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Published mystery makes dream come true

To order a copy of The Writing on the Wall, visit the website and do a search for Renee Leighton.1 / 2
Renee Leighton and her husband, Paul, recently published The Writing on the Wall, a murder mystery set in small-town central Minnesota.2 / 2

Renee Leighton saw the writing on the wall when she was a teenager. She knew that someday, she was going to write a book.

It took years, but her dream finally came true. The Writing on the Wall, a murder mystery set in small-town central Minnesota, was published this winter.

"There was a prideful moment there," Renee said of when she held the book in her hands for the first time. "It's almost like having a little baby. It's been something you have been nurturing for so long and there it is, it's real."

Renee grew up in Alexandria and when she was in junior high, she would write stories based on characters in TV shows. With the encouragement of her friends, she started writing other things too, but she never had anything published.

The years passed. Renee moved to Sauk Centre for 10 years, then came back to Alexandria, where she has worked at Target for eight years. She met Paul, who is from England, and eight years ago the two married.

All the while, her desire to write a book never waned, and she never quit writing as a hobby.

"It's something I have to do because it's the spirit within me that wants to write a story and create a world with these characters in it," she explained.

In 2007, Renee's mother passed away. It left a tremendous void in her life. Paul, who had taken care of Renee's mother, was also a little lost.

"His life was empty, my life was empty," Renee said. "We had this story we had always talked about so I said, 'Let's do it.' "

Although it was Renee's "baby," and she had the characters in her head for 20 years, the couple tackled the project together. Paul helped his wife "correlate the story" and get the characters to "come alive."

Renee would write outlines and notes and share them with her husband. He, in turn, would fine-tune her words to make them sound more real and conversational. He also did the final proofreading.

After about a year, The Writing on the Wall was finished. Renee describes the story as a murder mystery set in a small town in central Minnesota at a retail store pharmacy. To solve the crime, the main character, a local police detective, enlists the aid of a former beau, who is now a "big city detective."

When it came time to send the book to publishers, Renee wanted to include Paul's name as co-author. Although he had played a major role in the finished project, he wanted his wife to get the credit.

"I wanted him to put his name on the book," Renee said. "He said, 'No, this has been your dream for so long, you deserve to have the first book with your name.' "

The couple sent the book in to several publishing companies, but received rejection slips in return. Having heard about self-publishing, Paul stumbled upon, a reputable self-publishing website. The site allows authors to have copies of their books printed and mailed to customers as they are ordered.

Paul did one final proofing, the couple created the covers, added their acknowledgements and sent it off into cyberspace.

A few weeks later Renee's dream came true. The Writing on the Wall was officially published, she held her baby in her hands, and she finally added published author to her list of accomplishments.

"To see it in print was cool," Paul said of receiving the copy of the book. "I can't put it any other way."

Of course the Leightons would be happy if their efforts netted a profit, but for now they are happy to be authors.

"I would like people to buy it," Renee concluded. "But frankly, I didn't write it to make money. I wrote it because I had to write. Making money would be a bonus."

"Buy it!" Paul added with a laugh. "It's the best book you've ever read."

With Renee's lifelong goal achieved, the Leightons' literary venture only made them excited to do it again. After settling in from a recent move, the couple plans to continue writing, possibly starting another book this fall.

Only this time, Paul's name will also be on the cover.