Afton author Alison Holt took a degree in creative writing from the University of Arizona and then became a cop in Tucson. But she always knew she wanted to write and, after 20 years, rising in the ranks of the force, she retired in 2006 to pursue a writing career.
“I loved being a cop. I had a blast,” Holt said. “It’s something new all the time. You have the same types of crimes, but each case has something different. And in the career you can do different things. But you realize that you’re 47 and you’re chasing down 18-year-olds. You can tell you’re losing a step. I knew I wanted a second career and I wanted to start on it.”
She published her third work of fiction, The Door at the Top of the Stairs, in October. Her previous books, Credo’s Hope and Credo’s Legacy, are murder mysteries. Readers of those books were expected to try to solve the mystery and those books are more directly based on her experience as lieutenant of detectives. “They have a lot of cop humor in them,” Holt said.
Her latest novel tells the story of the gradual psychological healing of a female undercover agent who was captured and tortured in revenge for her part in the death of the torturer’s brother. She manages to escape after suffering incredible injuries but deeply suppresses memories of what happened. Drifting to a horse farm owned by a lesbian pair dedicated to foxhunting, she finds work and people who will care for her. But her ordeal is not over. There’s an undiscovered criminal on the farm. And her torturers think they have unfinished business.
“When I was first an officer, a DEA agent was kidnapped and tortured and he died,” she recalled. “I always wondered what would have happened if he could have escaped. How would he have reintegrated into society?”
Holt said the book has no autobiographical connections. She was never an undercover agent herself, but she was a commander of undercover agents working against organized crime and gangs.
“I absolutely love this book and the characters in it. It only took two and a half months to write. It practically wrote itself,” said Holt. “A lot of people say that they pick up the book and don’t put it down until they finish. They like the interaction between the women.
“Since I was a child I have been inventing intricate stories. Some writers will outline all the book they mean to write. I start it and let the story and characters evolve. I just picture what I think would happen next. I wanted to balance the ‘bad’ scenes (the ones in which Jesse, tortured cop, unearths memories of what happened to her) with lighter ones so the reader isn’t always feeling brought down. I really want people to enjoy reading the books.”
If the book has a moral, she said, it is that people should reach out and care for someone who is in trouble. “These women took in a stranger,” she said.
Holt writes at least six hours a day and her previous books took six months to write. She prefers to sit in coffee houses to work, she said, because otherwise she will get distracted by household chores. “You have to treat it as a fulltime job,” Holt said. “It’s hard to sit down and put the time in. It takes a lot of discipline and time away from your family. And marketing the books also takes a lot of effort, but I enjoy that because I meet a lot of great people.”
Holt grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona and was on horseback at a tender age. She felt at home with horses—she still rides a couple of times a week—but “I didn’t know anything about foxhunting and I started researching. I wanted to try foxhunting and a club here let me work with their hounds. I fell in love with the area, the people and the greenery.” Since she moved here in 2008, she has also taken up carpentry and works some construction projects on the side. She is currently working on the renovation of a 1905 house in Afton.
She is writing on her fourth book now, a story dealing with Native American spirituality. “It’s a relationship-type story involving a kid abducted by Indians and later cared for by a woman settler,” Holt said. “It’s fiction, so you can make some stuff up. It’s not historical fiction. You have to know so much about a period to do that.”
Holt said she likes to read Ann McCaffery and Mercedes Lackey, writers of fantasy fiction, as well as Philippa Gregory, who writes historical fiction based in Tudor England, and Dick Francis.
Her books are available from her website, alisonholtbooks.com, or printed on demand from booklocker.com, or as an ebook from Amazon.com. She is hoping to arrange book signing events in Crozet and Waynesboro.