Blog Archives

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, 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 and writes about memoir at

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 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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Joe Porrazzo

Joe Porrazzo is a retired U.S. Air Force officer who currently works for the Department of Defense and writes mystery thrillers in his spare time. His newest release, Deliberate Deception (2018), is the second book in the Alex Porter trilogy. A native New Englander, Joe now lives in Sahuarita, Arizona. You’ll find him on his website, as well as Facebook and his Amazon author page.

The book blurb for Solemnly Swear, the first novel in the Alex Porter series, describes it as “an action-packed suspense thriller that explores the fragile balance between justice and self-preservation.” How would you describe book two, Deliberate Deception?
After reading the publisher’s description for Solemnly Swear for the first time, I thought it was a good line that summed up the story very well. In fact, one of the first author reviews for Solemnly Swear read: “Mr. Porrazzo’s thought-provoking storyline draws the reader in with one of the most impossible dilemmas a person (fictional or otherwise) can ever find themselves in—doing what’s morally right no matter what the cost or protecting oneself and the ones we love.” That theme continues in Deliberate Deception in another author review: “…Porrazzo gives us an outstanding portrayal of one man’s reaction to morality, immorality, and amorality. Can the lines really blur, or is a clear-cut answer always the right one? Can love flourish amid deception? Can the sins of the past be forgiven? Alex Porter wrestles with these questions as he races against the clock to stop an unknown killer….” While both novels are suspense thrillers with very different story lines, they both place Alex Porter in impossible and moral dilemmas. If Alex were a real person, he’d either be in therapy or be really pissed off at me, or both.

What would you like readers to know about the story itself?
Deliberate Deception is a labor of love based on personal and real-world events. The story opens with five mysterious, random deaths that end up being executions because the victims came across a website they weren’t supposed to see tied to a high-stakes charity raffle. I actually entered a raffle like that. When checking the status one night, I came across a page showing the top prizewinners weeks before the drawing date. How could that be? The next day the page was gone, and I was left wondering if I had really seen it or not. Months later tragedy struck not far from where I live and work. In 2011, I was halfway through the plot for Deliberate Deception when the tragic Tucson shooting occurred. A few days later, the news announced President Obama was coming to Tucson. I remember thinking we just had a politician shot on the streets of Tucson. Investigators weren’t yet sure if it was politically motivated or if the shooter was a nut job…and they’re going to bring the President of the United States here for the memorial service? Really? That’s when it all clicked, and I used the event to enhance the plot of my story.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Including the Tucson tragedy in my plot caused a lot of consternation for me. It was still too new, too fresh, too soon to write about the senseless tragedy. We delayed publishing the book for almost nine years. I hope enough time has passed to include it in a fictional story.

How did the Alex Porter books come together?
Solemnly Swear was just an idea in my head for years while serving on active duty. I finally decided to put words to paper and publish it as a hobby. My objective, like many wannabe authors, was to see it in print, hold a finished book with my name on it, and see it in a bookstore. All of that came true and I was ecstatic to see it on the new release table at the front of a Barnes & Noble store. Designed to be a one-and-done project, I started receiving email from friends, family, and especially strangers, asking about a sequel and wondering what was going to happen to Alex Porter.

As I did with Solemnly Swear, I took a week off from work and wrote the first manuscript for Deliberate Deception. All that means is that within that week I got the beginning, some of the story, and the ending down on paper (approximately 50,000 words). Solemnly Swear was published after two years with 90,000 words. Deliberate Deception, finished in 2013 and published in 2018, came in at 108,000 words.

I usually design my own book cover—just to have one—until the story is nearly finished and ready for a professional artist. I like to design the cover to represent the whole story but that’s not a good idea. I designed about four for Deliberate Deception and the final doesn’t mirror any of them. So it’s a good thing I don’t do my own final book cover.

Will those who know you recognize you in Alex Porter?
People who know me personally picture me as they follow Alex’s journey. That’s funny to me because I created Alex as a person I would love to be, not who I am. He took on a persona of his own as I wrote his story.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the book?
Yes, it brought some of my personal flaws to the surface. As I formed Alex and other characters, creating their backstory, current events, and futures, I recognized and acknowledged that I made many bad choices as a young adult. I faced adversity early with the loss of both parents, and my immature view on life and decision-making should have been much better as it pertained to relationships, behavior, and life choices. It brought closure for me on some things and helped me deal with those choices and to see them for what they were—I was a young man struggling through life as best as I could in my situation and environment at the time. The main thing is I came out of it a much better person and without therapy (lol), but still with regrets. Given the chance, I would change a few things and make apologies where needed.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Making stuff up! People muse that I would be good at historical nonfiction (given my interests), but I love the research and taking real events into my twisted brain and tossing them out as mystery and suspense thrillers. I would love to write a time-travel novel similar to Stephen King’s 11/22/63, but how do you top that?

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Surprisingly, almost immediately after publishing Solemnly Swear. I had no idea if the book would resonate with readers, but it started winning awards right away. The same was true in 2019 with Deliberate Deception when I was presented the PSWA first place award in Las Vegas in July and the MWSA Bronze Medal in Albuquerque last month. However, the industry and the genre are highly competitive, so the toughest part is finding new readers. The readers I do have let me know they love the series and are anxiously awaiting the final book in the Alex Porter trilogy. Brutal Betrayal will bring back the Vionelli mob family and will include a plot based on the true story of an Air Force colonel who was kicked out of Venezuela by Maduro and accused of giving cancer to late President Chavez. I currently work with that colonel, so doing research and weaving together a fictitious story should be both easy and accurate. The colonel’s story is amazing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I truly appreciate the loyal readers I have now. I want to let them know I’m hard at work on the final Alex Porter novel—I promise to tie up all story lines. If new readers are interested in sharing Alex’s journey, I recommend they start with Solemnly Swear (the second edition!) and then Deliberate Deception. I’m hoping to have Brutal Betrayal out in 2020. Please check out my book trailer video and website at A quick shout-out to my SouthWest Writers, Public Safety Writers Association, and Military Writers Society of America families!

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: Don Morgan

Don Morgan, author of 14 published novels, uses three pen names (Donald T. Morgan, Don Travis, and Mark Wildyr) to separate one diverse genre from another. As Don Travis, he’s released five mysteries through Dreamspinner Press, with a sixth scheduled for publication by the end of 2019. Abaddon’s Locusts (January 2019) is his newest book and the fifth volume in the BJ Vinson Mystery series that follows a private investigator and his partner as they solve crimes across New Mexico. You’ll find Don on his website at and on Facebook and Twitter. Read more about Don and his writing in his 2018 SWW interview.

What is your elevator pitch for Abaddon’s Locusts?
When BJ Vinson, an Albuquerque confidential investigator, learns his young friend, Jazz Penrod, has disappeared and has not been heard from in a month, BJ discovers some ominous emails. Jazz has been corresponding with a “Juan” through a dating site, and that single clue draws BJ and his significant other, Paul Barton, into the brutal but lucrative world of human trafficking.

What would you like people to know about the story itself?
The idea for the story comes from two different directions. I wanted the opportunity to bring back hip, young Jazz Penrod (whom we met in the second book in the series, The Bisti Business) and BJ’s neighbor, septuagenarian Gertrude Wardlow, a retired DEA agent and neighborhood busybody. I also wanted to shed light on the serious problem of sex trafficking, especially on the Navajo—and other—Indian reservations. When Jazz is rescued, it is this white-haired old lady who has the experience to help Jazz kick the drug the traffickers have hooked him on. I had fun with the story yet told about something that should be more widely known.

BJ Vinson and Paul Barton return as the main characters in this newest novel in the series. What is it about these two characters that makes readers connect with them?
They are ordinary people. They live as a gay family unit, but they live their daily lives little different from straight folks. They live, they love, they make great decisions, goof up now and then. Except for who they love, they are little different from you and me in lifestyle. Now to be clear, their skills far exceed mine. I don’t know about the reader, but I couldn’t begin to match them professionally. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that they’re handsome and likeable, as well. BJ’s twelve-million-dollar trust fund from his schoolteacher parents helps things along, as well…but that’s a different story.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I knew nothing about sex trafficking beyond what we all read in an occasional headline. I found several different legal jurisdictions to be helpful, especially Detective Sergeant Amy Dudewicz of the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s SVU department. Surprisingly, I contacted a Navajo organization helping the victims of such traffickers, and they refused to speak to me. I also ran into a writing situation I hadn’t addressed before. All the BJ Vinson books are told in the first person, meaning our protagonist is the “I” in the story. But in Abaddon, I found it necessary to do a few chapters from Jazz’s point of view, which meant Jazz was the “he” in the book. I had never written a manuscript using both the first-person and the third-person viewpoint. But I think it worked.

You’ve said previously that your BJ Vinson Mystery series features “New Mexico as a continuing character. Each book showcases a different part of this beautiful State.” What is the setting for this book, and why did you choose it?
The subject matter for the book more or less dictated its locale. BJ’s trek to find the missing Jazz takes him (and the reader) to the Four Corners area—Farmington and Ship Rock. The trail leads him back to Albuquerque, and then to two smaller Navajo reservations: Tohajiilee, west of Albuquerque, and Alamo, down near Socorro. Born and raised an Okie, I have a torrid romance with the great state of New Mexico.

Tell us how you came up with the evocative title of the book.
You might say the title generated the book. I was looking up something totally unrelated and ran across the biblical reference to Abaddon and his locusts. A friend teaches a bible class locally, and when I learned he was in the Book of Revelation, I attended a couple of his classes that specifically dealt with the plague Abaddon visited upon the earth. He brought up out of the underworld locusts which were not locusts to plague mankind. All but the true believers were bedeviled by his locusts, driving some mad and some to suicide. After five months, the plague vanished. Why five months? Who knows, but that is approximately the lifetime of a typical locust. It seemed a metaphor for the youngsters who are snared in the sex trade trap and then unleased on street corners to beg or offer themselves to generate money for the traffickers.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Finding Jazz a love interest. In The Bisti Business, he offers himself to BJ, who turns him down, saying he was committed to another. That impressed the teenager so much that he stopped having casual affairs and began looking for a permanent life partner, and that is what made him vulnerable to the traffickers. Finding Klah Hatahle and letting them discover one another was great fun. Of course, to me, Mrs. Wardlow is also fun. She may be a busybody, but she’s pulled BJ’s and Paul’s chestnuts out of the fire more than once.

When writing a series, what are the key issues to keep readers coming back for more?
I’m not certain this directly answers your question, but one thing that is often difficult for series writers is making certain that a reader can pick up the fourth or even the sixth book in the series and make total sense of who the major players are and how they connect. All of this without bogging down the book with too many references to prior books. Not easy but essential…unless you are one of those readers who always starts with the first book in the series and proceeds book by book thereafter.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing?
Succinctly put, the original draft is a pain, the second draft (first edit) is pure pleasure, and every draft thereafter is necessary torture.

How do you feel about research?
I research all of my books extensively and am rewarded when my publisher starts her editing process. Every time a historical fact or a specific address or a specific known event is mentioned, the publisher’s editing team fact-checks. Only twice have they challenged me. I was right in one instance; they were in the other. And that, by the way, was a historical novel written under a pseudonym.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea?
Sometimes, it’s a title (largely true for Abaddon, for The Zozobra Incident, and The City of Rocks). Sometimes, it’s a story I want to tell because it’s appropriate to the moment (again, Abaddon). For my alter ego (the historical writer) it’s clearly the era. But I must always have a character firmly in mind. I do not outline, but for every book I’ve written except one, I’ve known the ending before I started. That one exception about drove me crazy. It wandered all over the place before shuddering to an end.

What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
The same advice I give to my writing class. When you sit down to write your novel, your short story, your poem, your essay, or your memoir, write it from beginning to end. If you stop and start editing, it will take you ten times as long to both write the story and edit it. Ours is a slow business (often a year or better before a completed manuscript comes to publication), so don’t slow it down even further by trying to do two jobs at once. And make no mistake, original writing and editing writing are two different chores.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My sixth BJ Vinson Mystery, titled The Voxlightner Scandal, is scheduled for release by Dreamspinner Press on November 19. Last week, I started my seventh, tentatively titled The Cutie-Pie Murders.

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 Sherri L. Burr

Sherri L. Burr is the president of New Mexico Press Women and a long-time member of SouthWest Writers. She holds degrees from Mount Holyoke College, Princeton University, and Yale Law School and is Dickason Chair in Law Emerita and Regents Professor Emerita at the University of New Mexico (UNM) School of Law. A national and international speaker, Sherri has also authored 27 nonfiction books. Her newest release, Complicated Lives: Free Blacks in Virginia, 1619-1865 (Carolina Academic Press, 2019), was timed to coordinate with the 400th anniversary of Africans arriving on the shores of Virginia. You’ll find Sherri on her UNM faculty profile page.

What is your elevator pitch for Complicated Lives?
Complicated Lives examines the lives of Africans who arrived on the shores of Virginia in 1619 and what happened to them, their progeny, and subsequent arrivals. This book challenges beliefs about slavery that all Blacks were slaves, that all Whites were slaveholders, and that slavery only took place in the South. This book illustrates how Free Blacks integrated into the fabric of a land far from their homeland.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope readers have been transformed in their thinking about how slavery developed, how wrong it was, and how we must work to make sure that it never happens again.

What would you like readers to know about the foundation of the book?
Complicated Lives was written to make difficult history accessible for the general public. It’s a page turner and I hope readers continue until they have read the last word and contemplated the book’s meaning for our current lives.

The Amazon category for the book is African American Demographic Studies. You’ve combined fiction and nonfiction writing techniques for Complicated Lives—how do you personally categorize this work?
I categorize the book as a good read for people interested in learning more about U.S. history, particularly why slavery has been so difficult to discuss.

Tell us how the book came together.
Complicated Lives evolved out of serendipitous events and discoveries. I wanted to know why my great-great aunt Lillian had chosen to live in Wyoming. When I knocked on the door of her former home, I was invited in by her former neighbor and friend, Ms. Lucy Vigil, who had been born in Wagon Mound, New Mexico. A few months later, I was flying into Salt Lake City to attend the National Federation of Press Women conference when a seatmate suggested I visit the Family History Library. Thinking I would check it out for 15 minutes, I walked out three hours later with a stack of census records showing that Aunt Lillian’s father and my great-great grandfather had been born free in Virginia in 1847. I was hooked!

There were many starts and stops in getting the book published. I worked with an agent who sought to sell it to major publishers. In the end, the book was picked up by Carolina Academic Press after I engaged directly with the publisher at a national law conference.

What are a few of the most surprising facts you discovered while doing research for this book?
I was shocked by how indentured servitude evolved into perpetual enslavement, and how often legal changes impacted the way people chose to lead their lives. After Virginia passed a law requiring newly freed slaves to leave the state within a year and a day of receiving freedom, several families who had purchased their relatives out of slavery were left in a quandary. For example, as she was dying, Sarah Spears, a Free Black woman who had purchased her husband’s freedom, chose not to free him but rather willed him to her free-born children so he would not have to leave Virginia.

What was your favorite part of putting the project together?
I loved researching in libraries and archives all over the world. When I lost track of time at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, that was the first of dozens of times where I entered a flow state while researching material for this book. When I found a nugget of history that shed light on so many forgotten elements, I was thrilled.

You recently participated in a ceremony honoring your ancestor, John Pierre Burr, who was the son of Aaron Burr, the third Vice President of the United States. What did you take away from that experience?
The John Pierre Burr headstone project began when I drafted a grant proposal to the Pennsylvania Abolitionist Society (PAS) to place a small marker and have a program discussing his anti-slavery activities. After the PAS gave only $500 for a reception to the Aaron Burr Association, ABA president Stuart Johnson scrambled to raise donations for the headstone and its installation. In the end, the entire project cost about $7,000. John Pierre Burr was a person any Founding Father would have been proud to call a son, and Aaron Burr deserved to have John Pierre Burr added to his legacy.

Along with his wife Hetty Elizabeth Emery, John Pierre Burr was an avid abolitionist who became a conductor on the Underground Railroad. The Burrs hid self-liberating slaves in their attic, cellar, and a concrete hole in the backyard, while their front parlor was used as JPB’s barbershop where he cut the hair of white patrons. As I researched their history, I found their names on just about every anti-slavery group formed in Pennsylvania during their adult lives. I tell a tidbit of their story in Complicated Lives to illustrate the roles of Northern Blacks to free all blacks from bondage.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I typically write in 90-minute sessions and take 30-minute breaks in between. If I keep my workload to a maximum of three such sessions a day, then I conserve energy for the next day. I’ve learned that it doesn’t pay to over-work on a particular day, because then the next day is far less productive.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am currently working on Aaron Burr’s Family of Color. The activities of both of Vice President Burr’s children of color were so extraordinary that readers might wish to know more about them and his relationship with 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: 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

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