Blog Archives

Author Update: Joyce Hertzoff

Retired from over four decades in a science-based career, author Joyce Hertzoff now writes flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and novels in several genres including mystery, science fiction, and fantasy. She released two books in 2018: So, You Want to be a Dragon, a middle-grade adventure, and Beyond the Sea, book three in The Crystal Odyssey series for a YA audience. You’ll find Joyce on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as her website at and blog at Read more about Joyce in her SWW interviews for 2015 and 2017, and visit Amazon Central for all of her books.

What is your elevator pitch for So, You Want to be a Dragon?
When three children succeed in turning themselves into dragons to parlay with real ones and protect their town, how can they change back?

How did the book come together?
I honestly don’t recall the spark that ignited this story. I had an image of a teenager selling shellfish and her little sister alerting her to the dragon attack on their harbor town. That’s basically still the first scene in the book. I had to put it together after that. What would they have to do to reason with the dragons? What process would they need? That was all based on the characteristics dragons have. It’s not a long book, so it took less time to write than my novels, but there was a lot of thought and research necessary to bring it together. And then I got the services of the amazing Rik Ty to give me drawings I could use and even a cover design.

Tell us a little about your main characters.
Bekka, the fourteen-year-old first-person POV character, is the responsible one, but she’s caught up in her little sister’s enthusiasm. She also learns during the story that her sister has skills and abilities she’s never known about. Cora is described by Bekka as seven going on forty, full of energy and enthusiasm. She’s the one who comes up with the idea to shape-shift into dragons. Derry, the third of their group, is a next-door neighbor, the kind of boy mothers are wary about. Additional characters include a revered mage, a self-styled shape-shifter, a boat captain, and the girls’ mother, as well as dragons (of course).

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
Finding ways for the kids to turn into dragons when the shape-shifter failed them, and then ways to turn them back.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I had fun writing the story, and my enjoyment doubled again when I saw Rik’s drawing of the dragons and the kids, both for the cover and the inside of the book.

The Crimson Orb, the first book in The Crystal Odyssey series, follows teenager Nissa on a journey to find the wizard Madoc, her missing magic teacher. The series continues in Under Two Moons with Nissa searching for the source of Madoc’s strange books which leads her to discover secrets about her world and its lost crystal-based technology. What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in book three, Beyond the Sea?
It continues the story of Nissa’s growing awareness of the world she lives in. Traveling beyond the sea to Fartek, she has more new experiences and learns how divided the people of that continent have become since the fall of the artificial satellites a thousand years before. Finally, she and her companions find the source of the strange books Madoc got from a traveler from Solwintor.

Each of the books in the Crystal Odyssey Series takes place in a different part of your story world. How did you decide on the settings for this book?
I wanted it to have a somewhat Asian influence, as opposed to the Scandinavian features of Solwintor and the British feel of Leara. But the setting had to have inherent dangers too, like the chasm and the tigers.

What do you like most about Nissa, the main character in the series?
She is open to learning new things and accepting new people. She’s also a feminist, encouraging other girls and women to take charge of their lives.

What unique challenges did this project pose for you?
I wanted to make Nissa’s experiences different from those in The Crimson Orb and Under Two Moons. I also wanted each group of people to have unique characteristics and knowledge.

How do you meld science with fantasy elements to make this series work?
When I wrote the first book, I referred to it as crystal punk. Rather than electricity powering the machines, everything works using crystals. But they had to focus energy for that to be true. I based part of it on things like crystal radios, and the rest on the characters’ abilities to use their minds to focus the energy all around them. I wish we could do that. Many fantasy stories refer to the ley lines supposed to exist all around the Earth. The energy is strongest at certain places.

You help facilitate online courses for Writers Village University. What do many of the beginning writers you deal with misunderstand about storytelling?
Many don’t know how to bring out the emotions in their characters. That’s part of what engages readers. I struggle with that skill myself. Also a few rely too heavily on descriptions that have nothing to do with the plot or characters.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on several projects: the fourth book in The Crystal Odyssey series; a sequel to my award-winning portal novella, A Bite of the Apple; a story about a train disaster that turns out to be apocalyptic (I’m writing the third novel of that series); and an enviro-apocalyptic story about a girl exiled from a domed town.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’ve also had a few short stories published. The latest story, “A Woman Hobbles into a Bar,” appears in the charity anthology Challenge Accepted.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Authors Jasmine Tritten and Jim Tritten

The husband and wife team of Jim and Jasmine Tritten share not only a love of one another from their home in Corrales, New Mexico, they also share a love of writing. Jasmine is an artist, as well as a short story and essay writer, and the author of the memoir The Journey of an Adventuresome Dane (read her 2016 interview). Jim, a retired U.S. Navy officer, has published six books and over three hundred chapters, short stories, essays, articles, and government technical reports. Kato’s Grand Adventure is the authors’ first children’s book collaboration. For a complete list of Jasmine’s published work, visit her SWW author page. You’ll also find her on Facebook. Jim’s work is listed on his own SWW page, and you’ll find him on Facebook and Twitter.

What is your elevator pitch for Kato’s Grand Adventure?
An adventure story written from the perspective of a kitten named Kato who gets lost looking for his sister. With the help of several animals he overcomes obstacles and finds his way home. Suitable to be read-aloud to children and grandchildren or as a first chapter book for anyone with a 4th–5th grade reading level.

Who are your main characters, and why will they appeal to the book’s audience?
Kato is the adventurous main character and the protagonist. He has all of the characteristics of a young child who will meet obstacles on life’s path. The story includes Kato getting help from some unlikely animals in nature who adults might consider predators.

What part did each of you play in creating the book?
We both worked back and forth on the text. Jasmine did all of the original artwork and designed the cover. Jim took care of the grunt work of uploading files to CreateSpace for a finished product.

What was the hardest part of collaborating, and what was the easiest?
Collaborating was easy since neither one of us was pressured by time. The hardest part was to learn how to write for an early reader. Jasmine and Jim have collaborated on other pieces which include the soon-to-be published “KALE—the Ultimate Vegetable” that will appear in Kale Chronicles (working title) to be compiled by the Corrales Writing Group.

How did you decide what aspect of the story to illustrate?
Jasmine first wanted to capture Kato to put him on the cover of the book. Next she decided to depict the other characters in the story that helped Kato, so the reader could imagine what they looked like. Finally she drew a couple of scenes with setting and characters.

What is the greatest challenge of writing for the children’s market?
The professional children’s publishing market is dominated by requirements set by school districts. We learned that Kato’s Grand Adventure would not fit because it did not follow guidelines for teaching in today’s classrooms. Somewhat disheartened by this reality, we simultaneously got appreciation for the story from potential purchasers who were not connected to the professional children’s market. Since receiving so much positive feedback from just plain folks we decided that an independently published book with original artwork by Jasmine would work. This year we were rewarded by recognition in the form of professional contest awards from the NMPW Communications Contest 2019—first place for Book Designed by Entrant and second place for Children’s Books, Fiction. The book design went on to win an honorable mention at the national level.

Tell us how the book came together.
The story idea originally came from a telephone call from Jim’s daughter telling us she and her daughter were going to pick up some new kittens at a neighbor’s house. That day we both happened to be en route for the first class of a University of New Mexico Continuing Education course of writing about animals. It sparked the idea of the story and we went to additional classes on how to write for children and additional drafts. We worked on it for many years and donated copies of the text to two different charitable organizations for fundraising anthologies. Finally we thought the text was as good as we could ever write it, and Jasmine turned to the illustrations and then Jim to the mechanics of book production.

What was your favorite part of working on Kato’s Grand Adventure?
Jasmine says: Doing the illustrations. Jim says: Hitting the button to publish.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
Jim really likes doing the research and all aspects of the creating stage. Jasmine enjoys creating, rewriting and editing. Both Jim and Jasmine detest marketing.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
Jim is the recipient of the Alfred Thayer Mahan award from the Navy League of the United States. This is the highest honor awarded to authors who write in this field. Jasmine received an honorable mention award for her memoir The Journey of an Adventuresome Dane in 2016 from the New Mexico Press Women (NMPW) Communications Contest.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
You can overcome obstacles.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
Keep writing no matter what happens in your life.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Jasmine is working on several short stories for anthologies and contests. Together they have outlined a new children’s picture book. Jim has completed two novellas (one is a romance and the other is an adventure) co-written with a member of the Corrales Writing Group. They have a contract for one of those books. Jim has another novella (historical fiction) out for consideration in two different contests. He is in the final stages of re-writing the first of three planned novels set in Sandoval County. The second novel is fully outlined and the third is in the concept development stage. In addition, he has a number of short stories and essays scheduled to appear in anthologies and journals.

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 and writes about memoir at

Author Update: Robert D. Kidera

Robert D. Kidera is the author of the award-winning Gabe McKenna Mystery series with four books released through Suspense Publishing since 2015. His newest novel, Midnight Blues (2018), deals with the timely topic of human trafficking. You’ll find Bob on his website and on Facebook. Read more about Bob and the Gabe McKenna series in his 2015 and 2017 interviews.

What is your elevator pitch for Midnight Blues?
How far would you go to save a child? How high a price are you willing to pay?

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Gabe McKenna novels have all had a humorous dimension to them. But this novel deals with a very serious and disturbing reality. It was a difficult balancing act.

Who are your main characters in the book?
In Midnight Blues, I surrounded my protagonist Gabe McKenna with an unusual ensemble of allies: a reclusive 93 year-old World War II desert rat, a dwarf with a Thompson submachine gun, a thrice-divorced childhood friend on the run from his alimony obligations, an Apache long-haul trucker, a college professor who has lost all her grant funding, and a gimpy-legged former prize fighter who drives a hearse but serves the best barbecue in town. And the bad guys are bad: MS-13-cartel-bad. It’s an interesting mix.

Tell us about the plot development and how long it took to write the story.
The plot of Midnight Blues borrows elements from The Hero’s Journey, The Wizard of Oz, and The Magnificent Seven. I had the general structure when I started, but many additional twists and turns presented themselves along the way. It all took me one year—seven months for the first draft, four months of revisions, one month working through edits with my publisher.

What makes this novel unique in the mystery genre?
The topic of human trafficking has not often been the focus of mysteries down through the years. And I am donating a quarter of my profits to local and state agencies that combat human trafficking and need our support.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the book?
Indeed, there was. I had no idea of the extent of the problem I was writing about, especially here in New Mexico and on the Pueblos and Reservations. I was appalled.

What was your favorite part of putting together Midnight Blues?
Aside from getting to create so many interesting characters, the most enjoyable part of writing any novel is when you finish it!

Of your four finished novels, which one did you enjoy writing the most, and which was the most challenging?
My first novel, Red Gold, presented the greatest challenge. I was still learning the ropes while I wrote it and needed nearly three years to complete it to my satisfaction. I enjoy each of my novels in different ways—they all present their own challenges and rewards. Like kids, you love them all.

You didn’t get serious about writing fiction until later in life. What did your mature self bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
By the time you’ve lived sixty years, you have greater insight into the human character and the strengths and weaknesses we all have. Or you should, if you’ve been paying attention.

What is the hardest part of writing?
Knowing where to start your story and knowing where to finish it.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
That it’s just as much—if not more—about characters than about plot.

Do you have writing rituals or something you absolutely need in order to write?
Not really. I’m pretty flexible about my writing process. I don’t even need coffee.

What kinds of scenes do you find most difficult to write?
Definitely the sex/love scenes. They keep turning out too funny.

What projects are you working on now?
I’m finishing the fifth Gabe McKenna novel, On Beyond Midnight, and deep into research on Hellship, my first stab at historical fiction.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
How much I appreciate them.

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 and writes about memoir at

Author Update: Rose Marie Kern

Retired air traffic control specialist Rose Marie Kern is an award-winning author, a popular event/conference speaker, and an active member of SouthWest Writers (SWW). In addition to penning four nonfiction books, she has left her byline on hundreds of articles covering topics ranging from solar energy and organic gardening to those focused on aviation. Her newest release is Stress is Relative: Memoir of an Air Traffic Controller (2018). You’ll find Rose on her website Visit her SWW author page for all of her books. For more about the author and her writing, read her 2017 Interview.

What would you like readers to know about Stress is Relative?
The minute I tell people what I did for a living they normally say, “Oh! I hear that job is really stressful!” This book tells the story of a young, single mother of two little girls with a deadbeat ex-husband, who works two jobs trying to make ends meet and discovers a completely different career opportunity after watching the evening news. The story follows me from that moment through a 34-year career with drama, conflict, and humor.

What challenges did this work pose for you?
The first, and biggest, challenge was deciding the tone of the piece. A woman in a job that was 94% male in the early 80s…that was really secondary to the fact that only one person in 3,000 applicants makes it all the way through training to begin with! I did not want this to be another complaining piece about what was holding me down. Rather I wanted it to ride with me as I succeeded and matured over time.

When did you know you wanted to write your memoir, and what was the push to begin the project?
The very first day I arrived at the Air Traffic Control Academy in Oklahoma City I was walking through a parking lot full of cars from every US state (plus the territories) knowing that all these people were basing their entire futures on this three-month screening process. Even then I thought it was a naturally dramatic situation and started taking notes. I began putting the book together the day I retired.

How long did it take to complete the book?
In essence it took 34 years. In practice, about four months for the first draft, another month to get feedback from four editor/critiquers, and another month for the rewrite.

What makes Stress is Relative unique in the memoir market?
As far as I know there is no other memoir from a female air traffic controller.

When did you know the manuscript was finished and ready for publishing?
When I looked at it and my gut said “done.”

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I write for a lot of aviation magazines, and their editors publish reviews. I love that both men and women have felt the need to contact me out of the blue to tell me how much they love the book and that they have a hard time putting it down.

During the process of writing your memoir, did you worry that you were revealing too much about yourself and your struggles?
For the most part I limited the book to the career story, with little other information. I changed the names of those individuals who tried to make me fail, but gave credit to those who believed in me.

Of the books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest to write?
The most challenging was FUNdraising Events! for small to medium non-profits. The easiest was my solar cookbook, The Solar Chef.

What advice do you have for writers just starting their memoirs?
Do the research and take notes just as if you were writing any other expository piece. Don’t dwell on the negative.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
Office supply stores. All those reams and stacks of blank paper just begging for the touch of a pen.

Is there something you absolutely need in order to write?
Classical music.

What are you most happy with, and what do you struggle with most, in your writing?
I am best at educational or expository nonfiction. I am in awe of truly great fiction writers but despair of ever attaining that pinnacle.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have several. My monthly columns on aviation keep me busy. My next aviation book is a history of the Flight Service Branch of ATC, and I am slowly, laboriously attempting a fictional mystery—also based in the world of aviation.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Sharon Vander Meer

Retired journalist and editor Sharon Vander Meer is a poet and author of five novels, a book of daily inspiration, and two poetry chapbooks. Her contemporary fiction and sci-fi novels feature strong female protagonists. Sharon’s latest release is Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light (2019), the sequel to her 2009 novel The Ballad of Bawdy McClure. You’ll find Sharon on Facebook and her website Visit her Amazon author page for a list of available books.

What is your elevator pitch for Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light?
In Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light, sci-fi action and futuristic politics combine in the story of a young transport captain in search of her mother who has been missing for more than 20 years. Pella Soames believes Trish is alive and will not stop until she brings her home, even when she realizes her own freedom, perhaps her life, is at risk.

What sparked the story idea for the book?
It is the sequel to an earlier book, The Ballad of Bawdy McClure. At the conclusion of the first book, Pella Soames is twelve, an orphan it would seem, the victim of circumstances beyond her control. She has no intention of remaining a victim. She is now an adult with a transport business of her own. Pella uses all resources available to find out if her mother is alive and a captive of the ruthless Chandorian slave trader Brutus Tauk.

How did the book come together?
It was 10 years between publication of The Ballad of Bawdy McClure and Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light. I wrote a couple of contemporary novels in between, but Pella kept coming back to me. I wanted to tell her story, which has taken shape in the years since Bawdy was published. I published a digital literary magazine for a time, and used it as a platform for telling Pella’s story through serialized episodes. Consequently, when it came to writing the book, it was a matter of deciding what to throw out.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Expectations. Character development. I expected the story would be about a young woman and her quest to find her mother, which it is, but I wanted the story to be linear—getting from point A to point B. It isn’t, because (as happens in life) the characters connected to the protagonist have their own agendas, which impact her decisions. Each of these influencers are unique and have their own stories to tell. The difficulty came in knowing how much to reveal without going off on tangents.

Tell us about your main character and why readers will connect with her.
We all want the stability of knowing the people we love are trustworthy and that they will always be there for us. Helplessly watching the rape of her mother and the destruction of her village when she was a child was heart wrenching enough, and then Pella learns of her father’s betrayal. Every decision she makes from that point forward drives her to find out if her mother is alive, and if so, to rescue her. Pella surrounds herself with a crew she can trust. Her goal is singular. She has no time for anything that will interfere with her quest, especially the attentions of a man she only wants to think of as a brother.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light?
The Ballad of Bawdy McClure was based on the idea that in 500 years, religion as we know it will not exist. So, what might the world—earth and beyond—look like? This set the stage for the human race going off-planet and seeding the galaxy with human DNA combined with the DNA of other species on planets far and wide. How religion as we know it is preserved, and how humankind perpetuates a different religiosity, is a thread that runs through both books. The Bawdy setting was Earthside because the main character, a transport pilot, had no desire to travel beyond Earth. Many of the characters or species were introduced in Bawdy. Thunder Prime reintroduces a character from the earlier book whose aim is to prove himself worthy of being named Chosen, the deity of deities. Keeping the storyline of Pella’s quest and the political machinations of the sect leader and other galactic leaders, which impact that quest, are the cogs that keep the wheels of the story turning. In terms of difficulty, my goal is to stimulate the reader’s imagination. I hope I’ve accomplished that.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Character development and keeping each one true to who she or he is, and telling Pella’s story.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest (or most enjoyable) to write?
Thunder Prime was the most challenging. At the beginning, I spent too much time trying to tie it to Bawdy. Thunder Prime Hunter’s Light is the continuation of a Bawdy character — Pella — but is its own tale. I had to let go of Bawdy and start fresh with Pella’s story. The easiest and most fun to write was Finding Family, the story of a widow whose quiet life is interrupted when an estranged niece arrives on her doorstep with three children and a dog of questionable breeding in tow. From the moment they blow into her life on a windy fall night and the dog pees on her carpet, Lilly Irish begins a life-changing journey.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve always loved to read and am utterly flabbergasted that a gifted writer can use words to wrench every kind of emotional response by putting those words together in just the right way. I’m not there yet, but hope it happens from time-to-time.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Never apologize for your art. Mistakes happen. Correct them when you can. Move on. Persist. Learn from criticism but don’t be hampered by it.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
Nothing is easy; be ready for surprises.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I blog regularly at and will begin posting episodes of Future Imperfect, a futuristic novel about nature gone wrong. It was previously published, but is no longer in print, nor is The Ballad of Bawdy McClure. I have copies of both if anyone is interested. Bawdy is available on Smashwords under the title Thunder Prime Fog Island. I’m also working on a third novel in the Thunder Prime series featuring members of Pella Soames’ crew. And more about Bart. Will Pella’s relationship with Bart blossom? Stay tuned.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Jacqueline Murray Loring

Jacqueline Murray Loring is a playwright, screenwriter, and poet. She is the 2012 winner of the Doire Press Irish International Poetry Prize for her collection The History of Bearing Children. Also an editor/author, she has contributed to several other books including The Storyteller’s Anthology (2013) and KiMo Theatre: Fact & Folklore (2019), both publications of SouthWest Writers. In June 2019 McFarland Books released her newest project, Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency. You’ll find Jacqueline on her website

Who did you write Vietnam Veterans Unbroken for?
In 2012, when I first began to interview in-country Vietnam Veterans for this book, I would have told you I was writing the book to give Vietnam veterans a vehicle whereby they could share their life experiences with newer veterans and offer new vets a chance to learn from their trials and successes. That’s right, but simple answers frequently disguise complicated truths.

The nuance between your question (Who did I write the book for?) and a question my publisher asked me in 2018 (Who will read the book?) forced me to consider why a reader would be interested in a book about Vietnam veterans written by a non-military woman. I dug more deeply into my personal motives and the promise writing the book made to the reader. I had to tell the stories in a way that would be appreciated by both fiction and nonfiction readers.

During the getting-ready-to-publish phase, McFarland & Company Inc., Publishers, sent me a form that asked a similar question, “What do you see as the books primary, secondary, and tertiary markets?” After intense research, I listed my markets as History–United States, Military History, War, Vietnam War. I also chose Social Sciences–Human Services and Body & Mind–Health. As I researched, I knew the book would appeal to veterans and their families, as well as military history buffs, colleges/university students, and a host of non-military readers. Self-help book readers would include veterans and healers, and non-military women with lingering questions about the soldiers they shared their lives with. I also included the children of Vietnam veterans who in their 40s are questioning how their parent’s time in Vietnam may have affected their youth.

After all the interviews, the writing and editing, the research and market dissection, the answer I was looking for came in response to a question asked of me at a presentation I did in May 2019 for the Albuquerque Veterans for Peace. A non-veteran woman asked me if I’d found the answers I was searching for when I started the book. In front of a room full of veterans, their wives/husbands, family members, and guests, I finally took that internal journey. My answer to her was, “Maybe. Partly.” The answer to your question is I’m still looking for the answer.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The first challenge that presented itself in 2012 was the surety that I couldn’t write the book. I’m a poet, a screenwriter, a storyteller. I write fiction. When you create a story, you can enjoy the fun of making up characters, dialogue, situations, locations, plot. The writer decides who is good and what situation is to be avoided. Telling the truth is difficult and complicated and demands attention to factual details. I wasn’t sure I possessed that discipline. Nonfiction requires you know your subject, research constantly, have an end game before you begin as to where the truth will take you. Not for the faint of heart, I discovered.

Beyond that, I didn’t want to write the book. I wanted the veterans in Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency to tell their own stories. This took nonfiction writing skill to a complicated and unwieldy place. My plan? Let the veteran’s lives unfold on paper without interference from the thoughts, ignorance, preferences, or prejudices of the writer. The title tells the reader they are about to have a conversation with a veteran. For me to be successful in writing this book, I wanted the reader to envision themselves sitting comfortably across from a vet, sipping coffee, listening to the vet talk about Vietnam, and finally hearing about life after war.

But before that gathering of stories began, I had to find Vietnam veterans who would confide in a stranger intimate details of their lives. For me, asking them to share their war experience after 40-plus years was stressful and delicate.

What prompted the push to begin the project?
In 2011, my husband asked me a difficult question for which I had no answer. He wanted to know why more than a dozen of my editorial clients had published books but my plays and poetry remained hidden in my computer. I thought, “Surely, no one was interested in the moaning/groaning of the wife of a Vietnam veteran.” To prove this to him, I sent poems and stories to every listing in the “Deadlines” section of Poets and Writers Magazine (Jan/Feb 2012 issue). By March, my poems were accepted by three magazines. In April 2012, I received a call from Ireland saying my work, The History of Bearing Children, had won an international prize and publication of a chap book. I was headed to Galway for the book’s launch and an opportunity to read in places like Galway, Westport, and Achill Island. My husband was right, I needed to write about a subject I knew well—surviving the peace after war.

Tell us how the book came together.
In 2012, my Vietnam veteran husband and I lived in Cape Cod, Massachusetts where he was president of the Nam Vets Association of the Cape and Islands in Hyannis. The board of the association allowed me to place a notice in their newsletter that asked for volunteers to be interviewed for a new book. All the veterans self-selected. Most of the interviewees did not know me. At first, they had no reason to trust me or my reporting. Most of the vets I met with stayed with the project, but a few found remembering to be too difficult.

Initially, I sent the veterans informal questionnaires asking for family facts and military dates. From there, I preceded to personal interviews, more questionnaires, and dozens of emails and phone calls. The impersonal tools of questionnaires, phone calls, and emails worked well to gather information, but I found observing body language (especially with the vets I didn’t know) to be an important element in interviewing. Before my husband and I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2012, I invited a dozen veterans to a Cape Cod cable access television station to be interviewed and taped. The recorded panel lasted several hours and was hosted by Jack Bonino, the counselor at the Nam Vets Center in Hyannis. With Jack’s support, the veteran’s discussions were frank, emotional, confessional, intimate, and on occasion, angry. Jack made himself available to those veterans after the panel if they needed to talk privately. In 2014, I returned to the Cape to conduct one more round of intense interviews.

For the next three years back in Albuquerque, I transcribed the in-person interview questions as well as all the taped interviews and edited more than 200,000 words. I knew early on I wanted to divide the veterans’ life experiences into four categories: before Vietnam, experiences upon returning home, and an overview of the past 40-plus years. The end of their stories would be their feeling of reaching out to newer veterans. It took me four months to write a 30-page book proposal. (During the years it took to complete Vietnam Veterans Unbroken, I wrote and/or edited other books including The Storyteller’s Anthology and KiMo Theatre: Fact & Folklore for SouthWest Writers.) I researched and wrote query letters to agents, university presses, and publishing houses. I received 42 rejections before McFarland offered me a contract in April 2018. On September 1 of that year I delivered the manuscript to the publisher. The book was released in June 2019.

What was your favorite part of seeing Vietnam Veterans Unbroken completed and published?
McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers is a leading independent publisher of academic nonfiction. I am thrilled and honored to be one of their clients. Their contract stipulates they are responsible for the cover art and the title. Originally, I called the manuscript Project Resiliency: Conversations with In-Country Vietnam Veterans. I trusted McFarland’s design team when they said they had an idea for a cover and a new title. After all, they were brilliant enough to accept my manuscript for publication. Right? When the email came with the new title, I was stunned. I think I emailed McFarland within minutes with, “Yes, the title is acceptable.” They couldn’t see I was breathless. Then the cover art arrived, and I was again taken aback. I took a moment to brush away tears before I responded. McFarland had chosen a photograph for the cover from the 90 I had submitted for inclusion in the book. They could not have known that photo was of Preston H. Hood III, a Vietnam veteran friend since the late 1980s. Preston and I met at the summer writers conference at UMass Boston’s Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequence. He and I read poetry at veteran occasions including several Vietnam Veteran Moving Wall events in New England. We teach at colleges together and have read to hundreds of community members. Preston is an award-winning poet, speaker, educator, mentor, and an inspirational person. I’m expecting the book’s launch on Cape Cod in July 2019, with all the interviewed veterans, to be a major moment.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the project?
The whole process was more difficult than I expected, especially interviewing. I also learned: 1) writing nonfiction is truly an art form; 2) nonfiction book authors must compose the index; 3) the last edit of a manuscript is excruciatingly stressful, demanding, and time consuming; and 4) gaining permission to use a quote for the epigraph takes months.

Do you have a favorite quote from the book?
Many of the memories shared with me by the veterans will stay with me every day of the rest of my life. Forty-plus years after returning from serving his country in Vietnam, Peter O’Donnell (U.S. Marine Corps) told me, “No Red Sox games for me! Stop & Shop? Only after it was near empty. One artillery shell would get us all.” Matt Ribis (U.S. Army) said, “After Nam, I played guitar and sang in night clubs. And I clowned. I clowned professionally. It was a great thing for me to live in anonymity. It let my soul breathe. I could go up to a kid and not worry if his parent had a grenade.”

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A beta reader told me the sections of the book were perfectly organized. Another reader said the sections written by a Vietnam nurse brought him to tears. Another reader said the discussions by the vets describing the discrimination they received from World War II and Korean War veterans broke his heart.

You’re also a screenwriter and playwright. What is it about these forms that draws you to them?
If I had to label my writing preference and process, I’d claim (should I be so bold?) to be a poet. Writing poetry forces me to find that one exact word to express a complicated emotion or event. I think I bring that discipline to the dialogue I use in my movie scripts and stage plays. Exact, powerful, and unexpected nouns and verbs draw the reader into the emotion or the surprise of the poem. The best dialogue is short, specific, gripping, and unexpected. Each word must carry the weight of expressing exactly what the situation requires. If that one word is perfect, additional words, sentences, paragraphs are superfluous. Exactly the opposite of writing a novel. Finding that one word (or words or line) is such pleasure. That feeling keeps me heading back to my writing room each morning. I think writing poetry should be the first building block a fiction or nonfiction writer plays with.

What started you on your writing journey?
In my junior year of high school, my civics teacher told me to forget my intended career as a nurse and look into politics or writing. Took me years to heed her advice. I bless her every time I remember.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My next project is something to make me smile. I’m turning a movie script into a stage play. BUT…If I had a financial backer, I’d write a companion book to Vietnam Veterans Unbroken: Conversations on Trauma and Resiliency where the spouses, children, and family members of Vietnam veterans tell their truths about life lived with a Nam vet. That’s the book that hasn’t been written. I’d love to be the author. But it took me eight years to write and publish this book. 76 plus 8?

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 and writes about memoir at

Author Update: E. P. Rose

Author, sculptor, and poet Elizabeth Rose received more than a dozen awards for her first book—her father’s story—Poet Under A Soldier’s Hat (2015). Her second nonfiction release, The Perfect Servant…Nope (2018), chronicles her years caring for her husband after his diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. You’ll find Liz on Facebook and at See all of her books on her Amazon author page, and for more about her writing, read the 2015 SWW interview.

What is at the heart of The Perfect Servant…Nope?
People speak for the sufferer—Parkinson’s Disease in my husband’s case—but what of the caregiver? Who speaks for them? By sharing our story, our private horrors, my hope is my voice will be an advocate for the plight of us Caregivers. Without any training, we are forced by circumstance to take on the 24-hour care of our loved ones. Strong, feeble, old, young, rich or poor, caregiving is a soul-body-marriage and bank-account-breaker. I want to voice all those taboos people fear to speak.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
Forget giving advice such as “take care of yourself” and other irritating platitudes. What I, as a caregiver, cried for was practical and financial help for respite, some training to make our lives easier, and actual hands-on support. Isolated social pariahs, society needs to hear us.

You began sharing your caregiving journey on your blog in 2016. How did the book itself come together?
In order to reach a wider audience, I realized if I wrote at least 1000 words a week, in 18 months I’d have enough material for a book. I decided to edit only glaring grammatical errors and spelling mistakes so as not to lose the raw passion that breaks through the writing. The agonizing facts speak for themselves. By leaving the blog posts as they were written, and in order, readers can travel the daily agonizing ups and downs along with us, and so gain better understanding.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go?
I planned to continue until my husband died. Before our last holiday in France, my husband and I both knew that time together would be our last. And that’s what happened. He passed a month after we returned, leaving me free but grieving in an empty nest.

What did you learn from writing your father’s story, Poet Under a Soldier’s Hat, that you were able to apply to The Perfect Servant…Nope?
The power of dialogue and the first person voice.

Of the four writing projects you’ve published—two nonfiction books, a collection of poems and artwork, and a book of children’s verse—which one was the most challenging?
My first book, Poet Under A Soldier’s Hat. As my first I knew nothing of the mysterious craft of writing (arc, POV, reversals, etc.), but also the subject, the places, and my father’s thoughts were unknown.

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?
As a visual and younger artist I was not involved with words. My mature self was better able to bring to writing the aesthetic sense of expression and critique I used for my sculpture.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
How much my blog helped a long-time blog visitor (Carol) and her husband to accept the hell they were living and their way of coping. Carol hadn’t lost her mind or turned into a monster—her uncharacteristic screaming outbursts and weeping were symptoms of anticipatory grieving. I used one of her responses to my blog as the foreword to The Perfect Servant…Nope.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I’m attracted to unusual personal stories of unconventional people, like Rachael Joyce’s Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Alexander Frater’s Chasing The Monsoon, that transport me to places and experiences outside my normal life.

What writing projects do you have coming up?
My next book has the working title When Cows Wore Shoes. It records a time under Franco when people had no use for money or machines and cows really did wear shoes. The project after my book about Spain will be one about my life growing up in India, A Raj Baby Speaks. Better get busy. Too much to do, in too little time.

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 her speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Ruth Baird Pollard

Ruth Baird Pollard’s first book, Loving Gordon: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journey (Citrine Publishing, 2018), is based on the journal she kept during the final years she shared with her husband. Ruth is an active volunteer with her local Alzheimer’s Association and a facilitator for two support groups where she encourages other caregivers. You’ll find her on Facebook and on her website

What do you hope readers will take away from Loving Gordon: A Dementia Caregiver’s Journey?
I hope they take away that they can be effective and loving caregivers during a very difficult period in their lives and that of their loved ones. But getting help, support and education is vital. Do not try to take this journey alone.

When did you know you wanted to share your experiences with the world? What sparked the push to begin the project that became Loving Gordon?
I had read many books on dementia and caregiving during my journey as a caregiver, but I hadn’t found any that were based on a journal and gave personal, intimate stories of what it’s like on a day-to-day basis. Since I had kept a journal, after my husband died I kept getting “nudges” to write a book. Then I found a writing coach and she really helped me take my dream to an actual book.

During the process of reading through your journals to write the book, it must have been difficult to relive your experiences. Were you ever afraid you would reveal too much about yourself, your husband, or your journey together?
Yes, reading my journals was difficult, but also brought back many good memories. At first I could only read a few pages at a time, but once I started transcribing my journals it became easier. Yes, I was mindful of revealing too much about my husband and me, especially because I knew our children and grandchildren would be reading the book. When you write a book on a personal topic, you really do put yourself out there.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was finished and ready for an editor or publisher?
I was very fortunate in finding a publisher way before the manuscript was finished. A friend of mine with editing experience offered to edit it at no cost. Also, after about a year, I just knew it needed to get out there.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together? What was the hardest part?
During the process of writing my book, I gained a deeper respect for my husband and really saw how he handled his illness with acceptance and humor much of the time. I also saw that I was a pretty good caregiver and did everything I could to make our journey easier. The hardest part was just getting started!

Tell us more about how the book came together.
I actively worked on my book for about a year, but it took me over four years to get started. I did a lot of editing myself and took the suggestions of my publisher and editor without getting defensive about their suggestions. My writing coach had published a book and she suggested her editor, so I sent a few chapters to her, and right away she said it was a project she could get behind. I realize I was very fortunate to find a publisher so quickly. She worked with a graphic designer who suggested various cover designs, but I had the final say in the finished project. I knew the cover would be right when I loved it right away.

Why do you think people enjoy reading memoirs and biographies?
People like to read about the lives and experiences of other people. We also learn a great deal about ourselves by reading about others’ lives.

What advice do you have for beginning writers?
Just get started and stay with it. Work with a writing coach if possible. Take classes on writing. Join SouthWest Writers. Read, read, read!

What would you say to people who don’t understand the benefits of keeping a journal?
Keeping a journal helped me maintain a little bit of emotional distance from the arduous tasks of caregiving. It was a release for me and allowed me to record my thoughts and feelings in the privacy of my journal. A journal is invaluable if you want to write a book, but it is also a record of what you and your loved one went through. It’s also a good way to pass down family history.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Scott Archer Jones

Scott Archer Jones is the award-winning author of four published books. His articles, essays, and short fiction can be found in over 40 publications. Scott’s latest release, And Throw Away the Skins (Fomite, 2019), is described by Anne Hillerman as a “hopeful and heartbreaking story of love and scars and fresh starts” told “with graceful prose and a beautiful appreciation for the complication of both place and the human condition.” You’ll find Scott on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website Visit his Amazon author page for details on all of his books.

What would you like readers to know about And Throw Away the Skins?
Bec is entangled in a broken marriage, a life-threatening cancer, and a mish-mash of veterans returning from war physically and mentally chewed up. She’s drafted into running a retreat center for veterans—and donating the land for it. Her village is filled with quirky people who all have an opinion on her life and choices. And finally, she is having an affair with a Marine wearing two prosthetic legs and toting a belief that he carries death like a pathogen.

What sparked the initial story idea for the book?
The book began as a short story of a woman living alone in the forest in northern New Mexico—and her stalker. As I played out her psychic fear of rape and, above all, her fear of being alone and vulnerable, I grew to know her. Authors do a lot of work thinking offline. The backstory, in this case Bec’s childhood, became an integral part of her narrative. The short story definitely didn’t work because she needed the long form to hold her eloquence.

Tell us more about your main character, Bec, and why readers will connect with her.
Bec’s story is about the illusion of independence and inner strength. She solves the problems that beset her by isolating herself and tackling them. Instead of this working for her, she is constantly inundated by people who want to intrude and, indeed, rope her into their lives. These folks have their own agendas and humorous flaws. They see her as a fixer, and she’s actually someone just hanging on by her fingertips.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for And Throw Away the Skins? Do you consider the setting a character in the story?
I contrasted Dallas and the Church of a Thousand Pews—the book’s beginning—with northern New Mexico—as a flawed form of sanctuary. I didn’t romanticize the mountains and their poverty, but I hope I portrayed New Mexico as a more authentic life than the rest of the U.S.A. So, yes, New Mexico is embodied as a force and a theme.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This is the first work I’ve written in the point-of-view of a woman. To avoid demeaning her in any way, I made her completely unsentimental. I myself am very sentimental. I purposely made her bad choices very different from mine.

What was the most satisfying part of putting this project together?
Third drafts are great. By then I finally understand the protagonist. My writing circle has explained many painful mistakes to me. The first chapter finally comes together. Theme and motif have sorted themselves out, and I can remove the heavy-handed preaching and drop them into subtext. (Fourth drafts are more tuning and nurturing than the grand leaps of the third.) Holding the first proof copy in my hand is also splendid.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they’ll take away from the book?
Humans are inherently survivors, and they can find happiness and small satisfactions out of the most difficult and grinding lives.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
E.M. Forster said that story was merely chronology, and when we turn it to plot then we give it meaning. Just a list of things that happen doesn’t constitute a fictive work. The author’s job is to interpret story into meaning. Oh, and start as close to the action as you can.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Scenes that come out of (and feed emotionally on) a trauma from my own life or family are the hardest for me to write. They’re the best, but they are also the work that demands personal honesty.

What typically comes first for you: A character? A scene? A story idea?
I think every author starts each project from a new perspective. I’ve written forty pages of character and then found the beginning of the book and discarded the write-in. I’ve started with a single image ending the story and then written towards it. I’ve scribbled out the opening paragraph and the final scene and then tried to connect them. These all work, and they all keep the writer fresh.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m in final draft on a book about an East Los Angeles pawnbroker, and I’m taking a historical novel to workshop in a master class. There is also a novella in second draft called Celestino in Paradise.

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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Neill McKee

Author Neill McKee hails from Canada but lived and worked around the world for 45 years as a teacher, filmmaker, multi-media producer, writer, and program manager. After settling in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2015, he dedicated himself to chronicling his experiences in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and (more recently) Russia. Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah is his first book in the memoir genre. You’ll find Neill on Facebook and Twitter, and on his website

What is your elevator pitch for Finding Myself in Borneo?
Finding Myself in Borneo is an honest and buoyant chronicle of my adventures during 1968-70 while teaching secondary school as a Canadian volunteer in Sabah, Malaysia (North Borneo). It’s a journey through vibrant Asian cultures in an exotic land: adjusting to life in a small town, learning local customs, how to teach and how to speak Malay language. My book documents many adventures, for example: climbing the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, having a love affair, navigating Borneo’s backwaters to make my first documentary films, and hilarious motorcycle journeys with my American Peace Corps buddy. It also covers my second two-year Sabah sojourn and other return trips which offer readers the opportunity to match the early anecdotes to what in fact happened to the land and people who touched my life as a young man.

Why did you want to share this part of your life with the world?
It was a dramatic change from what I had known and, therefore, a story worth telling. Kind of a “sea change” or “hero’s journey” for me worth imparting to others, I believe. Borneo couldn’t be more different from Canada. I grew up in a small Ontario town with a good deal of chemical pollution. The chemical factory there manufactured DDT and the herbicide 2,4-D, as well as Agent Orange for America’s Vietnam war in the 1960s. I had always dreamed of escaping to a cleaner, greener world full of sunshine and less stinks. When I was posted to Sabah through CUSO (Canadian University Service Overseas), I discovered Borneo was the third largest island in the world—a land with a mysterious sounding name and reputation, mainly due to what western visitors had written about it (Joseph Conrad being one of the first). Borneo was no disappointment. I loved it despite the many challenges and conflicts I faced. But that was really part of the fun.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I didn’t keep a diary, as advised by CUSO (an NGO slightly older than the American Peace Corps), but I did write detailed letters home and to friends. I made carbon copies of some of these, and my mother kept many for me knowing I would want them someday. I had no plans to write a memoir—too busy with my career. But I’m blessed with a good memory, especially of those formative years and experiences. I also had old photos which triggered memories.

Tell us how the book came together.
I had written the draft of what became Chapter 6 in the 1990s. People who read it, loved it, and encouraged me to write more. It wasn’t until I fully retired that I had time to study a new genre (outside of technical communication books and articles) and try my hand at it. In 2014, I attended a creative nonfiction evening course at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland where I started drafting pieces of my book and got feedback. After moving to Albuquerque in 2015, I enrolled in a graduate-level workshop in creative nonfiction at the University of New Mexico. That’s when I began to write, revise, get feedback, and revise again. I also attended presentations and workshops at SouthWest Writers, which continually gave me new ideas. After about 25 revisions (and a year into the process), I thought I had a pretty good manuscript. It was only then that I hired a good literary editor for in-depth feedback. Boy, was I wrong about being finished! It took me over a year, and at least 25 more revisions, to finally complete the manuscript for publication in mid-2018. I had submitted earlier drafts to about 10 publishers and received lots of rejection letters. After two “strange” offers from commercial publishers (they wanted to have full control but put up little or no money for publicity), I decided to self-publish through IngramSpark. I hired a good book designer and marketer and took control of the process myself.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Yes, probably in Chapter 4 when my Peace Corps buddies and I take LSD and go to see the movie Camelot with Chinese subtitles. The whole experience opened up my senses, broke down barriers in my perception, and made me see the land I was living in as a much richer and more magical place. Since we were reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy The Lord of the Rings at the time, we noticed many of the features of North Borneo were similar to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. We created the North Borneo Frodo Society and gathered members from all around the world, including Prof. Tolkien himself—one of only two such societies he patronized according to letters we received. The myths of Borneo and Middle Earth become humorously paralleled in Finding Myself in Borneo. Maybe good for an animated film!

What makes Finding Myself in Borneo unique in the memoir market?
There are other memoirs and travel books on Borneo but most of them are based on “Wild Men of Borneo” or adventure travel themes. Many of these reinforce stereotypes of the land and its people. P.T. Barnum was the first to come up with the wild men theme in the 1800s through his freak show promotion of a couple of little people from a Ohio farm. My book is based on entertaining stories of what it was like to live in coastal Borneo in a multi-cultural society with ancient traditions. I cover some history, politics, and religion of the place, but in a lighter, entertaining way to help explain the overall story arc. My book is different in that it covers my 40-year relationship with the land and its people, not just the impressions of a single journey or sojourn.

What was your favorite part of putting the project together?
I enjoy writing the most and sharing my work with reviewers—trying to understand how my words are perceived and how I can improve. Writing this memoir has also connected me with a lot of people who have lived in Borneo as volunteers or have traveled there, or who want to go there. It has also re-connected me with many old friends and colleagues from around the world.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
A number of readers and reviewers have said that my writing is refreshingly honest.

While you were writing Finding Myself in Borneo, were you ever afraid you were sharing too much of yourself? If so, how did you move past this feeling and continue writing?
At first I did not tell the whole truth—such as losing my virginity and the other sexual experiences and attractions. I wondered if readers would be turned off. I also wrote guardedly about people about whom I had something negative to say. But I was persuaded to just change names and other details of these characters and write from my heart. This helped me construct a story about how I found out who I really am and what I should do with my life.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I spend six to seven hours each day writing, researching, revising, and communicating or promoting. It’s a huge amount of work if you want to do it well. I’m writing two other memoirs at present. One is on my childhood and youth, with a theme of “going elsewhere”—escaping the polluted town I grew up in. At the end of the book I leave for Borneo, so it’s a prequel of sorts. The other project is a travel memoir on searching for stories of my ancestors in Canada and the US. It’s an entertaining account of finding (through my maternal grandmother from Wisconsin) that I have ancestors who fought in just about every American war, beginning with the bloody wars with Native Americans in New England in the 1600s. I travel to the places where they lived and battlegrounds where they fought. I found out my ninth great-grandfather was a passenger on the Mayflower. I previously thought of myself as just a peace-loving Scots-Irish Canadian.

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 and writes about memoir at

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