Author Melody Groves writes what she knows best: the Old West. In 2022, she released the sixth novel in her Colton Brothers Saga, Trail to Tin Town (Five Star Publishing), as well as the nonfiction book Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw (Two Dot Publishing). You’ll find Melody on MelodyGroves.net, Facebook, and her Amazon author page. Read more about Melody’s writing in her 2016, 2018, and 2021 interviews for SouthWest Writers.
What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Trail to Tin Town?
The story is based on fact. I had to learn about herding cattle, but I enjoyed writing about each of the Colton brothers. I also enjoyed how they love each other and yet annoy each other—just like real brothers! And I loved writing the villain—it was a challenge to figure out how to make him more disgusting every day!
What other challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge was how much of the previous storylines from the other five books to include. Writing a series is always a challenge.
What was the inspiration for this sixth book in the Colton Brothers Saga?
Based on fact, California residents in the 1800s had been too busy mining for gold that they failed to raise beef. The last westward cattle drive occurred around 1895 from Arizona—they were going to transport the beef via railroad, but the railroad raised the price, so the cattlemen drove the herd themselves. I thought that was an interesting historical fact, plus I needed a story with all four brothers, thinking this might be their swansong, so to speak.
Which brother is the main point of view character in this installment?
This is James’ story—the second brother. The cattle drive was his idea and he’s always the one willing to try something new. He’s a risk taker but has so many demons. For him, simply surviving each day is an adventure. And in the past, things didn’t work out well for him, so I thought it was time to change that.
Why did you end the series with Trail to Tin Town?
Of course, never say…the end. There may be a seventh book, but I doubt it. My characters are ready to move on with their lives. It simply feels like the Saga is done. Their story is told.
Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw offers readers a new take on an Old West icon. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I’ve been fascinated with Billy since I was a kid. I lived less than a mile from La Mesilla where he stood trial and I used to walk over to where he was tried (it was a bar when I was a kid and now it’s a gift shop). Even then I was mesmerized by this “outlaw” who was wronged in so many ways. I have numerous other connections to him and, even though he’s been written about hundreds of times, I had to put in my two cents. Plus, when I pitched the idea to an editor, she said, “Billy sells.”
Why do you think people continue to be fascinated with Billy the Kid more than 140 years after his death?
Billy is good for tourism. His infamy brings in millions of dollars. But also because he was such a kid with an interesting personality. And there’s enough mystique about him still and endless possibilities which make people wonder.
What was your most surprising discovery regarding Billy the Kid’s life?
Thinking about how, as a kid of 12 or 13, he would have felt to have a stepfather enter his life. Was he pleased, resentful, afraid, overjoyed? I was also surprised to discover he played harmonica. And that he was born in 1861, not 1859 as has been widely believed.
What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
My favorite part was connecting the dots. I think I’ve come up with why younger brother Joe had the middle name Bonney; why the Mom moved to Indianapolis; how they moved from Denver to Santa Fe to Silver City; why Billy chose to stay in Ft. Sumner when he knew Sheriff Pat Garrett was close by. And I think being a woman helped me truly “feel” Billy instead of simply looking at the facts.
With eight fiction and five nonfiction titles, you have a great track record for finding traditional publishers to take on your book projects, especially since you don’t have an agent. What’s your secret?
My secret? Being in the right place at the right time. And going to meetings and conventions. I credit SouthWest Writers and especially Western Writers of America for presenting me the opportunities to meet editors. The trick is to do your best and work well with these editors—a book is a team effort.
What do you consider the most essential elements of a well-written novel? How do these elements differ for a nonfiction book?
A well-written novel is all about character. Yes, a plot is nice, but it’s all about character. The more in-depth the writer gets into what makes a character tick, the better the novel. If a reader can’t relate to a character, especially one who’s only two-dimensional, then the reader will put down the book.
Nonfiction, I’ve learned, needs to contain information that is new and yet relatable to the reader. And yes, the characters, even though they’re real, need to be multi-faceted. Good writing is good writing, whether it’s fiction or not.
What is the most difficult aspect of writing historical fiction?
Putting my characters in events that really did happen. I’ve had to change timelines and even character ages, etc., to match with a historical event.
What writing projects are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on two novels—a third book in the She Was Sheriff series, and the beginning of a series about a guy in Texas who wants to be a more successful outlaw than the James Brothers. I’m also doing several magazine articles.
Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m incredibly grateful and indebted to the people who’ve helped me along the way to achieve my dream of being a professional writer. We’re all in this life together and it doesn’t take much effort to help someone else.
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kat has a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.