DANNY R. SMITH: Homicide Investigator -Private Investigator – Consultant – Author

Nothing Left to Prove is a gut-wrenchingly honest story of one cop’s career and his unique insights battling PTSD and being forced to leave the profession he loved.

 

Danny R. Smith spent 21 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the last seven as a homicide detective. He now lives in Idaho, where he works as a private investigator and consultant. He is blessed with a beautiful family and surrounded by an assortment of furry critters whom he counts among his friends.

Danny is the author of the Dickie Floyd Detective Novel series, the Rich Farris Detective series, and his law enforcement memoir, Nothing Left to Prove. He writes about true crime and other topics in his blog, The Murder Memo.

He has appeared as an expert on numerous podcasts and shows, including True Crime Daily and the STARZ channel’s WRONG MAN series. He is the host of Unsolved Murders with Danny Smith on the Dr. Carlos Crime Network podcast.

Please tell us about your current book and any comments about any other of your books: Nothing Left to Prove is my latest penning and the first nonfiction I have written. Previously, I’ve only published detective novels. I have two series: The Dickie Floyd Detective series and a spinoff of it named for the new lead character, the Rich Farris Detective series.

Do you write in more than one genre? Technically I write in two genres, true crime, and crime fiction.

What brought you to writing? My shrink. I had no notion of writing before a psychiatrist suggested that it would be therapeutic for me. Before meeting with him, I was asked to complete a questionnaire that would help him evaluate my mental health as it related to my ability to continue working as a homicide detective. It was immediately clear that there was no way to answer the form questions in the space provided, so I wrote across the form, “SEE ATTACHMENT.” I went to work on my computer, explaining in detail to this counselor just what it was about my job that had turned me into a banana. After reviewing my fourteen-page type-written response, Doc looked at me and said, “You should write for a living. Honestly.”

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? When my younger daughter married and ran away with an Army captain (with our blessings, of course), I converted her bedroom with a wonderful view of our property and neighbor’s farmland into an office—perhaps finished and moved in before the newlyweds reached Fort Hood, Texas—and that is where I spend much of my time pondering and writing, writing and pondering. I also waste more time than I should on social media. (That’s a confession. There are many more in my memoir.)

Tell us about your writing process: Most have heard the terms “plotters” and “pantsers” used to describe the two most common styles of writing prose. The first is done by plotting out the book in its entirety before starting a manuscript; the latter is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants method, and that is what I do. I begin with a general idea, and I start writing. When I am on a roll, it flows nicely. Other times, I get stuck in a rut and have to walk away. The best part about being a pantser is that I’m as surprised as my readers about what happens in my books.

 What are you currently working on? Now that my memoir is published, I’m back to writing fiction. I’ve started working on book 7 for the Dickie Floyd novels, which will be a pleasant surprise to my fans. (I had said after book 6 that it was the last for that series, and many of my readers were unhappy about it.)

Who’s your favorite author? Currently, Dennis Lehane. I love his style of writing, and all of his novels are phenomenal. Longtime favorites include Elmore Leonard and Joseph Wambaugh.

What’s the most challenging thing about writing characters from the opposite sex? There are just some things a guy doesn’t know or understand about women. Okay, back that up—we know very little about them! However, I married a fabulous one, raised two beautiful, confident, and smart daughters, and I have worked with some terrific female cops. So, in the same way, I have survived nearly thirty years of marriage. I have one secret about writing women characters: ask one or more of them to help you understand what makes them tick.

Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? Honestly, Dickie and Floyd drive me crazy, one wound too tightly, the other more worried about having fun that you’re amazed every time he comes alive in the dead-serious moments that matter most. But you have to read the series to know which is which.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? I do. Many of my cop characters are loosely based on people I’ve worked with over the years. The reason is quite simple—nobody can invent more interesting characters than the men and women with whom I was privileged to serve.

What kind of research do you do? Fortunately, most of my work falls under the often advised “write what you know” classification. In the third Dickie Floyd novel, Echo Killers, my antagonists are former soldiers from Fort Hood. I came up with the idea while touring the army base while I was in Texas visiting my daughter and son-in-law, so as I wrote the book, I had a direct source for technical information. I also had my son-in-law beta read that book to be certain I hadn’t screwed anything up.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My settings are predominately Los Angeles, and I use a lot of real locations to give people that L.A. feel.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ll continue writing crime fiction, but I also plan to write a few true crime books from some of the cases I handled as a homicide detective: a Native American burned alive by skinheads; a seamstress murdered by her evil daughter, who had also murdered her first husband. Both of those will make very compelling true crime reads.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Study your craft and hone your skills. I have eight books published now, and I learn with each effort. More than anything else, though, write.

How do our readers contact you?   I’m on Facebook as Danny R. Smith, Twitter as @dickiefloyd187, Instagram as author_dannyrsmith. I have a Facebook group: Dickie Floyd Novels VIP. My blog is The Murder Memo (https://murdermemo.com or dickiefloydnovels.com), and there you can sign up for my newsletter. You can find my books on Amazon or through my website: dickiefloydnovels.com/books/

4 Comments

  1. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    Danny, I read A GOOD BUNCH OF MEN and loved it. I especially love the banter between the two detectives. That was very familiar to me. Although, you left out the foul language which is common among police detectives. They do their best not to use it in front of the public, but to each other, Katie bar the door. The detectives did manage to degrade and belittle each other as they worked their case and I loved how they always bounced back to doing the job. Great interview and I will definitely be reading more of your books.

    Reply
  2. Vicki Batman

    So interesting to learn about you! Keep on keeping on.

    Reply
  3. Madeline Gornell

    Great interview! Keep on writing…as you say and plan to do.

    Reply
  4. Michael A. Black

    Danny is a good friend and a fabulous writer. He’s walked the walk and knows how to write about it, too. I highly recommend his books, be they fiction or memoir. I’m glad to hear that he’s working on book seven in the Dickie Floyd series. I can’t wait to read it. If you haven’t checked this man’s work out, do so. you won’t be disappointed.

    Reply

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JOSEPH HAGGERTY – Hero – Vice Detective – Child Rescuer – Author – Poet – Friend

Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. Author of the novels: Shame: The Story of a Pimp and An Ocean in the Desert Contributor to the PSWA anthology: Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides Award-winning poet, writer, and lecturer on the sexual exploitation of women and children in prostitution and pornography.

I’m Joseph B. Haggerty Sr. a retired vice detective and academy instructor from the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. (35 yrs).  I was a Senior Special Agent in Investigations with the Office of the Inspector General for Amtrak (6 yrs).  In 2009, I received an award, Heroes of the Heart, from the organization Children of the Nights in California and was recognized as one of the top ten law enforcement officers in the country for rescuing children from the street.  I was President of the Writers League of Washington for nine years.  I have been a member of the Public Safety Writers Association since 2010. I have a self-published novel, Shame: The Story of a Pimp, which I wrote based on my experiences investigating child predators in prostitution. I was honored to have 3 short stories and 2 poems published in the PSWA anthology, Felons, Flames and Ambulance Rides. I also have another book from Oak Tree Press, titled, An Ocean in the Desert. A number of my poems have been published in my FOP lodge newspaper and Tears on the Walls was recorded on a CD titled Heroes Unsung.  I am married with six children, eleven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

The first book I wrote was because of the way, and movies and television portray prostitution. They make it look glamorous, safe, and profitable. Most serial killers either start out killing prostitutes or easily convert to killing them. For one good reason, they are easy targets. Pimps are the real problem on the street. They are the real criminals. Prostitutes are the pawns used to make the pimps money and are sacrificed just as easily. I wanted to write about what the street is really like. As a vice detective specializing in going after the pimps in Washington, D.C.( excluding Congress), I learned a great deal about how the pimps do their business and how they get their victims and hold them. My book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, is just that. It’s a story of a pimp from birth to death, how he learned about pimping and became a pimp. It’s a story of sex and violence because that’s the story of prostitution. It’s a story of the sexual exploitation of children by pimps. It’s a story of the pimp world and pimp law. I interviewed over 5000 prostitutes who worked the D.C. streets in my over twenty-seven years on the street and also interviewed hundreds of pimps. Some of my cases are intertwined in the book. I changed names and locations, but the events are the same.

I’ve also written a book, An Ocean in the Desert, where two private investigators specialize in finding missing children. If they find the child has been a victim of a sexual predator, they offer the child’s family an additional service to guarantee their child will never return to that predator.

I’m in the process of writing a third book, tentatively named Craig’s Follies, which is about a male prostitute who became a professional informant for several police departments across the country as well as Washington, D.C.

A publisher has agreed to publish a book of my short stories about the street and my life as an investigator.

As a Public Safety Writers Association(PSWA) member, I have learned a great deal about writing and other aspects of law enforcement, medical situations, and firefighting. Through the list/serv and our conferences, I have had numerous questions, answers, and ideas for handling plots, characters, setting, point of view, and numerous ways to kill people. PSWA has given me confidence and encouragement for the submissions I have made to the various writing contests for which I have won many awards. I would recommend PSWA to anyone thinking about writing or who has been fortunate enough to have a book, short story, or poetry published.

I wrote my first book in less than a year, finishing it in 1987. I wrote it longhand on a legal pad. It took another couple of years to have it put on a computer disc. After finally having it on my computer and another couple of years of editing, I took it to a literary agent. The agent turned me down, saying the book needed too much editing. I went to another literary agent and got the same answer. I did more editing. I couldn’t afford a real editor as the book was over 500 pages. I went to a third agent, who said I had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting published as an unknown writer. In 1999, I joined a writers group, The Writers’ League of Washington. Through their encouragement and confidence-building, I decided to go the route of self-publishing, and my book, Shame, The Story of a Pimp, was published in 2008.

In Shame, I have several subplots. There are three main subplots. Shame’s mother gets involved with a gambling pimp who rips off the mob. I had one of Same’s women kidnapped by another pimp, and a rescue attempt is made. The third is a policewoman who goes undercover as a prostitute to discover the truth about a murdered friend. One other thing, I’m not sure you could call them subplots, but I didn’t want to just concentrate on Shame’s women. A number of other women worked the street, and the reader will read about them. I wanted the reader to know how they got to where they were. I wanted the reader to see the whole street.

With my first two books, I wrote as a pantser, but with Craig’s Follies, I am outlining. I am also writing a book with another member of PSWA, and we’re outlining with that book.

I have to say that my favorite books are the ones that inspired me to write. The first is The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m not a big Stephen King fan, but the characters he created in The Stand are extraordinary. I am a slow reader, and The Stand is a big book, which was a challenge to me. Still, the characters he created were the driving motivation to read the book in its entirety. The second book that inspired me was Cathedral by Nelson Demille. This book was about Irish terrorists that take over St. Patrick’s cathedral in New York. This was one of those books you can’t put down. The action was non-stop, with great characters and a great story.

You can reach me at: gudgerray@aol.com

 

7 Comments

  1. Michael A. Black

    I echo the praise put forth in these other comments. Joe is a true hero who has worked his entire life to protect the innocents and bring the predators to justice. He is an example of the finest among us, and I am proud that he considers me a friend. His books are gritty and real, but they’re well worth reading. Stay strong, Joe.

    Reply
  2. Wanda Dean

    Joseph, first of all, Thank You for what you have done to save Children from the streets. And congratulations for following your passion of writing and publishing your own book! Keep up your work of reaching out to those less fortunate .

    Reply
  3. Joseph Bryce HAGGERTY Sr

    I truly appreciate and I am humbled by these wonderful comments. It was easy to see what the real problem was in prostitution, the sexual exploitation of women and children by pimps at different levels. I saw these victims as victims not criminals and although I had a very hard time getting the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia to prosecute these predator cases, I continued to do my job. Thankfully, today many more prosecutions are occurring and many states are recognizing these women and children as victims. I do not consider myself as a hero, just a cop who recognized a problem and decided to do something about it. The real heroes are people like Dr. Lois Lee who founded Children of the Night. Look up her organization and what they have done. They not only rescue children they empower them, educate them and provide shelter for them and they appreciate any support they can get.

    Reply
  4. Mar Preston

    I am glad there are investigators like you, Joe.

    Reply
  5. Marilyn Meredith

    I’ve read both of Joe’s books–real and eye-opening. Joe is one of my favorite friends from PSWA. A great guy with a heart of gold, an inspirational career, and a great sense of humor.
    Great article.

    Reply
  6. Madeline Gornell

    Great interview, Joe. And my respect and admiration for all you’ve done and continue to do! You’re one of the best of us humans.

    Reply
  7. Nanci Rathbun

    Thank you for your life of service to the vulnerable ones, Joseph, and to your continued efforts to make us aware of the reality of sexual violence and exploitation. It can’t have been easy to do that kind of work. You are a true hero.
    Nanci

    Reply

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EVE SPRUNT – Scientist, Leader and Memoirist

Dr. Eve Sprunt was the 2006 SPE President of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. In 2010 Eve received SPE’s highest recognition, Honorary Membership. She has 35 years of experience working for major oil companies, 21 years with Mobil, and 14 years with Chevron. In 2013 Eve received the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers. She was the 2018 President of the American Geosciences Institute. She was the founder of the Society of Core Analysts in 1985. Her S.B. and S.M. degrees are from MIT (Earth and Planetary Sciences) and her Ph.D. (Geophysics) from Stanford. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Geophysics from Stanford. She has authored more than 120 editorial columns on industry trends, technology, workforce issues. She is the author of A Guide for Dual-Career Couples and Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, and co-author with Maria Angela Capello of Mentoring and Sponsoring:  Keys to Success. She speaks and consults on both energy issues and women’s issues.

 

My first book, A Guide for Dual-Career Couples, Rewriting the Rules (2016), was a labor of love that I started work on after I retired in late 2013 and published by Praeger in 2016. That book was prompted by my being horrified by how women were discriminated against by being part of a dual-career couple. The young women mistakenly thought that if they got some international experience at a convenient time in their career, that was needed. Instead, the industry wanted a trailing spouse and a willingness to go anywhere at any time.

I self-published the first manuscript I started, Dearest Audrey, An Unlikely Love Story, in 2019. I found an agent who got a publisher for A Guide for Dual-Career Couples.

At this point, the book I really want to promote is Dearest Audrey. I thought I knew my Auntie Audrey well. Still, when long after her death, I discovered letters she had written while in Pakistan as one of the earliest Fulbright scholars, I was captivated. While in Pakistan, Audrey had a brief encounter with an American photographer, whose marriage proposal forced her to choose between her hard-won career and love.

I write both self-help career guidance books and memoir/biography. The latter is a combo in that I have some interesting people in my life, such as Audrey, and have been advised that since I know them, I should “put more of myself in the story.” I’ve been working through the Tri-Valley Branch of the California Writers Club critique groups parts of my memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence. Starting when she was 49, my mother had 29 children’s fantasy books she wrote and illustrated, published. Her first book, The Wednesday Witch, sold well over a million copies and was translated into multiple languages. Combined, her books sold over nine million copies. My mother’s diaries, written between when she was 13 and 81, had been collecting dust in my home when I decided at the beginning of covid that it was now or never. I have been working on Passionate Persistence ever since. Reading those diaries, I was shocked that even though my four siblings and I were born within an eight-year time span, and we were all raised in Brooklyn in the same house, we had drastically different childhood experiences. When I left home, my mother’s career as a children’s book author finally took off. Deeply immersed in her career, Mother lost all interest in supervising my younger siblings. Too much supervision was not fun, but the consequences of too little were far worse.

Early in my career as a scientist, I realized that one way to get credit for my work was to document and publish it. Since I worked for giant corporations, I got very creative in finding ways to get company permission to publish and become actively involved in the editorial side of a couple of professional societies’ publications. By the time I shifted from focusing on technology to business and management issues, I had 23 patents and 28 technical publications. In 1994, I took on the voluntary position of Senior Technical Editor of the worldwide Society of Petroleum Engineers. That role came with a monthly column in the flagship journal that went out to over 100,000 members worldwide. I saw writing my column as “walking along the edge of a cliff and trying not to fall off.” I wrote from the “underdog” position about issues that bedeviled technical professionals. Despite or perhaps because of my risk-taking, I survived numerous layoffs, including two in which half of the people in my group were terminated. I quit calculating the odds that I still had a job after the second 50% layoff – my odds of survival were too small. In retirement, I enjoy being able to write without worrying about corporate censorship.

I’m currently working on a memoir/biography of my mother, Passionate Persistence, and A Guide to Career Resilience – When Silence is not the Answer. I began writing that book when we were collaborating on Mentoring and Sponsoring, Keys to Success. During the interviews we conducted for that book, I occasionally sensed that our interviewees were concealing what I view as the dark side of mentoring and sponsoring. Getting people to talk about problems is much more challenging than getting them to brag about their successes. We have had a few people share devastating experiences, and my co-author and I have been filling in the gaps from our own careers.

Tri-Valley has been very beneficial to me. I had never before been in a critique group, and the process has greatly benefited me.  Writing bio/memoir is very different than writing business books, editorials, and technical papers. The feedback and suggestions have been invaluable. As a scientist, my goal was to write from a very analytical and objective perspective. I have applied those skills to interpreting the consequences of my mother’s actions but need to include the emotional impact of writing about them in the bio/memoir.

My first book published was my second book attempt. The agent found a buyer for the second, but they wanted it written from an entirely different perspective. I had written the manuscript trying to persuade management to change their approach to managing dual-career couples. Praeger used librarians to review book proposals. They said that my audience should not be management but members of dual-career couples. By the time the contract was negotiated, I had six weeks to get the manuscript submitted to be included in the next book catalog. My agent had taken over a month to work out the deal. (Praeger primarily sells through their catalog.) Since I was retired and working for myself, I realized that I wasn’t limited to regular working hours; I began working seven days a week, from morning into the night, and finished with about a week to spare. It was a fun exercise turning my first manuscript around to address the issues from the opposite perspective.

There are subplots even in bio/memoir. Weaving them into the main story can also be challenging.

Despite being an analytical person, when I write, I am a pantser. I write and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

The fictional book that may have had the greatest impact on my life is Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough For Love. I took away the idea that you can have multiple careers in life, and you can bluff your way through some things. One of my favorite non-fiction books is Powers of Ten, About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe by Philip Morrison, Phylis Morrison, and the Office of Charles & Ray Eames. I had Philip Morrison for the 6th level physics course at MIT, but this book wasn’t published until two decades after I graduated. For me, it signifies that as we go both up and down in scale, things become more and more esoteric and unknowable. My mother’s younger brother was a Physics professor at Berkeley. I would ask him, “What is the universe in?” His answer to me was always very unsatisfying. He said it was a shape that closed in on itself.

Website, http://www.evesprunt.com

Readers can contact me through LinkedIn or FaceBook. Fortunately, my name is unique, so I’m easy to find.

 

4 Comments

  1. Marilyn J. Dykstra

    I can’t wait to read your upcoming biography/memoir of your mother and you, Eve. It sounds intriguing.

    Reply
  2. Debra Bokur

    A truly impressive biography… and I’m intrigued by the idea of discovering that someone you knew well (or thought you did) may have lived a sort of secret life. I’m definitely adding this book to my must-read list.

    Reply
  3. Glenda Carroll

    I can’t wait to read about your aunt. She sounds like a fascinating woman. And you sound like just the person to write about her!

    Reply
  4. Deven Greene

    Very interesting interview, with a dizzying array of accomplishments. I was unaware of “Powers of ten, About the Relative Size of Things in the Universe.” I found it listed in our local library and put a hold on it.
    Another book written by a physicist for lay people, “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman,” by Richard Feynman, was a wonderful, entertaining book I read many years ago. He has a few other books for lay people, but i haven’t read them all. (Stay away from the Feynman Lectures if you’re not interested in learning physics).
    Thank you for blazing a trail for other women to follow. I’m sure both men and women have benefitted from your accomplishments. Best of luck with your writing.

    Reply

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DAVID CROW – Emerging From a Life in Conflict / Mental Illness / Abuse

In The Pale-Faced Lie, David Crow presents a riveting account of growing up on the Navajo Indian Reservation with a mentally ill mother and violent father, an ex-con from San Quentin who groomed David to be his partner in crime.

DAVID CROW spent his early years on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Through grit, resilience, and a thirst for learning, he managed to escape his abusive childhood, graduate from college, and build a successful lobbying firm in Washington, DC.

Today, David is a sought-after speaker, giving talks to various businesses and trade organizations around the world. Throughout the years, he has mentored over 200 college interns, performed pro bono service for the charitable organization Save the Children, and participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. An advocate for women, he is donating a percentage of his royalties from The Pale-Faced Lie to the Barrett House, a homeless shelter for women in Albuquerque. David and his wife, Patty, live in the suburbs of DC.

Do you write in more than one genre? I have only written non-fiction so characters are real people, and the book captures what they actually did. I hope to write fiction in the future.

What brought you to writing? I always wanted to write but knew the process is completely different from ordinary business writing, which I had always done before. I studied creative writing but must confess that my publisher was my greatest teacher. Sandra Jonas took a very rough manuscript and helped me create a readable book that has been quite successful. The creative writing process, in my opinion, requires a great deal of study and practice. There has been nothing easy or quick about it. On the contrary, it may be the hardest thing I have ever attempted.

Tell us about your writing process: I write every day, but it can be painful. I struggle to get into a rhythm and to move the process forward. It took nearly ten years to write the book. The last two working with Sandra were very challenging because I still had a significant learning curve.

Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I belong to several writers groups, including the Western Writers of America. I have attended the Writer’s Digest Annual meeting in NYC and several others. Every one of them has helped me better understand what it takes to be a successful writer.

Who’s your favorite author? I have several favorite authors and new ones all the time. I am finishing Kristin Hannah’s, The Four Winds, a novel about the Dust Bowl—it is excellent. I loved Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, Erik Larson, Jeff Guinn, Chris Enss, and countless others. I am an avid reader.

How do our readers find you and your work?

Website: davidcrowauthor.com
FaceBook: http://www.facebook.com/authordavidcrow
Twitter: @author_crow
InstaGram: @davidcrowauthor

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Ursula Pike – Karuk – Author – Peace Corps Volunteer

Ursula Pike’s debut book is An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir

At the age of 25, I stepped off a plane in Bolivia to begin two years of service as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I assumed that connections with the people of South America’s most indigenous country would be easy because I’m Native. The truth was much more complicated. This is my debut book.

Deborah Miranda (Ohlone /Costanoan-Esselen) author of Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir, said this about the book, “The Indigenous peoples Pike lived and worked with speak loudly from these pages, challenging many of us to check privileges we didn’t know we had, demanding the right to be complex, strong, and human. This book is all heart, all vulnerability, as a young California Indian woman makes family far from home.”

Do you write in more than one genre? Creative Nonfiction is my favorite genre to write in, and by that, I mean memoir and essays. However, I have a few short stories I’ve written. I have a story about a Native Elvis impersonator who dances in powwows in his Elvis regalia.

What brought you to writing? Writing has always been my strategy for dealing with life. Writing in a journal is a mindfulness exercise. I never knew that when I started, but that’s exactly what it is. Writing requires me to focus on the moment I’m in. All the brutally honest writing I filled my journals with helped me develop a clear voice on the page. I learned to write for myself and never thought I’d show my writing to anyone else. An online writing class at Austin Community College helped me have the courage to share my writing with others.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? A library is the absolute best place to write. During the pandemic, I’ve really missed libraries. Not only are they usually bright and quiet with comfortable chairs, but I am also surrounded by books. There is nothing as inspiring as looking up from my writing to see a book that looks terrible and think, “If that book was published, maybe mine has a chance.”

Tell us about your writing process: There are times when I feel inspired to write, or an essay idea pops into my head, but, honestly, deadlines are the thing that makes me actually sit down and write. In Austin, I used to read at a monthly open mike event, and the pressure to produce something good to read terrified me. I was always motivated to get a good five-minute piece ready by the deadline.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The very first revision is incredibly challenging. I am comfortable with churning out the crappy first draft. But turning that imperfect lump into a chapter or essay that I might want to show someone else is daunting. My computer is littered with first drafts that I never went back to because I wasn’t sure what to do with them.

Who’s currently your favorite author? Right now I’m reading Toni Jensen’s Carry: A Memoir of Survival on Stolen Land and loving it. It is beautiful, honest, and humorous in a sly way that makes me want to read it slowly to enjoy the stories.

Do you travel and visit the settings used in your work? My book is set in Bolivia during the two years I lived there in the late 1990s. But I did travel back to Bolivia in 2018 while I was writing the book. Bolivia is a stunningly beautiful country, and the trip helped me beef up the descriptions of the landscape and the people. During my return, I also paid attention to how Bolivians speak and revised some of the dialogue in an attempt to more accurately reflect conversations.

How long to get it published? I queried agents for over a year with no luck. Then Heyday Books, a small publisher in Berkeley, California, began accepting submissions after being closed for a while. They liked the book outline I sent and asked for the full manuscript. A few months later, they made an offer to publish the book. In total, I spent about 18 months trying to get the book published before finding Heyday. Then I spent another year and a half working closely with two editors revising the book.

How do you come up with character names? Naming the people in my book was a difficult issue for me because it is a true story. But I didn’t want anyone else who is part of the story to be easily identifiable. For this reason, I changed everyone’s name except my own. I even changed the name of the town. Bolivian newspapers were a great resource for finding realistic names because they are full of quotes by people listing their names.

Do you have subplots? The revision process helped me with the subplots. The editors I worked with pointed out ways that I could strengthen the subplots. For example, there’s a subplot about an important friendship I had with a volunteer from El Paso. In earlier drafts, the description of the friendship was primarily in one or two later chapters. My editors suggested I add scenes earlier in the book to develop those subplots more. They also helped me discover a few subplots that needed to be cut out entirely.

What kind of research do you do? People might think that writing memoirs doesn’t require any research because the author is writing about their life. And it is true that the eight blank journals I filled with my recollections while a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bolivia were the first source of information for the book. But, in my case and that of most memoir writers I know, research was a critical part of the writing process. I read books and academic articles about Bolivia, the Peace Corps, and even about my own tribe, the Karuk. Not all of this research ended up in the book. Still, it helped me better understand the historical context I was writing about.

Looking in the future, what’s in store for you? An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir came out on April 6th, and I’ll be promoting that during the spring and summer. After that I will be finishing my next book, which details the years after the Peace Corps when I lived in Eastern Mississippi, broke and pregnant, teaching English at a chicken processing plant. The working title for that book is House, Mississippi, although my teenage daughter thinks I should call it Radioactive Chicken Baby.

Order Book: An Indian among los Indígenas: A Native Travel Memoir

How do readers contact you?https://ursulapike.com/

Twitter: @urs_pike

IG: @ursulapike_in_austin

 

 

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  1. Michael A. Black

    I’ve known a few people who served in the Peace Corps. I salute you for your dedication and courage in helping to make this world a better place. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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Angela (Angie) C. Trudell Vasquez Poet Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin – Performer – Activist

I am a poet.

I began seriously writing when I was seven years old. I remember making my first few lines in the diary. I convinced my paternal grandmother to buy it when we went uptown one day. This was during summer break when we, my sister and I, would stay with her for our annual visit. Beans and tortillas were all we ate, running in and out of the kitchen all day long and back outside, gulping a spoonful each time we passed the stove.
Wanting to write was a conscious choice for me at a young age. The book, Frederick the Mouse by Leo Leonni, was my early inspiration. I learned the power of words to make one whole, feel well-fed, and warm through that acclaimed children’s book. Frederick being a mouse poet, helped his family get through the coldest part of winter with his poems when their stores ran out.

Today I am the City of Madison Poet Laureate and the first Latina in this role. I served one-year as of January 2021. I have published three of my own collections of poetry and have a new one coming out soon. I have edited and co-edited books, journals, and zines, including the Spring 2019 edition of the Yellow Medicine Review. I went back in 2015, in my late forties, to get my MFA in poetry from the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I graduated in May 2017.

I also serve as the vice-chair on the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and help pick the state’s poet laureate biennially. I consider myself a literary ambassador in my role as poet laureate. Balancing my volunteerism, writing, appearances, and readings with my full-time job takes some organizing. It helps to have a partner who is an artist as well. We recently made Sundays full art days in our house.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do write in other genres, earning two Pushcart nominations, one for an essay and another for a poem. I write short stories, sci-fi and am working on a memoir right now. I took a class with IAIA alum David Tromblay in Fall 2019 and got a good start on my memoir. Poems are my favorite, though.

Tell us about your writing process: Everything for me starts in longhand. I edit on my computer. When I get stuck, I move it back to the page and write it out in longhand to figure out what went wrong in the editing process. I write in my body: hand to wrist to arm to core to heart to brain and back. I write fast on the page and have long practiced automatic writing. My pen always ahead of my brain, my conscious self. I am often surprised by what comes out on the page. The pen admits what I have been avoiding. That’s when writing gets exciting when you are a conduit of sorts and along for the ride. Sometimes lines come to me at night when I am dreaming. I do edit my poems voraciously and enjoy the rigorous process. I think this is where the real writing is now, in the editing. I find inspiration easy, but then I need to work with what I have created and sculpt it on the page until I am satisfied with form, white space, and sound. Poems take you where they want to go and are not done until you have read them in public. I read my poems aloud as I edit, but they sound different in my study than they do at a venue with actual people present. I do not consider a poem done until it has been shared orally with others. When I was a younger poet, I tried out poems at open mics to test them. Now I can record them and listen back, but it is still worthwhile to share them with others for final edits, in my opinion. Poems sound different when you read them to a live audience that one word makes a difference.I also think it is important to read other poets’ work, old and new. I like the idea of poets in conversation with each other across time and space and genre. Some of my poems are in direct response to another poet’s poem I heard them perform or something I read in print or online. I learned in graduate school that I love theory and continue to study. Listening to poets and writers read their work is a real pleasure for me. How you hear the words in your head versus when it is a public performance is enlightening. I listen to poetry readings, lectures, or conversations with writers when I cook these days or travel to visit my family in Chicago or Milwaukee.

What are you currently working on? I just received my contract from Finishing Line Press for my newest collection, My People Redux. This is the 2nd half of my master’s thesis. In Light, Always Light, also published by FLP in May 2019, was the first half. I graduated in May 2017 and spent a long year re-working my poems. In Light, Always Light, accepted in August 2018, was a finalist for their New Women’s Voices Award.

Concurrently, I am working on another collection of poetry that focuses on the history of us humans. This involves research. I am enjoying the process and taking my time. Some of these poems are published, and some are still being edited. I need to continue to push them out into the world. I was also working on my memoir in fits and starts.

In my role as the poet laureate for the City of Madison, I will be judging the annual Bus Line Poetry contest soon. I have many upcoming scheduled readings for a book I just published under my small press Art Night Books in November 2019 called, Through This Door – Wisconsin in Poems. This is a collaboration with the most recent state poet laureate, Margaret Rozga. The book took us over a year to put out and is the second time we have published a collection together. I served as co-editor for this collection in addition to being the publisher, and we have had a good response. Twice we have been on the radio, NPR stations, and I have logged many hours at the post office mailing books out across the state and country. We had to go back to the printer three times now.

I consider myself a literary ambassador as a poet laureate and this has opened up many doors for me. I want to continue to do that for other writers. We need community and support. I would not be where I am today without the networks I found all along the way. Nor, without people sharing opportunities with me and freely offering up what they know, and being generous. I believe in the power of art to heal, connect and create community. It is a record of our lives and our history. I am so happy to be on this journey at this moment in time.

Here are comments about my work by two poets I admire:

The poems of In Light, Always Light afford space for the lyric to clarify and delineate the self “… through the ravine to the seam / the V peak of the hills / where dappled light spills / between rocks and discarded beer cans.” Here Angela Vasquez presents poems that struggle to contend with family history, a history of diaspora and relation, of assertion and insistence that the reader and the poet must bring to bear the imperative of “yes, yes fight back.” The poems travel, as we do, to observe the poet in the eternal dimension where one must write, and read — “Let me sit in sadness for a spell. / I need to write this out.”

–Joan Naviyuk Kane, 2018 Guggenheim Fellow

The poems in Angie Trudell Vasquez’s In Light, Always Light honor the illuminating power of poetry, but they also speak eloquently of racial injustice and the dark “inherited grief” that is its offspring. These are poems of history, endurance, and remembrance. They vividly story the strength and survival of migrant ancestors “who built railroads / with broken backs” or shared “mole recipes on parchment.” In those relatives “passed. . .to vases of bone and ash,” Vasquez recognizes the fleeting quality of human reality. Like our forebears, we are mere “half blinks of history,” “we are magic dying.” But in this volume, Vasquez offers her ancestors colorful and enduring literary lives. “Poets,” she writes, “resist the death of a people” and “beyond death, art speaks.”

Kimberly Blaeser, author of Apprenticed to Justice, Wisconsin Poet Laureate 2015-2016

If people want to connect with me, the best way is email: angiectvasquez@gmail.com
My website is www.angietrudellvasquez.com, and my small press website is http://www.artnightbooks.com

 

 

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