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Author Update 2024: Robert D. Kidera

Robert D. Kidera is a podcaster, a baseball nerd, and the author of the award-winning Gabe McKenna Mystery Series. Book six of the series, BURN SCARS (Black Range Publishing, May 2024), finds Gabe “caught in the crossfire between two cartels warring for control of fentanyl trafficking in New Mexico.” Look for Bob on his website RobertKideraBooks.com and on Facebook. Read more about him and the Gabe McKenna books in his 2015, 2017, 2019, and 2021 interviews.


When readers turn the last page of BURN SCARS, what do you hope they take away from it?
I hope my readers feel it has been time well spent and that they have enjoyed reuniting with Gabe McKenna and his friends (and enemies). The story has a serious purpose, as it asks how much one should be willing to risk righting the wrongs of this world. I want that question to resonate with my readers and perhaps spur them to examine that challenge for themselves.

The fifth book of the Gabe McKenna mysteries, A LONG TIME TO DIE, concluded the series in 2021 with a wrap up of the story arcs. What made you come back to the series and give readers another look at your main character’s life?
Writers can only write the stories they have. Last year, I took a respite from the Gabe McKenna series to write a standalone novella, CHANDLER IS DEAD, and have been working on a historical fiction novel, HELL SHIP, for the past three years. But this new Gabe story popped into my head, and I developed it because I enjoy telling stories about Gabe McKenna and had many requests from my readers for a new novel in the series.

Tell us about the journey from inspiration to completed book for this sixth in the series.
BURN SCARS took me sixteen months from concept to realization. Raymond Chandler once said that stories must marinate before they can be written well, so when the story idea occurred to me, I gave it a good think before going to the keyboard. In each of the Gabe McKenna books, I feature a different one of Gabe’s friends as his main “sidekick.” This time, I chose his personal lawyer, Erskine Pelfrey III, an unassuming man who could walk into an empty room and get lost in the crowd. I had a lot of fun developing their relationship and bringing Erskine into the story as one of the heroes.

You’ve described Gabe McKenna as a guy to be counted on, one who has a basic honor and decency to him, even if he does tend to go off recklessly from time to time. And as a former boxer, he can be knocked down, but not out. Who are some of your other returning characters?
Gabe is at a different stage of his life in this story. He’s pushing sixty, a bit unsettled and ready for a rest. But his previous deeds have left him with enemies unwilling to forgive and forget. He also needs his friends much more in this adventure, and it takes the cooperative effort of Gabe, Erskine, Onion, Sam, C.J., and even a couple of federal agents to carry the day.

New Mexico is the main setting of the series. What areas of the state do you take readers to this time?
Aside from Laguna Pueblo, where Gabe is living when the story begins, the action centers around a small settlement town of Marquez in Sandoval County and at a remote mesa that straddles Guadalupe and Quay Counties and, of course, Albuquerque and Santa Fe. There’s a brief detour north to Colorado. Gabe travels in this story by horse, SUV, private aircraft, and even a jazzed-up motor home.

What are some of the more interesting facts you discovered while doing research for the book?
I delved into more of the mining history of New Mexico, but most of the research I had to do dealt with the current scourge of foreign drug cartels operating in our state. It’s a far more complicated and deep-rooted problem than people generally realize and not much of it gets into the news.

Amazon categorizes BURN SCARS as Vigilante Justice, Noir Crime, and Organized Crime. If you didn’t have the limitations of Amazon categories, how would you characterize the book?
I don’t like the Amazon categories because they suggest your story and characters can be pigeonholed or understood simplistically. BURN SCARS is my longest book to date, and as the sixth entry in an ongoing series, the characters, their actions, and motivations have become more nuanced and complex. I advise disregarding categories and letting the story and its characters unfold for you in surprising ways.

What’s on your to-read pile? Who is your favorite fictional character?
Atop my read pile right now are books by New Mexico authors: The Wide, Wide Sea, which just came out, by Hampton Sides; Joe Badal’s Everything to Lose, the only one of his books I have yet to read; and Anne Hillerman’s Lost Birds. My favorite fictional character? Philip Marlowe, like Gabe McKenna, a hero neither tarnished nor afraid.

Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
Audio. Now that I am producing two podcasts, I am exploring sound as a persuasive medium. Audible has turned several of my novels into audiobooks, but I am excited at the chance to produce audio versions of all my novels on my own. I’ll start that project later this year and into 2025.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Once BURN SCARS is out the door, I’m returning to HELL SHIP, the historical fiction novel I started a few years ago. In MIDNIGHT BLUES, I killed off an elderly World War II vet named Phil Friganza. I miss the guy. So, I’m making him the hero of this story and bringing him back to life, so to speak. I’m also going to be working on the audiobooks I mentioned and transitioning my podcasts from audio to audio with video and posting them on YouTube. I’ve been asked if there will be any more Gabe McKenna novels. Well, you never say never again.


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




An Interview with Authors Chris Allen & Patricia Walkow

Chris Allen and Patricia Walkow are both award-winning authors and editors of fiction and nonfiction who discovered each other’s work as members of Corrales Writing Group. Their individual articles, essays, and short stories have been published in a variety of venues that include newspaper columns and anthologies. Chris and Pat’s first novel collaboration is Alchemy’s Reach (2023), a murder mystery with a touch of romance. You’ll find Chris on Facebook and her SWW author page. Look for Pat on PatriciaWalkow.com, Facebook, and her Amazon author page. For more about Pat’s work, read her 2016, 2020, and 2023 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


What is your elevator pitch for Alchemy’s Reach?
Detective Jennifer Murphy’s life is torn asunder when lightning splits the sky and a rifle shot splits the air. Only her dog, Fi, understands what happened.

What formed first in your minds that grew into the story idea: a character, a setting, a what-if question? How did you proceed from there?
The idea for Alchemy’s Reach came from a true event, a mass murder, that happened in southeastern New Mexico in 1885. We set our story in the present day in that setting and created characters that had ties to that prior event. A strong female character and giving the reader a sense of place were important to us. Our main character, Jennifer Murphy, is a deputy sheriff in Lincoln County where she lives on a ranch of rolling hills she and her younger brother, Ethan, inherited from their parents. We wanted the reader to understand how independent Jennifer is, how competent she is. We also wanted to highlight the sights, scents, and sounds of Lincoln County.

You two have collaborated before on writing projects. How did you divide the responsibilities of writing/producing this book? What was the greatest challenge in the collaboration process?
We previously collaborated to write short stories with both current and previous members of the Corrales Writing Group. Each of those stories has been published. Alchemy’s Reach is the first time it was just the two of us.

As with any collaborative effort, it is important for all parties involved to be committed to the project. It means working to reach common ground regarding what the story is about. Although we did not have major differences regarding our story in Alchemy’s Reach, we learned to give a little, get a little, and in the end, create a third voice that belongs neither solely to Pat nor to Chris.

As we discussed our story, one of us would volunteer to write a part, and the following week we’d review it, revise it, and then assign the next chapter. Sometimes one person wrote several chapters in a row; sometimes we simply wrote one at a time. There is also administrivia involved when authoring a book. For example, Pat developed a timeline for the story; Chris kept the character sketches up-to-date. Regarding research of the physical location or anything else related to our story, we would decide who would do what. It was pretty painless, but that goes back to our agreeing on what the book was about in the first place.

How did the book come together?
It took us about two years to write the book, mostly during the pandemic. We presented each chapter to our critique group — the Corrales Writing Group — for review and revision. Often, this was accomplished by Zoom. We edited the book ourselves multiple times by reading it as well as having the computer read it to us. We sent the book to five or six beta readers for their comments and suggestions.

We have both published through KDP but were each involved in other writing projects, so we decided to seek a publisher. We received two publishing offers and decided to go with a vanity publisher, which was a mistake. The chosen publisher provided the cover art and did some additional editing. We thought that though it cost some money, it would free us to attend to our new projects. We signed a contract with Austin Macauley for an e-book, paperback, and audiobook, and the audiobook is still pending. Not all the reviews we read about this company were positive, yet not all were negative. We took a chance. With our own experience publishing books, we learned we are far better at it than the publisher we chose, and we will not choose that route again.

Tell us about the main characters in Alchemy’s Reach.
Jennifer Murphy: Co-owner of Montaña Vista Ranch and Deputy Sheriff of Lincoln County, New Mexico. She is our main character. Loves both her job and the ranch. Ethan Murphy: Younger brother of Jennifer Murphy; co-owns the ranch, does not like ranch life; takes odd, dangerous jobs away from home. Pablo Baca: Ranch manager, hired long ago by Jennifer and Ethan’s father. Pablo has known Jennifer and Ethan since they were born. Rose Baldwin: Office administrator for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office. She has been like a second mother to Jennifer and Ethan all their lives. Fi: A black Labrador Retriever. Ever faithful. Belongs to her and Ethan…but mostly, Ethan. Jeff Reynolds: Owner of the local hangout (bar and restaurant) called The Rusty Keg. Sheriff Cooper: Jennifer’s boss and sheriff of Lincoln County. Detective David Chino: Mescalero Apache and New Mexico State Police Detective. Joe Stern: Klamath Native American and friend of Ethan.

Why did you choose New Mexico as the setting for the book?
The inspiring event occurred in New Mexico, and since it is such an exotic and beautiful state, we chose to set the story here. The mass murder that occurred at Bonito City provided us with some background genealogy for our main character, Jennifer Murphy, and her brother. In Alchemy’s Reach, the fictional town of Alchemy was flooded when Lake Fortuna was built. In real life, Bonito City was drowned when Bonito Lake was created. The lake still exists today, and it has recently been dredged, removing years of silt.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
We worked well together, and the discussions of character and plot inspired each of us to be more creative. Building on each other’s ideas led to improved scene development, better character development, and twists in the plot which, as individuals, we may not have thought about. No matter what problem we encountered, talking it out and coming up with alternatives always worked.

What kinds of scenes did you find most difficult to write?
Chris: Really none posed any issues.

Pat: No type of scene presented a problem. As always, we had to ensure we were consistent with what came earlier in the book. An example of that would be:  how come my character has blonde hair in Chapter 1 and all of a sudden, we are saying she has black hair in Chapter 26?

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
The input from Corrales Writing Group has been invaluable. Even if we don’t feel a specific critique is appropriate for our styles, we find the members’ comments often spur us to review our work and make it better.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Pat: I’ve sent my novel-in-progress, The Far Moist End of the Earth, to beta readers.

Chris: I am currently working on two books, both science fiction, with my husband Paul Knight. One book, The Music of Creation, is out for review by a publisher. The other, The Mirror of Eternity, is going through the critique process with Corrales Writing Group.


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




An Interview with Authors Sue Boggio & Mare Pearl

Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl are novelists whose collaborations weave family, friendship, and hope into award-winning literary fiction. Their newest novel, Hungry Shoes (University of New Mexico Press, September 2023), is described as “an emotional journey through the scar tissue of complicated lives” and “a celebration of compassion, hard-earned wisdom, and the joy we can create.” You’ll find Sue and Mare on their website at BoggioAndPearl.com and on their Amazon author page.


Sue and Mare, you met in 1963 as youngsters and formed an immediate friendship that’s followed you throughout your lives. At what point did you both decide you wanted to write novels together?
In the 1980s we lived across the country from each other. We wrote letters that included one of us starting a story and mailing it to the other to continue the story — back and forth until the story became too long and fat to fit into an envelope. At that point, one of us would come up with an ending. In 1988, Mare moved to Albuquerque where I lived and we decided to educate ourselves about the craft (and business) of novel writing. Along with reading books on the subject and subscribing to industry periodicals, we joined SWW and attended meetings and all the great SWW conferences in the 1990s. In 2001, we were finalists in the novel competition with Sunlight and Shadow, published in 2004 by NAL/Penguin, and we were on our way!

Your latest novel is Hungry Shoes. What was the inspiration for this story?
Hungry Shoes was inspired by our long careers working at UNM Children and Adolescent Psychiatric Center, and our dedication to milieu therapy. Milieu therapy means the environment the kids are immersed in is a 24/7 intensive therapeutic process. Hungry Shoes shows how powerful milieu therapy was when we worked in such a program in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll never forget the young people (and colleagues!) we had the privilege to work with and wanted to honor them in a fictionalized version of that inspiring world.

Was there anything surprising that you discovered while writing this book?
One of the challenges in writing Hungry Shoes was finding the best way to include pertinent scenes from Maddie and Grace’s pasts to show how and why they ended up needing inpatient psychiatric care. This required us to stretch ourselves in determining the structure of the novel, and how to handle time. Instead of the usual straight chronological stream of events, we inserted those past scenes into the present-day arc of their hospitalizations. The past scenes show particular times of chaos, abuse and neglect each girl experienced through their seventeen years of life. Showing these past arcs was much more powerful than telling them, say in therapy sessions. This gives the reader much greater insight and empathy when the girls’ experiences are addressed in their present day scenes. The scenes from the past are purposefully placed to connect with and inform what’s happening in the present-day arc of their three-month hospitalizations. It took a lot of trial and error before we arrived at the structure that finally worked the best, and the surprising discovery was that we were able to pull off what we envisioned!

Tell us how and why you chose the title Hungry Shoes.
In the early 1980s, a boy from Zuni Pueblo in my (Sue’s) care used the term to describe worn-out shoes that separate at the toe creating a mouth. (A lot of kids needed shoe glue to hold their shoes together until new ones could be obtained.) After learning the term was used commonly in Zuni Pueblo, I tucked it away as a title for a future book about milieu therapy. There is a scene in our book showing how the expression was used and its metaphorical representation of kids who have been abused, neglected, etc.

Why will readers connect with your main characters Maddie and Grace?
We created Maddie and Grace to have different issues, and be distinct from each other, but we wanted both of our lead characters to have the capacity to respond to therapy even after tough lives, and be intelligent and strong, and be able to form a genuine bond with each other that facilitates both of their healing journeys.

Maddie is more impulsive and expresses her pain and emotions directly. She’s more prone to “act-out” while Grace holds her pain more inside of herself. When the reader discovers what each girl has experienced via the scenes from the past, along with discoveries made in therapy, they are able to understand and connect with them. We also made sure to make them more well-rounded than their past wounds. We show them caring about their peer group members and staff, we show their humor and tenderness and bravery as they strive to get better.

What message do you hope to convey to readers of Hungry Shoes?
Our message is that there is an inpatient treatment model called milieu therapy that can (and did!) help kids turn their lives around if we as a society are willing to fund the necessary ingredients, which are:

Time enough to trust the adult staff to disclose their issues and connect with them as a source of support. Time for their families to learn new ways of parenting via family therapy and parent education (length of stay needs to be weeks/months instead of the current usual 3 days that insurance will cover.)

Staffed with highly-trained and well-paid professionals in a multi-disciplinary team approach offering a varied menu of therapies and individualized programs (art, music, recreational, etc.).

Physical environment that is designed for children while maintaining safety (i.e., playgrounds, flowers, grass, trees—natural beauty—supervised playtime and structured activities) instead of a stereotypical locked hospital ward.

Hungry Shoes shows all of this better than can be briefly described.

As coauthors, how do you manage expectations with each other? What is that process like?
We’ve been creating together since we were ten years old. It is instinctual by now to play to each other’s strengths. We’re each other’s greatest fans so our collaboration is based on mutual respect and trust. Before we start a project, we discuss EVERYTHING and keep notebooks as we define our themes, design settings, create characters and their arcs. We each choose POV characters and divide up scenes to write each week. (In the case of Hungry Shoes, I wrote Grace’s POV scenes and Mare wrote Maddie’s.) We get together weekly and read our scenes aloud to each other for feedback and to decide what scenes should come next. We always know our novel’s ending but how we get there allows for discovery along the way. A first draft takes about nine months. Then we do an entire read through out loud together before tackling rewrites and editing, first individually, then merged into one manuscript that Sue edits with continual input from Mare until we’re ready to share it with our first readers and eventually our agent for more revisions.

Not every difference of opinion is contentious, but as authors we bring our own ideas to each story. How do you navigate those differences?
We are constantly discussing different ideas, testing them out on each other. If one of us likes something the other doesn’t, we talk it through some more, but we give each other a lot of freedom and autonomy to run with an idea to see how it works—especially if it concerns our own POV character. Often a third option better than either of us thought of previously will be born from our discussions—the magic of collaboration. One of our bylaws is the good of the project comes before either of our egos. Honestly, it’s easier and a more natural process than you might imagine. I (Sue) write novels on my own in between our joint projects and it’s twice the work and half the fun.

Do you allow an underlying structure to guide your writing process or is this something you discover as you work?
It can vary depending on the needs of a particular project but we use structure and pacing techniques that we’ve learned from studying screenplay writing. (Hungry Shoes began as a screenplay.) We use index cards detailing each scene and mount them on a big story board, moving scenes around to find the best progression. This visual is key to our process, especially merging two writers’ scenes into one seamless narrative.

What writing projects are you working on now?
At age ten, it was the Lennon/McCartney collaboration that incited our creative journey as partners. Countless books have been written about The Beatles, so we wanted to write a novel capturing their lifelong impact on the lives of two young fans, Sadie and Max, called And Your Bird can Sing. After family tragedy leads to not only physical distance but total estrangement, Sadie and Max try to navigate adulthood without the one person they counted on always being there. Through the best and worst of times, Beatles music is the soundtrack of their lives. When life offers them a rare second chance, they come face to face after 26 years apart. At age 40, is their connection still alive? Or has it receded into their pasts, a pleasant childhood memory forever lodged in an era that has vanished as surely as the miraculous band itself? Our agent is currently beginning submissions of And Your Bird Can Sing—fingers crossed!

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Thank you so much for this opportunity to talk about our work! You can email us via our website: www.boggioandpearl.com. We enjoy attending book club discussions in person or via zoom.


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.




Author Update 2024: Melody Groves

Melody Groves is the author of nine historical western novels across two series, five nonfiction books about the West, and numerous magazine articles. Her two newest releases, Lady of the Law (Maud Overstreet Novel #2) and Showdown at Pinos Altos (The Colton Brothers Saga #7), were both published in 2023 by Wolfpack Publishing. You’ll find Melody on MelodyGroves.net and her Amazon author page. Read more about Melody’s writing in her 2016, 2018, 2021, and 2022 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


Melody, 2023 was quite a year for you. You published two books in 2023 and won the Spur Award for the biography Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw. And in April, you took the leap from Vice President of the Western Writers of America (WWA) to President of the organization. Before we get into your latest publications, can you please tell us about your journey with WWA and what that means to you?
Also in 2023, Trail to Tin Town was in the hands of a new publisher (Wolfpack) who released the eBook and paperback versions of the book. And I won the Will Rogers Gold Medallion for an article in Wild West Magazine about Billy the Kid’s mom. It was quite the year!

The journey to where I am now was a crazy and circuitous one. I joined SWW about a million years ago and attended every meeting, took many classes, met publishers and accomplished writers. At one SWW meeting, I met Tony Hillerman and his friend, Luther Wilson, who was the head of UNM Press. Wilson published my first book All About Rodeo—because I got the chance to talk to him, while Hillerman was swarmed!

Then, two SWW members gave me a mighty nudge to join Western Writers. By that time, I’d had several articles published, plus the rodeo book, so it turned out I was eligible! I joined and am so glad I did. Just like in SWW, I went to all the annual conventions, read WWA’s magazine Roundup, asked a ton of questions and eventually was published again because of being face-to-face with publishers and editors at the conventions.

WWA members are of a like mind — all love Westerns and want to be multi-published. We want to keep the genre alive. When asked to run as Vice President, I was terrified and honored. There are over 700 international members, and I knew someday I would be president. It was a six-year commitment — two as vice president, two as president, two as past president — but I agreed to take it on.

After nine months as VP, I was thrown into the presidency after the president quit. The WWA board and members couldn’t have been more supportive. Everyone jumped into action, and I think the organization is stronger because of the initial chaos. It took a while for me to think straight, but with a new executive director (he and I work together well), I’ve been able to address some issues. I’m ready to move forward with this new year.

For those who are new to you and your work, can you give readers some background regarding your writing career and what that path has looked like?
I wish I could say I planned out my career and moved forward with purpose. Instead, I simply knew I wanted to write, and my favorite genre was Westerns (probably from growing up in southern New Mexico). I was the newspaper editor in junior high, on the staff in high school, and a journalism minor at NMSU (Go Aggies!). Writing was a natural fit. I took time away from writing to raise children and to teach in Albuquerque Public Schools. In addition to teaching Gifted (I have an MA from UNM), I taught 6th grade language arts/literature. I had students write during the first 15 minutes of class. So…to model appropriate behavior, I did, too. Sometimes, that 15 minutes grew to 20. My first novel was written in class. I left teaching over 20 years ago to write novels and nonfiction books, and now have 15 — soon to be 18 in June — with my name on them. I’ve written tons of magazine articles as well.

Lady of the Law is the second book of the Maud Overstreet Series. What was the inspiration for this series, and do you see it taking on the same lifespan as the Colton Brothers Saga?
I have no idea what the inspiration for this series was. It was another case of a character sitting on my shoulder, talking to me constantly, wanting her story told. She wouldn’t shut up, so I wrote the first book, She Was Sheriff. I did the sequel, Lady, because publishers like more than a one-hit-wonder, and because the story wasn’t done in the first book. I don’t see it running much past book three — which I haven’t started on yet. It’s in the queue, though.

Does Maud, in Lady of the Law, embody any of your real-life traits?
Funny you should ask. Yes, there’s a lot of me in her. I didn’t plan for it, but when the subconscious takes control, the writing flows naturally. I hope Maud comes across as honest and likeable (ahem).

Showdown at Pinos Altos is the seventh novel in the Colton Brothers Saga. Please tell us a little about this latest book.
I didn’t mean for it to be part of the series, but here it is. This is a book I’d written several years ago, put in a top drawer, pulled it out last year, submitted it for publication, and wham, there it is in print. It features the youngest of the four brothers and is set in the Black Range in New Mexico. I enjoyed writing it because I used to go up into that area when I was a child, camping with my parents.

I had read that during your years with the New Mexico Gunfighters Association that you “loved being the ‘bad’ guy.” Which comes easier for you when writing: good guys or bad guys?
Bad guys I find easier to write. I think it’s the writer’s inner demon coming out. The problem with bad guys is each needs a good trait—one thing to make them loveable, or at least identifiable to readers. It’s easy to go overboard making the villains really bad, so I find I have to scale back on making them especially gritty.

It’s important to give characters little quirks. Is this something that should be applied to both minor and major characters within a novel, or can it be overdone?
Quirks. I’d say yes to any character—except how minor is a minor character? If he/she is a “walk on,” then I don’t worry about quirks. But if they’ve got more than a couple of lines and somehow affect the storyline or main character, then yes, make them more “rounded” by adding quirks.

Your novels take place in several states. How do your settings impact the stories and the characters?
A setting in a Western is considered one of the characters. That is something that identifies the genre. Consider deserts—a cowboy rides through cactus and sand dunes—he’s got to survive which is a story by itself. Settings are crucial in Westerns, not so much in say, a bodice-ripper.

When researching for a book, do you travel to the location you’re writing about, or are you able to intuit much of what you need to make each story come alive?
Almost always I travel to the location, or I’ve already been there. You learn so much by exploring the area. For example, in Lawrence, Kansas, researching Kansas Bleeds, I would have gotten it all wrong if I hadn’t traveled there, talked to tourist information people, etc. The topography has changed since the Civil War. It’s important to get flora and fauna correct and you can’t do that well sitting at home with Wikipedia. If writers can’t travel there, I’d send for brochures or call the appropriate agencies. They’re happy to put writers on the correct track (been there, done that).

Now that you have several novels under your “cowgirl belt” or should I say “hat,” what marketing techniques have served you best?
Marketing is tough, especially in a niche market. I find standing there selling works best. I go to several Western events each year and my books sell well there. I attend the Tucson Book Festival and sell at the Sandia High School Arts & Crafts Fairs. I do surprisingly well there, too. I’m not sure if buying ad space in magazines is fruitful. The best technique is television. Radio, I believe, is second. If you can get an interview on tv, that’s money in the bank. I’ve done tons of radio interviews and I’m not sure if it generated more sales or not. It was fun, though, and that’s what life is all about.

I’m curious as to how much of a role you play in your book cover designs? How did you feel when you saw your first book cover come to life?
Ah, covers! I try to influence the design, but I don’t always get a choice. I’ve been fortunate for several of my books to even design the cover, but some publishers (I’ve had 7) want to do it themselves. As for my first book cover, frankly, I was disappointed. It was my rodeo book and I thought too dark. They wouldn’t use the photo I wanted because you could see the bull rider’s face and I didn’t have a signed release from the rider. But the book has sold well despite my chagrin. (Cover tip — ask for orange somewhere. Studies show covers with orange sell best. Who knew?)

Can you give us a hint as to what writing projects are forthcoming?
In June, look for my three books in a new series tentatively titled Nolan Brothers Ride Again, about three brothers in 1871 Texas who have their trials and tribulations. Each book features one of the brothers. This was a three-book deal with the publisher, the first two are done and submitted. The third book is due end of April, and they’re telling me the books will be published in June. Keep fingers crossed. I’m excited about this project as I’ve never written a story set in Texas.

How can readers discover your work?
My work is all over the internet. Actually, I am. I have a new website that makes it easy to purchase my books. Unfortunately, a couple titles are hard to find through Amazon as the publisher went out of business. I’m in the process of finding a new publisher for those. Some of my books are in libraries, which is exciting, and local bookstores.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’d like to give some advice — if you want to be a successful author (your definition), you’ve got to talk to writers and publishers face to face. Go to conventions, meetings, conferences, on-line events. I know putting yourself out there is scary and tough, but that’s where you’ll find success — meeting people. It’s money and time well spent.

Thank you for reading this. I’m always happy to help. Questions? Send me an email to melodygroves@comcast.net.


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 Donald Willerton

Donald Willerton is the award-winning author of the ten-book Mogi Franklin mystery series for middle-grade readers plus four novels in various genres for adults. His most recent adult release is Death in the Tallgrass: A Young Man’s Journey Through the Western Frontier (July 2023) that has been described as “a beautiful, smart, engaging, enraging book…gentle and thoughtful and fierce.” Look for Don on his website at DonaldWillerton.com and on his Amazon author page.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Death in the Tallgrass?
The novel centers around the kidnapping of a 10-year-old boy, Sam, by Comanche warriors in 1870. Sam is declared dead soon afterwards. Lucy, his six-year-old sister, goes on with a wealthy but rocky life until her son, Harry, in 1904, discovers that the family history may have been a lie and Sam may have lived. Following what he thinks are clues to Sam’s life, Harry goes on a wagon trip that begins in Las Vegas, New Mexico, crosses Texas, turns around at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and retraces its route until it ends on the Goodnight Ranch, east of Amarillo, on the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon.

This is real country. My childhood home was close to the book’s Beale Wagon Road where it crossed the Canadian River; I have photos of wagon swales almost two hundred years old. I picnicked in the same riverbed where Kit Carson led his troops to the First Battle of Adobe Walls in 1864, and I have stood in the meadow where the Second Battle was fought in 1874. I helped harvest wheat in Oklahoma (west of Fort Sill), climbed in the Wichita Mountains, and have driven through the original Goodnight-managed JA Ranch in the canyons of the Palo Duro. I’ve taken the hair-raising road down the Canadian River Escarpment east of Las Vegas to get to Conchas Lake.

As my young, smart, arrogant, rich Harry Bonner rides on that wagon trip, I hope it’s obvious that falling in love with the country is as fundamental to his growing up as it was to my growing up. My passion for Texas sunsets and rain clouds continues after a lifetime.

What challenges did this work pose for you?
My biggest challenge was learning to stop putting in historical anecdotes about the history of the areas and characters mentioned in the book. I wrote long historical passages only peripherally related to what was happening, and at one point, had to delete thousands of words to clear out the clutter to regain my story. That’s one problem with research — sometimes reality is more interesting than fiction.

Another challenge was developing an authentic-sounding spiritual mysticism surrounding Sam’s life during his seven-year Comanche captivity. That mysticism brings Harry in touch with his uncle and drives home the cruel and unjust life that he fought against, which is key to the plot. In some instances, authenticity took precedence over accuracy, but it’s all close to being real.

This is a departure from your middle-grade mysteries and your three other novels — two that move through history to tell their stories (one with a haunted house as a main character) and a third book that is a contemporary morality tale. What inspired the idea for your newest release?
Three years ago, I read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I was dazzled by how rationally a character could unexpectedly go out one day on a walk to the Post Office box and not return until 400 miles later. Along the way, he finds redemption, forgiveness, and the love he had so desperately missed in his life. Joyce’s story gave me the construct of a journey allowing disparate stories to be blended with the main action while preserving the emotional cohesion of the characters. Tied in with echoes of Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, I had a solid time period and context to make my story about Sam, Lucy, and their dysfunctional family work.

Tell us about your main characters and why you chose them to tell your story.
I created the characters of Sam and Lucy in my seventh middle-grade mystery novel, The Lady in White, about 12 years ago. They existed only as ghostly apparitions, but were key in giving my middle-grade readers the spookiness I desired. For some reason, I couldn’t stop thinking about a ten-year-old boy who grows into a seven-foot Comanche warrior. Sam and his sister reappeared in a more real form in Smoke Dreams, along with the haunted house, but their lives were, again, revealed only in backstory. After failing at writing a sequel to Smoke Dreams, I found a story framework that allowed them to be flesh and blood. My other main characters are Harry, the son of Lucy who sets off on a quest to trail Sam after his capture, and Alice, the lady wagon master who is the trip leader and is responsible for most of Harry’s growing up.

How did Death in the Tallgrass come together after your initial inspiration?
I had the history of the kidnapping from the middle-grade novel, the desire to feature Sam and Lucy in a larger context, and the construct of a journey to build words around, but it was not until I imagined the wagon trip that the basics of the story fell into place. It permitted me to use dreams, backstory narration, and remembrances to characterize the missing thirty-four years of Sam while I described the daily action of Harry and Alice. It took about two years to write and rewrite, including two early submissions to a publisher that I withdrew (ever wake up one day and discover that what you’ve written sounds simply awful?). I finally found my center for the context, actions, crises, and emotions, and produced a workable draft I was happy with. I decided to self-publish, probably because I was too embarrassed to submit a third time.

Through Reedsy, I hired an editorial reviewer who confirmed the strength of the story and its goodness, and the characters with the depth I had intended. He also corrected many errors and story conflicts. After incorporating his suggestions, I hired (again through Reedsy) a copy editor who did an excellent job of helping me clarify, delete, simplify, and resolve all of the loose ends to make the story feel right and complete. I did not finalize the last chapters until after having done both edits, but, by then, I knew exactly what they needed to do. My cover came from a media artist who responded to an internet request through Reedsy. Given a list of my ideas and only a brief description of the novel, she sent an initial design that nailed it on the first try. I was lucky.

Why did you choose Death in the Tallgrass as the title of the book?
I had several initial ideas, but my first official title was The Biggest Cowboy in the World, which I thought was clever, eye-catching, and was drawn from the novel’s text. An early reviewer (an honest, true-to-God, steeped in history, Texas cowgirl with family ties going back to Charlie Goodnight) thought it was silly and would alienate Western-loving readers. She suggested using “tallgrass” in the title which was a common descriptor of grass in the Great Plains. I liked the word, read some about the preserved areas of grasslands in the Plains, and added “death” to make it dramatic.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Editing, to me, is using the authority to change anything I want, with a heavy emphasis on deleting whatever I can’t explain. With my latest book, both editors were so affirming of the storyline that I was overwhelmed by their encouragement. Afterward, editing was like polishing a jewel — every change made it better, and I fell even more in love with what I had written.

Of the fourteen books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging and which was the most enjoyable to write?
The most challenging was The King of Trash. The story addresses the problems of ocean pollution and of homelessness, but by the end of the book, I could propose no meaningful solution for either. Even though the novel has a satisfactory ending, I feel a sense of lost opportunity.

The most enjoyable novel was The Lost Children, the second of my Mogi Franklin Mysteries. Beginning with a naturally endearing incident of three children mysteriously disappearing in 1891 in Ouray, Colorado, I added an old mining story out of the Gold Rush days of California that gave the tale a unique and gripping solution. In the end, combining the emotions and the facts gave me a story that grabs the heart of the reader.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I like editing. It allows me to identify and confess all the errors I find, and to feel redeemed when I correct them. Research is a natural requirement to make my writing credible and authentic. I’ve never had trouble being appreciative of non-fiction.

Do you have a message or a theme that recurs in your writing?
I’ve always written my middle-grade mysteries as a combination of history, geography, and adventure, hoping the readers will learn about the Southwest as well as being entertained. My adult books have been less deliberate, but I hope my characters show their need to live by grace.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’ve begun a Dan Brown-ish type of mystery involving the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland and the Shroud of Turin.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
An audiobook (my first) is being produced for Death in the Tallgrass. I’m anxious to hear how it sounds, and how it is received by listeners. I hope those who listen will leave reviews.


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




An Interview with Author Suzanne Stauffer

Fueled by her love of reading, Suzanne Stauffer has had careers as a librarian, a professor of library science, and now as an author of historical fiction. Her debut novel, Fried Chicken Castañeda (March 2023), is the first book in her Courier series inspired by the Fred Harvey Southwestern Indian Detours that ran in New Mexico and Arizona from 1926 until the early 1940s. Look for Suzanne on her website CouriersSeries1926.com, and on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X.


What is your elevator pitch for Fried Chicken Castañeda?
In this genre-blending historical mystery served with a large helping of romance and sprinkled liberally with food porn, librarian Prudence Bates escapes her boring middle-class life and becomes embroiled with bootlegging, murder and romance at the Hotel Castañeda in Las Vegas, New Mexico in 1929.

Amazon categorizes the book as women’s crime fiction/historical fiction, as well as historical mystery, thriller and suspense fiction. Readers also call it a cozy mystery. If you didn’t have the limitations of Amazon categories, how would you characterize the book?
A journey of self-discovery wrapped in a historical culinary mystery.

How did the book come together?
The genesis was a trip to Grand Canyon five or six years ago where I saw an exhibit on the Couriers. I became engrossed in the history of the Fred Harvey company and the Southwestern Indian Detours. I started the book sometime in 2020 or 2021, but hadn’t really done much until a friend challenged me to NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in 2021. I finished it during that month, then revised it with suggestions from friends over the next several months and finalized it sometime in 2022. I probably spent more time researching the history than I did writing the novel. I ultimately self-published it in March 2023.

Who are your main characters? What is it about Prudence that makes her a likeable and relatable protagonist?
Prudence Bates is a 25-year-old public librarian from Cleveland, Ohio. She’s had a comfortable, upper-middle class life to this point, and is bored stiff. I think most of us can remember that age, when we wanted excitement and adventure and romance before we settled down. She’s open to new experiences and new people. She can be thoughtless and tone-deaf and something of a snob, but she’s always willing to admit when she is wrong. She also lets her imagination run away with her. As with many librarians, she’s an observer and a bit of a pedant. In some ways, she’s a cipher. This is her journey of self-discovery.

Why is New Mexico the perfect setting for the book? How does the time period of the book impact the story and the characters?
Prudence has gone west to train as a “courier” for the Fred Harvey Southwestern Indian Detours, which ran from 1926 to the early 1940s. Just as Fred Harvey hired young women to work as waitresses in the Harvey Houses, the corporation hired young women to serve as guides for their automobile tours of the Southwest. The training took place at the La Fonda in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is inspired by courier Anita Rose’s promotional visit to Cleveland in 1929 and spends a week in Las Vegas, New Mexico in this book, expecting to learn everything there is to know about life in the Southwest. At the end of the week, she embarks on the three-day Las Vegas to Albuquerque Detour. Prohibition and bootlegging also play a role, and Las Vegas at that time was a hotbed of criminal activity.

During this time period, women had more freedoms than they had to that point. They had achieved the vote, they had access to fairly reliable contraception and to a college education, and they were entering the workforce in large numbers. It’s the period of the “New Woman.”

Tell us a few of the more interesting facts you discovered about the Fred Harvey couriers and the Southwestern Indian Detours.
They probably served as the model for the airline stewardesses who would come along a decade or so later. They had an identifiable uniform, they went through a rigorous six-week training program which covered geology, geography, history, anthropology, art, etc., and they were responsible for every aspect of the experience, including booking hotel rooms, paying for included meals, and assisting the driver (always a man) with car repairs, as well as the health and safety of the Detourists.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
This is going to sound silly, but I’m still excited at having discovered two books of paper dolls published around 2000, one of the Harvey Girls and one of the Couriers. They were created by Leslie Poling-Kempes, who wrote the definitive work on the Harvey Girls. Both books include entries from the diary of a (fictional) Harvey Girl. I referred to them for clothing ideas, in particular. I feel like a kid again when I page through them (they will NEVER be cut!).

Why did you chose Fried Chicken Castañeda as the title of the book?
Prudence stays at the Castañeda during the week that she’s in Las Vegas, and that was the signature dish of the Hotel Castañeda. I’ve included an updated recipe for it in an appendix.

How did your careers as a librarian and a professor of library science benefit your fiction writing?
I think it worked the other way. I became a librarian because I have always been an avid reader. My area of research as an academic is American library history, so I’ve learned a lot about how to research history.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Well, as an academic, I am a writer, but of non-fiction that no one reads except my students when I assign it. As for fiction, I suppose I always have. I remember writing (bad) poems when I was in elementary school. I won a short story contest in junior high school and took creative writing in college. I belonged to a writing group when I was working as a librarian in New York, and I wrote quite a bit of fan fiction when I was a doctoral student, but I never seriously considered it as a career, because it’s so difficult to break into.

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
To follow your own voice and to be willing to listen to advice and criticism. That applies to nonfiction and fiction alike.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m working on the second volume of the Courier series. In this one, Prudence goes on the three-day Las Vegas to Albuquerque detour. They spend two nights at the La Fonda and the final night at the Alvarado (of blessed memory).

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
The Fred Harvey History Weekend, a fund raiser for the New Mexico History Museum, takes place every October at the La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe. It’s being held October 27-30 this year, and I’ll be there!


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




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 Transcending-Futures.com, 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 (everytown.org) and Campaign for the Fair Sentence of Youth (cfsy.org). 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 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 MarciaRosen.com. 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: TheSeniorSleuths.com/blog.

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.




Author Update 2023: Sue Houser

Sue Houser is an award-winning author who weaves New Mexico’s history and traditions into her children’s books, as well as her nonfiction and historical fiction releases. Her latest book, Amelia and the Magic Ponies (Irie Books, 2022), was inspired by a wooden carousel found abandoned in Peñasco, New Mexico. You’ll find Sue on her website at SueHouser.com and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2017 and 2020 interviews, and visit Amazon for all of her books.


Amelia and the Magic Ponies is written for children ages 4–8 years old. What do you hope readers will learn from the story you tell in the book?
I want to remind readers of the innocence of children and that by believing in dreams and possibilities, amazing things can happen.

When did you first hear about Los Caballitos (The Little Ponies), and what compelled you to begin working on the story?
Several years ago, a column in the Albuquerque Journal caught my attention. I read that a carousel in Taos, New Mexico is over one hundred years old. The antique merry-go-round, owned and restored by the Lions Club of Taos, is in operation during Las Fiestas de Santiago y Santa Ana every July on the historic plaza. I have always loved carousels, and I was curious. So when July came, I went to the fiesta and observed the wonder and delight on the faces of the children as they rode on the wooden ponies.

Who are your main characters in the book? What challenges do you set before them?
Amelia is eager to ride Los Caballitos and runs ahead of her grandfather to get in line at the fiesta in Peñasco, New Mexico. Abuelo falls and injures his leg. They return home – before Amelia has a chance to ride. The next fiesta, the ponies are not there. Amelia learns they are in an old barn and finds them in a deplorable condition. She wants her grandfather to fix them, but he is somewhat crippled. Amelia often visits the ponies. One day, a thunderstorm rolls in. Unable to return home, Amelia spends the night in the barn with the broken ponies.

How did the book come together?
I actually started it about 15 years ago. First, I wrote the non-fiction version of Tio Vivo (the name given to the restored carousel) but felt it needed more magic. The carousel’s turning and the ponies’ swaying felt like poetry to me. I tried, but I’m not a poet. So, next, I wrote the story from the point of view of one of the wooden horses. I liked that version, but my publisher/editor Gerald Hausman (of Irie Books) thought children might not connect with a wooden horse. He was right. A child needed to be the main character.

If you had input into the cover and interior artwork (illustrated by Mariah Fox), what was that experience like?
The cover reflects something magical is going to happen. I like it. But in the illustration where Amelia spent the night with the ponies, Mariah showed the wooden ponies to be in good condition. We discussed the narrative about the ponies’ damaged and broken state. Mariah created distress in the scene by adding rain coming down and putting bandages on the ponies. That was rather clever! I especially love her illustration of live musicians serenading the carousel riders, which is historically accurate.

What topics or themes does your book touch on that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

  • Something old does have value and may have an exciting story to tell.
  • When an activity is shared, it can be more enjoyable.
  • Don’t give up on your hopes and dreams.

What was your favorite part of writing Amelia and the Magic Ponies?
I enjoyed the research and even visited the National Carousel Museum in Leavenworth, Kansa. A highlight was watching delighted children ride the simple, colorful wooden ponies as they rode around and around.

Are you working on any projects now?
I am querying two picture books: Benjamin, The Eager Beaver―about a beaver who doesn’t want to grow up and Juanita’s Heavenly Bizcochitos―about a young girl who saves the day for her grandmother by baking the Las Posadas cookies. Another book, Walter Steps Up to the Plate (Artemesia Publishing), is a middle-grade historical fiction with a release date set for October, 2023. I can’t wait!

What else would you like readers to know?
Amelia and the Magic Ponies won 1st place in the 2023 New Mexico Press Women Zia Children’s Book Award. I will be giving a talk and signing books at Treasure House Books on Sunday, April 16, 2023 from 1:00 to 3:00 pm.


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




Author Update 2022: RJ the Story Guy

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




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