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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, 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 and writes about memoir at

An Interview with Author Lee Higbie

Lee Higbie is a past president of SouthWest Writers and co-founder/author liaison of Scribl, a new e-publishing company. A former computer engineer, he now writes fiction under the pen name BJ Creighton. His standalone novel No Sanctuary was published in 2015. You can find Lee on LinkedIn and at, the website he shares with his wife Betty.

NoSanctuary200What is your elevator pitch for No Sanctuary?
Paul Capodicasa, a wealthy benefactor of Rowe Sanctuary, is bludgeoned to death in one of its blinds. Detective Bobbie Lee must solve the murder while avoiding interference from the Mafia and her district attorney uncle. She must also confront the possibility that her son is the murderer.

What inspired you to write the book?
While volunteering at Nebraska’s Rowe Sanctuary, I was inspired by its photo blinds—much smaller than a jail cell. Two people are locked in these blinds from late afternoon until mid-morning the next day. One look and it was obvious the photographers could be at each other’s throats by the time they were let out.

What makes this novel unique in the murder mystery market?
The detective is forced to confront the probability that her son, given up for adoption 22 years earlier, is the perp. Much of the story revolves around rape—the detective’s rape (leading to the son) and the murderer’s rape in jail, both as teenagers.

What challenges did this work pose for you?
Writing from the point of view of a woman. Initially, Bobbie Lee behaved too much like a man. In early drafts, her behavior was not believable.

Why did you decide to use the particular setting you chose?
Rowe Sanctuary chose me, not the other way around.

What is your favorite scene in No Sanctuary?
The scene where Bobbie Lee nearly drowns trying to cross the Platte River.

Why did you decide to use a pen name?
Two reasons, the first is personal that I won’t go into. The other is that my wife Betty helped me with the novel, and I created a pseudonym that is a combination of our names. From a purely marketing perspective, there are advantages to using different names for completely different types of books.

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I’ve been writing for decades and working on fiction for more than ten years. I wrote several science fiction novels, but those were exercises that helped me learn to write fiction.

Who are your favorite authors?
My favorites vary. I’ll go through a period of reading a bunch of novels by one author, but when I start to see the patterns repeating, I often entirely stop reading their work. I have no literary aspirations, only genre fiction.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your publishing career today?
Let me quote Dorothy Parker: If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with a copy of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now while they’re happy.

Why did you decide to take the indie route to publishing?
Mostly because I am not yet good enough—I haven’t written any bestsellers—to be noticed by the legacy publishing establishment.

What part do beta readers or critique groups play in your writing process?
Critique groups were very important some years ago, but I haven’t found a group since moving to New Mexico. Now I use editors instead.

How do you break through writer’s block?
Butt In Chair, Hands on Keyboard (BICHOK).

If you had an unlimited budget, how would you spend your money for marketing and promotion of your books?
I’d hire someone else to market and promote my books because it’s something I’m not good at it.

What are your strengths as a writer?
My strengths are probably my work ethic, knowledge of grammar, and the ability to synthesize research results.

Tell us about Scribl, the e-publishing company you co-founded., formerly Scribliotech, is a new publisher of ebooks and audio/ebooks with a unique linking of audio and ebook formats and unique pricing and royalty structures. Scribl started with patented technology to set prices based on popularity. Many authors juggle the prices of their books to increase readership because they’ve found setting a low price can increase sales long after the price has returned to normal. CrowdPricing does this by adjusting the pricing depending on sales. Scribl allows readers to rate books, but we factor in the price a reader paid because readers may think a novel is great for $0.99, but not for $5.99. In addition, we distribute to hundreds of book sites (including Apple, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo), so listing a book with us gives it the widest possible distribution. Also, because some sites sell below wholesale, our royalties can be higher than some competitors in some situations.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m just finishing two nonfiction books that I plan to publish in 2016. The first is about wine and is celebratory in tone. It has a lot of illustrations in addition to text. The second is about writing. One of the chapters in the book was published in SWW’s The Storyteller’s Anthology. Both of these projects will end up being about half the size of a novel—more like booklets. I plan to start with print-on-demand, probably through IngramSpark, and e-publish through Scribl once we broaden our list to nonfiction titles (in the very near future).

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

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