Our first featured author of the new year, Edith McClintock, is today’s guest. Her post should help to alleviate the January doldrums and this “brass monkey” weather. By way of introduction, I should point out that even though she does write mysteries, she herself is a bit of a mystery. Tee hee-hee ha-ha! On the one hand, she is a former Peace Corps worker, and has worked to preserve rainforests. On the other, she has harbored dreams of killing off her fellow researchers in the Amazon! Indeed, working with Edith sounds about as much fun as a barrel of monkeys! But let’s find out more about her creative muses, shall we, before leaping to any conclusions…
— ML Awanohara
I can’t pinpoint the moment I decided to write a novel. The idea percolated for years starting in my early teens. I did, however, always know — to the extent I even understood book categories, which was not much — that my first book would be a mystery, heavy on romantic suspense, and definitely a touch gothic.
Maybe a modern-day version of M.M. Kaye’s light mysteries (before she wrote The Far Pavilions), each set in an exotic locale.
And maybe a little Barbara Michaels mixed with Elizabeth Peters’ humor.
They were all early muses.
But so was travel. I knew the setting would have to be international, exotic…romantic. I wanted my characters to be trapped in a confined setting — like the best Agatha Christie.
From my first trip to Spain when I was thirteen, across Europe and Central and South America in my twenties, I contemplated castles, ruins, plunging cliffs, and remote islands based on their novelistic setting potential.
We are not aMUSEd: “Writing is hard”
But I needed more than a muse to write a book. I needed an obsession. For me, that’s the only way it could have happened, because writing Monkey Love and Murder was hard. Writing is hard. The rejection was crushing.
I cried. My sister cried. The rewriting and rewriting and rewriting again often felt meaningless. More sacrifice than joy. Sometimes exhilarating. More often tedious and lonely.
The truth is the time lost probably wasn’t worth it. I had demanding, more than full-time jobs. I wrote on weekends and evenings. My friends and family were celebrating, playing, gathering, the sun shining. I was hunched over a computer screen talking to my make-believe world.
It takes a certain arrogance to believe you can even write a book. To believe it will get published. To believe people will actually like it. Maybe love it. I had that in the beginning. For years, really. I had to love the idea, the place, the characters.
The place as muse
Because it took an obsession to keep writing and rewriting, in my case probably much longer than I should have. But it wasn’t a person that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. My muse, my obsession, was the rainforest and a place called Raleighvallen in the Central Suriname Nature Reserve.
I think my protagonist, Emma, expresses it best:
Even with all the frustrations, I fell completely and irretrievably in love with the rainforest that week — the deep rich smells of dirt and decay and teeming, thriving life; the warm soft light of the rocky moss-covered paths hidden beneath layers of climbing and tumbling lianas and roots; soaring tree trunks wrapped in colorful bromeliads, orchids, moss, and lichens; and the canopy of leaves of every conceivable size and shape. Each day was a new adventure, new wildlife (some good, some terrifying) and ever changing forest, from the sunlit traveling palm groves to the dense, swampy marshes near the river; to the rocky, open forests with the towering trees the spider monkeys loved. I enjoyed watching the spider monkeys too, but I could have been just as happy watching any number of wildlife. It was simply being in the rainforest I loved most.
Like Emma, I spent two years as a Peace Corps volunteer in Suriname living in the capitol, Paramaribo. Unlike her, I joined a monkey research project post-Peace Corps simply because I wanted to spend more time in the rainforest — and chasing monkeys through the jungle seemed like fun.
It was. Hot, frustrating, itchy and wonderful.
I was there for six months, ideas percolating, but I didn’t begin writing until I came home. That’s when I moved beyond the idea of writing as abstract concept and into deep obsession.
Ignorance plus arrogance — a lethal combo?
I came home to the United States, spent three months working full-time and decided I couldn’t continue. Not yet. I was in the throes of a typical angst-ridden readjustment process combined with the initial bubbling of obsession. So I quit my job and drove cross-country to housesit for my sister and then a friend while I pounded out that first draft. I finished and returned to full-time work again, sure my first draft was destined for the bestseller lists.
I clearly had the arrogance. Unfortunately, I also had heaps of ignorance. I still do. I don’t understand publishing. I may never understand publishing.
Nine years later, following hundreds of rejections, countless rewrites, frequent tears and regular quitting (for months, even a year), my first novel is finally published. People, friends, strangers, will read it. Judge it.
It’s wonderful and scary and it took a passionate, often-painful obsession. But still, I’d do it again. I am doing it — I’ve just finished my second mystery (I hope). I have a plan for the next and the next and the next.
As for Monkey Love and Murder, thankfully, I’m finally over that obsession. And it turns out the best thing about finally being published is that I NEVER have to read or rewrite it again!
But still, I hope you’ll read it. I hope you’ll like it. I certainly did. For years.
* * *
Whoop! Whoop! Thank you, Edith! Readers, to whet your taste even more, here are a couple of reviews for Edith’s debut novel, Monkey Love and Murder:
This debut from McClintock, who served in the Peace Corps and worked on a monkey research project, has the ring of authenticity, along with romance and a mystery that keeps you guessing.
Library Journal Review:
This romantic-suspense debut is perfect for those seeking adventure mixed in with their mystery. McClintock creates a vivid jungle environment, a perfect venue for a closed-room mystery. Her characters run a little larger than life, making the story feel like a reality TV show. With a bit of Scott Smith’s tone, this would work for Hilary Davidson fans too.
And let’s not forget the blurb:
Emma Parks joins a monkey research project deep in the South American rainforest on a whim. She refuses to admit it might have something to do with a close friend’s death from which she hasn’t recovered, but it’s certainly not because she knows anything about spider monkeys, least of all what they look like. She’s barely arrived when International Wildlife Conservation’s renowned director drowns during a party celebrating the group’s controversial takeover of the park. Tension mounts following the machete murder of a researcher, threatening Emma’s budding primatology career, her secret romance with an Australian zoologist, and more importantly — her life.
Can’t wait to read it? Why not download the first chapter?
I know, I know, one chapter isn’t the same as reading the whole book. SO ENTER OUR DRAW TO WIN A FREE COPY — in 3 easy steps:
1) Comment on Edith’s post
2) Like her book’s Facebook page
3) Subscribe to our Displaced Dispatch
Yes, of course you can take just one of these steps, or two — but do all three and you’ll have an even greater chance of winning!!! @(‘_’)@
The winners will be announced in our Displaced Dispatch (and on Edith’s Facebook page) on Feb. 2, 2013. She will contact you for your address and is open to shipping anywhere in the world.
NOTE: If you’re not lucky enough to win one of Edith’s books, you can always order it from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or The Book Depository.
Born in a school bus in the Tennessee woods on the largest commune to come out of the sixties, Edith McClintock works in the conservation and development field and blogs about travel on Novel Adventurers. Although a lifelong reading addict, she didn’t write fiction until post–Peace Corps, when she joined a monkey research project deep in the Amazon. Trapped in a tiny jungle cabin for six months, there was little to do but imagine creative ways to kill off her fellow researchers (all of whom were too nice to make it into her first novel, despite their begging). To find out more about Edith, visit her author’s blog.
STAY TUNED for tomorrow’s post, also on expat writing.
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Images: Edith McClintock’s author photo (yes, that’s her — in Chinatown in Seattle, buying mangoes) and book cover.