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Writer Mary Finley turns serendipitous encounters into award-winning fiction

“When a story comes, it bursts into my mind and I grab it,” says writer Mary Finley.

When it comes to writing, Mary Finley, BA English ’64, is convinced of one thing: “You have to write that to which you are entitled.” For Finley, that translates into serendipitous story encounters that span decades.

She recalls the time a full-grown cougar stared at her as it crossed in front of her car on a mountain highway. Arriving home, Finley resurrected a 10-year-old manuscript about a cougar cub from a desk drawer and polished it for publication. Another time, as she camped alongside the Platte River, she was delivered the phrase “The night was too silent,” which was the first line in her book Soaring Eagle. “I was lying under the cottonwoods and heard those words in my head. It sounded like the beginning of a story, but I had no idea what the story was about.”

Writing fiction for middle school and young-adult readers is a challenge that Finley accepts with personal conviction and ferocity. “When a story comes, it bursts into my mind and I grab it,” she says.

Using childhood memories of growing up in Southern Colorado near Bent’s Fort on the Old Santa Fe Trail as a springboard, Finley wrote her award-winning Santa Fe Trail trilogy—Soaring Eagle, White Grizzly and Meadow Lark.

Finley also draws on research she compiled for the PBS series “Wild America,” where she was a scriptwriter, as material for her novels.

Seven years after graduation from DU, Finley began to write fiction, an exploration that has become the driving force in her life. It took her 10 years to get published, but persistence has paid off with nine published books and awards from publishers, peers and readers. Finley’s most recent novel, Meadow Lark, was honored with the 2004 Colorado Book Award for young adult fiction.

Finley’s current work-in-progress is a contemporary novel for older teens set in Colorado and New Mexico. Ideas
for other novels are waiting their turn in line. “It’s like I’m holding back a dam,” Finley says.

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