Arts & Culture
4:16 pm
Tue September 24, 2013

Minister Takes Leap of Faith in Mystery Writing

Lake Effect's Stephanie Lecci interviews author Nanci Rathbun about her new book and her unusual path to mystery writing.

Wisconsin native Nanci Rathbun is proof positive that you can have more than one career in a lifetime. In fact, she's had three.

Nanci Rathbun's first novel is a mystery starring protagonist Angelina Bonaparte, a librarian-turned-PI.

After 30 years working for telephone companies like AT&T, Rathbun retired early to take care of her sick mother. When her mother died, Rathbun says she got a sense that God wanted her to do something more - to join the seminary.

"So I thought that my path was laid out and I would enjoy a long and happy time...as an associate pastor," Rathbun says about becoming an ordained Congregational Christian minister.

But that voice that pushed her before was telling her to pursue her lifelong dream of writing fiction. Plus, she missed her granddaughter in Tennessee.

So Rathbun took yet another leap of faith, picking up from Wisconsin to move south to be closer to family. She had more time to work on her writing, including the novel she'd written in her spare time.

"(It was) just sort of sitting there, waiting for me, like being pregnant, waiting for the labor to begin, and the delivery to happen," she says. "And I thought, 'Okay, I'm going to labor on this for a while and see if I can have a successful delivery.'"

Successful it was, after a small press in northern Illinois, Cozy Cat Press, agreed to publish Truth Kills.

"I'm pretty sure people in Wisconsin could hear me shout, 'Yahoo!' in Tennesse," Rathbun says. "I was doing the touchdown dance in my condo, and I was very excited and thrilled because I was feeling like no one would ever want to read my book."

The story follows private investigator Angelina "Angie" Bonaparte, a "film noir" type who is investigating whether her client Gracie's husband is cheating on her. It turns out mobster "Tony Baloney" is having an affair, but infidelity takes a backseat when he's accused of murdering his mistress. Though Bonaparte thinks he's slime, Rathbun says Angie always puts the truth first - and in this case, she believes the mafioso to be innocent.

Rathbun says she wanted to try her hand at mystery writing because she's long loved the genre, reading everything from Nancy Drew to Dorothy L. Sayers' work.

"It's partly the logical side of my brain," she says. "Writing is very creative, but there's this deep logical part of me because I used to be a programmer and I used to be a project manager, and I like that progression of logic when I'm reading."

Author Nanci Rathbun is from Wisconsin, but now lives in Tennessee.

While it may seem shocking for a minister to write about infidelity, murder and betrayal, Rathbun says she's not writing Christian fiction. Plus, she thinks her protagonist Angie's morality is relatable for people who describe themselves as "spiritual, but not religious."

"The story does have its dark side; it also has its redemption side, I believe," she says. "So in that way, it's very true to life."

Rathbun is back in Wisconsin tonight at 7 PM for a reading at Milwaukee's Mystery One Bookstore.