It’s 1923, and a young Black theologian—and Sherlock Holmes fan—receives a cryptic telegram to return home to Denver to solve the cold-case murder of her estranged father. But, in a city ruled by the KKK, will she unravel the crime before becoming a victim, too?
Patricia Raybon, former Denver Post reporter and former journalism faculty member at the University of Colorado at Boulder, is an award-winning Colorado author and novelist who writes at the intersection of faith and race. Her published books include My First White Friend, winner of the Christopher Award, and I Told the Mountain to Move, a Book of the Year finalist in Christianity Today’s 2006 book awards.
Her debut historical mystery, All That Is Secret—a Parade Magazine pick for “Mysteries We Love” Fall 2021—released October. 5th from Tyndale House. CrimeReads listed it among the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021: Fall/Winter Edition.”
Where did the idea come from to write about 1920s Denver and the Ku Klux Klan corruption? First, I love “clergy” mysteries—Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, Grantchester’s vicar Will Davenport, and the like. My hope was to introduce a faith character in Colorado during one of its darkest times, the 1920s. Since fiction needs a threat element, I used the Klan as a hovering danger for a young Black theologian’s attempts to solve her father’s murder. I hope it makes for good tension.
How unusual was a female seminary professor in the 1920’s? A Black theology professor of either sex? Not totally unusual for two reasons. Many college-educated women in the U.S. matriculated at all-female seminaries, forerunners of female colleges such as Smith or Wellesley. Their goal was to prepare young, unmarried women to be teachers. Meantime, there was a move by many denominations to launch colleges for “Negroes,” now known as Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Some white schools, such as Oberlin, had accepted Black students even earlier—at Oberlin since 1835. While most white colleges in the U.S. didn’t admit Black students until much later, Annalee would’ve found a place to study. Her study of theology would be rare but not impossible.
Was the neighborhood burning based on an actual event? Yes, the historic Shorter A.M.E. Church in Denver—founded in 1864 and named for an A.M.E. bishop (James A. Shorter)—was destroyed by fire on April 9, 1925, with many suspecting the Klan. One year later, on Easter Sunday, April 4, 1926, the congregation moved into a newly built building on the site of the previously burned structure in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, staying at that location until 1981 before moving to Martin Luther King and Colorado boulevards. My husband Dan and I have been members of Shorter for nearly 40 years. Knowing about the fire, I used the incident in my novel, All That Is Secret.
What sort of research did you do? I started out reading histories about Colorado’s Klan. Then, I scoured old newspapers at the Colorado Historical Newspapers site (a treasure) and listened to oral histories at the Denver Public Library’s amazing Digital Collections—also poring over their old phone books, street maps, vintage photos, church bulletins. I love history, so digging through this material never got old.
Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan? What other mysteries do you like? Sherlock Holmes is my first fictional barometer for mystery writing. I also deeply love Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, and I love historical mysteries set in other countries, including Vaseem Khan’s Baby Ganesh mysteries in India, Harriet Steel’s Inspector De Silva mysteries in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness mysteries in the U.K. (and her stand-alone novels), Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries in Botswana, as well as American author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor mysteries in Minnesota and his excellent stand-alones.
This is your first novel. What led you to try fiction? The pandemic. It sounds prosaic, but I’d started working on a mystery some ten years ago and then put it on a shelf. However, during the pandemic lockdown of summer 2020, I was desperate for something to take me away from the horrible daily news. So, I went back to my mystery. What had changed was me. Older now, I simply worried less about what people might think or say about prim Patricia Raybon writing a romantic historical mystery—or worry about what my characters needed to say and do. No reaction could be worse than a pandemic. So, I let her rip and gave it my all.
Did you find the “learning curve” challenging? I found it exciting. I’ve been reading about fiction writing for at least 30 years. I admire the format and always wanted to learn how to plot a novel. So, during the pandemic, I sat myself down on my back deck and re-read Robert McKee’s wonderful screenwriter’s “bible” entitled Story, James Scott Bell’s books on structuring the novel, John Truby on The Anatomy of Story, G.K. Chesterton’s classic reflection on “How to Write a Detective Story,” Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing, plus bunches of books on understanding story beats, especially in romance and thriller plots.
I tried to have fun with the writing so the reader would, too. That was my goal—excitement and readability.
What did you learn by writing a mystery? To treasure life even more. In a mystery, since someone’s life usually gets taken, that invites a brave look at all things in life that die—especially spiritually—for each of us. What, indeed, can we learn about life by looking hard at dying? To a theological detective, that’s a key question. As for historical fiction, hindsight reminds us that winners write history. But what’s the rest of the story? Historical fiction allows a second look. Writing my novel helped me get in touch with both sides of a historical time and place.
As for the actual plot—the moment-by-moment action—I honored those experts who say to focus on what the character wants most. Once I met Annalee and understood what she wanted—to solve her father’s murder, over everything else—that was my North Star.
I wasn’t trying to reinvent the fiction wheel but roll with what others already have studied and shared about plot—starting, in fact, with Aristotle. I’m a beginner at this, however, so I know there’s much more to learn.
Is this the beginning of a series? Where are Annalee and Jack going from here? To my wonderful surprise, the Annalee Spain Mysteries are envisioned as a series. Tyndale House requested three books to start out. Mystery readers love series, of course. So, overnight, I went from writing one book to developing a mystery series. I just completed Book 2, which I loved writing. I love that the relationship between Annalee and Jack is an intentional subplot in the stories. So, to find out what happens, follow along on their next adventure.
Did you enjoy the experience of writing a novel? It’s extraordinary fun, so much that I regret not turning seriously to fiction decades ago. My only consolation is believing that age and life experience will make me a better novelist. I sure hope so!
At my website at patriciaraybon.com
On Twitter at twitter.com/PatriciaRaybon
Facebook at facebook.com/PatriciaRaybonAuthor
On my Faith Journey Newsletter at http://bit.ly/2jgpasW
The day after high school graduation, Vinnie Hansen fled the howling winds of South Dakota and headed for the California coast. There the subversive clutches of college dragged her into the insanity of writing, where the dark influences of Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller coaxed Vinnie to a life of crime. A two-time Claymore Award finalist, she’s the author of the Carol Sabala Mystery series (misterio press), the novel Lostart Street, and many short stories. Retired after 27 years as a high school English teacher, she remains sane(ish), notwithstanding the evidence of her tickling the ivories with local ukulele bands.
Do you write in more than one genre? Yes, my short stories range from literary to noir. They’ve appeared in diverse publications from Lake Region Review to Santa Cruz Noir. My most recent print publication, “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” is in Gabba Gabba Hey: An Anthology of Fiction Inspired by the Music of the Ramones
In full-length work, my Carol Sabala series falls most accurately in the Private Investigator tradition. Carol Sabala starts as an amateur sleuth, but her career arc in the seven-book and one-novella series takes her into official private investigation.
I’m currently working on two novels, One Gun and Crime Writer, in the literary suspense sub-genre of crime fiction.
Finally, I dabble in non-fiction with a lovely creative non-fiction piece published in Catamaran Literary Reader’s Winter 2021 issue and an article in the last issue of Mystery Readers Journal.
Who’s your favorite author? An impossible question to answer, George! Since I write all over the place, I read all over the place. Right now, I’m in love with literary suspense, and my favorite authors in that sub-genre are Jane Harper, Allen Eskens, and Lou Berney.
When I was working in PI fiction, my inspiration was Sue Grafton.
Some of my favorite books of all time lie where the literary and mystery genres intersect. Think William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace or David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars.
But an author who is a favorite for other reasons is Dorothy Bryant. She comes from an English teaching background, as do I, and that background wends its way into works like Miss Giardino. Dorothy Bryant was feisty, the first woman to wear pants when teaching at Contra Costa College.
Her first book, Ella Price’s Journal, was traditionally published. Still, when her agent deemed her second book “very bad,” Bryant struck out on her own before self-publishing was common or easy. She established Ata Press and published this “very bad” book, The Kin of Ata are Waiting for You. The book was later picked up by Random House and stayed in print for 30 years. Who doesn’t love that story?
But the main thing I love about Bryant is how she explored everything from the diary format to stage plays to science fiction. She followed her love of writing wherever it led her. She did not feel confined by genre. More than any other writer, she’s my role model.
What kind of research do you do? I do whatever research a book or story demands. The fifth Carol Sabala novel, Death with Dessert, involves immigrants coming over the border in Arizona, so I went to Arizona and drove down to Sasabe. I wanted to see the terrain, feel the quality of the air, smell the desert. You can’t Google those sensory details.
Since I’m a crime fiction writer, I’ve toured our local police station, the county jail (twice), San Quentin prison (twice), the FBI Crime Lab in San Francisco, and a prison in Wisconsin. I tried to visit a detention facility in Mexico but was rather forcibly removed. I’ve done two police ride-alongs and attended the Writers Police Academy, where I made a tourniquet for a writhing dummy squirting blood and participated in Shoot; Don’t Shoot video scenarios used for police training.
My personal experience has led to some unintended research. My husband and I were both handcuffed and put in the back of a sheriff’s vehicle to bake for an hour as the LEO’s sorted out a report of shots fired on our street. The photo shows what our street looked like that day. That’s our brown house!
We also came home while our house was being burglarized; my husband gave chase to the burglar, who pulled a gun and threatened to kill him. Luckily, he didn’t. Because of my husband’s pursuit, the cops were able to arrest the young man, and we ended up with front row seats to the criminal justice system—from arraignment through trial. The burglary and the question of what became of the gun served as the impetus for my next novel, One Gun, coming from Misterio press either late this year or early next year.
I’ve attended numerous panels and workshops on everything from search-and-rescue to autopsies. In a survival camp, I constructed an emergency shelter and tried to make a fire. I’ve been to a gun range, of course.
On a more cerebral level, I’ve read Adam Plantinga’s books 400 Things Cops Know and Police Craft and have reference books at my fingertips like Deadly Doses, when I need a little poison, or Police Procedure & Investigation by Lee Lofland when I need a better sense of how the whole bureaucracy operates.
Not all my research is so dark. I visited the Grateful Dead archives here in Santa Cruz to write my story “Dead Revival,” which was published August 15th at Yellow Mama. For an earlier story (“Room and Board” in Fishy Business, the Fifth Guppy Anthology) featuring the same duo of numbskulls, I toured our local Surf Museum.
And, of course, probably like every writer, I go down rabbit holes on the internet. I’ve spent whole afternoons looking at and reading about blue scorpions. For the story in Gabba Gabba Hey, I killed an hour watching videos of killdeers.
Vinnie Hansen, two-time Claymore Finalist
The Carol Sabala Mystery Series
LOSTART STREET, a novel
Private Investigations was not what I expected and found it to be a pleasant surprise. Besides, the pleasure readers will find, PI is a primer for writers and aspiring authors. The stories are essays about the struggles writers often experience.
Rachel Howzell Hall’s “I Don’t Know This Word” uses words to build a compelling story about an exceptionally strong and resilient woman. Her battles with cancer struck home with me. I lost two children, ages three and forty, to cancer. Shortly after the loss of my daughter, I began my battles with cancer. A two-time survivor, I empathized with Hall’s struggles, although mine were nowhere near as horrifying. She is an inspiration who brought tears to my eyes.
Jacqueline Winspear’s “Writing About War,” pulled at my heart in many ways. My taciturn Grandfather fought in France in World War I. Not once did he ever mention a word about the experience. The only one to remark was my Grandmother, who once said, “He was gassed, you know, mustard gas.” She would say no more.
My father was in France during World War II. He only twice mentioned his time in combat. “The only time I fired my gun was when I pointed it in the direction of the Germans and pulled the trigger. I don’t know if I ever hit anything.” The other was riding in the back of a 2 ½ ton truck when a German fighter began strafing them. The driver pulled into some trees. My Dad said he didn’t remember anything from then until the end of the war. He wasn’t wounded.
Both men suffered what we now know to be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Robert Dugoni’s “Nuns, Magic, and Stephen King,” was as good as King’s On Writing.
Twenty engrossing essays leading me to appreciate not only the ones familiar with but others I’ve never read but will.
In Private Investigations, Zackheim has once again succeeded in assembling an outstanding array of stories.