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An Interview with Author T. E. MacArthur

Artist and historian T. E. MacArthur is the award-winning author of two steampunk series — The Volcano Lady and The Gaslight Adventures of Tom Turner — as well as A Place of Fog and Murder, a dieselpunk/noir-punk Lou Tanner P.I. Mystery. The Skin Thief (Indies United Publishing House, March 2023) is Thena’s newest release and her first paranormal romance thriller. You’ll find Thena on her website at, on Facebook, and her Amazon author page.

What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in The Skin Thief?
Agent Tessa Lancing believed she knew all about death — until she met Death itself. Tessa has one last chance to prove herself to her employer, a disavowed secretive agency, or face literal termination, and she’s desperate to do what she must to succeed. When assigned to a doomed mission already littered with dead bodies, she drags Jack de Sombras, an accused traitor who’s also her old partner and unrequited love, out of his self-made tomb and back into the field. By teaming up with Jack, she expects to make quick work of the situation. She’s wrong…With an ancient evil and Death itself after them, can they survive their last mission together?

What was the inspiration for the book?
The Skin Thief started as my Pandemic project. I mean, what the heck: stay at home, nothing to drag me out of the house, nothing to distract me or to take up time. Of course, I can write 100 books, am I right?  I was wrong. That time of isolation drained me of all my energies, most assuredly, my creative energy. I was not alone. Still, more than a little determination got the plotting, false-starts, and research going. I also discovered the pure joy of Zoom workshops and meetings. I could go on about that, but I’m trying not to get too far off topic.

The book began as my homage to the British Avengers TV show (and was also inspired by the X-Files, with a heaping spoonful of both Tony Hillerman and Dean Koontz). In fact, my two protagonists call each other Steed and Peel once in a while. I tried to get that humor and weirdness, yet it wasn’t quite working. At that point, I backed up and asked, “What do you do (better) with two great new characters?  Where do you want them to go?  What kind of antagonist is the right match?” Why yes! That led to a complete re-write.

Did you know from the beginning that you wanted The Skin Thief to be a paranormal romance thriller?
Not even close. I ran the first iteration of The Skin Thief past a potential, and very time-generous agent who called it a Romantic Suspense. I knew there were some romantic elements but putting that in the genre label surprised me. Once I did a whole re-write, I embraced the romantic while not making it the center of the plot. “Will they” or “won’t they” is meant to enhance the thrill, not to overwhelm or distract from it.

Were there any challenges you faced when wrapping all those elements together?
My biggest concern was to make sure that I’d written a solid paranormal thriller, then to see to it that any romantic parts fit and moved the story smartly, and last (although not at all least) I needed to make sure that the facts flowed.

I could point to the biggest challenge being the fact that I hadn’t been in the Four Corners area (where The Skin Thief is set) in such a long time. I didn’t want to do the area or the people there an injustice by getting the details wrong or suggesting that the whole place was a paranormal cesspool. People of many ancestries have lived there over thousands of years. There are still so many mysteries about the ancient populations to modern observers. I didn’t want to do a disservice to any of the above.

My “ancient evil” is one of those evils that always seems to pop up everywhere. You spray, and you spray, and they just keep coming back.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
Who doesn’t love a cowboy? I suppose it depends on the man, doesn’t it? If he’s a cowboy with dangerous secrets and a questionable past, I suppose Jack de Sombras might not be your cup of tea. Then again, he is terribly smart, brave, and charming, even if you don’t know what his motivations are.

Tessa Wells Lancing has PTSD. She’s a bright bulb with a kick-ass attitude. If it can be done, Tessa either will do it or give it nothing less than her best. Can she help it if she wisely got therapy and the doctor put her on the path of parapsychology? Was it her fault if Death took a liking to her?

Two imperfect intelligence agents, working together again, to save lives. What’s not to like?

Do you share traits with any of your characters? Or are any of your characters based on people you know?
Every author writes him or herself into their characters. I think in this case, my characters have my sense of humor and Tessa has my interest in the paranormal but otherwise they are whole and completely their own people.

You’ve written in many genres: Mystery, Paranormal, Science Fiction, Thriller, Steampunk, to name a few. Do you prefer one genre over another?
While we’re focused on the The Skin Thief for this interview, I’m also working on my second series, the Lou Tanner Mysteries — set in 1935 futuristic San Francisco. I’m flopping back and forth between two very different styles, yet all in a similar genre. Thrillers.

Thrillers make me happy. While I like a good whodunit, I like the chase even more than the solution. And I love a good ghost story. I’d say right now, I’m split between writing paranormal and writing futuristic pulp detectives.

What I mean by futuristic pulp is called Dieselpunk. Like Steampunk (Victorian Science Fiction, ala Jules Verne), Dieselpunk takes history from between the world wars and asks, “What if?” In my case, I ask, “What if in 1935, technology includes robots and automated taxis to go along with a female, Raymond Chandler-like detective?” I adore the slang, the innuendo, the Art Deco/Noir setting, Jazz Age life. Chandler has a certain phrasing that is classic and profoundly descriptive.

Why did you choose your particular settings for The Skin Thief?
When I was eight years old, my family moved to Colorado Springs. I wasn’t what one might call “popular.” Okay, I was the odd kid, the weirdo, the California girl. I got bullied very badly. I found solace in being alone and using my imagination. I would sit in my backyard, with its view of Pikes Peak and Cheyenne Mountain, and look at the strange light in between them called the Shrine to the Sun. Every night, there it was, waiting in the darkness that was granite and conifer. Far away, enough that we never visited, but close enough that a neighbor or two mentioned it. It was a few years before I learned it was the Will Rogers Shrine to the Sun, a tribute to his writing.

Meanwhile, there I sat, imagining what a Sun Shrine might be like, filling in with jungle-covered Aztec ruins or lost ancient Egyptian travelers. Things an eight- or nine-year-old thinks. We had cliff dwellings too, although those weren’t quite like Mesa Verde. I wanted nothing more than to find ancient peoples as if finding myself within them. To me, they were unknowable — as was I.

My sneaky way home, that avoided where the bullies waited for me, went through a grove of trees where I would imagine great escapes, powerful witches, and talking trees. I suppose in a way, I can appreciate that the bullies forced me on an imaginative path — although I’m loathe to give them any credit.

Can you share with readers what writing project you’re working on now?
A new, re-edited second edition of A Place of Fog and Murder: A Lou Tanner Mystery will be released on October 25th by Indies United Publishing House LLC. Like The Skin Thief, it will be available on all the basic and familiar places. For now, I’m working on sequels to both The Skin Thief and A Place of Fog and Murder. Whichever tickles my fancy each day gets my attention. Both are due in 2024.

Where can readers find your books?
I am on Amazon, Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Draft2Digital, and Smashwords. Go to Books2Read for links to all retailers.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
After visiting Albuquerque in 2022 for the Left Coast Crime convention, not to mention a side trip to Santa Fe, I fell in love with the Southwest again. I also met the SouthWest Writers group and am so glad I joined.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author R. Janet Walraven

Award-winning author R. Janet Walraven, M.Ed., has written a children’s book, a World War II romance based on her parents’ lives, and two nonfiction books inspired by 35 years of K-12 teaching experience. Through her decades-long career, Janet developed a passion for connecting all of the players in the education field and believes it is possible to experience joy in teaching and in learning. Her mentoring book, Connect for Classroom Success, won the Silver Award with Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards. Janet’s newest nonfiction release is LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down (February 2023). You’ll find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X. Look for her books on her Amazon Author Page.

Your newest book is an inspirational nonfiction story about a boy who was almost lost within the educational system. What would you like readers to know about LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down?
LIAM is a story of hope for those who have been academically misdiagnosed as well as marginalized. The true story is about a student I had many years ago. It’s been rolling around in my head for a long time.

Did this work present any challenges for you as a writer?
Two huge challenges. The first was finding my student from 40 years ago to get his permission for me to write the story. That took some detective work. We finally connected. His response was, “If the story can give hope to others, let’s do it.” I am grateful for his approval. The second challenge was putting myself back in the trauma of the situation; Liam felt the same way.

What did you consider your biggest challenge as an educator? What do you consider your greatest success?
My greatest challenge was finding a reading program that really works. I searched for 16 years and finally found what can change the lives of the 85% of students who don’t read correctly. If I win the lottery, I’ll get the Read Right program into every school in the USA. If Read Right had been available for Liam at the time, he could have become an excellent reader in a short time.

What I learned from Liam was that my job as a teacher was to connect with each individual student to help them realize their potential. I believe that everyone has a genius; the teacher’s job is to help them find it, set goals, and reach for the stars.

If you could offer one piece of advice for parents struggling with this type of situation, what would it be?
Don’t ever give up on your children. Don’t allow anyone to diagnose and label your child. If educators aren’t searching for a solution, be the advocate for your child. You will be amazed if you stay on that journey. Hope is out there. Keep believing, searching, asking for help, keeping hope in your heart. Liam was fortunate to have loving, supportive parents. They accepted him just as he was and did all they could to find solutions for him.

You’ve written in many genres: Children’s, Essay, Historical Fiction, Inspirational, Memoir, Narrative Non-Fiction/Education, Poetry, Romance. Has your nonfiction writing enabled you to make the transition into writing other genres easier?
I find it difficult to label my nonfiction as well as fiction. Both of my nonfiction books are true stories, but since I have to change character names, it becomes fiction of a sort. In writing Rainbow of Promise, the book about my parents’ romance, I used their real names. Though it’s historical fiction, the stories were true. I wrote the dialogue as close as possible to their personalities and the stories they told me.

I usually write from my own experiences—people I know as well as situations others have shared with me. Once in a while, a story pops into my head without my knowing where it came from; it seems to dictate to me. That’s a strange feeling but fun!

When you tackle a nonfiction project, do you think of it as storytelling?
Absolutely! My first book, Connect for Classroom Success: A Mentoring Guide for Teachers K-12, is mostly dialogue between students, parents, colleagues, and me. Who wants to read a boring textbook? I wrote it because so many teachers don’t have a mentor and give up their career in three to five years. The stories I tell are there to help teachers, parents, students, all the team players, find joy in teaching and learning. Storytelling is the best way. I wanted the book about Liam to be personal, including the struggles I had right along with him. Dialoguing is my favorite way to tell a story.

Of all the books you’ve written, is there one that was the most enjoyable to write?
I love being in the writing zone. Hours go by without my knowing where I am or what time it is. I found the most joy in writing the World War II romance about my parents’ love story. My goal was to be as true to the stories they told me while growing up and to reveal their true personalities. I enjoyed being in their heads, re-creating dialogue and situations as close to reality as possible. I’m working on a prequel to the story.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I write when I feel compelled to get a story out of my head and into a manuscript. Once I get started, it’s hard to stop. I have a nice setup—a quiet room with a computer on a desk facing a window, music without lyrics that fits the story, and a timer that tells me when I need a break. I usually ignore when it dings. I never have what others call writer’s block. I have so much in my head that I want to get out onto paper, there’s no time for a block. I write for the joy of writing, not to get rich or famous. I do appreciate reviews!

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I wrote my first serious poem as a senior in high school. My psychology teacher took us on a field trip to a nearby mental institution—a trauma that shook me to my core. On the way home, I wrote a short poem—the only way I knew to respond. After that, I found writing poetry came from deep within, whatever the circumstance. When I was twenty-five, my father was killed, supposedly accidentally, but I couldn’t reconcile myself to it. After several starts, hoping for a catharsis, I finally found my voice. I entered the story in the SouthWest Writers’ Contest (2001) and was awarded second place in Mainstream Short Story for Realistic Fiction. At that time, SouthWest Writers held conferences where we were able to meet with the judges. That was the validation I needed to pursue writing. Thank you, SouthWest Writers!

What advice can you offer other authors?
Write from your heart. Take advantage of writing seminars. Learn the rules of writing well enough to know when to break rules. Find a writing partner or group you feel comfortable with, but don’t take critiquing personally. Learn what you can from others but stick to your own voice. Writing takes a great deal of patience. I work with a writing partner plus two others who critique my manuscripts. Editing takes even more patience. A true writer is never done; rewrite and edit until you can finally say, I’ve got it as good as it gets. Then after publishing, you think of more to add or how you could have changed something. That’s what nice about self-publishing; you can always make changes or corrections in another edition. I don’t backtrack unless a typo or content mistake needs to be corrected. Otherwise, I move on to my next project, and that’s exciting.

Since you write across many genres, is there a genre you enjoy reading the most and why?
I like believable stories that fit my mood at the time—biographies, memoirs, true-to-life stories, well-written novels, and mysteries only if they make me laugh out loud. I don’t like violence and am not much into fantasies unless it’s metaphorical. I journal self-help books; that makes me slow down my fast reading in order to capture what I want to learn. After teaching the Holocaust for twenty-five years, I keep telling myself that I can no longer allow myself to sink into that horror. But another comes along, and I feel compelled to read yet another.

Do you have any other works in progress that you can tell us about?
Two projects are exciting. The first is a prequel to my WWII romance. It’s a story about my maternal Volga-German grandparents who emigrated from Russia in 1912. That’s taking a lot of research. I love researching because I learn a lot of history while picking the brains of my cousins, searching old photos and papers, and am grateful for the internet. My second project is writing a set of poetry books with varying themes and styles. I have most of the poetry written. Editing and organizing takes time.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
For each of my nonfiction books sold, I gift a book to a teacher or parent.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Nick Pappas

Award-winning journalist and editor Nick Pappas spent much of his 40-plus-year career in several New England states before taking the position of city editor at the Albuquerque Journal. After retiring, research into coal-mine catastrophes in northern New Mexico culminated in his debut release of Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters (University of New Mexico Press, October 2023). You’ll find Nick on his website, on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter/X. Look for his book at all major retailers, including University of New Mexico Press and Amazon.

Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters is a sad, but fascinating topic. What drew you to tell the story of these miners?
My wife Susan and I moved to Albuquerque from New Hampshire in June 2013 so I could start a new job at the Albuquerque Journal. As it turns out, the 100-year anniversary of Dawson’s 1913 mine disaster — the second deadliest in U.S. history — was commemorated that October with stories in the Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, and other media outlets. At first, I was struck by the sheer horror of that incident (263 dead) and another explosion a decade later that claimed the lives of another 120 men. Over time, however, I came to realize there was so much more to Dawson’s history. Once I realized that former residents, descendants, and friends still gathered every other Labor Day weekend for a picnic reunion on the old townsite — nearly 70 years after the town shut down in 1950 — I was hooked. I began work on a narrative history of the old coal town after I retired in November 2018.

Please give our readers a glimpse of what Dawson, New Mexico was like in the early 1900s.
Once acquired by Phelps, Dodge & Company in 1905, Dawson became a model for coal towns across the Southwest, if not the country. Within a decade or so, Dawson was home to a 1,000-seat opera house, a large mercantile store than sent buyers to New York to acquire the latest furs and fashions, a state-of-the-art hospital and dispensary, full-service bank, top-notch schools, two churches, gymnasium, swimming pool and, at the time, the highest-elevation golf course in the nation. It also became a magnet for European immigrants from more than a dozen countries, as well as from China, Mexico, and Russia. And to hear former residents tell it, Dawson was a wonderful place to live, at least when measured against other coal camps of the day.

How accessible/plentiful was the information regarding these disasters when writing this story? Was there an oral history from descendants? How did families feel about their ancestor’s story finally being told?
I tried whenever possible to rely on primary documents, original newspaper accounts, and personal interviews. Among the source materials were annual territorial and state mine inspector reports, government documents and studies, company annual reports, industry research and newsletters, unpublished manuscripts, first-person accounts, and similar material. My biggest break was obtaining access to boxloads of company documents held today by the successor company to Phelps Dodge in Arizona. These materials included hundreds of pages of intracompany communications, letters, telegrams and the like specific to the 1913 mine disaster and its aftermath. As for families with ties to Dawson, they couldn’t have been more gracious in sharing their time, photographs and, in some cases, translations of letters and newspaper accounts from their native Greek and Italian.

What were some of the obstacles you faced while writing Crosses of Iron?
The first was the outbreak of COVID-19 roughly 14 months after I had begun my research. Fortunately, I already had visited most of the pertinent New Mexico archives and libraries before they shut down, though there were others outside of the state that I would have liked to visit. Otherwise, there were some iconic Dawson photographs I would have liked to include in the book, especially those related to the town’s closing in 1950, but I was never able to track down the original owner/source to use them. And then there was the discrepancy in the spelling of immigrant names, which many times differed markedly among ship manifests, census reports, military documents, company records and especially in newspaper accounts. When it came to listing the names of the 383 miners who died in the 1913 and 1923 mine disasters in the back of the book, I decided to go with the spellings contained in the official New Mexico mine inspector reports for those years, even though I knew from talking to families that at least some were not accurate.

You mentioned that you’re a native New Englander. Are there any stories from that area that you’ve been inspired to tell?
None immediately come to mind, but if I ever were to move back, I’d like to think I could find an overlooked or forgotten piece of history to pique my interest.

This would make a great documentary. Are there any plans for Crosses of Iron to make it to the big screen?
Not that I am aware. There was a serious effort a few years back by a Santa Fe-based company to produce a one-hour documentary told through the perspective of three immigrant communities. The documentary was to be filmed on location in New Mexico, Italy, Greece, and Mexico, but the project fell through due to a lack of funding.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Probably the research, whether working with families, the always helpful custodians at the State’s archives and libraries, or seeking out old documents. To be honest, I was amazed at some of the material I was able to discover online too. Case in point: The 1904 edition of The Shield, a Phi Kappa Psi magazine that contained critical background information on a Brown University graduate who would later lose his life in the 1913 mine explosion. The pleasure that came from sharing with families previously unknown details about their loved ones was an added bonus.

Is there a particular path or routine you follow when working on a project of this nature?
This was my first book, so it was more a seat-of-the-pants exercise than a rigid adherence to tried and true rules. In my case, the path looked something like this: Research. Interview. Write. Rewrite. Edit. Edit. And then edit some more.

What’s next on your radar for writing projects?
I have a few ideas rooted in New Mexico history but nothing definite yet.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Only that Crosses of Iron is more than a disaster book. Given that most of the story is set in the first half of the 20th century, the book chronicles some key events in our nation’s history: the massive wave of European immigration that brought 20-million people to America between 1880 and 1920 (in its heyday, more than a dozen languages were spoken in Dawson), the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, Prohibition, the rise of the American labor movement, World Wars I and II, and other important milestones. And the book concludes with onetime Dawson residents — including American labor icon Dolores Huerta — or those with a strong connection to Dawson sharing memories of their beloved coal town.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author and Poet David L. Harrison

David L. Harrison is a best-selling, award-winning author and poet who has also been a musician, a scientist, an editor, and a businessman. He is the former poet laureate of Drury University and the current poet laureate of Missouri (2023-2025). His 106 published books include poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers and educational books for teachers. In 2022, he published This Life: An Autobiography (Ozarks Book Series) that “chronicles the fits and starts, professional rejections and redirections, the inevitable personal life conflicts and tragedies, as well as the breakthroughs and triumphs in a career that has spanned seven decades…and is still going.” You’ll find David on his website, his blog, and on Facebook. His autobiography is available through Missouri State University at Ozarks Book Series, but the rest of his books can be found on his Amazon Author Page.

David, you’re an award-winning author. You even have a school named after you: The David Harrison Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri. And now, you’ve written This Life, An Autobiography. Please tell us why you wrote this book and why you choose this time in your life to write it.
Thank you for offering me this chance to say hello to friends and colleagues in SouthWest Writers. I’m delighted to be a member of this group of talented writers.

I didn’t plan to write a memoir. I sat in a theater audience one night and was highly entertained by a gifted young musician who told about his journey from a child who was attracted to music to the professional musician he had become. I wondered if I should do something like that. I, too, had taken a long, sometimes difficult journey from the time I wrote my first poem to become a well-published author and poet. Forty pages into a play script, I knew that the effort was headed toward disaster. I don’t have a playwright’s instincts. But rather than throw out weeks of work, I decided to go forward with a book about my writer’s journey. Someone, I hoped, would like to know how one person managed to go about it. This Life, An Autobiography was the result.

Having successfully written so many books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers, as well as educational books for teachers, is there a genre you haven’t tackled but are eager to try?
Now and then I wish I could write a series of stories, but my brain isn’t wired that way. I exhaust my supply of energy, originality, and patience for a given subject in a single effort. After that, my mind moves on to something else.

Were there any unexpected moments for you when writing This Life? Did you ever feel vulnerable revealing so much about yourself?
The first challenge was setting the boundaries of what I would include in the narrative of my life. Once I decided that this was to be an effort to trace my development as a writer, I passed on many memories that were important to me but which didn’t seem to touch on the main theme. Had I written the story of my life, instead of the story of how I became a writer, the vulnerability issue would have been more of a problem. In other words, I left out some of the good stuff. (:>

Tell us about your experience as Missouri’s Poet Laureate and what this experience means to you.
The Missouri Poet Laureate program, which began in 2006, features a new state poet laureate appointed by the governor every two years. I’d been nominated four times previously and this time I made it. I’m the first who identifies as a children’s poet to be chosen, so I’m delighted with the honor and the opportunity to meet people across our state. My first official appearance in my new role took place on September 8, 2023 in David Harrison Elementary School, which was named after me. Coming up are events in Kansas City at the Heartland Book Festival on October 6–7 and in St. Louis on April 6 to give a 2-hour poetry workshop for the St. Louis Writers Guild and general public. I expect to do a lot of traveling but will also take advantage of Zoom and other technology to reach as many as I can to read and write poetry and talk about how it enriches our lives.

I read that you started writing poetry at the age of six. Do you remember what inspired you to write your first poem and what it was about?
I wrote my first poem in a snit. We lived in Ajo, Arizona, a town not far from the Mexican border. My dad had come home from a fishing trip in Mexico and my mother was frying his catch on a skillet in the kitchen. That fish smelled SO good and I was SO hungry and I am sure I was SO much in her way. I found myself banished to the living room until she called me for dinner. I made up a poem to show how I felt.

Sometimes I wish
I had a fish
Upon a little dish.

How did you feel the first time you saw an illustrator’s interpretation of a story you created?
The first time you see how someone else imagined what you’ve imagined is a highlight in a writer’s life. For some reason, when I write about human characters, they don’t always materialize in my mind as whole people. They are symbols, personalities, metaphors. It takes an artist to be practical and say, “Come on, they have to look like something. How about like this?” I almost always love the surprise of meeting my characters face to face. I’m more at home with animals. I know what they look like!

After a six-decade writing career, is there anything you’d do differently if you started your writing and publishing journey today?
The easy answer is to say I would have avoided becoming a scientist, head of a block manufacturing company, and co-owner of a gift store specializing in crystals, porcelains, and china, and gone straight into writing, but I might not have wound up here. If I hadn’t touched those other bases along the way, I might have ended somewhere else, and, since I have few regrets about anything that happened down that rather crooked path, I think I’ll say I would walk it again.

Can you tell us about a time when you didn’t know if you would make it as an author and how you persevered?
The low point for me was toward the end of six long years of rejections. Only one guy — a professor at Drury who taught a writing course — had told me he thought I could become a writer. No one else had said that. Ever. To the contrary, editor after editor had told me by their actions that I was definitely not a writer. On one rejection letter, an editor had scribbled, “Are you kidding?” I came to feel like an utter failure. I was wasting my time. I was not a writer, was never going to be one. I simply didn’t have the talent for it. In This Life, I hesitated to describe those dismal years, filled with self-doubt and a growing sense of futility and failure. My decision to include the experience was based on two considerations: 1) it was the truth; it happened; it was part of my journey, and 2) I thought there might be other struggling writers out there who would understand what I went through and take heart.

With such a varied writing background, who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
Among my favorites are Annie Proulx, Barbara Kingsolver, Joan Didion, John Irving, E. B. White, and Kurt Vonnegut. They’re all masters of knowing what they’re talking about before they start talking, and when they do begin, their voices are so distinctive that they hold our attention from beginning to end. My favorite authors of literature for young people are too numerous to mention here but my choices all have one thing in common. They use words like a palette of endless colors and they paint images with them that remain with us long after the printed story or poem or narrative ends. They bring literature to life. I try not to compare my developing manuscript to the so-so writers in the world. I hold my work up to the very best, sigh, and try harder to come closer.

Can you give us an update on when This Life: An Autobiography will be available more widely online?
Although the book is available through the Missouri State University site in Springfield at, ongoing efforts to connect with a major distributor for wider distribution through Amazon and other traditional outlets look promising. By the time you read this, terms may have been agreed on and become operational by the end of the year.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Poet Gayle Lauradunn

Gayle Lauradunn is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in numerous journals as well as national and international anthologies. Some of her poems have also been included in art gallery exhibits and adapted for the stage. Her third poetry collection, The Geography of Absence (Mercury HeartLink, August 2022), prompted one reviewer to write: “Open this collection to the first poem—or to any poem—and lose yourself in words that matter.” Look for Gayle’s book on Amazon.

Tell us how and why you chose the title of your poetry book The Geography of Absence.
When I was camping in the Sahara I was struck by the immensity of the space and the gigantic proportions of the sand dunes that seemed to creep across the landscape. The sheer vastness. I wondered what was absent in that huge emptiness. Then we spied a brown speck in the distance between dunes and went toward it, and it turned out to be a large Berber tent, probably large enough to hold 80-100 people. But there was only an old woman and her 3-year-old grandson napping beside her. She invited us in and talked with our guide, who translated for us, carding and spinning the camel wool contained in a large bag beside her the entire time we were there. There was nothing else in the tent, not even cooking utensils, and I still wonder who or what was absent. That experience led me to become aware of absence throughout our lives. The poet Morgan Parker has said, “Absence implies a memory of what once took place.”

Your book cover has interesting details with randomly placed blocks, giving a fractured appearance. Is it representative of what this poetry collection is about?
Yes. I originally thought I wanted a photo of large sand dunes with a broad sky but could not find anything. I asked my friend Scott Wiggerman, who is both poet and artist, if he could suggest something. He sent me what he had posted on his website. Of the many items there, I kept going back to this piece even though it is not the kind of art I generally like. I went to Scott’s house to view the original and asked him what he was thinking when he created the piece. He said he was thinking about what was absent between the blocks. When he said the piece was untitled, I suggested we call it “absences” to which he agreed.

You mentioned that you write poetry to learn about the world and to learn more about who you are. What things can you share with your readers about your discoveries?
The process of writing poetry is organic for me. I begin with a vague thought, an idea, a landscape, etc., and write the first line, whatever occurs to me. The poem writes itself; I never know where it is going or how it will end. I don’t think ahead. I let it be what it seems to want to be. It’s similar to traveling to a culture that is different from ours, a landscape that is different, a different language. The absence of my own culture surrounding me is provocative and causes me to view the world in a new way. I’ve taken ten trips with a company that focuses on going off the beaten path. It’s the reason I rarely travel to Europe which is our heritage. I prefer places like Mongolia and Bhutan. After hiking up 12,000 feet in the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal, we had lunch in a tiny village and visited one of the homes. The woman had a television set and later I asked our guide what the people thought about how different much of the world is from their lives. He responded that they think what is on television are fairy tales.

In your book description of The Geography of Absence you question the validity of memory. Can you elaborate? Do you find freedom with this prospect when it comes to writing, or is vague memory more of a hindrance?
Memory, vague or clear, allows me to write both the actual event and infuse it with imagination. Whatever the memory, imagination expands it, enhances it to get to the meaning of what really occurred.

What sort of decisions do you make when putting a poetry collection together?
Good question, one I’m dealing with right now as I work on the order of my next collection. The Geography of Absence and my first book, Reaching for Air, were both much easier as the poems lent themselves to sections. My second book, All the Wild and Holy: A Life of Eunice Williams 1696-1785, is a book-length persona poem which I wrote chronologically as I followed her life. This current manuscript has a central six-part poem which is the focus of the collection. My struggle is how to arrange the other poems around this one. All the other poems reflect the central idea in the long one and that is what I need to keep in mind as I organize them.

For someone new to poetry, can you recommend where they might start reading?
It depends on what kind of poetry you want to write: open or formal. Today there seems to be more call from publishers for the latter. I find much of it fairly boring as the traditional forms do not fit our contemporary language, which causes the poet to focus on the form rather than what is being said. People are inventing new forms such as the golden shovel and calling a single line a haiku. I’m a storytelling poet, so content is more important to me than form. I do occasionally write a form poem, such as a pantoum, but I am rarely satisfied with them as the content often becomes distorted to fit the form. Some poets write a sonnet which you would not recognize as such because they are more interested in content than form. For form poetry, start with Shakespeare and improvise on his sonnets. For open, start with Denise Levertov and Gwendolyn Brooks. Galway Kinnell wrote both open and formal.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work to understand a poem, or should readers find their own meaning?
I have been giving readings since 1970. In the early days, I experienced an awakening when after a reading, people would come up to me and say such things as “I love your poem about….” or “I understood your poem X as I had a similar experience.” In such cases I had no idea to which poems they were relating as I did not see what they said in any of the poems. That taught me that when we write, if we are open and not tightly controlling, people can get inside any poem that speaks to their own experiences. All we must do is write from within ourselves, organically. I remember one of my high school English teachers taking us through ten unbearable weeks of poetry. She invariably asked such nonsense questions as “What does the word the on the third line mean?” I doubt if even the poet knew. Readers should let the poem speak to them and not try to control it. Poems are a gift to allow people to find their own meanings.

Do you have a favorite poet? Someone who inspired you along the way?
Too many poets to choose just one. My early influences were William Blake, Walt Whitman, Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Galway Kinnell, C.K. Williams, and the early poems of Louise Glück.

What do most well-written poems have in common?
A broad and deep knowledge of craft. Learn it and then you can toss it away. It will be part of you and you will use it without being conscious of doing so.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Regina Griego

Regina Griego was born and raised in New Mexico, and her Hispanic roots go back four hundred years. She holds a PhD, MS, and BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering and an MS in Computer Science. After retiring from a distinguished career as an engineer, Regina is now a coach, a speaker, and an author. She is also an active member of organizations that support gun safety and juvenile justice. In 2022, she published the award-winning memoir Sins of the System: Trauma, Guns, Tragedy, and the Betrayal of Our Children. Look for Regina on her website at, on Facebook, and her Amazon author page. Sins of the System is also available at Barnes & Noble.

Would you please give readers an overview of Sins of the System?
In January 2013, my fifteen-year-old nephew shot and killed his father (my brother), mother, and three siblings. I became my nephew’s guardian and stood by him through seven years of legal drama. In this memoir, I recount my extremely difficult and personal story that affected my large extended family and entire community. My memoir elucidates the generational trauma that led to the tragedy. It is set in the rich cultural background of New Mexico. I and others acted out of courage and conviction as well as love, compassion, and hope. Since I am a Systems Engineer, I discuss the failure of not only the Juvenile Justice System, but many other systems that undergird families and society including gun safety. This memoir is intended to be both a warning and a call to action for families, communities, and our nation.

This is a weighty topic. Did you find writing Sins of the System cathartic in helping you and your family begin the healing process?
Cathartic is one way of looking at it. I had three reasons for writing my memoir. First, it was a descanso for me. A descanso is a traditional way of putting something to rest in the Hispanic culture, usually when a loved one dies. Descansar means to rest. You see descansos on roads throughout New Mexico and other places where there is a cross or other markers with flowers and other decorations. This was my way of pinning the burden of the story to the page. The second reason was to write my truth about what happened. The media distorted and simplified what happened into a good guy/bad guy scenario and it was a hard story for me to explain to people in a brief conversation. Third, I wanted to use it as a case study for how these kinds of tragedies happen. I highlight the generational trauma and all the systems that failed to create a perfect storm. Nobody is shielded from this type of tragedy. My family’s tragedy has made me an activist for gun safety and juvenile justice.

If you ever felt you were revealing too much about you or your family’s circumstances, how did you transcend this?
I did feel like I was being very vulnerable with my sharing. Very few of my colleagues knew of my upbringing and other details I put in the memoir, including my spiritual practices, so to out myself was a big deal. I knew family members might be unhappy about it for various reasons. My goals for writing the memoir outweighed the apprehension. I did a lot of prayer, talked to the angels and ancestors that were with me the whole way. I changed names to mask people’s identities to provide a bit of anonymity. I also circulated the manuscript to those closest to me.

This tragedy provoked a lot of media attention in 2013. Can you tell readers how that impacted your family and what measures you took to move forward?
The media coverage on television was terrible in those months after our family tragedy. The coverage during the legal proceedings drove a wedge in our family that was once united. The Albuquerque Journal did an okay job. It made things extremely difficult for us as we dealt with the aftermath of the tragedy and our own grieving. I discuss it in a chapter in the book. They seemed to be a constant menacing presence that we tried to avoid. In the beginning my brother worked hard to change the narrative they were spreading about my nephew and we were moderately successful. After a while we avoided the media because they seemed to want to tell their own story, the story the District Attorney was pushing, which was a disservice to our family and to justice.

What do you see as the biggest obstacles in initiating and making legislative changes in New Mexico’s gun laws?
We just did a big push for gun-sense laws in the 2023 legislature and we were modestly successful. A child-access law passed, which makes gun owners responsible if a child takes the gun from an unsecured home. I lobbied and testified for this bill along with the New Mexico Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and Everytown for Gun Safety. The straw-purchase law passed that outlaws people buying guns for someone who can’t buy a gun and we supported that law by testifying in favor and writing the legislators. However, two assault weapons bills (banning and raising the age), a large-capacity magazine bill, and two bills associated with waiting periods did not pass. This was a real shame considering the democrats had a large majority in our legislature and a democratic governor that supports gun-sense laws. Our problem is that New Mexico has a large rural constituency and they like their guns. We’ve normalized the use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in our state through gun clubs and shooting ranges, which in my opinion they should not be normalized. I’m an engineer and I know gun companies are working harder to develop even more lethal technology for guns. Instead, they should be selling guns with technology that uses biometrics (like fingerprints) to keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have them (e.g., children and criminals that steal guns). Under no circumstances do we need military weapons on the streets, even if the industry wants to sell them. Some gun owners will say they need them in case a tyrannical government takes over. That’s one of the beliefs my brother had before he was shot and killed with his own weapons.

Books on gun violence flood the market. What makes your memoir unique to this market?
It is a first-hand account of dealing with a mass murder and the aftermath within a family and extended community. I am both a victim of this tragedy, dealing with the grief of losing my five family members, especially my brother, and I took guardianship for the young man (my nephew) who killed them. These tragedies are not black and white. They are an illustration of where we are failing as a community and as a nation. I wanted this to be a gut punch to people who have become numb to how we lose our children. Guns are the number one killer of children in the U.S., which should be a call to action for every adult in our country.

What do you consider the most essential elements of a well-written memoir?
I followed The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. It teaches how to write a literary memoir based on the Hero’s Journey, which was studied and written about by Joseph Campbell. It gave me a great structure for how to put together the narrative. From there I worked on other elements like themes, dialogue, and character and scene development. Having the structure was the most important thing, it gave me the frame for the picture I was painting.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My next memoir will be about my journey growing up poor but good at math; a Hispanic woman from New Mexico navigating in the male-dominated world of engineering. It will illuminate cultural, gender, and other issues as well as successes and achievements. I hope it will be helpful in promoting STEM.

Has it always been your intention to become a memoirist?
It has been my intention for about 25 years. The two memoirs I have in mind to follow the memoir about my career were the first two I thought about writing years ago. They are on different aspects of growing up in New Mexico and the family and cultural dynamics.

What other authors and memoirs inspired you as you wrote Sins of the System?
The biggest influence was Educated by Tara West. She was so brave in telling her story, which was a hard story and revealed a lot of unflattering things about her family. Her father was not far in character from my brother who died in our family tragedy. From there I was inspired by A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold and The Pale-Faced Lie: A True Story by David Crow. Both of these books have themes that resonated with my story, and both took courage to write and reveal difficult truths.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I give 80 percent of all royalties for the paperback, eBook, and audible to two non-profits, shared equally: Everytown for Gun Safety ( and Campaign for the Fair Sentence of Youth ( Also, I received 1st place for Memoir/Biography in the New Mexico Press Women’s contest earlier this year, and I attended the National Federation of Press Women’s (NFPW) Conference in Cincinnati in June 2023, where I received the national award.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Lynn Ellen Doxon

In September 2022, nonfiction author Lynn Ellen Doxon branched into historical fiction with her debut novel, Ninety Day Wonder (Becoming the Greatest Generation, Book 1), released by Artemesia Publishing. You’ll find Lynn on and her Amazon author page.

Tell us about the book Ninety Day Wonder. What were the origins of the story?
Ninety Day Wonder is the story of a Kansas schoolteacher who was drafted in June of 1941. He had just been accepted into medical school, fulfilling a lifelong dream, when the draft notice came. After basic training, he trained for a position in the coastal artillery and was posted to Fort Worden on Puget Sound. While there he wrangled an opportunity to become a pharmacist, furthering his interest in a medical career. The weekend after he finished that training the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The Army, in immediate need of officers, sends him to OCS, where, in 90 days, he becomes an antiaircraft artillery officer,

The story is based on my father’s experience in World War II. There are a few things in the book that didn’t happen to him — for example, meeting Sarah Gale while at OCS and falling in love, but some of the most surprising things did actually happen to him.

Who are your main characters, and did they surprise you as you wrote their story?
The main character and narrator is Eugene Sinclair. Other characters include Tom Morris, a friend from Kansas who goes off to pilot school as Gene goes to OCS, and Joseph Zook, a 16-year-old Mennonite who runs away from home to join the Army. Captain Henderson is the CO of the AAA Battery, for whom Eugene becomes executive officer, and Lieutenants Brasseux, Carson, Douglas, Edelstein, Sessions, Tilton, and Wright are officers of the battery during at least part of the book. And of course, Sarah Gale Simmons, a young civilian employee of the OCS base. In the original story arc, Sarah Gale would not even be in the third book of the trilogy, but through her letters to Gene and her adventures as she joins the newly formed WAACs, she takes over the book and becomes the favorite character of many readers. When I finish Gene’s trilogy, Sarah Gale will get a book of her own.

Can you give readers a glimpse into the main settings of your novel?
The novel follows Gene from a small town in central Kansas to basic training at Camp Callan (now the Scripps Institute and Torrey Pines Golf course), to Fort Worden on Puget Sound, to Camp Davis on the southern coast of North Carolina, to Fort Bliss (which at the time also included the White Sands missile range), to the Orlando Air Base in Florida and finally, to Jungle Warfare training in Australia. While each is an army base, some are new, some old, and some not even fully formed when Gene arrives.

What are some obstacles you faced while writing Ninety Day Wonder?
I have written three non-fiction books, hundreds of online, print magazine, and newspaper articles, and scientific publications, but this is my first novel. Novels are MUCH harder than anything else I have written. I researched the period, the equipment, the Army, the bases extensively, then had to write the story so that it did not sound like a report on the research. The learning curve was pretty steep, the time in process almost five years, but I finally finished and got it published.

What sort of decisions did you make about including historical figures and events while crafting your novel?
Events are historically accurate. For officers of the rank of colonel and above, I used real names in most cases. I debated how realistic to the Army of the 1940s to make the dialogue. I ended up using words like Jap, Negro, and damn, but avoided the more offensive pejoratives and expletives for the most part.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
I was surprised to learn that my father was trained as a pharmacist. I had always assumed his knowledge of medicines came from the fact that he was a chemistry and biology teacher. I also learned that the attitude of the majority of Americans was that we should stay out of the war right up until the Pearl Harbor attack. I discovered that there was a radar in Hawaii that detected the Japanese planes coming in, but the lieutenant those radar operators reported the sighting to thought it was a squadron of American planes that were expected that day and did not pass the report along. I had also been unaware of the frequent Japanese bombing raids on Darwin and other parts of Australia.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
My father spoke very little about his experience in the war, and I think the most rewarding part was learning what he did. This first book follows his experience pretty closely, although I departed from the actual timeline in the second half. The next two books are not so close to his actual experience, but his experiences gave me a strong basis for the story.  Simply having the book published and out there is also very rewarding.

When can your readers expect book two?
I had about 240,000 words down on paper and my publisher told me it could not be one novel, so it became a series at that point. I do not feel I did as good a job as I could have at making a suitable ending for the first book, but I made it into three books. I promise a better ending in book two, which will come out in April 2024.

You said you started writing at a young age. At what point in your writing life did you finally consider yourself a writer?
I started telling stories at the age of 3 or 4 and started writing them down in second grade. I came in second in my first writing contest at the age of 18 (and have come in second in numerous others since then — never first). The local newspaper editor published my letters home (slightly edited to remove personal comments) when I traveled around the world on World Campus Afloat at the age of 20. My first book was published in 1980. I wrote a newspaper column called “Yard and Garden” for the Albuquerque Journal for 15 years, and numerous other articles in my position as Urban Horticulture Specialist with the New Mexico Cooperative Extension Service, but all of this was incidental to other jobs and I didn’t consider myself primarily a writer. Early in my retirement, I was making about $1000 a month writing online articles, but I still didn’t consider myself a writer. I didn’t really consider myself a writer until I was deep into the first draft of Ninety Day Wonder (my fourth book) and joined SouthWest Writers. I was surprised to learn that there were other people who considered themselves writers who had much less writing experience than me.

What are you most happy with, and what do you struggle with most, in your writing?
I can tell a good story and hold people’s interest. The plot and characters come easy to me. I am almost never at a loss for words and can quickly get lots of them down on paper. I have the most trouble with writing highly emotional action scenes. Because of my beginning as a scientific and educational writer, I use long sentences, too much passive voice, and excessive description. I have to go back and edit several times before I am satisfied, and Lee Child still beats me hands down every time. I am considering making Sarah Gale’s book a thriller just to challenge myself.

Writers can sometimes get bogged down with writing rules. Do rules ever affect your creativity?
I don’t pay too much attention to writing rules. That was a problem for editors when I wrote the Yard and Garden column. Having read voraciously for almost 70 years, I have internalized many of the rules but I don’t let them get in the way of creativity.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Rachel Bate

Author Rachel Bate writes children’s books that inspire readers to collaborate with nature and each other with respect, compassion, and kindness. Her first three books — Desert Bliss (2016), Turquoise Tail (2018), and Santa Fe Tom (2020) — were published by Mascot Books. Her newest release is Tierra Day (Mascot Kids, October 2022). You’ll find Rachel on Facebook, her SWW author page, and her Amazon author page.

Tell us about Tierra Day. What sparked the story idea?
I was inspired to write Tierra Day, which pertains to Earth Day, as a lesson for children about the importance of recycling and not littering. I really wanted children to ponder how keeping the Earth clean is a community effort. Organizing a Litter Clean Up Recycle Day as a community event involving the whole town — including humans and animal friends, the mayor and the governor — shows everyone is responsible for our Earth no matter what their position/title, to help keep our Earth trash-free and clean. Finally, in my humble opinion, I feel Earth Day should be Every day, as I care deeply for our planet and all its creatures.

How have the years you devoted to teaching as an elementary and special education teacher informed your writing?
My educational experience has played an instrumental role in my writing. Many times, throughout my teaching experience, I have come up with stories using puppets for my students to engage their curiosity and conversations about a particular event, emotions, behaviors, etc. I frequently smiled and thought to myself, one of these days I would like to have the time to write down the stories I come up with, especially when my students were extremely engaged and wanted to hear the same story repeatedly.

Did the illustrator’s interpretation capture what you had envisioned for Tierra Day?
For each of my books, I worked very closely in a collaborative approach with my sister, Rebecca Jacob, the illustrator. We both allow each other constructive feedback and independent thought through each of our book creations. She is an amazing artist and each book that we create with my stories and her art truly touches my heart and soul. It is always exhilarating to see and touch each finished book.

How and why did you chose the title for this book?
I chose Tierra Day as the title for this book because Tierra, as a girl’s name, is of Spanish origin that means Earth. Tierra, as the main human character in my story, symbolizes her compassion and caring relationship with others and the animals of our beautiful planet Earth, especially on Earth Day, April 22nd.

What fundamental roles do picture books play for young readers?
I feel pictures capture the written word and bring it to life for young readers. Illustrations allow the young reader to further comprehend what the story is about and provide a visual escape into the story. I feel my sister Rebecca’s artwork especially appeals to children with her vivid colors and character expressions throughout each of our books.

How does Tierra Day differ from your three previous picture books: Desert Bliss, Turquoise Tail, and Santa Fe Tom?
Tierra Day can be used as an instructional tool for teachers, families, outdoor instruction, etc., to familiarize children about Earth Day that occurs annually on April 22nd. At the end of my book is a fact sheet regarding Earth Day and a glossary to use as a lesson on Earth Day. It also aims at teaching children the importance of recycling and how taking care of the Earth impacts not just people, but also the critters we share the planet with.

Do you have a preference, verse or prose, when writing children’s books? What helps you make that determination?
I enjoy writing in both verse and prose depending upon my story’s theme and message. I added a song for children to sing in Tierra Day as another means of learning an important message using music to remember and especially having interactive fun with learning while cleaning up/recycling.

What typically comes first for you: A character? A story idea? Location?
I love getting many of my ideas when I am outside in my garden, hiking in the mountains, being inspired by everything I sense in nature. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I will visualize a story in my mind, and I must gradually creep out of bed and proceed to write down my thoughts in my journal. A story idea may also slowly evolve from my adventures and characters and quickly formulate in my mind based on my subconscious and conscious experiences.

Your stories focus on helping children to overcome their fears and to believe in themselves. Can you share any experiences that may have inspired you?
I was a very shy child and young adult. At times, I still experience this shyness in my adult life. In the past, I would seek situations to push me out of my comfort zone, for example trying out and getting a lead part in plays, track, cross-country, etc. As an educator, it has made me extra sensitive and insightful to the needs of my students and how each student that I taught over the years is unique and special. I learned so much through observing others, my students, nature, critters, and the responses of each in various situations. It has been a great asset in regard to my writing skills.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Marcia Rosen

Marcia Rosen is an award-winning author of eleven fiction and nonfiction books. Writing as M. Glenda Rosen she published several series including the Senior Sleuths and the Dying To Be Beautiful mysteries. Her newest novel, Murder at the Zoo (Artemesia Publishing, March 2023), is the first book in the Agatha, Raymond, Sherlock, & Me cozy mystery series. You’ll find Marcia on her website at Visit her Amazon author page for many of her books.

Please tell us about Murder at the Zoo.
A body is tossed into the lion’s habitat at the zoo where Miranda Scott is the senior vet. She and Detective Bryan Anderson join forces to unravel that mystery and several more murders. A fan since childhood of Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Sherlock Holmes, they seem to live in her head, frequently telling her what to do…and not do. Murders, family, deceit, revenge and a gangster father and godfather often get in the way of a fine romance between Miranda and the detective.

What is the driving force to write cozy mysteries over other types of writing?
In what I consider my BOLD THIRD ACT, I decided to experiment with writing a different type of mystery. It was very fun for me to create along with some new projects I’ll tell you about later in the interview.

What makes Murder at the Zoo different from the novels in your other mystery series?
They are not cozies. Zoo is also the only one that takes place in New Mexico, but my novels are more similar than not. They all offer a sense of seeking justice and have a gangster character who plays an important role in the story.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Creating the puzzle to keep readers guessing who the murderers are and why.

You have based Murder at the Zoo in Albuquerque, New Mexico. What research did you do to provide background information for your novel?
I researched the Albuquerque Zoo layout, and I researched a lot about the different positions people hold at zoos including what is expected of them. How animals were cared for in the story was important to me.

Did your characters surprise you as you wrote their story?
A little. I write organically so I’m never quite sure where they will end up in the story. I do always know there will be several murders, and the murderers will come to justice!

Do you have plans to bring back Miranda Scott, along with her cohorts Detective Bryan Anderson, Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, and Sherlock Holmes?
Possibly. Also, possibly another book for one of my other series, and I’m completing a memoir about my father and me. I had a very unusual upbringing.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I wanted to be a writer since I was 14 and sat down at the kitchen table and wrote a play. I wrote for many years for the marketing/pr business I founded. I’ve been writing books for the past 20 years. I love to play with words. What we say and how we say anything can have a big impact.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve started a Memoir/LifeStory blog which includes inviting guests to share a part of their story. It also offers hints and tips on writing a memoir (from my book My Memoir Workbook), as well as excerpts from my own memoir. The blog will be posted on the 1st and 15th of each month and began May 1st of this year. Members of SWW are invited and welcome to participate. Here is the link to the first one:

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Listen to your own voice, not others.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

An Interview with Author Brian House

Besides being a lawyer, minister, hunter, motorcycle adventurer, and cancer survivor, Brian House is a poet and an author of short- and long-form fiction and nonfiction. His second novel, the espionage thriller Reich Stop (Corsair, 2023), is book one in the Brock Donegan series. You’ll find Brian on his website at and on Facebook and Instagram. Visit his Amazon author page for all of his books.

What is your elevator pitch for Reich Stop?
Brock Donegan — a deadly special agent for hire for the Defense Intelligence Agency — races to prevent neo-Nazis from implementing a time-warping gene therapy that could start a new world war.

What inspired the story idea, and how long did it take to write the book?
Reich Stop is a modern-day thriller set in significant part in southeast New Mexico in the Cloudcroft/Sunspot Observatory/Alamogordo/Las Cruces area. I owned a home in Alamogordo for several years while my son was stationed at Holloman Air Force Base there. During those years we spent many days at Cloudcroft and Sunspot and I fell in love with the area and its beauty. There was an incident during that time when the military descended on Sunspot to secure the facility against a security threat. That gave me the idea for using Sunspot as a key location in the book. Reich Stop came easy to me. I wrote the first draft in thirty-five days. Editing of course is another matter altogether. I kept revising the book for months through the various beta readings and editorial challenges.

Tell us about your main characters.
Brock Donegan is the protagonist. He’s a wealthy middle-aged, battle-hardened former soldier having served in the French Foreign Legion. A hard man skilled with weapons and a nose to find trouble and deal with it. He lives discreetly on a farm in the Bluegrass area of Kentucky and has an on-again, off-again romantic relationship with Defense Intelligence Agency Special Agent Sandy Wallace.

Pelham Auxier III – Ox – is Brock Donegan’s best friend and faithful sidekick. He too is ex-French Foreign Legion, as deadly as Brock and content to let Brock find the jobs and lead the way.

Sandy Wallace – Special Agent with the Defense Intelligence Agency and Brock’s love interest. She brings the stolen gene therapy crisis to Brock’s front door and supplies the assets he needs to get on with the job.

Dr. Karl Wunderlich – the brilliant researcher who discovers a ghost gene and uses it to create the gene therapy that has anti-aging cancer fighting properties.

The Fortin family – wealthy wine producers with Nazi links from the second World War running an organized crime ring in France. They will do anything to get their hands on the gene therapy.

At what point in the writing process did you know the story was strong enough for a series?
I had the thought for a series in mind as I was writing the book. To be honest, it was so much fun creating the characters and putting them into the narrative, I really did not want to see them end after just one book. Later, when the reviews started coming in, people asked for more. That’s when you know. When people ask for more, you know you have a series on your hands.

What are the key issues when writing a series to keep readers coming back for more?
I think two kinds of relationships are at work here. The first is the writer’s relationship with the characters. I want the characters to be fresh and original in each story while maintaining their essential identifying characteristics. Brock Donegan is battle tested and a killer but he is not a murderer. Ox is a brilliant academic who is also a deadly mercenary who will do anything to protect Brock. Those things will never change. The second relationship is the one I have with the readers of the Brock Donegan series. I have an obligation, a desire really, to keep the stories fresh. Some of the settings will be familiar and some of the characters will reappear but the central dilemma Brock and Ox must resolve will be entirely new and involve new antagonists.

The story starts out in New Mexico and follows Brock Donegan to Bavaria. How does the setting impact the story and the characters?
The setting shifts had to happen. The story must go to Bavaria, to the birthplace of Nazism and all its evil. It will be there that Brock confronts the darkness that threatens to emerge again on the world stage.

Is there a scene in your book that you’d like to see play out in a movie?
Yes. Brock and Ox ruining the Nazi rally at Oberst Lodge. I could see some major pyrotechnic effects being used there!

How would you compare your experience with traditional publishing versus publishing independently?
I’ve had one book published through a traditional publisher. My other books have been indies. The upside of going the traditional route is the more meticulous editing and then the obvious distribution network to get your book out there. If I were forty years younger and trying to make writing my day job, I would have stayed in that world but I am sixty-five years old, a two-time cancer survivor who has made a good living as a lawyer. I am writing now because I love the art form. Indie writing is more immediate in terms of getting to market and seeing your work come to life. I like that, but you have to understand the responsibilities that come with indie writing. You have to be your own critic and editor. I am careful to seek out multiple beta readers. I literally beg for people to read my manuscripts and tear them apart. I look for all the critique and suggestions I can find.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing and publishing career today?
When people ask me to describe my career path, I tell them I’m a writer who went to law school to feed his family who then became a minister in his forties. When I was in my twenties there was no internet, now social media, no Amazon, no print-on-demand companies. Getting “out there” was very hard. If I were twenty years old in today’s world, I would be very persistent to get my manuscript in order and then work as hard as I could to secure an agent and follow that route if I wanted to make a living as a writer. I would also keep my day job. Even Hemingway had to borrow money off friends to pay his taxes.

Of all the books you’ve written, is there a particular genre you enjoy writing the most?
I have written two thrillers which have been published, a western which I have not published, and I am finishing the edits on a romantic manuscript that falls into the literary genre. It is by far and away my favorite book. I look forward to seeing it come to market.

What kind of writer are you? Do you prefer to outline, or do you dive right in and let the story unfold organically?
I know my characters and my story before I start. I think with thrillers that understanding of character and plot line are essential, at least for me, otherwise the story would be a confused, rambling mess. The literary piece I mentioned above began as a short story I was writing for a competition but it grew into a hundred-thousand-word manuscript.

Who are your favorite authors, and how have they influenced your writing?
It depends on the genre. In terms of classic American writers, it would be Hemingway. I discovered him in my early teens. His use of tight declarative sentences influenced the way I write as a lawyer and in my books. He is at the top of the heap of writers as far as I am concerned. F. Scott Fitzgerald for the sheer beauty of his work. No one can compare to him. His was a life that ended far too soon. Agatha Christie for her witty intrigue and durability. Her books have made billions of dollars. English professors can make fun of her but her estate can buy and sell most universities outright. Clive Cussler when he actually wrote his Dirk Pitt novels. Fun stuff. Tony Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee novels are outstanding. I have read them all. He was an amazing writer. Both Cussler and Hillerman had great storylines and kept their character development consistent from one book to the next.

When can your readers expect to see the second book in the Brock Donegan series?
Likely in 2024. I am finishing the literary manuscript this year and will put it in the editing phase. My wife and I are spending several weeks in Seattle and Coeur d’Alene this summer as part of my research for the next Brock Donegan story. After that, I will return home and see what happens.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I would say to anyone who is hesitant to write for fear of rejection — don’t fear rejection! All writers are rejected at some point, actually multiple points in their careers. All writers have been rejected by an agent. Write because you love the craft and remember to be disciplined in your work ethic and be willing to accept criticism of your work. Writers are like musicians and painters. Very few of us will ever get rich doing this but we can contribute to the art form that has been given to us as our talent, our gift. I think that is a wonderful calling in and of itself.

Su Lierz writes dark fiction, short story fiction, and personal essays. Her short story “Twelve Days in April,” written under the pen name Laney Payne, appeared in the 2018 SouthWest Writers Sage Anthology. Su was a finalist in the 2017 and 2018 Albuquerque Museum Authors Festival Writing Contest. She lives in Corrales, New Mexico, with her husband Dennis.

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