Chatting with Elaine Viets
by Diana Davis, Walrus Contributor
Where did you start writing?
I started with the St. Louis Post Dispatch. They hired me right out of college. I spent the first two years at University of Missouri-St. Louis, and my final two years at the University of Missouri, School of Journalism in Columbia.
I’ve been a fan of yours since you were a columnist for the Post Dispatch.
Well, I started as a fashion writer, (can you imagine that?) then moved up to a feature writer, then became a columnist for 20 years.
Who did you marry and where did you meet your husband?
His name is Don Crinklaw. He was a teacher at University of Missouri-St. Louis where he taught English 115, Commercial Writing. I took his class.
There must be more to that story.
After I married Don, he stayed in St. Louis for 20 years because of my career with the Post Dispatch. But then he had a job offer in Washington D.C. at the Washington City Paper. He had given up so much for me that I thought it was only fair that let him advance his career. So, I worked out a deal with the Post Dispatch that I would move to Washington D.C. for a year with Don, and that I would fly back and forth, at my own expense, whenever I was needed in St. Louis. So I did that, I thought successfully. But when I asked for that arrangement to be extended for another year, the Post Dispatch said, no, that I either had to return to St. Louis or be fired. I worked for them from 1972 until I was fired in 1994.
Wow, that must have been a blow after twenty years.
Well, you know, it was disappointing, but now, when I look back, it really was a blessing in disguise. I would not have become a mystery writer if I still had my columnist’s job, so it was a good thing.
So how did you get to Fort Lauderdale?
Don’s work brought us to Fort Lauderdale. He writes now for The East Side Forum and his stories are often reprinted in the Sun-Sentinel, which is owned by the Chicago Tribune. He’s a full-time reporter.
What keeps you returning to St. Louis?
Well, for heaven’s sake, it is my home! Although my parents are no longer living, I still have my Aunt Betty there and bunches of cousins. I have a lot of friends and a lot of readers in St. Louis. I love coming back there.
You’ve won all types of prestigious awards, the Lefty, the Agatha and the Anthony. Which one means the most to you and why?
They all mean a lot of me because they are all fan-based awards given to me by my readers. That means that people not only connect with my characters as readers, but that they connect to me as the writer. That is a huge honor, and I’m so appreciative of them.
You’ve served on the boards of the Mystery Writers of American and Sisters in Crime. Do you recommend such service work to aid your craft?
First of all, I recommend the service work because you need to give back. When I started, many people gave me a leg up. I could not have made it without them. When you become successful, you owe it to them to give a leg up to others.
Secondly, when you enter these organizations, you get the hang around the crème de la crème. That’s how I met Michael Connelly, who wrote the The Lincoln Lawyer upon which the movie was based. I have found that really good writers have a terrific sense of integrity about the way they write and the way they behave. So it is an uplifting experience to be associated with such people.
What other interests keep you busy?
Reading, walking, I live within sight of the ocean; it’s beautiful with sunshine, flowers and trees, the ocean rolling in and blue skies in the background.
Any advice for writers who are trying to get published?
Write. Learn to criticize your work. Learn to find others who will look at your work critically also. A writer writes, rewrites, then rewrites some more. You have to learn to murder your little darlings to improve your writings. Some people write the first draft and self-publish it when the work is not as good as it could or should be. If you join professional writers groups, they will help you improve. Go to their conferences.
In Missouri, the Missouri Writers Guild does a lot of good work with their spring conferences, and they bring in critics and literary agents to whom you can pitch you ideas. Mark your calendars for the 2012 MWG Conference: Write Time! Write Place! Write Now! It will be held on April 20, 21 & 22, 2012 at the Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center of St. Louis, 16625 Swingley Ridge Road, Chesterfield, MO 63017
For additional information see: http://mwgconference.blogspot.com. Registration is now open.
If your genre is mystery writings, the Mystery Writers of America is an excellent organization for writers to join. Their spring conference this year is going to be
SleuthFest 2012, Florida’s Premier Mystery Writer’s Conference to be held on
March 1 -4, 2012 at the Royal Plaza located in the Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Beuena Vista, Orlando, Florida. The Guest of Honor will be Charlaine Harris, the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels, which inspired the popular HBO serives, True Blood. For additional information, see
http://www.mwaflorida.org/sleuthfest.htm. Registration is now open.
And read. Whatever genre you write in, read the major names in that field so that you can compare and contrast your writings with the major names in your genre. That will help you tremendously.
Is there anything else that you would like to tell your St. Louis readers?
Please tell them I was in St. Louis recently for the release of my book, Death on a Platter, which is my seventh Josie Marcus mystery. Tell them if I missed them this time, that said hello, and I’ll be back. St. Louis is my home town. I love it, and I love them.