Profile of Carol Cail

Writers' Writer Carol Cail Branches Out

by G. Miki Hayden

Fans were grateful in 2000 to find another Maxey Burnell mystery, Who Was Sylvia?--the fourth in Carol Cail's series about the Boulder, Colorado reporter, but this one from new publisher Deadly Alibi Press, rather than St. Martin's (Burnell's previous hardcover home). And this year, DAP has issued Cail's The Seeds of Time, a stand-alone story about two psychic women in two different centuries, who help one another solve murders in their own times.

The prologue to The Seeds of Time, in its entirety, is: “Delia Pitman wanted to solve a couple of murders. Annie Darrow wanted to prevent a couple, including her own. That’s how they met and fell into friendship, when Delia was seventeen and Annie was thirty-nine. The year was 1881 and 1988, respectively.”

Cail has also finished the fifth Maxey novel, Death Kindly Stopped, for 2002 publication at Deadly Alibi.

This wasn't the first time author Cail turned from one publisher to another, nor is it an unusual move in today's complex publishing industry. The release of a further title in an ongoing series from another house is also more and more common--and is as frequently the author's choice as it is the editor's.

Cail has been around the block in this increasingly crazy business. Her life has always included both writing and teaching, however, and, often, she has taught writing itself. In fact, I first met up with Cail last year upon her return from the fabled Maui Writers Conference where she served as an instructor.

"I was invited to go because I've worked for Writer's Digest School for nearly seven years, teaching novel and short story writing, and last year was the first year they co-sponsored the Maui events. The school sent eight teachers to mentor at a retreat, which lasted a week and ended just before the conference. I met lots of enthusiastic beginning writers, and many very nice published folks. I didn't meet him, but I laughed till I cried at an after-dinner speech Dave Barry gave."

Cail began writing before she could print, by dictating poems to her mother--probably the last secretary she ever had. In college, however, she took another route and earned a master's degree in guidance counseling, which she promptly forgot about, except for home emergencies, and to give her characters believable motives.

Instead, Cail taught eighth-grade American history in Fayetteville, Arkansas in the early sixties, finally winding up in Longmont, Colorado with her now-retired husband.

"We owned an office supply store and I helped out there for the first fifteen years," Cail recounts. The couple's two thirty-something sons are off on their own, doing well, and giving Cail grandchildren--two so far.

Cail's life sounds like that of the typical wife, housewife, and mother of two. She used to sew, quilt, paint, and hike--and still cooks, on occasion. But unlike the typical anyone, Cail pursued another career--that of writer-- a vocation that has been pretty good to her. She had six novels in print before joining Deadly Alibi Press--three romances and three Maxey Burnell mysteries. Further, her stories have been in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock magazines more than a dozen times. Her other short story credits include publication in horror magazines such as Cemetery Dance and literary periodicals such as Hawaii Review.

Two of Cail's horror stories were on the recommended reading list of Ellen Datlow's The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror (an honor well worth mentioning) and more than fifty of her poems have appeared in literary and commercial magazines--another substantial achievement. Cail continues to review cookbooks for Home Cooking Magazine, something she's done for 24 years.

Readers of the now-defunct Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine might also recognize Cail's name for more than her Maxey Burnell novels, since she's had a total of four stories in the magazine over time.

Although Cail has written in various genres, she always wanted to write mysteries, she says, as that's what she prefers to read. But having heard somewhere that romance accounts for forty percent of all mass market paperbacks sold, Cail felt that was where she should begin. Her first two novels, written under a pen name, were comedy adventures from Harlequin Temptations--books that were ultimately published worldwide. But even in these romantic tales, she ventured into mystery territory as she threw in a soupcon of suspense along with the love story. Those two books were followed by another romantic suspense from Meteor, before Cail stepped into her role as the creator of Maxey Burnell in Private Lies, Unsafe Keeping, and If Two of Them Are Dead.

Most of this, mind you, Cail did on her own. She's the type who wants to run her own show and has the wherewithal to do it. "I'm one of those paranoid writers who hates the concept of agents and prefers to self-market," she comments. "I sold the romances and the first mystery on my own. I could have sold the next two mysteries myself, but people in the business kept telling me I must have an agent. So I found one."

When Cail decided to go the small press route, however, her agent declined to follow along. Then, with her career back in her own capable hands, the author promptly sold two mysteries to Deadly Alibi Press. "Feels great!" she announces.

"What I expected to get from the small press experience was more personalized attention, including having my books available in back list for a much longer time," Cail explains. "A serious perk with Deadly Alibi Press was selling my novel in the late spring and having it scheduled for publication the same winter, instead of having to wait two or more years as is usual with the large publishers."

One of Cail's apprehensions was that she wouldn't like the cover design for Who Was Sylvia--sometimes a failing in small press books. But instead, she was not only happy with the cover, but was delighted by the opportunity to write her own back blurb.

For The Seeds of Time, Cail was invited to provide her input on the cover from the start and, thanks to e-mail and jpeg files, she and editor Margo Power worked the design out to their mutual satisfaction.

"What I'm trying to say is, it's ideal to be able to call my editor with any suggestions or concerns and have a prompt and personal answer on the spot--she listens to me. I know she's just as busy as the editors in New York, but she gives the impression of `being there' for her authors. She also lets me know she appreciates my efforts at promotion, in contrast to the New York publicity departments, which never seemed much interested."

Did someone say the magic word--promotion? "I'm sure every author wishes she could just write and leave the promoting to her publisher, but the only writers who get that wish are the world-famous ones who don't need the publicity anyway," laughs Cail. "But as it has turned out, I enjoy talking at conferences and libraries or at booksignings, because it's a lot like the teaching I've always enjoyed. Then, too, I love to make people laugh, either in a speech or in the pages of my books."

What's her favorite thing about writing? "It's not the money, which is not enough. It's not the glory, because I'm not that well known. I do still get a kick out of seeing my name in print--that's a pride thing. I love having someone tell me how much they enjoyed such and such about a story--strangers, so I know it must be true. Reading is the freedom to go and be anyone, anything, anywhere, without leaving one's own safe haven--and a writer had to "go" and "be" there first. What I like best is the magic involved in converting my feelings and ideas into just the right words to make someone else feel and think, too. Yes! To go to work with one's bare brain and the raw alphabet, and godlike, create something from nothing."

G. Miki Hayden's Writing the Mystery will be out in September 2001. Miki is a member of the board of Mystery Writers of America and teaches mystery writing at

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