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Award Winning Author Margaret Coel To Speak At Library Dinner

By: Wayne Groome

When approached to interview author Margaret Coel, speaker for the upcoming Estes Park Library Dinner, I was concerned that my novice approach to interviewing would not go well with such a seasoned professional. My fears were unwarranted because she was just as genuine as they come. For over a month we corresponded to arrange a time so that we might meet and greet in person. My feelings are that personal observation of your topic is far superior to telephone, e-mail and lifting information from other sources.

Margaret and I met for lunch. She comes across as somewhat shy initially, but immediately warms up. She is engaging and interesting, with a winning smile and gregarious laugh. This world renowned, New York Times award-winning author is very humble about her success.

Married in the 1960s, she was a stay-at-home mother of two daughters and did some free-lance writing for the New York Times, plus other newspapers and magazines. When her kids got older, she became a writer/reporter for the Westminster Journal. Margaret is a fourth-generation Coloradoan. Born and raised in Denver, which she adores, she states she “drinks in the West” every day. From early childhood, she has been interested in the history and the ongoing saga of the Native Americans. She has continually studied their culture, hence the setting for her “Wind River” series of mystery novels.

Prior to committing to and writing the thirteen-book fiction series, Margaret had written five non-fiction books starting with “Chief Left Hand,” the life story of Chief Niwot. This being her first novel, it was published by the University of Oklahoma Press. Since then, her very pleased publisher has been Berkeley Publishers Group in New York City.
Her second non-fiction novel, “Goin’ Railroading,” was written in conjunction with her railroad engineer father, Sam. Sam was employed as a train engineer by the Colorado and Southern Railroad for his career, as was his father.

“Goin’ Railroading” was published in 1986 and along with “Chief Left Hand” is considered two of the best 100 Colorado history books published. Quite a distinction for an upstart in the business. Imagine your first two novels to be so well-researched and written to be so honored.

Margaret’s background sets the stage for her fiction writing. She has a degree in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (a Jesuit school), and has studied the Arapaho and other Indian tribes who inhabited this part of the West. She studied the Wind River reservation and its inhabitants for years and still visits every year to further be inspired by the land and its occupants. The reservation is spread out over three million acres in western Wyoming. It ranges 55 miles from north to south boundaries and 70 miles east to west, basically non-productive lands where the wind continually blows. In 1878, our forefathers did not do the Indians an apparent favor when they confined them to this desolate area. However, today it appears to have untold amounts of oil and natural gas deposits under its barren soil. The reservation is controlled by various tribes whose only crime enforcement is by the Federal government (the FBI).

Margaret’s “Wind River” mystery series came about when her new agent had a  contract signed for not just one novel, but a series of three. Margaret had a general outline for her first fiction novel, which featured two main characters on the Indian reservation: a Jesuit priest named Father John O’Malley and an Arapaho woman named Vicky Holden, who Margaret empowered as an attorney. Much of the story centers around a Jesuit mission located on the reservation (St. Stephens mission is located there). Margaret wanted a native woman who knew and wanted to stay affiliated with her culture but be powerful. The male figure had to be acceptable to the Indians. These characters and their surroundings are central in each mystery novel.
Margaret is very charming and interesting, but her eyes flash with excitement when she talks about her latest venture, a stand-alone mystery featuring new characters and a Denver plot line. She calls it her love letter to Denver.

“Blood Memory” is based on true facts about the Indians’ desire to build a casino in the Denver metropolitan area. It publishes on September 12, 2008, and Margaret is gearing up to a book signing tour and speaking circuit. She will speak to the Estes Park Library Foundation at their fund-raising dinner on Saturday, September 20, 2008. Because Margaret works on novels one year ahead of publishing, this grandmother of six is busy writing her next new novel.

To meet Margaret is to be inspired to read all her books and to maybe even write something yourself. I found her at this one-on-one interview to be interesting and knowledgeable about her subject, and I look forward to hearing her in the public forum. September 10th is the cut-off date to make reservations for the library fund-raising dinner. I would encourage all to attend to listen and learn. See you there. For reservations (due by September 10th) or for more information about the dinner, please contact the library at 586-8116 or  Jo-Ann Mullen at 302-8954.

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