Margaret Mizushima writes the award-winning and internationally published Timber Creek K-9 Mysteries. She serves as past president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and was elected 2019 Writer of the Year by Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Active in the writing community, she is also a member of Sisters in Crime, Northern Colorado Writers, Colorado Authors League, and Women Writing the West. She and her husband recently moved from Colorado to a home in the Pacific Northwest. Find her on Facebook at AuthorMargaretMizushima, Twitter @margmizu, Instagram @margmizu, and her website

SunLit: Tell us this book’s backstory. What inspired you to write it? Where did the story/theme originate?

Margaret Mizushima: “Striking Range” is the seventh Timber Creek K-9 Mystery featuring Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and veterinarian Cole Walker. Mattie, her mother, and her brother were kidnapped when she was very young and a man she once thought was her father held them captive for several years. They all suffered this man’s abuse, which has left Mattie with repressed memories. Unraveling her past is a thread that runs through the series, and this episode starts with Mattie trying to interview a prisoner whom she believes can give her answers. 

In addition to Mattie’s early childhood backstory, another inspiration for the primary theme of “babies” in this book came from my literary agent, Terrie Wolf of AKA Literary Management. Terrie has always wanted Robo to sire puppies, but that scenario didn’t fit into any of the past books. It did in this one, though, so Cole Walker, DVM, is tasked with taking care of Sassy, the mother of Robo’s first litter, and delivers her puppies by C-section. As the story develops, Mattie must find a missing infant, which brings together subplots involving both canine and human babies.

SunLit: Place this excerpt in context. How does it fit into the book as a whole? Why did you select it?

Mizushima: “Striking Range” begins with Mattie and cold case detective Jim Hauck arriving at a Colorado state prison to interview a man she suspects killed her father decades earlier. But before they can see him, he’s found dead in his cell. This excerpt came from Chapter 3, and begins with assistant warden Shanice Donahue breaking the news to Mattie and Detective Hauck about this man’s death.


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SunLit: Tell us about creating this book. What influences and/or experiences informed the project before you actually sat down to write?

Mizushima: I enjoy watching crime documentaries, and one episode involving a doctor who practiced back in the 1960s influenced the development of my plot. This doctor took in pregnant mothers who were vulnerable, delivered their babies in his home clinic, told the mothers their babies were stillborn, and then sold the infants out his back door, sometimes even before the mother had left his clinic. This horrifying crime fit into the general theme of the book and influenced the creation of the main plot.

Another documentary about opioid danger for law enforcement, especially K-9 officers and their dogs, triggered the main premise of “Striking Range.” K-9 handlers must now carry Narcan treatment spray with them at all times to protect both their dogs and themselves. EMTs and other first responders also use this opiate antagonist to reverse accidental overdose in opioid addicts.

SunLit: Once you began writing, did the story take you in any unexpected directions? If so, how would you describe dealing with a narrative that seems to have a mind of its own?

Mizushima: Stories almost always go in an unexpected direction when I’m writing the first draft. It’s part of the joy of writing. And if an author is surprised, chances are a reader will be surprised too. I usually know how my books will begin and end, but I don’t always know how I’ll get through the middle, so I usually welcome twists that my characters and the plot suggest as the narrative evolves.

SunLit: What were the biggest challenges you faced in completing this book?

Mizushima: My biggest challenge is usually time management, but when I wrote this book, we were preparing our home and property to sell. After living in northern Colorado for forty years, it was time for my husband to retire from his vet practice and for us to retire from cattle ranching. Getting our property ready to list was no small chore, so finishing this manuscript amidst the turmoil was a challenge.

SunLit: Has the book raised questions or provoked opinions among your readers?

Mizushima: Feedback indicates that the chapter in which Cole Walker delivers the puppies by C-section provokes the strongest opinions from readers. Those who like to watch Cole Walker do his work in a scene say they love this chapter and enjoy all the details associated with that type of birth. Those who don’t say it slows the momentum of the story. Fortunately this scene takes up only one chapter so it’s not too bad for those who didn’t love it. 

I strive to weave various subplots that support the main plot into each book, using Mattie’s and Cole’s private and work lives to flesh out the story. When I decided to include babies as a theme in “Striking Range,” it only made sense that Robo and Sassy would have their first litter of puppies. And of course, nothing can be easy in fiction, so Sassy needed to have a C-section.

“Striking Range”

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SunLit: Walk us through your writing process: Where and how do you write?

Mizushima: When I begin planning a book, I usually draw a starburst on a sheet of paper, putting the main crime in the middle and labeling each ray with all kinds of ideas ranging from setting details to characters to clues to plot points—you name it. Once I have star full of ideas, I start organizing them and putting them in order before I start writing. 

I’m a morning writer, so when it comes down to writing the first draft, I like to sit down at the computer as early as I can and then write in one hour stints, taking a break each hour until I’ve written at least 1000 words. Most days I quit in the middle of a sentence so I can pick up the story easily the next morning. I aim for 5000 words per week until the story is complete, and then I revise a couple times before sending it off to my publisher for the editing process.

SunLit: How do you do your research?

Mizushima: Like most authors, I do online research on certain topics and read reference books of all kinds, but the most beneficial research for me has been talking to and shadowing police officers, K-9 handlers, and K-9 trainers. The stories these folks tell about their dogs provide a wealth of ideas for different scenarios in my books, and it seems there is almost nothing these dogs can’t do if given the right conditions. My husband and I also trained two of our dogs in search and rescue years ago, so the hands-on experience that provided has been invaluable. It also gave me the opportunity to observe many different dogs and the different ways they respond to nose work.

SunLit: Tell us about your next project.

Mizushima: I’ve just finished “Standing Dead,” the eighth Timber Creek K-9 Mystery, and it is scheduled to launch March 7, 2023 via publisher Crooked Lane Books. In this next episode, Mattie discovers answers about her past when she goes undercover to try to save her mother from a killer. I’m very excited about this book, and it’s available for preorder from booksellers now.