Switching to fiction presented me with any number of problems, but the greatest was why I couldn’t seem to get published.
As a magazine and newspaper reporter and columnist, I’d always been published. And with a by-line. So what was wrong now? I wrote a few completed books but never quite hit the mark. What was lacking?
Then, I heard the magic words. “Find … your … passion.” Too simple, really. I’d heard it before. But I realize now that hearing the words at the right moment from the right person is key.
Find your passion? I was passionate about my children. Then the proverbial bolt hit me. Aha! Africa. I was passionate about Africa. We’d lived there in the late 70s with a swimming pool and tennis court. Nelson Mandela was in prison for being a communist and apartheid was in full swing.
In 2000, I flew back to Africa to visit my daughter’s godmother who had been in a head-on collision. During her recovery, I met the new group of nuns and decided to stay a while and volunteer in Malamulele. Sometimes there was no running water and no electricity, but I stayed for six months. I was hooked. Over the last 15 years, I returned often to volunteer. The last time I was there, I stood amazed at the school, which had grown from two rooms to a campus of sixteen buildings.
As I began to think about what I loved, what moved me about the people who took me in, I realized what I had to do. I also realized why I wasn’t hitting the mark with my writing. I hadn’t been fully invested in the earlier books. I’d only been practicing.
My next book I set in South Africa. I wanted to write a crime novel. Could I create a murder in an imaginary convent? Characters floated through my head and a world appeared!
I had practically finished this lovely little murder mystery when one day I was perusing the Star newspaper, where I had actually free-lanced articles a hundred years ago. Then I saw the answer. Something different. A recent murder, a young woman found in a field. Muti killing was mentioned.
As I explored the topic, I became fascinated about an area of crime I’d never heard of before. And if I’d never heard about it, having lived there, then maybe no one else had heard about it either. Maybe it would give my book a sense of direction as well as bring awareness to this type of crime tied to some African cultures.
Local Detective Baloyi and Annabelle Chase, the visiting crime reporter, surprisingly became involved and a romance blossomed right in front of the fictitious nuns.
Send your aha passion moment to firstname.lastname@example.org by midnight Feb. 1 and I’ll pick the best entry for a signed copy of Midnight in Malamulele! Postage included!
Darla Bartos writes murder mysteries set in South Africa. After receiving a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Columbia University, she pursued work as a crime reporter, authoring the first of her trilogy, MIDNIGHT IN MALAMULELE. Darla taught communications at Metropolitan State University of Denver and Northeastern Junior College in Sterling, CO. She raised her five children on three continents.