I like to write. Do you like to read? Me too.
Reading has been my solace and my joy since childhood.
I never really got around to creative-writing until late in life — I’m now past seventy.
As I look back, I realize I maybe should have heeded the advice of folks who encouraged me to be a writer, from Mrs. Eckert and Miss Bailey in high school, through college mentors like Harriet Shetler, up to recent gurus. Oh well, we often take divergent paths, and it’s never too late to get back on the right one.
I always liked writing. In particular, I’ve always been a dedicated letter-writer, getting great pleasure from just putting words down on paper. And I’ve done a lot of professional writing — training materials, articles, papers, reports.
But I didn’t try my hand at writing novels until I found myself a so-called “dependent spouse,” following my husband, Russell Sunshine, to a two-year post in Laos during the early 1990s. There, I experienced first-hand what it feels like to be “the wife of” instead of someone with a professional identity of my own. And I saw what that lack of status did to other women who were talented and bright but relegated to “making do.”After Laos, we went to the East-West Center in Hawaii, where Russell was a Fellow, and I was again “the wife of.” So I started trying to write a novel about what I had experienced and observed in Laos. It was a literary novel, with each chapter devoted to a different character describing Sophia from his or her point-of-view. And it wasn’t very good. Even I could see that. I attended a weekend writing workshop in Honolulu, and my assessment was confirmed: I might want to write a novel, but I sure didn’t know much about creative writing. I was stuck with the habits of all those years of professional writing.
Maybe here I should back up and give an overview of those years.
I was an independent consultant working in developing countries for clients like the United Nations Development Programme, the U.S. Agency for International Development or the World Bank. Sometimes I was hired directly; sometimes I was hired by a consulting firm that had a big contract for which they needed a single professional or a team leader. My field was adult training and educational media, and I worked all over the world — Afghanistan, Egypt, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia. I’d be in these countries while Russell was working as an independent consultant elsewhere — China, Italy, Japan, Moldova, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Yemen. These were short-term projects (6-8 weeks). For long-term projects (2 years or more), I’d go with him and try to find something meaningful to do. In Tanzania, I wrote and produced a documentary film for the Lutheran Church about their schools and hospitals. In Laos and later in Kazakhstan, I wrote guidebooks, as well as articles for newspapers and airline magazines.
Finally, I realized I’d found my calling.
Even though I was a pretty good consultant (as defined by the evaluations of project participants), I found it took a lot out of me. I surely wasn’t cut out to be a project leader or to do long-term assignments. I didn’t enjoy that, and it nearly destroyed me. I finally accepted that I’m really an introvert, and writing really, really suits and nourishes me. Long time coming, but here I am, writing mysteries at an advanced age.
I started the book that became Malice on the Mekong in Hawaii some 20 years ago, but I only finished it recently. Maybe a good thing, because I kept seeing similar characters and experiences in a variety of posts. Those observations enriched the book, so it became much more than a roman a clef from our days in Laos. I showed that first literary novel to a colleague at The American University, where I was on the adjunct faculty of the International Development Program. He read it over and said, “Sophia’s so awful. Why don’t you kill her off, make it an ambiguous death and have someone solve the mystery?” Meanwhile, another colleague who’d read the book said, “I really like Anjali. I want to see more of her.” Thus was born a mystery and an amateur sleuth.
It took a lot of work to get the two of them to a point where they could be published —
multiple workshops which I thank in the book’s Acknowledgments, feedback from trusted readers, myriad drafts (each one read by Russell with lots of red-ink notes, for which I bless him daily), putting the book away numerous times and then getting it back out later to work some more. Finally, once we’d retired and returned to the States, I got it out one more time, read it through and decided it wasn’t so bad. I made some revisions here and there and self-published with help from Patricia Hamilton and Park Place Publications.
I did try, numerous times in the U.S. and the U.K., to find an agent and/or a commercial publisher. In the beginning, everyone said, in effect, “Who wants to read a book about Laos? No one’s ever heard of it.” Then Colin Cotterill published his wonderful series that begins with The Coroner’s Lunch, and agents and publishers said, “Well, the book about Laos has already been written. Who wants to read another one?” To give them their due, the publishing industry is facing a lot of challenges, and it’s understandable that taking a risk on Anjali and Sophia’s story might not be terribly attractive. It’s very gratifying to find readers’ reviews on Amazon and know that Malice is reaching a wide audience, and they like it.
Thanks, dear Reader. You’ve made my day.
Nancy Swing’s novel Malice on the Mekong is available for purchase now at Amazon.CLICK HERE to purchase
Malice on the Mekong: Questions for Discussion, click here.
Previews of Coming Attractions
from Nancy Swing
Now I’ve got the writing bug, and there are a lot more books inside, bursting to come out.
I’m currently working on the final draft of Child’s Play, the opening pages of which are at the back of Malice on the Mekong. It’s the first in a trilogy of mysteries set in a fictitious small town in West Virginia. I grew up in places like that, and it feels good to have them come back into my life, wanting me to write about them. The three books have interlocking characters, so that folks you meet in one book will reappear in the others, though they might be supporting cast. By the time you read the whole series, you’ll have a full view of all the kinds of people who live in Lewiston, WV.
I have an idea…