Retired university research scientist Holly Harrison devotes her time to writing mystery novels set in New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. Her debut novel, Rites & Wrongs (Golden Word Books, January 2021), has been called “a thrilling mystery” that keeps “readers riveted with a great story, fascinating characters, and exceptional writing.” You’ll find Holly on her website at HollyHarrisonWriter.com and on her Amazon author page.
What is your elevator pitch for Rites & Wrongs?
Pascal Ruiz, a Santa Fe detective, becomes disenchanted with his job after solving a high-profile case that involved a stolen Stradivarius violin. That is, until the captain asks him, off the record, to look into the disappearance of his niece’s boyfriend, Bobby Pilot. Ruiz finds Pilot alive but unconscious in an abandoned pueblo, clothed in a Jesus costume and tied to a cross. It’s Holy Week and Ruiz suspects the Penitentes. He also believes the costume is the one recently stolen from the Santa Fe Opera Storage Building. In desperation to link the two cases, Ruiz crosses the line and puts his career in jeopardy.
Who are your main characters, and what do they have to overcome in this story?
The main characters are Pascal Ruiz, a Santa Fe police detective, and his friend Gillian Jasper. Ruiz needs to solve two crimes that are linked, by discovering who broke into the Opera Storage building and took the Jesus costume and who dressed Pilot in the costume and tied him to the cross. Jasper needs to decide whether to stay in New Mexico with Ruiz or return to her life in Washington, DC.
Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book?
I wanted to write a mystery rooted in New Mexico’s history, land, and people. I placed most of the action south of Santa Fe between the town of Golden on Route 14 and San Felipe’s Black Mesa Casino off of I-25. I set the story during Holy Week, between Palm Sunday and Easter, so I could write about the Penitente reenactments and the Good Friday procession to Chimayo.
What sparked the story idea?
The story idea came to me one day as I worked in my garden. I uncovered an old brick from the Tonque Tile and Brick Company. Part of it was broken off but the name Tonque was etched on the front. The brick factory had been built in the early 1900s and remained active for thirty years. In the 1980s I had picked up the brick near Tonque Pueblo, a fourteenth century pre-Columbian abandoned pueblo. I decided that Ruiz’s next case would take him to that area south of Santa Fe.
Tell us how the book came together.
I spent three years writing the book. Then another year editing, getting feedback, and rewriting. When I started looking for a publisher, the pandemic hit. The world of publishing came to a halt, book conferences were cancelled, bookstores closed, book releases were pushed back. Pitching the book to editors and agents unsolicited became a daunting process. I decided to go with a hybrid publisher. The publisher does the edits, layout and design, publishing and distribution. The author shares some of the costs but reaps more profit from sales.
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Rites & Wrongs?
Growing up on the East coast, before coming to New Mexico, I had never heard of the Penitentes or their practices. I was intrigued with the group’s devotion to God as well as their community. There is an abundance of lore surrounding the Brotherhood’s beliefs and practices. My research on the lay Catholic group revealed how and why they came about and dispelled many of the myths and negative stereotypes.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Writing. I love the writing process, creating characters and turning them loose in different situations, letting them get themselves in and out of trouble.
Why do you write in the particular genre you’ve chosen?
I find mystery the perfect genre to unfold crimes and misdemeanors in New Mexico’s multicultural landscape.
Who are some of your favorite authors?
Ann Patchett, Louise Penny, Tana French, Lily King, Susan Orlean, Patti Smith. I guess I have been reading a lot of women.
What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Sex scenes. I find them tedious to write and easy to leave out. When writing mysteries, sex often takes a backseat to murder and mayhem.
What writing projects are you working on now?
I am trying to balance the promotion of Rites & Wrongs with work on New Territory, the third book in the series. Ghost Notes (about a stolen Stradivarius violin) is the first book in the series but it hasn’t been published. I have finished a draft of New Territory and am in the process of editing and rewriting. Next task will be to find a publisher.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.