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An Author Interview with RJ the Story Guy

RJ the Story Guy (aka RJ Mirabal) is a former high school teacher who began a writing career in earnest in his retirement years. After publishing a fantasy series set in an alternate New Mexico, his adventurous rescue dog inspired a new direction for RJ’s writing. Trixie Finds Her People (Trixie the Brown Dog, Book 1), released in 2019, is his debut children’s book. You’ll find RJ and Trixie on their websites at RJMirabal.com and TrixieTheBrownDog.com, on their Facebook pages at RJMirabalAuthor and TrixieTheBrownDog, and on Instagram and Twitter. Read about RJ and his fantasy series in his 2015 and 2017 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


What is your elevator pitch for Trixie Finds Her People?
The ordinary life of a rescue dog may not seem adventurous—unless you’re that dog. When an uncertain older couple and their granddaughter Abigail adopt Trixie, their lives turn into a series of wonderful, humorous, and sometimes scary experiences. Chapters touch on everything from surviving frightening Big Booms of lightning to setting out on challenging fantasy episodes in Trixie’s dreams. Every day stirs the dog’s curiosity and sharpens her intelligence. Trixie Finds Her People launches readers (middle elementary ages 8 and up) on a journey of discovery, facing fears, and finding love. Interaction with Mommy, Poppa, and Abigail adds richness and new sources of fun for the lively, mixed-breed Brown Dog.

This is a departure from your previous projects of speculative fiction (not only in genre but audience). What challenges did this new direction pose for you?
I had to force myself to write more simply, use shorter sentences and paragraphs, and create imagery that was more immediate and straight-forward. I couldn’t indulge in the kind of inference and sophisticated vocabulary like I had in my Rio Grande Parallax series. Actually, that turned out to be a very worthwhile endeavor because I feel my writing is now more appealing. Writing this book challenged me to create clear images, dialogue, and action with more impact. Of course, there’s the obvious need to view everything I write through the eyes, ears, and imaginations of young readers. Somehow, I believe that should benefit all my writing from this point on.

Tell us how the book came together.
It started with my experience with my newly adopted rescue dog, Trixie. She is so bright, inquisitive, and funny that the idea of sharing most of my experiences with readers came to me within a few months of adopting her. I started observing her in terms of creating character and finding story lines in her explorations, personality, and antics. Very soon I thought it would be necessary to view the story from her point of view while still including human dialogue which she, logically, can’t fully understand but could sense the feelings behind human communication. It is not first person, but everything is presented from her point of view.

The writing process, once started, fell neatly into chapters each about 8-15 pages long, easily written in a sitting. Those episodes merged into a loose plot that took me through Trixie’s progress from being raised outdoors with 14 other dogs (and her 8 puppies) to becoming the sole animal living indoors with three people. Her life blooms in this new situation as each chapter adds more range to her lively, strong personality. Since I don’t usually write in long, day-after-day sessions, the episodic nature of the story made the writing easier when life interrupted. In less than a year, I had the first draft. From there I shared chapters with my critique group to begin the editing/revising phase before I prepared the book for publication.

What makes this book unique in the children’s market?
I believe a significant number of books like this either take on strong elements of fantasy or they are strict nonfiction or they become vehicles to explore current social justice issues. I decided I wanted a book that had a gentle, family friendly approach that inferred finding simple joy in life is as important as social significance. And, as for fantasy, I thought a little would be fun, so I wrote a few chapters that enter Trixie’s mind as she has various dreams. Dogs sleep a lot and the actions and noise they demonstrate during sleep suggest they have lively dreams, so I created fantasy stories that were suggested by incidents in her daily life.

Why did you use a pen name for Trixie Finds Her People?
I spent a lot of time promoting my adult fantasy trilogy as a story definitely for mature readers with a fairly sophisticated vocabulary. Since this new book is aimed at younger and family audiences, I had to separate it from the perception of my previous writing, so I went with the friendly pseudonym of RJ the Story Guy. I’m not going to great lengths to cover who I am, because I’m promoting the book to my earlier readers, but I’m also gathering new readers through promotions that emphasize this new persona.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Putting myself in Trixie’s body and mind and then reflecting her joy for life was my favorite thing. Of course, some of the episodes have scary moments, so I had to think how a dog would react to something like a thunderstorm and fireworks (which play a role in two of the most important chapters in the book). It’s always exciting to leave my ordinary life behind and enter another one when I write—one of the joys of writing which you can’t put a price on.

You have played the hammered dulcimer for years. Has the creativity and discipline you employ as a musician (or music itself) helped you in your writing journey?
Being a musician is another channel of self-expression, but it is through the creation or re-creation of sounds presented with emotion. Writing is the process of creating and re-creating events, emotions, and people through words. Similar, yet through different means of expression. Both writing and music require serious commitments of time, imagination, and revision. In the end, both are usually shared with others. You end up putting your deepest self out in front of other people. Music, unless recorded, is very transitory. But writing is for the ages, even if what we have written ends up collecting dust on shelves somewhere in forgotten rooms.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have completed the first draft of a dragon story for middle-grade children, ages 10-14. In my Rio Grande Parallax adult fantasy, I created all my own creatures as well as used actual animals who happen to communicate like humans. Recently, I decided there was little point in resisting some durable creatures that already have a huge following among fantasy readers, such as dragons. Automatically, when people see a dragon on the cover and in the title of a book, they are intrigued. So, why overlook that attraction to acquire readers? I came up with a unique twist that I have explored with a dragon as one of my main characters and a fifteen-year-old farm boy as my other lead character.

Trixie continues to develop her personality and reactions to the world, so there are more dog stories to tell, both real and imaged. So far, response by readers has been positive, so why not tell more stories about Trixie and her people?


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Cody W. Benjamin

Cody W. Benjamin spent two years in India as a Peace Corps volunteer, two years in Sudan (East Africa) with a non-governmental organization, and five more years with the Peace Corps in East and West Malaysia where he completed his tour as the program’s country director. Of the time he spent overseas, it was his experience in Malaysia that drew him to the writer’s path. The result is his debut novel, Shaitan, released by Ink Smith Publishing in December 2018. You’ll find Cody on his website at CodyWBenjamin.com and on Facebook and Twitter.


What is your elevator pitch for Shaitan?
When Jim Fairchild arrives in Borneo to take over the Peace Corps program in East Malaysia, he becomes involved in a web of murder, sex, international intrigue and Malay black magic.

What sparked the story idea for the book?
I was a staff member for Peace Corps/Malaysia from 1979-83. The Peace Corps was in Malaysia for over twenty years, and I closed the program as the last country director on December 15, 1983. My wife is Malaysian-Chinese, our daughter was born in Kuala Lumpur, and we return to Malaysia on a regular basis to visit her family. I had such a great time in Malaysia, I felt compelled to write about that experience.

Share a little about your main characters.
On one level, Shaitan is a love story, but my thriller includes many aspects: espionage, the protection of the environment, gay rights, two strong female characters, and Malay black magic or the supernatural. My two protagonists are young. They fall in love and face what appears to be insurmountable difficulties in their personal and professional life. Yet, in the end, love conquers all. Love stories are commonplace, but the exotic location, colorful characters, and my protagonists’ unique set of problems (which include the paranormal) make Shaitan a thriller with many twists and turns.

How did the book come together?
After Peace Corps/Malaysia, I returned to the United States. My wife and I made our home in Albuquerque, and my life as an expatriate came to an end. I soon realized how much I missed Malaysia. The desire to write about that part of my life became a compulsion. Like many novice writers, I looked around for a writing group. Eventually, with the help of SouthWest Writers, I found one that I liked, and we have been together for many years. The constructive criticism and encouragement provided by the members of my writing group has been instrumental in turning my manuscript into a finished product. With my manuscript finally done, I went to several literary conferences. I also kept my eye on the internet. If a literary agent expressed an interest in thrillers from aspiring writers, I submitted a cover letter, synopsis and writing sample. It took eighteen months, but I eventually signed a contract with Ink Smith—a print-on-demand publisher.

Describe one of Shaitan’s main settings. Why is it the perfect place for your story to play out?
My story begins with Jim Fairchild and his old friend Bob Clancy, both connected to the Peace Corps in East Malaysia, in a bungalow on a lonely stretch of beach on the island of Borneo. While a tropical storm pounds the bungalow with high winds, torrential rain, lightning and thunder, the two discuss a Peace Corp volunteer and his relationship with a local woman. The volunteer believes his lover is what Malay folklore calls a shaitan—a beautiful woman that men find irresistible or a tiger with supernatural powers. Jim’s investigation into the volunteer’s death and the woman’s disappearance leads him to CIA agents, Chinese spies, and a plot to train shaitans as super weapons against the West. I use the scene in Bob’s bungalow to set the stage for the rest of the story.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I included a number of themes in Shaitan to make my thriller a more compelling read. At times, keeping all the themes in the proper order, while still advancing the story, proved a challenge.

What was your favorite part of putting the project together?
What I enjoyed most was the actual writing of Shaitan. I had a great time in Malaysia, and my thriller was a way for me to relive that period in my life.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
Having spent two years in India as a Peace Corps volunteer and almost five years in Malaysia, writing a thriller about the Peace Corps in Malaysia didn’t require much research on my part. What I enjoy most about writing is the creative element.

What writing projects are you working on now?
The working title for my new book is Arbor Day on the Saigon River. As the title suggests, my thriller will have a connection to Vietnam. During my tour with Peace Corps/Malaysia, many Vietnamese left the country after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Thousands fled by boat to neighboring countries. When large numbers of Vietnamese boat people arrived on the shores of Malaysia, they were placed in temporary camps. Most of the Vietnamese who reached Malaysia were resettled in countries around the world. Neither Peace Corps/Malaysia nor I had any direct involvement with the exodus of the Vietnamese boat people, but I plan to write about this historical event in Arbor Day.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
My one and only visit to Vietnam was in 2016 when I spent five days in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) as a tourist. On February 19, 2020, while answering the questions for this interview, I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had hoped to go back to Vietnam on that trip to Asia to do research for Arbor Day on the Saigon River, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) in China and neighboring countries disrupted my travel plans.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Authors Vicki Turpen and Shannon Horst

It took twenty-five years for Vicki Turpen and daughter Shannon Horst to bring their debut novel, The Delicate Balance (Terra Nova Books, 2019), from story idea to publication. During that time, they have seen their fictional plot regarding climate change begin to play out in the world. Both authors live in an intentional family community on a farm in Albuquerque’s South Valley and strive to do their part to replenish spaceship Earth. You can connect with Vicki and Shannon on Facebook.


What is your elevator pitch for The Delicate Balance?
In The Delicate Balance, people all around the world try to do what has never been done on a mass scale—change the way they live their lives to avert what they believe is certain impending death. When atmospheric data from around the world indicates the delicate balance of gases that make up air has begun to shift as a result of climate change, United Nations’ climatologist Jesse Forester lands in the hot seat. To avert mass extinction, Forrester and Hannah Koenig, Senior Counsel to The Secretary General, create Operation World Salvation—a worldwide mandatory (on threat of being shot) shutdown of all use of fossil fuels and burning. Amid the chaos that ensues (abandoned hospitals with patients still inside and hordes of roving, starving people), Forrester and Koenig search for ways to put some semblance of civilization back together. Just as they discover pockets of people who have long been living carbon-neutral lives that are rich in many ways, new data appears that indicates the original figures on gases were falsified. Who would do that and why? And, does it matter?

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
We wrote the book with the hope that readers will love the story and the characters. And if climate change does exist, it is an outcome of the way humans live their lives. If that is true, it is entirely within our power to reverse it. There are solutions we can implement right now, no more research needed. If we had the political will, we could restore soil carbon on a massive scale. This would offset huge portions of the legacy load of carbon and the annual increase load. It would also rebuild fresh-water aquifers, increase food production, produce healthier food, restore wildlife habitat, contribute to human health, etc. To reverse the course we are on will require that we all live simpler—but in many ways richer—lives. When people quit pursuing consumptive material things and focus on relationships and restoration of habitat and caring for creatures, their lives aren’t poorer, they’re richer.

We also hope the reader will choose to quit finger pointing, being a victim or allowing others to be victimized. Very few people get up every day and say, “I’m going to destroy biodiversity and throw carbon into the air.” All of us live our lives doing the best we can. We are all in this together. There are people already living rich lives with carbon-neutral or carbon-negative footprints. The reader will meet some of them (or their fictional twins) in the book and ask, “Why aren’t we replicating this on a grand scale?”

Who are the main characters in the book?
Jesse Forester is a tree-hugger and the chief atmospheric scientist for the United Nations who watches ozone levels and trends in climate change. As a result of the worldwide mobilization to halt all use of fossil fuels, he sends his spouse and two teenage boys to his childhood farm in Iowa where he hopes they will be safe. He is then thrown into a working relationship with Hannah Koenig, chief legal counsel to the Secretary General of the UN. Their task is to create and implement a worldwide ban on all fossil fuels and all burning (agricultural, industrial, etc.). And then to find ways to rebuild civilization without repeating the patterns that created climate change. Jesse and Hannah are a mismatched pair—even antagonists—at first. But they quickly build a bond out of the intensity of the chaos they are creating and then attempt to mitigate. They try to make ethical decisions in a world where everyone is just trying to survive. They face dilemmas we may one day face. Do you let prisoners go before you run out of gas to transport them or just let them starve in situ? What about hospitals? Assisted living facilities? Jesse is also faced with the very real prospect he will never see his family again. He is too aware that Hannah is beautiful and intelligent and, if they survive at all, someone he might build a new life with.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The many challenges included: 1) trying to make sure the book read smoothly and not like it was written by two different people; 2) making the story simple—but not simplistic—around the science of climate change; 3) challenging each other many times over what had to get cut, added, or changed in the manuscript (and probably wanting to kill each other, but we survived in the end and remain good friends to this day); 4) being willing to let go, to be okay with the possibility of never getting published; and 5) when we began this 25-year journey, we both had full-time jobs (one of us still works full time), so writing, editing, pitching, and getting published was a real labor of love.

What sparked the story idea?
The kernel of the story came from a conversation one of us had with a colleague who had been working on issues related to the loss of biodiversity, desertification, and the inevitable result of climate change. We brainstormed ways to tell a compelling story about the relationship between soil carbon, soil carbon destruction, the attendant release of carbon to the atmosphere, etc. At the time, we also looked at the fact that most of the movies about global warming proposed it was going to come as just a big series of climactic events that destroy civilization. We considered that we have never mobilized to ward off a tragedy we could see coming. Generally, we wait until the crisis happens and then clean up the mess. Our plot came from all of these musings. There were already plenty of technical books, but the average reader doesn’t read them. So, we put together a mystery plot. As the years went by, the fictional plot we created began to play out around us—increased extremes in weather, increased diseases related to breathing, etc.

Tell us how the book came together.
We divvied up the major characters and the settings where they appear. Vicki wrote most of the short snippets where a character appears only one time but tells the reader things like what really happens when a zoo can no longer feed its animals because there is no fossil fuel. The full manuscript was ready after about 15 years. We edited and reworked it for another five years while also trying to get it published. We sent letters of inquiry, went to various conferences where we pitched the book, etc. Vicki did most of the pitches because she was already retired. And she kept her ear to the ground through SouthWest Writers (SWW). Vicki signed up to do a pitch for two publishers at an SWW conference in 2018. The editor from Terra Nova/Golden Word Books showed sincere interest. Within about a week of the pitch, we had an agreement for them to publish The Delicate Balance, and it was released in 2019.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Our favorite thing about writing this book was the fun times we had together. For example, one time we were working on the book while on a trip and Vicki was updating Shannon about the plot. Vicki had murdered a couple of characters along the way and after the third murder, Shannon (a bit put out) said, “How many of our characters are you going to snuff out?”

What are you most happy with in your writing?
Vicki: I love discovering characters. There is a wonderful world out there of interesting, fascinating people. Once I latch on to one of them, I allow him or her to do the talking and acting for me. Characters in my authored works have said and done things that came from them, not from my own experience. As a long-time drama teacher and director, I visualize the story, scene by scene. I may argue with my characters, but so often they are more creative and ingenuous than I could ever be.

What has writing taught you about yourself?
Vicki: We all learn and remember more when we sit down with a pen or open a computer and write. That is a fact. If we are forced to edit what we write, we discover the myriad ways to say the same thing. We discover what is clean and valuable, or worth thinking and writing about, and not just flotsam and jetsam. During my master’s program in education at UNM, I loved writing for the class about the students I was teaching and learning more about teaching from the vast variety of other teachers in the class. One morning at home after breakfast, I went to write in my study. Later I decided it was probably time to eat lunch only to discover it was already 5:00 pm. I thought, this is fun, and I would love doing this when I retire.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Vicki: Right now, I have in the works a short young-adult novel based on my real experience with #MeToo when I was fifteen. I have a historical novel about what it was like to be a woman in the late 1800s/early 1900s, if you didn’t bend to the rules created by men for women. Lastly, I have a few chapters of a memoir about my 51-year marriage and raising five children.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Patricia Smith Wood

Author Patricia Smith Wood credits her father, a career FBI agent, for sparking her interest in law enforcement and solving crimes. After retiring from a business career that included working at the FBI and owning her own computer company, Pat published her first of the Harrie McKinsey Mysteries in 2013. Murder at the Petroglyphs (Aakenbaaken & Kent, 2019) is the fourth book in the series that once again follows editor and amateur sleuth Harrie and her business partner Ginger as they attempt to solve a complicated murder. You’ll find Pat on her website at PatriciaSmithWood.com and on Facebook and Twitter. For more information about previous books in her series, read her 2015 and 2017 SWW interviews.


What is your elevator pitch for Murder at the Petroglyphs?
Are the Ancient Ones responsible for the body discovered at Petroglyphs National Monument? Why did Harrie McKinsey have a prophetic dream about it? Why haven’t the media in Albuquerque reported on this unexplained death? And why can’t the Albuquerque Police, the FBI, or the CIA discover the identity of the victim?

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I found myself doing a lot more research on this book than on the other three. Even though I’ve lived in Albuquerque since 1951, I had never visited the Petroglyphs until I decided to set the mystery there. Also, I’m not what you would call an “outdoor girl” type. I’ve routinely taken walks around my neighborhood, but hikes in the desert or mountains are not my bag. So I had to find a twist to anchor the story and justify using the Petroglyphs.

Tell us how the book came together.
It was actually my husband who suggested the Petroglyphs as a setting. I had just come out of the swirl of activity connected with the release of my third book, Murder on Frequency. I always think I can sit back and relax once a book is finally out there. But I immediately started being questioned about the next book and when it would be published. In the past, I had an idea at least. Not this time. So when my husband suggested it, I told him I knew nothing about the Petroglyphs. That’s when he picked up the car keys and said, “Let’s go take a look.” We spent most of our time at the Visitor Center and at the Amphitheater. I took many photos so I could have a picture in my mind while writing the book. It was also in a location relatively close to the George Maloof Air Park where model airplane and drone hobbyists gather to fly their machines. Since I wanted to include drones in the story (to satisfy some of my Ham radio buddies), that worked in very well.

It took me a little over two years to write. Then, of course, came the editing. That took about four months. In the middle of that two-year period, my 98-year-old mother passed away. We had all sorts of details to take care of and deal with her property and possessions. So that made it more difficult to focus on the book. The editing process is really the best part. You’ve finished the book—now you can “pretty it up” and make it shine (with any kind of luck at all!)

Who are the main characters in the Harrie McKinsey Mystery series, and why will readers connect with them?
Since the first book, The Easter Egg Murder, I’ve had the same six characters in the series. In the second book I introduced a new female police detective sergeant and I’ve kept her in every book since then. The main characters are Harrie McKinsey and Ginger Vaughn. There’s DJ Scott (an FBI agent), Steve Vaughn (Ginger’s husband), Caroline Johnson (DJ’s mother and Harrie and Ginger’s office manager), and homicide detective Lt. Bob Swanson (Swannie). The new “regular” added in book two is Detective Sergeant Cabrini Paiz. In book number three I introduce her husband and son.

I hope readers see Harrie and Ginger (who are somewhere in their late thirties or early forties as the books proceed) as women they might know and want to hang out with. I hope male readers can identify with the men I feature. DJ and Swannie are featured the most, and I really like them.

Is there a scene in the book you’d love to watch play out in the movie?
Actually there’s more than one, but I guess I’d pick the first chapter. It would have the most visual splendor. When I first wrote it, I included all sorts of descriptions about the sunset over the Petroglyphs on a lovely May evening, and the rising of the full moon over the Sandia Mountains. Then the park ranger takes a short walk around the area to make sure all is well. He encounters a coyote, and then discovers the body. That chapter, and its flowery and scenic descriptions, was radically modified by the editors at the publisher. They wanted a body to appear at the end of page one. Still, as a movie, seeing it would substitute for all the words they had to cut!

If your book did become a movie, who would you like to see in the roles of the main amateur female detectives?
Sandra Bullock (with hair tinted a deep auburn) as Harrie McKinsey. For Ginger, I’d like to have Geena Davis (with black hair.)

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Getting to read it to my critique group. They always had positive reactions and came up with some great comments and suggestions.

You began your fiction writing career later in life. What did your mature self bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
I’d have to say my mature self has a huge advantage over my younger self. I’ve lived an interesting life, with lots of interesting people, jobs, relationships and situations. I’ve experienced many ups and downs that give me perspective and appreciation I didn’t have as a young woman. I can use that stuff with my various characters. I’ve either been there, done that, or know somebody who has been there and done that.

What are the challenges of writing for the cozy mystery market?
That’s a great question but not an easy answer. First, the definition of cozy is very complicated in today’s world. Traditionally, one describes it as akin to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The thread running through those stories is an amateur sleuth who solves a murder (which never happens on the page—only discovered there) and does so before the authorities can solve it. Nowadays, there are so many sub-genres of cozy it’s confusing. I heard someone recently imply an authentic cozy needs comedy, romance, and a protagonist who solves everything without the help of law enforcement. That’s not the sort of cozy mystery I write. In my mind, there’s no on-screen violence, the murder takes place off stage, there’s no foul language (there may be a “hell” or a “damn” now and then), and there are no sex scenes. I wanted my mother to be able to read my books without needing to chastise me. So one of the biggest challenges is explaining to people what a cozy mystery is—at least what MY kind of cozy is.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Katayoun Medhat

Katayoun Medhat was raised in Iran and Germany, studied anthropology in Berlin and London, and worked in an adolescent psychiatric unit. For her PhD in medical anthropology, she researched mental health and alcohol rehab services on the Navajo Nation in the southwestern United States. Her first novel, The Quality of Mercy (book one in the Milagro Mystery series), was inspired by her fieldwork on the Navajo Nation and won the 2016 Leapfrog Fiction Award. Lacandon Dreams (Leapfrog Press, 2019) is her newest book and the second in the series. You’ll find Kat on her website at KatayounMedhat.com and on Facebook and Twitter.


What is your elevator pitch for the Milagro Mystery series?
“The travails of Don Quixote recast in the Southwest featuring Milagro small-town cop Franz Kafka and Navajo tracker Robbie Begay” just about sums up the Milagro Mysteries. Against the backdrop of the rugged Southwest in all its natural splendor and cultural diversity, rebel with a cause (and unlikely cop) Franz Kafka aka ‘K’ confronts the demons and dragons of contemporary America—frackers, meth-pushers, gang-bangers, vigilantes—the good, the evil and the misguided. K has the help of Navajo cop and soul-brother Robbie Begay who has learned how to survive historic injustice without necessarily forgiving it and who has all the investigative skills and shrewd insight that K lacks.

“…a buddy novel, a work of history and collective and inter-generational trauma, a play with genre, from noir (…) to road movie…” is how the European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling reviewed The Quality of Mercy (Milagro Mystery I) and I am more than okay with that.

What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in book two, Lacandon Dreams?
An encounter with an environmental activist leads K to a quagmire of environmental destruction and corporate corruption which is tolerated—and perhaps even encouraged—by Milagro’s good ol’ boys’ network. K, still shaken by the tragic consequences of a previous case (The Quality of Mercy), finds himself once again on a solitary quest taking on the establishment, while also trying to solve the baffling disappearance of a model student. Robbie Begay, laid low after a shoot-out with meth-pushers, comes to help his old buddy K. Though Begay’s investigative methods do not always gel with K’s principles, together the odd couple uncovers a tangled web of deception leading to a ruthless vendetta involving Milagro’s upper echelons. Lacandon Dreams has some unforeseen and rather intriguing developments in store for K.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This is my second book in the Milagro Mystery series, and as such the main challenge was to create a continuation between Lacandon Dreams and The Quality of Mercy without being repetitive or predictable, but also without disappointing returning readers who appreciated the particular setting, characters, and themes of the first book. Writing your first book you enjoy the privilege of innocence: everything is virgin territory (though that’s something you only appreciate, like so many things, with the benefit of hindsight).

Tell us more about Lacandon Dreams and how it came together.
Lacandon Dreams came out of a particular time. The 45th president had just come into office, and there was a lot of rhetoric that I, as a descendant of various peoples who experienced Diaspora and displacement, found very disturbing. I wanted to write something that charted the cultural diversity of the Southwest and that reflected a wide spectrum of histories and experiences. I wanted to write something that celebrated the invisible network of cultural roots that connects us all with each other. There is so much to be admired and celebrated here—and so much to be worried about too!

What sparked the story idea for the first book, The Quality of Mercy? When did you know the storyline or the choice of characters was strong enough for a series?
Fieldwork for a PhD left me with an enduring fascination with, and love of, the Southwest, in particular the Navajo Nation. I spent some time observing and volunteering in mental health services and in an alcohol and substance rehab program on the reservation where the ways in which history still casts its shadow on the present became quite obvious. Luckily the tribal ethos of community and communality is enduring and strong, as is the system of extended families and family support. The greatest thing for me was the Navajo sense of humor. Someone once told me, “Wherever you find a group of Navajo, you will hear laughing.” And this is true. During this time I heard so many stories and gained so many impressions that stimulated my imagination that trying my hand on a mystery became a tempting new challenge. Writing a PhD thesis you have to reign in and discipline your imagination. Writing fiction you are king (or queen) of that great realm in your head. It is so liberating! Once I started I found a whole new world of ideas for plots and storylines opened up. So I intend to keep on going!

Tell us about your main characters and why readers will connect with them.
My main character is Franz Kafka aka ‘K’ who suspects that his choice to be a police officer is so far from his natural sensibilities that it makes it akin to self-harm. K is a stranger in a strange land. He has plenty of hinterland, frequently feels out of place, but he has his principles for which he will fight relentlessly. He is a natural anarchist, and being subversive is his default mode. And he has a very keen eye for the absurd. Robbie Begay is a Navajo police officer and a preternaturally adept track reader who is the Yin to K’s Yang. Begay is robustly pragmatic, not to say an outright cynic. He is very perceptive and shrewd and provides grounding to K who is more of a dreamer. Most importantly Begay has a sharp sense of humor and deep psychological insight.

Begay and K are two characters who complement each other. They have a strong friendship, though neither would care to admit to this. They prefer ribbing each other and tend to express their mutual affection mainly through sarcasm, as many men do. The tenderness is all between the lines with these two. Together they are a pretty renegade team and often act out and challenge the establishment and subvert hierarchies in ways that most of us wish we could.

Why did you choose the Southwest as the setting for the books?
The mesas, the plains, the colors, the cultures, the never-ending sky, the peoples and their languages, history, history, history…I love it! And so much here reminds me of the country of my birth—Iran.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of writing this series?
Learning to trust my characters enough to let them go where they wished to. Really, characters sometimes escape your custody and do their own thing. They will go ahead and say things you had no idea they would. I sometimes marvel at K and Begay’s wit. They say stuff I could never dream up! And they make me laugh and sometimes cry. I once heard a famous writer say that whoever claims their characters talk to them needs their head examined—so be it! To me as a writer nothing beats having characters you supposedly created surprise you.

What inspired you to become a writer?
Wanting to write was an abstract thought. I always thought I would get to it at some point when the time was ripe. People used to tell me I should be a writer. By trade I am an anthropologist and a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. These occupations involve observing, listening and (most of all) being interested in people—as does writing. One day somebody told me about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I thought, “Well, I’ll try that.” That’s how the first draft of The Quality of Mercy was born—50,000 words in two weeks. Compared to the torturous tightrope that was writing my PhD thesis, writing fiction was a walk in the park! I submitted an edited version of my manuscript to Leapfrog Press’s Fiction Contest, and The Quality of Mercy was their 2016 Contest Winner.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
That it is pretty lucky to get a starred review in Publishers Weekly with your first published book, which in turn will get your book into public libraries throughout the country, and that is a great privilege!

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
The world is dark and dystopian, but it will be the small acts of kindness that will save us. I’m not sure. But that could be one message. The other one is that laughter and tears go side by side and make up life. All is bitter-sweet or sweet-bitter, but there’s no avoiding either flavor.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am currently nearing the completion of the first draft of Milagro Mystery III. The working title is Flyover Country, though the final title may be different. I am very excited about the book. It is going to be pretty dark, I think—but these are the times we live in.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Elaine Carson Montague

Elaine Carson Montague’s first book, Victory from the Shadows (ABQ Press, 2019), tells her husband’s story of “growing up in a New Mexico school for the blind and beyond.” Gary Ted Montague, who coped with low vision from birth, went on to academic success and a three-decade career at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque. Victory from the Shadows won the James McGrath Morris silver award for published nonfiction in A Celebration of Writing (November 2019) presented by the Albuquerque Museum Foundation. The book was also a finalist in the biography category of the 2019 New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. To learn more about Elaine and Gary, visit ElaineMontague.com.


What is your elevator pitch for Victory from the Shadows?
Pull on Gary Montague’s cowboy boots to see his world of low vision as he abruptly leaves his farm home at age eight for a residential school and enters the culture of the blind. Celebrate the strength, resilience, and optimism of the human spirit by author-educators who understand that diverse needs require diverse solutions.

What do you hope readers will take away from the memoir?
That those with physical challenges, especially vision loss, can live successful lives and do meaningful work with courage and determination. A lot of success is made by your inner self. We hope to erase some misconceptions. Also that education of the visually impaired has had a paradigm shift in the last sixty years. Family, volunteers, and music played important roles in Gary’s success.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Over the nine years we worked on Victory, I attended local writing meetings, conferences, and workshops and studied online to develop writing skills. Deciding what voice to write in, extracting information from my husband (because he did not want to relive his experiences), and turning statements and letters into scenes were most challenging.

When did you know you wanted to share your husband’s story, and what prompted the push to begin?
For fifty years, I wanted to tell his fascinating story. I guess exasperation and desperation led me to challenge him to let me tell it if he refused to do so. We were well into our seventies, and time was fleeting!

Tell us more about how the book came together.
I rewrote the book in its entirety at least four times and revised it many more. It took Gary two years to enjoy the project, then we sustained our focus and dedication for another seven. I always believed the story needed to be told. It became a mission, a God-driven project, which got us over many humps like ill health, quieting my struggle for perfection, and presenting difficult topics in an uplifting manner without whining. We found we could work together to achieve a common goal over a long period even when we disagreed or felt discouraged. We celebrated little accomplishments, such as a scene about the bland subject of broomcorn harvesting or a sensitive family issue. I gave Gary a snow globe with a replica of a Woodie station wagon inside, perfect to celebrate our first proof copy. It was a Woodie that came to pick up Gary and his mother at the Alamogordo train depot in 1944. I also found I had to remind myself of our theme during hard times. If it was good enough for the reader, I had to live it: Persevere with integrity whatever the challenge. It was not easy.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was finished and ready for publishing?
Gary was ready long before I was, but he humored my rewrites and multiple readings for his approval. A good editor recommended chopping out at least a third to a half, and I went forth with a hatchet. Gary and I had agreed to include specific points. Once I made sure those were in the manuscript, I chopped everything not advancing those points. Hard at first, it became fun to see what I could eliminate. In year eight, I set a time at which I promised myself I would stop “perfecting” Victory and move on. We published in year nine.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Seeing my husband happy with Victory from the Shadows and knowing it would help people deal with their situations in life relative to visual impairment or other challenges.

In the course of writing the memoir, were you ever afraid of revealing too much of yourself or your husband? If so, how did you move past that fear?
I wondered if I made us vulnerable to scammers by publicizing our lives. Family issues were considered carefully. It was important to be honest. Sometimes I did not know if I was Elaine or Gary because I wrote the final version in first person. We prayed for guidance, reviewed our goals, and took risks.

What is the hardest thing about writing?
For me, it was getting started and asking for help from the right people. I wanted Victory to be considered a history book as well as an interesting memoir, so I tried to be very careful about accuracy.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started writing the memoir today?
I would write a shorter book, start with an action scene, be satisfied to aim at a narrower topic and audience, and be satisfied sooner with the product. I might use fewer graphics. Enter contests sooner.

Where do you think a writer’s responsibility lies when memories of incidents occurred in decades past—with the facts or with the perception or feelings about the incidents?
While both are important, I think the reader wants to know perception or feelings and forgives facts, but that depends on whose memoir is being told.

Why do you think people like reading memoirs and biographies?
To relieve their anxiety and validate their own lives, for enjoyment of good times, and to grow spiritually and emotionally.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Just start writing. Keep writing without editing till you’re done. Worry not!

What writing projects are you working on now?
All my writing now is related to promoting Victory from the Shadows because I am a one-person team for doing that. My husband and I cannot travel, so I rely on social media and my long-term plan for contacting teacher-training programs and service providers across the country. We have had the book recorded for the print disabled and would like to have it converted to braille. I am entering contests, too. For the future, I am mulling over issues related to aging in place and assisted living.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
My husband and I make book talks to small groups when invited. We will be at Organic Books on March 28, 2020 and at Bear Canyon Senior Center on June 3, 2020 (both in Albuquerque). My entry about medical rehab won a second-place medal in the SWW Poetry and Prose Contest in 2019, and I have contributed to the SWW Sage newsletter.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




More 2019 New Releases for SWW Authors

Authors RJ Mirabal, Don Morgan, Robin Perini, and Vicki Turpen represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW) with 2019 releases in the genres of children’s books, mystery, romantic suspense, and science fiction. Look for interviews or updates for these authors in 2020.

A list of previously interviewed SWW authors with 2019 releases is included at the end of this post.


Trixie Finds Her People, written by RJ the Story Guy (aka RJ Mirabal), tells the story of Trixie the Brown Dog. This mama dog is rescued from a situation where she and her puppies were part of a hoard of 23 dogs. After her puppies are adopted, she joins a girl and her grandparents as her new family. At first, everything is new: living indoors in her new home, learning to potty outdoors, getting the occasional bath (not fun!), and being locked in the laundry room at night (really not fun!). Soon Trixie and her people’s lives turn into a series of wonderful, humorous, and sometimes scary adventures. In addition to her real life, Trixie embarks on three fantasy adventures while she sleeps. In the end it’s all about the bond of love between a rescue dog and her true forever family. Available on Amazon.

Visit RJ’s websites at TrixieTheBrownDog.com and RJMirabal.com. Read his 2015 interview and 2017 interview update.


The Voxlightner Scandal is book six in the BJ Vinson Mystery series written by Don Travis (SWW member Don Morgan). No good deed goes unpunished, as investigator BJ Vinson is about to discover. Writer John Pierce Belhaven was murdered before he could reveal the name of another killer—one connected to the biggest scandal to rock Albuquerque in years. Two of the city’s most prominent citizens—Barron Voxlightner and Dr. Walther Stabler—vanished in 2004, along with fifty million dollars looted from Voxlightner Precious Metals Recovery Corp. BJ agrees to help novice detective Roy Guerra reopen the old case which the wealthy and influential Voxlightner family doesn’t want dredged up. But Belhaven was part of their family, and that connection could’ve led to his murder. Or did the sixty-year-old author die because of a sordid sexual affair? Available on Amazon.

You’ll find Don on his website at DonTravis.com. Read his 2018 and 2019 interviews.


Robin Perini’s Forgotten Legacy is the second release in the Singing River series published by Montlake Romance (2019). Forgotten secrets. Forgotten lies. A family legacy…A determined killer. On the outskirts of Singing River, Wyoming, a couple dies in a fire that ravages their remote mountain home. Everyone believes it’s a tragic accident—except FBI profiler Riley Lambert. She isn’t convinced, and neither is her fiancé, ex-Navy SEAL turned sheriff Thayne Blackwood. When they discover that the couple’s daughter is missing, Riley’s dark memories of her own sister’s kidnapping ratchet up the urgency to find the girl—before it’s too late. Dodging danger, they follow a tangled web of clues pointing to a forgotten secret that Thayne’s Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother holds dear. But when their deadly investigation veers too close to home and brings a twisted killer to Riley’s and Thayne’s doorsteps, can they save those they love and stop the murderer before time runs out? Available on Amazon.

Last Stand in Texas, by Robin Perini, was released by Harlequin Intrigue in early 2019. Two people whose dangerous pasts are never far behind… Will their secrets catch up to them? Stranded in small-town Texas, desperate to keep her daughter from her serial-killer ex, Faith Thomas must rely on covert operative Léon Royce. But he, too, is on the run, hiding his real identity and denying his real attraction to Faith. Protecting her and Zoe becomes his mission…one he’ll risk his life—and heart—for. Available on Amazon.

Visit Robin’s website at RobinPerini.com and read her 2016 interview.


The Delicate Balance is a post-apocalyptic thriller written by Vicki Turpen and Shannon Horst. The Earth is dying—its life forms bound for extinction—unless the most fundamental of changes is made: Carbon-based fuels must be abandoned. Chaos results—migrating hordes of starving people, abandoned hospitals and prisons (patients and inmates still inside), and deserted cities where only cockroaches still live. But then Jesse Forester, the U.N. scientist responsible for the changes that survival demands, finds hints that the data at the core of the new global policy may be flawed. And murders start happening. Rushing headlong into a frantic search for the truth, Jesse and his team discover pockets of people who are living rich and satisfying lives in Eden-like landscapes without any use of carbon fuels. As the plotters Jesse is seeking become more desperate, can these flourishing communities help avert humanity’s slow death from the poisonous fruits of climate change growing at its doorstep? Available on Amazon.


SWW Author Interviews (2019 Releases)

Sherri L. BurrComplicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia, 1619-1865
Kit CrumptonPlease Send Ketchup: WWII Letters from a B-29 Pilot
C. Joseph Greaves (Chuck Greaves) • Church of the Graveyard Saints
Scott Archer JonesAnd Throw Away the Skins
Jacqueline Murray LoringVietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency
Neill McKeeFinding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah
Sharon Vander MeerThunder Prime Hunter’s Light
Don MorganAbaddon’s Locusts


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2019 New Releases for SWW Authors

Joseph Badal, Parris Afton Bonds, Susan Cooper, Randy Cooper, and Elaine Carson Montague are just a few authors who represent the diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW). The new releases in this post cover different genres—suspense, historical romance, an anthology of short works, and memoir. Look for interviews or author updates for these authors in 2020.

A list of previously interviewed SWW authors with 2019 releases is included at the end of this post.


Bestselling author Joseph Badal delivers Justice (Suspense Publishing, 2019), the third in his Curtis Chronicles series, with the same relentless tension that is a trademark of his award-winning suspense novels. As with all of Badal’s novels, Justice is a bold and complex thriller. It weaves an intricate plot involving multiple international locations, a human trafficking organization, the CIA, Special Operations, corrupt politicians, Bulgarian organized crime figures, Swiss bankers, and a compelling cast of engaging, inspiring, and diabolical characters. The Curtis Chronicles is an epic series that delves into the age-old conflict between good and pure evil, where each book leaves you begging for more. Available on Amazon.

Homicide detective partners Barbara Lassiter and Susan Martinez return in Natural Causes (Suspense Publishing, 2019), Joseph Badal’s third novel in the Lassiter/Martinez Case Files series. Called in to investigate a mysterious death in a retirement center, Lassiter and Martinez find themselves entangled in a case that might very well involve multiple murders committed by a psychopathic killer. The deeper they get into their investigation, the more complex and dangerous the case becomes, threatening the lives of the detectives and their loved ones. Joseph Badal offers up another suspenseful tale with twists and turns that will keep the reader on a roller coaster ride of drama, action, and emotion from the first to the last page. Available on Amazon.

Visit Joe’s website JosephBadalBooks.com and Amazon author page, and read his 2016 and 2018 interviews.


Before there was New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, or Utah, there was Texas. Molded by Old Mexico and a new rough and ready breed of hearty settlers from around the world, The Lone Star Republic was the thing of dreams—land, riches, liberty, home. With the first volume of her highly addictive Texicans saga, The Brigands (Lagan Press, 2019), New York Times bestselling author Parris Afton Bonds brings us the riveting tale of four wayward souls colliding on the eve of revolution. From the shadow of the Alamo to the bloody fields of San Jacinto, their lives and loves, hopes and allegiances, will be tested in ways none of them could ever imagine. Fast-paced and tightly-plotted, The Brigands is a triumph of historical romantic fiction that will leave readers breathless. Available on Amazon.

When the Heart Is Right (Lagan Press, 2019) by Parris Afton Bonds: When Washington D.C. socialite Alessandra O’Quinn is diagnosed with tuberculosis, she must leave everything she knows to seek a cure in the dry desert air of New Mexico. In her new home, Alessandra meets the local Taos Indians and shaman Manuel Mondragon. As she learns how to heal her body, she finds herself fighting to save her true self, as well as her heart. She soon joins the fight against the Bureau of Indian Affairs for the rights to Blue Lake, where the tribe believes their ancient culture was created out of the sacred waters. Set in 1920s New Mexico, this is a story of politics, male domination, racism, and love against all odds. Available on Amazon.

You’ll find a list of Parris’ publications on her SWW Author Page. Visit her website at ParrisAftonBonds.com and read her 2015 interview.


SWW members Susan Cooper and Randy Cooper are two (of seven) contributors to Lost Echoes Found: An Anthology of Speculations and Memories. Are you looking for stories that will make you laugh or cry or cringe—or wonder? Lost Echoes Found, written and published by the group Lost Echoes, Albuquerque Writers, includes poetry, memoir, and stories for all ages, ranging from science fiction and fantasy to thriller, from horror to ghost stories. You’ll find an alien who looks like a giant grasshopper, a pirate story, an imaginary friend who’s real (and scary), a canine ghost, and a true feel-good story about Parisians. Available on Amazon.

Connect with Lost Echoes, Albuquerque Writers on Facebook and their website LostEchoesAlbuquerqueWriters.com. Read Susan’s 2015 interview.


Elaine Carson Montague and husband Gary Ted Montague’s debut Victory From The Shadows (ABQ Press, 2019) celebrates the human spirit with this true story of love by authors who understand the complexities of being a child who needs educational modifications. Courageous love of a mother. Encouraging love of a teacher. Unselfish love of volunteers. Enduring love of a wife. Pull on Gary’s cowboy boots to see his world with low vision as he abruptly leaves his farm home at age eight and enrolls in a residential school for the blind. With one train ride, his life changes forever. The darkness frightens Gary when he hears Mom’s footsteps fade away. Available on Amazon.

Visit Elaine’s website at ElaineMontague.com.


SWW Author Interviews (2019 Releases)

Sherri L. BurrComplicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia, 1619-1865
Kit CrumptonPlease Send Ketchup: WWII Letters from a B-29 Pilot
C. Joseph Greaves (Chuck Greaves) • Church of the Graveyard Saints
Scott Archer JonesAnd Throw Away the Skins
Jacqueline Murray LoringVietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency
Neill McKeeFinding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah
Sharon Vander MeerThunder Prime Hunter’s Light
Don MorganAbaddon’s Locusts


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Kit Crumpton

History lover and former engineer Kit Crumpton writes historical fiction and nonfiction inspired by her family’s past. Her fourth and most recent release is Please Send Ketchup: WWII Letters from a B-29 Pilot (2019). Connect with Kit on her website KitCrumpton.com, and discover more about her writing in SWW’s 2016 and 2017 interviews.


What is your elevator pitch for Please Send Ketchup?
How does one preserve their heart, mind and soul in a brutal theater of fire during war? My father knew the answer: faith in God, community involvement, planning a future, love of country, duty and staying close to family.

What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
My father’s letters and reader awareness of WWII events bring challenges of a life experience to the surface. My dad found a way to negotiate through this darkness and find moments of light. If their heart is open, my reader can ponder these things in their own life path.

How did you choose the title?
Many of my dad’s letters end with requests for condiments, family pictures, local newspapers, canned foods and some necessities that gave my dad the feel of home, loved ones, and brought him some momentary relief from the pressures of war.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
There are four voices in this book, so I had to figure out how to manage each one. My dad’s letters (his voice) are in italics. Sadly, I preferred a script font but was advised the younger generation do not know how to read script (too bad). Two other voices include high-level descriptions of B-29 Superfortress bombing missions and low-level personal mission accounts. My BookBaby (producer) interior designer did a great job in delineating these things. Each page has footnotes and some of those footnotes are my comments—another voice. I insisted all footnotes be at the bottom of each page (another book interior designer challenge). My comments are in red font so the reader’s eye will naturally notice my words on the page.

This book is done in color, has pictures, over three-hundred sixty footnotes, a glossary and a robust bibliography. My editor did a great job validating my bibliography. She also found some better sources.

What prompted the push to begin this project?
Fortunately, my dad was a pack-rat and kept evidence of his robust military career. I inherited all his papers. I simply reached a point in my life where I could write and produce my books. I am very interested in WWII. Dad’s career turned my head toward the Pacific Theater. This book took about eighteen months to write and produce.

What was your favorite part of putting the book together?
There are powerful moments that still bring me tears. My dad barely survived two of his missions, yet he bravely performed as a warrior and a leader of his crew. I noticed how he attended church after some of his missions. He wrote about some of the sermons he heard. The last one has powerful words the chaplain gave to his flock. I sometimes still cry when I read his description of what happened when the war was finally over. The news was received with dizzying reactions, tremendous relief, wondering if it was true, and survivor’s guilt. I found a photo of my dad and members of his fight crew and ground crew underneath his B-29 named Dark Eyes reveling with the news of the war’s end.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Please Send Ketchup?
Yes, I did not know: 1) We conducted more Superfortress bombing missions after we dropped the second atomic bomb. President Truman became concerned the Japanese were taking too long to announce their surrender. So, we bombed six more targets and dropped more mines into their waters at Shimonoseki. My dad flew his B-29 Dark Eyes over Hikari Naval Arsenal, August 14, 1945. After that, the Japanese surrendered. 2) That at the end of the Japanese surrender ceremony on USS Missouri, September 2, 1945, we flew almost anything that was flyable down low over the battleship and into Japanese airspace. The message was clear, that Japan would never be the same again. 3) There were several other smaller Japanese surrender ceremonies after the famous one on USS Missouri. These surrender ceremonies speak to the vast Japanese empire of that era: Southwest Asia, New Guinea, Korea, Australia, Timor, Borneo, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and China. 4) Russia took advantage of Japan’s dilemma, declared war on Japan on August 9, 1945 and invaded Manchuria. How conniving!

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
My background is in engineering, so I know how to conduct research and write papers. Having my own writing and self-publishing business, I knew I would make mistakes. Fortunately, I’ve only made a couple and I’ve survived. But nothing prepared me for a personal, verbal attack I received from a veteran. Not liking a book is one thing but triggering an attack on an author was something I did not expect. You never know how you touch another person’s life. That one I give to God.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Take the risk. Life is a journey, so live life fully. Good people will recognize what you are trying to do and encourage you. Blessings are around the corner.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: C. Joseph Greaves

Chuck Greaves/C. Joseph Greaves won SouthWest Writers’ Storyteller Award in 2010 for his debut novel Hush Money (Minotaur, 2012), which became a finalist for the Shamus, Lefty, Audie, Reviewers’ Choice, and New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards. Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House Press, 2019) is his sixth novel. Chuck is also the book critic for the Four Corners Free Press newspaper in southwestern Colorado, where he lives and writes. You’ll find him at ChuckGreaves.com and on Facebook. Read his 2016 SWW interview to find out more about Chuck and his writing.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Church of the Graveyard Saints?
That it’s a compelling read! I’ve likened it to a Shakespearean tragedy in which the Capulets of resource extraction and the Montagues of environmental conservation square off in the background while an intensely personal love story plays out in the foreground. It should appeal to readers who enjoy a little romance with their adventure, and a dash of real-world relevance in their otherwise escapist fiction.

Tell us about your main characters.
Addie Decker is a 23-year-old grad student at UCLA who, thanks to a difficult father and a bad breakup with her boyfriend, left her family’s ranch in the Four Corners vowing never to return. Only now, five years later, she does return in the company of her new beau (who’s also her faculty adviser) to combat the expansion of gas drilling in and around the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument which adjoins the family ranch, only to find that her father welcomes the gas rigs and her old boyfriend, newly divorced, works on one. The story is told from four points of view—those of Addie, her father, her new beau, and her old boyfriend. Each has a very different view on the subject of resource extraction, and that frisson, together with the incipient love triangle, propels the story forward.

How did you come up with the title?
I’ve been asked the question, “What does the title mean?” at virtually every book signing I’ve done, and my answer in each case has been, “When you get to the end, you’ll understand completely.”

How did the book come together?
At just over 70,000 words, this is the shortest of my six novels, and yet it took the longest—almost three years—to write. It’s also my first foray into purely commercial/literary fiction, which might explain the care I took to get everything right. I moved to the Four Corners from Santa Fe seven years ago, and I wanted to write a book that captured both the beauty of the region and the challenges facing those who live here, particularly the multi-generational farmers and ranchers struggling to eke a living out of this harsh high-desert environment. That setting—the red-rock canyon country of southwestern Colorado—is very much a fifth character in the novel.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I love writing fiction, so the creative process is always a thrill. What’s been particularly gratifying about this novel is that, while still in galleys, it was selected by six public libraries in the Four Corners region—those of Cortez, Dolores, Mancos, Montrose, and Ignacio (Colorado) and Moab (Utah) —to launch their inaugural “Four Corners/One Book” community-wide reading program. It was a tremendous honor, and I’ve been busy with kickoff events and public readings, all of which will culminate in January with a series of group discussions of the novel and the issues it raises. My favorite moment so far came when Karen Sheek, the mayor of Cortez, pulled me aside to say she both laughed and cried while reading Church of the Graveyard Saints. That’s something every novelist longs to hear.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Church of the Graveyard Saints?
Unlike my historical novels Hard Twisted (2012) and Tom & Lucky (2015), both from Bloomsbury, Church of the Graveyard Saints didn’t involve a whole lot of research other than a generalized understanding of, and interest in, the environmental challenges facing the desert Southwest. The book is chock full of interesting tidbits in that regard. For example, did you know that the world’s human population in the year 1800 was one billion, and that by 1960 it was still only three billion? Today it’s approaching eight billion, and growing exponentially at a current rate of approximately a quarter-million people per day. Issues like that—population growth, public lands cattle grazing, oil and gas extraction, methane emissions—all get a passing mention without (I hope) interfering with the story.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I agree with whoever it was that said, “I only write when I’m inspired, but I make it a point to be inspired every morning at nine o’clock.” So yes, I’m fairly regimented, and I believe in visiting the manuscript every day, even if only to polish what I wrote the day before. I think the worst mistake a writer can make—particularly a new writer—is to put the story aside and hope for inspiration to come. For me, inspiration comes from putting words on paper and seeing where they lead.

Is there something you’d like to develop from material you haven’t been able to use?
I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve finished every novel I’ve started and sold every novel I’ve finished. Next up for me is the fourth entry in my Jack MacTaggart series of legal mysteries, which I plan to complete this winter. I just turned my short story “The Weight of a Feather”— which appears in SWW’s The Storyteller’s Anthology—into a one-act stage play that I hope to see performed next year, and I have another short story, “The DQ Rules,” scheduled to appear in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Lastly, I’m collaborating with a TV director on a possible cable series set here in the Southwest. So I’m always developing something, even if it’s just carpal tunnel syndrome.


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 posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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