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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 and writes about memoir at

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 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 and writes about memoir at

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

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

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 and writes about memoir at

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 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 and writes about memoir at

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 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 and writes about memoir at

Author Updates: Joyce Hertzoff & RJ Mirabal

Though Joyce Hertzoff and RJ Mirabal came to writing from different paths (hers as a science professional, his as an English teacher), they both ended up in the same place—the fantasy genre. This shared passion brings them together at SouthWest Writers (SWW) meetings, in critique groups, and as table-mates at local and regional book events. And they’ve both been hard at work on new writing projects since their first SWW interviews several years ago.

The Crimson Orb (2014), the first book in Joyce Hertzoff’s Crystal Odyssey Series, follows teenager Nissa and her older brother Blane on a journey to find her missing magic teacher, the wizard Madoc. The quest entangles them and a band of new-found friends in a search for the legendary Crimson Orb. The series continues in Under Two Moons (2017) with Nissa and the group searching for the source of Madoc’s strange books. After uncovering secrets about Nissa’s world, she and the others start on a path to recreate their history’s lost crystal-based technology. Joyce’s newest series begins with A Bite of the Apple (a Portal Adventures book, 2016) and another strong female character eager to find a place in her world. Anabet “Bet” Haines jumps at the chance to explore unknown lands as a portal traveler. When disaster strikes, and Bet is unable to finish her portal training, she is forced to accept an assignment to find a thief hiding in the strange, new world of The Big Apple.

You’re in the middle of writing two fantasy series. Do your characters surprise you as you write their stories or do you rein them in and make them behave?
In both series, my main characters changed and grew because of their experiences. How that affected their world view and self-confidence surprised me a little. Nissa, the main character in the Crystal Odyssey Series, has gotten past her desire to do “what the boys do.” Now that she can wield a sword and do magic, and also learned how useful sewing and cooking can be, she realizes every lesson in life is important. She’s also traveled far from her insular early life at the duke’s manor and discovered the astonishing history of her world. Bet (from A Bite of the Apple) began her first trip through a portal with little training, only her wits, four enchanted apples, and a small knife. Now she’s gained experience and shown her abilities.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for your books?
Neither of my main characters is particularly religious, but I had to come up with beliefs for some of the people they meet during their adventures. That wasn’t easy, especially since I didn’t want the religions to mirror those in our world. Similar to that, they meet many different kinds of people. I had to find a way to differentiate them all.

How has your writing style changed since you wrote your first book? What important lessons have you applied to your writing?
I don’t think my writing style has changed too much, but based on classes I’ve taken, books I’ve read, and especially critiques/feedback I’ve received, I’ve been able to break some habits (such as beginning sentences with “and” and “but”). I know now that I should include more descriptions than I did at first, and also show more of the characters’ emotions.

TheCrimsonOrbYour stories place female characters in challenging predicaments. Do you work from an outline (plotter) to craft your stories or write by the seat of your pants (pantser)?
Pantser all the way. I’ve tried to use outlines. Every time I’ve abandoned what I intended when my characters picked different paths. I know an outline would help me with plot and scene structure, but I’d rather impose those after the story is done. I usually start with a plot idea but rarely know how the story will end. It’s more fun that way. It’s amazing, in a way, since I tend to think logically, in a straight-forward line.

Since the last SWW interview in 2015, a new sub-genre of speculative fiction has become popular — science fantasy. Tell us how your stories fit in this genre.
I could talk about genres all day. I thought my stories were fantasies with scientific overtones, but as they went along, science took over. I guess I needed a logical explanation for the magic without it taking away from the fantasy aspect. In the Crystal Odyssey series, there’s energy all around, more or less, and the magic the characters learn is the ability of using their minds to use this energy. But crystals can also be used to focus the energy and that’s what was used for technology in the past. In the Portal Adventures series, the keys necessary to pass through the portals can be anything, but substitutes can be made by enchantments. No one knows how the portals work, or the keys for that matter, but in the second book I’m working on now they begin to question and study both.

I’ve been told my books are for a Young Adult audience, since my main characters are eighteen; I can accept that if that includes coming-of-age stories. I never thought of them in those terms, but as I analyze the themes in each, that’s what they are.

How are you coming along with Beyond the Sea, the third book in the Crystal Odyssey series? Do you have other projects you’re working on?
I’m doing the fifth or sixth edit on Beyond the Sea and trying to cut it from the initial 135,000 words to something more reasonable (now at 129,000 words). Each time I think I can cut a particular chunk from it, I realize how important that chunk is to the overall story. I’m also working on the sequel to A Bite of the Apple (called Winds of Change) as well as two near-future apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic stories (Addie’s Exile and The Train to Nowhere Somewhere). I’m also looking for places to publish two children’s stories: So You Want to Be a Dragon and The Ogre and the Two Sisters.

Read more about Joyce and her fantasy series in part one and part two of her 2015 interview, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as and

RJ Mirabal’s first book in the Rio Grande Parallax series, The Tower of Il Serrohe (2012), follows a disheartened and cynical Don Vargas through a portal into an alternative existence in the Valle Abajo (a place both alike and unlike his own Rio Grande Valley) where he takes on a quest to save the Valle clanspeople from the wily Soreyes. Extreme Dust Storms May Exist (2015) is the second book in the series that picks up five years after Don’s disappearance through the portal. The story follows his sixteen-year-old cousin Esther on a new quest against the Soreyes. In Zero Visibility Possible (2016) the Soreyes continue heaping terror on the clanspeople while Esther leads a group of comrades across the barren Malpais in search of answers to the mysteries of the Valle.

Of the three books in your series, which was the most difficult to write and which was the easiest?
Tower, the first book, was the hardest because I had to establish the world of the Valle Abajo: what it looks like and how it differs from the New Mexico we know; how the magic works there (more complicated and subtle than the “you can do anything with magic” approach of standard fantasy); the various storylines and how they intersect; establishing the identity of the clans of the Valle; and…where do I take this story? How do the characters and plot develop along the lines of my major themes? Once that was done, books 2 and 3 fell into place. Book 3 was the easiest to write because the arc of the plotlines in the first two books were already well on their way, so it was fun to work out how it all ends. I had a couple of alternative endings, but I went with what felt right and satisfying for me as well as what I hoped my readers would both like and find surprising.

Tell us about some of the new characters introduced in books 2 and 3 of the Rio Grande Parallax series.
Esther is a bright, enthusiastic honor student and athlete drawn through the Portal into an alternate world. Though inexperienced in warfare and diplomacy, she believes she can help the Valle clans fight the evil Soreyes. Markey, her life-long friend, helps Esther pass through the Portal. He entertains romantic thoughts concerning her, but keeps them to himself—barely. Donald is the nasty leader of a clan of outcasts in the heights of the Mountains of the Sky who threatens the clans of the Valle. Ramon seems to be an abnormality in the rather peaceful healer/counselor Pirallts clan. He proves to be quite irritating to other characters. Scarflue, a minor character in the first book, becomes the major foil in books 2 and 3 as the crafty and evil leader of the revived Soreyes.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for your series?
The main reason was to allow me to break my story out of the typical mold of the Medieval European-type fantasy setting. This also allowed me to establish new kinds of characters and races not found in usual fantasy stories (dragons, elves, dwarves, etc.). Finally, there’s so much about New Mexico that makes it a wonderful setting for a fantasy: magical sunlight, high desert, Rio Grande River valley and bosque, lava fields, and tall mountains. We also have diverse cultures and an enchanted (pun intended) atmosphere that’s ideal to spark the imagination, especially for me being raised here from infancy.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Action scenes are fun, but challenging because they must seem spontaneous and believable. It’s easy if your main characters are powerful, but when they’re not, how can they survive, either immediately or eventually, and still be believable? If they can’t, how do you handle the demise of a main character that might be beloved by readers (and the writer!)? Exposition is hard too, because those passages can be deadly boring and slow down, or stop, the pace of the story. Yet, you need exposition from time to time. If it has to be inserted in the middle of more interesting events, will it deflect the thrust of the scene/plot?

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
When a reader is blown away by a big surprise or reveal in the story. I love when it works, so those compliments have been the most satisfying. Also when people “get” Don and don’t think of him only as a loser/jerk.

What writing project(s) are you working on now?
A rather modest little story of a rescued dog—Trixie—adopted by an older couple who discover all her doggy nature and personality as they make her a part of their family. At a certain point, fantasy will be brought into the story through her dreams. The story is intended for “children of all ages,” especially for adults to read to little children. I have some ideas to create short videos to accompany the book, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m also hoping to record more videos where I read portions from my current trilogy to post on YouTube as a way to promote my work.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m thrilled and humbled to announce that my third book, Zero Visibility Possible, is one of four finalists in the 2017 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards, Science Fiction/Fantasy category. My first two books were also finalists in 2013 and 2016, so I hope the third one is a charm and that it wins its category!

Read more about RJ and his fantasy series in his first interview for SWW, and connect with him on his website

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 and writes about memoir at

Author Updates: Robert Kidera & Patricia Smith Wood

Robert Kidera and Patricia Smith Wood both write mystery thrillers set in New Mexico, and both have been busy writing and publishing since their respective interviews for SouthWest Writers (SWW) in 2015.

Red Gold (2015) is the first novel in Bob Kidera’s Gabe McKenna mystery series released by Suspense Publishing. The book introduces Gabe, a man dealing with grief and personal demons, who searches for a lost treasure (and reasons to live and love again) and finds a world of violence and deceit at every turn. In Get Lost (2016), Gabe fights bloodthirsty criminals while racing to uncover the connection between seven corpses buried in his barn and the murder of an old friend. The newest installment, Cut.Print.Kill. (2017), finds Gabe working as a movie consultant. Illusion, deceit, drug cartels. Murder and mystery. Gabe McKenna battles it all to uncover the truth in a web of lies.

With Cut.Print.Kill. just released, that makes three books published in the Gabe McKenna mystery series in two years. What was your secret to getting those books done?
I work on my writing every day—writing new chapters, editing existing ones, critiquing, researching, developing my social media platform, or reading in my genre. Usually a work day includes a combination of those activities. If you want to be a writer, you need to make it happen. And because my writing career was delayed until later in life, I came to it with a full load of stories and characters who’ve rattled around inside me for much of my life. It’s the application of a lifetime of daydreaming.

What do you focus on to keep readers coming back for more of Gabe McKenna?
There are only so many plot lines out there, so for me it’s all about the characters. I’ve created an ensemble of compelling and quirky people around Gabe. It makes for a richer, more engaging reading experience. Unlike other series (think Holmes & Watson, etc.), Gabe has a different “co-star” in each novel. It makes him more multi-faceted and gives each book its own flavor. One of the challenges of writing a series is character consistency from book to book, even as they change with every story. I have a backstory framework for each of my major characters that gives them distinct identities in my mind as I write.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
While I’m grateful for the recognition and awards I’ve won, what matters more to me are the comments from my readers about how much they’ve enjoyed my books and characters. One compliment I’ve received a number of times is from former New Mexicans who feel a reconnection with their pasts and this land from reading my books. It’s great to hear that!

If the stars aligned, what television or movie series would you love to write for?
There are so many. Guess I’m a frustrated screenwriter. For starters, any of John Ford’s westerns—damn that would be a dream come true. Guilty pleasure? I’d love to write a Charlie Chan script just for kicks. As far as television, I wish I could’ve worked on or written for Longmire, a series just concluded here in New Mexico. Or Bosch, Michael Connelly’s LA detective series now on Amazon Prime. Great stuff. My absolute, ultimate dream would be to write a new Philip Marlowe novel, like Robert Parker was allowed to do with Perchance to Dream. An ego-tripping pipe-dream, but why not aim high?

In your last interview for SWW you mentioned writing a historical novel inspired by short stories from Black Range Tales (a depiction of 19th Century New Mexican mining days written in 1936 by James A. McKenna). How’s that project coming along?
It’s still in the planning stages. I’ve gotten a stronger response to my Gabe McKenna novels than expected, so I’ll write a fourth book for the series (Midnight Blues). I hope to have it out by the end of 2018. It pits Gabe and The Onion against child sex traffickers in Northern New Mexico, so it’s got a rougher edge than my earlier novels. I’ll write my historical novel after that. I’ve even formed my own imprint, Black Range Books, to publish it. As to Gabe McKenna’s future, I’ll likely do short stories or novellas after Midnight Blues, if my readers are still out there.

Read more about Bob and his mystery series in his first interview for SWW, and connect with him on Facebook and his website

In the first novel of Patricia Smith Wood’s Harrie McKinsey Mysteries (published by Aakenbaaken & Kent), murder and attempted murder follow Harrie’s acceptance of an editing job for a book about The Easter Egg Murder (2013), a sixty-year-old unsolved case. In trying to discover who wants to destroy the book and its author, Harrie and her business partner Ginger face off against a killer with nothing to lose. Murder on Sagebrush Lane (2015) begins with the discovery of a child alone in Harrie’s flower garden that leads to murder investigations, attempted kidnaping, stolen top-secret data, and a killer out for more blood. In Murder on Frequency (2017), Harrie and Ginger investigate the mystery of an amateur radio (ham) operator still broadcasting five years after his death. The mystery points to the trail of a long-lost treasure and drags the sleuths into murder, abduction, and a showdown with the Mafia.

You’ve written three novels in the Harrie McKinsey mystery series. Did Harrie still surprise you as you wrote her story for Murder on Frequency?
Harrie always surprises me. It’s the strangest thing. I sit down to write and put my hands on the keyboard. I get a glimpse of an idea about what that chapter will cover, and before I know it, Harrie has taken over and gone off in a different direction. People often ask me if she is based on me. I usually say, “No,” but I suppose a tiny part of her is. The rest of her is some reckless adventurer I am absolutely not!

What was the most challenging part of writing Murder on Frequency, and what was the easiest?
I was concerned with keeping a balance between too much amateur radio and not enough to satisfy my ham radio friends. The hams have been among my most faithful fans and have asked to have ham radio be a part of the books from the very first one. I’m pleased so many people have given me feedback that there’s enough amateur radio in the book to satisfy the licensed hams among us, without overwhelming the folks who don’t know amateur radio still exists. The easiest part was finding ways for Harrie and Ginger to keep getting into trouble.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for your books?
Back in the 60s I discovered author Ursula Curtis. She frequently set her mysteries in Albuquerque, and I was so delighted to read them and feel part of the book because of the familiar setting. It occurred to me I could do that for other readers who live in New Mexico, and Albuquerque in particular. I also thought it would be fun to educate people in the rest of the country that New Mexico is actually a part of the United States, populated with people just like them. I’ve received good feedback because of that decision. Plus, I’ve lived here most of my life, and they say you should write about what you know.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
The most difficult scenes have always been the ones where Harrie (or some other character) is put in danger. I’m a softy at heart, and I never want my “friends” to be injured or traumatized. But in writing mysteries, you have to do that occasionally. So, I’ve tried to keep it minimal and focus instead on the characters using their brain power to extract themselves from danger. I also get annoyed with authors who consistently bash their protagonists over the head, and then they never suffer any permanent damage from it. To me that gives false comfort that head injuries are not that serious.

What writing project(s) are you working on now?
I’m currently deep into the fourth book in the series, Murder at the Petroglyphs. The subject was suggested by my dear husband, and I’m really enjoying it. I started using the Scrivener writing program with this book. I don’t know if that’s the reason, but the writing process is easier than in the previous mysteries. I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m loving the research portion of the writing this time. I’m aiming to have Petroglyphs ready by first quarter 2018.

Read more about Pat and her Harrie McKinsey series in her first interview for SWW, and connect with her on and on Facebook and Twitter.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Mary Jayne Rogers

Dr. Mary Jayne Rogers is a self-professed “super wellness nerd” with over thirty years experience in the health and fitness industry. From Overwhelmed to Inspired: Your Personal Guide to Health and Well-being (2016) is the culmination of her twenty-year desire to write a non-scientific book to encourage others on their journey to wellness. You can find Mary Jayne on her website and on Twitter.

Why did you write From Overwhelmed to Inspired, and who did you write it for?
I wrote From Overwhelmed to Inspired because I am deeply troubled by the state of our country and the world. I see people in my community locally as well as in my travels globally who, I believe, are suffering because they don’t have easy, accessible information about health and wellness. I believe as we become more conscious about our well-being, we begin to make better choices in our lives. This leads us to become better parents, better partners, better employees/employers, and better members of a broader community.

I wrote the book for anyone who is ready to take the journey with me to a place of feeling better, more vibrant, and self-aware. The book is relevant for people of all ages. However, because women tend to be the caretakers in our society, I have found it resonates more with women.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Ironically, I am an introvert and generally a person of few words. Because I have been a teacher for so long, I am accustomed to students simply accepting what I have to say in my precise and concise manner. It was difficult for me to open up about my personal experiences with eating disorders and many of the difficulties I have muddled through to strengthen my own compassion, mindful awareness, and personal “3 Selfs” (from the first section of the book).

When did you know you wanted to write the book? What prompted the final push to begin?
I have been in the wellness industry for 40 years. I have wanted to write a non-scientific book for almost 20 years. During that time, I have become a “super wellness nerd.” I really love discovering what is trending on the wellness front and use my educational background to determine what is true and accurate but also realistic and helpful to people on a daily basis. I had shared with a dear friend of mine, who is also a career counselor, my desire to have a broader format for a wellness discussion, including speaking engagements, radio, and TV. She simply said, “You have to write a book.” So I did.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing From Overwhelmed to Inspired?
There have been so many rewarding aspects to writing this book. First, it was difficult to distill the myriad of wellness information in a way that is understandable, meaningful to the reader, and different from other wellness books on the market. I feel I accomplished that and am pleased with the result. Also, my dear grammatically precise husband read for me dozens of times. It became a work of love for both of us, strengthening our relationship, but also beginning to inculcate him with this information in a way that wasn’t doctrinaire or overbearing, thereby (hopefully) encouraging him toward a healthier lifestyle. And lastly, I was glad to have finished the book during my mother’s lifetime. I mean after all, we all want to please our moms—right?

Do you have a favorite quote from the book?
This is so funny because the book is full of wonderful quotes from all sorts of people from Lucille Ball to Thich Nhat Hanh, but a quote of my own?

“…we are beginning to see that wellness is not really as much a state of being as it is an approach to living. We see that the activity of our minds is intricately related to our physical health. As we begin to adjust our mindset, our bodies will begin to feel lighter and more receptive to change. Changing your mind will change your body and change your world.”

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
On my Amazon page someone posted that she had undergone a great deal of trauma in recent years and that my book had been very helpful to her. I truly hope to make a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives.

Do you have advice for other writers still working toward publication?
2. Dig deeper. Allow the reader to get to know you.

What do you consider the greatest tool in a writer’s arsenal?
Dedication, commitment, and discipline to commit to a regular writing schedule.

Do you write other than nonfiction?
I love nonfiction, but I also enjoy poetry and songwriting.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on a memoir of my experiences and personal growth teaching in Japan which helped me transform from an anxious, shell-shocked introvert to becoming a highly respected international teacher and presenter, all the while acknowledging and laughing about my bevy of phobias and my continuing struggle to overcome them. Working title: Love Letters from Japan.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Janet K. Brennan

Author Janet K. Brennan is an international book critic/reviewer and the co-founder of Casa de Snapdragon Publishing—and she still finds time to write novels, short stories, and poetry. Her newest book, Harriet Murphy, More Than Enough (2017), is the second in her Harriet Murphy historical fiction series. You can find Janet on Facebook and her Amazon author page, as well as and her poetry website

Harriet Murphy, More Than Enough by Janet K. BrennanWhat is your elevator pitch for Harriet Murphy, More Than Enough?
The book shows how women living in an ever-evolving society can be strong and survive even the most complex and sometimes dangerous challenges that can come along in life. Harriet is a good example because she lives alone in the log cabin her father built for her family when they came across for the gold rush of 1849. Harriet Murphy stories are short stories tied together with the same characters. They are all resolved at the end. The first book, Harriet Murphy, A Little Bit of Something, took Reviewer’s Choice from Amazon, Small Indie Press Award from Bookwatch, and Reviewer’s Choice from Mid-West Book Review.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they take away from it?
I am hoping, of course, that they want to see another book that will pick up where this one left off. I want my readers to know that bad things happen to everyone but that we can rise above everything. I am hoping they will have learned something and say, “Oh my, I didn’t know that…I didn’t want it to end.”

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Writing historical fiction requires much research, and for me that includes travelling to the places about which I am writing. What I try to do is stay on top of what went on at the turn of the 19th century that was not only life changing but also interesting (new inventions, politics, entertainment, environment). This means many trips to different libraries and museums, interviewing people, going back into old newspapers, online research; but most importantly, travel; and to live in the area. I visited Old Pine (Foresthill, California). While there, a horrible forest fire erupted. I went up to the fire, met the firefighters, ate with them and took many pictures. It was a devastating experience as that is my muse.

What first inspired you to write the adventures of Harriet Murphy?
The story came to me, oddly enough, while I was on sabbatical alone on Longboat Key, Florida. While walking the beach a story began to evolve in my mind about a young woman who lived in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada long after her parents had passed. I began to wonder how the many challenges of such a life would affect the psyche and change the personality. While walking I spied a very overweight seagull, and when I went to take a picture I said, “Dang, you are a big bird.” As “dang” was not a regular part of my vocabulary, I realized I had already begun living the life of Harriet Murphy inside my mind. But the seeds of this book were planted the previous spring when I visited my sister in the foothills of the Tahoe along the American River in Placer County. The Tevis Cup endurance horse race was happening at the time. I had a few beers at the Red Dirt Saloon as I watched them head to the finish line. The seeds were quickly growing into a plant.

How did the book come together?
Each book takes about two years to write. Once the bones of the book are done, I go back into it to flesh it out and do a pre-edit. Then off it goes to my wonderful editor. When she is finished, it comes back to me and I make the changes. In the case of Harriet Murphy, this can be a difficult process because there is so much of the vernacular of the area included in conversation and it’s written in first person point of view. When finally satisfied with the finished product, off it goes to the printer for a first proof. This gives us a chance to go through the book and make any final changes. An author should always read the book out loud before final consent is given. Once I give thumbs up, off it goes to final print and into worldwide distribution.

Tell us about your main character. What is it about her that makes readers connect with her? How have historical characters impacted your story?
I believe all genders can relate to Harriet Murphy—many of my readers are male, and they often tell me this. Harriet Murphy is a very brave and tough woman who can be very vulnerable at the same time. She loves, hates, suffers and rises above. Of course, the main characters are those living in the town of Old Pine who are all the descendants of the original 49ers. In doing research, I learned that some very unusual characters, some quite famous, lived there or travelled through there. I have incorporated many of them into the stories I weave.

Why did you decide to use the particular setting you chose?
The foothills of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada are rich in gold mining history. It is a very beautiful area, which abounds in folklore with more than a few sprinkles of ghosties and Native American treasures. This is the exact area where the 49ers came along the American River to placer gold as well as dig deep into the hills and mountainsides for the treasure. Many of the original homes are still there. Some of the old mining encampments stand alone out in the middle of the deep woods. At every bend of the river, one can often find old mining equipment.

Was there anything surprising you discovered in doing research for this book?
I never realized just how isolated this part of our country was and still is. It also surprised me that these people, mostly Irish and Scottish, took a deep interest in the politics of our nation and travelled often to Sacramento and San Francisco to enjoy the rich arts programs that were offered there. Many of the towns, such as Placerville, still have hanging trees. The town was originally called Hangman’s Town for that very reason. The Washoe Indians believed that if a tree was forked, it held special spirits of the dead. These are the trees that were used to hang people.

Harriet Murphy, A Little Bit of Something by Janet K. BrennanThe character of Harriet Murphy was first introduced in Harriet Murphy, A Little Bit of Something (2009). What are the challenges of writing a series? Did Harriet surprise you as you wrote her story?
Special challenges might include making sure you do not repeat an incident from book one with slightly different details. It must all be uniform. A writer needs to allow their characters to age and evolve without losing the essence of the original character. Harriet often surprises me. However, I allow her character to move forward knowing that she is I. Therefore, in many ways, I see the things in myself that I do not know that I have the capability of accomplishing.

What are your strengths as a writer?
Well, I have been writing all of my life. When I finish a chapter, I am usually very happy with it, so I do not go through the self-doubt many writers go through. It is very satisfying for me. I go on a natural high. People often tell me they love the stories I weave and the characters I develop.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I am a multi-published author and knew from the time I was seven that I was a writer. Not a doubt in my mind. When I was 10 years old I would go to the local paper mill, knock on their doors, and they would give me leftover paper from their cuts. Every Wednesday the people waited for me to come knocking, and they would greet me with stacks of paper. This was a treasure to me. My father often brought home notebooks from his law office that I also used. I wrote my first novel at the age of 12, followed by another and another. Then I became my Girl Scout scribe and high school editor-in-chief of our literary magazines and newspapers. College was the same. Then on to major publications in the United States and Europe. Writing literally identifies me.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I love to write about the strength and spiritual nature of human beings. In my memoir, A Dance in The Woods, I write about my own challenges after losing my daughter and how I managed to rise above and be successful.

You have published numerous poems, individually and in collections. How has your work as a poet influenced your fiction writing?
I love writing poems but really do not consider myself primarily a poet. For the most part, I am a novelist. However, when I do write a poem, it usually takes me about an hour to pull from my soul, then I go back into the work and begin eliminating unnecessary words. I feel that the fewer the words needed to say what you feel, the better the art form. Poetry can open your mind in a way that nothing else can. It reaches in and pulls out the essence of what it means to be human, good and bad. I think studying the art form of poetry, words and structure can allow one to become a better writer. Art of any kind stretches the creative within. Once a writer learns to reach in and touch their own soul, they will never fail.

What is your writing routine like? What is your writing process like?
No routine. I write when the spirit moves me. Deadlines are horrible for a writer. A good writer cannot produce well if they have a specific deadline. I sometimes find myself up in the middle of the night writing.

A Dance in the Woods by Janet K. BrennanWhich of your many projects did you enjoy writing the most?
My favorite is my memoir A Dance in the Woods. My most difficult was my memoir. It was very cathartic. But in going back into a horrific time in my life, I suffered many of the same physical and emotional times. I had spent a month in hospital in Italy and then another 20 years just trying to rise above PTSD. It took me 10 years to write my memoir I originally wrote in third person because it was too intense for me to face, but Tyndale Publishing wanted it in first person, so I rewrote in first person. I still go back into that book when I need to. It has gone on to win several wonderful awards. Another favorite is Tango Sunday. I love writing short stories, and this book compiles a good dose of short stories “on the edge.”

You’re the editor-in-chief of Casa of Snapdragon Publishing. Why did you start your own publishing company?
I actually own and operate two mainstream, traditional publishing companies. JB Stillwater Publishing is the newest one. This company specializes in poetry, health, and art. I started my own companies because at the time I was authoring for a major house and did not like the way they were doing things. There was no one-on-one. I could never reach anyone. Then they merged with another big publishing house and it got even worse. I did not feel that I actually had control over my own work. I felt I could do better for myself and many other wonderful writers.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Diana Gabaldon (Outlander), Pearl S. Buck, Amy Tan, David Morrell, Florence B. Weinberg. All of these writers really know how to build a character and tell a story. I have met them all (except Pearl S. Buck) and can tell you they are very down-to-earth, interesting people. The trend now is to write as if you are writing for the screen. Short sentences, no descriptive details. I say, “if you are writing a book, then write a book. If you can’t do that…write a screenplay.”

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Don’t take anything personally.

What are you working on now?
I do not believe in more than one project at a time. I am currently writing a book entitled Meadowland. This is a spiritual and metaphysical revelatory.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Claire Stibbe

Claire Stibbe is a British author of nonfiction, short stories, and novels who writes from her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Her award-winning books include a historical fiction series set in Egypt and a crime thriller series set in New Mexico. Past Rites, the third of her Detective Temeke crime novels, was published by Noble Lizard Publishing (2016). You can connect with Claire on her website and blog, and on Facebook and Twitter.

What is your elevator pitch for Past Rites?
What do you get when you mix a psychopathic killer with a few teenagers dabbling in black arts at a boarding school? A recipe for murder! For those who like a walk on the dark side this might be your cup of tea or, more aptly, your poison.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I think the most difficult challenge was trying to answer some complex and seedy questions I had been asking myself for years. What are serial killers? Are their demons real?

How did the book come together?
The idea for this book came from watching serial killers being interviewed and learning how the roots of their catastrophic behavior often reach right back into their childhood. Often, I saw a pattern in the way their parents meted out discipline; it was abusive, unpredictable, unfair and wicked. Maybe there is an argument for serial killers being manmade not born. Huge developmental fractures occur when a child is isolated and in permanent terror. They will soon believe the emotionally barren world that surrounds them is normal. Serial killers are like ticking time bombs, but what makes them tick? Past Rites took about three years to research and about five months to write. I have five BETA readers and two Alphas plus two paid editors. All this can add a further two months before publication.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
The most rewarding aspect of writing Past Rites is the conversation between the person I call Demon and the serial killer in the book. How the serial killer spars for bodies and how Demon haggles for souls.

All kinds of warfare are devastating, including spiritual warfare, where the assault takes place on the inside, in a person’s head. Past Rites is about one man’s internal war and the devastation it causes.

Tell us a little about your main character. After writing four novels in The Detective Temeke Crime Series (the fourth yet to be published), did your protagonist still surprise you as the story unfolded?
My protagonist is an old dog in the fight—a feisty and somewhat crabby Brit who has wound up in New Mexico much like I did. He sees the world through cynical eyes, believes in cutting corners, and has a passion for justice. Although there are some who would like nothing better than to cut him from the unit, Temeke is the one person who always seems to find a way to finagle the truth out of his crooks. He’s so bloody good at it and gets more proficient with each book. It always surprises me how he does it.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the series?
New Mexico is a unique state. With its Pueblo Indian and Hispanic society, sand that looks like snow, unique rock formations and vast national forests, it makes for the perfect setting. Diverse cultures amp up the characterization and make the book more interesting. Having said that, I don’t tend to write in local accents or expressions since overseas readers lose the gist.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
Yes, I think the most surprising thing was the way the police department operates here in New Mexico. I am told that it’s unlike other states where some procedurals are concerned. Having graduated from the Citizen’s Police and Sheriff’s academies, I replicate the local procedures of investigation, but at the same time I don’t tend to place all the typical people at a crime scene because I don’t want to overwhelm the reader. For instance, Temeke’s assistant district attorney is not named even though she would be present. There are also some inconsistencies in the way Temeke conducts non-custodial interviews. I also describe Northwest Area Command as a two-storey building to incorporate Unit Commander Hackett’s extraordinarily large roost on the top floor. All these add eccentricities to the characters.

You have two other novels in your Detective Temeke series (The 9th Hour and Night Eyes) and a fourth (Dead Cold) on the way. What are the challenges of writing a series?
The most important challenge for me is to complete each case in one episode/book, leaving the core characters and their relationships to develop over the body of the series. The main protagonist, Detective David Temeke, must be both gutsy and shrewd enough for readers to want to return to meet him again. I have been told the series is addictive and that readers love the characters. Malin Santiago, another detective in Temeke’s unit, receives texts and emails from someone who appears to want to help her with each case. We don’t know who this is yet, but it provides a recurring theme throughout the series.

What do you love most outside of writing and reading?
Coffee. Must have a good cappi (cappuccino) in the morning. Peace. I love listening to the wind in the trees.

What first inspired you to become a writer? When did you consider yourself a writer?
My father was the biggest and brightest influence. He was taught by C.S. Lewis during his time in Oxford and frequented many of Professor Tolkien’s seminars. School holidays would not be complete without sitting on a tartan rug down the Lion’s Mouth (a wooded gorge in North Norfolk, UK), eating sandwiches and being bitten by midges, while listening to my father’s memorable voice reading The Lord of the Rings. It’s one of the many things I miss and one of the many things for which I’m so very grateful. My father wrote a book about his time in Wingate’s second expedition into Burma, and my twin brother is a bestselling author. I can’t say when I considered myself a writer because I’m still learning.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
Night Eyes. I love the dynamic between parent/guardian and child and the lessons learned. We live in a fatherless society where boys need a good and lasting influence. Adults shape children. Boys need dads.

Tell us about your writing process.
Since the books are character driven, I’m mostly a pantser. But there is a good deal of coffee drinking alone in cafés with a notepad where plotting and people-watching occurs. You catch the greatest dialogue when sitting close to two unsuspecting people. I have a set-in-stone timeline for each book. Some span two weeks, some are only twenty-four hours—it depends on the case.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
Paul Gallico for his astonishing powers of description. John Grisham for flawless plots. Dean Koontz for intricate characterization and Thomas Hardy for historical fiction.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The best advice I have ever received was the familiar adage “less is more.” Another has to be “write what you know.” Extensive research and life experience goes without saying.

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 and writes about memoir at


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