River series is both fresh and consistent with past books, Coel likes referring to history as she did in “Killing Custer.” She said, “For every book, I find something that happened in the past that I think is really interesting and compelling—such as the story of Custer—and I figure out a mystery that moves the story between the past and the present. Each novel revolves around some different historical event, which makes the novels very different from one another. As for consistency, I am always rechecking past novels. What kind of car is Vicky driving now? Where is her office located? Which leg did Father John’s dog, Walks-on, lose when he was a puppy?”
With a very large following, Coel also feels that she needs to recognize her characters lives. “I think dealing with my characters and watching them take on lives of their own has been both challenging and gratifying,” Coel said. “Challenging, in that I had to learn to let them take the lead, go off and do things I hadn’t anticipated, and see where they go. Father John and Vicky have taken me places I never could have imagined. It is great fun and very gratifying to hear from readers how my characters have come alive in their minds. A lot of readers feel very sorry for these two characters who love each other but can’t ever be together. I get a lot of suggestions. One reader emailed me that Father John could become an Episcopal priest, then he could marry Vicky. The reader went on to say that she was a member of the Episcopal Church and she would be happy to recommend him to her bishop.”
Learn more about Margaret Coel on her website at margaretcoel.com.
Read my review of “Killing Custer” on here.