Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

Perusing her just-published suspense paperback, I noticed the slew of Arlington locations in the latest from novelist Siri Mitchell.

The Lyon Park resident delivers in the new “State of Lies” a narrative that unfolds around the MedStar Capitals Iceplex, Columbia Pike, Ballston, Clarendon Ballroom, Cherrydale Hardware and the Northside Social Coffee & Wine.

Over coffee, the intense Mitchell allowed me to quiz her on the process by which she produced her 17th commercial entry in today’s cutthroat publishing business too crowded with the self-published.

Her thriller released under the Thomas Nelson imprint of HarperCollins weaves together a hit-and-run, a nominee for Defense secretary, government contracting, digital technology and family betrayal.

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The first in her two-book contract, the mystery represents Mitchell’s shift to the suspense genre following years writing historical fiction as well as “chick lit” entries, some of which put her “in a box that began to feel small.”

After moving here in 2006 with her Air Force officer husband, Mitchell found it “hard to be in D.C. without being immersed in politics.” Ideas for thrillers came to her from images ranging from the dangerous waters of Great Falls to commuter slug lines at the Pentagon. To research “State of Lies,” she was given a tour of that five-sided building by its historian.

Mitchell cheerfully accepted it when her unusual first name — of Scandinavian origin — was taken up by the Apple’s artificial intelligence narrator Siri. It’s now easier to put across, she says. (Mitchell has used a backwards version, Iris Anthony, as a nom de plume.)

Her road to status as published novelist was circuitous. A wordsmith since childhood, she dabbled in journalism at the University of Washington but concluded that she didn’t have the “hard-nosed” personality. She got a business degree, married an Air Force officer and moved to Paris.

There she found it easier to start a first book than to admit she wasn’t a “real” writer. She was introduced to British author Noreen Riols, who critiqued her early efforts and “thickened my skin,” Mitchell recalls.

She approached agents and editors with nonfiction and fiction queries, enduring 10 years of more than 150 rejections. Finally, a proposal hit the sweet spot, and she had to produce three sample chapters.

Even with success, Mitchell eventually succumbed to “burnout” and writer’s block. She recently took two years off, and her agent encouraged her to “write whatever comes out, and we’ll find a publisher.” As a “character author,” she had to learn pacing and plotting for the suspense readership.

Away from her Christian-themed publisher, the new approach allowed a bit more sex (tastefully rendered) and shades of government corruption. “Part of writing what I wanted was freeing myself from those restrictions,” she says.

Nowadays with an advance, Mitchell generally writes four hours a day, four days a week, producing 3,000 words in the drafting stage, 10-20 pages a day during rewrite, and polishing 30-50 pages a day during the final six-month production period.

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“Don’t get stuck in the research,” she advises, expressing gratitude for an editor she obeys and trusts. “The muse is like a cat,” Mitchell adds. “You can’t wait for her, but the minute you start working, she comes.”


The jury in Arlington Circuit Court Oct. 10 denied freedom for Galen Baughman, the graduate of H-B Woodlawn whom I wrote about last month as a convicted sex offender.

Following testimony in the civil case by a paid psychological specialist who called him untreatable, the activist for reform of sexual predator laws was prosecuted by the state Attorney General for violating parole when texting a teenage boy.

Baughman, 36, “has had no criminal charges or accusations since leaving prison in 2012,” said an attorney-spokesman for his pro bono defense team. After three years in Arlington jail, he is headed to the Center for Behavioral Health for the rest of his life. “There are appeals, which he should win, but it will be a long process.”

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