Blog Archives

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.




Author Updates: Marty Eberhardt & Katayoun Medhat

Marty Eberhardt and Katayoun Medhat are mystery writers hard at work adding to their respective series. These members of SouthWest Writers (SWW) each had a new book published within the last year and has an interview posted on the SWW website.


Author Marty Eberhardt started the Bea Rivers cozy mystery series in 2021 with Death in a Desert Garden. Her latest release set in the Sonoran Desert is Bones in the Back Forty (Artemesia Publishing, 2023). Look for Marty on her website MartyEberhardt.com, on Facebook, and on her Amazon author page. For more about her work, read her 2021 SWW interview.


What trouble does your main character, Bea Rivers, face in Bones in the Back Forty?
Lots of trouble. A skeleton is found on the grounds of the garden where she works … this doesn’t seem to be much more than an interesting puzzle at first. But then somebody’s car hits her boss on a bicycle, and he’s in a coma. She has to take over. And someone seems to be stalking her. It’s not clear if these things have to do with her help with the murder investigation related to the skeleton. Her boyfriend lives halfway across the country and she’s a single parent with way too many responsibilities.

What makes Bea the kind of protagonist that readers connect with and root for?
She’s an overwhelmed working parent who’s trying to do a good job. There are lots of people like this everywhere! As the story progresses, her confidence and competence grow. I was pleased to see this.

Bones in the Back Forty is the second of the Bea Rivers Mysteries. When did you know you wanted to write a series?
I figured I would write at least three books, showing how the protagonist changes. I also wanted to show the Sonoran Desert in its many seasons; the series is in some ways a love song to the Sonoran Desert.

Why do you write cozy mysteries as opposed to other kinds of mysteries?
I don’t much care for gratuitous violence, nor do I wish to be explicit about sex. I like mysteries with great characters, a complex plot with a murderer who’s not easily discovered, and plenty of humor. Cozy mysteries and traditional mysteries fit these categories. These genres are also appropriate for conveying some messages that matter to me … such as climate change is real and threatening; water conservation is essential in the arid Southwest; and natural and cultural diversity can provide great joy to all humans. In this book, I also have a message about respect for our ancestors.

Do you have any writing projects in the works?
I’m working on a third Bea Rivers mystery, set in southern California, and also a long-time project … a historical novel set in early 1960s Saigon.


Katayoun Medhat is the author of the Milagro Mysteries that began with The Quality of Mercy (2017) and continued with Lacandon Dreams (2018). Her newest book in the series is Flyover Country published in 2022 by Leapfrog Press. You’ll find Kat on her website KatayounMedhat.com and her SWW author page, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Read more about her writing in SWW’s 2020 interview.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Flyover Country?
As Old and New West collide and bad faith actors prepare for future rule, the bucolic idyll of Milagro crashes and burns. A gruesome find, the slaying of a miniature horse by a cougar, and the mysterious vanishing of a park ranger give cop Franz Kafka, aka K, plenty of opportunity to misinterpret events, overlook clues, and create some more adversaries. As K deals with the tragic fallout of his job, he finds himself caught up in a lethal clash of worlds. So it’s basically a tale of contemporary life—with twists.

For those who haven’t read the first two books in the Milagro Mystery series, tell us about your main characters.
K is a stranger in a strange land. He is a natural rebel, great at subverting authority and questioning the status quo, and so isn’t really cut out to be a cop. Maybe he is jinxed, because every time he tries to do his job properly, inevitably tragedy follows.

K’s soul brother and sidekick, Robbie Begay, ex-Navajo police officer and track-reader, is everything that K isn’t — pragmatic, cynical, great at his job, and not at all given to illusions. The cases Begay and K work on bring out their differences and challenge their friendship, and often it is facing hazard and danger that draws them back together. There is a gruff tenderness and generosity to their relationship, which has led some readers to call their friendship a bromance.

A third main character of my books is the community of Milagro in which K, who is quintessentially a loner and, like so many men who must go down these mean streets, commitment-phobic, has found a kind of Ersatz family.

Did I mention that K is now the owner of a bookstore? And the bookstore is becoming something of a community hub, which, as we shall see, brings with it an entirely new set of conundrums.

How did you choose the title of the book?
Apparently “flyover country” is used as a derogatory term for the swathe of rural land between the metropolitan seaboards. To me it holds a suggestion of the forgotten, the hidden, and the elusive; the friction between a bird’s-eye view and the teeming, bustling reality on the ground. The novel’s plot takes place down in the valley and up in the unknowable territory of the Mesa, in a kind of hell and heaven scenario.

What makes your series unique in the mystery genre?
The Milagro Mysteries are ethnographic and psychological mysteries. They are about a place, Milagro, and its people and the ravages and havoc that is played upon them, mostly by larger outside forces that are hard to withstand. The series’ core lies in its unique outsider’s view of rural America, and my conviction that deadly serious subject matter is best served up with a dose of satire.

Which of your three published novels did you enjoy writing the most, and which one was the most challenging?
The newest one is always the favorite one, and the most challenging—until the next one comes along. Writing my first book, The Quality of Mercy, was stress-free: entering terra incognita with no road map, no expectations, and an explorer’s enthusiasm. Milagro #2, Lacandon Dreams, in retrospect might have been the most challenging, because writing your second book is a whole other ball game to writing your first.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Currently I am editing Vision Quest, Milagro Mystery #4, the most ominous book in the series so far. And I’m working on a stand alone, which may turn out even more sinister and is set in Europe. And, of course, I’m seeding Milagro Mystery #5…


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 E. Joe Brown

E. Joe Brown is an award-winning author of novels, short stories, and memoirs whose work is featured in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His debut novel, A Cowboy’s Destiny (Artemesia Publishing, August 2022), is the first book in The Kelly Can Saga inspired by his grandfather’s stories about life on Oklahoma’s historic 101 Ranch. You’ll find Joe on his website EJoeBrown.com, on Facebook, and his Amazon author page.


What is at the heart of the story you tell in A Cowboy’s Destiny?
Circa 1917, a young cowboy in his late teens wants to chase his dream of becoming a “Top Hand” on the world famous 101 Ranch in northern Oklahoma.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Combining some real happenings in my late grandfather’s life with the story I wanted to tell. My grandfather was a cowboy on the 101 as a teenager.

Who are your main characters, and why will readers connect with them?
Charlie Kelly is an ambitious young man with a strong desire to live by the cowboy code: “Your words your bond, your handshake is as good as a contract, and you’ve always got your buddies back.” Susan Kramer-Blackaby is a young, beautiful lady Charlie meets along the way. She’s also ambitious and has a mind of her own. She’s a strong-spirited young lady.

What part does your main setting play in the story?
The 101 Ranch becomes a character in the story as do several communities in Oklahoma before 1920.

How did the book come together?
During COVID I wrote the story and much more (about 400,000 words). At the same time, I was in discussions with Artemesia Publishing who became my publisher. We decided to go on contract in July 2021. We have worked together since then to release this first installment of Charlie Kelly’s story in August 2022.

What advice did your publisher give you in preparation for the release of your debut novel?
My publisher and I brainstormed several ideas on how I could enhance my chances at reaching a large readership. We agreed I should do the following:

  1. Create a Social Media presence utilizing active Web, Facebook, and Instagram sites to function as my primary communication tools. The Website functions as my hub. I have a social media professional working with/for me to insure I do things right.
  2. Develop a PR program to assist me in creating a brand. I have a professional publicist working with/for me.
  3. Use my short stories/memoirs as tools to acquaint more people with me. I have several already for sale on my website and my Amazon author page. I have a KDP publishing professional working with/for me. These eBooks have a wide variety of key words associated with them that help potential readers find me.

What was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
I enjoy the storytelling/writing process.

Your writing takes several forms – short stories, novels, memoir, and songs. Is there one form you’re drawn to the most when you write?
I don’t know that I’m drawn to one stronger than the others, but I’ve been so fortunate to have many wonderful experiences in my life and I want to share them. So writing memoirs/short stories will always be something I will do.

How has the creativity and discipline you employ as a musician helped you in your writing journey?
You must do it. You can’t perform or create music just thinking about it. Practice – play – practice some more. Writing is the same. You must write – revise – and write some more.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Novel two of the Kelly Can Saga and some memoirs that will become eBooks.


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: Melody Groves

Author Melody Groves writes what she knows best: the Old West. In 2022, she released the sixth novel in her Colton Brothers Saga, Trail to Tin Town (Five Star Publishing), as well as the nonfiction book Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw (Two Dot Publishing). You’ll find Melody on MelodyGroves.net, Facebook, and her Amazon author page. Read more about Melody’s writing in her 2016, 2018, and 2021 interviews for SouthWest Writers.


What would you like readers to know about the story you tell in Trail to Tin Town?
The story is based on fact. I had to learn about herding cattle, but I enjoyed writing about each of the Colton brothers. I also enjoyed how they love each other and yet annoy each other—just like real brothers! And I loved writing the villain—it was a challenge to figure out how to make him more disgusting every day!

What other challenges did this work pose for you?
The biggest challenge was how much of the previous storylines from the other five books to include. Writing a series is always a challenge.

What was the inspiration for this sixth book in the Colton Brothers Saga?
Based on fact, California residents in the 1800s had been too busy mining for gold that they failed to raise beef. The last westward cattle drive occurred around 1895 from Arizona—they were going to transport the beef via railroad, but the railroad raised the price, so the cattlemen drove the herd themselves. I thought that was an interesting historical fact, plus I needed a story with all four brothers, thinking this might be their swansong, so to speak.

Which brother is the main point of view character in this installment?
This is James’ story—the second brother. The cattle drive was his idea and he’s always the one willing to try something new. He’s a risk taker but has so many demons. For him, simply surviving each day is an adventure. And in the past, things didn’t work out well for him, so I thought it was time to change that.

Why did you end the series with Trail to Tin Town?
Of course, never say…the end. There may be a seventh book, but I doubt it. My characters are ready to move on with their lives. It simply feels like the Saga is done. Their story is told.

Before Billy the Kid: The Boy Behind the Legendary Outlaw offers readers a new take on an Old West icon. How did you come up with the idea for the book?
I’ve been fascinated with Billy since I was a kid. I lived less than a mile from La Mesilla where he stood trial and I used to walk over to where he was tried (it was a bar when I was a kid and now it’s a gift shop). Even then I was mesmerized by this “outlaw” who was wronged in so many ways. I have numerous other connections to him and, even though he’s been written about hundreds of times, I had to put in my two cents. Plus, when I pitched the idea to an editor, she said, “Billy sells.”

Why do you think people continue to be fascinated with Billy the Kid more than 140 years after his death?
Billy is good for tourism. His infamy brings in millions of dollars. But also because he was such a kid with an interesting personality. And there’s enough mystique about him still and endless possibilities which make people wonder.

What was your most surprising discovery regarding Billy the Kid’s life?
Thinking about how, as a kid of 12 or 13, he would have felt to have a stepfather enter his life. Was he pleased, resentful, afraid, overjoyed? I was also surprised to discover he played harmonica. And that he was born in 1861, not 1859 as has been widely believed.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
My favorite part was connecting the dots. I think I’ve come up with why younger brother Joe had the middle name Bonney; why the Mom moved to Indianapolis; how they moved from Denver to Santa Fe to Silver City; why Billy chose to stay in Ft. Sumner when he knew Sheriff Pat Garrett was close by. And I think being a woman helped me truly “feel” Billy instead of simply looking at the facts.

With eight fiction and five nonfiction titles, you have a great track record for finding traditional publishers to take on your book projects, especially since you don’t have an agent. What’s your secret?
My secret? Being in the right place at the right time. And going to meetings and conventions. I credit SouthWest Writers and especially Western Writers of America for presenting me the opportunities to meet editors. The trick is to do your best and work well with these editors—a book is a team effort.

What do you consider the most essential elements of a well-written novel? How do these elements differ for a nonfiction book?
A well-written novel is all about character. Yes, a plot is nice, but it’s all about character. The more in-depth the writer gets into what makes a character tick, the better the novel. If a reader can’t relate to a character, especially one who’s only two-dimensional, then the reader will put down the book.

Nonfiction, I’ve learned, needs to contain information that is new and yet relatable to the reader. And yes, the characters, even though they’re real, need to be multi-faceted. Good writing is good writing, whether it’s fiction or not.

What is the most difficult aspect of writing historical fiction?
Putting my characters in events that really did happen. I’ve had to change timelines and even character ages, etc., to match with a historical event.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Currently, I’m working on two novels—a third book in the She Was Sheriff series, and the beginning of a series about a guy in Texas who wants to be a more successful outlaw than the James Brothers. I’m also doing several magazine articles.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m incredibly grateful and indebted to the people who’ve helped me along the way to achieve my dream of being a professional writer. We’re all in this life together and it doesn’t take much effort to help someone else.


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 Marty Eberhardt

Marty Eberhardt is a former director of botanical gardens whose poetry and short prose can be found in nearly a dozen publications. In October 2021, Artemesia Publishing released Death in a Desert Garden, Marty’s debut novel and the first of her Bea Rivers cozy mysteries. You’ll find her on her website MartyEberhardt.com and on Facebook and LinkedIn.


What is your elevator pitch for Death in a Desert Garden?
Bea Rivers’ euphoria over her new job at Shandley Gardens is shattered by the death of the Gardens’ founder. When the police determine the death was a murder, Bea is drawn into the investigation, while trying desperately to maintain the life of a committed single parent dating a struggling writer. Every one of the members of the Gardens’ small staff and board are murder suspects. Through the sizzling and beautiful days of a Sonoran Desert summer, someone keeps dropping odd botanical clues. As Bea’s family’s safety is threatened, she discovers just how tangled the relationships at the Gardens really are.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
While I am familiar with the inner workings of public gardens, I haven’t had much to do with the police. I was fortunate to have a few friends in law enforcement who answered questions, and one read the book through.

Tell us how the book came together.
I’m not sure where the story idea came from, but first I imagined the place and the protagonist. The rest of the characters arrived in my brain and decided to do what they wanted to do. I picked a mythical botanical garden in Tucson, because I’m familiar with both public gardens and Tucson. I picked a harried single mother because I well-remember what that felt like, and I think many parents know this stress (even if they’re not single). Work/parenting challenges are front and center during this pandemic!

Who are your protagonists, and what do they have to overcome in the story? Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters?
Many will see part of me in Bea Rivers. I was a single mom working in a botanical garden. Those in the know will also see the late Tony Edland in the character of Angus. Both of them are lovely guys. As for what Bea has to overcome, she has to be a good parent and a good employee simultaneously. As if that weren’t enough, she needs to solve a murder, because people she cares about are in danger of being accused.

Why did you choose the book’s main setting?
The setting is Shandley Gardens, a public garden in the Rincon Mountains east of Tucson. Using the Rincon foothills location gave me the opportunity to write about the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, which I love deeply. Also, there is no public garden in this location, in case anyone is looking for close comparisons.

What makes Death in a Desert Garden unique in the cozy mystery market?
There are several unique, or nearly unique, parts: the setting in a botanical garden, the Sonoran Desert natural history, and the single parent protagonist.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
I’ve heard many authors say this, but it was the way the characters took on a life of their own. I didn’t know until I got to the computer what they were going to say or do. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did plot things out, but how each character reacted to their circumstances was part of the mystery of the mystery.

You also write poems and short prose. Is there one form you’re drawn to the most when you write or read?
My primary reading interest is literary fiction. I also read a bit of nonfiction, especially if it relates to something I’m writing, and I read poetry. But I punctuate the serious stuff with mysteries. I relax with them, and so I tried to write one that would have what I want out of a mystery: a tough puzzle, some quirky characters, and a strong sense of place.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing a sequel to Death in a Desert Garden tentatively titled Bones in the Back Forty. A forty-year old skeleton takes a murder investigation from Shandley Gardens to a small town in southern New Mexico, where there’s a history of archaeological looting. I’ve also written an entirely different kind of book, a period piece set in early 1960s Saigon. It’s the story of how family members’ lives are changed by living in South Vietnam during the Diem regime, at the time of Buddhist burnings and multiple coups d’états. It’s tentatively titled American Innocents.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
We humans must all nourish ourselves with what gives us joy, so that we have the strength to do the work of caring for each other and the planet. Much of my joy comes from immersion in the natural world. I try to communicate that in everything I write.


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




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