Margaret Mizushima writes the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected the 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband, where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.
Margaret’s the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries, are police procedurals set in a small town in the Colorado high country. Married forty years to a veterinarian, Margaret enjoys setting up puzzling crimes for her protagonists to investigate—Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. Together these three heroes battle murder and mayhem in the fictional town of Timber Creek, Colorado.
Margaret’s seventh book in the series is now available. In Striking Range, the past and present collide when Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo are torn between investigating her father’s cold case and the death of a young mother whose body is found near Timber Creek. As a deadly storm batters the area, taking its toll on the investigative team, Mattie and Robo search for the woman’s missing infant, hoping to find the baby before it’s too late. But Mattie soon realizes that a killer, who may be the mastermind behind it all, is within their midst, ready to strike again.
What brought you to writing? It seems like I wanted to write and publish a book for most of my life, but I needed to help my husband earn a living and raise our two daughters first. As soon as I retired from my first career as a speech pathologist, I began studying the art and craft of novel writing. I wrote several books before trying my hand at mystery writing. My first book in the series, Killing Trail, was picked up by Crooked Lane Books (New York) and released in 2015. We’ve been launching a new book together every year since.
Where do you write? Tell us about your writing process. After my daughters moved away from home, I converted an upstairs bedroom into my office. I’m a great believer in having one’s own writing space. When I’m writing the first draft of a new book, I try to go upstairs and get started by 8:00 a.m. each morning. I scan my email, answer any that need immediate attention, and then switch from business mode to creative.
I usually light a candle and set a timer for forty-five minutes. During that time, I let nothing interrupt me. (Distractions in the form of social media and phone calls are all around, but unless from family, I do my best to ignore them.) After forty-five minutes, I take a break for fifteen, get up and stretch, answer any messages I need to, and then sit back down for another forty-five-minute stretch. Called the Pomodora Method, these short sprints of giving full concentration to a task help hold my attention best. Unless I have an appointment or something scheduled, I keep up these cycles until I’ve reached 1000 words. Using this method, I can usually write the first draft of a book in about four months. Then I revise several times before sending it to my editor.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? Figuring out the plot. In every episode, I need to weave in my character arcs, a homicide or two, a social issue that I want to spotlight, work that my veterinarian character has to do that helps solve the crime, work that my K-9 character Robo has to do to turn up clues and work that my K-9 handler Mattie has to do. I love developing the premise of each book, choosing the theme, and working out the series arcs for my characters. It’s the nitty-gritty details of the puzzle, the clues, and the red herrings that are hard to wrestle into submission.
We hear about strong-willed characters. Do yours behave, or do they run the show? I think having characters strike off on their own is part of the challenge, but it’s also part of the fun. When one of my characters takes off in a direction I didn’t plan, I have to pause and ask if this direction will serve my overall plot or is it going to lead me to a dead end. Sometimes I’m surprised when a character finds a clue I didn’t know was there. For example, in the second episode in the series, Stalking Ground, the detective and Mattie find the victim’s diary under the passenger seat of her car. I had no plan for that and was as surprised as they were. But what a happy turn it took in the story, and what a wonderful vehicle for giving my investigative team more evidence to work with!
How do you come up with character names? I give my series a western flavor, and so I tried to come up with names that are more common here in the west. I actually listen to the names of participants in rodeos and keep a running list. Cole Walker, the veterinarian in the book, has a name that resonates with the west. Mattie, my K-9 handler, was the name of one of my classmates. (We attended school in a small town in Colorado.) And the dog’s name, Robo? His was inspired by an actual K-9 partner that one of my consultants had when she worked in law enforcement in Bellingham, WA. Her Robo was a wonder dog, just like the Robo in my books. He could do it all, from tracking a fugitive or a missing person to finding narcotics or gunpowder to finding evidence after a crime. The stories I heard about the real Robo inspired the skillset that my fictional Robo demonstrates in every book.
What are you working on next? I’m working on the eighth book in the series, as yet unnamed. It will launch in the spring of 2023. I invite readers to get to know Mattie, Robo, and Cole—each mystery stands alone, but if you want the full effect of the character’s stories, start with Killing Trail.
Thank you for hosting me on your blog today, George. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my writing process and the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries.
You can find Margaret at:
Hunting ghosts and solving the case before checkout? All in a weekend’s work.
Fleur Bradley is the author of the spooky middle-grade mystery Midnight at the Barclay Hotel (Viking Books for Young Readers, Aug. 2020). She’s passionate about two things: mysteries and getting kids to read. Fleur regularly does (virtual) school visits and speaks at librarian and educator conferences on reaching reluctant readers. Originally from the Netherlands, Fleur now lives in Colorado Springs with her family and entirely too many rescue pets.
Midnight at the Barclay Hotel – When JJ Jacobson convinced his mom to accept a surprise invitation to an all-expenses-paid weekend getaway at the illustrious Barclay Hotel, he never imagined that he’d find himself in the midst of a murder mystery. He thought he was in for a run-of-the-mill weekend ghost hunting at the most haunted spot in town, but when he arrives at the Barclay Hotel and his mother is blamed for the hotel owner’s death, he realizes his weekend is going to be anything but ordinary.
Now, with the help of his new friends, Penny and Emma, JJ has to track down a killer, clear his mother’s name, and maybe even meet a ghost or two along the way.
Other titles of Fleur’s: Super Puzzletastic Mysteries (anthology story, mystery for kids), and the Double Vision trilogy (HarperCollins Children’s)
Do you write in more than one genre? I write mysteries, mostly for kids, but I also like to write short stories. In fact, for the first ten years or so of my writing career, that’s mostly what I wrote. I try to still write a few every year—they’re fun to write, plus the time investment isn’t as huge as a novel-length work. Short stories are also a great way to flex your writing muscle—they’re tough to write.
What brought you to writing? I was a new mom (many years ago!), and I really wanted to do something that was just my own. As an avid reader, I decided to try my hand at fiction writing since all I needed was a pen and paper. I still love that most about writing: I start with a blank page and can make it anything I want.
What, if any, distractions do you allow? Right now, I write at the kitchen table mostly. It’s so unglamorous, really… Sometimes I try to find a different corner of the house to work in just to break the monotony. Covid times being what they are, writing at a coffee shop or library is still off the table. Once I’m into the story though, I forget about everything else. I can write anywhere.
Tell us about your writing process: I usually have the spark of an idea—whether it’s a broad feel of a book (for Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I wanted to write an Agatha Christie-style mystery for kids) or a good twist or even just the start of the story. Then I let that bounce around my brain a while, until I feel I have all the ingredients to the story figured out—so the mystery, tone, setting, characters. Then I work on an outline and sample chapters that I would eventually send to my agent. She’ll tell me what works, what doesn’t, and I tweak that and write the rest.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part is the analytical part of my brain that needs to produce a solid plot and outline, and the creative part that just wants to get writing already to see where the characters take me…. It’s truly a battle of wills some days! But that outline is necessary to keep me on track.
What are you currently working on? I’m finishing edits on my next mystery for kids, and I’m getting ready to write the first draft of a YA mystery. I always have several projects going at once—it keeps me from getting bored.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I like to take a real location and then create a fictional version of it so that I can write my own rules. For Midnight at the Barclay Hotel, I created the Barclay Hotel based on the Stanley Hotel (from the book/movie The Shining) in nearby to me Estes Park, Colorado. I took some of the elements of the Stanley—the beautiful architecture and woodwork, the ghost stories, the Colorado setting—and amplified them to make for a more exciting story material.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’m hoping to be able to in-person school and bookstore visits again—I miss seeing people in person, like everyone else I’m sure. The mystery for kids I’m working on now should be out from Viking/Penguin Random House in summer 2022, and then I plan to write another mystery for the 8-12 age group—it’s been such a joy to write mysteries for kid readers, I expect I’ll be writing lots more.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? To toot my own horn for a minute: I was honored to be nominated for an Agatha Award and the Colorado Book Award for Midnight at the Barclay Hotel. If any blog readers get a chance to read the book, let me know what you think!
For more information on Fleur and her books, visit www.ftbradley.com, and on Twitter @FTBradleyAuthor.
Novelist, US Marine, and lifelong student of the American Southwest.
David, please tell us how a Marine became a novelist. I sort of fell into writing by my former profession. Part of my career in the Marines included several tours as a staff officer. The principal duty of a staff officer is to read and write all sorts of documents for the commanding officer. Over the years, several of my seniors told me I was a good writer. I was hooked!
I live in a three-bedroom condo, and one of those rooms is my office. I have it decorated with Native American artifacts of all kinds, which serve not only as items of beauty but items that express the colorful history of the Southwest. I am inspired by the suggestion these artifacts bring of people who were able to live in a harsh land and survive there to this day. I allow no distractions, but they pay no attention to my wishes.
The hardest part of my writing process is sitting in a chair and grinding for five to six hours a day, five days a week. Every now and then, I get a flash of inspiration, but the burst of ideas is soon overshadowed by the research, analysis, and crafting needed to support the idea. In the end, my brain surge delivers new things I did not know before, and that’s where the fun of writing comes in.
My favorite author has to be Michael Connelly, followed by Robert Crais.
I travel to the scene of my crimes. My main character, Peter Romero, lives in New Mexico, and Poisoned by God’s Flesh start there. I’ve lost count of my visits to New Mexico since 1963, and I never cease to marvel at its beauty. My first novel, Mining Sacred Ground, takes place in the wilds of Arizona, a place I’ve visited annually (almost) since 1956. Animal Parts sends Romero to Oklahoma, a location I was stationed at while in the Marines. Twice. My newest novel, Dead Horses, takes place in Southern Colorado, a state I’ve loved since graduating from CU Boulder in 1965. My next novel will take place in Nevada, and that’s about all I know about the story. Many Vegas trips coming up? Of course.
How long did it take to get your first book finished? The Smoked Mirror took ten years, but it was a training vehicle and may never see the light of day.
When does your newest novel become available? Dead Horses – A Peter Romero Mystery, will be released by Amazon on October 9, 2020.
My historical characters are based on Native American legends. The problem with legends is that they are often embellished by succeeding generations of storytellers and listeners. Research will get you either a lack of information on a particular legend or confusing, contradictory stories without attribution to a source. It’s sort of a Wild West in a sense. This is where imagination and artistry come in.
My character names are out of the phone book or from the internet. If I need a character, say the sheriff of a certain county, I look up that person online. Let’s say his name is Johnson. The fictitious character’s name I will use is Jonsson. Nobody gets hurt.
Do you ever use real people for your characters? In my first novel, I tried to base my main character on people I know. It didn’t work for me, so I switched to modeling my characters after imaginary people I have developed. It works a lot better for me.
What can you tell us about your protagonist? My character is somewhere in between introspective and strong-willed. He pushes until push comes to shove, then he attacks. He is a bulldog who is not afraid to bite. How about your antagonists. My antagonists are spiritual in nature and have human characteristics, more often have animal characteristics. To make them human, I give them a sense of humor.
Do you work in any subplot? I usually have two subplots that present complications that challenge the main character and reveal more of his inner strengths.
Pantser or plotter? I am definitely a seat-of-the-pants plotter. The last paragraph leads me to the next. I tried outlining once, but it was only distracting work.
Where do you conduct your research? Most of my research is on the internet. I also have an extensive library on the main interest in my writing life – Native Americana. I have attended classes on Native Americana for the past 25 years and sob up everything I can on the subject, including membership in the Archeological Conservancy. I also write about places I know, which enhances my research online and in reading.