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Author Update 2024: Sue Houser

Award-winning author Sue Houser reveals elements of her home state of New Mexico in every fiction and nonfiction book she writes. Her newest release is Walter Steps Up to the Plate (Kinkajou Press, October 2023), a middle-grade historical novel in which baseball, 1920s Albuquerque, and Al Capone play major roles. You’ll find Sue on her website at SueHouser.com and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2017, 2020, and 2023 interviews, and visit Amazon for all of her books.


What was your intent in writing Walter Steps Up to the Plate, and who did you write the book for?
During COVID, I read an article about Albuquerque in the early 1900s and how many people came to Albuquerque seeking a cure from tuberculosis. I wanted to convey to middle-grade readers that another pandemic years ago had interrupted children’s lives.

How did you develop your main character, Walter, from an ordinary twelve-year-old boy to a hero?
I modeled Walter after two grandsons who live near Chicago. Like other children, the boys attended school online, and their after-school activities, including orchestra and baseball, were suspended. My older grandson actually took a job delivering newspapers, as did Walter. Fortunately, no one in their family became seriously ill. In the story, I tried to show early Albuquerque through Walter’s eyes when he arrived from Chicago.

What decisions did you make about portraying historical figures or events in your story?
Al Capone was rumored to have visited friends at an exclusive resort in Jemez Springs in the 1920s. I tried to accurately describe Capone’s personality, mannerisms, and character. Capone was a Chicago Cubs fan, so I used baseball to develop his relationship with Walter.

Tell us how the book came together.
In my research of the tuberculosis pandemic, the year 1927 aligned with descriptions of the Chicago Cubs’ stadium, players, and games; the AT&SF Santa Fe Chief’s schedule and stops; and Al Capone’s reported visit to New Mexico. I drove up and down the streets of Albuquerque, studying historical buildings and street locations. I spent about two years researching, writing, and editing the book with my online critique group. I was fortunate that Artemesia Publishing (through its Kinkajou Press imprint) readily agreed to publish it, which was released in October 2023.

What makes this book unique in the chapter book market?
The story places “Scarface,” the Chicago crime boss, in Albuquerque and Jemez Springs, which is quite plausible.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for Walter Steps Up to the Plate?
I was struck by downtown Albuquerque being so vibrant and thriving during the 1920s. I could feel the energy of optimistic entrepreneurs, railroad workers, and streetcar passengers.

I had not realized the economic impact that tuberculosis patients brought to the state with towns competing for the healthcare industry. I also learned of unconventional medical procedures, such as plombage surgery, where a portion of the lung is removed and replaced with Ping-Pong balls.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I enjoyed developing Walter’s character. Although his family supported him, he felt responsible to care for his mother, making him seem older than twelve. But conflicts with his cousin and their eventual friendship allowed him to just be a kid.

Of all the fiction and nonfiction books you’ve written, which one was the most challenging, and which was the easiest (or most enjoyable) to write?
I can’t say any book was easy to write, but Walter Steps Up to the Plate was the most enjoyable. It required a lot of research to be historically factual but also allowed me creative freedom. The most challenging book for me was La Conquistadora: The Story of the Oldest Statue in the United States, a subject I wasn’t familiar with.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I am working on a picture book titled Goat for Rent about a little goat named Alfalfa who becomes a Yoga Goat for Rent. I am also researching a mining story to add to my middle-grade historical fiction books.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Thank you for this opportunity to share Walter Steps Up to the Plate. It is available from the publisher, Treasure House Books in Old Town, and Amazon.


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 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: E. Joe Brown

After retiring from careers in the United States Air Force and civil service, E. Joe Brown began a third career as a writer. He is now an award-winning author who focuses on historical fiction and memoir. A Cowboy’s Fortune (Artemesia Publishing, January 2024) is his newest fiction release and the second book in The Kelly Can Saga set in early twentieth century Oklahoma. You’ll find Joe on his website EJoeBrown.com and Happy Trails blog, as well as on Facebook and his Amazon author page. For more about his work, read his 2022 SWW interview.


Distill the story you tell in A Cowboy’s Fortune into a few sentences.
The main characters, Charlie and Susan, are recently married and we follow them as they take charge of The Kramer Group (business empire of Walter Kramer, Susan’s father) and grow as people as they expand the business. They deal with some very bad people along the way.

For those who aren’t familiar with book one in the series, A Cowboy’s Destiny, tell us about your main character.
Charlie is a young ambitious cowboy who meets his future bride Susan as he travels across Oklahoma heading to the Miller’s 101 Ranch, the largest and most famous ranch in the state. Charlie proves himself as a cowboy, a man, and a leader at the 101.

Did your characters surprise you as you wrote their story?
Yes. I had ideas as I began, but I let my characters tell me the story as we moved through the pages.

Two books into The Kelly Can Saga, what have you found are the most challenging aspects of writing a series?
The research required to keep the story honest to the time frame as I incorporate real people into the storyline.

Is there a scene in either of your books you’d love to see play out in a movie?
Actually several. There are action scenes where Charlie shows his character, and there are scenes where you see his romantic side and Susan’s response that would jump off the screen in my opinion.

What makes this novel unique in the historical fiction market?
I don’t know of any other novel that focuses the reader on what was happening as society transitioned from ranching, farming, and rural life into what we call the Industrial Revolution. At least not in Oklahoma.

Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for this book?
The oil business and the overall population exploded during this exciting period in my home state of Oklahoma. After World War I many folks came West and homesteaded 160-acre parcels.

What did you learn in writing/publishing A Cowboy’s Fortune that you can apply to your future projects?
I continue to learn more about time management as an author. It takes a lot of time to write, revise, edit, and market a book.

What is the best compliment you’ve received as an author?
People have told me time and again how much the enjoy the storyline and how readable my writing style is.

Do you prefer the creating or editing aspect of writing? How do you feel about research?
I love the creative side and truly enjoy research. I’ve always enjoyed history.

What advice do you have for writers still striving for publication?
Attend conferences and conventions and meet publishers. It helps when you develop a relationship with a publisher.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing book three of at least five books in The Kelly Can Saga. I’m also working on more memoirs.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I appreciate my readers more than I have the words to express.


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 T. E. MacArthur

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




An Interview with Author 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 Lynne Sebastian

Retired archaeologist Lynne Sebastian is a published author of nonfiction books, research papers, and journal articles who now considers herself a storyteller. After switching from nonfiction to creative writing, she published stories in the 2021 SouthWest Writers’ contest anthology, Ramblings & Reflections, and in Holes in Our Hearts: An Anthology of New Mexican Military Related Stories and Poetry (2023). Besides being a short story and nonfiction writer, she can also call herself a novelist since her 2023 debut release of One Last Cowboy Song. You’ll find Lynne on her SWW author page and on Facebook. Look for Lynne’s books on Amazon.


Please tell us about yourself.
I grew up in southern Michigan, but my family all live in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and have lived in those hills and hollers for many generations. I always wanted to live in the West, and I have had the great fortune of doing so for 50 years, the last 42 of those years here in New Mexico. My husband and I came to Albuquerque in 1980 so that I could enter the PhD program in Anthropology at University of New Mexico, and somehow, we never left. We have lived in Corrales, New Mexico since 1998.

In my archaeology career, I carried out fieldwork in all the Four Corners states and served as the New Mexico State Archaeologist and as the New Mexico State Historic Preservation Officer. I also had the honor of being elected as President of the Society for American Archaeology and as President of the Register of Professional Archaeologists. For the last 15 years before I retired in 2016, I worked as a consultant and expert witness on historic preservation issues for clients throughout the United States.

Tell us about your recent release, One Last Cowboy Song. How did you come up with the idea?
Funny you should ask. For several years, I have been in a creative writing critique group. One of the short stories that I shared with them was about a couple who would seem to have nothing in common and be unlikely ever to have met. And if they did meet, one would not necessarily expect them to have gotten along very well. The short story took place several years after they not only met, but fell in love and created a shared life that is unconventional but brings them great happiness.

My critique group colleagues said, “Oh! We like this story, and we love these characters. You should write more about them.” Flattered, I wrote a second short story about these same characters, and the group said, “This is great! But we want to know more, like how did they meet? And what is her backstory? And….” Soon, I realized I was writing a novel, and I had started in the middle. Which is not a process I recommend.

Where do you draw inspiration for your characters and settings?
My settings are, at least so far, versions of real places. One Last Cowboy Song is set in the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, which is an area that I love very much. I’ve traveled quite a bit, and I’ve experienced so many wonderful, vivid, special places in this world. I’ve never felt any need to create a place in which to set a story, although I really admire people who can imagine whole worlds and bring them to life.

As for characters, they tend to be composites — imagined people who incorporate some aspects or characteristics of real people, often multiple people, that I have known. For example, one night as I was working on a piece of dialog spoken by the best friend of my male lead character, a rancher named Dale, I realized that every time I wrote or read Dale’s dialog, I was hearing in my head the voice of an old friend, an archaeologist who lives in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Dale doesn’t look anything like my friend, and his life experiences are very different, but their voices and way of talking are identical. I’ve no idea why.

What typically comes first for you: A character? A story idea?
I’d have to say that the story idea comes first and that the story idea often comes with a character, or characters, already attached.

When did you realize you wanted to write western romance?
I didn’t. This book would be characterized that way, I guess, because he’s a rancher and she’s an English professor, and it is — at its heart — a love story. But it’s also a story about the way childhood trauma can create patterns of behavior that work against our happiness throughout a person’s adult life. And it’s a story about resilience in the face of loss and grief. And about the way country and western music can capture a moment and carry with it a memory.

Do you think your previous occupation as an archaeologist working in New Mexico influenced your choice of genre?
No. My love for the West and its people predates my life as an archaeologist. But stay tuned for my next book. It is about being an archaeologist working in New Mexico.

What did you find most rewarding when writing One Last Cowboy Song?
Interesting question. My first thought was “FINISHING IT.” But that’s not really true. I did much of the work during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was a wonderful escape being able to slip away from the reality of life during that time and live for a few hours with Virgil and Amanda and all the other characters in beautiful landscapes and happier times (depending on how one experienced the mid-1990s).

Tell us how and why you chose the title of the book.
There is a country and western song called “The Last Cowboy Song” that was co-written and sung by the late Ed Bruce who was one of my favorite singer/songwriters. The song plays in the background at two key moments in the story, and the sense that Virgil and Dale are part of a dying breed and of a way of life that is passing on into history lingers in the background.

What prompted your first writing project?
I discovered that I’m really bad at painting. No, I’m serious. My plan was to take up painting with watercolors when I retired. I made a gallant effort, but finally had to admit that I have no talent for visual arts. Fortunately, just about the time I faced this ugly truth, I was taking a Writing Memoir class at UNM Continuing Ed, and a very nice lady in the class told me she thought I had a talent for creative writing and asked me if I would be interested in joining a critique group of which she was a member. Which brings me to the next question….

What is the best encouragement or advice you’ve received in your writing journey?
Join a critique group. The regular feedback, the gentle but firm critiques of other writers, the camaraderie (even when we were stuck meeting on Zoom), and especially the structure provided by having to produce something to share every two weeks were all essential to getting me through the process of writing three drafts of a novel-length work.

Would you mind sharing with us what you’re working on now?
Something very different. It is a combination memoir/creative nonfiction story about an archaeological project south of Farmington, New Mexico, in which my husband and I participated in 1981. It has it all — humor, pathos, danger, miserable weather, unique characters, unforgettable dogs, and cool stuff about archaeology. And like my first book, this work is the result of my having written a short story about an experience with a flash flood that we had on the project. And once again, my critique group colleagues said, “Oh, we like this! But we want to know more about these characters and why you were digging there and weren’t there any dogs in the field camp? And….” So, watch for another book-length work that will, hopefully, be finished this winter. Current working title is Stories from the Field: Archaeology and the Waterflow Mine.


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




An Interview with Author Regina Griego

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




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