Author Interview: Aimee Thurlo, 02/14/97

Photo by Yannick Pulver on Unsplash

Aimee Thurlo got fired. Frequently.

“In 1980, I was super restless at home,” she said, “but I couldn’t find any job that interested me. I got fired from every conceivable job on the planet, too, because I was constantly daydreaming.”

“Finally,” she added, “unable to settle on any career that suited me, I decided to try my hand at writing and I cajoled my husband David into joining me.” 

Now, David was already working full-time as a junior high school teacher, but he agreed to her plan. “We made a great writing team and we enjoyed collaborating,” Aimee said, “but we still took our share of punches in the writing industry.”

Remember how often Aimee got fired? Well, she and her husband were rejected even more times than she got fired. “Our first novel took sixty-eight rejections,” she said, “but the sixty ninth submission resulted in an acceptance and a published novel.”

Must have made plenty of changes in that manuscript, then, huh? Uh, no. “We never revised,” Aimee said. “We just kept sending it out. Our second novel made number twelve on one chain’s bestseller lists, which should prove what never giving up can really do!”

Aimee and David are still writing together, with a successful new Ella Clah mystery series pleasing mystery readers nationwide. The first book in the series was called Blackening Song; the second book in the series, Death Walker, just came out in June 1996.

The reaction to the new series has been phenomenal, according to Aimee, with the following people praising it publicly: Tony Hillerman, Tess Gerritsen, Carolyn G. Hart, and Diana Gabaldon. And, here are just a few of those words of praise:

“Mystery readers who like their murders solved by applied intelligence will love Ella Clah.” (Tony Hillerman)

“The Thurlos launch a promising mystery series set in the Southwest. Contrasting the high-tech and hyper-rational methods of the FBI with the ritual world of the Navajo, the Thurlos ratchet up a lot of suspense. Enjoy.” (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review)

In Blackening Song, FBI agent Ella Clah returns home to the Navajo reservation to investigate the horrifying murder of her father. When Death Walker begins, it is eight months later, and Ella is now a special investigator with the tribal police. 

Ella isn’t sure what she really thinks about the Navajo witches called skinwalkers; but, when ritual signs at the murder scene of a religious teacher point toward their evil ways, Ella knows she is up against a powerful force. She still feels like an outsider on the reservation, however. So, when she needs help, she naturally turns to another Outsider, the Navajo pathologist, Carolyn Roanhorse.

The two women desperately try to solve the brutal crime, but when the chief Skinwalker of all, the murderer of Ella’s father, escapes from prison, the stakes are suddenly much, much higher.

Intrigued? Well, here is an added bonus: a private peek into the couple’s successful writing schedule. “David plots all our books, “Aimee said. “My strength is motivation and characterizations. I guess we fit the old cliché . To me, the book is about people; to David, the book is about what happens, i.e., the plot.”

David creates an outline, which he hands over to his wife. She then writes a first and second draft, handing her work back to him. He writes the third draft, and they write the fourth together. Then, Amy does one final look-see, and then they–finally–enter their handwritten work into the computer. “I know,” Aimee admitted. “We’re throwbacks to the dinosaur age!” 

The idea for the Ella Clah mystery series began when the couple headed back to the Navajo reservation to attend David’s high school reunion. As they drove past once familiar ground, the place where David lived for seventeen years, he began to realize how much the Rez had changed since he moved away for college.

“We then allowed our imaginations full rein, “Aimee said. “We began a role playing game familiar to us, creating characters and seeing everything through their eyes. Before we were even aware of it, the Ella Clah series began to take shape.”

And, while Aimee admitted that all of the main fictional characters have bits and pieces of their two authors, she prefers that readers figure those out for themselves.

“Our goal has always been to write an entertaining story,” she said. “Although the Ella Clah series deals with serious issues that are facing the tribe, it isn’t our intent to suggest answers to those problems. We want to present life on the Rez as Ella would see it, and provide readers with a glimpse into this special world. If our stories and our characters stay with the readers long after the last page is read, then we will have met our goal. It is David’s knowledge of the People and of the region that gives our novels that level of authenticity we feel is unique.” 

David, however, does not share all that he knows. “Some of the Navajo rituals involve deeply personal beliefs that are rooted in the heart of the Navajo people, “Aimee explained. “They are not meant for entertainment. They are a religious worship. We do not describe some of the rituals in absolute detail because it would show a blatant disregard for The People’s privacy.” 

“Also,” she added, “some of the rituals depend on secrecy to be effective. To even speak of them induces a loss of power. We do not give out details or even describe some aspects that might result in a harm to the tribe.”

Other novels written by the couple, outside of the Ella Clah series include Black Mesa, Second Shadow, Spirit Warrior, and Timewalker.

The couple is also working on a sub-series for Harlequin Intrigue, featuring three Navajo Brothers in a fictional town called Four Winds, New Mexico. “The series features elements of Navajo mythology and is deeply rooted in Navajo beliefs,” Aimee said. “Harlequin is really excited about the series, which will be three tales of romance and magic.”

The first book of the series, Her Destiny, will be released in the summer. “David and I are really excited about this series, too,” she added. “These books practically wrote themselves!”

She is also excited about AOL. “We’ve met wonderful people on the boards,” Aimee said, “and the exposure our work has received is what enabled the Ella Clah series to become a success. In an ever-shrinking market, letting people know about the series is paramount. AOL has enabled us to make contacts in the book industry that we would have never obtained on our own. It really has been invaluable to us.”

And, Aimee said she feels driven to keep writing. “What makes a person a writer is an uncontrollable compulsion and/or obsession,” she said. “Once you start, you can’t imagine giving it up.” 


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