I found my calling at age 7.
Back in those days there was no such thing as sunscreen. Tanning oil smelled like coconut daiquiris and laying out in the sun was considered a wholesome activity for children.
It was while roasting there, hour after hour, as my older sister and step-sisters read Seventeen magazine, that I discovered Nancy Drew. The Hidden Staircase. My first mystery novel. I emerged from that book, (lobstered on the back of my legs because I forgot to turn over all afternoon) and I knew:
I was going to be a mystery writer.
Pretty much as soon as I found my calling, I allowed myself to be talked out of it. And I continued to talk myself out of it for almost thirty years. You can’t make a living as a writer. You’ll starve. You’ll die penniless on some street corner.
You know. That old paradigm. I believed it.
And so I tried everything else. Really, everything. During university I worked dozens of retail and restaurant jobs. After graduation, I transitioned into bookstore jobs and research jobs. I counselled youth about the perils of alcohol consumption. (Do not laugh.) I wrote things for money. I counted things for money. I counted logs in a log yard and beer in a brewery. (Really, you can get a job counting beer.)
All the while I read every mystery novel I could get my hands on. Cozy, hard-boiled, character-driven, thriller, procedural, romantically inclined and tending toward horror. I didn’t discriminate. I read and read and promised myself, someday.
Someday I would write a mystery of my own.
It got to the point where someday gave me night terrors. What if someday never came? What if I was never less busy and more brave? What if I never had the time, money or permission I needed to get started? What if I died with my mystery story still inside me?
I finally decided to make my own someday.
I walked out of my beer-counting job (spectacularly, I might add) and gave myself five years to write a mystery novel that I would be happy to read.
During those years, our kids were small and I worked on my mystery very early in the mornings. Then I spent the rest of the day writing everything else. I wrote the words on the inserts in your utility bills. (You know, the ones you recycle without looking at.) I wrote about waste water treatment, infrastructure upgrades, decorative uses for concrete and horse bedding (fluffy and soft). I wrote websites and press releases and other people’s blog posts. All the while, I drafted and edited and studied and improved my mystery story in the wee hours.
Four years and fifty weeks after I walked out of my job, I received an offer for my first novel, Confined Space, from Simon and Schuster. (It’s a murder mystery set in a brewery. All that beer counting did come in handy after all.) Open Secret was published soon after.
Critics had great things to say about the books. Readers loved them.
For the past few years, my readers have been wondering what the heck happened to me, my books and my characters. Not to worry. I’m still here. Working away on new manuscripts which will become books in your hands in due course.
Currently, I’m developing a new mystery series, and I’m sharing the behind the scenes of my process in a weekly letter to readers. These are like letters to an old friend, full of news and curiosities and written from the heart. So much from the heart in fact, that I can’t bring myself to post them publicly. You have to be on my email list to receive them.
Want in on the fun? I’d be delighted if you would join us. You can sign up here.
Deryn Collier is the author of The Bern Fortin novels Confined Space and Open Secret, both published by Simon & Schuster Canada. Originally from Montreal, she is a graduate of McGill University. After a very short career as a federal bureaucrat she ran away to the mountains of British Columbia where she has been for over twenty years. She lives in Nelson, BC with her husband, sons and cats.