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I write multicultural fiction inspired by the places I have visited around the world.
As a student in Leipzig, East Germany, I sampled Hungarian wine at the Auerbachs Keller, the underground restaurant where Johann Wolfgang von Goethe set scenes from his tragic play, Faust. While living in Switzerland, I biked around my family’s Bürgerort (ancestral village), explored the Jura Mountains near Neuchậtel, and never passed up an opportunity to sample Swiss fondue. These days, I regularly travel to Iran, where I have pondered the ancient past amid the ruins of Persepolis, baked translucent bread with Kurdish women in the Zagros Mountains, dipped my toes into the azure waters of the Caspian Sea, and observed the dichotomy of a publicly religious yet privately modern culture. My work has appeared in World Literature Today, Nautilus Magazine, and several anthologies and has been translated into five languages.
What brought you to writing? When I was in college, I studied languages and world literature and wrote stories on the side. When graduation approached, and it became time to put some thought into a career, I decided to combine my two loves, language and writing, and become a translator. I had a vision of translating works by my favorite German novelists. But the reality is that we all have to make a living and, as any writer will tell you, literature doesn’t pay the bills. Not even literary translation. So I became a patent translator and continued to write stories on the side.
Do you write in more than one genre? I write short stories and novels, but the short form is my favorite. I’ve written murder mysteries, capers, thrillers, and political satire. More recently, I’ve begun to write literary fiction as well.
What kind of research do you do? My stories usually begin with a place. I never leave the house without a small Moleskin notebook in my pocket. Perhaps some detail or snippet of conversation will come my way, and I whip out that notebook to jot it down. I’ve written entire travelogues in my little notebook while on extended trips to faraway locations.
Research always gives me a good reason to travel. When writing my short story, “Trading Places,” which was published in the online magazine, Nautilus, I went back to Leipzig for the first time in thirty years to check out locations for my setting. Set in the city’s socialist past, the story is about a graffiti artist who paints satirical political slogans all over town in an attempt to inspire a workers’ uprising, similar to the Polish Solidarity movement. I discovered that the city had changed a lot since my student days, so I enlisted the help of a local friend to scout out places that still held the old socialist atmosphere. And I filled my Moleskin with personal stories I learned from the people I met along the way.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I use both real and fictional places. In Trading Places, I set the story in real-life Leipzig, but some streets and businesses no longer exist or have been renamed since German reunification. I am currently working on a novel that takes place partly in New England and partly in Iran. The early chapters are set in a fictional town in Vermont because I wanted the flexibility to alter the setting to fit the needs of the story. The Iranian portion of the story unfolds in two real places (Tehran and Shiraz) and one fictional village on the Caspian Sea. I chose the real places for authenticity, but again I wanted more flexibility for the Caspian Sea setting, so I made up a town. However, it’s based on a real village situated on the shore of the inland sea. I simply added a few features that don’t exist in the real place and changed the name.
The photo is of an Iranian fish market near the Caspian Sea.
How do you come up with character names? I collect names all the time. I keep lists of them on my computer, and when I come across an interesting one, either through my reading or in real life, I jot it down and add it to my list. Websites of baby names are a great resource, especially for foreign names. Often they list the meaning of the name as well. This can be fun when picking Iranian names, which sometimes refer to mundane objects or abstract concepts: Mozhgan (eyelashes) or Arezou (wish). I named one hot-tempered character Atesh (fire) and gave the name Noor (light) to another, who helped the protagonist find what she was seeking.
Has an association membership helped you in your writing? I’ve been a member of Sisters in Crime for many years, and it is likely the reason I am published at all. It is a wonderful group for both support and learning craft. Also, I always run my work past several beta readers, both in a critique group that meets twice a month (on Zoom at the moment) and others with whom I exchange completed manuscripts by email. Many of these readers are people I met through Sisters in Crime.
The former Stasi headquarters in Leipzig, Germany, now a museum.
How can our readers contact you?
My Cold War short story can be read here: https://nautil.us/issue/6/secret-codes/trading-places
A murdered metal sculptor. A Russian mobster on the hunt. Can a talented PI outsmart a vindictive killer who has her in his crosshairs?
I’m a lifelong reader of mysteries – historical, contemporary, futuristic, paranormal, hard-boiled, cozy … you can find them all on my bookshelves and in my e-readers. I honed my logic and planning skills while working as an IT project manager. Still, my characters and dialog benefited greatly from my second career as a Congregationalist minister. (No, I don’t write Christian fiction, but I confine myself to mild profanity as needed for the character and avoid any explicit sexual scenes. No judgment on those who do. It’s just my preference.)
I grew up an Army brat, living in Germany, France, and Korea, and several states in the U.S. After my dad retired, we settled in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I raised my daughter and son there while working at AT&T.
My Maltipoo Teeny and I now live in Wellington, Colorado, a few miles south of Cheyenne, Wyoming. One of my greatest joys is hearing my three granddaughters shout ‘Nana’ when I come in their front door in Fort Collins, Colorado. No matter where I make my home, I will always be a Green Bay Packers fan.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’m a mystery/crime thriller gal, through and through. That said, there are a gazillion sub-genres under those two big umbrellas, and I’m looking forward to exploring a few. I’ll start a historical spin-off series to my Angelina Bonaparte books next. And there may be a dog in one or two of those. Or even a paranormal element. We’ll see.
What brought you to writing? I was always the kid with my nose in a book. I just love to read. Back then, I used it as a way to escape reality, and I still do. In the late 1990s, as I planned to enjoy a pre-bedtime chapter or two, I once again got that feeling of ‘I could do better than this.’ So I put my money where my mouth was and started taking classes. Then I joined a local writers’ studio, where I learned accountability (pages due!) and where creative feedback and encouragement really energized me to write. From there, I worked up the courage to send my baby, Truth Kills, into the world.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I have a micro-office in one corner of the guest bedroom – comfy chair, computer cart to hold my laptop and monitor, and the biggest distraction in the world – my Maltipoo, Teeny. She’s a senior dog now, but she does demand intermissions from me for potty breaks, feeding, and a few minutes of toss the toy. If not for Teeny, my neck would probably be more cranked than it is, so I don’t complain.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I remember being afraid to enter a writer’s group at the beginning. What if they don’t like my work? What if someone steals my ideas? What I found was a place where I could safely fail and start again. A place where I was told that I was good enough—a place that felt like home. I wouldn’t be a published writer without that kind of support, and one of the first things I look for whenever I move is a critique group.
How long did it take you to write your first book? It seems like it took forever because I worked full time at a demanding IT job and raised two kids as a single mom. Besides, I was learning the process as I went. (Thanks to patient critique partners and a writing coach.) Truth Kills was published in 2012, after more than a decade of work on it. Since then, I’ve averaged a book every two years. I’m certainly not the fastest writer out there!
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? I’ve never killed a main character in the series arc, but I did kill a sympathetic character in Honor Kills, book four. The story called for it, and I could find no authentic way to end it happily. I will say that I got mixed reactions from readers, who to this day tell me that I need to resurrect the dead. I love that the readers really related to the character and I, too, feel the pain of letting him go.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I started out as a pantser exclusively, but now I’m more of a hybrid. After two books that required extensive rewrites because I created big plot holes without realizing it until the end, I learned my lesson. Now I follow James Patterson’s recommendation in his Masterclass – I lay out a high-level outline and write one paragraph per intended chapter. Of course, there are still a few kinks. In Blood Kills, I moved the exposure of the murder victim as an assassin (but was he?), which resulted in a cascade of edits to keep all the pieces in place. So I don’t strictly adhere to an outline, but I find that a general sense of how the story will unfold keeps me from needing to start over.
What kind of research do you do? I hate to be caught out in a factual error, so I contact experts (who are surprisingly willing to help), run internet queries, ask online groups for help, and, of course, talk to librarians. And some lovely readers even do occasional research for me. Typically, only about 10% of the research ends up being used in the book. However, it is still very useful in guiding the actual writing.
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? My PI Angelina Bonaparte Crime Thrillers series is set in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up after my dad retired from the Army. I use the local landmarks and the Milwaukee slang and cultural group accents (think Polish- and Italian-American) to flavor the stories. Like P. D. James, I treat setting as another character in the novel. Of course, Wisconsinites love it, but a reviewer from New Zealand even mentioned that she felt as if she ‘knew’ Milwaukee after reading the books. Love that!
What is the best book you ever read? The Lord of the Rings trilogy. So deeply layered, with characters (even the villains) that just leap off the page. I was delighted that the movies were largely faithful to the books.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? At the end of Blood Kills, Angie asks her papa for more information about her mother, who died when Angie was a child. She’s surprised when he stonewalls her, and her Aunt Terry tells her to look to the future and not the past. The last line in the book: Well, I thought, if they won’t help, I’ll have to do some investigation on my own.
This leads into my new spin-off series that follows Angie’s mother (involved in uncovering WWII espionage), grandmother (1920s journalist), and great-grandmother (post-Civil War feminist and astronomer). I see lots of research in my future!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? Let me just say to all those people who always wanted to write a book, but whose lives got in the way, it’s not too late! I’ll reveal my age and say that I was in my early sixties when my first book was published. I’d had two careers before then: IT project manager and Congregationalist minister. At every step of my life, I was able to take what I already learned and leverage it for a new adventure. If you’re willing to put in the work and realize that it’s usually a slow process to publication and an even slower process to build a reader base, you can make it happen.
How do our readers contact you?
Links to each book across all retailers: https://tinyurl.com/NanciRathbunBooks
Twitter handle: @nancirathbun
Twitter link: https://twitter.com/NanciRathbun
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Nanci-Rathbun/e/B00E9E7QCI
“Be a Creator, not a Witness” Walter Mosely
I first read Walter Mosely’s debut novel, Devil in a Blue Dress, sometime around 1994. I was hooked, even though I didn’t know it at the time. I read it in a matter of days and enjoyed it. I can’t tell you much more other than I took a liking to Easy Rawlins. I read a few more of the Rawlins’ stories and moved on to other authors.
Fast forward to 2020 and the Covid lockdown. I put out the dollars for MasterClass (https://www.masterclass.com). The selling point was Joyce Carol Oates. I once feared her for the horror she conveyed in “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” I’ve since come to admire her and her work. I subscribed to the program and found it enlightening. Recently Walter Mosley was added to the lessons. When I saw his name, I didn’t recall who he was, and I wondered why he sounded vaguely familiar. Still, or maybe because he seemed familiar, I decided to watch his talks. Within minutes of watching his talks, I knew he was talking directly to me. When Mosley started discussing character development for Devil in a Blue Dress, I remembered the book. I also remembered that the woman was the catalyst, not the protagonist.
Mosley read the first paragraph, and I was hooked again. As soon as the break came in the talk, I tried to find a print copy. Not much luck, so I braved the outside world and drove to Half Price Books. None in stock, but they could order copies from Texas. I ordered two, one for me and one for my oldest daughter, a voracious reader. The books arrived a week later. I read the first line, “I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar.” Seeing it in print was even more vital than when Walter Mosley read it to me. I finished the book in two sittings.
I was amazed at the power in Mosley’s words. I found myself enthralled, stopping, and rereading paragraph after paragraph. I have to stop doing that if I ever want to finish! The pages flew by at an astonishing pace.
Walter Mosley’s novel and his Master Class lectures are similar lessons on life—the world’s reality.
Novel and lecture intertwined, Mosley tells the reader and the audience a story of life. He brings out the horrors of genocide, racism, child abuse, incest, and war with his poignant vignettes—each riveting and evocative.
In a few short paragraphs, Mosley conveys the monstrous cruelty of the concentration camps of Nazi Germany to life.
Walter Mosley reinforces the importance of conflict and growth as Easy Rawlins overcomes one obstacle after another. During my reading, I became Easy Rawlins; his thoughts were my thoughts. I felt the emotions, the fear, the joy. This author managed to engage me at every level.
Walter Mosley is a Master.