Margaret Mizushima, a native of the San Luis Valley and local author, joined us, via ZOOM, for our meeting on July 1 to talk about her mystery books (the Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries), and about the background and process of writing a successful mystery series. 
Mizushima started by telling us that she grew up on a cattle ranch in the San Luis valley, near the small town of Saguache, and married a veterinarian.  Her pre-writing career was as a speech pathologist in the Larimer County area where much of her life was focused on serving children and adults with speech and language disorders.  So, writing from what she knew and experienced, she wanted to include family issues and small-town life and values as well as characters modeled after individuals from her life, including a veterinarian, in her novels. A friend had retired from being a K-9 handler (with a dog named Robo).  Since Ms. Mizushima wanted to include animals in her fiction, listening to her friend tell stories about her dog Robo led to the K-9 team approach.  She had participated in training two dogs for search and rescue but, to increase the breadth of her experience, she followed police dog trainers working with police dogs and their handlers, including questioning the trainees as to what mistakes new K-9 handlers make. 
Two mystery-novel genres are “police procedurals” and “amateur sleuths” and she wanted to create novels that included parts of those two, so she aimed at a “soft-boiled police procedural”.  The series, soon to include a seventh novel, centers on a female K-9 handler, her K-9 partner, Robo, and a local veterinarian friend (divorced with two daughters and ultimately a romance interest).  She wanted to create plots that required the K-9 team to do what only they could do. 
As for the business of writing, while working as a speech therapist, she had always wanted to write, so there was no trigger that prompted her to start writing, only years of loving reading, especially mysteries.  Once she started on the writing path, it took her 15 years of hard work before she achieved success.  Along the way she was encouraged by several authors of mysteries; she was surprised by the amount of support that new authors receive from more established authors.  One of her important learnings was how to plot a mystery: don’t reveal the bad guy too early since most readers want to solve the mystery before the characters do. 
The mechanics of getting published involve four processes.  First, there is five to six months (apparently of almost feverish concentration) to create a 90,000-word manuscript involving a central plot and perhaps two or more sub-plots for character development.  Second there is getting on with a literary agent who promotes and sells the book to a publishing house.  Traditionally the publishing house arranges for a developmental editor, a line editor, and a copy editor to bring the manuscript to publishing standards.  Third is the effort to promote the book; “mid-list authors” have to do their own promotion, so there is the possibility that if the author stops selling the book, the book will stop selling.  Fourth is start all over again, since selling a new book commonly leads to many new readers going back to read the earlier books.