Meet Leslie Wheeler, Author, and Coordinator of the Speakers Bureau for the New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime.
If you need a speaker for your organization, Leslie will be happy to help.
Writing Through Loss
When my husband died in the fall of 2005, I couldn’t write for several months. I didn’t go up to my third floor study, but stayed at his desk on the second floor, dealing with the “business” part of death. When I finally ventured to my study, it was to write the words I would speak at his memorial service. It felt wonderful to sit at my computer, engaging in an activity that’s so much a part of who I am. But I didn’t remain long. I was too overwhelmed by everything that needed to be done, including getting our son through his first year of high school without his father. Since I wasn’t writing, I stopped attending the weekly critique group, consisting of four Sisters in Crime and one Brother, which I’d participated in for more than a decade.
The only writing-related activities I could handle were book events, many of them arranged by the Sisters in Crime/New England Speakers’ Bureau. My second mystery novel, Murder at Gettysburg, had been published the previous spring, and I wanted to publicize it. As my husband’s condition worsened, I had to cancel some events, but others I went ahead with, though not without misgivings. Waiting for the audience to arrive at a Boston area library, while my husband was hospitalized, I thought to myself. “What on earth am I doing here? How am I going to get through this?” Surprisingly, the event turned out to be one of my best. I was able to really connect with my audience, and that connection was just what I needed. It took me out of myself and my own worries and reminded me, that despite present and future difficulties, I was and would continue to be a writer.
But I still wasn’t writing, although I had two partially completed manuscripts, one a stand-alone suspense novel, the other, the sequel to Murder at Gettysburg. I’d read through one, then the other, only to decide that each posed problems that seemed insurmountable in my fractured state of mind. Finally, I found a less daunting project. While my husband dozed through one of his last chemotherapy treatments, I’d jotted notes for a short story. After his death, I went back to those scribblings and slowly crafted “Skystalker,” which was eventually published in a Level Best Books’ anthology.
Writing that story helped. So did re-connecting with my critique group. Realizing that I was too stressed to get myself to meetings, they came to me. One November night, they showed up at my house with a potluck dinner. They not only brought all the food, but plastic and paper goods to save me the trouble of cleanup. A few days later, I attended the New England Crime Bake Conference, where I was again reminded how supportive the mystery writing community is, as both old friends and people I barely knew approached me with expressions of sympathy and concern.
But one thing was still missing: a novel-length project to get me through the months ahead. As I pondered which manuscript to go back to, it dawned on me that the series mystery, while rougher and less complete than the suspense novel, was the better choice. I’d started it when my husband was well enough for us to go on research trips as a family. We’d visited places like Mystic Seaport, which provided the inspiration for the fictional Spouters Point Maritime Museum in the novel. Thus the series mystery was associated with happier times than the suspense novel, which I’d worked on during the last, increasingly difficult, year of my husband’s life.
So in the early spring of 2006, I returned to the novel that became Murder at Spouters Point.
Now that book, dedicated to my husband, will be published in October, 2010, five years and one month, after his passing. To me, it’s a testimony to the power of the written word to help one through hard times, but also to the generosity of my fellow mystery writers who reached out to me at a time of need.
An award-winning author of books about American history and biographies, Leslie Wheeler now writes the Miranda Lewis “living history” mystery series. Titles include Murder at Plimoth Plantation and Murder at Gettysburg. The third book in the series, Murder at Spouters Point, will be published in October, 2010. Leslie’s stories have appeared in four anthologies published by Level Best Books: Windchill, Seasmoke, Still Waters, and Deadfall. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, serving as Speakers’ Bureau Coordinator for the New England Chapter. She is also a founding member of the New England Crime Bake Committee, and chair of the Al Blanchard Short Crime Fiction Award Committee. Visit her website at www.lesliewheeler.com