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Author Update: Patricia Smith Wood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Author Katayoun Medhat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An Interview with Author Elaine Carson Montague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More 2019 New Releases for SWW Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWW Author Interviews (2019 Releases)

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

KL 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 and writes about memoir at

2019 New Releases for SWW Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Visit Elaine’s website at

SWW Author Interviews (2019 Releases)

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

KL 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 and writes about memoir at

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

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