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First person: From water resources to a world of whodunnit

Spring/Summer 2015 | By Christine Finlayson (WRM ’94)

When I graduated from the Nelson Institute with a degree in water resources management, I never imagined my future job title would be mystery and suspense author. But sometimes life takes you in unexpected directions — and writing fiction allows me to explore two passions: rivers and books.

Christine Finlayson
Christine Finlayson writes
mystery-suspense novels
set along the wicked waters
of the Pacific Northwest.
Photo: Meghann Street

Shortly after arriving at UW-Madison, I realized I didn’t want to be the scientist collecting data in the lakes. I wanted to interview her and understand why her work mattered. So my specialty was Public Information and Education, with classes in journalism, editing and design, as well as water science, law and policy.

Looking back, I gained so much from that education, from the ability to analyze information to skills in expressing it. I learned how to conduct research, how to interview people, and how to use images to tell a story. (Plus I met my husband while sampling for bacteria in trout streams… but that’s another tale.)

After graduating, I helped watershed projects around Wisconsin create newsletters and brochures, whether the issue was manure management or over-fertilized lawns. Later, I returned to the Pacific Northwest and became the education coordinator for a nature center. It was inspiring to work with students, train teachers, and see kids get excited about the outdoors. One year, we created a Math Camp in the mountains, using forests and streams as the classroom and water insects and “tree cookies” as teaching supplies.

Still, I kept moving toward writing, pulled by an invisible thread. Freelancing jobs as a nonfiction writer/editor provided creative opportunities, such as a field trip guide to a volcano, a wetland-restoration handbook for community groups, and articles about carpooling, stormwater management, and spirituality in the workplace. Then one day I thought, “I’ve always loved reading novels — how hard could it be to write one?”

Little did I know!

It took four years of studying the craft, three years of writing, and multiple revisions to produce the first book.

Fast-forward to 2013, and my debut mystery novel, Tip of a Bone, was published by Adventure Publications. I’m now preparing for the summer 2015 release of Rivers of Broken Glass, a suspense novel set in Portland, Oregon.

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These days, I write full-time — but water remains close to my heart. It flows through every story, from the Yaquina River in Tip to the Columbia Slough in Rivers. (My third book, a suspense novel-in-progress, highlights the Columbia Gorge.) These watery settings spur plenty of ideas for fictional crimes. There’s just something about dark, twisted rivers and that wild rush of water…

Happily, working as an author has allowed me to remain a lifelong student, although I switch “majors” every time a new book begins. For Tip of a Bone, I studied the Oregon coast, environmental science and eco-activism. And for Rivers of Broken Glass, I studied the science behind crash reconstruction and interviewed police investigators and prosecutors.

This August, I’m returning to Wisconsin for continuing education — but not at the university. Instead, you’ll find me at the Writers’ Police Academy in Appleton, taking classes such as Fingerprinting, Forensic Art, and Interview and Interrogation.

Becoming a fiction author may not be the path I expected, but it’s been a wonderful, winding journey — with much thanks to my time in Madison.

Photos and captions below courtesy Christine Finlayson.
 

Columbia Slough by Christine Finlayson
The Columbia Slough: a perfect setting for fictional crime?

 

mckenzie river oregon by Christine Finlayson
The McKenzie River, a favorite writing retreat.

 

Yaquina Bay Bridge at Sunset by Christine Finlayson
Sunset at the Yaquina Bay Bridge, featured in Tip of a Bone.

 

Columbia Gorge waterfall by Christine Finlayson
Elowah Falls on a winter hike (research for book three).



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