|Welcome to our New Faces column, where we take great pleasure in introducing some of the newest mystery authors on your local bookshelves. This time we're visiting with Christine Goff, whose first mystery is A Rant of Ravens, now available from Berkley Prime Crime.
Hello, Christine, and welcome to The Mystery Reader! Tell us about yourself.
I live in Evergreen, Colorado, a no longer small town in the foothills west
of Denver. I grew up here -- skiing, horseback riding, and hanging out at A
& W. It was a very small, mountain town then, so, like everyone else, I
couldn't wait for my chance to get out and see the world. After graduation
I spent one year at the University of Denver, then took a year off and spent
6 months backpacking Europe with a grade school chum, and lived to tell
about it. I spent a few more years studying creative writing and
criminology at the University of Colorado, then landed a job on the "race
crew" at Copper Mountain Ski Area. That was the year the World Cup was
there, and I skiied 168 days that season. I hadn't intended to stay more
than one year, and ended up staying fifteen.
I married my husband, Wes, settled down in Frisco, Colorado, and helped him raise three teenagers from
his first marriage. Now, after 18 years, we're back in my hometown raising
our three daughters -- all of whom, just like their friends, and their
mother who came before, can't wait for their chance to get out and see the
world. Meanwhile we share our piece of the mountains with the elk, foxes,
bears, squirrels, mountain lions, and birds, and hang out at the Bagelry.
Are you coming to mystery writing from another job?
When I first started writing, I worked as a bookkeeper and part-time legal
assistant. I had always wanted to use my talents, so I picked up a small
job penning a profiling column called "The Friscofile" for the local paper
in Frisco, Colorado. Each week I'd write a 500 word article about some
member of the community, and worked my way into writing occasional feature
articles. The first time I realized how much impact a piece of my work
could have was after interviewing a local
couple who owned an office supply store. Ben and Elaine Fogel owned the
Balance Sheet. They were active in the community, avid skiiers and
four-wheelers, and had just taken up flying. A few days following my
interview, they were involved in a tragic plane crash that killed Ben and a
friend, and severly injured Elaine. My interview, in essence, served as a
eulogy for Ben, and I received phone call after phone call.
Once my children were in school, I decided I needed to go back to work, and,
after a short stint as a legal secretary, I found a job with a local book
publishing company, Chockstone Press. They published ice and rock climbing
guides, and needed a part-time "editor." The job required me to learn
Quark, a graphic design/typesetting software, and to design layout, typeset
and insert graphics for guide books. I worked for them for a couple of
years, then took another part-time job with Living the Good News, a
Christian-based publishing company in Denver and a subsidiary of Moorehouse
Publishing. I did the same type of work for them.
By then I was struggling to publish a novel, and I learned a lot about the
other side of the book publishing business -- knowledge that still helps me
What led you to write mysteries?
Initially I started out trying to write romances, only I was horrible at it.
Finally someone told me to write what I liked to read, so I started
assessing the books I'd read all my life. Like a lot of kids, I cut my
teeth on the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, moving on to
Agatha Christie and John D. MacDonald. My dad was a Travis McGee fan, so we
had the whole collection. During junior high and high school, my reading
was more eclectic -- Herman Hess to Herman Wouk to James Clavell to
Shakespeare, Poe, Dickens, Hemingway and D.H. Lawrence -- and not always by
choice. However, looking back, definitely to my benefit. I still read
eclectically -- everything from non-fiction "woo-woo" books to Thomas
Tell us about your road to publication.
I started out in 1984 trying to write a romance novel.
Floundering, I signed up for a novel writing course through the Institute of
Children's Literature, and moved on to trying to write a young adult
mystery. With two novels half finished, I stumbled into a talk at the local
library given by Maggie Osborne, a very good, very prolific writer of
romance, historical romance and romantic suspense. After the program, I
approached her and asked if she ever taught any writing classes. She was
new to the area and looking to hook into the local writing community, so she
offered to teach a course if I could find a few others who wanted to take it
with me. Three of us started. For $20 we were to receive 5 classes, once a
week, for three hours. The first class we were all there. The second class
two of us were there. By the third class, I was the lone hold out. Maggie
drilled us on character development, setting, dialogue, plotting -- sending
us (me) home every night to write a new scene to bring back and read that
embraced the ideas learned in the previous workshops. I dedicated A Rant of
Ravens, my first novel, to Maggie.
Armed with all my new knowledge, I finished both novels and submitted them
for publication. I was asked to revise the romance twice for Harlequin,
then ultimately turned down. I landed an agent with the young adult novel,
which never sold. When we moved back to Evergreen, I found a great writers
group -- the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers -- based in Denver and started
attending critique regularly. Finally, in 1996, discouraged, with hours of
studying under my belt and four completed novels on my shelf, I decided it
was time to do something drastic. Deciding I would either succeed in
selling a book or quit writing, I enrolled in one last workshop -- Gary
Provost's Write It/Sell It10-day retreat workshop held in Kentucky in May.
Alice Orr, a past editor, agent and brilliant teacher, was the instructor
that year, and she taught using her "Writing from the Inside Out" technique.
Peter Rubie, an also past editor and agent, dropped in, looked at everyone's
work, and told me he saw "potential" in my work. I worked all year and went
back to the retreat workshop in 1997 (Alice and Peter were team teaching),
and, that year, Peter offered to take me on as a client.
Unfortunately, he couldn't sell my book (it's still on the shelf). However,
in November, he came to me with an idea. An editor friend wanted to do a
birdwatching mystery series, but he'd had no success finding someone to
write it. Two published authors had tried, but neither was able to "get the
tone right." Knowing I was a backyard birdwatcher, Peter asked if I would
consider giving it a try. I did, submitting a 30 page proposal and 4 page
synopsis to Barry Neville at Berkley in February 1998. On March 19th, Peter
called to tell me Berkley had offered me a three-book contract for the
series. It was one of those surreal moments -- our dog was barking through
the screen door at the neighbor's dog, who's barking back, and only speaks
Hebrew so I can't send her home; the children were fighting in the living
room while the tv blared at ear-shattering decibles; groceries littered the
counter, ice cream dripping onto the floor -- and Peter is saying, "I don't
know how to tell you this...." I shrieked!
Of course, it took me another 9 months to write the first book, and by then
Barry was gone and I had a new editor, who asked for a massive revision.
The good news is, I like my new editor, the book is coming out in October,
and everyone seems happy with it.
What kind of research was involved for your first book?
As a backyard birder, I could only identify about 50 bird species that
visited my backyard, and I'd never been on an actual birding excursion. In
the process of putting together my proposal, I decided several things.
1) I was going to set my book in the West. I grew up in Colorado and have
lived here all my life, so I figured the research I'd have to do on the
setting would be minimal. Wrong! Even living here forever, I was amazed at
what I didn't know about the trees, flowers and other flora and fauna.
2) I wanted to address real birding issues. I did a lot of reading, and
learned a lot of interesting things. Most of the birding issues directly
relate to environmental issues, something I'm very interested in. Hence, A
Rant of Ravens deals with endangered species, specifically the decline of
the peregrine falcon population. Naturally the mystery comes first, but the
birding becomes a integral part of solving the mystery. In my second novel,
Death of a Songbird, scheduled for release in July 2001, the story revolves
around the issue of the coffee industry and the decline of the migratory
3) I decided I needed to know what birding was really like, so I signed up
for a birding trip (I've since gone on a few more). My first trip was to
Harlegen, Texas, and I ended up taking a canoe trip down the Rio Grande in
hopes of spotting a Mississippi Kite and a Musgovy Duck (that's what the
people in my canoe wanted to spot, so I went along with them).
Unfortunately, we saw neither, but we had a great time and saw a lot of
really neat birds. Of course, my boat-mates saw double the birds I did.
They'd say, "There's one." And, I'd say, "Where?," and flail my binoculars
around. I've since mastered the art of getting the binoculars to my face in
time to see the bird, though I still need lots of help identifying the
Who are your influences as a writer?
I could list many of the old masters -- everyone's favorties -- but
contemporary.... I love Nevada Barr's work. Anna Pigeon is a great
character, and I love reading about the forest service and about our great
National Parks. I've been to many of the places Nevada writes about, so
that makes her books especially fun to read. In Blind Descent, she even
mentions my cousin -- the climber who broke his ankle and crawled out of
Lechiguilla in order not to harm the cave by having someone come in after
him with a litter. I also really enjoy Greg Rucka's work. His character,
Atticus Kodiak, the bodyguard, is exceptional. There are just so many --
Margaret Coel, Earlene Fowler, and Carolyn Hart (to have the three of them
willing to give me cover quotes for my book was a thrill), Stephen White,
Dick Francis, Tony Hillerman, Tom Clancy, Tami Hoag.
What does your family think of having a mystery author in their
Aside from their wishful thinking that I'll be a huge success and we can
afford a bigger house?
I think they have mixed feelings. I think they're proud, sometimes
impressed, and sometimes annoyed. You have to understand, they're kids.
They want me available to drive them places, help with homework, buy them
things, and they refuse to believe I'm chained to my desk when I tell them
they'll have to wait. My husband, on the other hand, is slowly coming
around to the idea that this isn't just a hobby anymore. I think seeing the
actual book made a difference. As for the extended family--I think they're
still waiting to see if there is an actual book this time, or whether I'm
just delusional. They've all heard me talk about "my books" for over
fifteen years. It's not real to them yet.
Tell us about plans for future books.
I signed a three-book contract, so there will be at least three books in the
series. The original idea called for a single protagonist, but my new
editor liked the idea of rotating the protagonist through various members of
the bird club featured in A Rant of Ravens. Rachel Stanhope is the
protagonist in A Rant of Ravens. In Death of a Songbird, scheduled for
release in July 2001, the protagonist is Lark Drummond, a woman who plays a
large role in the first book. She's a silent-partner in a coffee import
business (bird-friendly), and her partner is killed. Lark witnesses the
murder through her scope while birdwatching with Rachel, the protagonist
from book one. Lark soon learns that the coffee business is more complex
than she thought, and ends up embroiled in a solving the murder of her
partner and friend.
I'm in the process of writing book three now. I don't
have a title for it, but it deals with the pros and cons of prescribed burns
in the National forest--the impact on habitat and vegetation, the dangers,
the pluses and minuses. Living in an area where there are fires that burn
out of control -- the recent Hi Meadows fire was only about 8 miles from us
as the crow flies -- it's a subject that interests me. I'm in that stage
where I'm excited about the book, doing the research, developing characters
to populate the novel. There is no actual pub date set for book three, at
least not one I'm aware of.
How can readers get in touch with you?
Readers can feel free to e-mail me. I have a website in the design stages
(patience, please, and that address is www.christinegoff.com.) I can also be
e-mailed direct by writing email@example.com.
Christine, thanks for joining us, and best of luck! Readers, we have a review of A Rant of Ravens here at TMR.
November 4, 2000