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