In a nod to Jeopardy:
Contestant No. 1: “I’ll take Fantastic Reads for $1,000.”
Host: “The answer is ‘Enormously entertaining fiction, set in the Mountain West.’
Contestant No. 1: “What do you get when you combine mystery and music with the standout writing talent of C. C. Harrison?”
Please join me in welcoming C. C. Harrison to the blog today. C. C. is a 2019 Colorado Humanities Book Award Winner, who writes both mysteries and Old West novels, and she plays one heck of a ukulele. A few years ago, she and I and another Colorado mystery writer did an author event at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, AZ (yes, I’m bragging) and at the end she brought the house down with a fabulous performance on her ukulele. I’m always jealous of the multi-talented, but I can’t let that stop me from bringing the best the mystery-writing world has to offer to you, our faithful readers.
MB: C. C., thank you for being our guest on Murder Books. What brought you to writing as a career? Who have been some of your principal influences?
CC: I grew up in a house with books. My mother was a big reader. I knew when I finished my first beginning reader book checked out from the library that I was going to be an author, so I became an avid reader, too. I lived in Detroit at the time, and so did Joyce Carol Oates, so I guess she was my first inspiration. Later, my influences were all the big mystery writers, too many to name, but included J. A. Jance, Tami Hoag, Nevada Barr, C. J. Box, Paul Doiron, Stuart Woods. Oh, so many. I still have old, tattered Phyllis Whitney paperbacks on my shelf along with the other women authors who were considered “gothic writers” in their time.
I occasionally swerve away from writing mysteries to write Old West novels mainly because I love the West and live in the West, and am particularly interested in the early days of the Old West. My first Western, SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR, introduces a woman who finds herself penniless and in debt, stranded in a rough and rugged Colorado mining town run by men. She knows no one and no one knows her, but she figures out how to survive and discovers that living well is the best revenge.
MB: How has the COVID pandemic changed the way your conduct your writing career? what advice would you give to aspiring writers who are trying to ignite a writing career under these conditions?
CC: Theoretically, the lockdowns and shutdowns should provide more writing time, right? And they did, at first. Because of COVID, I left the city and temporarily moved to the mountains, and wrote like crazy for the first couple of months. But then all the writer conferences, book signings, library author visits, and other book events were being cancelled. To me, that was stunning, because I absolutely loved all that. Meeting my readers and talking to them, and mingling with other writers was kind of the center of my writing universe.
When all that was suddenly gone, motivation to keep up the writing pace I’d set for myself lagged. Zoom technology grew, and meetings and author events became virtual. I eventually got used to it, but it’s just not the same.
It’s hard enough to succeed in publishing without the challenges presented by COVID, so my only advice to new writers is to keep writing, and give those small publishers out there a try. I’m a reviewer for New York Journal of Books, and I’m finding that some of the best, most creative, compelling books are coming out of small publishers today.
MB: What drives/guides you to write the kind of books you write, in terms of setting, cultural backdrop, characters, and the way you depict crime/violence on the page?
CC: I like writing books set in small towns, the kind of small towns people run away to or hide out in. I’ve lived in those kind of towns, and find the stories and secrets and misbehaviors there are so much more interesting.
The characters in my books are ordinary women having extraordinary experiences and who face adversity because of someone else’s actions, or sometimes their own. But they don’t run away at the first sign of trouble. Instead, they find a way to overcome fear and obstacles to do what needs to be done.
MB: I always know the ending to a book or story before I begin writing it, so, in a sense I write things backwards, creating a set of circumstances that brings about the ending that I want to get the reader to. Do you start with an ending in mind, or do you start with an idea that you explore until it leads you to a compelling ending, or is it something else?
CC: I always know the ending to my story before I begin to write. It sometimes morphs into something else by the time I’m finished, but basically the high points of the book are in my head before I sit down to write. I go through a good deal of prep work in development and use an index card system to keep me on track. However, my book, SAGE CANE’S HOUSE OF GRACE AND FAVOR, was an exception. That book was channeled to me whole and complete. I lived it as I wrote it, laughed and cried at happy and sad scenes. It led me to think I may have lived a former life in an Old West town.
MB: What’s coming next from the pen of C. C. Harrison?
CC: I have two books in development right now. One is a contemporary mystery called DEATH OF A TWO-TIMING MAN, and another Western called THE WOMEN OF CHEATER MOUNTAIN. And because I’ve had many requests for a follow up to my current ukulele themed cozy mystery, DEATH BY G-STRING, which is a Colorado Humanities Book Award Mystery Winner, I’ll be following that up with a second book called DON’T FRET THE SMALL STUFF.
Please visit C. C. at ccharrison-author.com.
C. C. Harrison was interviewed for Murder Books by Roger Johns.