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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.




An Interview with Author Mary Quinalty

Former journalist Mary Quinalty is an advocate for the immigrant and homeless population in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she volunteers for Catholic Worker House. She spent three years writing her memoir, Mountaintop Milagro (2017), which brings to light a life-changing mountaintop experience she believes can happen to anyone. Visit Mary on her website MaryQuinalty.com and on Facebook.


Why did you write Mountaintop Milagro, and who did you write it for?
I received first-hand knowledge of the power of God when I saw the brilliant light of a vision on a mountaintop in Mexico. It changed my life forever. On the University of New Mexico (UNM) campus, students who had heard about my encounter asked me for an interview. Eagerly, I sat in front of Aquinas Newman Center after mass and answered questions. When I finished, I was astonished to see many students crowded around, taking notes. Week after week, the interviewing continued. It was humbling to shake their hands and look into their young faces, full of desire to know how I could say, “I know God is real.” It was then I realized how many souls could be inspired by my transformative life if I wrote a book. After living a new spiritual life under God’s guiding hand over 25 years, I was inspired to tell every human being, every soul, “It can happen to you.” That gave birth to my book Mountaintop Milagro in 2016.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
It is my hope that when readers finish the book, they’ll know God has a plan for each one of them. Our challenge is to ask God to show us what that is and then do it.

What was the most challenging aspect of completing this work, and what was the easiest?
The most challenging aspect was re-living the truths I learned of how one attains a close spiritual relationship with God. I faced the pain of realizing what a sinful life I was living. That was the most difficult—and then how to put it all down in words. The rewrites were bitter. I was tormented at the time it happened, and I was tormented re-living it. I leaned on my faith and found it was the support of the religious around me that encouraged me to keep writing. Priests, theologians, teachers, and even my soul mate, knew meanings of the Holy Scriptures that I had missed long ago. The easiest part was working with an editor who patiently helped me find the words that laid it all out. I was a first-time book writer, and I had to learn the basics of how to keep my audience reading. That was a pleasant, enlightening learning experience. It raised the bar on my self-confidence.

When did you know you wanted to write your memoir?
In living my spiritual life, I accepted a divine calling to move to Mexico to a village where extreme poverty prevailed. My goal was to establish a mission site in this underserved third-world country where Spanish was the first language. Me? I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently. The Holy Spirit covered my ineptness as I lived alone and worked among the poor, sick, and suffering. Messenger after messenger appeared suddenly with insights that kept me safe from hostilities and helped me develop an understanding of the people I was there to serve. As we resolved each community problem, I became part of the culture and fell in love with the people, the young ones, the elderly frail.

I kept journals week after week during the ten years I lived there. When I returned home, I brought with me boxes of journals and the photos I’d taken to document life in the village. It all captured the quality of life that had been raised by the efforts of my organization and that of the people of the village themselves. God had richly blessed us all. I knew then I had to tell the story. My book covers the life changes of the two heroes of the book, of my changes and how they all blended to accomplish the mission I envisioned. And it certainly humbled me to know, with God’s help, we had reached our goal of developing a village that could be self-sustaining. All the more reason to write the book.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see in a movie?
That has to be the scene where I saw the vision. The wonderment of that scene, my inability to understand what it was. And how I didn’t want to be moved from the scene, my refusal to leave. I was on sacred ground but didn’t realize it. The power of God was like a giant wave sweeping my mind, pulling at me. I wanted to go with it. Later in my religious education, I related my experience to the Holy Scriptures where disciples of Christ threw down their nets and followed Christ. That was exactly my feeling. It’s been over 27 years since my vision, and the tears and feelings I had then are as fresh as the day it happened.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
The best compliment was in a review from Father Rich Litzau, the priest at UNM Newman Center who helped me accurately write the priestly comments and phrases. In his review he says Mountaintop Milagro is “a powerful tale of how God works through individuals over whatever years it takes to accomplish the task. A deeply personal account, written in language that we all can identify with of God being in one’s life in real, quantifiable ways. Mary draws the reader into her experience as one would a fellow traveler on a spiritual journey.”

You’re in the process of writing a sequel to Mountaintop Milagro. What challenges are you encountering with this second book?
Self-publishing Mountaintop Milagro lowered my cash reserves. With that book I learned what a challenge it is to get rejection after rejection from publishing houses and agents who no longer take “first-time” writers. I’m writing the second book, knowing I can’t self-publish it due to low cash flow. I must find a publisher if I’m to see this book in print. I’m hopeful I’ll be successful because the sequel tells the rest of the story. Again, I come back to my faith—if God wants this second book published, he will provide the means.

Do you have advice for other writers?
If self-publishing, don’t enter the marketing field without extensive study of all the avenues of marketing and distribution. Knowledge of social media, including Facebook, Twitter, websites and blogging is essential. In marketing, writers wear a new hat. Be aware that it demands a seemingly endless journey of exposure to the public with dynamics of sales and showmanship, as well as other time commitments. It all taxes one physically and mentally. It can be done, and I’m doing it, but I never imagined how much time and energy it would take.


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 Ramona Gault

Ramona Gault is the author of Artistry in Clay: A Buyer’s Guide to Southwestern Indian Pottery (1991) and the co-author of The Santa Fe & Taos Book: A Complete Guide (1994). After feeling compelled to write a story about a mother-daughter relationship set in New Mexico, it took five years to complete her debut novel The Dry Line (2014). Visit Ramona on LinkedIn and TheDryLine-aNovel.blogspot.


What is your elevator pitch for The Dry Line?
Anna Darby would do anything for her beloved daughter, Paris, except tell her about her soldier father who was killed in Vietnam. But when Paris gets into a scrape with the law and an old friend asks for a big favor, social worker Anna acts impetuously. They move from Albuquerque to a village where Anna meets Cisco, a combat vet who paints ghosts by day and rides the back roads by night. Will he be the love of her life, or the death of her? And can feisty Paris save Tonio, a strange, neglected boy who lives in a cave? The barely suppressed sorrows of the past erupt in a remote desert village, and Anna and Cisco must figure out whether, and how, they can heal.

When readers turn the last page of the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope they enjoy a page-turning romance/thriller, as well as insight into how the Vietnam War affected ordinary New Mexicans.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I hadn’t written fiction since I was a child. I didn’t have a clue how to write a novel, but I really, really wanted to do it. Figuring it out gave me untold satisfaction.

Who are your main characters?
Anna Darby is, in a sense, every single mother. Fiercely protective of her child, struggling to build them a better life, while dealing with family baggage and great loss in her past. Her own vitality and her desire for love empower her. Cisco is the night aspect to her day. He returned from the war with a pack of demons, but at heart, he’s real gold.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book? Is the setting a character in the story?
Setting is definitely a major character! New Mexico works mojo on me. It would take me lifetimes to fully explore this land in my fiction.

Tell us how the book came together.
I wanted to write about the mother-daughter relationship and set it in a New Mexico village like those I’d spent time in. So I envisioned this idea, wrote scenes and an outline. Pages later, the characters and the village came to live in my imagination. My experience is that people in New Mexico’s traditional culture are open-hearted; it’s a more people-focused culture. For me it’s much more satisfying to write about those kinds of relationships. It took me five years of writing after work at my day job.

What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
For fiction, The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot by Charles Baxter and The Scene Book: A Primer for the Fiction Writer by Sandra Scofield.

Now that you’ve written both fiction and nonfiction, do you have a preference?
Fiction is a joy to write; nonfiction is pure work.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
I love writing scenes of all kinds! If I’m having a hard time with a scene, that generally means I need to take a fresh look at what the scene is trying to do.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m 55,000 words into a mystery novel set in a small town in the South where I grew up.

Do you have advice for writers working towards publication?
Get an editor. Get an editor. GET AN EDITOR! I can’t say it enough. Beta readers can be of help, but in the end, they’re not professionals. I was so eager to see my book in print that I rushed things. Don’t make my mistakes! Find an experienced fiction editor and work with that person to revise, revise, revise. I’m still in love with The Dry Line, but for my new mystery-in-progress, I’m hiring a professional fiction editor to do a developmental edit that will find the weaknesses in plot and character, the stupid gotchas, the parts that don’t work. And this editor will help me shape the manuscript into something marketable. It’s not cheap, but if you value yourself, the investment is worth it.


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 Updates: S.S. Bazinet & Zachry Wheeler

Sandy Bazinet (writing as S.S. Bazinet) and Zachry Wheeler both embrace the “what if” potential of speculative fiction. Sandy has published ten books since 2012, between four paranormal fantasy series and two standalone books (one self-help and one picture book for children). Since the publication of Zachry’s debut novel Transient in 2016, he has released two books in his new Max and the Multiverse series. He’s also been busy acquiring a screenwriting credit for Transient which is in development as a major motion picture. (This update focuses on each author’s newest work, but links to their first interviews regarding earlier books are included at the bottom of each section.)


S.S. Bazinet’s newest series, The Madonna Diaries, begins with Dying Takes it Out of You (2015) which follows a gifted artist, Dory, who fights a disease slowly stripping him of his humanity. Brother’s Blood (2016) is the fourth book in The Vampire Reclamation Project. What happens when vampire blood mixes with angelic blood? This book continues Arel’s journey as he seeks to overcome the darkness of his curse and find true fulfillment. A Vampire in Heaven (2016) is book two in Sandy’s Sentenced to Heaven series about the misadventure’s of Alan who is forced to enter heaven after being thrown out of hell and banned from every world in the cosmos.


What sparked the story idea for The Madonna Diaries: Dying Takes It Out of You?
I liked the idea of trying a new genre—and again, inspiration took over. A character named Dory showed up and a dystopian story unfolded. The strange part was I started writing the story from a third person point of view (POV). Then, without meaning to, I began writing from a first person POV. I tried to go back to third person, but as writers know our characters often dictate the how and why of a story. As I continued to write, I realized how rewarding the first person POV can be. I connected more intimately with what my character was feeling. He took me into the depths of his heart as an artist.

You released ten books in a span of four years. How did you keep on track to reach your goals?
My secret is I’m in love with the process of writing. But I didn’t always feel that way. For years, I wanted to write, and I’d start a story, but I was too analytical. The stories never went anywhere. It was only after I surrendered to a sense of just having fun that the inspiration kicked in. Now, writing is almost effortless. However, I do believe in editing and making sure the story is told in the best way possible. I’ve learned that inspiration and learning the “nuts and bolts” of writing are both extremely important. That’s where an organization like SouthWest Writers (SWW) comes in. I’ve learned so much by attending their meetings and workshops.

Book five of The Vampire Reclamation Project (Tainted Blood) is set to release in 2018. After so many books, do the characters still surprise you as their stories unfold?
Yes, the characters are always changing and growing. My main guy, Arel, started off as a recluse. That quickly changed. The stories are full of his interactions with people he considers his new family. Now in book five Arel thinks he’s ready for a relationship. Yikes! As I write the current story, I feel like a concerned mother who’s wishing Arel didn’t have to trip over every landmine in the road. But that’s kind of his nature. Thankfully, his friends and angelic buddies are always there to help him find his way.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
When I look at all my stories, the overall theme seems to revolve around flawed characters and their journeys back to their authentic selves. For example, Alan from the Sentenced to Heaven series starts off feeling completely justified in being egocentric. When he finds out he has the capacity to care about others, he’s appalled. For Alan, caring really hurts! But once his Grinch heart opens, he’s stuck with the condition. His only option is to go forward. So like it or not, my characters are forced to expand their capacity to relate to others and themselves in a more meaningful, heartfelt way.

Your newest book in the Sentenced to Heaven series, A Vampire in Heaven, takes a lighter look at the supernatural. Tell us about the book and how it came together (and are you having fun writing this series)?
First of all, I don’t decide what to write about. A story, like a baby in a basket, simply shows up on the doorstep of my mind. That’s how I started writing the Sentenced to Heaven series. I opened some mental door and there was Alan, a rebellious soul who was such a one-of-a-kind rascal that not even hell would have him. Luckily, Raphael, an angel who ran a part of heaven, took Alan in when nobody else would have him. But for Alan the thought of living forever in heaven was the worst of punishments. Again, the story is told from a first person POV. And yes, I love writing about Alan’s adventures. He’s very funny. He’s always fighting the system, but he’s learning how to care about others along the way. He’s also made friends. They include some of heaven’s pet population. A dog name Nippy sees Alan’s good side and becomes a trusted companion. I’m currently working on the third book in the series.

How has your writing style changed since you wrote your first novel?
Hopefully I’m better able to create an emotional atmosphere the reader can relate to. I was very pleased by a recent review of The Madonna Diaries: Dying Takes It Out of You. The reviewer said, “Wow, from the get-go, this story grabs you by the throat.” Another person called it a “beautiful, heart grabbing book!”

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m in the final editing stages of book five of The Vampire Reclamation Project. Hopefully, book three of the Sentenced to Heaven series will come out in 2018. But I’m most excited about a new romance series I’m writing! It’s called Open Wide My Heart, and I can’t help but spend most of my days working on book one. If all goes well, it might come out around Valentine’s Day 2018.

Read more about Sandy and her writing in her first interview for SWW. You’ll find her on her website S.S.Bazinet.com and her Amazon author page.


After Zachry Wheeler gave readers “a re-imagination of vampire lore through the lens of science fiction” in his first novel Transient (2016), he offers us a humorous look at a teenage gamer’s dull life turned bizarre in Max and the Multiverse (2017). Book two in the series, Max and the Snoodlecock (2017), continues the misadventures of Max and his band of quirky space jockeys.


What is a Snoodlecock, and how did you come up with the name? And while you’re at it, define multiverse.
Ha! I get that question a lot these days. Without giving too much away, a snoodlecock is a colorful bird-like creature. Max, the protagonist, described it as a “disco chicken.” The name arose from several tedious brainstorming sessions. I wanted it to be unique, funny, weird, and compelling all at the same time. That’s why I dedicated this book to my wife: For Evelyn, who suffered through every dumb name before snoodlecock.

The multiverse is another name for parallel universes, the theory that our universe is one of an infinite number of concurrent universes with infinite variations.

What sparked the story idea for Max and the Multiverse?
Whenever a story revolves around parallel universes, there is always a reason to interact with them, often in the form of a mission (think Stargate and Doctor Who). But, I got this nutty idea of someone being forced to interact with the multiverse, some random nobody who bumbles through new realities against their will. The story sprung from there.

Tell us about your main protagonist and his sidekick Ross.
From the first book’s cover blurb: “Max is a teenage gamer with an exceptionally dull life. That is, until a bizarre accident leaves him with the ability to shift between parallel universes, but only when he falls asleep. Every time he wakes, he confronts a distressing new reality, be it talking cats or 80s pop culture.” That sums him up pretty well. Ross is his orange tabby cat, more of an indifferent prick than trusty sidekick. He speaks with a British accent and berates Max every chance he gets.

Transient is dark and serious; your Max series is the opposite. Does writing humor come naturally to you? What’s the hardest thing about weaving humor into a story?
I feel comfortable writing on both sides of the spectrum, but I enjoy humor more. It comes naturally to a point because I have always loved stand-up comedy. The structure of a good joke has always fascinated me, so I spent a lot of time studying it. The hardest aspect of writing humor is maintaining subtlety. I’ve seen authors go for a big punchline, only to botch the delivery and leave the reader confused. You need to trust your readers to derive the humor from the narrative. Don’t just tell them a joke.

In your last interview for SWW, you said the most difficult aspect of world building for Transient was the creation of a believable sociopolitical environment. What about world building for Max?
The world building for Max is sooooo much easier than Transient. Writing a story inside the multiverse gives me the freedom to do anything. I can throw the protagonist into any “what if” scenario because the multiverse validates it at a conceptual baseline. The humor comes from how he handles the shift.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Douglas Adams has been my favorite author since childhood. I even dedicated Max and the Multiverse to his memory. One of my readers, also a big Adams’ fan, told me he loved Max more than The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I nearly cried.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I had known that writing is the easy part. Ninety percent of authorship has little to do with writing. It’s editing, publishing, networking, marketing, all that tedious stuff. It’s much like leveling up in gaming. Once you grind it out, then the game begins.

If time and money weren’t a concern (or if you possessed a magic ring), what skill would you like to learn or acquire?
One of my longstanding dreams is to be an astrophysicist. I have been a space junkie for as long as I can remember. If I could wave a magic wand, I would join the ranks of Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

What do beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
Many think that world building is a step, not a process. One of the hallmarks of poor writing is info-loading the beginning of a story. Skilled writers know how to dole out info during the narrative, usually near its relevance.

Do you have a favorite how-to writing book you’d like to recommend?
Stephen King’s On Writing. That one book gave me more practical knowledge and insight than every other book, blog, and article combined.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Now that Max and the Snoodlecock is out, and with the Transient movie in development, I’m switching all of my focus to the Transient sequel. I have the entire series mapped out, just need to hunker down and get to work.

Find out more about Zachry and his writing in part one and part two of his first SWW interview, and connect with him on his website ZachryWheeler.com.


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 David Yasmer

Author and singer/songwriter David First goes to sleep at night dreaming of his next great song or book chapter. Writing as David Yasmer, he published The Secret Psychic Files: The Men Who Caught Ted Bundy (2017) after waiting decades to verify the real story surrounding the capture of one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history. To learn more about David, follow him on Facebook and visit his author page on SouthWest Writers.


What is your elevator pitch for The Secret Psychic Files?
Days after serial killer Ted Bundy was executed, George C. Brand Jr. (head of the Chi Omega murder task force and lead detective who caught Bundy) gave one exclusive taped interview—it was for this book. If the information he revealed had gotten out before the execution, Bundy most likely would have had grounds for an appeal, and he may even have been acquitted. In 2014, after 25 years of requests for the files Brand spoke about in the interview, the Leon County Sheriff’s Department finally released the psychic files. More than 3,600 pages confirming Brand’s bizarre, nightmarish story.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The greatest challenge was confirming the story. Just getting the sheriff’s department to release the psychic files took 25 years. Most of the law enforcement people involved did not want to revisit the investigation. No one wanted to confirm the psychic’s role until I revealed I had Brand on tape talking about him. Once they knew I had interviewed Brand, everyone told me the same thing: It’s all true. The second biggest challenge was writing it as factual as possible based on the files, sometimes even damaging people. For example, one of the victims supported her lavish lifestyle by being an elite prostitute to Tallahassee’s executives and powerful state politicians.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
Telling the story and getting feedback that people are truly enjoying it. Those who experience psychic episodes often say to me, “I’m glad you wrote this, because it lets people know it does happen for real.”

How did the book come together?
I wrote this book because of a promise I made to George Brand in 1980. He liked a few of my country songs and one night asked me what I wanted to do after college. I said, “Write books.” He told me to find him after Bundy’s execution because he had an exclusive story about the investigation if I promised to write and publish the book. In 1989, after Bundy’s execution, I found Brand working for Florida State University concessions. We sat in his Doak Campbell Stadium office where he made sure the tape recorder was working and fulfilled his promise.

At first I wrote the book based only on Brand’s interview. Publishers weren’t interested in the actual investigation, they only wanted first-hand dirt on Bundy. I set the book aside but kept requesting the files hoping one day to confirm the story, maybe write something publishers would be interested in. In 2014, I made one last request for the files. This time I got them. Wow, did that change everything. It took me another three years to rewrite it, go through several editors and edits, and finally have a great book based on the actual case files and Brand’s interview, as well as interviews with other people involved in the story.

The costs for the different types of professional edits was worth it. I have learned it will never be finished in my mind. When professional editors break out the ruler and begin smacking the hell out of your typing fingers, you get the feeling it’s time, it’s finished, and ready to release to the most important people of all, the readers.

Tell us about your main characters.
George Brand Jr. was a deeply religious, spiritual Southern Baptist. Brilliant and a true out-of-the-box thinker. A problem solver who never lost sight of his investigations. Sheriff Ken Katsaris was a man of science who wasn’t very spiritual and was obsessed with re-election. He was a great college professor before being elected sheriff in 1976 but a terrible, egotistical sheriff who drove everyone nuts. Richard (the secret “Hippie Psychic”) was Jewish, smoked pot, and believed his dreams would solve the case. The sheriff believed Richard was involved in the Chi Omega murders and would kill again. The hippie’s notes and visions were too exact with details only the killer could possibly know.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for The Secret Psychic Files?
Everything in the files were surprising! From the written ultra-homophobic comments to the level of sexual abuse and rape women often endured in 1978. Also, the stupidity of reporters obsessed with printing information that not only helped the killer but put witnesses’ lives in danger. The list goes on, but I’d say read the book and find out.

Why did you decide to use a pen name?
I chose my pen name to honor my family’s real name. My father was adopted by German Jews. My real grandfather’s family was Turkish. The name Yasmer means “a singer (of stories).”

How has the creativity and discipline you employ as a musician influenced your writing?
Great songs have interesting beginnings, usually a story to tell in lyrics, an enjoyable hook and a good ending that makes you want to sing along or just listen to the music over and over. Great books are the same way. The rest of the discipline is either practice, practice, and practice again, or write, write, and rewrite again.

What is the hardest thing about writing?
The marketing after being published. It’s a full-time job, and it takes you away from creating new stories and, in my case, music. My advice is to take a break, take a breath, and take the time to love what you’re doing, then go back to getting booked for radio, newspapers, TV shows, and book signings like the other 100,000 people who publish a book each year.

What are some of your favorite books?
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.

Why do you think people enjoy reading true crime stories?
I like what Alfred Hitchcock once said—murders sell tickets. The rest is how you tell the story.

What is the best advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
My mother gave me this great advice when I was 17 and starting to write stories and music: “Never stop, never quit, and never give up. There are two ways to live life: wish I had, glad I did. Which one will you say you lived when you want to teach your grandchildren something?”

What projects are you working on now?
A musical (Deadly Hearts, Deadlier Diamonds) and an erotic novel of healing and discovery (Mystical Silver Waters).


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 Heloise Jones

Author, mentor, and speaker Heloise Jones helps writers and other artists discover how to complete their work and sustain creativity. Her inspirational book The Writer’s Block Myth: A Guide to Get Past Stuck & Experience Lasting Creative Freedom (Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press, 2017) is for anyone who wants “to live their joy in the process and to create.” Connect with Heloise on her website HeloiseJones.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn.


What is your elevator pitch for The Writer’s Block Myth?
The Writer’s Block Myth is a book for people living in the real world. It’s an informative and supportive guide that helps them move forward to complete their goals, and live a creative life that works for them. It’s about what being a writer is.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I learned how much the economy of online writing and reading has affected my writing voice. When writing fiction and poetry, my process is longhand, pen to paper, for rough drafts. When writing essays and nonfiction, it’s fingers to keyboard from get-go. The past two+ years I’ve focused on my blogs. And though my blog (Getting to Wise. A Writer’s Life) is a journal about navigating life, I compose on the computer. I had to write the entire manuscript of The Writer’s Block Myth twice to shift into the voice that works as well on paper as online.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
Most rewarding while writing the book was the way it easily organized itself. The supporting materials I gathered, the knowledge I’d garnered from years of conversations and work with writers, and the interviews I conducted as research all dovetailed. After writing it, my reward was hearing from readers—how they felt seen and understood, and the many ways the book helped them. Some said they were able to move forward after feeling stuck for one or more years.

Tell us how the book came together.
I talk a lot about this in The Writer’s Block Myth. The short answer is it took 3 1/2 years to finish from the first thought to printed book. I didn’t intend to write a nonfiction book. I’m a novelist and poet at heart. In November 2013 I intuitively got a message to write this book and talk about myself. I was very private at the time, and said no to the Universe, so to speak. Two years later, the title of the book flew through my mind while I was writing a scene for a novel. In 2016, a list came to me that I turned into a blog post, which became the structure for Part One of the book. Once I accepted I’d write The Writer’s Block Myth, I trusted the process.

I put everything I came across—quotes, articles, blogs, Facebook posts—in a decorative bag without editing or culling (a tip I share in the book). I conducted conversation-interviews with writers and authors of all levels and experience. My intent was to see if this book was something needed and/or wanted. My approach: offer a loose outline of four open-ended questions and then listen. I learned these writers’ challenges, how they handled their frustrations, the language they used when speaking about it, and how it affected their lives. In November 2016, three years from when I received that first intuitive message, I went into retreat, sorted what I’d gathered, and wrote the book. It came together seamlessly, and was published less than five months later after one complete rewrite and three edits between me and an outside editor.

What makes this book standout from other self-help/reference books for writers?
My approach is writer’s block is real. That it’s a symptom, not a pathology. What happens on the page is tied to what’s inside us (how we assign value and give meaning to our work, ourselves, and our process) and links to something in our life in the real world that we can shift so writing flows. Or, in the least, see what flows as something we can value.

The Writer’s Block Myth is informative without shaming or positing one right way. It includes the voices of other writers, plus short, effective exercises to help move the reader forward. It’s written for people living everyday lives loaded with the challenges of relationships, obligations, and lifetimes of shoulds, oughts, and conflicting desires. It addresses those challenges, and offers numerous examples and empowerment tools to help shift perspectives. The goal I present is to find and embrace what works best on the page and in life.

Writers are not all the same, so ways of being with the process are individual. My hope is readers create a satisfying life, as well as written works. That they feel freer in the process, and know they have a supportive guide while they do it.

Do you have a favorite quote from The Writer’s Block Myth you’d like to share?
I’m a person with many favorites. A quote I love is from a tiny book created by a 13-year-old boy named Anthony. Because, in the simplest way, it sums up the heart of observing with awareness and being open to process, two facets of being a writer I emphasize:

“To be creative, don’t look for something. Look for Anything.”

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
Not surprising as much as affirming: The consistency and similarity of the challenges and issues expressed by all the writers I spoke with, no matter their experience or background.


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 Updates: Irene Blea & Kit Crumpton

Irene Blea and Kit Crumpton both write about subjects that cut to the heart. Kit finds inspiration in her family’s past, writing historical fiction about World War II in her first novel and mental illness in her second. Irene’s work weaves issues of social injustice into the women’s stories in her novels. (This update focuses on each author’s newest work, but links to their first interviews regarding earlier books are included at the bottom of each section.)


The first book in Irene I. Blea’s trilogy, Suzanna (2012), introduces the novel’s namesake, a teenager forced to marry an older man and live in isolation in territorial New Mexico. After enduring hardship and abuse, and giving birth to two children, she makes a choice that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Suzanna’s story continues in Poor People’s Flowers (2014) and concludes in Beneath the Super Moon (2016) where she must “confront the darkness in her heart and the sorrow of her past.”


beneath-the-super-moon150You’ve said before you have trouble choosing titles for your books. How did you come up with the title Beneath the Super Moon?
My original choice was taken by another book and a movie. After having written Daughters of the West Mesa (2015), which was rather dark in character, a new Suzanna novel seemed lightweight. I wanted it to bring out the things that can happen to women at night, and I had photos of the last supermoon. Suzanna needed light to do what she needed to do at night.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing the book?
To have completed my Suzanna trilogy, based on the marriage of a very young girl to a much older man, how she ran away, left two sons, and matured for several years with a desire to reunite with them.

What is it about Suzanna that makes readers connect with her?
Her youthful loss of innocence in the first book, that she grows older in the second and third while giving voice to her powerlessness, claiming her power, then putting it into action. She is transformative as a social-historical character. She symbolizes profound change, and captures the lives and culture of people often left out of the American literary tradition.

Of the three novels in your Suzanna series, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed them all, but was challenged to write Beneath the Super Moon because I wanted to write about the evil of the hatred of women, the desire of some to hurt them, diminish them, control them, use them, and discard them. It was a dark subject, but a very real one that demanded more creativity in order to tell the story without editorializing or preaching.

What do you hope your stories accomplish?
Mine are healing stories. They focus on misogyny: prejudice, intolerance, chauvinism, and disdain for women. Women of color cannot escape the double whammy of racism and sexism although they are born in this country. These wounds are embellished on their souls and hard to heal for there are few who specialize in this field. My stories can help.

You come from a family of storytellers. What is the greatest tool in a storyteller’s bag of tricks?
Storytellers listen. We study how people walk, talk, eat, what they react to, and much more. We know our subjects and their environments well. I am bonded to time and place when I tell a story, and I often see no separation between the two. Storytellers are often teachers. I was a university professor for almost 30 years, and I am still teaching in my stories. I have also discovered that I am a performer; I didn’t know this until after I retired.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A relatively uneducated, fifty-year-old mountain man, wearing a long beard and an old flannel shirt told me he wants his grandchildren to grow up and be able to read my books.

What writing project are you working on now?
A memoir about how I lost my personal story. I was born on the top and the north side of the mountain in Colfax County, New Mexico. It was the second poorest county in the country that year, next to Appalachia in Arkansas. I was also born to Tewa and Hispanic parents who had to move or starve alongside their starving children. The Americanization of Irene Blea is depressing and profoundly painful. It left spirit, or soul, wounds that I had to heal. I lost my past in order to survive it. All is well, for I transformed into a Ph.D., a world traveler, and an author with readers in New Zealand, Australia, Europe, and Central America, even a few in the Philippines.

Read more about Irene and her writing, as well as her standalone novel Daughters of the West Mesa, in her first interview for SouthWest Writers. You’ll find her on LinkedIn, Facebook and her website IreneBlea.com.


The Fading of Lloyd (2017) is Kit Crumpton’s second novel based on family history. The book follows the Huttlestons’ struggle to cope with their son’s mental illness and the tragic handling of the mentally ill in the early twentieth century.


The Fading of Lloyd is a novel inspired by your uncle’s life and untimely death. Why did you want to write his story?
When there is a family member that cannot function well, the clarity of that situation becomes easily observable. So Lloyd, and the issues surrounding him, was something I wanted to know. I’m convinced there is a subtle influence—an unspoken energy—that flows down from generation to generation in families. It affects our belief systems, our functioning, and our quality of life. Why do some folks enjoy healthy, prosperous lives and others do not? I find the question intriguing. Life events brought Dr. Murray Bowen’s Family Systems Theory and his Family Therapy in Clinical Practice to my attention. My personal journey expanded to a four-year study of the theory and my nuclear and extended family.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
Compassion and understanding. I hope my readers learn how the mentally infirm were viewed and treated in early twentieth century society.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing the book?
Looking at the power of secrets and how they played out in this nuclear family. Writing The Fading of Lloyd gave me context, perspective. The story reveals the secrets, and that power is now diffused, weakened. With context there is understanding and then forgiveness. Closure. Here is a riveting example: I have a surviving uncle, my father’s brother, who knew the Huttlestons well. He never saw Lloyd, never knew he existed. And yet my uncle thought he KNEW this family. Lloyd was a secret, closely held.

What lessons did you learn from writing and publishing your first book, Raiding the Empire of the Sun (2015), that you applied to The Fading of Lloyd?
I built the infrastructure of my indie-author business (Ro Bar Romaani, LLC) while writing my first book. I also had to find a good editor, someone I could trust and whose work I respected. It took time to figure out my requirements, whittle down possibilities to four candidates, conduct interviews, and choose one. I’m thrilled with my choice. The Fading of Lloyd was easier because I was able to leverage off this established business infrastructure. I learned that writing and publishing a book takes a long time, but it’s worth the time to make a good product. I also learned the importance of using beta readers who are either subject matter experts or people whose opinions I respect. Beta readers are fabulous! I use them as a last step before I self-publish. I recognize their contribution in the Acknowledgements of my books.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
The most amusing compliment for The Fading of Lloyd was on Goodreads: “Warning—have a box of Kleenex nearby, I bawled my eyes out for the last 20 pages or so.” The best comment I received for Raiding the Empire of the Sun: Tinian 1945 was from a lady aviator who bought my book and later asked me, “Are you a pilot?”

What has writing taught you about yourself?
My unconscious mind is a powerful resource, particularly if I’m stuck on something. Sometimes, to ferret out its wisdom, I have to do something physical while the issue percolates. My unconscious mind eventually submits the solution to my consciousness. Once when this approach didn’t work in a timely manner, I prayed and asked God if I was supposed to write the book. After that the solutions presented themselves. I know my subconscious gets bombarded with a lot of data collected throughout the day. So it’s my habit to go to bed early in the evening and let my subconscious work while I sleep. Early morning, physically refreshed, I let this resource direct the words on paper. I’m always amazed at what happens.

What writing project are you working on now?
I’m writing my third book, The Fading of Kimberly, which is a continuation of the storyline of The Fading of Lloyd. I have received a call-to-action from a couple of readers—a need to arrange the demise of my character Mr. Eddie Fisk (bad guy, health care provider). I’m also moved to write it from this comment on Goodreads: “…I encourage people to read this [The Fading of Lloyd] in hopes that they will implore Ms. Crumpton to continue writing about these characters, dive deeper into their lives—Lloyd, Kimberly Weatherspoon, Eddie Fisk with the addition of Dr. Reed, the psychiatrist.”

Discover more about Kit and Raiding the Empire of the Sun in her 2016 interview for SouthWest Writers, and connect with her at KitCrumpton.com.


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 Alana Woods

With music as a constant companion, Alana Woods has pursued her life’s work in the arts and healing. She is the author of three nonfiction books: The Healing Touch of Music: An Exploration (2003), Music for Life: Using Music Prescriptively (2011), and her memoir, The Song I Hear, My Life with Music, published by Irie Books in 2016. You’ll find Alana on her website SoundVistas.com and on Facebook.


Tell us about The Song I Hear.
This book highlights the new field of Music Medicine, or Prescriptive Sound, which has been the major theme of my life. It details my own journey to create this work, and how I was prepared from early childhood to create a profession as an adult in this new field. It was the major theme of my life.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
The beauty and adventure of a life imbued with music, and how I share it in the world as a sacred healing art form. Also inspiration and education on how they can use these ideas in their own lives.

What challenges did this work pose for you?
I did not have someone to follow who went before me to show me the way to create the work. I needed to learn about the various aspects of sound healing, how to put together presentations and create multimedia products explaining the power of music. Then through my own life experience, I learned. It is still a pioneer field in the world. And I consider myself a pioneer.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
The feeling that my journey is now documented as a legacy for my family, children and grandchildren, and the world, musicians and people in the healing arts. A sacred work.

How did your memoir come together?
There were special journeys I documented early on (to India, Greece and Ireland) as they were very powerful experiences. So that when I decided to write the book, I had detailed information that was true memory. The idea to write this book came to me often through the years. I often heard people say “your life is so interesting, you should write a book.” I had already written two other books on music, but this one needed to be my own personal journey. And the right timing needed to happen. It only took one year to bring it all together with the excellent help of the Hausmans who were editors and publishers and who became personal friends. Knowing when the book was done was an intuitive feeling…a “knowing.” I included my multimedia products, harp recordings, and writings in the back of the book.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
“It’s a wonderful book. I wish everyone could and would write a book like this telling of their own inner and outer journey. I felt I was spending a lifetime with a wise, deep woman as she discovered and revealed her own emerging awareness, and her deepening love for the beauty of the life principle. This book is a miraculous testament and gift to her life, herself, and to all who have the good fortune to read it.” ~ An Amazon Reader

When did you know you would share a path with music in your journey through life?
When I was very young, I think around four years old, I had a knowing that I would be both an artist and musician. There was no doubt in my mind. My art was mystical, my music was sustaining, a lifelong companion. I was told to use my music for others in this life, and at the same time it was, for me, a true gift that nourished me, guided me, and loved me. I was trained professionally in both art and music. My first instrument was piano on which I learned the structures of music very well. Later it was harps that were glorious. I recorded, taught, performed, and accompanied myself telling stories of transformation on the harp.

Do you have a favorite quote from The Song I Hear?
“The sounds of a million years flowed through my mind as I stood on the banks of the Ganges.”


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 Michael Backus

Michael Backus is an author and creative writing instructor whose fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications. His novel Double was published by Xynobooks in 2012 and The Vanishing Point is forthcoming from Cactus Moon Publications. Michael’s most current work is the chapbook Coney on the Moon (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2017). You’ll find him on his website MichaelJBackus.com and on Facebook and Twitter.


How would you describe Coney on the Moon?
It’s my imagined and fictional take of the night my grandmother died in rural Kentucky in 1936. All I really know is my mother was 12, her mother began coughing up blood, and her sister and aunt yelled at my mother to go get the doctor. When I wrote the story, I wanted there to be a magical realism feel to it, a world of myth and legend, even though my main character Sally is kind of fierce and tries not to believe any of the stories her aunt Nan tells about rampaging giants, ghosts, and wolves walking on two legs. And I wanted to end it with a folk tale of sorts, which is where the title comes from. The mother relates the story, but she’s repeating something her husband said, and Sally is fascinated by any details about her father who died when she was too young to remember him.

What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I wanted to honor my mother’s experience emotionally if not literally—everything in her life changed the night her mother died. She wasn’t allowed to return to their house and get personal belongings (my mother had maybe a half-dozen photos at most of her family and no keepsakes at all), and she and her beloved sister were separated into different foster homes. They never lived together again, even though my mom was only 12 and her sister 16, and they had been extremely close. So in the end of the story, life has sort of intruded on Sally’s fantasy world, and there’s a strong sense that things will never be the same for her again. And that was how I honored my mother’s life experience, not with literal truth but with emotional truth.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Generally no more than any short story. I tend to work and re-work and re-work again a piece of fiction, often going over things literally dozens of times and making small adjustments each time. The only out of the ordinary challenge was the central folk tale that takes up the last quarter of the book. I wanted it to feel like a real myth. I wanted it to be such that if someone were to read it on its own, they would have no trouble believing this is a creation myth going back thousands of years. That took some time.

Tell us about your main character.
Sally is 12 years old and fiercely independent in her way, though she’s also young and doesn’t know everything, even if she thinks she does. She loves the idea of adventure but doesn’t believe the fantastical stories her aunt loves to tell. She believes herself to be different from her family, smarter for one, but also she imagines a life outside of Kentucky and dreams of faraway places. She believes in herself. In creating this character, I didn’t make a conscious effort to make her like my mother. I have this picture of my mother at 12, which is around the time she ended up in an orphanage. There’s a look on her face that helped guide me in creating the character. Her eyes sparkle, but there’s a kind of grimness to her demeanor. Like someone who has seen something she can never un-see and is changed forever because of it.

Why did you choose Kentucky as the setting for the book?
This was pre-determined because my mother was from rural Kentucky. I’ve always thought of Kentucky as a special place because she came from there, so I didn’t want to set it anywhere else. But I also wanted it to be the South because there’s a sense of superstition and myth in this story. The setting is a major part of it. She runs over a section of hill called Floyd’s Saddle. In the story there are all kinds of rumors about this part of Kentucky, massacres and cannibals and ghosts of murdered families haunting the living. And she spends much of the story running through the landscape on her way to fetching the doctor, so a sense of landscape dominates the descriptive details of the story. And while I’ve been to the area of Kentucky where this is set, many of the details like the names of creeks and such come from internet research. The internet really is a wonderful writer’s tool, and I’m old enough to remember a time when it didn’t exist, when it was more difficult to come up with specific details about a place you might not know very well.

You’ve taught creative writing for over a decade and currently teach for Gotham Writer’s Workshop and Zoetrope Magazine. What do many writers misunderstand about telling a story?
Beginning writers don’t understand how labor intensive a good piece of writing is. Everyone writes differently, but most of us do literally dozens of revisions of a piece of writing before we’re done. The other thing I see regularly is confusion over the difference between real life and life in fiction. In fiction, there’s a reason for everything that happens. Like Chekhov’s famous “gun on the mantelpiece” advice—if you create a detail in the beginning of a story, that detail has to play a part somewhere in the story. And beginning writers often struggle with cause and effect, the idea that if something happens in a story (the effect), we need to understand the cause. Things in life often just happen. Things in a story never can. There has to be a reason, and there has to be connection between the major elements of a story.

And a lot of writers struggle with timeline in fiction. Fiction is a temporal art. How time plays out and passes is central to the story you’re telling, but often with beginning writers, I see a confused timeline where you can’t figure out when something is happening on the larger timeline.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
The first writer whose work I dived into completely was Flannery O’Connor, and she led me to James Joyce’s short story collection Dubliners. From there, I gravitated to Raymond Carver, then Richard Ford, Joy Williams, and Denis Johnson (whose Jesus’ Son is my favorite story collection of the past 30 years). More recent story writers I like are George Saunders and Mary Miller. I read mostly short stories for a long time because I was trying to write them, but when I moved on to novels, I read everything Robert Stone has ever written. I’ve loved a lot of Iris Murdoch’s work, and beyond that, Nabokov’s Lolita, Lowry’s Under the Volcano, Richard Ford’s Frank Bascombe novels, Philip Roth, Jim Harrison (whose poetry I also love), Faulkner (of course, though I will say it’s only in the past 15 years that I really appreciate his work), and Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
How lonely writing is, how much it separates a person from life and connection. When someone young asks me about being a writer, I usually play it straight and tell them practical pros and cons. But what I want to say is, “Run away, run away. Don’t do it.” I can distinctly remember sitting in a bar in the middle 90s with another writer friend in Chicago watching an all-girl punk band. During a break we both looked at each other and said, “Why the hell didn’t we start a band? Get better on the guitar, spend nights out with people rather than sitting at home rooting around in our own heads?” I still feel pretty much that way. I’ve heard it said a few times by writers that the only thing worse than writing is not writing, and if that has too much of a tone of self-aggrandizement in it for my tastes (I no longer have it in me to romanticize the life of a writer), it is true. I continue to write because I want to continue to write.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m shopping a book-length memoir about New York City in the early 80s in general and the experience of working in the Gansevoort Meatpacking District specifically. The meatpacking district today is a high-end mix of expensive shops, restaurants, the new Whitney Museum, and the Hi Line park. In 1982, it was a unique and wild mix of meat market workers in white coats, heavy leather S&M gay club goers, transgendered prostitutes. It was a place like no other in New York, and one of the reasons I wanted to write this is because it’s so long gone, it’s hard to believe it even existed. As my boss in the market said when I interviewed him in 2013 for this book, “I wish now I had a tape recorder and had just recorded every day down there. Just the stories alone, the things people came up with every day, the insanity of that place.”

I’m currently writing a novel which has bounced around in my head for years. I’ve probably written 200 pages of material, but I’ve reconceived it some and I’m not sure how much of that I can use (maybe 100 pages). It’s about a 70-something former NFL football player who is a large personality and his son who never played pro sports but who ghost wrote his father’s autobiography that transcended sports and became a popular success with the literary crowd (it’s a comic, rollicking, and not wholly truthful take on his father’s life). The book also deals with a mysterious death at the center of the family. I touch upon the physical damage done to men who play football and the contentious relationships between fathers and sons. My guiding theme is “American masculinity,” though we’ll see how successful I am once I’m done. What I have so far has a comic tone.


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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