By Jeff Ayers
Linda Rodriguez’s novel, EVERY LAST SECRET, won the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Linda’s also published books of poetry, HEART’S MIGRATION and SKIN HUNGER, received the KC Arts Fund Inspiration Award, Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Midwest Voices and Visions Award, and Ragdale and Macondo Fellowships. Her poems were broadcast on THE WRITERS ALMANAC WITH GARRISON KEILLOR (NPR) AND NEW LETTERS ON THE AIR (NPR).
IN EVERY LAST SECRET, Half-Cherokee Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion fled a city police force and family entanglements for a Missouri college town as chief of campus police. Now, the on-campus murder of the student newspaper editor puts Skeet on the trail of a killer who will do anything to keep a dangerous secret from being exposed, and everywhere she turns she uncovers hidden sins. College administrators demand that she conceal all college involvement in the murder, and in the midst of her search for the killer, Skeet takes up responsibility for a vulnerable teenager while her jealous ex-husband and seriously ailing father wind up back on her hands. Bannion has her hands full, and readers will be enthralled. Rodriguez spoke to THE BIG THRILL.
I’d been writing since I was a young child, and by high school, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I planned to get some kind of degree that would get me a job that paid decent money and would support me while I wrote masterpieces. But life got in the way. I dropped out to be war protester and a hippy, got married and became a mother quite young, and later as a single mother, worked more than full-time while I earned those degrees. By the time I had my master’s, I had become a university administrator, and I went on to become the director of the university women’s center. With such a hectic schedule, I continued to write, but it was mostly poetry, simply because that was easier to fit into the bits and pieces of time I could make for writing.
What prompted you to jump from poetry to writing a cookbook to writing a novel?
I still love poetry and will continue to write and publish it, but the novel was always what I dreamed of writing. I love stories. I had success with poetry, and I think many of us tend to move where success opens doors for us. I know I do. I had to leave my extremely time-consuming job (which I loved) because of lupus and fibromyalgia. Once the doctors had me stabilized, after a couple of years of diagnosis and treatment, I began freelancing to bring in some money to help pay the bills. Medical expenses had eaten up our savings, and I needed money to pay my house taxes. Suddenly, I was offered a work-for-hire job writing a Mexican cookbook for a publisher. I could wish I’d not done it as a work-for-hire since it’s been quite successful, but I know if I had to make that decision again under the same circumstances, I’d probably do the same thing.
Meanwhile, I’d been writing a novel, and I had the first draft finished but had to set it aside for badly-needed paying work, until I won a big award for my poetry that included a cash stipend and a free month-long residency at Ragdale, the famous writer’s and artist’s retreat. I was supposed to write a book of poetry there, and I did, but I also took the novel and managed to revise it.
Poetry is like singing to me, and as someone who once sang professionally, I love it, but nothing makes me as happy as spending hours in a world I’ve created with the people I’ve created. When writing a novel is going well, there’s nothing to top it. And of course, as with any addiction, that’s enough to keep you slogging through the times when it’s not going well, at all.
Talk about the Malice Domestic contest.
A friend suggested I send EVERY LAST SECRET to the Malice Domestic Competitions about ten days before the deadline, so I did. I had not heard of the four different first-novel competitions St. Martin’s offers each year. Now, I try to make everyone aware of these great opportunities. At the time, though, I sent it off and pretty much forgot it to focus on freelance work and poetry. Months later, someone with an unfamiliar name sent me an email with the subject line “malice.” I almost deleted it unread, assuming spam, not connecting it in any way with the mostly forgotten competition I’d entered months earlier. For some reason, I opened it instead to find that the judge who had sent my manuscript on to St. Martin’s was letting me know I was a finalist. Then, about a month before the Malice Domestic conference, my editor called to tell me I had won and she was my editor now. I think I babbled fairly incoherently, but to her credit, she didn’t take the award back.
What sparked the idea for EVERY LAST SECRET?
I worked with campus police while I ran the university women’s center and knew that they were a real police force, much like any small-town force, with fully commissioned officers recruited from urban police forces who had the right to arrest and investigate crimes in their jurisdiction. I also knew most people didn’t know that. A friend of mine (who bears no resemblance to anyone in the book) had once been the highest-ranking woman officer on the Kansas City police force. I wondered what would happen if someone like that left the big-city force to head up a campus police force in a nearby small town. Then, I wondered what would make her leave such a promising career, and Skeet Bannion came forth, accompanied by her disgraced, alcoholic ex-cop father and her charming, possessive ex-husband who refuses to let go. As far as campus crimes and scandals, I knew of plenty from colleges and universities all over, so that part was easy.
Do you have plans for a sequel?
I have finished the second Skeet Bannion book, EVERY BROKEN TRUST, and my agent’s sent it on to my editor at St. Martin’s. I’m excited about this book and like to think it’s even better than its predecessor. I have plans for at least four more in the Skeet Bannion series, if I have the chance to write them.
I have been so impressed with the International Thriller Writers since I found out about it and joined, and I recommend it to my friends who are mystery/thriller writers. I’ve especially been impressed with everything the Debut Authors Program offers and the enthusiastic crew of writers who run it so well. ITW and the Debut Authors Program have helped me find my way through the book promotion minefield as I approach the launch of my first book, and I’m very grateful.
Linda Rodriguez’s novel, EVERY LAST SECRET, won the St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. She’s also published books of poetry, Heart’s Migration and Skin Hunger, received the KC Arts Fund Inspiration Award, Thorpe Menn Award for Literary Excellence, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Midwest Voices and Visions Award, and Ragdale and Macondo Fellowships. Her poems were broadcast on The Writers Almanac with Garrison Keillor (NPR) and New Letters on the Air (NPR). She belongs to Latino Writers Collective, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, Kansas City Cherokee Community, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime.
To learn more about Linda, please visit her website.