|Welcome to our New Faces column, where we are pleased to introduce some of the newest authors in the mystery field. This issue we're delighted to welcome Letha Albright, whose debut mystery Tulsa Time is available from Oak Tree Press.
Letha, welcome to The Mystery Reader! Tell us about yourself.
I live in Columbia, Mo., which is a mid-sized city most notable for being the home of the University of Missouri. I earned a master’s degree in journalism at MU, and since 1989, I have been the editor of School & Community, a magazine for Missouri teachers.
TULSA TIME is the first in what I hope will be a series set in Oklahoma. My ties to that state go back to my undergraduate days in the early ‘70s. I have a degree in psychology from a small college in Oklahoma City, and I lived for eight years in Cherokee County, Okla., the setting of my books.
Writing and reading occupy much of my free time, but I also love to rock climb and hike in the woods. My husband and two teen-aged children help keep me grounded in reality.
Are you a longtime mystery reader?
When I was a child, my parents moved a lot - from Missouri to Colorado to Missouri to Colorado, back and forth so many times that I lost count. My first stop in a new town always would be the public library, where I could count on finding old friends: Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins and the Hardy Boys. In high school (Arvada, Colo.), I graduated to the romantic suspense of Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt.
Mysteries have always been my favorite reading material. These days, I love ‘30s and ‘40s noir, especially James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler. Ross Macdonald has been a huge influence on my writing. Same with Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton. New favorites include Nevada Barr, Robert Crais, Mary Willis Walker, Daniel Woodrell, S.J. Rozan, Keith Snyder and C.J. Songer.
Tell us about your road to publication.
I started writing my first mystery novel in 1992, and when it was completed a year or so later, I thought agents and publishers would be breathless with anticipation. How naive! After a lengthy search, I did find an agent, but she never even submitted it to any publishers. Instead, she kept sending it back to me for revisions. I'm glad that she did. Looking back on that first manuscript, I can see now that I wasn't ready for prime time.
My second attempt fared better. The manuscript was a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, and as a result I found a new agent. She submitted the book to several major publishers but wasn’t offered a contract.
Never one to accept defeat, I wrote TULSA TIME. It, too, was a finalist in the Colorado Gold contest. I felt like it was the best of the three books, but my brief attempts to find an agent went nowhere. I wasn't as patient this time around, and I decided to submit it directly to small presses.
Billie Johnson, owner of Oak Tree Press, was the first to offer a contract. I'd sent the book to her initially because I had read about the Dark Oak contest on the DorothyL mystery listserve. First prize was publication -- and I won first prize!
What kind of research was involved for TULSA TIME?
The most interesting field trip I took was to the Tulsa County Jail. A public information officer took me on a personal tour. Before we entered the cell blocks, he would yell, "Woman on the floor!" and give the men a few minutes to get decent. When the inmates found out I was writing a book, they would tell me they had a story for me. "I’m innocent" was the phrase I heard most often that day.
I also researched the music industry. I’m fortunate to have several "starving artist" friends. These guys are incredibly talented musicians, and you have to wonder why their music isn’t being nominated for Grammys instead of some of the dreck I hear on the radio.
Tell us about plans for future books.
I feel very close to my protagonist, Viv Powers, and the other continuing characters who people my books, and I would like to write more mysteries featuring them. Perhaps someone will even pick up the earlier books.
For the time being, I'm working on a crime novel about a woman who turns to robbing banks during the Great Depression in order to get enough money to reclaim her stolen child. It's working title is BED OF STONE. It's a huge challenge, but I'm enjoying it immensely.
How can readers get in touch with you?
My e-mail address is email@example.com. and my website URL is www.letha-albright.com. I decided to separate my name with a hyphen because it could be misread as "lethal bright." Makes me wonder…
Letha, thanks for joining us, and best of luck with your future books!
November 4, 2000