I never planned to become a mystery writer.
For 20 years I’d been a boat captain running tour boats on the Potomac River, a ferry boat on Chesapeake Bay, a sailing instructor at the Annapolis Sailing School, and a delivery captain, moving boats from one place to another. I returned to Martha’s Vineyard, where I have deep roots, to be with my mother, Dionis Coffin Riggs, and she and I started a bed and breakfast that, we hoped, would pay for repairs on this old house. Our ancestral home dates back to the mid 1700s. She was a poet, and the house was (and is) full of books and papers and interesting clutter. Not for everyone. So we decided to cater to poets and writers.
After her death, just short of 99, one of our guests, knowing that I liked to write, urged me to go to Vermont College and get my MFA in creative writing in a two-year low residency program. I resisted. She persisted. Finally, I applied, sure they would not accept me. I was 68 years old and my 1953 bachelor’s degree was in geology, not English. But Vermont College accepted my application and me.
I had no idea what I was going to write. This was a journey into an unknown world. A friend suggested murder mysteries, and that was it.
Most of my fellow classmates were the age of my grandchildren. All seemed to be writing significant literature. Not mysteries. All supported and encouraged me.
Several decisions had to be made right away. The setting of the mysteries was obvious. I was born on Martha’s Vineyard, have spent much of my life here, and know it well. A choice of protagonist, too, was obvious. My mother, a strong woman I’ve always admired, would have made an admirable sleuth. Since a 99-year-old sleuth is implausible, I made her younger at 92, which is where she’ll stay throughout the series. Time, I decided, would always be set at the time I’m writing.
A book, an entire book. I’d always imagined writing a book to be a monumental task. But the college demanded that we students write five hours a day, and the five hours a day made the pages pile up. By the end of the two-year program, I’d turned out four books. I’d also assumed that writing one book would use up all of one’s ideas. But here I am, eleven published books later, number twelve under contract, and working on numbers thirteen and fourteen. I don’t think I will ever run out of ideas. Each book seems to generate more. This Island and its characters could — and does — provide dozens of writers with inspiration.
My first book, “Deadly Nightshade,” was published in 2001. To me, its publication marked the beginning of the millennium.