Friday, September 25, 2020

Margaret Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima is the author of the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as president for the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America, was elected the 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and is also a member of Northern Colorado Writers, Sisters in Crime, and Women Writing the West. She lives in Colorado on a small ranch with her veterinarian husband where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Mizushima's latest novel is Hanging Falls.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Hanging Falls, the title of the sixth Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, is all about setting, and from page one it’s meant to move the reader right up a mountain trail along with Deputy Mattie Cobb, the book’s protagonist. At the end of that trail lies a pristine lake, a sparkling jewel sheltered by mountain peaks and fed by a waterfall carrying runoff from rain and melting snowfields. Unfortunately, the serenity of the setting is shattered when Mattie and her K-9 partner discover a body snagged within the boughs of a felled pine floating at the edge of the lake.

In 2015 my editor and I discussed the title of my first book in the series, Killing Trail, and we decided that each future book title would follow that same convention. Oh boy, with that decision our work was cut out for us. As the years go by, each book requires I brainstorm several titles to submit to my publishing team, and then we decide which one best fits the heart of the story. But coming up with Hanging Falls was different. I thought of the title first, and then wrote the book. By the time I finished, I knew it was the only title I could even consider, and the publishing team agreed.

What's in a name?

My series is set in a small fictional town in Colorado, and I wanted my protagonists’ names to have a western ring to them. In the case of lead protagonist Deputy Mattie Cobb, the name Mattie was inspired by one of my high school classmates, and I felt that the surname Cobb had a western flair.

My other protagonist, Cole Walker, is a veterinarian who serves the small community, takes care of Mattie’s K-9 partner Robo, and often becomes involved in helping solve a murder that’s presented in each book. Again, I chose the name because it sounded western to me, but I was later surprised to learn that in real life, a man with this same name once worked as a deputy in my small hometown, which sits at the northern end of the San Luis Valley in Colorado.

And last but not least is my dog character’s name Robo. A friend of mine worked as a K-9 officer and trainer before her retirement, and she had a German shepherd partner named Robo. She told me many stories of her dog’s prowess, which inspired the skillset of my character, and I ended up gaining her permission to use his name in the story.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your novel?

My teenage self would be very surprised at the fact that I write novels. I grew up on cattle ranches, first in Texas and then in Colorado, so cattle, horses, dogs, and cats were always a part of my life. I thought I would pursue a career related to animal husbandry, but ended up studying speech pathology instead, a choice I didn’t see coming until my senior year of high school.

I eventually married a veterinarian, and animals continued to be an integral part of my life. All of my experiences influence my books, including my infatuation with mystery reading as a child. And of course, my husband’s work inspired my veterinarian protagonist, Cole Walker, although all of this was part of the great unknown when I was a teen.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Endings are by far the hardest for me to write. My books each contain multiple layers—my character arcs for the individual story and the entire series, the murder investigation, subplots that tie into both the character arcs and the murder case, work that Cole Walker has to do that will tie into the investigation, leads that Mattie and Robo must uncover, and above all action and suspense. By the time the plot unravels and I reach the end of the book, all of these plot strings must come together. Sometimes I find myself reaching for the dangling ends, and I can’t quite grab them. Figuring out how to do so generates many a sleepless night.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My characters are not like me, though I see parts of them in the people who inspired them. Mattie Cobb is spunky and courageous, but she is troubled by repressed memories of childhood abuse, thankfully something I never experienced. My work as a speech therapist often exposed me to abusive family situations and trauma though, giving me insight into symptoms and treatment for this type of problem.

My veterinarian husband inspired Cole Walker, and—though it’s a secret—Cole just might have some of the same personality traits. Both care a lot about their families and animals and are often torn between the time required to run a busy veterinary practice and taking the time needed to be a good dad to their children. I love creating issues for Cole that force him to make these choices.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My life experiences influence my writing the most. From the rural life I’ve led focused on animal care and agriculture to my love for the high country of Colorado to specific experiences such as dog training in obedience and search and rescue, I feel like I’ve prepared to write this series my entire life. And Hanging Falls is no exception. I loved writing this particular book, and I hope readers enjoy it as much as I do.
Visit Margaret Mizushima's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah, Bertie, Lily and Tess.

Coffee with a Canine: Margaret Mizushima & Hannah.

My Book, The Movie: Hanging Falls.

The Page 69 Test: Hanging Falls.

--Marshal Zeringue