I fell for my husband's small, coal mining town of Roslyn, Washington soon after he took me there for the first time over 10 years ago. With the old western buildings, the storied taverns, and the multicultural cemetery alone, it was evident I was walking through a ghost town. Several years later, I was fortunate enough to sit down with one of the town's most knowledgeable historians, Nick Henderson. He has a treasure trove of Roslyn's anecdotes at his disposal. I started writing fast in my notebook once he told me of a potential mistaken murder that occurred around the time of the strike between Western Miners and United Miners of America in the early 1930's. While Nick or those who'd shared the stories in the decades since couldn't be certain that the man shot and killed was supposed to be the Western Miners Union Organizer and not merely a miner who resembled him, the suspicion is written into history books.
When I form a plot, I often take a historical footnote and build around it. Since there's not much more interesting than a murder scheme gone awry, I decided to use that as my thread, and from there I began to integrate other aspects of Roslyn: the scenic winery, many of the actual storefronts and favored locations. The wheels of my mind started turning more, and I had an "aha" moment. What if I made my protagonist a switchboard operator and had her overhear certain aspects of the murder scheme? How interesting/engaging would that be?
Taking into account that my husband's family are the telephone (and technology, etc.) providers for the Upper County, I thought it would be fun to give a nod to days gone by. Though my novel is set a good decade before her time, I interviewed Marian Weis (my husband's grandmother) on what it was like to work as a switchboard operator. After six to eight weeks of research for "Swiftwater," my ideas had time to marinate, and my characters were forming. What if I made my switchboard operator a woman who was in love with one of the miners who stood to lose a lot if he didn't pledge abiding loyalty to one union over the other?
While I wish the process was simplistic from thereon out, that hasn't been my experience. I began typing this story over three years ago, and in that time, it's seen six revisions, some more drastic than others. After editing the novel several times myself, I learned of a talented editor (Jennifer Moorman) that one of my few writing mentors (E. Hank Buchmann) worked with to get his books in publishing shape. I strongly believe writers come to a place where they can't see their own work with clear eyes anymore and greatly benefit from the instructive pen of another writer/editor. While Jennifer's insightful edits haven't been the "end" of the writing process for "Swiftwater," she carried me so much farther and made me believe for the first time I could publish my novel set in the oft-unheard of, but densely fascinating town of Roslyn.