Maggie Barbieri is the author of the Murder 101 series published by Minotaur Books. The sixth book in the series, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, will be out on November 23rd. The first book in her new series featuring Maeve Conlon—THE COMFORT ZONE—will be available some time in 2013. Maggie lives in the Hudson Valley of New York State with her husband, two children, aforementioned Westie, and intrepid Maine Coon, Diego.
by Maggie Barbieri
Thank you, once again, to the incomparable Kaye Barley for inviting me to post on her wonderful blog. Every year, posting with Kaye gives me the opportunity to reflect on the past year and think about what is to come for the new year. This year has been an exciting one: I appeared in Good Housekeeping in a story about overcoming Stage IV melanoma, I found out that I will be writing two more books in the Murder 101 series, and I also was offered the opportunity to write a new series about a soccer mom/vigilante (she only kills bad people, folks!), something that makes me giddy with excitement.
It was a chance conversation with my wonderful editor at Minotaur Books that set the wheels in motion. I wondered aloud if I was capable of doing anything beyond the Alison Bergeron series. Since I began work on Murder 101, lo those many years ago, life had been a bit complicated, first with one cancer diagnosis that involved chemotherapy, surgery, radiation, and the more chemotherapy and then a second diagnosis that was so dire that a prognosis wasn’t even discussed. I threw myself into writing about a college professor with a propensity for finding dead bodies, desperately trying to write myself back to health by focusing on the one thing that I loved more than my family and my life. As I’ve often said, I credit writing—along with some amazing medical support—with saving my life. I didn’t have time to think of much else during that time but I always had time for writing. There were regularly scheduled treatment visits, two children to raise and a house to keep running, not to mention the very emotionally needy West Highland Terrier who let her wants and desires be known every moment of every day.
About four years after I started treatment, I started feeling better and then I started doing things that I never would have dreamed of doing B.C. (before cancer). On a whim, I rented an apartment in Paris for a week and packed the family off for the trip of a lifetime. I bought a ridiculously small car that the kids hate but that makes me smile every time I see it, its shape and color reminding me of Nancy Drew’s “little blue roadster” from the books of my childhood. I stopped saying “yes” even though the answer was “no.” I told the emotionally needy West Highland Terrier to quit bellyaching because her life would never get any better than it was living with us. And somewhere in the process, I started thinking about the future, something I had not allowed myself to do for a long time.
What was it that I loved? I asked myself. Writing. I love writing.
And when there was more room in my brain, a brain that had spent far too long thinking about cancer and treatment and side effects, my brain started telling me that there was another woman, a woman who wasn’t Alison Bergeron, who needed to get her story out. Her name was Maeve Conlon and she had a complicated past, a past that wouldn’t let her go, wouldn’t let her breathe. A past that was keeping her from living her present. A past that needed to be acknowledged.
My complicated past is different from Maeve Conlon’s but thinking about how my brain had been filled with something that I finally allowed myself to let go of allowed me to understand this complicated woman. I guess you could say that writing about her has encouraged me to get out of my writing comfort zone, in the same way that cancer did for me in terms of my personal comfort zone. I wouldn’t recommend facing down a serious illness as a way to explore who you are and what you want to do, but I am all for getting out of your own way, so to speak, and letting your mind take you places that you normally wouldn’t allow it.
You’ll be amazed at what you find out about yourself.