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Author Update: Victoria Murata

Victoria Murata is a retired teacher turned author with two series in progress, one historical fiction and the other fantasy. The Ranger (September 2023) is book two of her Magicians of the Beyond fantasy series where readers will find new and returning characters, unexpected magical creatures, and a forest and a monster that don’t play by the rules. Look for Vicky on Facebook and her Amazon author page. Read about The Acolyte, the first of her fantasy novels, in her 2021 interview for SouthWest Writers.

Victoria, The Ranger is the second book in your series Magicians of the Beyond. Tell us a little about The Ranger and how long it took you to write it?
It took me two years to write The Ranger. This second book in the series introduces a new character who lives in the Beyond. Rafe isn’t a Covert, but he has special skills that are needed on a mission to a troubled world. He’s a ranger who has amazing knowledge of the forest and the creatures who live there. What he doesn’t know is the danger that awaits him in a foreign forest. Far from home and everything familiar, Rafe comes face to face with his fears and limitations. And the monster inhabiting this forest is intent on his destruction.

What elements of fantasy drew you to the genre?
The fantasy genre has always appealed to me. As a child, the stories of Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz were favorites, along with Alice in Wonderland. It was easy to suspend disbelief and allow myself to be carried away by imagination. Fantasy is such a huge genre with many sub-categories. Epic stories that take place in plausible worlds with people who have incredible powers appeal to me. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss is one of my favorite fantasy series.

Did you experience any challenges while writing this series?
As a writer of fantasy, I have to remember that the story in my head must be translated to readers who cannot only follow it but become immersed in it. The challenges in writing fantasy are different from writing other genres in that not only are the stories fiction, but they’re fantastical with characters and creatures and worlds that have never been encountered anywhere before. I think the writer of fantasy must have well-developed and relatable characters who will move the plot along through fantastical worlds filled with incredible creatures. The story must culminate in a satisfactory and believable conclusion.

Please tell us about your inspiration for The Ranger.
My stories are character driven. I’m a people-watcher, inspired by individuals and interested in what motivates them. The main character in The Ranger, Rafe, is a troubled young man who has exceptional gifts. He’s a loner and an introvert, and past trauma has caused him to withdraw into himself. At the beginning of the story, he’s asked to accompany the Coverts on a mission where his skills as a ranger are needed. This invitation both intrigues him and causes him extreme anxiety.

Is there a book three?
Yes. I have another book of the series percolating. It will focus on one of the Coverts—magicians who have special powers and who travel to distant worlds to save them.

How much research goes into writing a fantasy novel and what is that like?
The research required in writing fantasy often depends on the world-building. My first fantasy novel, The Acolyte, had a Medieval setting so there was some research required. The Ranger is set in an other-worldly “modern” city and the forest nearby. Previous to writing my fantasy novels, I’d written two YA historical fiction novels. Those took a lot of research into life on a wagon train in 1852, and then about the overlanders settling in Oregon City.

What was the most difficult aspect of creating Rafe’s world?
The difficulty in creating Rafe’s world was getting into his head to figure out his motivations. He’s complicated and withdrawn in the beginning. I needed to consider how an introvert like Rafe can step outside his comfort level and take the leap to work with others. Danica, the main character from the first novel in the series, helps him with this. When he meets her, Rafe finds a kindred spirit.

Was there a defining moment that prompted your writing journey?
I joined a writing group in 2008. We were retired teachers who met once a month and shared our writings with each other. When I was teaching Humanities to 6th graders, I was aware of the power of story. My students and I would read YA historical fiction novels pertaining to the time period we were studying. I loved these stories as much as my students, and that’s why I decided to write a novel based on the history of the Oregon Trail. A friend’s daughter who teaches middle school in northern New Mexico has used this novel, Journey of Hope, for years to teach her students about the trials and tribulations of crossing the country in a wagon train in 1852. I wrote this novel as a catalyst for further research into the people, conditions, and events of that distinctive time.

What are you currently reading?
Currently I’m reading a novel called The Physician by Noah Gordon. It’s about a young man in the Middle Ages who learns to be a healer. He realizes he can learn so much more from practitioners in the Orient, so he embarks on a perilous journey to Persia, posing as a Jew who wants to apprentice himself to the world’s most renowned physician, Avicenna. Interestingly, Rob, the main character, has a special power, but the novel isn’t classified as fantasy. I do love it when genres overlap.

What writing projects do you have on the horizon?
I have two books to write: the third of my historical fiction novels, and the third of the fantasy series. I’m not in a rush and I know the stories will be written when they’re ready. But they’re always percolating.

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.

2023 New Releases for SWW Authors #3

Dale A. Garratt, Larada Horner-Miller, Neill McKee, and Victoria Murata are just a few examples of the genre-diverse membership of SouthWest Writers (SWW). Their releases couldn’t fit in the 2023 interview schedule, but look for new interviews or updates for these authors in 2024.

A list of interviewed SWW authors with 2023 releases is included at the end of this post.

The Peace Road: A high-stakes geopolitical thriller (August 2023) by Dale A. Garratt. North Korea launches a hypersonic missile that barely misses Los Angeles. The U.S. President tasks top physicist Ric O’Malley with completing a quantum computer (QC) project. Running 150 million times faster than any existing computer, this QC will bring Artificial Intelligence to a level that can stop any ICBM in the world. Ric races to East Asia to obtain breakthrough research data from South Korean and Japanese allies. China enters the conflict and attacks the U.S., while a ground-breaking plan to counter war quietly takes shape — a Peace Road. Can Ric and his team finish the QC in time to stop a nuclear war? Is building a peace road a viable option for a permanent end to war on the Korean Peninsula?

Visit Dale on his website and his Amazon author page.

Hair on Fire: A Heartwarming & Humorous Christmas Memoir (September 2023) by Larada Horner-Miller. Are you hoping to rediscover the magic of the winter holidays? Looking for traditional inspiration for your upcoming Xmas parties? Ever wondered what’s behind the twelve days of gift-giving? The daughter of a real cowboy, award-winning author Larada Horner-Miller grew up in a small rural community in southeastern Colorado. Now she uses her seventy years of festive experiences to share the true meaning of the season and how to rejoice in its miracles. Hair on Fire is a compilation of poems, prose, and helpful scripture references centered around family. Using vivid and humorous language, Horner-Miller presents tales that touch the heart and renew anticipation for the holidays.

Look for Larada on her website at and her Amazon author page.

My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker (August 2023) by Neill McKee. The author takes us on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. His memoir is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places he visited and worked in, and over 200 images, all of which bring readers into his “University of the World.” The story takes us to Asia, Bangladesh, Africa, Baltimore (Maryland), Moscow, and finally Washington, D.C. This is a book for anyone interested in world affairs and development, film and multimedia production, the use of media for behavior and social change, exotic travel, and interesting career choices.

You’ll find My University of the World on Neill’s website, on Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.

The Ranger: Magicians of the Beyond, Book Two (September 2023) by Victoria Murata. Rafe is a ranger, skilled in the ways of the forest and the creatures that live there. He’s been sent to another world along with Covert assassins. Their mission is to find the young heir to the kingdom who’s fled from the sister who once loved him. Rafe knows he will find the prince. He always finds what is hiding. But this foreign forest and its creatures don’t play by the rules. As he inches closer to finding what he’s searching for, he uncovers unexpected magical beings and a monster. This monster is an ancient creature that doesn’t behave like normal bloodthirsty beasts. This monster has been waiting for him for centuries. It wants his heart, yes, and it wants his soul.

Vicky’s books are available on her Amazon author page.

SWW Author Interviews: 2023 Releases

Marty Eberhardt
Bones in the Back Forty

William Fisher
The Price of the Sky: A Tale of Bandits, Bootleggers, and Barnstormers

Patricia Gable
The Right Choice

Cornelia Gamlem
The Decisive Manager: Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve

Joyce Hertzoff
Train to Nowhere Somewhere: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival Series

Brian House
Reich Stop

T.E. MacArthur
The Skin Thief

Nick Pappas
Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters

Marcia Rosen
Murder at the Zoo

Lynne Sebastian
One Last Cowboy Song

JR Seeger
The Enigma of Treason

Suzanne Stauffer
Fried Chicken Castañeda

Jodi Lea Stewart
The Gold Rose

Patricia Walkow
Life Lessons from the Color Yellow

R. Janet Walraven
LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down

Donald Willerton
Death in the Tallgrass

Linda Wilson
Waddles the Duck and
Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere

An Interview with Author Victoria Murata

Author Victoria Murata is a former middle school teacher who has published three novels since retiring in 2002. In a break from her historical fiction releases, she embraced the fantasy genre with her newest book, The Acolyte: Magicians of the Beyond (March 2021). You’ll find Vicky on Facebook and her Amazon author page.

What is your elevator pitch for The Acolyte?
Danica reads minds. It’s a problem for her because she’s been branded as “weird” by other kids at her high school. So, when Phil offers her an exciting opportunity to live with like-minded and gifted people in a place called the Beyond, she seizes it. But every opportunity comes with challenges. Her new home is literally out-of-this-world, and her training is rigorous for a mission she’s certain she’s ill-equipped. Once she leaves the Beyond and walks through the portal into another world, she discovers her lack of training is the least of her problems. The wicked magician Dumone knows her secret, and he’s been searching for her. When he finds her, he will do everything in his power to obliterate all she holds dear and destroy her.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
It’s a new genre for me. I’ve previously published two historical fiction novels, so writing fantasy required a different mindset. All fiction needs imagination, but fantasy requires the writer to venture into unknown territory and create worlds that don’t exist, with problems that have never been faced. It can be a lot of fun, but I believe the crafting must be carefully done to create a world that the reader will not only believe but will appreciate and enjoy.

How did the book come together?
I know this is overused, but the idea for this novel came from a dream which I don’t even remember any more. There’s been so many transmutations of this story since the beginning. But the main characters are still true to the original idea. All three of my novels have taken three to four years to write. When I write, and I don’t write every day, I begin with reading over the previous day’s writing. I edit and revise (I can’t help it!) and that usually gets me in the groove to continue and see where I’m taken. I’ve read often about the editing mind vs. the creating mind. For me, it’s harder to switch from one to the other when writing fantasy. Writing fantasy requires me to be in a stress-free and imaginative state of mind. If I’m distracted with a problem, it’s hard to switch it off so that I can write freely.

Who are your main characters and why will readers connect with them?
Danica is the main character in The Acolyte. She’s sixteen when she’s visited by a strange woman who tells her she has a destiny to fulfill. It all sounds wildly intriguing and mysterious to Danica whose life is underwhelming. She takes the plunge and follows this woman to a new and very different world. I think readers will connect with her because she’s a very human young “magician” who questions her abilities and wonders how she will ever be able to accomplish her mission. Another important character is Philomena. She’s a birthless, deathless magician who keeps worlds from destruction by the Others. She has a team of Coverts with unique powers who help her. Danica is the newest. She’s the acolyte, and if she’s successful on her first mission, she’ll be the next Covert.

Describe your main setting and why you chose it. Do you consider the setting a character in the book?
The settings are characters in a way because the details evoke emotions and feelings that the reader can relate to. The main setting is the Beyond. It’s a place created by Philomena where people live who have been transported from other worlds because their worlds were destroyed. In the Beyond there are five communities, one which houses the Coverts and all the people who were recruited to become Coverts. They are talented and magical, and they all constantly train for when they are called to embark on a mission. In the Beyond, they are trained not only in tactical offensive and defensive areas, but in languages, cultures, history, and skills that they need for their special objectives which all involve aiding or saving a world from interference or destruction by the Others. Another setting is Lymonia, a world in another dimension that appears Medieval but is so much more. Here is a place that is concrete and ephemeral at the same time.

What was the most difficult aspect of world building for The Acolyte?
It was fun building the worlds in The Acolyte. The Beyond is so mysterious, so full of surprising and quirky elements. At the same time, it’s familiar in an imagined paradise kind of way. For example, there’s a labyrinth in the Beyond that offers so much more than a calm and meditative walk to its center. As Danica advances deeper in, she finds clues to her past and her future that scare her and propel her forward to her mission. Deciding how fantastical I wanted to go was difficult. I personally love fantasy when there aren’t too many “out-there” elements. As a young adult, I loved the Merlin Trilogy by Mary Stewart. It was set in a time I love, and it was just fantastical enough for me to believe it. Fantasy is such a huge genre and deciding on the elements that I appreciate in fantasy—and that I wanted to include in mine—was challenging.

What did you enjoy most about working on this project?
My stories are character driven, and I loved seeing Danica come to life. I loved seeing her decision-making process, sometimes fear-driven, and the consequences of her choices. I so enjoyed seeing her come to terms with her action and her failure to act. Part of Danica’s training in the Beyond for her future mission involves an obstacle course designed to test a candidate’s decision-making process, but this is no ordinary obstacle course. She must constantly remind herself that “nothing is as it seems.”

Of the three novels you’ve written, which one was the most challenging?
Historical fiction is easier to write in some ways. It involves much research, but the characters get to navigate through the challenges of the day, and they grow with each one. No matter if it’s historical fiction or fantasy, the characters have complex histories and complicated personalities. The challenge in all my writing is showing how the characters handle the problems they encounter. I enjoyed creating characters with strengths and weaknesses by showing the angst and the joy, the doubt and the certainty. The absolute fear. Nervousness. Indecision. And having them come out better for it in the end.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing/publishing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
I did not hire an editor with my first novel. I had friends edit it. I had beta readers. I revised it numerous times. With my second novel, I hired an editor. She was fantastic. I was amazed at how much she found that needed “fixing.” I hired her to copy edit, not do developmental editing, but she did a little of everything, and she suggested eliminating a chapter that didn’t move the plot forward. I will never again publish a book that hasn’t been thoroughly edited by a professional.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I’m not a disciplined writer. I don’t keep a schedule. I have no rituals. This is probably why my books take years to write! The characters are always in my mind. I’ll go for days wondering how they’re going to handle a situation. The story is always percolating. Then I’ll get inspired and I’ll sit down and write. Sometimes I’ll write for hours. Sometimes just for a bit. Sometimes the words flow on to the page. Sometimes I do a little writing and a little thinking. I don’t revise as I write—I leave that for the next day.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I believe coming of age happens at all ages. We’re always growing and learning from life experiences. We never know it all or get it right every time. I’ve learned many lessons in my own life, and I’ve seen how repeated mistakes and lessons not learned have a ripple effect with far-reaching consequences. Most of my main characters are women. They all have devastating life events and challenges that bring them to their knees, but they come out triumphant in the end because they face their problems and overcome their sometimes crippling difficulties.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on book two of The Acolyte series. I’ve introduced a new character who is intriguing to me. He’s a ranger who was brought to the Beyond because of his superior tracking abilities and his amazing attention to detail. He knows the forest, the animals, the plants, and he never loses his way. He suffers from paranoia, so he doesn’t trust people, and he doesn’t go out of his way to socialize. He will be invaluable on the next mission to another world where there are strange doings in the forest outside of the capitol city.

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

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