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An Interview with Author Judy Willmore

Judy Willmore is a former reporter and private investigator who is now a practicing psychotherapist and astrologer. Her dream of publishing a novel came true in 2021 after years of writing and editing her first full-length fiction manuscript. Judy’s debut release, The Menagerie: Passion, Power, and Poison in the Court of the Sun King (Artemesia Publishing), is based on the Affair of the Poisons, a sensational criminal case of 17th-century France. You’ll find Judy on her website JudyWillmoreAuthor.com.


What is it about the Affair of the Poisons that fascinated you so much you based your first novel on it?
I was intrigued by scholars arguing for years: Did King Louis XIV’s mistress try to poison him? And did she or didn’t she have a black mass celebrated over her naked body? Somehow I just couldn’t believe it.

The Menagerie is more than historical fiction. How would you characterize the book?
The book describes a mystery that has captivated historians for many years. I considered making it nonfiction in order to show exactly how it happened. However, as I got into it, I needed to show why these real people behaved the way they did, especially the heroine.

Who are your main characters, and how did you develop them?
All the characters are real people described by multiple eyewitnesses of the events, except Sylvie. Athenais, the King’s mistress, is portrayed by her contemporaries as deeply flawed, frantically trying to keep the love of the King. However, I have her also seeking redemption. Nicolas de La Reynie, Lieutenant General of Police, acted as both investigator and judge, admired by his contemporaries, hated by the noble suspects. La Reynie struggles with his ideals as he is forced to withhold information from his fellow judges. King Louis XIV is obsessed with bedding any available female, a habit that makes him the proposed victim of an assassination plot, possibly instigated by Athenais. He wants her to be investigated, but in secret.

The book begins with Sylvie Dupont as a little girl who grows into a rather feisty embroiderer who finds herself in the middle of a murder plot. I had to create a character who was not a suspect, not a noble, who could tell the story from the inside of court.

Tell us how the book came together.
Writing the book took many years. I researched as I kept writing, through getting my bachelor’s degree then Master of Science in Psychology. Then life intervened with recovering from cancer and establishing a career as a therapist. Editing it down took more years. I had tons of information and way too many pages that had to be winnowed down into the basic plot. Finally I found Lisa McCoy, my editor, who recommended Geoff Habiger of Artemesia Press. Published at last!

What decisions did you have to make about including historical figures or events in order for The Menagerie to work?
There were actual people—fascinating characters worthy of their own books—that I had to cut out. There were so many suspects among the nobility that I had to narrow it down to who was absolutely essential to the plot. At one point, the book was 640 pages. I cut 200 pages so it would be marketable.

How did you choose the title?
Versailles still has the menagerie, albeit without live animals. I found that the courtiers, especially the women, were trapped, imprisoned by their fathers, their brothers, their husbands, and their desperation led to witchcraft and poison.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for this book?
A big moment for me was discovering how the playwright Jean Racine was right in the middle of this. He must have known Athenais’ maid (a major suspect), and he was briefly a suspect himself. Racine, however, helped provide a moral core to the book.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing The Menagerie, and what was the most rewarding?
The most challenging part of writing the book was the rewrite, cutting it down by 200 pages. That took many months and many hard decisions. The most rewarding part by far was the actual writing, creating scenes and characters.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I am a former private investigator, and I love research! But my favorite time is spent with my characters: when it flows, they are in the room with me, and I am taking dictation.

What advice do you have for beginning or discouraged writers?
Don’t give up! And try to find beta readers. I wish I had been able to find one earlier. It might have saved me a lot of time in rewrite.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am writing a sequel about Sylvie called The Flight. She escapes Versailles’ menagerie and finds work at les Gobelins, the manufacturer of the beautiful furnishings of Versailles. Her dream job, but she is surrounded by Huguenots desperate to escape persecution.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author D. L. Parkhurst

D. L. Parkhurst was a horse owner/rider for decades before deciding to share her adventures in a memoir. Her debut release, Heart Horses: A Woman’s Journey (2021), is described as “a warm and gentle story of a woman discovering herself through the horses she raises and loves.” You’ll find Debra on Facebook and on her website DLParkhurstWrites.com.


What is your elevator pitch for Heart Horses?
A woman realizes her childhood dream of owning a horse, then finds herself challenged not only in equestrian sports, but in navigating life’s losses, surprises, and unexpected turns.

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
I hope they’ve been entertained while gaining an understanding of some of the challenges and rewards of owning a horse, along with the tremendous responsibility it entails.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This was my first published book. Trying to organize over sixty years of memories into a story was something I’d never tried before. It took determination to get everything down and go through the editing process. It also took a while for me to find my “voice” and I’m still developing it. I’m also an artist. Although I wanted to provide illustrations for the book, I felt very nervous about it, thinking my art wasn’t good enough. A friend helped give me the courage when she said, “This isn’t a book about your art. You’re using your art to help tell the story.” So I hope that my art conveys even more to the reader about my beloved horses.”

When did you know you wanted to write your memoir?
In addition to SouthWest Writers, I belong to a local Tulsa writing group and had been writing some short stories and scenes for them centered on my horses. Their feedback encouraged me to create this memoir. I had previously written a copious amount of sci-fi fan fiction but had not thought about publishing anything. The memoir seemed a simpler task — I found out that was not the case — than reinventing my fan fic world, which would be required since the main characters were not mine.

How did the book come together?
Between writing and painting, the memoir took about a year to complete. My terrific editor assisted me with development, as well as giving loads of encouragement. I chose to self-publish as an e-book and paperback on Amazon via KDP which was quite the learning experience. I felt like Thomas Edison discovering the five-hundredth way not to light a bulb by the time it was conquered.

The art was photographed and inserted fairly easily within the book, although how it appears in an e-book is dependent on whatever device the reader is using. The cover art was brilliantly done by a graphic artist friend of mine. She used photos of my horses to create silhouettes and then arranged them into the outline of a heart. The burnt sienna cover was created from a sampling of the youngest horse’s coat color.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for the book?
It was very gratifying that my test audience enjoyed the story and gave useful feedback. My biggest shock was when I searched my fledgling manuscript for exclamation points and saw where I had unconsciously used five of them in one chapter. There were also several “Oh, ####!” moments when blotting up some watercolor paint that had traveled where I didn’t want it to go.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
Bringing my three horses, Hannah, Legacy, and Hy, into the present and sharing them with everyone who reads this book. Even now I can recall Hannah’s wonderful smell. I hope everyone who reads this will stop and sniff a horse’s neck the next time they have an opportunity.

What makes Heart Horses unique in the memoir market?
Not many people back in my day (before fire, you know) would have attempted horse sports with a Standardbred, which is a breed created for harness racing not riding. But as the world is learning, Standardbreds are multi-talented. Today, I see them performing in dressage, jumping, trail riding, and even as cow horses. People constantly comment on how these horses are willing-to-please. The other unique item in my book is that not many people have their third horse dropped on them in such a surprising way.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I got my first negative reader comments about my fan fiction. Some people were unhappy with what a character had done. I was thrilled because it meant they cared. My characters were real enough to them to allow them to care.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I often find myself writing late at night or awakening early when a thought forces me to the keyboard. My tortoise-shell cat, Mystique, is a great comfort as she rubs against my arm or plops on the keyboard when I have paused to contemplate something. For her loyal companionship, I have given her credit in my book’s acknowledgement section.

You’re working on a science fiction novel. How did your experience writing nonfiction affect/benefit your fiction writing? Now that you’ve written fiction and nonfiction, do you have a preference?
They both have their interesting challenges. The memoir events actually happened, so there was little contriving a plot, only figuring out how best to piece it together, as well as what to include and what to leave out. The characters are all real, so I only reveal, not create, portions of their personalities.

The science fiction, although derived from many influences, comes from my imagination and often seems to tell itself as I write. But all the characters must be fashioned and built from scratch. I must ensure that the plot hooks together and that the characters remain true to themselves, among myriad other things.

I don’t know yet that I have a preference. Each is an exciting and sometimes even aggravating adventure. Writing the memoir was a learning experience that has informed some of the process of writing my science fiction novel and revealed things inherent in my writing style that I need to be on guard for when editing.

What writing projects are you working on now?
In addition to the sci-fi novel, I’ve also been thinking about writing a memoir of my adventures living in the country. There are many stories my husband and I lived through besides the ones involving horses including tornadoes, prairie fires, and a steak-stealing chicken.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Patricia Gable

Retired teacher Patricia Gable has written essays, memoirs, children’s stories, and hundreds of educational articles. A short story she entered in a 2005 contest morphed into her debut novel, The Right Address (November 2021), for middle grade readers. Visit Patricia’s author pages on Amazon and SouthWestWriters.com.


What is your elevator pitch for The Right Address?
Annie heard her foster parents arguing. She finds out they are sending her brother to a different foster home. This can’t happen! They need to stay together. So, in the middle of a snowy night, they sneak out and walk to the next town. Will they be recognized? What will they eat? Where will they sleep? Why is the tall man in the black coat watching them? So many questions, but the most important one: Will they find…The Right Address?

What challenges did this work pose for you?
For years, I have written short stories and educational articles. So, writing a novel was new for me. My revisions centered on adding more details, more emotion and developing well-rounded characters.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
The main characters are children. Annie is twelve years old. She is a responsible, bright, and a loving sister. Willie, her brother, six years old, is bold, funny and unafraid. Soon they meet Emma, the same age as Annie. When Emma learns of their dilemma, she wants to help them. The adventure begins.

What is the main setting? Why did you choose it as the backdrop for the story?
The main setting is a cozy unnamed town in the winter of 1985. When the children run away from their foster home, they walk all night and hide in an alley in this small town. I chose this setting because it felt comfortable, safe and far enough away for the runaway children. A winter storm adds drama and a little fun.

How did the book come together?
In 2005, I entered a 24-hour short story contest. The contest sponsor supplied the contestants with a short paragraph at the beginning of the 24 hours. The writer could change things in the paragraph, but it had to, in some way, be used in the story. That way the contestant was writing from scratch and not sending in a pre-written story. I earned an honorable mention in the contest and the story remained in the back of my mind. In 2021, I took a novel writing course and decided to turn that short story into a middle grade novel. The class started in April 2021, and I had a published novel in November 2021. The instructor of the novel writing class did the editing for an extra fee and the publisher was Booklocker, the same company that sponsored the short story contest in 2005. I worked with the company to design the cover. I used drawings from Dreamtime.com.

What makes this book unique in the middle-grade market?
The book is unique because it is not a fantasy, a horrifying mystery, or a futuristic tale. It’s a simple story of two siblings who are searching for a forever home. There is some tension, humor, and characters that care about each other.

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing The Right Address?
For me, the most rewarding aspects were actually finishing the novel and when I held the book in my hands for the first time. I cried.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
My father was a writer (essays and poetry) and, from a young age, he encouraged me to learn new words. I enjoy creating and doing research, and I enjoy it when others do my editing because I learn things.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update 2022: RJ the Story Guy

Retired high school teacher RJ Mirabal (aka RJ the Story Guy) is the author of an adult fantasy series (the Rio Grande Parallax trilogy), a young adult fantasy (Dragon Train), and the children’s book series Trixie the Brown Dog. His newest release is Trixie: Round Brown Ball of Dog (November 2021), the second book inspired by his adventurous rescue dog. You’ll find RJ and Trixie on their websites at RJMirabal.com and TrixieTheBrownDog.com, on their Facebook pages at RJMirabalAuthor and TrixieTheBrownDog, and on Instagram and Twitter. To find out more about RJ and his writing, visit his SWW author page and follow the links to previous interviews.


What can readers expect from the second book in your Trixie series?
Trixie’s adventures continue as she looks for new things to do and has more Dog Fun with her people. She likes sniffing, walking, running, and playing but those take a back seat when the Brown Dog faces an unexpected challenge. Trixie still can’t talk the way her people do, but she communicates what she wants and how she feels through grunts, whines, whistles, barks, growls, and wagging her tail and body while singing her Dog Opera. Fortunately, RJ The Story Guy interprets all this for a reader’s enjoyment. Big things to overcome, toys to chew and tug, places to go, lots of exploring, and a new fantasy adventure await readers in Trixie: Round Brown Ball of Dog.

How did you get into the mind of the main character, Trixie the Brown Dog, and draw readers into her story?
I’ve always had a close attachment to animals because I am an only child who grew up in the countryside. My dogs and cats were constant companions. As a kid, there were always animals in our family, usually several, including cows and chickens for a few years. Apparently, by instinct, I watched and related to my animal friends very closely and came to understand what they were thinking. Even though the only language animals have is their body language along with barking, meowing, mooing, clucking, grunting, howling, etc., I could usually tell what their moods and desires were.

Since my wife and I have only Trixie as our family pet, we’re all in tune with each other. Once I could read her wants and emotions through her body language and dog vocalizations, I developed an understanding of her character and personality. At that point, especially during walks, I began to think of stories where she was the central character in a series of dog adventures. As a writer, I quickly realized I was developing a book about a rescue dog finding and relating to her new people in a unique way as a result of her personality and experiences. I naturally assumed other animal lovers of all ages would see their own dogs and themselves in the simple stories I told about her.

Was there anything surprising or interesting you discovered while doing research for this book?
My research was simply recording our experiences with Trixie. For Round Brown Ball of Dog, Trixie suffers an injury to what is a dog’s equivalent of the ACL (ligament) associated with the knee. What was surprising were the details of the surgery to repair the injury and how we had to follow a very restrictive regimen of recovery/therapy for several weeks. Going through that experience with Trixie was all the education I needed for story material. That and, of course, Trixie’s characteristic reactions to the gradual return to normal walking and playing. We were surprised that, although she was used to running hard and walking a lot, she adjusted to the restrictions fairly well. However, she was not at all happy about the pain and disability in the first several days after the surgery! Gradually she had a full recovery.

You wrote the Rio Grande Parallax series for adult fantasy readers and Dragon Train for young adult fantasy readers. Tell us why you went in a new direction with the Trixie books.
I wanted to explore a part of my deep experience with animals and make it accessible to others, especially children. The audience I had in mind was a child that had either little or no experience with a pet. I wanted them to learn how to relate to animals in a positive way. The Parallax series are very gritty stories with mature content while Dragon Train is an adventure story based on close relationships between people and other non-human beings.

The Trixie stories are meant to be fun with a few simple messages about love, loyalty, adapting to new situations, facing basic fears, and developing personal responsibility. The obvious target audience (including reading level) is children, especially those six to twelve years old. Yet, I’ve striven to make the stories high-interest for all ages since I envisioned adults sharing the stories with children and grandchildren.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing books two and three of the Dragon Train Quest Series. The second book, Dragon Train Rebellion, will trace the growth of the dragons’ rebellion against human enslavement and abuse of all three types of dragons. In my story, there are blue dragons who are intelligent and large, silver dragons who possess moderate intelligence and are the size of horses, while the small dog-like silver dragons have limited but very focused intelligence. Humanity is unaware of any dragon intelligence and self-worth, but my main character, a teenage boy, becomes aware of their true nature and joins the dragons to fight for their freedom. The third book, Dragon Train War, will explore the horrors of war and how enemies have to find a way to gain peace and guarantee freedom for the oppressed.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I want readers to know that I welcome comments, thoughts, and reactions to my writing. I would like to engage directly with “followers” who have enjoyed my stories. And I want to learn why my writing appeals to them. Of course, suggestions and ideas are always something I like to share so I can strive to meet readers’ expectations while following my creative pursuits. I guess I’m talking about a fan club. Anyone want to organize one?


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Léonie Rosenstiel

Léonie Rosenstiel’s nonfiction work has been featured in The New York Review of Books, Los Angeles Times, Albuquerque Journal, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and more. In her newest release, Protecting Mama: Surviving the Legal Guardianship Swamp (Calumet Editions, November 2021), she tells her personal battle against court-appointed guardianship. One reviewer says of the book: “Leonie follows leads like a detective, which is why the book was so difficult for me to put down. The end result is unspeakably heart-breaking, yet she rises above it.” You’ll find all of Léonie’s books on her Amazon author page.


What do you hope readers will take away from Protecting Mama?
I want people to understand how emotionally and physically challenging it is to try to protect someone who is unable to act independently. And how pathetically easy it is for some people to tell destructive lies when they believe that what they’ve done will never be discovered. Was it the power they were given in secret that corrupted them? Maybe.

Above all, I want people to realize that what happened to my mother and me is a very frequent event in the United States. We want to believe that these things can’t happen to us because we are organized and have all our legal papers in order. I’m here to say that anyone might—at an entirely random time of the universe’s choosing—be faced with a situation similar to mine.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
It hurt. Deeply. I had to go back and relive a desperate and painful period in my life. I resisted it for months before I managed to sit down to write.

When did you know you wanted to share your mother’s story? What prompted the push to begin the project?
Mama had written a number of books herself. She had threatened to tell the story for decades. When she realized that she would never be free to write it herself, from her point of view, she asked me to vow that I’d write it from mine.

Between then and when I began to write, a judge issued an order threatening that if I made any public statements, spoke to legislators, spoke to the press, or published anything mentioning my mother, he would feel justified in putting me in jail or fining me, or both. Finally, my attorney and the Albuquerque Journal intervened and induced him to lift the gag order. I started working several months after I was released from the gag order in 2017. (Before I started, I also had to arrange the 40,000 documents from the case in some sort of order and get the family archives out of storage.)

How did the book come together?
This book is part of a longer manuscript that my editor at Calumet divided into two parts—Protecting Mama and a prequel that doesn’t have a name yet. I’ve actually structured Protecting Mama like a series of novellas strung together. I’ve done quite a few flash-forwards because they really do illuminate things I couldn’t possibly have known about at the time and only discovered in retrospect. Some insane events really made a certain amount of sense when viewed through the lens of documents I had no ability to see at the time. There are hooks at the end of each section.

It took me several months to recover, emotionally, from the 14 years I had spent being tortured by various parts of the court system, before I tackled the writing. The manuscript went through several versions before the death of the attorney to whom the book is dedicated. He generously read all of them. Except the last part (about his death) that had to be read by someone else. There was an embryonic version based—it turned out—almost entirely on family myth in the material about earlier decades. I wrote that in 2018. It didn’t satisfy me, so I did more historical research. That led to Version 2. And so on.

I decided to go with a hybrid publisher because—after all this waiting—I wanted the book to come out sooner. I’d had other books published by conventional publishers (Macmillan, W.W. Norton and Fairleigh Dickinson University Press) and wanted to try a different route this time.

Do you have a favorite quote from Protecting Mama that you’d like to share?
“Finally, she left the law to write fiction full time.”

What was the expected, or unexpected, result of writing the book?
I started with no specific expectation for myself, except that I was using this book to fulfill a vow I’d made to my mother when everyone around me told me that she had, at most, two weeks left to live. (Fortunately, they were wrong; she survived almost four years longer.)

In tracing back frequently-told family stories, I often discovered huge fictions that had become magnified over time (sometimes a couple of centuries) that prevented honest communication in later generations. I had never expected this to happen! What I learned forced me to reconsider everything I thought I knew about my family and the people in it, as well as how I wanted to relate to those people.

After the book was published, people started recommending me as a consultant and coach to others suffering through the same process I’d endured. That was equally unexpected.

What was the most rewarding aspect of working on this project?
There are two answers. The first answer is that some reform of the system has already happened. The legal system in this area (in my opinion) needs quite a bit more, but change is difficult for us all. And it frequently brings with it the unintended consequences you asked about in the previous question.

The second answer: I’ve also heard from people who say that I’ve faithfully depicted their own difficult emotional journeys as well. That feels good. Some have completed this journey and find the book I’ve written gives them closure; others tell me that having me coach them gives them hope. Both of these statements make me feel equally good.

 If you ever felt you were revealing too much about you or your family while writing Protecting Mama, how did you move forward?
I tried to reveal only what was necessary to move the story forward. Sometimes I cried thinking about what I was planning to write. Sometimes I went back over it—to do some editing—and had the same thing happen. I must admit to engaging in prayer and meditation to help me through. They have always worked.

The secrets of my parents, and their parents and grandparents, sort of “belonged” to me. I’d inherited them. I don’t have siblings, and so I didn’t air anything brothers and sisters might have found sensitive. I avoided going too far into secrets from other branches of the family that didn’t directly impinge directly on the flowering of my little twig of the family tree.

When you tackle a nonfiction project, do you think of it as storytelling?
Absolutely. No one wants to hear, “And then they did this. And then they did that.” They want to see things happen. And hear things happen. And watch people reacting to their experiences. The fact that those things happened means nothing if you don’t establish an emotional context.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably when I was ten. I’d been to Washington, DC and was asked to write about the experience when I got back. I don’t think I even have a copy of that essay anymore.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I love so many different writers—for so many different reasons—that I could write a book to answer this question. With some it’s atmosphere or a sense of place—like Conrad and W.H. Hudson. Sometimes it’s a sense of the absurd. I’m thinking Kafka here. While the action of Protecting Mama was happening, I thought I was living in one of Kafka’s novels. With still other writers, I admire the way they reveal character. Rarely does any writer have everything. This gives me permission to do the best I can and hope others will also be forgiving of my shortcomings.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I’m very glad that I didn’t know how hard it was to be a writer. And how emotionally exposed a writer feels when telling the truth. Maybe I’d have been discouraged from trying if I’d known. I’m one of those people who “just does” things. I’m usually more than halfway through a project when some kind soul informs me that they want to save me the trouble of failing. They assure me that no one can even hope to start such a project. I’ve had this happen any number of times during my life.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The most supportive treatment I’ve received since 2007 (when my late husband, who was a literary agent, died) was from my late—and still much-lamented—attorney. He was phenomenally literate (he seemed to have read critically almost every major book written during the last 40 years, and many written earlier). He generously offered to read anything I wrote, over a period of years when the court didn’t allow me to write about my mother or myself or my family, and so I was just practicing my craft.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m now working on the still-untitled prequel to Protecting Mama. I’m in the final stages of finishing an online course and a summit on the various problems that attend our social policies surrounding people who are aging. Another project is still under wraps right now.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Legal documents (powers of attorney and trusts, to use two examples) are often torn up by a court. People with dementia are extremely easily “misinformed” by manipulative individuals who believe that they have something to gain. Vulnerable individuals can easily be influenced to act against their own best interests. The results can be devastating to all concerned.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




2022 Call for Submissions: SWW Annual Writing Contest


SouthWest Writers’ annual writing competition is now open for submissions.

This year’s contest offers five main categories divided into a total of eighteen sub-categories:

  • 2 categories of Art/Photography
  • 6 Book Related categories
  • 4 categories of Poetry
  • 4 categories of Prose/Stories
  • 2 categories of Travel & Memoir

First-, second-, and third-place winners will be awarded cash prizes and a publication opportunity in our annual contest anthology.

All entries must be original, in English, and submitted online only. You do not have to be a member of SouthWest Writers to enter.

The contest accepts work previously published from 2019 to 2022, but submissions can not have won a previous SWW contest. It is the responsibility of the entrant to ensure that a submission does not conflict with their agreements concerning rights with any other publishing entity.

Contest Submission Period: March 15 – May 15. Fees vary depending on entry type and submission date.

Go to the SWW contest page for more details and to enter the contest.

Good luck!




An Interview with Authors Sandi Hoover & Jim Tritten

Sandi Hoover and Jim Tritten began their separate writing careers penning nonfiction. Both members of SouthWest Writers and Corrales Writing Group, Sandi and Jim published their first collaborative short story in the 2018 anthology Love, Sweet to Spicy. The novella Panama’s Gold: A Tale of Greed (Red Penguin Books, 2021) is the writing team’s sixth collaboration. Visit Sandi on Facebook and Amazon, and Jim on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon. You’ll find them both on the Corrales Writing Group Facebook page.


What is your elevator pitch for Panama’s Gold?
Lanny Mitchell, a youthfully-retired environmental lawyer, and amateur birder, revisits Panama to test her idea of becoming an ex-pat. Chen Zhou represents his company and a Chinese gang whose objective is to secure an economic advantage for his country with raw materials critical in manufacturing smartphones, digital cameras, computer parts, and technology for renewable energy. Lanny unexpectedly encounters ecological issues and the activities of the gang. A dormant volcano leaks gases that kill local birds and threaten humans. The finding of Spanish gold and artifacts are linked to events before the Panama Canal was excavated, but also hint that perhaps governments hid deaths, using Yellow Fever as the cause of mortality. The Chinese gang-master does not tolerate failure and Chen Zhou is the target of his wrath after Chinese attempts to corner the world rare-earth market are thwarted by Lanny and local Panamanians. Finding the answer to environmental and economic concerns and helping friends who want the ownership to stay in Panama’s hands, drive the action to a satisfying conclusion.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Using a setting as a character in the book was a first for Sandi, but having fallen in love with Panama, it was a wonderful reason to mentally revisit the country. Jim was charged with making sure that male dialogue was accurate. We challenged his writing about flying with the helicopter crash; it needed to be realistic and yet understandable by every reader.

Tell us how the book came together.
The idea started with Sandi’s excitement over her lengthy trip to Panama and how we could use it for a story. Jim created a basic outline and Sandi wrote to fill it in. Jim created more detail and we just batted it back and forth until we decided to forge ahead. All the chapters were sent to the members of the Corrales Writing Group for critiques and then more rewriting.

Who are your main protagonists and why will readers connect with them?
The protagonist who drives the story is Chen Zhou, although the reader and the characters in the book do not realize that at first. Readers are likely to be surprised at the Chinese presence in Panama and will more likely connect with the book’s antagonist and main Character Lanny Mitchell. This would be similar to the James Bond novels and films where Bond is always the antagonist against the latest evil person in that one story. We think the ending will satisfy the reader when Chen Zhou gets his just reward.

What is the main setting, and how does it impact the story and the characters?
Panama’s location, its landscapes, forests, and volcanos let us create scenes that couldn’t be done elsewhere. This story wouldn’t happen without this setting. It would also not have happened without the assistance of our favorite SWW Panamanian ex-pat, Brinn Colenda. Living in Panama, Brinn was able to research and report on many critical details in the book. He is our unindicted co-conspirator.

Is there a scene in your book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
The first helicopter flight with Lanny and Jorge. It could be dramatic and beautiful and teasing with low level flight to show off the forest and the pilot’s skill.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for the book?
Who knew there were so many attempts to create a way for trade to cross the isthmus. The Spanish, of course, crossed and left a hint of a trail behind. Didn’t know at all about Stevens’ attempt at a railroad in the mid 1800s. Then the French tried and gave up, and finally the American effort succeeded with a high cost of lives lost.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Working with a publisher and learning from each other.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update: Michael Backus

Michael Backus is a fiction and nonfiction author who teaches online writing courses for Zoetrope Fiction and Gotham Writers. His newest release, The Vanishing Point (Cactus Moon Publications, 2021), has been called “lyrical and stunning…readable and relatable. Subtly masterful without showing off…Utterly absorbing, it works along that interesting line that marries plot and artistry.” You’ll find Mike on his website MichaelJBackus.com and on Facebook and Twitter. For more about his work, read SWW’s 2017 interview and watch a book reading from The Vanishing Point.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in The Vanishing Point?
In the most basic way, it’s a book about trauma; about how a 10-year-old boy went through a tragic event that splintered and destroyed his family and how he as an adult visited this trauma on his own child, though in a much different way (he essentially abandons his daughter when she’s two). But it’s also about how easy it is for someone to drift away from all human contact (hence the title, The Vanishing Point, referring to that dynamic when some people seem to just disappear from everyone and everything they know) and how difficult it can be to come back from that. I think of my main character Henry as a moral character who in his 40s has found himself stranded in a New Hampshire town where he knows no one and he seems content to essentially find a corner of the world and wait to die.

Then through a series of circumstances, he finds himself in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he abandoned his child Cadence eight years before and slowly and haltingly, he gets to know her. So it’s also a redemption story of sorts and not just with his daughter but with his mother, who is a sad, alcoholic geriatric still living in the town where Henry grew up.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
At one point, this book was over 700 polished pages long! It was ridiculous. I always remember showing it to an agent in NYC and she liked the writing but said “it just keeps going on and on.” So my own verbosity was something of a challenge. But I also ended up with a lot of plotting problems. I’ve been teaching creative writing (at the college level and for a place called Gotham Writer’s Workshop out of NYC) for over 20 years, and I’ve often talked about the idea of “writing as an act of discovery.” That you figure out who your characters are and where the story is going AS you write. And I wrote this book that way, but when I finally reduced it to more or less its current length, I hit a lot of plotting problems with two timeline narratives (a past narrative with Henry as a child and the present narrative with Henry as a lost 40 year old) because I never planned for that past/present back and forth. I spent so much time making sure the chapters fit together and that a past chapter flowed into a present chapter and the juxtaposition of past and present carried some meaning of its own. This was not easy. On a practical level, I simply didn’t have enough “past” material to balance out the “present.” This caused me a lot of grief and, if I’m honest, I still don’t think it’s as good as it could have been had I planned the structure of the novel a bit more beforehand. My larger point is when you’re writing a novel, I think it makes some sense to figure out who your characters are as you write, but it can be helpful to have a little clearer, more laid out sense of the book’s plot.

How did the book come together?
Originally, I had this (quite possibly idiotic) idea of writing a story about a man who has abandoned his child, ends up meeting her and makes a moral decision not to be part of her life, a decision the readers would ultimately agree with. That went away once I started writing from 10-year-old Cadence’s POV. She was such a lively child (I felt freed up writing from a child’s POV) that halfway in, I realized there was no way I could have Henry just take off again. So the book became about something different, about a grown man pushing aside his own past and finding a way to be there for his daughter and also, by the end, his mother.

It took me maybe two years to write this, edit it, cut it in half, etc., but for ten years, I struggled to do anything with it. I have a lot of minor connections in the literary world and got this to a number of high-powered agents, all of whom turned it down. I had an agent for a micro-second after the short story magazine One Story published something of mine, but he never loved the book or the life and he quit the agency and while he passed the book onto his boss, the boss was not interested. So for years, I just let it be until I found Cactus Moon, a small publisher out of Arizona, willing to publish it.

Tell us about your main protagonists. Did they surprise you as you wrote their story?
Like I said, I knew I wanted to get Henry and his daughter together at some point, but I was surprised at how well Cadence came out as a character once I decided to write from her POV and once I’d started writing her chapters, I knew there was no way I could have Henry take off and leave her a second time. Cadence was just too lively to abandon a second time. Oddly, a lot of Cadence came indirectly from my mother. I have this photo of my mother when she’s 12 (she looks ferocious, determined, and sad) and by then, both her parents had died (in rural Kentucky in the 30s) and she was cast adrift into a world of despotic foster families and periodic stays in an orphanage. And in her diaries, she wrote about meeting her bus driver as an adult who said her and her sister were “the two fighting-est kids he ever met.” So I took that photo and that memory and fashioned a far less traumatic backstory for Cadence, but her general prickliness remained and that’s how Cadence’s character developed.

I also wrote a short story around the same time imagining the night my mother’s mother died from TB and there’s a lot of Cadence in that character. This story was published as a stand-alone chapbook, Coney on the Moon, a few years ago. (**See note on this at the end of the interview.)

While writing, I realized I needed to add something for Henry. This is a guy who had a bad relationship with his wife (Cadence’s mother, who is long out of the picture — Cadence is being raised by her maternal grandparents in Eldorado outside Santa Fe) and had abandoned his own child. I needed there to be some hiccup in the process of getting to know his daughter, something that hints at a personality able to do what he did. So I added an old friend of Henry’s who has a wife and Henry kind of pursues her romantically for a while as a way to not have to deal with his daughter This added a lot to the story and is something I only realized I needed after the early drafts were done.

One last thing. At one time, I called this book Double. Henry’s central trauma is he was a twin who lost his beloved brother to a freak accident when he was 10. That’s the incident that splintered the family. So in revision, I developed this idea that Henry as a young man was obsessed with reincarnation and decided he’d just wait until his brother is reborn somewhere in the world. But by the time the book begins, he hasn’t thought about his brother or reincarnation in decades. At some point in getting to know Cadence, he gets an idea and, as he puts it, you can’t “unthink a thought” once you’ve had it, that thought being that Cadence might be the reincarnated soul of his long-dead brother. The book never takes a position on this, it remains in Henry’s head (which is why I quit using that title, it’s not a major part of the book, more a character shading) but it adds nuance to Henry’s character.

How did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was finished and ready for publishing?
At some point, I just had to admit, this is as good as I’m capable of doing at this time. When Cactus Moon accepted the book, I did a tightening revision where I lost seven whole pages simply by excising unnecessary words and phrases. I didn’t change anything fundamental about the story but I made it tighter. That was gratifying. That said, since I’ve published this, I’ve had to do a number of readings and I wish I’d been more ruthless in cutting. This is still a wordy book and even when I’m happy about the music of the writing, I see places all the time I wish I’d cut back.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Besides the writing, I really enjoyed working on the cover. I wasn’t that happy with what Cactus Moon suggested for covers so I got an idea, hired an artist, and along with my literary brain trust (essentially my sister and her partner, both writers and excellent editors), shepherded the creation of the cover. I was thrilled with how it came out.

Is there something that always inspires you or triggers your creativity?
Reading. Here’s an article I published in The Writer magazine many years ago about what reading the right thing can do for your writing. There’s nothing like a book or story that wows me to get me wanting to write and often it’s not the entire story, but a scene or moment that depicts something I recognize (an emotional dynamic for example) but have never seen described that way before. I go into that specifically in the article “The Trick of Reading the Right Thing While Writing.”

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing?
I’m a firm believer that the art of a story or a novel comes in revision. This is NOT how everyone works or should work (I always remember going to a reading by Joy Williams, who is an amazing writer, in the early 90s and she claimed she doesn’t revise at all. That she thinks about a story constantly for about a month and then writes it and when she’s done, it’s done.), but it is how a lot of us work. Get a first draft down any way you can by pushing through it and not stopping, THEN step back, see what you have and start adding details and nuance in the revision phase, which lasts much longer than the first draft phase.

What writing projects are you working on now?
A couple of years ago, I finished a book-length memoir about living in NYC’s Lower East Side in the early 80s in general (a time when the city was vibrant, full of art and artists, and much much scarier than it is now) and working in the Gansevoort Meatpacking district specifically. In the early 80s, New York City’s Gansevoort Meatpacking District, a small irregular patch of the West Village, was a wild confluence of meat market workers, gay men hitting the S&M clubs The Mineshaft and The Anvil, transgendered prostitutes, homeless huddled around burn barrels, New Jersey mafiosos, veterans of three wars, heroes of the French Resistance, and Holocaust survivors. It was a lively, insane world so long gone, it’s hard to believe it ever existed. The Meatpacking district in Manhattan today is a landscape of high end restaurants, shops, the new Whitney Museum, and the High Line elevated park. I’ve sent this book to a lot of people, both agents and publishers, and it remains stubbornly unrepresented and unpublished, though I feel it has some of my best writing.

I’ve started a new novel, but it seems way too early to talk about it, otherwise I’m like that person at a party going on about a book (or screenplay) they want to write but have barely started. No one wants to hear about that.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
**Earlier in this interview when I wrote about publishing a story with Redbird Chapbooks, I mentioned a note. This is it. When I first sent that story to Redbird (it’s called “Coney on the Moon”), I entered it in an Excel spreadsheet I’ve kept for 20 years detailing everything I’ve submitted and when I went to type in “Redbird” it filled in! So I looked and sure enough, I’d sent this exact story to Redbird a year before and had been rejected. I contacted the editor right away and apologized and said I’d withdraw it. She wrote back and said did I want to withdraw it? This was a different editor and I could just leave it, so I did. And they took it! The moral of the story is acceptance of publication is often a matter of timing and chance. The same story was rejected by the same publication but then a different editor took it. Good to keep this in mind when submitting.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




Author Update 2022: Neill McKee

Creative nonfiction author Neill McKee is a retired teacher, international filmmaker, and multi-media producer. In 2021 he published Kid on the Go!, his third memoir, that follows his early life in Ontario, Canada. You’ll find Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as on NeillMckeeAuthor.com. To learn about his first two memoirs, read his 2019 and 2021 SWW interviews.


Kid on the Go! is a prequel to your first memoir, Finding Myself in Borneo. What do you want readers to know about this newest release?
It is what I would call a stand-alone prequel. There’s no need to read this one before my Borneo memoir. Kid on the Go! is all about the experiences that led me to an international career. It’s a journey through my childhood, adolescence, and teenage years from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, in the small (then industrially-polluted) town of Elmira, Ontario, Canada—one of the centers of production for Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. I describe ordinary experiences in a humorous way: learning to play and work, fish and hunt, avoid dangers, cope with death in the family, deal with bullies, and build or restore “escape” vehicles. I describe my exploding hormones, attraction to girls, rebellion against authority, and survival of 1960s’ rock ‘n’ roll culture and how I emerged on the other side as a youth leader. Many readers tell me they relate to parts of my experiences. My writing brings up many memories of their own, and that’s what I was aiming for.

Tell us how the book came together.
I started to write draft stories for this book when I retired from my main career in 2013. I wrote my three memoirs—Kid on the Go!, Finding Myself in Borneo, and Guns and Gods in My Genes—simultaneously, but I published this one last. After the latter book was released in December 2020, I got down to finishing the prequel. My editor, Pamela Yenser, had already completed one revision and I had feedback from about ten reviewers, so it was a matter of refining the text and sending it back to Pamela for a second look before my final edits and review by my proofreader. I probably went through 50 drafts before publishing.

My design company came up with about four cover concepts but I favored the one I designed myself—an illustration I did of me flying over my polluted hometown on a motorized scooter I made in the 1950s. My designers were skeptical, but I did a little pretest by sending about seven possible covers to 50 people for their opinions. My design concept won, hands-down, although I made a change to the subtitle so that potential readers would not think it’s a children’s book.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Actually, it was the easiest of my three memoirs to write. Except for the postscript, which contains a brief analysis of the chemical pollution in my town, this book did not require a lot of research.

Kid on the Go! is based on my own memories and some of my brother’s recollections. I’m lucky to have such a clear memory of my childhood and youth. I just had to put it all into words that would have a somewhat universal appeal, at least for memoir readers who like to explore past eras. I decided to make the book different by adding over 50 illustrations. My artist wife, and an illustrator I tried to hire, convinced me to do the illustrations myself, since they would be more authentic. That took many hours of work.

Do you have a quote from Kid on the Go! that you’d like to share?
Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3:

During the summers, we explored and fished in the creek downstream from the chemical factory, where DDT, 2,4-D, and 2,4,5-T were in full production. There, we came upon acidic festering pools and creepy things, such as frogs with two heads and fish with only one eye. We didn’t try very hard to catch these fish, but if we happened to hook one, we’d throw it back in. They looked too spooky, almost ghost-like, and Mom never liked fish, anyway.

At suppertime, if we tried to tell Mom and Dad about these weird creatures of the Canagagigue Creek, Dad would chuckle and Mom would say something like, “You’re lucky to have meat and potatoes, unlike the children in Africa, so eat up all that’s on your plate.”

Any great revelations about your younger self or your upbringing while writing the book?
I think I was surprised to find how much mentors changed my life. As I grew older, I became an increasingly rebellious youth, especially in the rock ‘n’ roll 1960s when being a “hard rock” was cool—a term used for guys who slicked back their hair like Elvis Presley, wore leather jackets, drifted through school, fixed up and raced old cars and motorcycles, and chased girls.

But in Grade 12, then the second-last year of high school in Ontario, on a cold and rainy night, I saw lights on in our family’s church, which I had stopped attending. I parked my car and entered an ongoing Young People’s meeting where what I considered to be straitlaced girls gasped at the sight of me. There I met my first mentor, a student minister by the name of Bob who was studying theology and philosophy at university. We quickly became friends and I started to read books he suggested, such as Paul Tillich’s The Eternal Now, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters from Prison, and Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Bob preferred questions rather than answers to stimulate deep discussions. I’d never experienced this approach before. When I returned the next week, I was elected Vice President and then President in Grade 13, although by then I was more interested in Zen Buddhism than Christianity. Through discussion groups, debates, music and dances, I doubled attendance.

Much changed for me in school as well, where I was encouraged by my English teacher, Mr. Exley, a man only five years my senior. He was an unusual character who taught literature with dramatic gestures. He coached me on my terrible poetry and marked my essays thoroughly with a fine red pen. He also privately lent me his copy of Bob Dylan’s album The Times They Are A-Changin’ and recommended J.D. Salinger’s obscenity-filled The Catcher in the Rye (not on the curriculum, for sure!). And when I entered university, I forged friendships with people from different cultures—graduate students from Southern Rhodesia (now called Zimbabwe) and Egypt. The influence of these last two mentors steered me in an international direction.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I believe it was rediscovering how much each childhood and youth experience determined my ultimate direction in life. It’s not that I, nor anyone else, could have predicted it from any trend in my behavior. It’s the collective experience that counted. For instance, I write about how, very early in my life, I dreamed of living in some far away exotic and verdant land and believed the shapes on a distant hill beyond the chemical factory were African animals. I ended up living in, and working in, Borneo and Africa.

I was never much of a reader as a child. As soon as my parents bought a television set in 1953, I became glued to it. I visualized everything and I’m sure it had a lot of influence on me becoming a filmmaker. Also, as a young kid, I had little fear of venturing into dangerous places like polluted creeks where I saw those creepy, transformed fish and frogs. That probably led me to take chances in life and work in places where many people would not want to venture.

What is the greatest challenge of writing for the memoir market?
So many bestselling childhood memoirs are by people who struggled against physical or mental abuse, poverty, racial or cultural discrimination, or dogmatic parents and guardians, but somehow overcame such oppression to get a good education and succeed in life. It is a challenge to write and sell books in such a market since I experienced none of those conditions. So what could I write about that would tell an entertaining, captivating story? I had to have something to struggle against to add conflict and drama to the narrative. In my case, it was the industrial and environmental pollution I experienced in my hometown. The odors from chemical and fertilizer factories, the slaughter house, and unpleasant manure smells radiating from Old Order Mennonite farmers’ fields provide the setting for the overall theme of escape.

So far, your focus has been on nonfiction. Have you ever wanted to write fiction?
I haven’t ventured into fiction writing because I seldom read fiction. I watch movies for relaxation in the evening, while sipping some wine. I have always wanted to seek new facts and discover things about the real world in my filmmaking and writing. That’s challenging enough for one life, I feel.

After writing three books about your life, what is the most important lesson you’ve learned about publishing?
The most important lesson is that writing and publishing is only half of the task. I chose to self-publish through Ingram Spark because, at my age, I could not wait for the time it would take to find a suitable publisher. I had a couple of offers from publishers for my Borneo book, but they were not willing to put any serious amount of resources into marketing—I’d have to do that myself while they took most of the royalties. So, that’s what occupies the other half of my time. I’m told there are about 1,000 new titles published everyday in North America’s English market in all genres. A book marketing specialist said I was doing everything right: a good website with a blog and event page, interviews, a blog and review tour for each book, special publication reviews, sending out many updates to a large email list, and some social media posts. The latter is the hardest thing for me to find the motivation to do because I am not sure it sells books. I just keep trying.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have completed over half of the first draft of my next manuscript on my career as an international filmmaker and multimedia producer working for two Canadian development agencies, UNICEF, Johns Hopkins University, and an agency called FHI360 in Washington, D.C., where I was director of a communication project with 150 staff and a large budget. During my career, I lived for four years in Malaysia, four years in Bangladesh, seven years in Kenya and Uganda (East Africa), and my last overseas posting was in Moscow during 2004-2007. Besides that, I traveled to about 80 countries on short-term assignments. All this has given me significant experience in learning about issues within so many fields of endeavor to improve human life in the developing world. My challenge is to write about my career creatively and coherently in a way that will entertain and educate—that is, make readers smile, wonder, and think about the present state of our planet. I am also including thoughts on what was and wasn’t achieved in the projects I documented or created, my advancement in skills, personal development, marriage and family life, and memories of many of the people I met in my travels and those who influenced me and propelled my way forward. I hope to complete this book by the end of 2022. I’ve set up a website on my main projects, including most of the videos, comic books, and other media products I have retrieved so far:  https://www.neillmckeevideos.com/.


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 has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




An Interview with Author Kirt Hickman

Kirt Hickman is a technical writer turned award-winning fiction/nonfiction author. His works include two speculative fiction series (the science fiction thrillers of Worlds Asunder and the Age of Prophecy fantasy novels) and the how-to writer’s guide Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness. Kirt’s latest release is Assassins’ Prey (February 2021), the second novel in the Age of Prophecy series. You’ll find him on his Amazon Author page.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Assassins’ Prey?
Assassins’ Prey is the second book of the Age of Prophecy fantasy trilogy, which tells the story of a young farmer who sets out amid deception and betrayal to stop the fulfillment of a prophecy that promises to plunge all of the Civilized Lands into an age of darkness. Readers should read Book I, Fabler’s Legend, before reading Assassins’ Prey.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The Age of Prophecy trilogy is the product of a fantasy roll-playing campaign. All of the main characters were created and played by real people. This takes the control of the storyline out of the hands of the author and puts it into the hands of the players. As a result, the story is more rich and intricate than it might have been otherwise, but developing a story that will sell as a series of fiction novels in this manner requires a lot of trimming and shaping of the plot after the gaming campaign is over.

From an awards standpoint, Assassins’ Prey is the middle book of a trilogy, so contest judges have neither the beginning nor the end of the story. That makes it more difficult for me to win an award for the book. Nevertheless, Assassins’ Prey was a finalist in the 2021 NM/AZ Book Awards.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
My main characters (largely an ensemble cast) include a young farmer, a former constable, a handicapped half-elf, an ice wizard, a demon-hunting priest, and a half-demon monk. As extraordinary as some of these characters are, my readers will relate to them because they (like, we) struggle to overcome their own unique fears and weaknesses, priorities and moral sensibilities, and personality conflicts while pursuing their common goal.

How did the book come together?
The inspiration for this project was the fantasy series written by RA Salvatore, which takes place in a world that he shares with the Forgotten Realms fantasy game series. The books read as though they were developed as part of a roll-playing campaign (though I don’t think any of them were actually created in that way). From his inspiration, however, I decided to create a unique world of my own and host a game campaign to develop the storyline for the trilogy.

It took about a year and a half of roll playing to play out the story in each of the three books (so four and a half years total). Then I spent another two years banging the first book into shape. So Fabler’s Legend took over six years to write. Assassins’ Prey has been a long time coming because my life was interrupted by a couple of crises that kept me away from my writing for a few years after the release of Fabler’s Legend.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this book?
The physical world (i.e. the geography) was pretty easy to build. I knew what elements I wanted the world to have, but I didn’t want to generate an entire world map detail by detail, so I used a computer gaming program to generate the map randomly. I thought I would need to generate many random maps before I got one with all of the elements that I was looking for, but a suitable world popped out on the first go-round.

From there I had to develop the structure of each of my kingdoms (race, politics, economy, etc.). This was probably the most difficult part, because I wanted several diverse kingdoms. But even these were largely determined by the geography of each region. The area with the densest mountains went to the dwarves, the large green swath went to the elves, fertile regions for kingdoms with agricultural economies, etc.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, and when did you know it was ready for publishing?
My writers’ guide, Revising Fiction, describes my writing process. I follow it exactly, step by step. One of the advantages of Revising Fiction, and the writing process that it describes, is that it has an end. When I reached the end of the process, I knew the manuscript was as good as it could be. I could have continued tinkering with it, I suppose, but any improvements at that point would have been marginal at best.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Playing the game was a lot of fun. As far as the writing process goes, I always enjoy the editing more than I enjoy writing first draft. My first drafts are always pretty atrocious. Editing, on the other hand, provides instant gratification—I can watch the book improve, right before my eyes.

Of all the books you’ve written — Worlds Asunder sci-fi series, Age of Prophecy fantasy series, the nonfiction how-to Revising Fiction, and several children’s books — which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest (or most enjoyable) to write?
Each series has its own challenges. Revising Fiction was the easiest to get onto paper. I already had the writing process figured out. It took me only nineteen days to put it onto paper in book form. Then I just had to scour my writing sources for examples to illustrate each point. The Worlds Asunder series has been the biggest challenge, I guess, because I’ve had to come up with six novel-length fiction stories from scratch, some of which aren’t actually written yet.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
I see the same types of problems over and over again in novels that I critique for beginning writers. These problems fall into two categories: the story and the writing, both of which are critical to a book’s success.

The story must make sense, particularly the actions of the characters and the motivations that drive those actions. The story must be clear, consistent, and cohesive.

Writing is a craft that must be developed. You can’t just type words that describe the events and expect the narrative to be engaging. I get a lot of manuscripts that are rife with passive voice, emotions that are told rather than shown, characters and settings that lack detail and specificity, and large informational sidebars just dumped onto the page. Writing must be polished to be engaging.

If the stars aligned, what past or present television or movie series would you love to write for (or be involved with in any capacity)?
In terms of TV shows and movies, I certainly have my favorites (among them are Star Trek and just about anything produced by Joss Whedon), but I don’t really have much of an interest in working in film. The workload and pace of such projects requires far more time and commitment than I’m willing to give at this point in my life—it would take the fun out of it. Of course, if someone wanted to produce a series or feature film from my own novels, I might be persuaded to reconsider. J

You have years of experience as a technical writer. How has that experience benefited your fiction writing?
My years in engineering enabled me to develop the start-to-finish process that I now use for everything I write. Without that, I’d still be staring at the first draft of my initial manuscript, wondering what to do with it.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I wish I’d had a better understanding of the time commitment required for the marketing aspects of the job. If you want your book to be successful, you have to take the time to market it. This is true whether you’re traditionally published or self-published.

What are the key issues in writing a series to keep readers coming back for more?
Tell a good story through the eyes of unique, interesting, and believable characters.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Host of Evil, the final book of the Age of Prophecy series.


KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.




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