August 20 2022, by Rox Burkey
Talking with influential, award-winning authors is one of my passions, especially when I’ve recently finished their book. Today I am delighted to share insights from an educator and author with a penchant for including faith, race, and grace in her writings. I recently finished reader her first novel, All That Is Secret, and my review follows our chat. I believe you’ll find her experiences and insights fascinating.
Patricia let’s provide a level set for readers and start with some basics. Please share a bit of your background.
I am honored to feature you today. Was there a specific event in your life that convinced you journalism and writing was the right direction for you?
I’ve been writing almost since I could read. Half a minute past first grade, I started writing stories–but also looking for life answers. As a little Black girl growing up in Colorado in the Fifties, under Jim Crow segregation, I knew from my youngest age that things practices, rules and laws levied against people, just because they weren’t White, were dead wrong. I loved reading and writing, and those skills—especially writing—seemed an empowering way to speak out on things that needed changing and chronicle what was happening in my life. Then in third grade, my teacher asked if I’d like to be a writer when I grew up. My eyes got wide, and I quickly answered yes. Her reply? Patricia, you are a writer. That affirmation has encouraged me to this day. Writing still matters and I’m grateful to call it my vocation.
These days what is the biggest inspiration for your continued pursuit of writing novels?
The story aspect—which invites us to identify with a stranger in a story, care enough to empathize with that character, and even cheer that person on—is what keeps me working at fiction. It’s a new format for me. I’ve been a professional writer my enter life, working in journalism and other nonfiction writing. I love fiction, however, because it challenges me to use the craft of writing to connect people through a fictional story that inspires their own our own lives. That’s an almost magical outcome of novel writing and reading. In the big world of literature, I’m humbled to toil away in my corner of it and inspire readers (I hope) to make these connections.
Patricia, I know your professional career in journalism, both writing and teaching, provided a firm foundation for writing, but what made you decide on a history mystery as you have termed your first fictional novel?
First, I love “clergy” mysteries—Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton, Grantchester, and the like. My hope was to introduce a faith character in Colorado – a beautiful “sunshine” place, and my home state, but during one of its darkest times, the 1920s. Good fiction needs a threat element, even if it’s only hovering in the background. So, that’s how I used the Klan in my mystery. The hate group’s influence in Colorado was significant—making for a fascinating chapter in Colorado’s history. The novel’s foreground centers not on the Klan, but on my lead character—a young Black theologian who’s a fan of Sherlock Holmes—whose amateur sleuthing to solve her father’s murder is impacted by the threat of the Klan. I hope it makes for good tension.
Your portrayal of the young Annalee Spain with true grit from the 1920s wasn’t commonplace for women of those times. Did you pattern this woman and her convictions after anyone?
My mother! She was a tough cookie and Annalee needed to be the same. So, for a model, I made Annalee a young version of my late mother who was a firecracker, feisty and nearly fearless. My mother was an elementary school physical ed teacher, one of the first female lifeguards at her segregated swimming pool in her North Carolina hometown. I borrowed pieces of my mother’s attitude to give my lead character a bright, brave spark. Readers want a protagonist with proactive spunk, who’ll take on the big problem presented in the inciting incident. My late mother, for inspiration, filled that bill. Agatha Christie modeled her Miss Marple after her grandmother. I don’t equate myself with Christie, of course, but I learned it helps to know your lead character intimately. Annalee doesn’t necessarily speak exactly as my mother did, but my mother’s spirit inhabits Annalee’s approach to tough problems. My mother took no prisoners. I enjoy some of that same attitude in Annalee.
I love that this story has such a strong female lead. How did her youth and inexperience outside of her teaching make her so believable?
Annalee’s flaws and vulnerabilities—and showing her wrestling with them, as we all wrestle with our own shortcomings—makes her relatable and believable. At least, I hope so. She’s smart, but she still has a lot to learn about love, life, and how to live it. She’s imperfect and makes mistakes. Showing that seems to make a character real. Her flaws also provide good grist for the mill for upcoming books in the series. That’s what I’m hoping anyway!
The cover of All That Is Secret is captivating and a bit mysterious. It struck me as a fearless woman unafraid to find answers, was that your intention?
A wonderful designer at Tyndale House, my publisher, designed the cover with input from my acquisition’s editor—and input from me. On the cover image, Annalee appears curious and brave. Those are good traits for a young, amateur detective. So, you’re correct. She’s driven to find answers. I wouldn’t call her fearless, however. In some moments, she’s shaking in her boots. But she keeps moving forward, hunting down the “bad guys.” The cover shows that, I hope, and so does the cover for Book 2 in the series, Double the Lies.
Who is your target reader?
I wasn’t sure at first. My publisher serves Christian readers. So, I first came up with a jumbled profile of die-hard, mystery-reading, female fans of historical mysteries and romantic-suspense fiction who are impassioned followers of detective series on Masterpiece Mysteries as well as “readers hungry to learn about the African American experience” who also are “churchgoers.”
That’s not an audience. That’s a sub sandwich.
Then came Facebook, which forced me to decide. I’d budgeted to buy ads to excite my novel’s’ pre-orders. Not wanting to throw money at a blank wall, I forced myself to finally identify my core readers. They are:
- Women ages 45+
- Fans of historical mystery fiction
- Lovers of the Bible
- Readers of Sherlock Holmes
- Excited by Black history
Essentially, my reader is a mature woman who loves Jesus and a good mystery. So, she’s a lot like me—a no-longer young, church-going woman who loves a good mystery. So, there’s nothing fancy about her. After a busy day of working, caring for aging parents, helping with grandkids, or encouraging grown kids, she wants to curl into a comfy chair and read a twisty, page-turning, but clean detective story. I’m honored, indeed, by my core readers’ love for my debut novel and my lead protagonist, Annalee Spain.
To my delight, my targeted ads struck the right chord—and my reader answered. I’m humbled to know her, in fact. My job? To never forget how much she matters.
You have a great deal of historical reference especial to the Ku Klux Klan group in Denver during this era. How much time did you spend on your research of this story?
I started out reading histories about Colorado’s Klan. Then, I found myself pouring over old Colorado newspapers from the 1920s, the era of my book. With thanks to Denver Public Library’s amazing Western History Digital Collections, I listened to oral histories, scoured old phone books, street maps, vintage photos, church bulletins. One surprise to me was that many white residents in Colorado hated the Klan, a group whose influence came to consume Colorado life and politics, said one observer, “like brush fire.” Meantime, small story details demanded attention: How much was a train ticket from Chicago to Denver in 1923? What perfumes were women wearing? Aftershave scents for men? Car models? Hit songs? Popular movies? Buttons vs. zippers on clothes? I love history, so pouring over this material never got old.
Tell us a bit about your writing process and how it has evolved over time?
If I’m on deadline for a book, I try to commit to writing about 1,000 words a day. Sometimes I don’t make that goal, but other days I may write more. So, it averages out—hopefully enough to finish a manuscript when it’s due. That’s a practical rule. In terms of the craft, I remind myself to keep going. I’m not writing “War and Peace” or a Shakesperean classic. I’m just trying to craft a good mystery story for readers who love them. If I keep at it, I’m blessed to finish the manuscript and put together a solid story. That’s my goal—not perfection, but completion of a compelling story. Then, it’s time to market that book and start on the next one.
Who are your biggest fans, and do you leverage them as beta readers?
I’ve never used beta readers because I’m concerned about hearing too many voices during the writing process. I do, however, show close family members—my husband, sister, sister-in-law—and they ask tough questions. So, they’re my beta readers for now. Your questions make me consider adding more folks to that list, however. Thanks!
How many hours a day do you put into your writing?
Hours? It varies. Ideally, if I give the morning to writing, it’s a productive day.
You have a second Annalee Spain Mystery in the works, when might we see the book in the stores and can you tease us just a bit on what you have in store for readers?
The second adventure of the Annalee Spain Mysteries is called Double the Lies. It’s set to release on Feb. 7, 2023, but it’s already available at bookstores as a pre-order. Here are links to those stores, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
In the story, young Annalee Spain races the clock to solve the murder of a handsome young pilot before she is framed for the crime―and before his dashing twin falls head over heels for her, tempting her already promised heart.
The story finds Annalee skirting a cross-racial flirtation. So, her crime-fighting plumbs the depths of the human heart, including her own, as she explores long-buried secrets, family lies, even city politics―all of which could cost the young detective her fledgling love . . . and perhaps even her life. (And, yes, that’s marketing copy for the book! I hope it’s a good tease.)
How long did it take you to put this story together?
I wrote it in about six months. But my editors and I spent another 4 months or so fine-tuning everything. As I was warned, second books in a series are challenging. I felt that for sure with this book. So, I hope readers enjoy it.
How are you alerting fans that this new release is available?
My to-do list from my publisher is long. Bookselling is relational, so before I start talking about my upcoming book, I working to update my home page on my web site, updating all my social media profiles and even my email signature to mention the book, add a special page about the book on my website. Then, I’ll have to plan special alerts and reminders to my social media “followers” and subscribers to my email newsletter. I’ll answer requests such as yours to write guest blogs or answer Q and A’s posts.
When I’m blessed to attend book clubs, I always end our time together by announcing my upcoming release—inviting people to pre-order. Soon, I want to reach out to libraries and bookstores, telling them about the new release and inviting them to shelve it for their patrons. I try to answer every single email I receive asking about my writing or books, so my email signature will mention my new release. I also try to say yes to speaking engagements—another opportunity to share about my book. As you know, marketing a book is a huge amount of work. If I do all I can do to share my book—because I believe in it—people start to pay attention and respond. But the onus is on me to do the leg work. It’s a ton of work, but I’m grateful to have this work to do.
One of the reasons I was so excited to chat with you is your recent inclusion into the Colorado Author Hall of Fame. What thoughts flashed through your mind when you learned you would receive this award??
Shock. I didn’t feel worthy for the honor. I know so many authors whose track records are more impressive than mine. I write about faith and race, however, so that sets me apart, I guess, in Colorado. In retrospect, I’m honored by the recognition, and I pray I can live up to it.
What formats are your books available in?
My mystery books are available as Kindle and Nook e-books, in paperback and hardcover, and available also on Audible. I love having the books available in so many formats. Audiobooks are very popular, for example. That’s lots of choices for readers.
Do you read your book reviews? And how seriously do you take the comments?
I got great advice from my publisher. Don’t focus on negative reviews. First, not every book is for every reader. Second, a hateful review says more about the person who wrote it than about your book. (People who read reviews understand that. As I write this, for example, someone on Tik Tok slammed big time on “Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger, but most people were slamming back at the reviewer, not at the book.) Instead, as my publisher says, focus on people who love your books and want to read more like them. So, write more. That has been great advice and I’ve taken it to heart, especially when it comes to fiction.
What sort of groups are you involved with and why?
As an introvert who labors in a solo profession (book writing), I join a slew of affinity groups to stay connected with people. So, I’m a member of four or five Facebook writers’ groups. This past year, I also joined Sisters in Crime, Sisters in Crime-Colorado, Mystery Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America (Rocky Mountain Chapter), Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, Crime Writers of Color, Colorado Authors’ League and the Author’s Guild. I’m also in a faith writers’ collective called INK Creative Collective. I’m still in some journalism groups and, last year, I paid dues to PEN America. So, no, I can’t make all the meetings or online discussions hosted by these groups. But I love meeting fellow authors and I’ve been blessed in different ways by these associations and acquaintances. Authors rock!
Most authors I come across are readers, does this apply to you? If yes, do you have a favorite genre to read?
I love historical fiction and historical mysteries. They’re my sweet spot. I read non-fiction, too. But my favorite genre for leisure reading will be historical fiction—ideally with a mystery involved.
You are asked to speak at a luncheon of authors (living or not). You are seated with two of your favorite authors, what question would you like to ask each of these people and why? What would be the title of your speech at this event?
I’d be more inclined to listen to the table discussion and follow along with those topics. I’m not keen on asking authors questions about their work in a social setting. In a one-on-one situation, however, I’d have tons of questions about their next projects, writing backstories, writing downtime, research—similar to the questions you posed to me here. Indeed, I’m honored by your interest in my writer’s journey. As for that speech, I’d probably give the one I plan to give soon for our mutual friend Judith Briles. My topic is “The Reason Why We Write.” I’m praying the audience enjoys it!
Where can people find and follow you on social media?
Facebook https://www.facebook.com/patricia.raybon (Friend’s Page)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PatriciaRaybonAuthor/ (Author’s Page)
Email Newsletter Signup: https://www.patriciaraybon.com/mybooks/get-my-free-prayer-guide/ (Includes a free download of my “Busy Person’s Guide to Hearing God.”
Where can readers find your books?
Amazon – My Author Page https://www.amazon.com/Patricia-Raybon/e/B001H9PXFA%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share
Store Links for All That Is Secret https://www.patriciaraybon.com/mybooks/all-that-is-secret/
(More Book Links for All That Is Secret) https://www.crimewritersofcolor.com/bookdetails?book=38
To Pre-Order Double the Lies
Do you have some advice for up-and-coming authors?
Don’t go it alone. Start going to writers’ conferences and workshops—places where you can learn about writing and publishing, meet agents and publishers, make friends with other authors. Publishing truly is a relational business. The more people you know, the more people will know you—and support you.
If it’s okay, I’d also like to share my favorite Bible verse for my writing journey: “Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.” (Galatians 6:4 New Living Translation).
I’m aware not everyone follows the same faith system. For those who may be helped by the Scripture, however, I hope it offers encouragement. My warmest thanks!
This first novel by Patricia Raybon is an action-packed mystery from the start. Annalee is a young, inexperienced black theologian teaching at a Baptist College in Chicago. Annalee Spain travels from Chicago to Denver via train in the 1920s after receiving a telegram about her father’s murder. She formerly lived in Denver and though estranged from her father, needs to know his true fate. Eddie, a young white orphan who delivered the telegram, followed her on the train because her kindness touched his heart, and he believes his father may be in Denver. He remains hidden in the baggage car until he becomes her champion. They dramatically escape from the train and walk toward the church of her youth.
The setting shows Denver divided between race, faith, jealousy, and secrets, across all boundaries of honor. Historical issues of a city ruled by opportunists and elitists with ties to the Ku Klux Klan fight for power at any cost are woven throughout the tale, placing Annalee at risk. Her fondness for Sherlock Homes has her asking questions to gain all the answers. Young and idealistic, Annalee discovers her heartbeat quickens in the presence of the young paster, Jack, who sent the telegram calling her to Denver. Jack finds himself hooked the moment he meets Annalee.
The precise narration delivers a realistic backdrop and well-crafted characters to keep the reader turning pages to the unexpected ending. Readers will enjoy the compelling storytelling and an enjoyable start to an Annalee Spain series.
About the Author
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning Colorado author, essayist and novelist who writes top-rated books at the daring intersection of faith and race.
Her first fiction — an historical detective series, All That Is Secret, set in 1923 in Colorado’s Klan era — is a Parade Magazine Fall 2021 “Mysteries We Love” selection and a Masterpiece on PBS “Best Mystery Books of 2021” selection “As Recommended by Bestselling Authors.”
“Readers will be hooked from the first line…Captivating.” (Julie Cantrell) “Not only a good mystery, but a realistic insight into the African American experience in the 1920s in the West.” (Rhys Bowen) “Fast-paced and intriguing.” (Manuel Ramos) “Engrossing and thrilling….This intrepid sleuth would give Sherlock Holmes a run for his money.” (Sophfronia Scott).
For a deep dive into Patricia’s compelling world of faith and fiction, connect with her daring and insightful books—and receive a free download of her “Busy Person’s Guide to Hearing God” — at patriciaraybon.com.