It’s both unfortunate and lucky that when Bedford writer Patricia Reigstad was approached to work for the CIA years ago, she declined.
“When I was in Norway, I worked for the embassy and was approached to work for them. I said no,” Reigstad said during a phone interview last week. “I wasn’t interested at the time.”
Looking back as a cozy mystery writer, she half-wishes she’d taken them up on the offer; working for the CIA would have made for great content in her mystery novels.
But at least now she doesn’t have to worry about spilling national secrets.
Reigstad, who goes by the pen name Parker Riggs (catchier and easier to remember than Patricia Reigstad, she said), just wrote her first book, Finding Jessica, and at the time of her interview last week, was awaiting the release of her second novel, A Treacherous Trader, co-written with New York Times bestselling author Ellery Adams.
Reigstad will talk about her experiences spent building Finding Jessica at a Gibson’s Bookstore event Friday, Jan. 23, at 7 p.m. The story follows red-haired ex-CIA agent Rose Chandler when she takes on internationally-acclaimed artist Barrington Bigelow as a client. He’s searching for his past love, Jessica, but things don’t go at all as planned for Rose. Two murders take place during a visit to her hometown of Haven, New Hampshire, and Rose must face a demon from her past.
Reigstad has always enjoyed reading and writing, though at 53, she’s something of a beginner fiction writer; she attended the Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School in New Jersey and graduated in 1980 before working in D.C. for Senator John Chafee and then at the White House. Her job brought her overseas to Norway; when she returned, she spent years supporting international law firms.
She read whenever she wasn’t working: during plane rides, long train commutes to work and lunch breaks. In the 1990s, she spent six years writing her first novel, of which nothing (yet) has come.
Writing was always in the back her mind — “I always wanted to be an author, even when I was a kid,” Reigstad said — but she was struck with the realization five years ago that, if she wanted to be truly satisfied with her career, she needed to do it now. She was moved by the film Julie & Julia to take action.
“I kept thinking about it. It’s about people doing things later in life. It shouldn’t matter if you’re old or young. If you have a dream, why not try?” she said.
Reigstad is a big fan of the late Robert B. Parker (who inspired her pen name), Agatha Christie, Dick Francis and Janet Evanovich, among others. One of her favorite books of all time is Stephen King’s The Stand, but it was his nonfiction title, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, that influenced her writing most.
“I devoured that book,” Reigstad said.
In fact, she used a number of his suggestions in structuring Finding Jessica.
“He suggests that you write during a season,” Reigstad said. “I wrote over the course of a summer four years ago. … He also has tips on how to make yourself do it. Close the door so there are no distractions; take your time; set goals. … I’d try to write an average of 1500 words a day.”
She finished the first draft in three months. She shared it with friends, family, and with author/self-professed “book shaman” Suzanne Kingsbury, who helped her transform the text to an attractive, publishable manuscript. They spent two years editing.
“I knew it was going to take time and that I wasn’t going to have it published the next day, but I never realized how much goes into writing a book,” Reigstad. “I think I was able to do it because I read so much. … But it was also wonderful to have somebody to work with and talk with about my ideas.”
It took a year to find publisher Mainly Murder Press.
“[Kingsbury] ... walked me through the publishing industry, which is a whole other world,” Reigstad said.
The year of letters and rejections eventually led to a “yes,” as well as contact with Ellery Adams’ agent, who, despite not liking Finding Jessica, liked Reigstad’s style and asked her to contribute to A Treacherous Trader.
In retrospect, she’s glad she took the time writing, editing and finding publishers.
“I didn’t have a background in writing — the only background I had was writing lots of letters to a law firm,” she said. “When I decided to make a career of it, I wanted to take the time to do it right. My attitude was, what’s the rush? I wanted it to be good.”
As seen in the January 15, 2015 issue.