The first time I stumbled into a public library, I swooned. I swayed. I was six years old and instantly dizzy. I almost lost consciousness. It’s a wonder I didn’t fall flat on my face, smashing my blue cat-eye glasses.
The sight of those heart-stoppingly large heaps of books was simply too much for me. Later, when I discovered that they trusted me enough to let me take the books home—yes, I had to return them eventually, but that detail was buried in the fine print—I questioned the theological necessity of heaven.
Because heaven was here. Right here.
These days, I contribute my own tales to this blissful, burgeoning bounty of books, books found in libraries and bookstores and web sites. I write mysteries and biographies. I write historical fiction and science fiction.
I write because somewhere—in some small town that resembles my hometown of Huntington, West Virginia—there might be another little girl with curly hair and blue cat-eye glasses, a girl overwhelmed by the vast cornucopia of stories, a girl who has to grab hold of a bookshelf to steady herself in the wake of such wonders.
I write for me, but I write for her, too.
I was born and raised in West Virginia, the daughter of a college mathematics professor and a high school English teacher. We lived, at one time, within sight and sound of the Ohio River; that river still moves through my memories, and in my dreams I can hear the long, melancholy honk of the coal barges signaling their approach.
After graduating from Marshall University, I headed north to Columbus, Ohio, where I worked for the local newspaper and earned a doctoral degree in English Literature at Ohio State University. There is no better training ground for a writer than a job as a general assignment reporter. The whole mad cavalcade of human affairs passes right before your eyes—rather like the Ohio River does, when you watch it from a spot on the riverbank.
And then it was on to Chicago. I won the Pulitzer Prize for a three-part series in the Chicago Tribune about a deadly tornado that struck a small town in Illinois. I spent a year at Harvard as a Nieman Fellow, and broke up my newspaper career from time to time to teach at places such as Princeton, Notre Dame, and the University of Chicago.
Now I write, and I listen for the sound of those coal barges in my imagination as they—in a passage from my first mystery novel—“ride the river’s brushed-nickel back.”
To learn more about my hometown, listen to my conversation with National Public Radio’s Noah Adams:
Belfa Elkins—they call her “Bell” for short—is a tough customer, a brilliant, driven woman who ditched a high-powered life at a fancy law firm in a big city to come home to West Virginia. In the seventh book in the series, Bone on Bone, Bell is just out of prison, having finally faced up to her violent past. Along with trying to get her life back, she’s tracking a killer who gunned down a local VIP. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called Bone On Bone "beautifully written." Michael Connelly, The New York Times bestselling author, said of the series, "Bell Elkins is one of the most fully realized characters in fiction today." And Barnes and Noble.com noted that the series has "echoes...of Russell Banks or Annie Proulx."
More books in the series:
--Barnes and Noble
"A joy to read"
I also write a science-fiction series set in the 23rd century called The Dark Intercept. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the government could monitor your emotions—and use them to control your behavior—then this is the series for you.
The books in the series so far:
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