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Author Update: Melody Groves

Author Melody Groves is a novelist and nonfiction writer whose freelance articles can be found in publications such as American Cowboy, Wild West, True West, and New Mexico Magazine. Her three nonfiction books cover historic bars of the Southwest, the ins and outs of rodeo, and America’s first overland mail route. She uses her passion for the Old West, along with experience as a gunfighter and a bull rider, to infuse her Western novels with authenticity. While hard at work on the next two installments of her light-hearted She was Sheriff series, she continues the Colton Brothers Saga with book five. Her newest release, Black Range Revenge (Five Star Publishing, 2018), pits youngest brother Andy Colton and his siblings against an Apache leader bent on revenge. You’ll find Melody on her website and on Facebook.

The Colton Brothers Saga follows four brothers in their quests for a better life in the Old West. What was your favorite part of putting together Black Range Revenge?
I don’t usually write paranormal, but the idea of a ghost, or spirit, excited me, so I put one in. I enjoyed highlighting the youngest brother, Andy. And I finally gave James some closure to his previous Apache captivity.

How do you decide which brother to focus on in each book? Describe your main characters and what’s most important to each of them.
While I try to give the brothers “equal time,” the character who steps forward first gets to tell his story. Hope that doesn’t sound too crazy. Trace is the oldest at 27, married, two little girls. Family is most important to him. James, four years younger than Trace, married, no kids, tends to be a bit unstable mentally. He is impatient, short-tempered and doesn’t think things through. Luke, two years younger than James, is the black sheep. A rabble-rouser and definitely a ladies’ man, got married and became a dad at 17. He still chases skirts and his morals are not those of the rest of the family. Andy, at 19 by the book’s end, is adventurous but a heckuva nice guy. He’s liked by everyone he meets. He’s probably the definition of innocent. All four boys are strong and not afraid of work. They have a strong sense of family entrenched by their folks.

Which character did you love to torture the most, wished you could slap some sense into, or couldn’t wait to be done with?
James immediately comes to mind. He doesn’t always think things through and tends to react which gets him in trouble. Of the four boys, he’s the most sensitive, which makes his torture by Cochise (in book 2) terrifying—for both of us. James has PTSD because of that experience. Sometimes I wanted to throttle him, at other times I wanted to tell him it would be okay. Trace handled his captivity much better.

What unique challenges did this project pose for you?
The area of New Mexico where the story takes place has changed over the past 150 years. The town of Santa Rita, which is in the book, is completely gone now. The town of Mogollon was just a single cabin in 1850 and maybe two cabins by 1863. I had to be sure the history was accurate.

How long does it take you to put your novels together, including researching, writing, and editing?
I’ve been up in the Black Range of New Mexico many times since I’m from Las Cruces and my parents and I used to camp in that area. So, I’ve sort of worked on the research for Black Range Revenge for several decades! As for writing, it takes me about nine months to finish a book, especially since I work on other projects along the way. My editor at Five Star Publishing works with me until it’s “perfect” which takes a couple of months. Then, when it’s polished, it goes through another editor before it’s scheduled for publication. This whole process takes about two years. Two loooonnnngggg years.

Was there anything interesting you discovered while doing research for Black Range Revenge?
I think the most interesting was realizing how many different groups of people have been up in that area—Anasazi, Apache, Mexican, miners, European immigrants, Americans, etc. The history is fascinating and reaches back at least 500 years. I’m thrilled to write about it.

Of the three nonfiction books you’ve written, which one did you enjoy writing the most?
It’s a toss-up between Hoist a Cold One!: Historic Bars of the Southwest and Ropes, Reins, and Rawhide: All About Rodeo. The rodeo book was my first, and since I was deep into rodeo, I was thrilled to talk to the true professionals in the sport. I met some amazing athletes and came face to face with crazy livestock. Researching gave me tons of stories that I survived to tell about. The bar book came about because I stood at a bar in Clayton, New Mexico and heard the fascinating story behind why it was there in that restaurant/hotel—it was won in a card game and hauled across the llano by ox wagon. I thought there had to be other stories behind the historical bars in the Southwest, and I was right. That book took 3 1/2 years to research. But it’s turned out to have a life of its own and has sold quite well. UNM Press published both of those. (Her third nonfiction book, Butterfield’s Byway: America’s First Overland Mail Route Across the West, was published by The History Press in 2014.)

What is the hardest thing about writing?
Getting the words right.

Are you a pantser, a plotter, or a hybrid of both? What does a typical writing session look like for you?
While I’m a pantser, my characters guide me. I do, however, take a page from another writer’s method and briefly (I mean briefly) describe what’s going to happen in the next few chapters. That has helped keep my characters and me somewhat guided. But I’m a firm believer in letting your characters “do their thing.” I’ve learned they are much more interesting than anything I can think up. As far as a writing session, I like to use mornings to write, then do research and everything else in the afternoon. I have my own office, which helps a lot. I also do tons of book reviews, so my day starts out with several cups of coffee (you see this theme in all of my books) and about an hour of reading a Western—certainly gets me in the Western mind-set.

What do many beginning writers misunderstand about telling a story?
That’s easy. That they’re TELLING a story, not educating nor preaching. If a reader learns something, fine. But our job is to spin a tale, put readers in a different place and time from their own. Entertain them. We are entertainers, storytellers, not priests or professors.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m about five chapters away from finishing Lady of the Law, the sequel to She Was Sheriff (Five Star Publishing, 2016). And I’m plotting the third book in that series. I have another novel at Five Star Publishing, and I expect to receive a list of first edits any day now. Big news—working on a graphic novel! It’s based on the book currently at Five Star. I found an amazing illustrator who lives in Phoenix. We’re both so excited about finishing our first graphic novel! I also write for magazines, so I’m working on those articles as well. And I’m having tons of fun researching a novel about my relatives emigrating from Ireland and landing in New Orleans.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’m a native New Mexican (there are so few of us!), but graduated from high school in the Philippines at Subic Bay Naval Base during the height of the Viet Nam war (we were the closest ship repair facility). So, my high school experiences were way different from most people.

I started writing Westerns when I was in junior high but was told “nobody reads those any more.” So I struggled with writing other things until I said the heck with that and wrote shoot ‘em ups. Well, Westerns today are quite popular—#2 in sales under graphic novels. Who knew? I write the traditional cowboy/barroom brawl story, which I love. I also love stories about family, in particular the relationship of brothers. I throw in enough history to make it historical fiction.

One thing most people don’t know about me is that about ten years back I decided to become a bull rider. I went to a bull riding school in Colorado (twice) and learned how. Yes, got thrown off every time, but I’ve had the experience—and the bumps and bruises to show for it. If I were in my teens today, I’d be riding bulls every weekend. It was that awesome! I live my life knowing I faced fear and conquered it. Nothing compares to riding those one-ton bulls.

Find out more about Melody and her writing in her 2016 interview for SouthWest Writers.

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

An Interview with Author Melody Groves

Author and ex-gunfighter Melody Groves weaves her passion for the Old West into her writing. Her articles have been published in numerous magazines including American Cowboy, Wild West, True West, and New Mexico Magazine. She’s also the author of three nonfiction books and four novels in the Colton Brothers Saga series. Her newest historical western novel, She Was Sheriff (Five Star Publishing, 2016), introduces a set of likeable characters her readers will love to cheer on. You can find Melody on her website at and her Amazon author page.

What is your elevator pitch for She was Sheriff?
All she ever wanted was a gold band. Instead, all she got was a tin star.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
Not being from northern California, writing the terrain was tough. In 2014, I toured the area. I also did that when I researched Kansas for Kansas Bleeds (the fourth book in the Colton Brothers Saga).

Tell us about your main character and why readers will connect with her.
Maud is the lead character who is challenged to do (1) things she’s never done before and (2) things 1872 society frowned upon—especially for a woman. I hope readers connect because she’s breaking societal barriers as well as her own perceived limits.

What makes this novel unique in the historical western market?
At a recent Western Writers of American convention, my novel was held up as an example of the up and coming “strong female protagonist” Western! My publisher has a new line of novels called “Women Frontier Fiction” and I’m proud to be one of the first. Westerns are no longer typical “shoot ‘em ups”—although that’s my favorite kind.

Did you discover anything interesting while doing research for this book?
I do tons of research for all my novels and that era was fascinating in that the world was changing so quickly. We think of our 21st century as spinning—well, the West had the train, telegraph, East coast fashions, and thousands of immigrants from all over the world that spun their lives. People moved from place to place trying to make a living, trying to find the proverbial pot of gold. It was a relatively transient society full of various characters and in many instances, very little law.

Tell us more about She Was Sheriff: what sparked the initial story idea, how long it took to write, etc.
I have no idea where the story came from other than I have a t-shirt with a woman on a horse and the title is She Was Sheriff (there are no copyright laws on titles). My imagination kept spinning a story that, piece by piece, came together. The book itself took most of a year to write, then a couple of months of editing and rewriting. After a tad bit of final rewriting, selling it to my publisher wasn’t hard.

What is it about the Old West that keeps you writing in that world?
I love the Old West. It was a time of lawlessness, but also a time where people re-established themselves. They became someone they wanted to be. That still goes on today. The West is a magical, open, awe-inspiring place. I was born here and have always loved it.

How did your gunfighting re-enactment affect your writing?
For ten years I walked the streets of Old Town and other places, shooting good guys, bad guys, and sheriffs. I’m quite comfortable using my .22 Ruger, being shot, and shooting as a group. We performed in the O.K. Corral (a true Mecca for re-enactors), and I swear I was back in 1881. I use the experiences (and remembered bruises) in my writing. In re-enacting, the bullets may be fake, but the adrenalin is real.

BorderAmbush150You’ve written four novels in the Colton Brothers Saga. What are the challenges to writing a series? Do your protagonists still surprise you as you write their stories?
Series are hard to keep fresh. Thankfully, turns out there are four Colton brothers, so they’re always getting in trouble or making bad decisions—singularly or together. Hopefully, they stay fresh that way. My protagonists surprise me all the time. It’s truly fun to let them “do their thing” by not putting restrictions on their character. As their creator, I may have one thing in mind, then they turn around and do the opposite. Just like your own children!

What are your strengths as a writer, and what do you do to overcome your weaknesses?
I do pretty good dialogue, but then again, it’s my characters talking. I just write down what they say. I’m fairly good at reversals—when the reader thinks one thing will happen then it changes. As for weaknesses, women’s roles are hard for me to write, but I’m hoping I learned from She Was Sheriff. I’m not crazy about women in traditional Westerns, so I don’t give them big parts.

You have a knack for writing distinct characters, both heroes we love and villains we love to hate. What process do you use to develop your characters?
Developing characters is an ongoing writing exercise. When coming up with new characters, I find ones who have flaws, which make them interesting. I spend a lot of time thinking about people I know, then choose something from them. Or at times, I simply sit and watch strangers. I see terrific body types and then add characteristics—kind of like Frankenstein.

What are the hardest kinds of scenes for you to write, and what do you do to get over this hurdle?
The hardest scenes to write are fights or cattle stampedes. There are so many moving parts (literally), I find keeping them all in my mind’s eye difficult. So, I do two things—use pieces of “stuff” to place my characters on my desk. I’ll use a pencil eraser, a marble or whatever is handy and march them around like kids do with little tin soldiers. It looks silly, but logistically, it works well. The other thing I do is watch movies/TV shows with fights or stampedes. Those always inspire me.

Looking back to the beginning of your writing career, what do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
Isn’t that the million dollar question? If I could go back, I’d become a journalist instead of an educator. The most successful writers I know started in newspapers. I wouldn’t spend my time in the classroom, I’d be out hunting stories and writing my own. I recommend to younger writers to take as many journalism classes as possible and get a job in that field. I guarantee they’ll be great writers sooner than those of us who started later in life.

SonoranRage150What’s the best encouragement or advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
Best advice—“trust your reader.” At first I didn’t understand, but it means your reader is smarter than you think. Give them the information once, and they’ve got it. No need to remind them time and time again. In my band, the keyboard player one day said “trust your bandmate,” meaning assume he’s doing what he’s supposed to do—to the best of his ability. Readers are the same way. Just trust them.

Best other advice—choose what’s the most interesting. At the end of my book Sonoran Rage, it was a toss-up if James’ (the main character) fiancé would be waiting for him when he returned from being captured by Cochise. What everyone wanted, including me, was to have her there and fall into his bruised arms. But that’s what was expected. So, the more interesting choice was—no, she’d moved on (in all fairness, she thought he was dead). That opened up the future plotline that developed into several novels.

What are you working on now? Will we see Maud, Seth, and Pokey from She Was Sheriff again?
I’ll be starting book 7 of the Colton Brothers Saga as well as intense research for a book based on my Irish ancestors who immigrated to New Orleans during the potato famine. It’s a true Western, too, as they came to an unknown land to re-invent themselves. Maud, Seth, and Pokey are trying to find a story I’d like to write. While I’m working on the other two books, I’ll let these three characters play.

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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