ESTHER LUTTRELL the OFFICIAL BOOK WEBSITE
The photo on the left was snapped by photographer, Carol Yoho, during a book signing at the 414 Warehouse Gallery in Topeka, Kansas where she, author Cynthia Stotlar, and I shared a table. The big bruiser beside me is my disc jockey buddy, Jack Diamond, who shows up as a character named Jack Ryman in my Noto mysteries. He actually does work at internet radio station WREN, just the way it's told in Yellow, Green, Blue & Dead, and in Murder in Magenta.
People always ask how I got started writing. I don't remember starting. I've never had any real skills, but I do have an abundance of curiosity and interests. I looked into things, wrote about what I learned, and jobs - not a career - more or less happened.
What I love about being a writer is the amount of research I have to do on so many subjects. During the length of time it takes to write a novel, I'm an authority on everything factual in my book. Retention is another matter, but for a few months, I'm a whiz on whatever it is I'm writing about.
I've never been much of a party person; I've always hung out with Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald, Sue Grafton, Robert Parker and my favorite, Margaret Truman. Her mysteries are brilliant. Before I sit down at my desk to begin writing, I read a few pages of a book by any one of them. It's like having breakfast with friends who inspire and energize. From Chandler I learned plotting. I studied the way MacDonald turns a phrase with such ease and color. Sue Grafton is the epitome of good, believable dialogue; I study her work the way a college student crams for an exam. Parker helps me understand how to do away with a lot of unnecessary explanation, and from Truman I've learned that it's all right to let intelligence show in your work.
Without a career plan, I fell into writing commercials, first for radio station KSAL in Salina, Kansas, then for television and Midwest ad agencies. Later, I worked for CBS and MGM in L.A. It was a fluke that I wrote my first novel. At sixty-seven my husband left me for another woman. His mother. I was driving around, trying to think how to kill him, when it dawned on me I actually had a story plot. I wrote Murder in the Movies, did him in really good, and sent it off to a publisher who released it eight months later. It's been in print ever since. Harlequin World Wide Mysteries picked it up for paperback release in 2010, which flattered the daylights out of me. I call it The Little Book That Just Won't Die. Thank you dear ex-husband for walking off and leaving me to a surprising and wonderful career as a novelist.
Since I wasn't ticked off at anyone else, it took a while for me to come up with novel #2.
I was in Hawaii on business when someone asked where I was from. I said I wasn't actually from Topeka, Kansas, but that I'd just bought a home there to be near my daughter who lived on a farm outside town. The businessman made a derogatory remark about the city. On the flight back, I decided to set a mystery in Topeka and make it a kind of valentine to the town. Invitation to a Murder was published by L&L Dreamspell a few months later.
Yellow, Green, Blue & Dead and also Murder in Magenta came about because Topeka has a trendy little art district brimming with atmosphere. I set those two mysteries there then decided to weave Jack and radio station WREN into the plot. I got so carried away with using real people and real places, I ended up making my friend, Deb Goodrich, the "star" in the books. Readers can actually go to North Topeka (NoTo) and follow the route taken by characters in the books, see the actual places, eat at Bradley's Corner Cafe, just as it's written in the stories. I got that idea when readers told me how they planned their Hollywood vacation around streets and businesses named in Murder in the Movies. Now I set all of my stories in real places that readers can find.
Years ago, my (ex) husband and I produced children's audio programs. We called them The Magic of... Each new title would complete that sentence. I wrote and directed them, but we never really did anything with the company. Recently, I ran across the material in files that had been in storage. It seemed a shame to let the stories go to waste, so I re-wrote them into books and did the narration on CDs. The first one is The Magic of ... Apples, Bees & Calico Cats. The central character is named for my great-granddaughter, Maya Alexandria. A new baby girl, Elsi, prompted the writing of Is There Really a Santa, asked Elsi and, for them both, I wrote Maya and Elsi's Teddy Bear Adventure.
I feel strongly that readers should be able to look at an author's name on a cover and know what to expect. Esther Luttrell writes mysteries, though I did write of my own spiritual journey after the death of my son Dean: Dear Dean... Love, Mom and, more recently Evidence of God. But, primarily, my name on a cover means the reader can expect a mystery. I decided to use my maiden name, Esther Cox, when writing children's books. I find myself going back to images and impressions from my own childhood when dreaming up stories for the little ones; using my maiden name seems somehow right.
Another question I'm frequently asked is whether or not I am the protagonist in my novels. Probably. At least a version of some alter-ego of myself. Much younger, much thinner, and a whale of a lot more fun than the lady who spends her days shooing cats off her computer keyboard.
At sixty-seven I thought I was about take life easy, however I am still writing and recently completed the screenplay for feature film Te Ata (www.teatathemovie.com). Life sure can pull the rug out from under you when it's least expected. The good news is that it can be a magical journey if we don't get hung up on beating our head against a brick wall when the going gets tough. Instead, climb aboard the rug and fly wherever imagination takes you. The truth is, I'm still trying to decide what I'm going to be when I grow up.
"If you have a temper tantrum at the age of 4 because you can't get an S to go the right direction, you're probably destined to be a writer. Or a drama queen. Or both."
I could write a thousand books and never scratch the surface of what it meant to be Dean's mom. He taught me so much about faith and love and God. I wrote Dear Dean...Love, Mom hoping to bring comfort to other moms who have lost their loved one.
In an LA recording studio, directing actors. The Magic of Apples, Bees & Calico Cats. 1986. Yikes! I really
have been doing this forever!
Donald Gold was my boss when I was production coordinator on the hit TV series CHiPs, at MGM. After the show was cancelled, with the blessings of his wife, JoAlla, and of my husband, Larry, Donald and I gave weekend screenwriting workshops around the country even though he was producing Miami Vice and, later, Diagnosis Murder. I was story consultant for Hearst Entertainment, Stockton Briggle Productions, and Dick Clark. This was taken at our workshop, at Burt Reynolds ranch in Jupiter, Florida.
Jorge Chaar was a bigger than life Carribean attorney framed for murder and sentenced to life in prison. He solved his own case behind bars. I was hired to write a screenplay based on his story. Last I heard Malice in the First Degree was in pre-production. No idea what came of it.
I wrote and directed a six-part TV series, The Hollywood Stunt Show. Dean, in the striped jacket, was my assistant. Here we were setting up for a shot of a stunt driver preparing to hurl himself off a ramp, into the air, and land on all four tires, unruffled.
This was one of the most delightful film projects I've ever worked on . Carter Lord (that's him on the cover) produced and directed a movie that was getting a cold shoulder from distributors. Carter asked me to "fix" it. I re-cut, re-scored, re-wrote it, then directed color and sound correction. It had a world premier at the Palm Beach International Film Festival. Got a distribution deal and Dove Foundation named it one of the best family films of the year. I was given a co-writer and producer's credit.
I am so very grateful for having been given the opportunity to write a screenplay about a remarkable woman, a Chickasaw named TeAta. Please visit www.teatathemovie.com
Te Ata - The Movie
Gallup Film Festival Award Winner
Best Screenplay - Esther Luttrell
Orlando Film Festival - Best Picture Award
Indianapolis Heartland Film Festival - Audience Best Award
Tulsa American Film Festival - Best Feature Film Actress
San Diego Film Festival - Winner, Kumeyayaay Eagle Award
The dramatic story of a Chickasaw native who inspired the world with her stories