Regis in Fiction:
An Interview with Margaret Coel
How is it that Regis University factors into your works of fiction?
One of the main characters in my series of mystery novels is a Jesuit priest, Father John O'Malley, who works at a mission with the Arapahos on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. However, since the Arapahos once lived in Colorado, I like to invent excuses in my plots to bring some of them back to their homelands. That means I can bring Father John here, also. And what better place for him to stay than at Regis? He's told me he likes to come here. The campus is beautiful and peaceful and it gives him a chance to regroup before heading back into the fray and bringing another murderer to justice.
Do you have a fictional role for the Dayton Memorial Library?
Not yet, but Father John is an historian who frequently has to look into history in order to solve a contemporary crime. The way that past crimes and injustices, especially toward the Indian people, influences the present has always fascinated me. It plays a role in many of my plots. I can foresee the day when Father John will go to Dayton Memorial Library to do the historical research necessary to solve another crime.
What were the key events or influences that drew you to a writing career?
My own love for reading from a very early age and my desire to tell the kinds of stories I loved to read. Also, probably the fact that I'm not very adept at anything else.
Having published both fiction and non-fiction, how would you characterize the difference in terms of research, writing process, and publisher interest?
I'll start with the last. Publishers are more interested in non-fiction. If you have a good topic and write about it in an interesting way, chances are you will find a publisher. I find the writing process for fiction and non-fiction very different. Non-fiction is a way of arranging the facts (I said, arranging, not imagining) in such a way as to tell a good story and help the reader to understand why the story is important. I always found writing non-fiction to be a very creative endeavor. Not until I started writing fiction did I realize what creativity was truly about. In fiction, you pull everything out of yourself--the characters, the plot, the setting. It's a tremendous amount of fun to sit down at the blank computer screen, not knowing what's going to happen, start writing, and watch a new world begin to unfold. As for research, non-fiction requires a lot of serious research and close documentation, whether or not you put the documentation into the work, such as in footnotes. I still do quite a bit of research for my fiction, but it's a different kind of research. I do a lot of reading and I talk to a lot of experts on whatever subject I'm dealing with in the plot. For fiction, I don't have to acquire an extensive knowledge about the topic, the way I did when writing non-fiction. I only need to know what is necessary for the plot to make sense. For example, The Thunder Keeper deals with diamond mining in Wyoming. I had a great time interviewing geologists and diamond specialists and learning just enough to make the plot credible, but certainly not enough to write a non-fiction book on the subject. I'll leave that to the geologists.
Do Jesuits make good detectives?
The best. Have you ever met a Jesuit who waasn't intelligent, well-educated, and logical? My character, Father O'Malley, brings all of that to bear in solving crimes that often stump even the FBI (at least in my novels).
What advice could you offer to persons who might like to become writers?
Three words: persistence, persistence, persistence. Obviously you have to work on your craft and write as well as you can. That said, the difference between people who get published and those who don't, I'm convinced, is not that one group is better than the other. It's simply that one group refuses to give up. It's not easy to stay with it and keep believing in yourself when you're collecting rejection slips. But I know a lot of writers, some of them very famous, who have papered their walls with rejection slips. And I have quite a pile of my own.
What do you think of Louis L'Amour?
He was my mother's favorite writer. The man knew how to tell a darn good story (as Mom used to say).
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