As different as they seem, accounting and mystery writing actually have a lot in common: Both deal with details. Both are structured. Both require intricate and involved thinking. And, on a personal level, both have been an important and fulfilling part of my life.
Writing mysteries was not one of my early life goals. Armed with an MBA as well as an M.A. in philosophy, I taught business subjects in a junior college. Then, in 1977 The George Washington University was searching for an accounting teacher who would earn a stipend and free tuition to work on a doctorate. I jumped at the opportunity to apply. Being able to teach at a higher level appealed to me. I was accepted, and I earned my doctorate in business administration from GWU, with a major in accounting and a minor in finance.
The more I studied accounting, the more I discovered how much I liked it—so much so that I sat for the CPA exam while I was still in graduate school. After earning my doctorate, I chose to continue teaching accounting, first at Southern Methodist University for three years, then at Rutgers University for 18 years.
I began “serious” writing long before I published my first mystery novel. “Publish or perish” is the unwritten rule for those of us in academia, so throughout my university career I published a number of papers. One of them, co-authored with another professor, caught the eye of Quorum Books. We added another author and published Shaping the Corporate Image: An Analytical Guide for Executive Decision Makers. It was my first book.
Sometimes, when I was doing a serious paper or an op-ed article for the newspapers, I began to dream about writing for fun, which, to me, was to write a novel. I finally decided to see if I could make my dream come true and started my first work of fiction.
Mysteries have always topped my list of leisure reading. As a girl, I read all of the Nancy Drew books, then worked my way through Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie. From an interest perspective, it was natural for me to tackle the mystery genre for my fiction work. After a five-year effort, in 1995 I published my first novel. Seeing my name on the book cover— an experience that is hard to describe—motivated me to start on my second mystery. Because I wrote after hours, it took me another five years to finish it.
In 2002, I was ready to begin the next chapter in my life—to become a full-time writer. With my future financially secure, I took an early retirement from the university and devoted myself to writing. My biggest adjustment has been budgeting my time, since as a writer I do not have short-term deadlines as I did as a professor.
My CPA background has helped me in an unexpected way: I’ve called upon it to develop plots for two of my books—Beaned in Boston: Murder at a Finance Convention and Duped by Derivatives. Likewise, I used my academic experience as a backdrop for my third novel, Creamed at Commencement.
Writing is more than putting words on paper and organizing them to tell a story. Writing involves hard work—even after a book is written. I am constantly looking to promote my books by giving talks, blogging, arranging book signings and exploring ways to expand distribution, such as through e-publishing.
Writers are dreamers. Two of my dreams have been fulfilled teaching at the university level and publishing novels. My wildest dream is to get on The New York Times best-seller list! I don’t know if I will ever reach that goal, but I know I will have a lot of fun trying. Many people have a similar dream; they would like to write a book. My advice: Just do it—but in little chunks each day. Once you see your name in print, you’ll never regret the sacrifice it took to get it there.
—As told to Linda Segall ( firstname.lastname@example.org),
a freelance writer based in Jacksonville, Fla.
Have Your Say on The Last Word
The JofA is seeking names of AICPA members to feature in “The Last Word” column, which highlights the intriguing, inspiring and imaginative folks who are the heart of the AICPA. Please e-mail suggestions with “Last Word candidate” in the subject line to email@example.com. Include a brief message describing what makes the individual noteworthy or unique, as well as an e-mail and phone number for the person you suggest.