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Author Update: Melody Groves

Author Melody Groves is a novelist and nonfiction writer whose freelance articles can be found in publications such as American Cowboy, Wild West, True West, and New Mexico Magazine. Her three nonfiction books cover historic bars of the Southwest, the ins and outs of rodeo, and America’s first overland mail route. She uses her passion for the Old West, along with experience as a gunfighter and a bull rider, to infuse her Western novels with authenticity. While hard at work on the next two installments of her light-hearted She was Sheriff series, she continues the Colton Brothers Saga with book five. Her newest release, Black Range Revenge (Five Star Publishing, 2018), pits youngest brother Andy Colton and his siblings against an Apache leader bent on revenge. You’ll find Melody on her website MelodyGroves.net and on Facebook.


The Colton Brothers Saga follows four brothers in their quests for a better life in the Old West. What was your favorite part of putting together Black Range Revenge?
I don’t usually write paranormal, but the idea of a ghost, or spirit, excited me, so I put one in. I enjoyed highlighting the youngest brother, Andy. And I finally gave James some closure to his previous Apache captivity.

How do you decide which brother to focus on in each book? Describe your main characters and what’s most important to each of them.
While I try to give the brothers “equal time,” the character who steps forward first gets to tell his story. Hope that doesn’t sound too crazy. Trace is the oldest at 27, married, two little girls. Family is most important to him. James, four years younger than Trace, married, no kids, tends to be a bit unstable mentally. He is impatient, short-tempered and doesn’t think things through. Luke, two years younger than James, is the black sheep. A rabble-rouser and definitely a ladies’ man, got married and became a dad at 17. He still chases skirts and his morals are not those of the rest of the family. Andy, at 19 by the book’s end, is adventurous but a heckuva nice guy. He’s liked by everyone he meets. He’s probably the definition of innocent. All four boys are strong and not afraid of work. They have a strong sense of family entrenched by their folks.

Which character did you love to torture the most, wished you could slap some sense into, or couldn’t wait to be done with?
James immediately comes to mind. He doesn’t always think things through and tends to react which gets him in trouble. Of the four boys, he’s the most sensitive, which makes his torture by Cochise (in book 2) terrifying—for both of us. James has PTSD because of that experience. Sometimes I wanted to throttle him, at other times I wanted to tell him it would be okay. Trace handled his captivity much better.

What unique challenges did this project pose for you?
The area of New Mexico where the story takes place has changed over the past 150 years. The town of Santa Rita, which is in the book, is completely gone now. The town of Mogollon was just a single cabin in 1850 and maybe two cabins by 1863. I had to be sure the history was accurate.

How long does it take you to put your novels together, including researching, writing, and editing?
I’ve been up in the Black Range of New Mexico many times since I’m from Las Cruces and my parents and I used to camp in that area. So, I’ve sort of worked on the research for Black Range Revenge for several decades! As for writing, it takes me about nine months to finish a book, especially since I work on other projects along the way. My editor at Five Star Publishing works with me until it’s “perfect” which takes a couple of months. Then, when it’s polished, it goes through another editor before it’s scheduled for publication. This whole process takes about two years. Two loooonnnngggg years.

Was there anything interesting you discovered while doing research for Black Range Revenge?
I think the most interesting was realizing how many different groups of people have been up in that area—Anasazi, Apache, Mexican, miners, European immigrants, Americans, etc. The history is fascinating and reaches back at least 500 years. I’m thrilled to write about it.

Of the three nonfiction books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
It’s a toss-up between Hoist a Cold One!: Historic Bars of the Southwest and Ropes, Reins, and Rawhide: All About Rodeo. The rodeo book was my first, and since I was deep into rodeo, I was thrilled to talk to the true professionals in the sport. I met some amazing athletes and came face to face with crazy livestock. Researching gave me tons of stories that I survived to tell about. The bar book came about because I stood at a bar in Clayton, New Mexico and heard the fascinating story behind why it was there in that restaurant/hotel—it was won in a card game and hauled across the llano by ox wagon. I thought there had to be other stories behind the historical bars in the Southwest, and I was right. That book took 3 1/2 years to research. But it’s turned out to have a life of its own and has sold quite well. UNM Press published both of those. (Her third nonfiction book, Butterfield’s Byway: America’s First Overland Mail Route Across the West, was published by The History Press in 2014.)

What is the hardest thing about writing?
Getting the words right.

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a hybrid of both? What does a typical writing session look like for you?
While I’m a pantser, my characters guide me. I do, however, take a page from another writer’s method and briefly (I mean briefly) describe what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. That has helped keep my characters and me somewhat guided. But I’m a firm believer in letting your characters “do their thing.” I’ve learned they are much more interesting than anything I can think up. As far as a writing session, I like to use mornings to write, then do research and everything else in the afternoon. I have my own office, which helps a lot. I also do tons of book reviews, so my day starts out with several cups of coffee (you see this theme in all of my books) and about an hour of reading a Western—certainly gets me in the Western mind-set.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
That’s easy. That they’re TELLING a story, not educating nor preaching. If a reader learns something, fine. But our job is to spin a tale, put readers in a different place and time from their own. Entertain them. We are entertainers, storytellers, not priests or professors.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m about five chapters away from finishing Lady of the Law, the sequel to She Was Sheriff (Five Star Publishing, 2016). And I’m plotting the third book in that series. I have another novel at Five Star Publishing, and I expect to receive a list of first edits any day now. Big news—working on a graphic novel! It’s based on the book currently at Five Star. I found an amazing illustrator who lives in Phoenix. We’re both so excited about finishing our first graphic novel! I also write for magazines, so I’m working on those articles as well. And I’m having tons of fun researching a novel about my relatives emigrating from Ireland and landing in New Orleans.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m a native New Mexican (there are so few of us!), but graduated from high school in the Philippines at Subic Bay Naval Base during the height of the Viet Nam war (we were the closest ship repair facility). So, my high school experiences were way different from most people.

I started writing Westerns when I was in junior high but was told “nobody reads those any more.” So I struggled with writing other things until I said the heck with that and wrote shoot ‘em ups. Well, Westerns today are quite popular—#2 in sales under graphic novels. Who knew? I write the traditional cowboy/barroom brawl story, which I love. I also love stories about family, in particular the relationship of brothers. I throw in enough history to make it historical fiction.

One thing most people don’t know about me is that about ten years back I decided to become a bull rider. I went to a bull riding school in Colorado (twice) and learned how. Yes, got thrown off every time, but I’ve had the experience—and the bumps and bruises to show for it. If I were in my teens today, I’d be riding bulls every weekend. It was that awesome! I live my life knowing I faced fear and conquered it. Nothing compares to riding those one-ton bulls.

Find out more about Melody and her writing in her 2016 interview for SouthWest Writers.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Judith Liddell

Judith Liddell and co-author Barbara Hussey bring a love of bird watching and years of experience trekking through the Land of Enchantment to their two well-researched birding guides published by Texas A&M University Press. Their first book, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico (2011), covers the Rio Grande corridor, Sandia and Manzano Mountains, Petroglyph National Monument, and the preserved areas and wetlands south of Albuquerque. Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico (2014) is their second guide which focuses on 32 sites not covered in the first book. You’ll find Judy on her websites at JudysJottings.com and WingAndSong.com.


What unique challenges did you face while writing Birding Hot Spots of Santa Fe, Taos, and Northern New Mexico?
It was extremely important that we assured the accuracy of all information about each birding site in the book. Our readers have appreciated our attention to detail and reviewers have commented on how well researched the guide is. Another challenge was finding local birders who could review what we had written to make sure it matched their experiences. The positive outcome was that in developing these relationships, many have become good friends.

You co-authored the book with Barbara Hussey. What was that experience like? How did you divide the duties of writing the book?
Before we started writing, we had a strong friendship that valued each other’s talents and strong points. As we discussed the division of labor, it was fairly easy to decide what each of us would do. I had been writing before we started, so it was natural for me to assume the task of writing the copy. Barbara is a detail person and an excellent proofreader. I would write a section, put it in DropBox for her to review, and she suggested changes in language or sentence structure. Barbara took on the responsibility for writing the directions to each site and making the rough draft drawings of the maps. In addition to having a wealth of information about bird species, Barbara has a strong interest in geology which enabled her to add relevant information about the habitat and natural history. We visited each site several times together which facilitated our decisions about what information to include. We used this formula successfully for both books and are still fast friends.

Tell us how the book came together. How did you know it was done and ready for the editor/publisher?
When we were writing Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico and deciding whether to include the area around Cochiti Lake, we laughed and said, “We’ll save that for the next book,” never dreaming there would be a second one. As soon as the first book was published at the end of October 2011, people began asking us when we were going to write another book. We sent a proposal to the publisher in December of that year to determine their interest. The editor gave us the green light early in 2012 and sent us a contract. It took two years to research, write and edit the manuscript. Since we used the same successful format as our first book, we knew it was finished when we had all the required information for each part of the book and were within the page limit of our contract.

What makes this birding guide different from similar books on the shelf?
Our birding guides are the only ones written by women—and the only ones that include information about restroom availability. In addition, our guides are useful to a wide variety of outdoor recreation enthusiasts. A friend who is a fisherman bought our guide because it provides him information about fishing sites, as well as lets him appreciate the bird life he observes while fishing. It was important to us to help birding enthusiasts understand the relationship between the birds they see and the habitat where they are found. This information in most guides is not tied together.

What did you learn from writing your first book, Birding Hot Spots of Central New Mexico, that you applied to the newest guide?
Based on the way we ended up organizing the information about each site for the first book, we were able to devise a template that we took with us when we visited the sites for the second book. This enabled us to make sure we gathered all relevant information. This was extremely important because if we had to return to a site when we were in the final process of editing to secure missing information, it would have required a lot of time and travel. We also realized we needed more maps than we had included in the first book.

I’m sure you discovered many interesting facts while doing research for your guidebooks. What one or two things stand out in your mind?
I was fascinated by the historical information I learned while researching each site. For instance, there is a branch of the Old Spanish Trail that runs along the south side of the Rio Chama downstream from Abiquiu Dam. We tried to include this type of information in the overall description of a site. Two of the sites are located on Pueblo lands. We met with staff from the Natural Resources Departments of both Cochiti and Ohkay Owingeh Pueblos to appreciate their perspectives and reflect their wishes about how visitors should visit.

Do you have your own favorite birding hotspots?
In Central New Mexico—Ojito de Padua Open Space and, of course, Bosque del Apache. In Northern New Mexico—Valles Caldera National Preserve and the Cochiti Lake area.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
“I feel like I am right there with you, when I read your writing.”

What encouragement or advice has helped you the most on your writing journey?
While I have written on and off my entire life, I knew I wanted to devote serious time to writing during my retirement. I stumbled on SouthWest Writers about three years before I retired and attended a meeting. When those at my table asked what kind of writing I did, I responded that at the time it was primarily technical writing related to my job, but I wanted to write more descriptively. Someone suggested I write every day. When I protested that I couldn’t do that while I was still working, the fellow writer suggested I write every week. I took the challenge and wrote about an interesting experience each week. To make sure I didn’t slack, I emailed my writing to a group of friends and family and asked them to provide feedback. My brother-in-law meticulously read each one and offered feedback, both positive and negative.

Any new writing projects you’d like to tell us about?
I am writing family history and memoir stories that will eventually be put into a book for my children, grandchildren, and nieces.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Loretta Hall

Space enthusiast, former math teacher, and award-winning nonfiction author Loretta Hall received the Communicator of Achievement Award from the National Federation of Press Women (NFPW) in 2016. Hew newest book, Miguel and Michelle Visit Spaceport America (Rio Grande Books), won the Young Reader’s category of the 2017 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. You’ll find Loretta at her websites SpaceBucketList.com, NMSpaceHistory.com, SpacePioneerWords.com, and AuthorHall.com. For a look at her books, visit her Amazon author page.


Tell us how Miguel and Michelle Visit Spaceport America, your first children’s picture book, came together.
My publisher actually suggested I write the book after a New Mexico Library Association conference where librarians were asking for such a book. It didn’t take long to write, partly because I had been following the spaceport’s development for several years. I did take my daughter on a tour to the spaceport just before we started working on the book so we would have the most current information and so she could see the spaceport and its environment first hand. The illustrations took longer than the writing did, but Jennifer and I had worked with the publisher early on to discuss the illustrations. It all went pretty smoothly.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Since I’d never written a children’s picture book before, writing with the appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, and style was challenging.

How did you decide who the characters would be?
I wanted a girl and a boy, one Hispanic and one Anglo, to appeal to the broadest audience. The names just seemed to fit and to complement each other. I also wanted to be sure to treat the male and female characters equally and avoid gender stereotypes.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing the book?
Seeing the book published and available to my target audience was rewarding. Another exciting part was collaborating with my daughter, Jennifer Hall, who did the illustrations for the book. We hadn’t worked together on a project before, and seeing her artwork being praised has been rewarding for both of us.

Do you have a favorite image or page spread from the book?
I love the fanciful images that illustrate the characters’ imaginations. My favorite is the rocket-riding Batman on page 36.

Was there anything interesting you discovered while doing research for this project?
The tour I took to prepare for writing the book was the first one with access to the visitor center in the spaceport’s terminal/hanger building and its interactive exhibits. Jennifer and I had a ball riding the two-person G-shock trainer. It’s like being inside a gyroscope, spinning in three directions at once.

What do you hope readers will take away from Miguel and Michelle Visit Spaceport America?
My main goal was showing kids (and their parents) what is going on at our spaceport in New Mexico. Many people think it’s not in operation yet, and others don’t realize tours are available. And for children (and the adults in their lives) who live far from Spaceport America, the book allows them to see the facility in a limited way.

Of your eight published books, which one was the most challenging and which was the easiest to write?
Miguel & Michelle Visit Spaceport America was probably the most challenging because I hadn’t written for that age level before. The easiest was The Complete Space Buff’s Bucket List because it’s a small book with relatively little text. The research I had to do to find 100 interesting “space things to do before you die” was challenging, though, as was finding good photographs to illustrate them.

Do you prefer the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
I love the researching part, I like writing about it in a creative way, and I tolerate the editing aspect.

When you tackle a nonfiction project, do you think of it as storytelling?
Yes, I do. Storytelling is the best way to get people interested in the book’s content. In Out of this World: New Mexico’s Contributions to Space Travel and Space Pioneers: In Their Own Words, I really tried to write about people’s experiences with working on space programs, not just the programs themselves.

What are you working on now?
I’m starting to write the memoir of a very special woman who has had a groundbreaking career in aviation and is continuing a fifty-year quest to go into space.

Find out more about Loretta and her writing in her 2016 interview for SouthWest Writers.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Larada Horner-Miller

After spending nearly 30 years as a middle school teacher, author and poet Larada Horner-Miller now teaches workshops based on her experience writing two memoirs. Her first memoir, This Tumbleweed Landed (2014), celebrates her Colorado upbringing in the 1950s and 60s. A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir (2017) is her newest book. You’ll find Larada on LaradaBlog, Larada.wix, and her SouthWest Writers’ author page. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.


How would you describe A Time to Grow Up: A Daughter’s Grief Memoir?
Through a series of poignant poems and reflections, I celebrate my parents’ legacies, mourn their deaths, and offer words of comfort and inspiration for others who are grieving.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I tried to put this book together the year after my mom died, but the grief was too fresh. I had to wait three years before I could tackle it again. I also added a section about the loss of my dad, and I was surprised how I handled his death with very little writing. But I was my mom’s primary caregiver, so I focused on her.

During the process of writing A Time to Grow Up, were you afraid of revealing too much of yourself in the work?
Yes, I was concerned about revealing too much, and I had to choose not to include some things and to include others. I had to include my recovery story because it is the foundation of who I am today.

Tell us how the book came together.
I worked on this book for over a year. I added parts and then took a break. It was so intense that it took my breath away if I worked on it for too long a stretch. I put it together in Scrivener, printed it, and then went through it line by line. I also had it professionally edited. I found a great editor who loved the book and felt it was a sacred trust to edit.

The cover was an experience. I knew it had to reflect the inner message of the book—I grew up to be the woman I always wanted to be. At first, I was going to use a stock photo, but my Facebook supporters who knew my other work said I had to have a picture from where I grew up. So a girlfriend took a picture of me with Saddle Rock in the background. She also inspired the idea to put a drawing of my mom and dad as angels on the cover. I worked with someone from fiverr.com who didn’t understand that I wanted the drawing to be more opaque (more like it was in the clouds), but we were running out of time, so I took it as it was. I plan to fix the drawing in the future, but right now I like the cover. It’s the first one I didn’t do myself!

TumbleweedLanded150How did you choose the poems and prose to include? Were all the pieces written specifically for this book?
All of the poems were written specifically to heal—they poured out of me about six weeks after Mom died. I had no idea when I was writing them that they would end up in a book. The prose section came from journals I write daily. I used a combination of poetry and prose in my first memoir, This Tumbleweed Landed, and I loved how it turned out. Originally this grief memoir was only going to be a poetry book, but as I typed the poems, I saw the holes in information between the poems about my mom’s three-month struggle and death. I knew I had to flesh out the gaps. I did that by consulting my journals, and then the prose became an integral part of the book.

Do you remember what inspired you to write your first poem?
I didn’t write poetry as a child—it felt so foreign to this country girl—and didn’t understand it in high school. I was an English teacher in my late 20s before I wrote one line of poetry. I do remember the feeling that came with that first poem—complete freedom of expression.

What does being creative mean to you?
Being creative means that I tap into the authentic Larada and make something that expresses a part of me. It can be my writing, graphic designs I do on the computer, a floral arrangement, a dance with my husband—creativity has lots of avenues of expression for me.

How does a poem begin for you, with an idea, a form, or an image?
Poems begin with a line or an image. I just wrote one this last week inspired by an exercise session. I have lost some weight and looked down, and my belly is shrinking. Also I applied for Medicare and am turning 65, and the poem then became about all the changes that are going on in my body and spirit in growing older—so I embraced my elderly Larada. It was quite a process!

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had pursued it wholeheartedly instead of as a hobby. I wrote two of my books more than thirty years ago and put them away and did little with them. I wish I had jumped on the publishing wagon and really believed I was a writer. Today I know I am a writer!

What writing project are you working on now?
I am working on a delightful project—writing the authorized biography of Marshall Flippo, the world-famous square dance caller who turned 90 years old last September. We have weekly phone interviews, and I have over 37,000 words already towards the book. We hope to release it in June of 2019. His life was one of absolute joy and laughter—I’d love to say that about my life at 90!

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your writing?
Today writing feeds my soul and spirit. I am retired and have the luxury of choosing what I do now, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my time. Also, I have been presenting memoir workshops at local libraries. I provide informative handouts, time for participants to write, and lots of resources. I used to think watching my middle school students write was the pinnacle, but I can tell you now that watching adults write is even better!

Find out more about Larada and her writing in her 2017 interview for SouthWest Writers.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Brinn Colenda

Former U.S. Air Force pilot Brinn Colenda weaves real-life experience and political intrigue into his military thrillers. Homeland Burning (2018) is the second book in the Callahan Family Saga published by Southern Yellow Pine Publishing. You’ll find Brinn on his website BrinnColenda.us and on Facebook.


What is your elevator pitch for Homeland Burning?
Spring 2000: An international organization launches environmental terrorism attacks across New Mexico and the Southwestern United States. Wildfires destroy western mountain watersheds and municipal water systems, breached dams release tidal waves of water to obliterate farms and towns, and stone-cold shooters target helpless civilians. USAF Colonel Tom Callahan struggles to convince a skeptical U.S. intelligence community that enemy attacks on American soil are not only possible but inevitable. Callahan’s political enemies in Washington conspire to distract the President and ridicule evidence, forcing Tom to go rogue. He’ll need all the help he can get from aviators of the New Mexico National Guard, the Civil Air Patrol, and the Ninety-Nines (an international organization of women pilots).

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I love the Southwest, especially New Mexico, and I wanted to highlight the culture and the geography, both of which are unique. At the same time, the Southwest is particularly vulnerable to the attacks portrayed in Homeland Burning. I wanted to use fiction to point out some public policy issues that need to be considered and discussed without being preachy.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Homeland Burning?
The research. The characters. The storyline. The people I met along the way that helped—pilots, emergency management people, soldiers, firefighters, rangers, police, even a couple of cabinet secretaries.

How did the book come together?
It should not have taken as long as it did. I got caught up in my job as a councilor—but all those meetings and speeches turned into grist for the storyline. Probably about twelve months of actual writing. I am lucky to be in a superb writing group in Taos, which helped me immensely. Southern Yellow Pine Publishing of Tallahassee had published my second thriller, Chita Quest, the third in the Callahan Saga (yes, I wrote them out of sequence chronologically!), and jumped on Homeland, so I did not have any time delay from finished to published work.

What inspired you to start the Callahan Family Saga books? What sparked the story idea for the second in the series?
I got the idea for Cochabamba Conspiracy, the first book in the series, when I lived in Bolivia. Then I became intrigued with what happens to family dynamics when in danger or under other types of stress. The Callahan family happens to be military—military families are stressed under normal conditions. The stories are about ordinary people put in extraordinary circumstances and how they manage to survive and grow. I read a lot of thrillers so I decided to use that format. The idea for Homeland Burning came to me while I was serving as a councilor for the Village of Angel Fire. We were struggling with how to address the issue of emergency management, especially wildfires, and it occurred to me that the United States could be a prime target for ecoterrorism.

Tell us a little about your main characters.
I always have pilots and flying scenes in the stories. In Homeland Burning, I chose to highlight female aviators because I think they are usually overlooked. I am always amazed at how characters grow or crumble. One of the minor characters kept growing in stature and showed me that you could be gentle and kind without being weak. She became one of the stalwarts of the book, saved lives, taught lessons in humility, and essentially saved everybody. The antagonist went a little nuts and the Callahans were taken to the edge of their capacity to cope. I love my characters and often have conversations with them. They are all strong-willed and often they do what they want, not what I want.

You began your writing career later in life. What did your mature self bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
I was lucky in my career—I flew cool planes, lived in distant lands, and worked at reasonably high levels in government. I met many interesting and complex people. I developed a “big picture” of life and of international politics that I did not have as a young man.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Ken Follett, Isabel Allende, Arturo Perez-Reverte, Daniel Silva, Dick Francis. They all tell compelling stories, beautifully written. I nearly cry when I read Allende and Perez-Reverte. Their translations are better than anything I can write—I can’t even imagine how beautiful their written words would be in the original Spanish.

Do you have a message or theme that recurs in your writing?
My female characters are strong, competent, and confident—able to handle dangerous and often bizarre situations. They are not the kind of women who are usually portrayed in thrillers, but they are the kind of women in my family and circle of friends. I like to take readers to exotic locations to broaden their horizons. I pride myself on the quality of my research so readers learn interesting things as they enjoy the story.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am writing a Young Adult thriller using some of the Callahan characters. It will “star” the Callahan’s sixteen-year-old son as he spends a semester abroad in Ireland and faces a decision between the easy way out and the right thing to do.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Joseph Badal

Best-selling, award-winning author Joseph Badal uses his experience as an officer in the U.S. military to craft believable and compelling stories. His publishing credits include dozens of articles and short stories, as well as twelve mystery/suspense/thrillers (soon to be thirteen) split between three series and three standalone novels. The six-book Danforth Saga takes readers (and the Danforth family) through the wringer of international intrigue. His Lassiter/Martinez Case Files pits a pair of female detectives against relentless criminals, and The Cycle of Violence series deals with the timely topic of human trafficking. You’ll find Joe on his website JosephBadalBooks.com, his Everyday Heroes blog, and his Amazon author page.


Sins of the Fathers (Suspense Publishing, 2017) is the sixth novel in the Danforth Saga thriller series. How do you keep the Danforth stories fresh, for you as well as readers?
I’ve thought a lot about this issue and came to the conclusion that building the series brand on the backs of Bob and Liz Danforth alone would be a mistake. In order to refresh the series, I now have Bob and Liz’s son, Michael, and grandson, Robbie, playing more active roles. Bob and Liz are still integral to the plot lines, but they now share the spotlight with the next two generations.

What was the inspiration for this book? How did you go about weaving a complex plot that spans the globe?
As with most of my novels, my story in Sins of the Fathers is topical and timely. The conflicts in the Middle East and continued terrorist events in the West and in the Middle East continue to be front and center in the news, so I centered the plot around that theme. I also wanted to introduce Robbie as a bigger player than he was in the previous two Danforth Saga novels, and Sins of the Fathers provided the perfect platform.

You describe the main characters in your books as everyday people. What “everyday” characteristics do your protagonists possess that readers will relate to?
Readers are everyday people. Even those readers who may have performed heroic acts are still everyday people, not superheroes. Protagonists who leap tall buildings in a single bound and dodge bullets are literary superheroes who have no relationship to real people. My protagonists tend to be loyal, have character, and—most of the time—do the right thing. I believe the everyday reader can relate to that type of character.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Dark Angel (Suspense Publishing, 2017), the second book in your Lassiter/Martinez detective series?
I received so much positive feedback about Borderline, in which I introduced Barbara Lassiter and Susan Martinez as detective partners, that I was anxious to bring them back. Dark Angel gave me the opportunity to convert Borderline from a standalone mystery to the first in a series. The most rewarding aspects of writing Dark Angel are the challenge of writing from a female perspective and the wonderful reviews and feedback I’ve received.

For the Lassiter/Martinez series, why did you choose two female detectives as your main characters versus the alternatives (one main character/different gender choices)?
I try to avoid consecutively writing books in a series. Stepping away from a series, moving to something new, and taking on a challenge are ways to clean my creative palette. Writing a mystery not only offered a challenge, but it caused me to think about doing something different, if not unique, from what’s out there today. Creating a detective team versus a single protagonist seemed like a way to differentiate my story from 99 percent of all the other books out there. And moving from male protagonists to female offered intrinsic challenges that gave me a great amount of satisfaction.

Has your writing style changed since you wrote your first novel?
I think the biggest change in style is that my writing has become less wordy and flowery and more economical. I attempt to write in a way that will avoid the reader stopping to question why I wrote something the way I did. Causing a reader to pause in his consumption of a book can lead to losing that reader.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging, and which one was the easiest (or most enjoyable) to write?
My first novel, The Pythagorean Solution (Suspense Publishing, 2015), was definitely the most challenging because I was learning to write on the fly, with almost no formal training and, obviously, no experience. As far as the most challenging novel I’ve written, I would say it’s always the most recent one I wrote. This is because I know more about writing with each new book, which creates new challenges. I also feel that my most recent book is also the one I enjoy writing the most.

You’ve taught several writing classes over the years. What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
The biggest failing I see among beginning writers is that they believe all that is necessary to be published and to be successful is to tell a good story. A good story is the minimum requirement for success. But beyond that, the writer must learn that writing is a craft and that honing that craft is a continual process. I had to learn this the hard way. Today, after I finish the first draft of a manuscript, I spend months editing that manuscript (usually 6-8 edits). In the editing process, I challenge the necessity and appropriateness of every word and make adjustments accordingly. This is a time-consuming, arduous process, but once finished, it adds to the satisfaction of writing.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
My list of favorites is too long to publish here. But, just to name a few, they include Robert Ludlum, Bernard Cornwell, David Morrell, Tony Hillerman, Carl Hiasson, James Lee Burke, Steve Brewer, Elmore Leonard, Steven Pressfield, and James Clavell. What I admire most about all of these writers is that they have developed their unique voice that differentiates them.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I just completed the eighth edit of Obsessed, the second book in my Cycle of Violence series. It will be released in May of this year. I also just finished the seventh edit of a standalone thriller titled Second Chances and am in a rewrite of the third book (Retribution) in my Lassiter/Martinez series.

Find out more about Joe and his writing in his 2016 interview for SouthWest Writers.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Patricia Conoway

It took eight years for former advertising consultant Patricia Conoway to call her first book ready for the public. Her memoir Listening With My Eyes: An Abused Horse. A Mother With Alzheimer’s. The Journey To Help Them Both. was published in 2015. You’ll find Patricia on her website PatriciaJConoway.com and on Facebook.


Why did you write Listening With My Eyes, and who did you write it for?
I wrote Listening With My Eyes to help caregivers—people in the same situation I found myself: with an aging parent descending into Alzheimer’s that had lost her ability to care for herself, or to communicate verbally. Prior to being a caregiver, I’d purchased my first horse, who’d been abused, drugged and had no use for humans. Ignoring advice to put her down, I decided to learn how to understand my horse Dream and gain her trust, which entailed learning her body language and building upon that learning. This in turn helped me better understand my mother and her body language. While we all incorporate body language into our dialogues, it is often on a subconscious level. It took a problem horse plus determination to push through fear—hers and mine—plus many challenges that achieved the goal of feeling safe then having fun with her. My mother exhibited fear not dissimilar to Dream’s as her memory and ability to function waned. I also wrote the book for animal lovers. I believe there is much we can learn from them if we take the time to “listen” and much we can learn about ourselves through them. Hopefully we become better humans because of them.

What do you hope readers will take away from it?
That being present, aware, and “in the moment” provides the “listener” with more and greater information that is extremely empowering. This is increasingly difficult with all our attention-grabbing and distracting computers, phones, etc. Paying attention to non-verbal communication (body language) in any sentient being not only provides the “listener” with greater comprehension, it also empowers the other being in the dialogue, making for richer, deeper, often profound understanding and empathy.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
Along with completing it and seeing the final product, receiving feedback in emails, calls, and letters thanking me for writing it and for sharing my story. When I give talks or do book signings, people want to share their stories with me, ask for my advice, give me a hug and often buy the book! I’ve made new friends, met interesting people, and found the entire writing and publishing experience, though often challenging, well worth the effort.

When did you know you wanted to write your story?
My book began as journal entries, first with the agonizingly slow progress I made with Dream, gaining her trust and respect, then with the challenges and rewards I experienced as a caregiver. Once I began using horsemanship techniques with my mother (and people I had to deal with on her behalf) and got positive results, I took the advice of friends who said, “You need to write a book!”

During the process of writing Listening With My Eyes, it must have been difficult to relive some of your experiences. Did you ever feel scared of something you were writing or of revealing yourself through the work?
It was difficult and sometimes painful to relive some things, mostly the caregiver part. There were unbelievably sweet, tender, and sometimes agonizing things I experienced, along with great “aha” moments, and profound comprehension resulting from self-examination. Revealing myself wasn’t hard, as my goal was to help and empower others in similar situations. Moving forward from the emotional stuff that accompanied the memories was hard. I took weekly, sometimes monthly, breaks but forced myself to push through when I felt able, because I’d committed to completing this project. I also had a great editor who ushered me through items that were better left unsaid, or stated more succinctly or differently, which allayed my fears.

Tell us how the book came together.
From beginning to finished product it took eight years. I self-published, because I wasn’t prepared to wait to get my message into the world. After it was “finished,” I asked friends to read and edit, then hired a professional editor and made extensive revisions. Re-edited and proof read again, made more revisions. A friend did the fabulous photography for both covers. I lucked out with a great graphics designer who also edited, along with designing it. The editing/revising/re-editing/graphics work took a bit over a year.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Listening With My Eyes?
Many things, mostly about Alzheimer’s. If not addressed/abated within a few decades, it will bankrupt Medicare and Medicaid. It has touched almost everyone in this country in some way. It is on the increase because of aging baby boomers. The horse research was hands-on. Though I’m no longer a novice, I continue to be amazed at their intelligence, curiosity and sensitivity. I continue to learn from them.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
That my book moves people, sometimes to tears, but gives them hope and optimism while they face their own challenges with the aging and death of a loved one. Also, my honesty about how adverse, sometimes painful situations, almost always result in making us stronger, perhaps more capable, empathic human beings.

Do you have advice for discouraged writers?
Do give yourself breaks, but keep your eye on the ball. You’ve no idea the impact you might have on another person or persons with your own unique story and way of telling it. Don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of sharing your thoughts, story, experience.

What writing project are you working on now?
A coming-of-age story about a bright, ambitious young woman who perseveres with her goals in spite of great adversity, disillusionment, and heartbreak.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
That it’s never too late to begin writing a book (or undertake any project) and never too late to finish it. That you will personally expand and grow when you do it. This can be life changing. Take that first step.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Larry Kilham

Retired engineer and entrepreneur Larry Kilham is the author of four science fiction novels, two memoirs, and four other nonfiction books with topics ranging from creativity and invention to artificial intelligence and digital media. Free Will Odyssey (2017) is Larry’s most recent fiction work. You’ll find him on his website LarryKilham.net and on his Amazon author page.


What is your elevator pitch for Free Will Odyssey?
Peter Tesla, a prodigious young inventor, develops an electronic device using artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality to enhance the user’s free will. A major application is drug detoxification. Peter’s star client is the U.S. president. Along the way, Peter is tried for the mysterious death of a girlfriend and struggles with the schemes of a secretive industrialist.

What sparked the initial story idea for the book?
The story idea evolved. I started out writing about free will, and as I followed my characters, they challenged me with the rest of the story ideas. I’m very curious, and as my characters’ predicaments suggested solutions, I researched these with Google and in my extensive library.

Share a little about your main character.
The story is told in the first person. The main character, a technology entrepreneur, is largely a composite of my father and me. We were both entrepreneurs who started small companies. Most of the other characters—lawyers, engineers, high-tech business moguls, etc.—come from my business experience.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Learning about free will, mind enhancing electronics, and drugs. These are all difficult because there are no clear-cut truths. They are all areas of current research. Criminal court dialogue took a lot of effort. I Googled sample court dialogues developed for law students, and I submitted my drafts to lawyer friends.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing Free Will Odyssey?
Stumbling into a potentially important new method of drug dependency treatment and, through the medium of a novel, publicizing it. I hope I can add to the chorus of writers who say that by various methods we can greatly improve the drug rehabilitation process.

How did the book come together?
The novel took about six months to write, a couple of months to edit with several editors including Larry Greenly (of SouthWest Writers), and two months to design the cover, prepare the manuscript in pdf, and submit to Kindle and CreateSpace. I designed the cover myself using a photo from Shutterstock. While that was going on, I also worked with a professional narrator to produce the audiobook.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
I was surprised by the vast range of differing opinions about what free will is and if it exists at all. Free will has always interested me philosophically. Dostoyevsky used it as a theme in Crime and Punishment, Saint Thomas Aquinas studied it, and popular psychology magazines have recently reviewed free will in terms of current problems like drug addiction.

The Juno TrilogyLove Byte (2013), A Viral Affair (2013), and Saving Juno (2014)—explores whether natural or artificial intelligence will dominate the future. What challenges did you experience in writing this series?
My biggest challenge was writing entirely for fiction readers. Generally, they are new to AI and often reticent about reading stories involving AI. Fortunately, when I was writing The Juno Trilogy, I joined a writing workshop in Santa Fe. We read our chapters to each other every week. The feedback was very helpful.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I first thought about becoming a writer when, to my surprise, I was picked to be the features editor for my college newspaper. Thirty-five years later, I decided to try writing a book after I was encouraged by my writing instructor, author Joan Torres, at our local community college. The only writing I did before that was trade magazine articles which were, if I may say so, quite good. I didn’t write books earlier because I had to make a good living through a lot of adventurous business travel. Let’s face it, writing generally is a tough way to make a living, let alone prosper.

What writing project are you working on now?
My project for 2018 is to write about my father Peter Kilham who was a great designer, inventor, and visionary. Through a compelling sense of purpose and perfection, he invented bird feeders which brought millions of people happiness. I will share my conversations with him along the way. Everyone can draw inspiration from his story. The book will be something like Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Tuesdays with Morrie.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Margaret Tessler

Margaret Tessler is the author of the Sharon Salazar cozy mysteries, five of which have been finalists in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. Her most recent novel, Relative Danger (2017), was originally planned as the 7th in that series but instead developed into a mystery with a new protagonist and a new setting. You’ll find Margaret on her website at Abq-Talespinner.com and on Facebook.


What is your elevator pitch for Relative Danger?
I have two, depending on how many floors the ride takes us: 1) When the family pariah returns to town, she unleashes chaos; and 2) Becca Sandoval must uncover the reasons for the hostility generated by the family pariah and learn what’s behind the sinister order she’s joined.

What sparked the story idea?
All my stories are sparked by some personal incident. In this case, one family member caused quite a bit of dissension within the rest of the family over a particular issue. That was when I came up with the idea of having people wear warning labels. (Disclaimer: The people and incidents in the book have no relation to my real-life soap opera, which eventually fizzled out, by the way.)

Tell us about Becca, your main character.
At one point, Becca describes herself as being like “everyday people.” She’s down-to-earth and unpretentious (her musical tastes include both Alan Jackson and Chopin). She has a good sense of humor. She’s basically kind and sympathetic. People find it easy to confide in her. But her halo isn’t firmly planted, and she can be snarky when the occasion calls for it. One comment I often get from readers is that they like the solid, healthy relationship between Becca and her husband Diego in Relative Danger, and between Sharon and Ryan in the Sharon Salazar series.

How long did it take to finish the book?
I kept getting interrupted in my writing, so it took two years to complete. I shared the story with my two critique groups, which I call my “editorial committee.” In addition, I have three or four beta readers who added their input. Their combined feedback was invaluable.

Relative Danger is a departure from your six-novel Sharon Salazar mystery series. What challenges did this new work pose for you?
Originally, I had planned the story as the 7th in the Sharon Salazar series. Then I was fortunate to find two agents who expressed interest in the initial pages of the story. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t accept something that was part of an ongoing series. Since I’d written only a few pages at that point, I decided it would be simplest to change the names of my characters and set them in Albuquerque instead of San Antonio. I figured if that didn’t sell, I could always go back to my original version. However, as I continued writing, I discovered I liked my new characters and liked keeping them in Albuquerque. Although the personalities and careers of the main characters (Becca and Sharon) are similar, I needed to find ways to set them apart. For example, Sharon has a difficult relationship with her mother; Becca has a very warm relationship with hers.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
I’m always gratified when people tell me they can’t wait for the next book to come out. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who enjoy re-reading my books.

What does a typical writing session look like for you? What do you absolutely need in order to write?
“Typical” for me is mostly hit and miss. It might sound counter intuitive, but I find that writing sparks inspiration and not the other way around. What I absolutely need is to park myself in front of the computer, quit looking for excuses to procrastinate, and start writing.

You published a memoir, Life in the Slow Lane, in 2004. What was the hardest thing about writing that book, and what was the easiest?
The easiest part was that I could use material I’d already written over a period of eight years: weekly family letters plus a daily journal. The hardest part was deciding what to filter out so the book wouldn’t wind up with 100,000 pages.

What do you love most outside of writing and reading?
I have a large extended family, so family activities account for a lot of my time. I also enjoy gardening, and I like to sing and play the ukulele.

Do you have a writing project you’re working on now?
I’m working on a lighthearted mystery with multiple viewpoints that’s totally different from my other novels. It’s giving my brain a break!


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Dennis Kastendiek

Dennis Kastendiek uses a lifetime of observation and adds in imagination and a unique voice to create memorable stories. His first book, …and Something Blue: 21 Tales of Love Lost and Found (2017), is an anthology of short stories full of subtle wit and charming characters. When not reading or writing, Dennis plays guitar, helps writers refine their craft at an Albuquerque community center, and serves on the board of directors of SouthWest Writers.


Like many authors, you’ve struggled with your writing. Does the following quote ring true for you? “Fear is felt by writers at every level. Anxiety accompanies the first word they put on paper and the last.” ~ Ralph Keyes
Except for buffoons, plutocrats, and a handful of people suffering from affluenza, I think we all function in an atmosphere of some anxiety. For the writer, it’s “do those words on the page accurately and cleanly reflect the message in my heart and bones and sinew?” Eric Burdon and the Animals had that song with the powerful couplet, “I’m just a soul whose intentions are good/Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.” One of my dictionary (Encarta, 1999) definitions of fear is “awe or reverence, as toward God.” Most of us are aware that life involves risk. Sharing a noncommissioned story with a stranger is one such.

When readers turn the last page of …and Something Blue what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
That life can be looked at in so many different ways, from so many different angles. One of my story characters wears an amber pendant, a dying ant captured within its resin. It might be a beautiful piece of jewelry, but a tragedy is captured within its diorama. How must family members of someone who fell into wet cement pilings while a bridge was being built long ago, how do they feel when they cross that bridge today? Conversely, there are joys and raptures that some of us experience from music or sculpture that others of us pass by without a glance. So short answer—to see or feel a little deeper.

Tell us about a few of your favorite characters from the anthology.
Taranjula, Wally, Frank—exaggerated shades of me in each of them. They all go through a crucible and come out, I hope, a little stronger at the end. I hope readers connect because these characters, as flawed as they might be, are basically good at heart and trying to deal with this world as best they can. Carter Hork had his shallow dreams of wealth and luxury. Well, now he has everything to the gills. But he’s also in a kind of arranged marriage, with all the responsibilities and sacrifices and attempt to love that the situation is going to require. Taranjula has to fight for his friends. Craig has to somehow convince Mona of his love and his willing and patient atonement. One of my favorites was Peter Grindle, who wanted to get back to civilization in the worst way, but we haven’t heard from him since 1972.

What part does setting play in your stories?
Setting is a big part of the title story and also looms large in “The Dawn of Civilization.” Interestingly, I have never set foot on a tropical or desert island, or spent time in a castle or in a medieval prison. But the research was fun. Even though I realize that elements in those stories are stretched and zany. Setting, for me, varies in importance from story to story. I do drop hints here or there that we are in Illinois, or California, in a small town bar, at a Michigan B&B. While setting is important, I was influenced early on by minimalists like Raymond Carver or Lorrie Moore. Characters foremost.

How did the book come together?
Sixty-nine years in the making. Some of these stories are from college days in the 70s. Some from the 80s as I crossed my fingers and tried for a few of the “bigs.” I still have my rejection from McCall’s with the hand-scrawled addition, “Nice work but not right for us. Thanks!” And some are relatively new rejections. But I’ve always revised like mad. Some critics find my sentences too lush and run-on. But I was guided in that direction (and I’m thankful for it) by an instructor from the University of Iowa named Ralph Berry who detected “anecdotalism” in some of my early stories. He encouraged richness, flow, the sprawl of a jazz solo riff as the band is winding up its final set. If a reader feels he’s on a magic carpet ride, I’m happy for him. A good story should feel like a ride through time and space.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing …and Something Blue?
I guess it was noticing that I haven’t written the same story over and over. I do some realism. I do some madcap. Some are tragic. Others comic. I coined an expression for some of my stuff that I call “magical claptrap.” A writer conceiving his next story while getting a root canal. A small-town bar and the sudden appearance of Beelzebub’s agent. A newspaper want ad for a professional daydreamer. A little Rod Serling, some William Goldman, a dash of Vonnegut.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I avoid choosing favorites, which can vary by season, mood, recent experience and so forth, but Kurt Vonnegut, David Morrell, Rod Serling, William Goldman, Doctorow, Salinger and others are certainly up there. And some of their magic is cinematic. From my reading of Morrell and Goldman, I learned they were both heavily influenced by movies. My mother worked second shift at Western Electric when I was a kid, so my grandma often took me to movies for diversion and to get those cool dishes and plates and cups and stuff they gave away. I vividly recall how ANYTHING could happen in the movies. Recently, an interviewer asked a young kid why he liked to read J.K. Rowling’s stories. He looked at her as if she had a screw loose. “I don’t read her stories,” he answered, “I WATCH them.” From the mouths…but what a great way to phrase it.

When did you know you were a writer?
When I was being raised Catholic as a kid, I was intrigued by the confessional. The priest was in the middle and lines formed to the left and right of him. I would see a red light go on shortly after someone entered the booth. I’d look up at the high, high ceiling and wonder how the church paid to heat this huge place. I knew it had to be expensive because my mother and grandma constantly complained about the price of coal that was stored in our basement. Suddenly it came to me. The red light over the confessionals was like the red light on the top of elevator booths. There was probably a big coal mine underneath every church, and the priest was taking these people down to dig coal as penance for their sins. That was why some took longer than others. And how the church was able to afford the heating costs. I puzzled over how their clothes looked so clean, but I figured the priest listened to their sins while they changed into overalls and got their picks and pails and stuff. Then a fast shower before the elevator came up again would explain the beading on some of their foreheads when they walked out of the booth. It would be years before I came to realize the red light was from a switch under the kneeling pads, but my imagination had worked out another answer. I likely had a glimmer then that I could write.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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