Donis Casey believes that writing can be a calling—the thing you were put here on this earth to accomplish.
“If you’re destined to write a symphony, or cure cancer, or raise children or write a novel, and you don’t do it, then you’re depriving the world of the gift you were given,” she said. “There’s nothing self-indulgent about it if that’s the gift you were given.”
As author of the Alafair Tucker mystery series, Donis has published six books through Poisoned Pen Press in Scottsdale, Ariz. The books feature a sleuthing woman in her early forties, Alafair, who lives with her husband and 10 children on a prosperous farm in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. In addition to solving crimes, Alafair is constantly cooking. Donis includes several recipes at the end of each book.
While researching her own genealogy, Donis discovered so many exciting tales that she realized she had enough material to write 10 books. And that’s what she set out to do with the Alafair Tucker series.
She said that joy comes in following your calling, as writing is for her. She’s been writing her entire life, but fiction was something she wrote for her own enjoyment.
“I thought I needed to support myself, and writing novels wasn’t the way to do it,” she said.
Instead, she worked as a teacher and academic librarian. When she left academia, she became an entrepreneur, owning a store in Tempe, Ariz. But something was missing.
“I’ve always been fairly successful,” she said. “But I didn’t always feel happy with my careers. I asked myself, ‘Donis, what is the one thing in your life that has always made you happy?’ The answer was that I love to write fiction.”
When she decided she wanted to publish the first book in the Alafair Tucker series, she was told she needed to find a traditional publishing house. To do that, she needed to find an agent. While searching for an agent, she discovered Poisoned Pen Press.
“I started looking up agents on the computer,” she said. “I looked for books I thought were similar to mine, and I’d see who the author’s agent and publisher were. I noticed that there was more than one house that would look at authors without an agent. One was Poisoned Pen Press. I looked at their stable of authors, and they had a good reputation and good authors. Most of their authors were from other places. I thought they might be interested in someone who was local, so I sent a query letter. I was fortunate to be accepted by the first house I sent my manuscript to.”
When Donis starts to write a book, she reads history books to get details about what happened in that timeframe. She reads newspapers from the timeframe to learn what people knew about the events, how they felt, what they wore and what they said. To keep the process joyful, she refuses to pressure herself.
“I’m not able to dedicate myself to my writing career like I thought I was going to be able to,” she said. “I just have to let that go. I write when I can and do the best I can. Writing itself is a joy to me.”
Her advice for new authors is to follow your calling. If you find great joy in writing, that may be your calling. It can be hard work, and it can be painful, but, “Just keep writing,” she said. “There comes a point where it has nothing to do with you. You’re in a zone. It’s almost like an out of body experience. It’s enough to make you believe in God, or something outside of you. When you write something wonderful, it makes you humble.”
Here are some resources Donis thinks you might find useful:
- Predators & Editors – Lists reputable agents, publishers and others involved in the publishing industry. If someone offers a contract, you can check them out here to determine if they’re legitimate or a scam.
- Mystery Scene Magazine – Provides information about the genre and contests you can enter.
- Writer’s Market – for a monthly subscription, you can gain access to a large database of agents, publishers, authors, contests and more.
- Sisters in Crime – promotes the professional development and advancement of women crime writers. You can find your local chapter at the national site.