Blog Archives

An Interview with Author BR Kingsolver

BR Kingsolver combines adult urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and science fiction to craft imaginative worlds (currently eighteen published novels across five series). The author’s latest release is Knights Magica (2020), the fifth book in the Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill series. Find all the author’s books on and Amazon, and connect on Facebook and Twitter.

What is your elevator pitch for Knights Magica?
The exciting conclusion of the best-selling five book Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill series. Find out why these books have been at the top of Amazon’s Supernatural Thriller lists for more than a year.

Who is your main character, and why will readers connect with her?
The main character is Erin McLane, a former assassin for the Illuminati who discovered the secret order was working for their own dark ends instead of for the good of mankind. It’s a redemption story, and people seem to connect with a hard, capable, but naïve woman trying to find her way in the world. She knows a hundred ways to kill someone, but has never encountered a coin-operated washing machine before. Readers also seem to like all the quirky characters at the bar, from the pink-haired half-elven astrophysicist, to the aeromancer waitress, to the pyromancer chef.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for this series?
I constructed a city in a place where there isn’t one on the Oregon coast, and making sure the details remained consistent throughout all the books in the series was a bit of a challenge. That and describing the Fae village that lies between the Underworld and the city of Westport.

Tell us how the book came together.
I actually bought three pre-made book covers from another author. I didn’t have a story idea, or a character in mind. At the time, I was working on a book for another series, and then I wrote a book for still another series. When those books didn’t sell as well as I hoped, I started working on the first book in the Shadow Hunter series with only a series title and a vague idea of a girl/woman running from something. I really intended the series to be more lighthearted, and there are moments of that and of humor, but parts are much darker than I originally intended.

I wrote the first six chapters—in first person—trying to hide who the protagonist was and what she was running from, but it became increasingly difficult. I could have done it easier in third person, but most urban fantasies currently are written in first. So, I went back and wrote a prologue to give her back story, which turned out to be problematic. A lot of people don’t like prologues. I wrote the book in about six weeks, then turned it over to my editor and she loved it.

I’ve been working with the same editor my entire writing career. She does it all—comments on story, characters, sentence structure, spelling, grammar, the whole works. We usually do three passes with revisions, then I format the final manuscript and publish it. I released Shadow Hunter on April 17, 2019 and had my best month ever. The response was far beyond anything I expected. The book hit #1 in at least five sub-categories on Amazon. When I released the second book, Night Stalker, six weeks later, everything just took off. Dark Dancer is the third book—and the last cover that I originally bought. It released in August of 2019. Three best sellers in a row. I didn’t expect such an incredible response to the books.

Is there a scene in Knights Magica that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Perhaps the part where Erin is taken underground, into the land of faery. But the scene I think would truly be fun is the costume party New Year’s scene at the bar from Night Stalker. The aeromancer juggling three witches would be incredible to stage.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
This was the first series I started with a story idea designed for a trilogy. That goes back to buying those three book covers. I was pleased with the way that worked out. The second trilogy with the same characters didn’t work out so well, and ended up only being two books.

In the past year you’ve published five books in the Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill series. What’s your secret to releasing so many books in such a short amount of time?
Sometimes a story just flows. I wrote the first three books in less than six months. The last two in the series took ten months to write. But I had few distractions with the first three books. I had recently retired and was sitting alone in Baltimore waiting for my house to sell. I really didn’t have much else to do except write.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing career today?
Start a mailing list and engage my readers. Be more active on social media. I’m an introvert, and all that is difficult, but if you don’t have a large publisher spending large sums to promote you, then you have to do it yourself.

What typically comes first for you: a character? A scene? A story idea?
A character. For one of my books, I had a character in mind for years, but then I had a story idea that was right for her, so I wrote it. Scenes are often adaptable to many different characters or stories.

Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m a pantser. I might have an idea of how I want a story to end, but very rarely do I know how I’m going to get there. That’s part of the excitement of writing.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My current book is called Magitek. It’s set about 200 years in the future after a series of pandemics and wars ended with an act that broke the world and opened a rift into other dimensions. In the aftermath of all that, most of the world is dominated by a magiocracy. (Magitek is currently on pre-order through Amazon, with a release date of August 30.)

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I have four series of urban fantasy novels published. The ebooks are available from Amazon and print books from almost all online bookstores, such as Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. Two of my series, Dark Streets and Rosie O’Grady’s Paranormal Bar and Grill, are available as audiobooks, published by Tantor. Audio production of my Chameleon Assassin series is scheduled to start in August 2020. The audio books are widely available almost everywhere on line.

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: Sue Houser

Author Sue Houser strives to preserve New Mexico’s history and traditions through her fiction and nonfiction. Her newest release, Wilmettie (Texas Tech University Press, 2020), is children’s historical fiction inspired by her grandmother’s homesteading experience. Visit Sue at and on her Amazon author page. To learn about her earlier books, read SWW’s 2017 interview.

What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Wilmettie?
Wilmettie is the story of a young girl and her family who travel from South Central Texas to homestead in New Mexico Territory in the early 1900s. This historical fiction was inspired by the real life homesteading experiences of my grandmother, Willie Mettie Wright Williams. Her stories have been embellished, but historical events accurately fit the time period and the locations.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
In the first versions, I tried to keep the family stories intact. It wasn’t very exciting. I needed a little more drama and adventure, so I elaborated on various incidents. Some family members didn’t approve, so I shelved the manuscript for a few years. From time to time, the story nagged at me. So I expanded the family stories, but I changed the characters’ names. When my cousin recently asked what his name was changed to, I said, “You’ll have to buy the book and find out.”

Tell us how the book came together.
This has been a long process. About 20 years ago, I was searching for a children’s story and remembered conversations about my grandmother, at 10 years of age, leaving her grandmother in Texas and what a traumatic experience it had been for her.

I first wrote about her as a picture book, then a chapter book in several versions. Then, for ten years, it sat in the drawer. Three years ago, a friend suggested I turn it into historical fiction. Something clicked. I was free to write the story. The research was fun. I spent a year and a half re-writing and submitted it to Texas Tech in October 2018. I received a positive response right away.

How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
I guess the journey would be the setting. Sometimes dangerous, sometimes boring, sometimes exciting. Often challenging. Wilmettie struggles with feelings of resentment for being uprooted from her comfortable life and for the dangerous conditions they face. But the challenges force her to find inner strength and become a self-confident person.

Why will readers connect with Wilmettie, the main character in your book?
Wilmettie lives a comfortable life until she is thrown into a situation she didn’t choose. Her stepfather doesn’t mistreat her, but their relationship is strained. She holds onto feelings of homesickness and resentment. In time, she realizes her own inner strengths. She becomes accepting of the situation and embraces her new life.

What makes Wilmettie unique in the children’s market?
There have been a number of children’s books about covered wagon journeys over the famous Oregon Trail and the gold rush of California. But I have not found any children’s books about homesteaders coming to New Mexico Territory during the early 1900s, a fascinating time in our state’s history.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
My grandmother moved away when I was five, and I only saw her for brief visits. But in writing about her experiences, I somehow feel closer to her.

Any upcoming writing projects?
I heard a story ― maybe true, maybe not ― that Al Capone hid out in New Mexico for brief periods of time in the 1920s. I am doing some research. We shall see. Maybe it could be another children’s historical fiction.

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 J.R. Seeger

Before JR Seeger tried his hand at writing fiction, he served as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne and then as a field collector and team leader in the CIA. He now draws on 27 years of federal service to add authenticity to his military thrillers. A Graveyard for Spies (Mission Point Press, 2020) is the fifth book in the MIKE4 series “about a family who have served in the special operations and intelligence community from World War II to the present.” You’ll find all of John’s books on his Amazon author page.

What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in A Graveyard for Spies?
The MIKE4 series is about a mother and a daughter dealing with both the past and the present world of espionage. My main character is Sue O’Connell, a special operations officer who is a wounded warrior (a below the knee amputee) hunting terrorists in the post 9/11 world. Her mother, Barbara O’Connell, is a retired CIA officer still living with the consequences of a Cold War career. Graveyard for Spies brings past and present into focus on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Due to my former career as an intelligence officer, my work focusing on post World War II events has to be reviewed by the CIA to insure nothing in the text is classified. So, after writing the story, I submit the manuscript to the CIA and wait for their approval before I can share it with the editors working with my publisher. It is just another step that I accept as part of my obligation to my former service.

Tell us about your protagonists and why readers will connect with them.
Sue O’Connell is a woman serving in a very manly man’s world. She is not trying to be a good “female special operator,” she is trying to be a good special operator — full stop. Her colleagues, both men and women, work as a team. Sue’s biggest flaw is she is very impatient in a career where patience is essential.

Barbara O’Connell is a retired intelligence officer who lost her husband to a Russian assassination. She has a history of working counter-terrorism missions prior to 9/11 and has a network of men and women who she calls upon when her old world intrudes into her life as “a mere, wretched, federal pensioner.” Both of her children (Sue and her brother William who is an FBI agent) have trouble imagining their mother as an action hero, though she was (and is).

All of your books involve characters in international settings. What settings will readers experience in A Graveyard for Spies?
In Graveyard, readers will be introduced to a small town in the Taunus Mountains north of Frankfurt, Germany, as well as settings in Northern Afghanistan and Croatia. The story moves between the actions of Barbara, as she hunts an assassin from her past, and Sue, who is hunting international arms smugglers.

What makes this novel unique in the military thriller market?
I am reluctant to say that the novel is unique, but I do believe there are few military thrillers out there that focus on the actions of women in the special operations community.

When did you know the characters or the storyline was strong enough for a series?
I admit that the creation of a series was not my plan from the beginning. That said, once the O’Connell world existed, it was easy enough to imagine multiple storylines including a prequel focusing on World War II (O’Connell’s Treasure) and very specific storylines which expanded into the world of counterintelligence (Friend or Foe and Graveyard for Spies). Of course, we still haven’t heard the full story of the death of Sue’s father or, for that matter, how in the world the Russians seem to be always in pursuit of the O’Connells. There are more stories out there.

What sparked the story idea for the MIKE4 series?
In 2016, I was working with the writer Doug Stanton on a potential project related to a nonfiction book on the intelligence community post 9/11. That project did not work out, but it started me thinking about how I could use some of my personal experiences and my knowledge of the young men and women fighting the current counter-terrorism fight. I knew of men and women who were second and third generation intelligence officers or special operators. I also knew of men and women who were gravely wounded in either Afghanistan or Iraq. They didn’t want to be considered broken; they simply wanted to be back in the fight. Once Sue O’Connell was created, the rest of the story flowed easily.

You began your fiction writing career later in life. What has your mature self brought to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
I believe I now have a better understanding of people and their motivations — why they do the good and bad things they do. I really didn’t understand that as well in my 20s and early 30s. Also, I didn’t have time to write in my 20s and 30s.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
My first thoughts about writing had nothing to do with the MIKE4 series. When I first visited New Mexico before moving to the state, I started researching the blend of history of Native Americans, Spaniards, and North American adventurers. I began plotting out a short story about a member of the Holy Inquisition. Eventually, this became my short stories currently on titled “Arrival of the Inquisitor.” I wanted to see colonial New Mexico through an outsider who was not part of normal society.

Of the five books in the MIKE4 series, which one was the most challenging to write and which was the easiest?
The hardest book to write was the first one. MIKE4 had to set the stage so the reader could see a world where the intelligence community and the special operations community worked as “one team, one fight.” The action sequences were the easy part. Creating the world of MIKE4 was hard. The easiest story to write was The Executioner’s Blade. It focuses exclusively on Afghanistan, and I spent the last years of my career either in Afghanistan or working on Afghan issues. It also allowed me to bring characters I liked back to life.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I am still learning to write, but one thing I wish I had known at the beginning was that readers want to know how characters feel as well as what they see, say, and do. I am still working on that challenge. Also, it is important to accept the fact that rejection is part of the game. I received many rejection notes, including some that were exceptionally rude. Eventually, I found someone to publish the stories. It is not cheap and I suppose through KDP I could self-publish, but I know that finding the right publisher involved receiving rejections from other publishers.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I like creating and researching the novels. I suppose it is not surprising that I do not like the hard work of editing. Luckily, I have a great editor who is both hard on me and kind at the same time. Editing usually takes twice as long as writing.

Who are your favorite authors?
In the nonfiction arena, my favorite authors are William Dalrymple and Peter Hopkirk who have written on Central and South Asia. In the area of fiction, I have a number of favorites depending on my mood. Generally, I like classic mystery writers — Dashell Hammett and Eric Ambler — as well as modern mystery writers like Barbara Cleverly, Donna Leon, and Andrea Camilleri. In the thriller genre, I enjoy Ian Fleming, Graham Greene, Alan Furst, and Gerald Seymour.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I don’t think I have a message in my writing. My characters are always outsiders looking into a world where they work, but are perhaps not fully accepted. In the MIKE4 series, Sue and Barbara O’Connell are female operators in a male-centric world, and in the Inquisitor series, Brother Patrick is an Irish priest in colonial New Mexico.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I just finished the first in a new fiction series I am calling Steampunk Raj. The first manuscript, A School for the Great Game, is a blend of espionage and mysticism set in Central and South Asia in 1910. I hope the series will be intriguing to both young adult and adult readers interested in the world just before, during, and immediately after World War I. The second book in the Steampunk Raj series, A sound like distant thunder, is plotted and I have about 5,000 words written. Also, I am working on another MIKE4 book taking the family in other directions. I am about 10,000 words into that story tentatively titled Chasing the Neurotic Racer.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I hope I write stories that are fun to read. They are probably best imagined as “airplane” reads — something light that will take you to someplace different while you are trapped in an airplane or an airport for hours. Also, please know that I am learning to be a better writer. I hope that each of my books is better written then the previous book. MIKE4 was my first effort and is certainly nowhere near as well-crafted as the later books in the series. Still, you have to start somewhere, eh?

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 Vicky Ramakka

After a brief stint in the Peace Corps, author Vicky Ramakka had a long career in higher education. Once an academic writer, she now wields a more creative pen to weave stories inspired by the Four Corners region. Her first novel, The Cactus Plot: Murder in the High Desert (Artemesia Publishing, 2019), follows botanist Millie Whitehall as she “races to investigate [a] murderer — before she becomes the next victim.” Look for Vicky on her Facebook page.

What is your elevator pitch for The Cactus Plot?
The Cactus Plot is an environmental mystery with a botanist heroine who uses knowledge of plant ecology to solve two murders. New to the West, Millie Whitehall expects to spend a peaceful summer surveying endangered plants on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in northwest New Mexico. She experiences the friction of working for the BLM through the characters she meets. The story is an entertaining mystery with the underlying theme of conflicting uses of public lands.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
I’m too easily distracted while doing research. I start to research a point, such as whether Shiprock is the second or third largest town on the Navajo Reservation, then I find some other interesting fact, and that leads to another and another. Then I want to cram all this great information into the story I’m writing. Much as I enjoy research, I have to guard against going down rabbit trails that do not relate to my story.

Tell us a little about your main character and why readers will connect with her.
Like me, the heroine, Millie Whitehall, grew up on the East coast. Also like many newcomers to New Mexico, she has a lot to learn — how to answer the State’s official question, red or green; how to drive treacherous roads and deal with rattlesnakes; and that there’s a story behind every character. Mainly, like many folks that have adopted New Mexico as their forever home, she replaces initial perceptions that New Mexico is a barren desert with a fascination for its unique high desert vegetation and falls in love with its sunsets.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book?
Following the axiom “write what you know,” I placed this story where I live. I love exploring the backcounty of northwest New Mexico. I am a volunteer Site Steward for a significant rock art site in Largo Canyon that I have visited more than a dozen times. While the intent of the Site Steward program is to monitor and deter vandalism of archeological sites, I just thoroughly enjoy standing before a cliff face covered with petroglyphs and surrendering to wonder — who made these, what were they communicating, why this spot, what was their world like at the time?

What first sparked the story idea?
I’ve enjoyed reading Nevada Barr’s novels which are set in national parks. These are lively mysteries, but they seemed to miss a lot of what I consider the best part of visiting a national park — learning about the history, plants, and animals of that particular location. (Recently Scott Graham has produced an engaging mystery series set in mainly southwestern national parks.)

I also noticed that few novels are set on BLM land. Called “the nation’s largest landlord,” these lands make up the major portion of publicly owned land in New Mexico. In The Cactus Plot, I combined my interest in natural history with the complexities of working for the BLM which is tasked with managing for multiple use, and sometimes these uses conflict with one another.

Why is this novel unique in the mystery genre?
There are few novels set in northwest New Mexico with an environmental slant. Of those mysteries that are set in the Four Corners area, most have protagonists who are law enforcement officers investigating crime. The heroine of this book is a botanist who happens to get drawn into a situation where two seemingly unrelated deaths involve plants. This book is chock-full of native plants and has characters you are likely to encounter in any Farmington diner (ranchers, oil and gas field hands, tourists, Navajos, and government workers). Readers of The Cactus Plot often comment that they enjoyed learning more about the ecology of our area and the workings of the BLM.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
All the help from friends and networking with other writers. A friend in Bluff, Utah designed the cover and another friend drew the cactus figures that decorate each chapter. My critique group, San Juan Writers, was a great help. I am a learner at heart, so I thank all the presenters who shared their expertise at workshops and conferences, such as SouthWest Writers and past Hillerman conferences. And talk about learning — wow, the whole publishing process was an eye-opener. Thank heavens Geoff Habiger of Artemesia Publishing had the patience and faith in my book to work through edit after edit and coach me through what seemed like a hundred-and-one details to transform a sheaf of manuscript papers into a real book to hold in my hand.

Any new writing projects?
I have started the sequel to The Cactus Plot. The botanist heroine will be back, this time working side by side with an archeologist. I want to delve into the phases of human occupation in northwest New Mexico, from ancestral Puebloans, the early Navajo, Hispanic homesteaders, and now, oil and gas production. Each of these has made an impact, yet our enduring high desert remains.

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 Update: Author Rose Marie Kern

Retired air traffic control specialist Rose Marie Kern is a New Mexico Master Gardener, a beekeeper, and a solar chef. She is a popular speaker at aviation events and also gives lectures on microclimatology for gardening groups across the Southwest. In addition to publishing five nonfiction books, Rose has written over 1,000 articles on topics ranging from solar energy and organic gardening to those focused on aviation. Her first book, The Solar Chef (2009), is in its seventh edition and is the most popular solar cookbook in the United States. Creating Microclimates for High Desert Gardening (2019) is her most recent release. Visit Rose on her websites at and Read more about the author and her writing in her 2017 and 2019 interviews.

Who is your target audience for this book?
Gardeners. The kind of person who cringes when leaves get crinkly or limp and can hear the poor little things sobbing in distress.

What is a microclimate, and why is it important to high desert gardening?
First you have to understand what the climate of the region is and how it affects plants. Not just extreme temperature variations (such as New Mexico experiences) but air pressure at high altitudes, rainfall, and windflows. Then you can either take advantage of—or create—conditions in your yard that will enhance the plants’ abilities to flourish when temperatures climb to 100 degrees, 50 knot winds rip through, or monsoon hail threatens.

What was your greatest challenge in putting this project together and bringing it to publication?
Of the five books I’ve written, this was the easiest for me, because it combined my two lifelong occupations: gardening and the knowledge I gained from working as an aviation weather briefer. I have given lectures on the topic to Master Gardener programs in New Mexico and Arizona for the past 14 years. The biggest challenge was determining how much to include. I also traveled to other gardens in central and northern New Mexico and Arizona to gather photos and speak to those gardeners about how they tackle challenges.

How did the book come together?
I have a large garden, and I like to experiment. I also incorporate elements of sustainable living techniques by creating garden beds from recycled materials. Photo documentation of all my gardens through the years provided a plethora of images for the book. Articles I’ve written have appeared in several venues: Mother Earth News (composting), the Master Gardener Newsletters, and on the Solar Ranch website.

You seem to have a knack for filling the gap in a niche market. What is your process for discovering your next writing project?
For some reason I can see when something is needed by a group or groups of people. My next nonfiction project is a historical look at the Flight Service division of Air Traffic Control which began in 1920 and now, 100 years later, is fading away. During its heyday it was the general aviation pilots’ most-valued service.

If time and money were not a concern, what one skill would you like to learn?
Fiction writing, stained glass, and pottery.

What can nonfiction writers learn from fiction writers?
Nonfiction requires that you create an outline of what you need to include—for me this is simple. My greatest difficulty in writing fiction is expanding beyond dry factual information. I so admire those who can weave a tapestry of words which ensnare a reader’s senses. This is what I need to work on.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Other than the nonfiction project already mentioned, I am attempting a novel—a murder mystery featuring a woman who investigates aircraft accidents.

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/Editor Connie Flores

Connie Flores retired from a 34-year career with GE Aircraft Engines in Albuquerque and went on to publish her father’s memoir as a gift for his 90th birthday. James A. Woods is a U.S. Army veteran and a well-traveled engineer who helped construct the Sandia Peak Tramway, the longest aerial tram in North America. Our Fascinating Life: The Totally Accidental Trip 1979 (February 2020) tells the story of how James and his wife found themselves, accidentally, on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Our Fascinating Life is available on Amazon.

What is your elevator pitch for Our Fascinating Life?
My father’s story of accidentally finding himself on the other side of the Iron Curtain in the late 1970s is quite unique. But it is only intriguing if you are old enough to recall that part of the Cold War in Berlin. How do we convey upon today’s reader, the fear and desperation so prevalent fifty years ago in Eastern Europe?

When readers turn the last page in the book, what do you hope they’ll take away from it?
We hope that readers would come away feeling that they too have a story to tell. A month ago, the Sunday edition of the Albuquerque Journal had a Stephen Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine comic strip. Pig was intently listening to people sharing their incredible successes and life stories. It pans away to show these vibrant young people were actually aged, with canes and walkers and gray hair, in a retirement home. Rat asks Pig, “What do you get out of talking to older people?” Pig answers, “They weren’t always old.” How vastly has the world changed in your own lifetime? Your story would make a great book!

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Dad’s recollection of the specific details behind the Iron Curtain is unclear. We had hoped to include pictures of the autos, clothing, and storefronts of that time. Understandably, he and his wife couldn’t jump out of their car to snap photos during their unexpected trip. Eventually, I was able to purchase several stock photos at Shutterstock to include in our book to help illustrate the starkness of the environment.

And the software. Oh boy! I have been learning about self-publishing by attending SouthWest Writers’ meetings and workshops. So, upon hearing that Amazon Publishing had acquired Create Space, I bravely (or blindly) dove headfirst into Kindle Create. This endeavor proved arduous, as the program still had numerous glitches and was not as user friendly as this rookie required. Not being familiar enough with how publishing programs are supposed to work, I struggled with the basic cut-and-paste functions. Amazon continues to make improvements on the product and, by now, I must be an expert.

Tell us how the book came together.
My father’s manuscript had already been well written decades ago. Complete with the analytical-engineer intellect. Some of the details are technical and oft repeated, as precise as blueprint specifications would demand. Not particularly common for prose, however. I am not a prolific writer, so it took many hours to edit paragraphs.

The cover design with Amazon Publishing was fun and user-friendly. It took a few weeks to gather Dad’s old photos from siblings. The photos came in a PowerPoint flash-drive program, and it took more weeks to peel out each photo and individually save, edit, and save again. More weeks to insert them into the pages. This was where I struggled so much with the Kindle Create program. I don’t believe it is meant to be used as a photo-journal.

Why will readers consider your father an unforgettable character?
James is intelligent with worldly experience and never backs away from any problem. He adores a new challenge or puzzle to solve. He is talented at whatever hobby he picks up. And yet, if there is a family pet in the house, anyone’s house or anyone’s pet, that animal moves in to claim Dad’s lap. All of the old photos of gatherings with family and friends show some animal contently curled up. Dad’s numerous lifelong friends call him Jimbo or Big Jim. Not for his stature, but from all of the other ways a person earns respect among peers. Jim is quick to lend a hand or share stories and a scotch.

Is there a scene in the book you’d love to see play out in a movie?
It would be fun to see a respectable American couple in the 1970s (probably a bit tipsy at the beginning of their big European trip) take the advice of an equally tipsy couple and just drive their rental car onto a ferry. After they have eaten and drunk more while aboard, to find they have been delivered to some unknown port.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Of course, the bonding with my father, which we were both missing. Also, I had made sure to reach out to the siblings and encourage their participation in this special project. We are all proud of the book, just as we are proud of the author.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for Our Fascinating Life?
It’s astonishing how scarce the photos are of everyday life in East Berlin. From my research of that communist era, people really had to live so secretly, in every aspect of their lives. They were terrified of the KGB and sometimes their own neighbors. It wasn’t just in the movies.

When did you know you wanted to write your father’s story? What prompted the push to begin?
My step-sister in Arizona had asked me if there was something special we could come up with for Dad’s 90th birthday. I had a couple of his manuscripts and had learned just enough from the well-meaning folks at SouthWest Writers to get myself in deep. “What a fabulous idea!”

Looking back to the beginning of putting this project together, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
That if Amazon Publishing strongly suggests you install Google Chrome to use with their software, you do just that, and not waste many hours struggling with some other platform, as I did.

As you put the book together, did you ever feel you were revealing too much about your family? How did you deal with that and move forward with the book?
I was careful not to insult, or even potentially give anyone reason to feel they had been slandered.

What advice do you have for writers struggling to begin a writing project?
I, too, struggled. In my case, it took the looming deadline of Dad’s approaching birthday to find motivation. Perhaps, set a deadline for yourself, based on something personal. A birthday or anniversary. Or a season or event. And start by scribbling a couple paragraphs.

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: Charlene Bell Dietz

Before retirement, Charlene Bell Dietz never planned to be an author. But with so many stories to tell, after a long-term career in education and decades of volunteering, she devoted herself to learning the art of storytelling. She published the first novel in her flapper/scientist series in 2016 and the second in 2017. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut (2019) is her newest installment. You’ll find Charlene on her website at and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in her 2017 SWW interview.

What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut?
Sometimes we all have an inspirational moment of not knowing what we know. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut takes readers on a dream vacation to the Caribbean with a bio-medical scientist and her rather neglected husband. Beth, an obsessive and inquisitive scientist stirs up an angry nest of islanders. She’s unnerved when she discovers some of her fervently protected truths may not be truths at all. Beth, up until now, has always defended the hard-cold evidence of science. Similarly when things are not as they seem, the impossibility of it all baffles her—such as poisonous fish that appreciate music, an old woman whose cups of tea change everything, and then there’s the business of objects and people reappearing in unexpected places. Beth, perplexed by the nut, struggles to merge her scholarly beliefs with these strange new events in her life.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This story became a blending of four cultures: islander, voodoo, Rastafarian, and tourist. When each of these groups appeared and interacted with each other, I didn’t want to write my characters with stereotypical behaviors. I strived to unveil the unique humanism within each.

Tell us how the book came together.
My first two books (The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker), both stand-alones, had a central unanswered question concerning the main characters. I knew when I wrote the first book that this new book would need to be created. Essentially, while writing the others, I was thinking, plotting, and researching this third story. I guess you could say it’s been in my writer’s mind since the very beginning.

When I finally sat at the computer in July 2017 and started writing seriously on The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut, I was in the final stages of writing book two. It’s strange how this happens, but I never seem to only write one story at a time. However, before my books go to a professional editor or publisher, I have a critique group as well as a select handful of wonderful beta readers look them over. They are ruthless and don’t hesitate to send me running back to my computer. I’m forever grateful for their sharp eyes and high intelligence. With their help, the book was published in November 2019.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
There’s no counting the number of times and different ways I’ve experienced the magic of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, in September 2017 two category five hurricanes (two weeks apart), Irma and Maria, devastated many of the islands and some of the places in this story. When I started writing the book, the Internet showed Mad Dog Saloon on Virgin Gorda had been totally destroyed, and Little Dix Bay was pretty much wiped out. The charming Hotel 1829 on St. Thomas suffered severe damage.

With a heavy heart, I kept writing and checking the Internet. I started following blogs about people who may have been hurt or missing. Next, the lovely Hotel 1829 lost all its charm when someone turned it into a storage facility. I finally finished The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut and again, with heavy heart, checked the island news one last time. Someone had rebuilt Mad Dog and reopened it for business. A company had purchased Hotel 1829, and it’s now being restored. Reservations and rooms are being booked at the newly renovated Little Dix Bay. In some private, tiny magical way in my mind, my story helped participate in the rebirth of these wonderful places.

The titles for all your novels are intriguing. How did you choose the title for this latest book?
Ah, the titles! Conundrum comes to mind. It all started with the unending search for the title of my first book. This novel took forever to write, and in the final hour it still didn’t have an appropriate title. A solid title should tell the reader what to expect from the story without giving away the plot. The title possibilities left me totally flummoxed because this book had two story lines. One night, I sat next to the husband of a good friend at an awards banquet. He leaned over and said, “So, I understand your book is about a flapper and a scientist.” And—BAM!—there it was. I answered, “Yes, and a saboteur!” Not only did I have the title for this first book, I now had a format for the other two in the series: The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker and The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut. Right up front the reader knows the strange array of characters who populate the story as well as a hint about the plot. (I liked the word play for nut—it could refer to a person or to part of the plot.)

When did you know the story/characters were strong enough for a series?
Way back in 2005, I sent my draft of book one (under its first title Behind Smoke and Mirrors) to a New York editor. He came back with high praise for my characters and voice. However, he informed me I had three books in one. He told me the book would never be published in its current form and sent me back to my computer to do a complete rewrite. He also told me I hadn’t a clue about plotting. Plotting? Well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. He offered to help me learn, but warned that writing novels or any book has to be out of pure love, not out of expectations to be published. He insisted all my characters, even secondary ones, needed to learn and grow throughout their journeys.

Right from the first, I knew my material would have the strength to become three books. This was validated when I learned both The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker had received Kirkus Starred Reviews and were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2018.

Besides novels, you also write short stories. What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
Writing short stories helps me focus. Whenever I puzzle over some plot point or some confusing concept that needs to be developed, or I just need time to think, I write a short story. Some of my award-winning short stories took me only a few hours to write—but days to polish. These short stories never have anything to do with my other works-in-progress.

Now that I’m forced to think about it, I believe it’s the control of the short story that attracts me. Every single word must be necessary. If it doesn’t drive the story forward, it needs to be cut. Still, you have all the elements of a novel to work with except for numerous characters, subplots, and multiple settings. Usually it doesn’t take long to develop the story, so there’s the reward of quick closure on the task. I have so many ideas, incidences, and exciting experiences dancing around in my head, it’s a relief to organize them, fictionalize them, and then corral them into something readable.

Which do you prefer: the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
Creating can be energizing as well as exhausting. It uses parts of the brain that require divergent thinking that must be presented in an intelligent, readable form. My books require abundant research, which I really enjoy. Except there’s always underlying fears with research: “Do I have it right? Have I left something important out?” Editing has many hats: looking for typos, misspellings, faulty word usage, grammar and punctuation, or plot holes. I detest this type of editing. I’m terrible at it and can’t spell worth a plastic banana.

However, I absolutely get lost in revisions. Revising is the whipped cream on top of it all. Thoughtful, mindful, careful revisions can make or break a good story. They help a plot flow more logically with a simple tweak such as moving a sentence or paragraph around. Reading the words out loud helps discover if the sentences are smooth and have an engaging cadence with the right tone. If the out-loud reading reveals rough passages, then rewording or finding a more powerful or correct word can make all the difference. Out-loud reading also lets the author actually hear the various characters speak. The last thing a book needs is all the characters sounding the same. Distinct voices can make the emotional parts of the story soar. If an author loves revision, the reader will love the book.

Tell us about your writing process or your writing routine.
I have no daily ritual. When I am inspired with an idea, I check to make sure it can actually be a good book. I do this by drafting a beginning (which always changes as I get into the story), and I draft the ending in my mind (because I want to know where I’m going but understand at this point the trappings of the ending will change). Then I do some research, if needed. When I’m satisfied, I start by jotting down several plot markers between the beginning and the end. If it’s a murder mystery, I can guarantee that the person I select to be the killer, won’t be.

And I think, research, and think some more. Long walks and driving helps this process. When the voices start talking to me, when I can actually hear the characters get emotional and discuss their conflicts and desires, I start to write. Halfway through each book, the characters wake me up in the middle of the night, screaming at me that I’ve got the wrong assassin. It happens every time. Unfortunately, they leave me to figure out who really dunnit.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My current project, a historical biographical novel, takes me away from the flapper-scientist series. Margaret Brent, one of thirteen children, was born in England in 1601 to an aristocratic Catholic family. She became a powerful-driving force to insure the security of Maryland. Today the American Bar Association still recognizes her accomplishments through a yearly Margaret Brent Award given to talented women attorneys who mentor other women. Little is known about her early life in England, and she left no diary or letters. As a spinster in 1638, she and a sister and two brothers sailed to the coast of Maryland to become part of the first 400 Englanders to settle there. Others share my questions about her: What motivated her to make the dangerous voyage across the ocean in a time when Catholics were prohibited to do so, probably on penalty of death? Why did she never marry? How did she gain the skills to present case after case (over 100 documented) to the Provincial Court and the General Assembly? Her aptitude to discuss political and legal matters reached the degree that Leonard Calvert, the Governor of Maryland, on his deathbed appointed her as his executrix.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
If you’ve read a book you enjoy and want to show gratitude for the author’s work, there is no better way than to leave a book review. Authors love their readers, especially readers who let the world know how much they enjoy our stories.

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 Rhenna St. Clair

Rhenna St. Clair is an author, artist, and poet who practices Chinese medicine and acupuncture in northern New Mexico. She began writing her debut novel, Getting New Mexico, in 2016 and published it through Pace Press three years later. Anne Hillerman calls the book “part love story and part comedic hero’s journey…filled with quirky and diverse characters and unlikely situations right out of real life.” You’ll find Rhenna on her website at and on Facebook.

What is your elevator pitch for Getting New Mexico?
Getting New Mexico is a universal story about bad life choices, poor judgment, mean deeds one later regrets, and the desperate hope that we are still lovable despite those times when we are a tarnished version of our higher self. I love what is ridiculous, odd, and unpredictable about life and the characters we encounter while living it.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Blending my experience of life in New Mexico and what I knew of Pueblo people, with what I knew about East Indian culture and customs, was challenging but, at the same time, fun. I appreciate the mix of cultures in New Mexico and have never had more fun than when writing Getting New Mexico.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
The main character is a transplanted New Yorker, Aaron Schuyler. The love of his life, Anita Chatterjee, is a close second as a main character. I think readers will see something of themselves in those two (and the other characters) and will appreciate Schuyler’s interactions with all of them, as well as his moments of comic mistake or pathos.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book?
I have lived mostly in New Mexico for twenty-eight years. I can’t imagine living anywhere else! The house Aaron Schuyler moves into in Getting New Mexico is the home I lived in north of Santa Fe, in Nambe. The old house has a unique feeling, and I tried to bring that out. I shop all the time at Sam’s Club, so that seemed the obvious place for Schuyler to land a job.

Tell us how the book came together.
Getting New Mexico began with a prompt in 2016 in an ongoing writers’ workshop here in Farmington. I thought about the prompt — Where’s the fun in a funeral? — and came up with a guy in New York City who is down on his luck through his own fault. To get a free meal and some booze, he crashes funerals. It was great fun, and the fun continued as Aaron Schuyler learned some lessons in life. I finished writing and editing around the end of 2017 (I should mention that I am a licensed acupuncturist and have limited writing time). I did several edits myself, not counting what I was asked to do by Pace Press. I signed my contract with them in summer 2018, and our published date was November 5, 2019.

When did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go?
I knew we were done when Aaron Schuyler had learned the hardest lesson of his life: if you aren’t there for your kids, they won’t be there for you. It was time to bring his saga to a logical but sad conclusion, and the chapters following that episode were some of the most fun to write. It was time to “put it in the can” as they used to do with old movie reels.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I had two favorite parts. The first one was writing the scene where Schuyler visits his deceased uncle’s bookstore. I enjoyed developing the bookstore atmosphere. Secondly, I very much enjoyed developing personalities for the secondary characters so that what they did in the story made sense and contributed to the main action.

Who are some of your favorite authors?
My list of favorite authors is endless, beginning with Charles Dickens—there is nothing funnier than The Pickwick Papers. Other authors include Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Teilhard de Chardin, Edward Abbey, Anne Hillerman, John Kennedy Toole, Louise Penney, Michael McGarrity, Daniel Tammet, and Dostoevsky. These are just the beginning!

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I would like to think there is a theme of strong women dealing with the challenges of daily life. Many of my stories take place in my old Nambe home which is the setting for Getting New Mexico.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write?
Death scenes. The finality is hard enough to grasp in life, let alone on paper.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have just finished a crime manuscript titled West Coast that is set in Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, and I am starting a manuscript about a librarian in Farmington, New Mexico.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know?
I love to cook. I do oil painting. I can’t get enough of the beauty of New Mexico.

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: Shirley Raye Redmond

Award-winning author Shirley Raye Redmond has published romantic suspense and historical romance novels, over 450 articles, and nearly thirty nonfiction children’s books. Two of her children’s titles have sold more than 200,000 copies each. Her newest nonfiction release is Courageous World Changers: 50 True Stories of Daring Women of God (Harvest House Publishers, 2020). You’ll find Shirley Raye on several websites (, StitchesThruTime.blogspot, and, as well as on Facebook. For more about her books, read SWW’s 2015 interview and visit her Amazon author page.

What is your elevator pitch for Courageous World Changers?
Faithful Christian women are salt and light in their communities. They all make a difference. But some have such a vibrant faith that—like a stone tossed into a pond— their influence ripples throughout the world. The fifty women included in this book fall into that category.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Some of the women in the book, such as Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, have been written about so many times already. Many readers, even kids, would suppose they know everything about those women. I wanted to find little known facts about their lives that would make readers say, “Wow, I had no idea she did such-and-such.”

Tells us how the book came together.
The Harvest House editors sparked the initial idea and let literary agents know they were looking for book proposals on the topic. My agent gave me the heads-up and told me to hustle because many other writers wanted to take on the project. I dropped everything to put together my list of 50 women and a couple of profile samples. I was delighted when the publisher made me an offer. I was given 16 weeks to turn in the completed manuscript.

What makes this book unique in the children’s market?
Well, there are many books about gutsy women and even several about spunky Christian women. But I think my list covers a wider ethnic diversity—Chinese, African American, Filipino, Romanian, Dutch, British, and others. I selected women as far back as Catherine of Siena (who was born in 1347) to contemporary women such as Joni Eareckson Tada, who actually wrote a lovely letter thanking me for including her in the book.

Did you discover anything surprising while doing research for Courageous World Changers?
Oh, lots of interesting things! For instance, I had no idea writer Flannery O’Connor made “doll clothes” for her pet chickens. Or that one of the child prostitutes rescued by Josephine Butler in England eventually was placed in the home of Antonia Keville, the daughter of a wealthy British family, who eventually became a midwife, took Holy Orders and became known as Sister Monica Joan—yes, the same Sister Monica Joan in Call the Midwife.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I wanted to find quotations for each woman—something that revealed personality. For instance, on her deathbed, Katharina von Bora said, “I will stick to Christ like a burr to a topcoat.” I think that captures her spunky determination quite well. Harriet Beecher Stowe, while reflecting upon the enormous success of her novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, said, “The power of fictitious writing, for good as well as for evil, is a thing which ought most seriously be reflected upon.”

What was your first reaction to seeing Katya Longhi’s cover and interior art?
I was delighted with the illustrations. Each portrait is colorful and friendly—I immediately noted all the smiles. And I love how Katya carries the artistic theme over onto the page of text. As the publisher arranged for all the illustrations, I did not know Katya nor was I familiar with her work. She lives in Italy, but we have since become “friends” on Facebook.

In your 2015 interview for SouthWest Writers, you said Patriots in Petticoats, Heroines of the American Revolution (Random House, 2004) was probably your favorite writing project. Courageous World Changers seems to be of a similar theme. What is it about these types of projects that draws you to them?
I love history and the thrill of the chase, digging up nuggets that others may overlook. It has proven to be a lucrative avenue of exploration for me as both of my first nonfiction titles for children were published by Random House and are still in print nearly twenty years later: Tentacles, Tales of the Giant Squid and Lewis & Clark: A Prairie Dog for the President—which became a Children’s Book of the Month club selection when it was first released.

What do beginning writers misunderstand about writing for children?
Many think writing for kids will be easy because the books are shorter. They don’t realize they still need a marketable story plot with character + action + conflict + climax + resolution. Even a nonfiction book like my Pigeon Hero! (Simon & Schuster), which is less than 600 words, still has a story arc.

Also, marketable books for children should tie-in to the school curriculum somehow. At least, that’s been my experience. Courageous World Changers is useful for teachers and librarians looking for something to use during Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Women in Science week, etc. When schools focus on a transportation unit in reading and social studies, teachers and librarians look for novels, picture books, and nonfiction titles about the Oregon Trail, trains, planes, and cars. I once had a lively picture book about Teddy Roosevelt’s reorganization of college football rejected because I’d aimed it at 5 to 8 year olds. The editor pointed out that young children seldom play football and elementary schools don’t sponsor football teams. Even successful fictional stories for kids often have a seasonal tie-in observed during the school year, such as Valentine’s Day or Halloween. When writing for adults, one doesn’t need to keep that sort of thing in mind.

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

2020 Call for Submissions: SWW Annual Writing Contest


Hurry! Deadline is May 15th.

The SouthWest Writers 2020 Annual Writing Contest—SEEING the WORLD in 20/20—encourages first-time writers as well as seasoned professionals. You do not have to be a member of SouthWest Writers to enter.

First-, second-, and third-place winners will be awarded in twenty-two categories (eleven categories for both prose and poetry).

Deadline: Midnight May 15, 2020 (Mountain Time).
Entry fees: $10 for each entry.
Submission: Online only.
Prizes: First place, $50. Second place, $25. First through third places also receive medals. Top three winners in each category have the option to be published in the next SWW Winners Anthology.


  • Each entry must be an original work, in English, not published electronically or in print anywhere, or submitted previously to an SWW writing contest.
  • No limit on number of entries per person. The same piece can be entered in more than one category but will cost $10 for each entry/category.
  • All entries must be submitted electronically via the SWW website. NO mailed entries accepted.
  • Entries must be submitted in Times New Roman, 12 pt with double spacing. Acceptable files: .doc, .docx, or .pdf.
  • Author’s name cannot appear on the submission.
  • Prose: Limited to 3,500 words, including the title.
  • Poetry: Limited to 250 lines, including the title.

Go to the SouthWest Writers contest page for more details and to enter the contest. Good luck!

SWW YouTube Videos

Blog Post Categories

Support SWW

Make A Donation


Search Now:  
amazon search

SouthWest Writers receives a commission on all books ordered via Amazon.

Follow Our Blog

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.