Roosevelt Creative Writing alumna prepares to publish mystery novel
By Daria Sokolova
The Torch talked to Lori Rader-Day, a Roosevelt University MFA in Creative Writing program alumna whose first novel “Black Hour” is set to be published July 20, 2014.
Q: Why did you choose a Master of Fine Arts degree?
A: The Master of Fine Arts degree is what’s called a terminal degree, like a Ph.D. You can teach at the college level with an MFA. An MFA degree in creative writing prepares you to teach college-level creative writing and other related topics, like composition.
Q: Which teachers did you look up to?
A: I loved taking Ann Brigham’s class on gothic literature and Larry Howe’s class on Mark Twain. In creative writing, I got a lot from my first workshop with Lisa Stolley. My other favorite teacher at Roosevelt was Scott Blackwood. He was hired for my last year there, and he ended up reading and giving me a lot of feedback on my thesis.
Q: Who helped you to become a better writer?
A: The teachers at Roosevelt I mentioned. I’ve also learned a lot from writers I’ve met other places, through conferences and in the community. Once I got involved in the mystery [genre] community, I met so many helpful writers.
Q: What was the first job you got after you graduated?
A: I worked as a production manager at an advertising agency in Indianapolis after I graduated from Ball State University, which was my first degree (in journalism). If you mean what job did I get after I graduated from [Roosevelt], I took the job I have now — director of communications in the School of Communication at Northwestern University.
Q: Can you tell me about the process of finding your genre?
A: When I started my MFA program, I wrote fiction, but I started writing a story that turned long, the beginning of a novel. A writer I met at a conference read a few pages to give me feedback and filled me in that I was writing a mystery. I’ve always liked mysteries. When I first got to leave the kid section of the library, the first books I stumbled on in the adult section were Agatha Christie and Mary Higgins Clark. I was hooked.
Q: Which one of your stories was published first, and when did it happen?
A: [My] first acceptance letter came for a story called “Everyone Is a Moon,” published by a journal called Big Muddy. They took a long time to publish it, so my first official publication was actually a story called “What You Don’t Know,” published in a journal called After Hours. After Hours is actually edited by two Roosevelt alumni.
Q: What did it mean for you? Who shared the joy with you?
A: I was shocked and so excited. I’d had a couple of stories published in a college magazine before, but this was different. The pool was bigger, and the journals were put together by professionals. I jumped around my house a little with my husband, Greg.
Q: What were some of the stepping stones you crossed as a writer?
A: First short story, then first contest win (I won $1,000 and got my story published by the Madison Review), then first story published by an online journal so I could send a link to my friends and family, and then I won Good Housekeeping’s first short story contest. Nothing I ever wrote again had that kind of reach. I had written a novel, but I didn’t think it was good enough, so I put it away and wrote “The Black Hour.” With that book I got an agent, and then my agent sold my book. And here I am, waiting for July 20 before the next stepping stone, when it’s published. In the mean time, I’m writing another book to keep the stepping stones coming along.
Q: What is “The Black Hour” about, and what inspired you to write it?
A: “The Black Hour” is the story of a professor who has survived an attack by a student who then killed himself. She didn’t know the student, but when she goes back to work, nobody seems to believe that. So it’s not a whodunit, but more of a whydunit. I worked on a college campus, so I was inspired by that setting. I wondered what that first day back would be like for someone in that situation, and I had a lot of fun writing it, despite the dark topic. School shootings are a tough fact of our times, and I certainly hope we don’t have any more of them, but the things that keep you up at night make for good fiction.
Q: How long did the actual process of writing take?
A: I spent over two years getting it to the point I felt it was good enough to send out to potential agents. I worked a full-time [job] the entire time, so I used lunch hours, weekends and vacations. Writing takes a long time, and publishing takes forever.
Q: Was there anybody who was helping you to write or guiding you?
A: The best guide for writing a novel is reading them and trying to write one. Like I said, I have another novel that never got published. It wasn’t good enough to publish, but writing it taught me so much.
Q: Can you say that “The Black Hour” is going to be a major milestone in your life?
A: Writing a book was a major milestone in my life, something I’ve been working toward since I was a kid. Writing a book that’s getting published is another major milestone. It’s a lot of work, honestly, but it’s also something I’ve always wanted.
Q: What are some of your future goals?
A: I have a lot of goals having to do with the launch of the book. And then I want to write another book, of course. A writing career is a long game, so you always have to be working on the next thing.
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?
A: I hope I’ll be writing and publishing novels and stories and hanging out with other mystery writers, who are so much fun to hang out with. The next year is going to be really busy for me as I figure out how to sell the book I wrote and got published. That’s new territory for me, but I hope to be able to do this work for the rest of my life.