I am delighted to welcome my September guest DEBORAH J LEDFORD, the award-winning author of the Native American Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran Series, and the Smoky Mountain Inquest Series. Her latest novel, Redemption, published by Thomas & Mercer, is available right now! Part Eastern Band Cherokee, she is an Agatha Award winner, The Hillerman Sky Award Finalist, and two-time Anthony Award Finalist for Best Audiobooks, Crescendo and Causing Chaos. Deborah lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband and an awesome Ausky. If you think you have obstacles to overcome before you write, my guess is Deb’s determination to not only overcome, but succeed, will show you anything is possible. Check out Deb’s impressive list of achievements at DeborahJLedford.com
Thankfully, I Have a Story to Tell
My first novel, Staccato, was published in 2009, followed by another three books in the Smoky Mountain Inquest series, including two Anthony Award Nominations for Best Audiobooks, Crescendo and Causing Chaos. Also along that journey timeframe I composed and published numerous short stories, which garnered three Pushcart Prize nominations.
And then, in 2017, triple negative breast cancer stepped in the way. Surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments took over my entire existence. Yes, my surgeon had successfully removed the egg-size tumor, but the hardest part soon turned to everything I had in me to survive the almost unbearable treatments. Then the aftereffects kicked in and clung on, to this day for some symptoms.
Scariest of all during the healing process were there bouts of aphasia. I mean if you can’t come up with the word for the item you see in your head or hand, well . . . that’s pretty scary for a writer. So I made the decision to walk away from my writing career. No more facing a blank screen, mind every bit as blank. Stopped worrying about the zero ideas that normally would bring me joy and inspiration. Instead, I turned to developmental editing full-time and teaching. I do love the process of mentoring and working with up-and-coming writers, and as a first reader for a few published authors has been an absolute joy. Yet something had been missing.
Six years of no creative words. Six. Years.
And then, April of 2023 my dear friend, Wall Street Journal bestselling author Isabella Maldonado, called to tell me her agent knew of three editors at big publishing houses looking for exactly what I write . . . well, wrote. I insisted I’d moved on from writing, but she urged me to just think about it. Then that’s all I could think about.
I already had the flash of an idea that had sparked two years previous, and then a bonfire started. There is nothing like the door being flung open, blinding light illuminating the way, a path to follow. Finally.
Eva “Lightning Dance” Duran, full-blooded Taos Pueblo sheriff’s deputy stepped into my life and took it over completely. In a good way! Within five days I finished a three-page synopsis and the first five chapters. The agent took me on and I chose the top publishing house on my list for her to approach. Within a week that publisher expressed interest, and a couple of weeks after that my agent called to say, “How do you feel about a two-book deal with Thomas & Mercer Amazon Publishing?!”
So yes, books purchased on spec still happens upon occasion. Fortunately T&M were looking for Native American fiction written by Natives, and the choice of location and the journey I had in mind for Eva also caught their interest.
Then the work began. I promised myself not to put too much pressure on myself. Most important was to have fun. I already had the “hard” part of knowing what needed to happen in the novel figured out. I knew not to deviate from the synopsis because that is the concept the publisher bought, so that outline became a solid template.
The deadline for the completed first draft was tight. Four months to compose the entire manuscript for the first round of developmental edits, followed by several more rounds of revision tweaks, and then the jump to get started on Book 2 right away. But deadlines keep you motivated to reach the finish line, right?
Everything that had worked previously went out the window for creating Redemption. I retrained my brain to start composing early in the morning, rather than writing afternoon through the late evening as I have for everything previously written. What also helped was breaking up writing sessions—usually three 2-hour windows—so my brain wasn’t too fatigued by the end of the night.
For my previous works I only knew the main plot, subplot, first 5 chapters, the ending, and snippets of dialogue to make sure I could live with the idea for the year it would take to write and revise. For the Redemption project, due to the fully fleshed out synopsis, I had even more figured out, and yet many surprises hit me out of the blue to keep me intrigued so the work wasn’t a slog.
Much of the research for the area had been accomplished years earlier for Snare, Book 2 of the Smoky Mountain Inquest Series, and I continued to have a good relationship with my contacts on the Taos Pueblo reservation where the new series takes place. A couple of trips to the Taos area rekindled everything I had previously learned, and cemented in my mind why the location and the people of the Pueblo became so important to me. Who knew I would rely on these relationships and experiences for what was to come!
Also staying positive, reminding myself to have fun, and to be open to what the universe provided relating to ideas of how to advance the plot and a new cast of characters helped keep me on point.
I suppose the takeaway for my personal journey is to do your best to be open to change, and not to completely close the door on the words or your abilities to craft something new to you. You never know when you’ll get the call that alters your career and life—in the best of ways.
Deborah’s Website: https://deborahjledford.com/