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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Women writers conspire to influence mystery genre

    As any writer out there should know or will shortly come to realize, the competitiveness of the field is great. And as a woman, the challenge of getting a foot in the door could be even greater. Although it might not automatically grant one a book deal, the Other Voices Women’s Reading Series offers a chance to be inspired by published female writers and gives a chance for writing novices to read their work as well.

    Susan Miller, one of two of the featured authors at this week’s lecture, did not go through her education in pursuit of becoming a writer. In fact, she was at the other end of the spectrum, in the science field. The now-recognized writer has degrees in history, anthropology and geology. She even was employed as a field geologist with the United States Geological Survey.

    With the twists and turns of life, however, Miller’s career took another direction. USGS downsized in the ’80s, resulting in her decision to leave and devote more attention to her family. However, it wasn’t until she moved to Tucson in 1990 that Miller realized her calling.

    “”I’d been away from working in geology for years, and I realized what I wanted to do was write,”” Miller said.

    From there, Miller wrote the first book of what has become a series, labeled the “”Frankie MacFarlane”” novels. The stories are based around Frankie, a field geologist who becomes involved in different adventures around the Southwest. Sounds awfully familiar, but Miller is quick to differentiate between herself and the character.

    “”She’s younger, taller and braver than I was,”” Miller said. “”It doesn’t matter what geologist you talk to, they are fascinated by their work. It’s detective work. I was always fascinated by mystery, always. I read mysteries as a child.””

    Mystery novels are not the only things to which Miller is accredited. While waiting for her first Frankie novel to be published, she put together an anthology of women writers from the Southwest, titled “”A Sweet, Separate Intimacy.””

    “”I wanted to see what women writers in my grandmother’s time were doing,”” said Miller, whose grandmother was also a writer.

    The anthology caught the attention of a woman from Texas Tech University who eventually got acquainted with the Frankie novels, resulting in their publication.

    Miller’s current project is the fourth novel of the series, titled “”Hoodoo.””

    Along with talking about her latest work as part of her lecture, Miller hopes to educate her audience on the importance of setting.

    “”I want to give a sense of the importance to place in any fiction or nonfiction,”” Miller said. “”That’s going to be the focus; how we evoke a landscape or setting in our work.””

    Miller is actually a veteran to the women’s reading series. She appeared as a lecturer about 2 1/2 years ago and was asked back by Liza Porter, founder of the Other Voices Women’s Reading Series.

    “”Liza, she’s a good friend of mine. She wanted to start a place where women can come and read work. Her focus was on a group of writers that are often silent,”” Miller said. “”This time I got to choose whom I read with. I chose Elizabeth (Gunn) because we both had mystery novels coming out.””

    Elizabeth Gunn, who has published six police procedures, found her calling in writing much earlier than Miller.

    “”I’ve known since I was 8 years old that I was going to be a writer,”” Gunn said.

    Although the certainty of becoming a writer was always there, the genre of writing was not. Gunn started out as a travel writer while vacationing throughout the United States and Europe with her husband. It was when one of her writings was featured in The New York Times that Gunn decided to take the plunge into novels. As for deciding what to write about, Gunn wanted the route to success.

    I want to give a sense of the importance to place in any fiction or nonfiction.

    Susan Miller, author

    “”I wanted to write mysteries because when you look at The New York Times, the bestselling books are always in the mystery genre,”” Gunn said. “”I just thought, ‘why fight city hall? If that’s what they want then that’s what I’ll give ’em.'””

    In no way, however, is Miller a sellout. She calls her mystery novels ones with “”a credible edge,”” basing the plots on the adventures of a police detective in Minnesota and doing a lot of research along with it.

    “”Somebody once said, ‘write what you know,'”” Gunn said. “”I didn’t do that.””

    Gunn actually had some connections to the police scene in Minnesota, which is where she was born and raised; her nephew is the deputy of a police department in the state.

    “”I disguise it enough so I’m not killing anyone in my nephew’s front yard,”” Gunn said.

    Gunn finds her research essential to her work and laughs at the idea of writing a hokey mystery novel that you would find on the shelf of a grocery store.

    “”I can’t do that. I’d die laughing if I tried,”” Gunn said. “”I like realistic fiction.””

    Gunn is also working on a

    private-eye mystery series that takes place in Tucson, because she has gained a great amount of respect for the city’s police department.

    “”I like being around that kind of people, it turns my crank I guess,”” Gunn said. “”I don’t know what they pay in South Tucson, but it’s not enough.””

    The Other Voices Women’s Reading Series is Friday at 7 p.m. at Antigone Books, 411 N. Fourth Ave.

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