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An Interview Update with Corrales Writing Group

Corrales Writing Group formed in 2012 and meets twice a month in the village of Corrales, New Mexico to review members’ writing and plan projects. This closed group is currently made up of authors Chris Allen, John Atkins, Maureen Cooke, Sandi Hoover, Thomas Neiman, Jim Tritten, and Patricia Walkow. Together they produce an annual anthology that includes essays, short fiction, memoir, and poetry. Their newest book, Love, Sweet to Spicy, was published in 2018. Follow Corrales Writing Group on Facebook and read part two of their 2016 interview for their take on group structure and indie publishing.

Why did the group pick the theme of love for the 2018 anthology?
Since the group formed, its members have written stories about love from time to time. It wasn’t necessarily about romantic love. Some stories were about parental love, love for a pet, and then, of course, romantic love. We had enough content to create an anthology on the theme, but we also wrote new stories, a few of which were collaborative efforts.

Five of the twenty pieces in the book are collaborations. What was the easiest part of collaborating for Love, Sweet to Spicy, and what was the most challenging?
The most challenging part of writing a collaborative piece was the need to leave our egos in a parking garage on Mars and work toward the common goal of creating a viable story. Imagine a blank canvas and asking three artists to create a visual work. Just like visual artists, writers have different styles. The commitment the writers make must be to the story itself, and not to their own opinions, methods, or styles.

Specifically, our group experimented with ways to get past the ego issue and settled on a method that worked for us. Each person in the group came up with a brief concept of a story with enough detail and character description to serve as a workable writing prompt. We then broke into teams of two or three members, but the individual whose idea it was did not participate in writing that particular story. Getting everyone to agree to this approach was probably more difficult than the actual writing. Once everyone tried it the first time, the method worked fine and all the finished stories were accepted for publication in anthologies or journals not associated with the Corrales Writing Group. Most won prizes in the annual New Mexico Press Women Communications Contest.

The easiest part of collaborating was the synergy and brainstorming that occurred when we created something together. Also, assignment of who did what was never an issue. Everyone did their fair share of work. Another enjoyable part was pairing male and female writing teams to ensure characters stayed true to their gender. This often led to interesting conversations that generally included something like, “Well my husband would never say that, or never do that,” followed by validation from group members of the opposite sex. We had a lot of fun kicking those situations around.

We initially designed our collaborative stories with more romance and just a hint of sex. Later, we experimented with more sexuality than romance. In the end, we found a balance between romance and sex in the stories based on suggestions from our beta readers.

Pick a piece from the anthology written by another member and tell us what you enjoyed most about the writing or the story.
CHRIS ALLEN: I loved the piece “The Anniversary Letter” by Pat Walkow. It describes a husband-wife connection in a wonderfully amusing way. It is made all the funnier knowing it is a memoir. Pat perfectly captures the dialogue of a couple after years of marriage.

JOHN ATKINS: “Last Days – A Dog’s Perspective” by Chris Allen recounts the final days of a beloved pet’s life. I’m drawn to stories about a person’s love for a pet. I particularly like Chris Allen’s approach. She gives the reader a unique look at a dog’s end of life routine as seen through the body and mind of the pet. Her writing tells a story all too familiar to many people, but from a point of view that makes it all the more moving.

MAUREEN COOKE: I particularly enjoyed Tom Neiman’s “A Heart’s Journey.” He writes eloquently about the love for his wife Gretchen and his concern when Gretchen underwent heart surgery. What makes this piece stand out is that Tom and Gretchen married in their later years, or as Tom writes, “…this wasn’t our first rodeo.” I enjoy reading about a real, as opposed to a Hollywood, love story. Tom’s devotion to Gretchen and her healing from heart surgery jumps right off the page.

SANDI HOOVER: “The Power of a Smile” is a beautiful homage to a loved one. Jim Tritten’s trick of not revealing—until the end—the person being written about is so artfully done that the reader floats along on the river of words, simply enjoying the emotions, the love felt for the object of the story.

TOM NEIMAN: “Enough to Kill,” written by Sandi Hoover and Jim Tritten, was developed from my original idea and they took it from there. When I read the first draft, it was as if my baby had grown into adulthood. I was so proud of how the authors stuck with my premise and developed it into their own.

JIM TRITTEN: I am not one who reads, writes, or normally critiques poetry. “What Love Is” by Sandi Hoover challenged me to understand, appreciate, and attempt to comment on an unfamiliar genre. I remember reading this piece for the first time. Here is what I sent the author: “My first thought was that the recipient of such feelings is a very lucky person.”

PAT WALKOW: I particularly liked two stories. “I Remember Hoover” is John Atkins’ story about love for a dog named Hoover. I found the dialog realistic, the emotion real, and the pace perfect. “End of the Story” is Maureen Cooke’s accounting of the end of a once-loving relationship. It is beautifully written and heart-wrenching.

Since the last interview in 2016, Corrales Writing Group published Passages as well as Love, Sweet to Spicy. What’s new with the group? Any lessons learned from the publishing side?
We’ve grown from six to seven members. In addition to individual work published in various print and online anthologies, members of the group have two major projects going. A group of four writers is working on a murder/mystery/romance novel, and a pair is working on an adventure novella. The writing will be reviewed within the group just as other pieces have been reviewed in the past: a series of questions will be answered by reviewers, changes will then be made by the writers, and the piece will be reviewed again. And possibly yet again!

We’ve learned a few key things:
1. It is best to have one person take the lead on being the editor of a specific anthology, with a secondary editor. Of the seven members of the group, five have now edited an anthology and become familiar with CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing.

2. Read, reread, and reread before you publish. Then give it to others to read, reread, and do it again. No matter how many eyes have looked at the book, some silly flaw will escape until it is purchased, and then it blinks in neon. Fortunately, with independent self-publishing it is easy to fix.

3. Marketing consumes an awful lot of time, and we need to step up our efforts. We are actively engaged in finding places to present our work as performance pieces. A presence on Amazon, Facebook, Hometown Reads, and other social media outlets is necessary, and we share our work there. Our website is in progress.

The constant delight is still the fun we have, as well as the intelligence and humor of the members of the group. We have formed close bonds.

Six of the seven members of the group were featured in part two of the previous interview. Tell us about John Atkins, the newest member.
He’s retired, having spent more than 40 years in project and technology management in healthcare, hardware/software, and energy companies. He graduated summa cum laude from the University of New Mexico with a degree in Communication. His work has appeared in Love, Sweet to Spicy, as well as The Esthetic Apostle and 50-Word Stories. He’s well into the second draft of a speculative fiction novel and continues to serve as transcriptionist to worlds and characters that demand attention. None will leave until they have been written, rewritten, and polished until the turds they once were shine like the jewels they demand to be.

Give us a summary of your group’s accomplishments since forming six years ago.
The Corrales Writing Group (CWG) as a whole has published five different books. Two of our anthologies were produced both in black and white and color versions and all are available as Kindle books. Four members who wrote collaborative short stories had six chapters picked up and published elsewhere in other books. Six members had six chapters from our anthologies published as short stories in journals. Four of our individual members had six chapters published in other anthologies and thirty-seven of their CWG chapters published as short stories in other journals. The group’s books have won six awards, two additional awards for editing, and were finalists in two other competitions. Chapters or short stories based upon CWG chapters have won eighteen individual awards.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
As part of the Corrales Writing Group, our members have written more than 100 pieces of humor, fiction, memoir, essay, and poems. We also reprinted Passages and Love, Sweet to Spicy in color to honor local artists who contributed photographs of their work to our anthologies. Individual authors have additional articles published in magazines, newspapers and journals.

Also, every Tuesday a few members have lunch at Las Ristras Restaurant in Corrales from 11 am to 1 pm on Taco Tuesday. It’s a meet-and-greet with other authors…sort of a round table discussion. Send a message to John if you’d like to drop by and chat.

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

An Interview with Author J. L. Greger

Award-winning author J. L. Greger uses her travel experience and past life as a scientist and research administrator to add authenticity to her thriller/mystery novels. She Didn’t Know Her Place: An Academic Mystery (2017) is her newest release and the sixth book in the Science Traveler series (available at Amazon and Treasure House Books in Albuquerque). You’ll find the author on her website at and on her Amazon author page.

What is your elevator pitch for She Didn’t Know Her Place?
Would you rather be fired or face criminal charges? Dana Richardson faces this dilemma. A research center, which reports to her, is falsifying data to help industrial clients meet federal pollution standards. The last woman who tried to investigate the problem died under suspicious circumstances.

When readers turn the last page of the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
I hope readers rethink their attitudes about right and wrong. Many laws and regulations are examples of bureaucratic red tape and a waste of time and of money. However, can you lose your sense of right and wrong if you ignore too many of these seemingly petty laws and regulations? When should a boss act or a colleague report these misdeeds? The decisions aren’t always black and white.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Many of the events in this novel occurred. I had to constantly remind myself I was writing a novel, not a factual account of events.

How did the book come together?
This was the first novel that I wrote. I set it aside in 2011 but revised it extensively three times after writing and publishing other novels. Finally, I decided to revise it one last time in 2017.

Tell us about your main character.
Dana Richardson, on the surface, appears to be a successful woman scientist. Many readers will wish they had her power at work and her chutzpah. However, she is haunted by feelings of inadequacy because of frequent gender harassment and a strict upbringing. The net result is she often clashes with male colleagues, who assume they are entitled to take convenient but illegal shortcuts.

What makes this novel unique in the mystery/thriller market?
Science isn’t a collection of boring facts but the search for truth in the physical world. I try to infuse this sense of wonder about new scientific discoveries into all my novels. In She Didn’t Know Her Place, I focused on the importance of honesty in environmental testing.

Did you discover anything surprising while doing research for this book?
My professional experiences as a scientist and research administrator were the research for this novel. I was always surprised how many “nice” leaders had ugly secrets and how many scientists had heroic pasts.

You’ve written six books in your Science Traveler series. What key issues do you focus on to keep readers coming back for more?
First off, my science traveler is Sara Almquist. She’s an inquisitive busybody who just happens to be a skilled epidemiologist with practical experiences worldwide. Her enthusiasm for science and travel is contagious.

Second, I include recent scientific discoveries in every book. For example, I featured new research on weight control in Murder…A Way to Lose Weight (2nd Edition, 2017) and on cancer immunotherapy in Malignancy (Oak Tree Press, 2014). Readers often comment that they always learn something new while reading my novels. These two books won the Public Safety Writers Association Annual Contests in 2016 and 2015, respectively.

Third, I’ve traveled extensively and take Sara to my favorite locations, including Albuquerque. For example, Sara escaped villains by running across the roof of St. Francis Church above the Witches’ Market in La Paz, Bolivia in Ignore the Pain (Oak Tree Press, 2013). (I only walked across the roof.)

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
Scientific research and mystery writing share many characteristics. Both are exciting but hard work.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
Riddled with Clues (Aakenbaaken & Kent, 2017) was the most fun to write for two reasons. My dog, Bug, and I do pet therapy at the Veterans Hospital in Albuquerque. In this novel I shared our experiences with amazing veterans in the psych and rehab units (without breaking HIPPA regulations). Second, I used a friend’s notes on his experiences as a medic in the secret war in Laos in the 1960s to create the clues for this modern-day mystery.

What writing project are you working on now?
A Pound of Flesh Sorta, the next book in my Science Traveler series, is partially set in a meat-packing plant in New Mexico. In one sense, it’s an update of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, but with a Southwest twist.

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

An Interview with Author J. Allen Whitt

J. Allen Whitt served three combat deployments as a Navy officer aboard an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea and the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. He went on to obtain a PhD and spent almost 40 years teaching sociology, urban studies, and statistics. After publishing social science research he moved on to essays, memoirs, short stories, and poetry before tackling long fiction. Notes from the Other Side of the Mountain: Love Confronts the Wounds of War (2013) is Allen’s first novel. You’ll find him on his website at

What is your elevator pitch for Notes from the Other Side of the Mountain?
After separating from his high school girlfriend due to a misunderstanding, Gary Reed is called to serve in Vietnam. Four years later, traumatized by the carnage of war, he returns to his beloved mountains of New Mexico, hoping to reunite with Kristina Preston and find peace. Yet she too has hidden injuries, and they must struggle to overcome their past hurts and survive unexpected twists of fortune in hopes of building a life together.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they take away from the book?
Empathy for the novel’s characters, an identification with the life struggles we all face, and hope for recovery. In addition, I try to show the powerful influence our natural environment has upon our perceptions, appreciation of beauty, and ways of living.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
To create authentic and well-rounded characters that develop and grow through their early years into adulthood. My intention was to show the loves, conflicts, injuries, joys, failures, and successes that we all understand, as well as to provide the reader with insights into the complexity of the characters’ own circumstances, personalities, and actions. We understand their life-pleasures, see their reactions to loss, experience their sadness and humor, learn the fate of their dreams, and follow the consequences of their traumas of life and war.

Tell us a little about your main characters.
Both Gary and Kristina begin as small-town, New Mexico kids who mature through their life experiences, become aware of the larger world, do the best they can to surmount difficulties, try to maintain and enhance their love for each other, and achieve well-being and happiness. They have their strengths and shortcomings, as do we all.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book?
I fell in love with the unique beauty of New Mexico when I moved to the state as a teenager. So much so that I present our mountains, rivers, forests, and sunsets as quasi-characters in the book. It is a perfect setting. It is no accident that many works of art are created here, and many movie companies film here.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting the project together?
It was immensely enjoyable to create characters that became—and remain—real to me, to show the allure of our landscape, to let my words flow (when they are in the mood) onto the page, and to learn more about myself in the process. I like to explore the power of words and their capacity to define and extend our common human experience. By writing you can go inward, as well as expand into the world, even into universes that never were, and into those that may come to pass.

What sparked your interest in writing fiction?
In my former academic career, I wrote many things in that vein and won some awards for doing so. That was motivating. However, I have always been interested in stories. Perhaps this came from my grandmother who was raised in the Ozarks. Her father was a Civil War veteran and post-war law enforcement officer reputed to be an acquaintance of Wild Bill Hickok. Sadie, whose husband was a riverboat pilot, was steeped in the oral tradition of that region. She enthralled me and my cousins with stories her father passed along. She added her own embellishments, I am sure, but they made a deep impression upon me. Near the end of my academic career, I began writing accounts of my travels in Africa, South and Central America, Thailand, China and Europe. That was the start of my creative writing. Very different from what I had previously written, but more enjoyable. I took correspondence courses (University of Iowa, Gotham Writers Workshop). I received highly positive feedback. When I retired and moved back to New Mexico, I sent a couple of my pieces to SouthWest Writers for critiques. The feedback was again encouraging. One reviewer suggested I consider writing a novel—a possibility that had never entered my consciousness. I tried it, enjoyed the engaging, year-long process. Moreover, I have published memoirs, essays, stories, and poems in literary journals, magazines, and online. And here we are. A new career.

Tell us about the Veterans History Project and your involvement in it.
Sponsored by the Library of Congress, Veterans History Project (VHP) is an attempt to capture (through interviews and documentation) the experiences of American military veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, as well as more recent—and continuing—wars. The interviews and other material are posted on the Library of Congress website so that historians and ordinary citizens have access to veterans’ experiences that might otherwise be lost to future generations. I have done around 15 interviews for VHP. It has been a moving and enlightening privilege for me. These veterans have earned our profound gratitude and admiration, often more than we know. For example, Fred Foz escaped from the Bataan Death March and became a Philippine resistance fighter. At the Jemez Pueblo, I interviewed Geronimo Fragua, one of the first to enter the liberated Dachau concentration camp near the end of World War II. After the interview, it was my great privilege to deliver the keynote address for an event at Jemez which honored several World War II veterans from the Pueblo. I have also interviewed veterans who, like me, served in Vietnam.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire about their writing?
Shakespeare, for sure. The flow and rhythm of his lines, his ability to portray human emotions, characters, and action in a few apt words, as well as the scope of his vision and the vast range of his writing. Also, I love Twain for his superb way of discovering, defining, and revealing the frontier American vernacular, for his ability to place the reader into his scenes and rich world, and for his humor. From recent times: John McPhee, Flannery O’Connor, Edward Abby, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, Steven Crane, Elizabeth Kolbert, Tim O’Brien, Jean Shepard.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
In my prior career, I was a co-recipient (with Joyce Rothschild) of the C. Wright Mills Award for The Cooperative Workplace: Potentials and Dilemmas of Democratic Organization (Cambridge University Press, 1986). This honor is given by the Society for the Study of Social Problems for the best book on the topic published each year. My doctoral dissertation was published as a book (Urban Elites and Mass Transportation: The Dialectics of Power, Princeton University Press, 1982). Regarding Notes from the Other Side of the Mountain, an expert on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder who reviewed the novel complimented my depiction of PTSD. Even more than that, several reviewers of my novel called the work poetic. As a devotee of poetry in my childhood, I suppose that has influenced my writing. I was happy to hear that.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Two recent writing successes profited by feedback from my local critique group, The Write Stuff. The short memoir, Black Tears, won a First Place at the National Veterans’ Creative Arts Festival, and “The Door Gunner,” my saga poem, won a Special Poetry Award through an Ageless Authors contest. My thanks go to Evelyn, Curt, Ross, Michelle, and Lynne for their help.

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

An Interview with Poet Raymond C. Mock

Raymond C. Mock is a retired technician turned poet. His first book, A Tried Heart (Mercury Heartlink, 2017), is a collection of poems penned over several decades. Covering a variety of themes, Ray’s poetry is organized chronologically in the order written and reveals “a common story, although uncommonly expressed, of struggle growing up.” Look for A Tried Heart on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can contact the author at

How would you describe A Tried Heart?
The book description calls it heartfelt experience and observation. Personally, I see it as an autobiography in poetry. Then again, it’s everyone’s biography. It’s a story, I believe a common story—although uncommonly expressed—of struggle growing up. And heart makes it a common story.

What do you hope readers will take away from it?
I hope the title is telling, that readers will sense themselves in the title and find themselves in the book, that they will relive their moments of heart as they read mine.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Initially, it wasn’t a work, just a love, a joy, a discovery of writing and self. Through it, I taught myself poetry and found a road to growth. Following retirement, I joined writing groups that taught me to polish the work. Then came the challenge, publishing.

Tell us how the book came together.
With a significant number of poems from over thirty years of writing, I considered putting a book together, but it was my lunch friends at the senior center who encouraged me to publish. After placing some poetry in the center’s newsletter, they asked me to bring a poem a week to share. They would comment, in general, that they didn’t like poetry but that they liked my poetry—a double compliment.

For the book, I selected poems strong in heart, with surprise, poems of commonality told with unique expression, poems of growth, new experience, and poems short and sharp. I eventually contacted a publisher who had published an anthology in which I had contributed four poems. After hearing his ideas of what a good book entails, I felt we had that in common. He suggested an editor and then did the book layout and cover. As he finalized the book, he said he truly liked the poems, and he hoped I was as excited about the book as he was.

What was the most rewarding aspect of publishing A Tried Heart?
After years of feedback from friends and writing groups, and of hearing authors speak at SouthWest Writers, I felt confident about the poetry (and the book design was pleasing). Personal reviews and reviews on Amazon keep supporting this perspective.

Do you remember what inspired you to write your first poem?
In my thirties, a thought worthy of a poem crossed my mind one evening. It was about getting off my rear end. The poem wasn’t very good, and it didn’t rhyme. So…Okay, I’ll rewrite the worst line and keep rewriting the worst line until it rhymes. By the time it rhymes, it should be good. That’s what happened, and that’s still what happens. I had stumbled onto a writer’s commandment: revise, revise, revise. But that first poem wasn’t good enough for the book.

How important is accessibility of meaning in poetry?
I try to be clear, but sometimes not everyone understands. The writing groups have expressed this at times. And some poems are privy, speaking to a target group.

How does a poem begin for you—with an idea, a form, an image?
I don’t sit and brainstorm. Poems come to me—spontaneity, inspiration, heart. Poems need to be real to write and read that way. I wait for my heart to be moved, but I need to get out of the house for an event to find me. And when it finds me, that is what I try to write. Readers tell me, “I feel it,” or, “You feel like you’re there.” It works for me.

Since you began writing poems, has your view changed of what embodies poetry?
I began writing poems with a very rigid structure—count the syllables, make it rhyme (but don’t predict). I thought that was poetry, and the early poems in my book reflect that (the poems being in the order written). With time, I’ve come to value the beauty of the story more. Again, my book reflects it. But if one goes off-road, the beauty had better be worth it.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
The writing groups have been most encouraging. Their comments are generally right on, and they’ve taught me to listen for that slight nuance in the writing that tugs at one and says it’s wrong.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know about you or your writing?
Let me share two hard-learned, yet unconventional lessons. I used to think that my need for inspiration or heart was a handicap, but I’ve come to accept it as a strength—it makes me different, makes my book different. And I’ve learned to accept writer’s block. When I start writing again, I’m a level above where I was. Periodically, one will be closed for reconstruction, but it’s always worth the wait.

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

Author Update: Melody Groves

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Author Judith Liddell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Update: Loretta Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Update: Larada Horner-Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Author Brinn Colenda

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author Update: Joseph Badal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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