Blog Archives

Author Update: Victoria Murata

Victoria Murata is a retired teacher turned author with two series in progress, one historical fiction and the other fantasy. The Ranger (September 2023) is book two of her Magicians of the Beyond fantasy series where readers will find new and returning characters, unexpected magical creatures, and a forest and a monster that don’t play by the rules. Look for Vicky on Facebook and her Amazon author page. Read about The Acolyte, the first of her fantasy novels, in her 2021 interview for SouthWest Writers.


Victoria, The Ranger is the second book in your series Magicians of the Beyond. Tell us a little about The Ranger and how long it took you to write it?
It took me two years to write The Ranger. This second book in the series introduces a new character who lives in the Beyond. Rafe isn’t a Covert, but he has special skills that are needed on a mission to a troubled world. He’s a ranger who has amazing knowledge of the forest and the creatures who live there. What he doesn’t know is the danger that awaits him in a foreign forest. Far from home and everything familiar, Rafe comes face to face with his fears and limitations. And the monster inhabiting this forest is intent on his destruction.

What elements of fantasy drew you to the genre?
The fantasy genre has always appealed to me. As a child, the stories of Peter Pan and The Wizard of Oz were favorites, along with Alice in Wonderland. It was easy to suspend disbelief and allow myself to be carried away by imagination. Fantasy is such a huge genre with many sub-categories. Epic stories that take place in plausible worlds with people who have incredible powers appeal to me. The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss is one of my favorite fantasy series.

Did you experience any challenges while writing this series?
As a writer of fantasy, I have to remember that the story in my head must be translated to readers who cannot only follow it but become immersed in it. The challenges in writing fantasy are different from writing other genres in that not only are the stories fiction, but they’re fantastical with characters and creatures and worlds that have never been encountered anywhere before. I think the writer of fantasy must have well-developed and relatable characters who will move the plot along through fantastical worlds filled with incredible creatures. The story must culminate in a satisfactory and believable conclusion.

Please tell us about your inspiration for The Ranger.
My stories are character driven. I’m a people-watcher, inspired by individuals and interested in what motivates them. The main character in The Ranger, Rafe, is a troubled young man who has exceptional gifts. He’s a loner and an introvert, and past trauma has caused him to withdraw into himself. At the beginning of the story, he’s asked to accompany the Coverts on a mission where his skills as a ranger are needed. This invitation both intrigues him and causes him extreme anxiety.

Is there a book three?
Yes. I have another book of the series percolating. It will focus on one of the Coverts—magicians who have special powers and who travel to distant worlds to save them.

How much research goes into writing a fantasy novel and what is that like?
The research required in writing fantasy often depends on the world-building. My first fantasy novel, The Acolyte, had a Medieval setting so there was some research required. The Ranger is set in an other-worldly “modern” city and the forest nearby. Previous to writing my fantasy novels, I’d written two YA historical fiction novels. Those took a lot of research into life on a wagon train in 1852, and then about the overlanders settling in Oregon City.

What was the most difficult aspect of creating Rafe’s world?
The difficulty in creating Rafe’s world was getting into his head to figure out his motivations. He’s complicated and withdrawn in the beginning. I needed to consider how an introvert like Rafe can step outside his comfort level and take the leap to work with others. Danica, the main character from the first novel in the series, helps him with this. When he meets her, Rafe finds a kindred spirit.

Was there a defining moment that prompted your writing journey?
I joined a writing group in 2008. We were retired teachers who met once a month and shared our writings with each other. When I was teaching Humanities to 6th graders, I was aware of the power of story. My students and I would read YA historical fiction novels pertaining to the time period we were studying. I loved these stories as much as my students, and that’s why I decided to write a novel based on the history of the Oregon Trail. A friend’s daughter who teaches middle school in northern New Mexico has used this novel, Journey of Hope, for years to teach her students about the trials and tribulations of crossing the country in a wagon train in 1852. I wrote this novel as a catalyst for further research into the people, conditions, and events of that distinctive time.

What are you currently reading?
Currently I’m reading a novel called The Physician by Noah Gordon. It’s about a young man in the Middle Ages who learns to be a healer. He realizes he can learn so much more from practitioners in the Orient, so he embarks on a perilous journey to Persia, posing as a Jew who wants to apprentice himself to the world’s most renowned physician, Avicenna. Interestingly, Rob, the main character, has a special power, but the novel isn’t classified as fantasy. I do love it when genres overlap.

What writing projects do you have on the horizon?
I have two books to write: the third of my historical fiction novels, and the third of the fantasy series. I’m not in a rush and I know the stories will be written when they’re ready. But they’re always percolating.


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




Author Update 2024: Neill McKee

Neill McKee is a retired teacher, international filmmaker and multi-media producer, and an award-winning creative nonfiction author. He published his fourth memoir, My University of the World: Adventures of an International Film & Media Maker, in 2023. Look for Neill on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as on NeillMckeeAuthor.com. To learn about his first three memoirs, read his 2019, 2021, and 2022 SWW interviews.


Neill, you’ve led a storied life. Please tell readers a little about your memoir My University of the World.
My University of the World (2023) is a stand-alone sequel to two of my other memoirs, Kid on the Go! Memoir of my Childhood and Youth (2021) and Finding Myself in Borneo: Sojourns in Sabah (2019). All three books can be enjoyed in any order you read them. This latest memoir is composed of 28 short chapters and an epilogue that takes readers on an entertaining journey through the developing world from 1970 to 2012. The book is filled with compelling dialog, humorous and poignant incidents, thoughts on world development, vivid descriptions of people and places I visited and worked in, and over 200 images.

The story starts when I became a “one-man film crew,” documenting the lives of Canadian CUSO volunteers working in Asia and Africa, and covers my marriage to Elizabeth, an American I met in Japan. Her life with me and her growth as an artist, as well as our children’s lives, are also covered in this new book.

Thirteen chapters document my time as a filmmaker for Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), when I roamed the developing world and made about 30 films on many research projects in education, rural development, agriculture, post-harvest technology, fisheries and aquaculture, health care, water and sanitation—the list goes on. I wrote these stories to allow the reader to get a sense of the challenges I encountered. I kept the chapters light on technical details and full of humorous and poignant incidents. In each chapter, I also included how IDRC projects made an impact, or not.

The book also covers my time as a multimedia producer, leading teams of people in UNICEF in Bangladesh and Eastern and Southern Africa, and how my family adapted to a very different and interesting life. I ended up working for Johns Hopkins University, and then took over a project in Moscow, Russia. In my final job, I was asked to save a large project in Washington, D.C. from 2009 to 2012. By then I had learned a lot about managing people and, I must admit, sometimes I missed my years as a “lone-wolf” filmmaker at the beginning of my career.

Was it a natural transition for you to go from filmmaker to author?
During my career, I wrote three books and many articles on the role of communication in behavior and social change. But when I retired in 2013, I decided to turn to creative nonfiction writing. I submitted my first manuscript to about a dozen publishers and finally received two offers from small firms, but when I saw the contract details, I could see they were mainly interested in acquiring new titles with little or no resources for promotion. Also, despite the fact I had engaged a professional editor, they wanted to start over with that process. So, I decided to hire a professional book designer and self-publish. Either way, it was evident I was going to have to do the promotion myself. Perhaps if I was younger, I would have tried harder to seek an agent and publisher, but at my age, I didn’t think it made sense to wait. I don’t regret my decision because I have since learned that almost all authors, even if they do find a publisher, have to do or pay for most of the promotion themselves. With about 1,000 new books released every day in North America, in all genres, there is a lot of competition for readers’ attention. Fortunately for me, making money has not been a necessary objective in my new “retirement career.”

What was the most rewarding aspect of writing My University of the World?
I entered this memoir in several contests and so far have won two awards: Distinguished Favorite, Independent Press Award (2024) for Career; and Finalist, Book Excellence Awards (2024) for Autobiography. It’s rewarding to get such feedback, as well as good reviews on Amazon and Goodreads—some from people who have had no experience in international development work or film and media production. They simply enjoyed riding along with me, and some wrote that they felt they were there. Another benefit of writing this memoir was helping me sharpen my long-term memory, revising connections with old friends and former colleagues in Canada, the US, and around the world.

Do you have one place of travel that has left an indelible mark on you?
I would have to say it is Sabah, Malaysia, on Borneo Island, and the small town of Kota Belud near the coast of the South China Sea. That’s where I “found myself,” learning Malay language and teaching beautiful students, visiting their kampongs (villages), roaming around on my motorcycle, climbing Mount Kinabalu (the highest in Southeast Asia), having a few love affairs, and making my first film. It is all in my memoir Finding Myself in Borneo. That book has won three awards.

Was there anything surprising you discovered about yourself while writing your memoir?
I found that I always had a knack for creative writing but never developed it until I retired. I never kept a diary but I had a lot of stories in my head for years. I wrote up some of these at the time they happened and kept a file. I found many more in old letters to and from my fiancé/wife and family, plus official trip reports that I always tried to make entertaining, including all the funny happenings along the way. Some of my colleagues might not have appreciated such embellishments, but I didn’t care. I had the feeling I would use these someday.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Besides the creative writing, it was returning to IDRC in Ottawa, Canada, to look through a library of thousands of colored slides I had taken all over the developing world, many of which I used in the book. I also searched film archives and websites and managed to locate most of my film and media projects. This also helped to bring back my experiences over the years, and I decided to create a digital library, housing all I could find on https://www.neillmckeevideos.com.

The videos play on YouTube and I get great satisfaction from messages I receive every week from young adults who were influenced in their childhoods, especially from my most successful multi-media project, the Meena Communication Initiative for girls’ empowerment in South Asia.

Do you have a favorite quote from My University of the World you could share with us?
That’s a difficult thing for a writer to answer, but I think the opening paragraph of Chapter One gets the reader into the spirit of the memoir:

As I rolled across the plains of northern India in December 1970, on a rickety old train, rumbling between station stops and passing many smaller ones, I soon got into the stride of things by listening to Santana Abraxas through the earphones plugged into my compact reel-to-reel tape recorder. From that time on, the song Black Magic Woman became forever embedded in my mind as a part of India. The time was magic for me because I was on the road, filming and photographing Canadian volunteers in Asia. It was exactly what I wanted to do with my life—an answer to my prayers, or I should say to my meditation sessions. I was more in touch with Zen Buddhism than Christianity in those days, like other North American youth—many of whom were hippies, or what we then called “flower children,” who traveled to the East in search of answers to life’s mysteries and their future paths.

Does meditation play a role in your writing ritual today?
Well, I never got deeply into Zen Buddhism, but in my late twenties, I learned how to do Transcendental Meditation (TM) for practical, rather than spiritual reasons. My younger brother Philip had taken it up and even traveled to Spain to study at Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s TM institute. In 1968, the Beatles had visited this Maharishi in India for spiritual replenishment, and by doing so, they helped spread TM worldwide. Philip taught me the basic method and gave me my secret mantra—a sound I repeated in my head for 20 minutes, two times a day, while breathing deeply, sometimes falling asleep, which was okay according to Philip. Eventually, I learned how to do this just about anywhere, even in noisy airports. Learning TM helped me survive the busy years of my career. I still use the technique for refreshing my brain cells while writing.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I chose to print and distribute through IngramSpark.com (IS), rather than going with Amazon alone. Through IS my books are available in North America and around the world on Amazon and many other platforms. Even independent bookstores and libraries can order copies. I publish in paperback and eBook formats, and two of my memoirs, Finding Myself in Borneo and Kid on the Go! were also produced as audiobooks by Lantern Audio, which distributes them very widely on many platforms as well. I promote through a growing email list, blog and review tours, and some social media channel posts, although I don’t put a lot of effort into the latter because it is evident to me that it doesn’t help much for sales, plus I am a bit allergic to simple messages, “likes,” and “congratulations,” etc., that have little substance or follow up. I find LinkedIn the most useful. I also put a lot of blog posts, interviews, links to reviews, places to buy, and awards on my author’s website: https://www.neillmckeeauthor.com/.


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 Dale Garratt

Author Dale Garratt is a New Mexico native and a longtime educator who has taught in schools across the United States as well as in South Korea. His travel experience and geopolitical interests informed the writing of his debut novel, The Peace Road: A High-stakes Geopolitical Thriller (August 2023), which is described as “an absolute nail-biter, fast-paced with cutting-edge twists and turns.” Look for Dale on his website at DaleGarratt.com, on Facebook and Twitter/X, and on his Amazon author page.


Dale, what would you like readers to know about the story you tell in The Peace Road?
The threat of a hypersonic missile attack by North Korea is even stronger now than it was two years ago, when I started writing the book.

The book starts with North Korea launching a hypersonic ICBM at the U.S., narrowly missing Los Angeles. This triggers a series of events leading to naval battles between the U.S. and China, which is the shadow behind North Korea. An underlying theme is the concept of a peace road: a literal road that could facilitate peaceful relations in East Asia. The novel also explores the path to peace in romantic relationships.

Who are your main characters and why will readers connect with them?
Ric O’Malley is the protagonist, a top quantum physicist at Sandia Laboratories and a Medal of Honor recipient. He is a really good person, and I think the protagonist in a thriller should be. He has a great sense of humor, a remarkable adaptability to varied situations big and small, and truly cares about the lives of others.

Ric’s wife Marie, a high school science teacher, understands that her husband is involved in events of national and international consequence but equally values her role in educating students. They have a great marriage but face a serious challenge in the course of the book. I think that many readers will relate to the realities of relationships and a career-life balance that the O’Malleys go through.

U.S. President Sarah Jacobsen is a tough leader, and at the same time is able to look at concepts out of the box. She may shed light on what it takes to make a great president.

Do you share traits with your protagonist Ric O’Malley?
Like most people, I like to think I’m a good person! I’m a geopolitical news addict. I’ve taught at several high schools in Albuquerque, and I am licensed to teach science. Ric has a PhD in physics and I have a PhD from University of New Mexico (UNM) in language, literacy and sociocultural studies. Like Ric, I have a very good marriage. But over the years we have experienced and resolved a challenge that occurs in many intimate relationships.

Describe one or more of the main settings.
Albuquerque plays a central role. Ric lives here and his team is based at Sandia Labs. In the course of events, Ric is attacked twice in Albuquerque by would-be assassins. Of course, East Asia is a main setting, particularly North Korea, South Korea and Japan. Also, the Western Pacific Ocean, where naval battles between the U.S. and China take place.

How did you approach your research for The Peace Road?
Fortunately, I have personal experience with East Asia. We lived in South Korea for eight years, teaching English to middle school and then university students. I was able to officially stand on North Korea soil with students at the Panmunjom Village on the 38th Parallel. I continue to read two South Korean newspapers and keep up with what’s happening in politics and the economy. I delve into online information, but I make it a point to read sites that present different views. Triangulation, as we teachers say.

One priority for me was making sure that the military technology used by all five countries in the book was accurate. There are great .mil and .gov sites for U.S. technology and very good intelligence about China’s military technology. For North Korea you can find “propaganda” websites and read a lot between the lines about its military, economy and politics. Of course, anything you are really interested in as an author can turn into a rabbit hole. That’s something you always have to look out for.

In 2022 I attended the Quantum New Mexico Symposium at UNM where UNM, Sandia Labs, and the Air Force Research Laboratory were featured. Participants were able to actually visit Sandia and see the latest research in quantum computing. We asked questions of the researchers themselves — it was the kind of thing you can more easily do in New Mexico than in other states.

What obstacles did you face when writing about the technology used in your novel?
The main problem in writing about quantum computer research is that it is advancing so fast! It’s fascinating but a challenge to keep up with. Yesterday’s Business Outlook (March 24, 2024) in the Albuquerque Journal featured an article that could have been written about Ric O’Malley. It was an interview with Jake Douglass of Sandia about quantum research there. He says in part, “[Quantum technology] is a field where we’re [NM] truly world leaders.”

What part do beta readers or critique groups play in your writing process?
I sent the first draft and new drafts to more than a dozen friends who are good readers and/or writers. They gave me some valuable and honest suggestions as well as many practical editing suggestions. Getting several beta readers is, for me, more helpful than just relying on a couple.

Tell us about your writing process or your writing routine. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Both. I start with the overall shape of the book. While I’m doing that, I freewrite almost every day, putting down material that can make up chapters. Then I move from shaping the book to writing an outline. Then chapters fall into place in the outline. I write better in the mornings, and I make it a practice to schedule appointments and errands in the afternoons.

Who are your favorite authors, and what do you admire most about their writing?
I love Louis L’Amour’s westerns and Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. In the thriller genre, I really like Tom Clancy — the actual Tom Clancy! David Baldacci’s Memory Man series has a lot to teach writers. My favorite author is Daniel Silva. His thrillers are almost always exciting, and the way he dives into a European locale is not only entertaining but also informative. One example is The Confessor with its fascinating deep dive into the Vatican and the Catholic Church. But like most geopolitical thrillers he has a European setting. It’s time now to include settings in Asia.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I’m writing book two of the Peace Road Trilogy. It takes place in North Africa and the Middle East. Religious, economic, political, and other major threads in this most ancient part of the Earth are woven together. It’s very exciting to me, and I hope it will be so for readers.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
In the midst of current geopolitical turmoil and conflict, there is hope. My book ultimately shows a realistic, doable path toward a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula. And a real peace road there could be a key component.


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 Authors Sue Boggio & Mare Pearl

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




Author Update 2024: Melody Groves

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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




An Interview with Author 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 R. Janet Walraven

Award-winning author R. Janet Walraven, M.Ed., has written a children’s book, a World War II romance based on her parents’ lives, and two nonfiction books inspired by 35 years of K-12 teaching experience. Through her decades-long career, Janet developed a passion for connecting all of the players in the education field and believes it is possible to experience joy in teaching and in learning. Her mentoring book, Connect for Classroom Success, won the Silver Award with Readers’ Favorite International Book Awards. Janet’s newest nonfiction release is LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down (February 2023). You’ll find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter/X. Look for her books on her Amazon Author Page.


Your newest book is an inspirational nonfiction story about a boy who was almost lost within the educational system. What would you like readers to know about LIAM: The Boy Who Saw the World Upside Down?
LIAM is a story of hope for those who have been academically misdiagnosed as well as marginalized. The true story is about a student I had many years ago. It’s been rolling around in my head for a long time.

Did this work present any challenges for you as a writer?
Two huge challenges. The first was finding my student from 40 years ago to get his permission for me to write the story. That took some detective work. We finally connected. His response was, “If the story can give hope to others, let’s do it.” I am grateful for his approval. The second challenge was putting myself back in the trauma of the situation; Liam felt the same way.

What did you consider your biggest challenge as an educator? What do you consider your greatest success?
My greatest challenge was finding a reading program that really works. I searched for 16 years and finally found what can change the lives of the 85% of students who don’t read correctly. If I win the lottery, I’ll get the Read Right program into every school in the USA. If Read Right had been available for Liam at the time, he could have become an excellent reader in a short time.

What I learned from Liam was that my job as a teacher was to connect with each individual student to help them realize their potential. I believe that everyone has a genius; the teacher’s job is to help them find it, set goals, and reach for the stars.

If you could offer one piece of advice for parents struggling with this type of situation, what would it be?
Don’t ever give up on your children. Don’t allow anyone to diagnose and label your child. If educators aren’t searching for a solution, be the advocate for your child. You will be amazed if you stay on that journey. Hope is out there. Keep believing, searching, asking for help, keeping hope in your heart. Liam was fortunate to have loving, supportive parents. They accepted him just as he was and did all they could to find solutions for him.

You’ve written in many genres: Children’s, Essay, Historical Fiction, Inspirational, Memoir, Narrative Non-Fiction/Education, Poetry, Romance. Has your nonfiction writing enabled you to make the transition into writing other genres easier?
I find it difficult to label my nonfiction as well as fiction. Both of my nonfiction books are true stories, but since I have to change character names, it becomes fiction of a sort. In writing Rainbow of Promise, the book about my parents’ romance, I used their real names. Though it’s historical fiction, the stories were true. I wrote the dialogue as close as possible to their personalities and the stories they told me.

I usually write from my own experiences—people I know as well as situations others have shared with me. Once in a while, a story pops into my head without my knowing where it came from; it seems to dictate to me. That’s a strange feeling but fun!

When you tackle a nonfiction project, do you think of it as storytelling?
Absolutely! My first book, Connect for Classroom Success: A Mentoring Guide for Teachers K-12, is mostly dialogue between students, parents, colleagues, and me. Who wants to read a boring textbook? I wrote it because so many teachers don’t have a mentor and give up their career in three to five years. The stories I tell are there to help teachers, parents, students, all the team players, find joy in teaching and learning. Storytelling is the best way. I wanted the book about Liam to be personal, including the struggles I had right along with him. Dialoguing is my favorite way to tell a story.

Of all the books you’ve written, is there one that was the most enjoyable to write?
I love being in the writing zone. Hours go by without my knowing where I am or what time it is. I found the most joy in writing the World War II romance about my parents’ love story. My goal was to be as true to the stories they told me while growing up and to reveal their true personalities. I enjoyed being in their heads, re-creating dialogue and situations as close to reality as possible. I’m working on a prequel to the story.

What does a typical writing session look like for you?
I write when I feel compelled to get a story out of my head and into a manuscript. Once I get started, it’s hard to stop. I have a nice setup—a quiet room with a computer on a desk facing a window, music without lyrics that fits the story, and a timer that tells me when I need a break. I usually ignore when it dings. I never have what others call writer’s block. I have so much in my head that I want to get out onto paper, there’s no time for a block. I write for the joy of writing, not to get rich or famous. I do appreciate reviews!

What first inspired you to become a writer?
I wrote my first serious poem as a senior in high school. My psychology teacher took us on a field trip to a nearby mental institution—a trauma that shook me to my core. On the way home, I wrote a short poem—the only way I knew to respond. After that, I found writing poetry came from deep within, whatever the circumstance. When I was twenty-five, my father was killed, supposedly accidentally, but I couldn’t reconcile myself to it. After several starts, hoping for a catharsis, I finally found my voice. I entered the story in the SouthWest Writers’ Contest (2001) and was awarded second place in Mainstream Short Story for Realistic Fiction. At that time, SouthWest Writers held conferences where we were able to meet with the judges. That was the validation I needed to pursue writing. Thank you, SouthWest Writers!

What advice can you offer other authors?
Write from your heart. Take advantage of writing seminars. Learn the rules of writing well enough to know when to break rules. Find a writing partner or group you feel comfortable with, but don’t take critiquing personally. Learn what you can from others but stick to your own voice. Writing takes a great deal of patience. I work with a writing partner plus two others who critique my manuscripts. Editing takes even more patience. A true writer is never done; rewrite and edit until you can finally say, I’ve got it as good as it gets. Then after publishing, you think of more to add or how you could have changed something. That’s what nice about self-publishing; you can always make changes or corrections in another edition. I don’t backtrack unless a typo or content mistake needs to be corrected. Otherwise, I move on to my next project, and that’s exciting.

Since you write across many genres, is there a genre you enjoy reading the most and why?
I like believable stories that fit my mood at the time—biographies, memoirs, true-to-life stories, well-written novels, and mysteries only if they make me laugh out loud. I don’t like violence and am not much into fantasies unless it’s metaphorical. I journal self-help books; that makes me slow down my fast reading in order to capture what I want to learn. After teaching the Holocaust for twenty-five years, I keep telling myself that I can no longer allow myself to sink into that horror. But another comes along, and I feel compelled to read yet another.

Do you have any other works in progress that you can tell us about?
Two projects are exciting. The first is a prequel to my WWII romance. It’s a story about my maternal Volga-German grandparents who emigrated from Russia in 1912. That’s taking a lot of research. I love researching because I learn a lot of history while picking the brains of my cousins, searching old photos and papers, and am grateful for the internet. My second project is writing a set of poetry books with varying themes and styles. I have most of the poetry written. Editing and organizing takes time.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
For each of my nonfiction books sold, I gift a book to a teacher or parent.


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 Nick Pappas

Award-winning journalist and editor Nick Pappas spent much of his 40-plus-year career in several New England states before taking the position of city editor at the Albuquerque Journal. After retiring, research into coal-mine catastrophes in northern New Mexico culminated in his debut release of Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters (University of New Mexico Press, October 2023). You’ll find Nick on his website NickPappasBooks.com, on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter/X. Look for his book at all major retailers, including University of New Mexico Press and Amazon.


Crosses of Iron: The Tragic Story of Dawson, New Mexico, and its Twin Mining Disasters is a sad, but fascinating topic. What drew you to tell the story of these miners?
My wife Susan and I moved to Albuquerque from New Hampshire in June 2013 so I could start a new job at the Albuquerque Journal. As it turns out, the 100-year anniversary of Dawson’s 1913 mine disaster — the second deadliest in U.S. history — was commemorated that October with stories in the Journal, Santa Fe New Mexican, and other media outlets. At first, I was struck by the sheer horror of that incident (263 dead) and another explosion a decade later that claimed the lives of another 120 men. Over time, however, I came to realize there was so much more to Dawson’s history. Once I realized that former residents, descendants, and friends still gathered every other Labor Day weekend for a picnic reunion on the old townsite — nearly 70 years after the town shut down in 1950 — I was hooked. I began work on a narrative history of the old coal town after I retired in November 2018.

Please give our readers a glimpse of what Dawson, New Mexico was like in the early 1900s.
Once acquired by Phelps, Dodge & Company in 1905, Dawson became a model for coal towns across the Southwest, if not the country. Within a decade or so, Dawson was home to a 1,000-seat opera house, a large mercantile store than sent buyers to New York to acquire the latest furs and fashions, a state-of-the-art hospital and dispensary, full-service bank, top-notch schools, two churches, gymnasium, swimming pool and, at the time, the highest-elevation golf course in the nation. It also became a magnet for European immigrants from more than a dozen countries, as well as from China, Mexico, and Russia. And to hear former residents tell it, Dawson was a wonderful place to live, at least when measured against other coal camps of the day.

How accessible/plentiful was the information regarding these disasters when writing this story? Was there an oral history from descendants? How did families feel about their ancestor’s story finally being told?
I tried whenever possible to rely on primary documents, original newspaper accounts, and personal interviews. Among the source materials were annual territorial and state mine inspector reports, government documents and studies, company annual reports, industry research and newsletters, unpublished manuscripts, first-person accounts, and similar material. My biggest break was obtaining access to boxloads of company documents held today by the successor company to Phelps Dodge in Arizona. These materials included hundreds of pages of intracompany communications, letters, telegrams and the like specific to the 1913 mine disaster and its aftermath. As for families with ties to Dawson, they couldn’t have been more gracious in sharing their time, photographs and, in some cases, translations of letters and newspaper accounts from their native Greek and Italian.

What were some of the obstacles you faced while writing Crosses of Iron?
The first was the outbreak of COVID-19 roughly 14 months after I had begun my research. Fortunately, I already had visited most of the pertinent New Mexico archives and libraries before they shut down, though there were others outside of the state that I would have liked to visit. Otherwise, there were some iconic Dawson photographs I would have liked to include in the book, especially those related to the town’s closing in 1950, but I was never able to track down the original owner/source to use them. And then there was the discrepancy in the spelling of immigrant names, which many times differed markedly among ship manifests, census reports, military documents, company records and especially in newspaper accounts. When it came to listing the names of the 383 miners who died in the 1913 and 1923 mine disasters in the back of the book, I decided to go with the spellings contained in the official New Mexico mine inspector reports for those years, even though I knew from talking to families that at least some were not accurate.

You mentioned that you’re a native New Englander. Are there any stories from that area that you’ve been inspired to tell?
None immediately come to mind, but if I ever were to move back, I’d like to think I could find an overlooked or forgotten piece of history to pique my interest.

This would make a great documentary. Are there any plans for Crosses of Iron to make it to the big screen?
Not that I am aware. There was a serious effort a few years back by a Santa Fe-based company to produce a one-hour documentary told through the perspective of three immigrant communities. The documentary was to be filmed on location in New Mexico, Italy, Greece, and Mexico, but the project fell through due to a lack of funding.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Probably the research, whether working with families, the always helpful custodians at the State’s archives and libraries, or seeking out old documents. To be honest, I was amazed at some of the material I was able to discover online too. Case in point: The 1904 edition of The Shield, a Phi Kappa Psi magazine that contained critical background information on a Brown University graduate who would later lose his life in the 1913 mine explosion. The pleasure that came from sharing with families previously unknown details about their loved ones was an added bonus.

Is there a particular path or routine you follow when working on a project of this nature?
This was my first book, so it was more a seat-of-the-pants exercise than a rigid adherence to tried and true rules. In my case, the path looked something like this: Research. Interview. Write. Rewrite. Edit. Edit. And then edit some more.

What’s next on your radar for writing projects?
I have a few ideas rooted in New Mexico history but nothing definite yet.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Only that Crosses of Iron is more than a disaster book. Given that most of the story is set in the first half of the 20th century, the book chronicles some key events in our nation’s history: the massive wave of European immigration that brought 20-million people to America between 1880 and 1920 (in its heyday, more than a dozen languages were spoken in Dawson), the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, Prohibition, the rise of the American labor movement, World Wars I and II, and other important milestones. And the book concludes with onetime Dawson residents — including American labor icon Dolores Huerta — or those with a strong connection to Dawson sharing memories of their beloved coal town.


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 and Poet David L. Harrison

David L. Harrison is a best-selling, award-winning author and poet who has also been a musician, a scientist, an editor, and a businessman. He is the former poet laureate of Drury University and the current poet laureate of Missouri (2023-2025). His 106 published books include poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers and educational books for teachers. In 2022, he published This Life: An Autobiography (Ozarks Book Series) that “chronicles the fits and starts, professional rejections and redirections, the inevitable personal life conflicts and tragedies, as well as the breakthroughs and triumphs in a career that has spanned seven decades…and is still going.” You’ll find David on his website DavidLHarrison.com, his blog, and on Facebook. His autobiography is available through Missouri State University at Ozarks Book Series, but the rest of his books can be found on his Amazon Author Page.


David, you’re an award-winning author. You even have a school named after you: The David Harrison Elementary School in Springfield, Missouri. And now, you’ve written This Life, An Autobiography. Please tell us why you wrote this book and why you choose this time in your life to write it.
Thank you for offering me this chance to say hello to friends and colleagues in SouthWest Writers. I’m delighted to be a member of this group of talented writers.

I didn’t plan to write a memoir. I sat in a theater audience one night and was highly entertained by a gifted young musician who told about his journey from a child who was attracted to music to the professional musician he had become. I wondered if I should do something like that. I, too, had taken a long, sometimes difficult journey from the time I wrote my first poem to become a well-published author and poet. Forty pages into a play script, I knew that the effort was headed toward disaster. I don’t have a playwright’s instincts. But rather than throw out weeks of work, I decided to go forward with a book about my writer’s journey. Someone, I hoped, would like to know how one person managed to go about it. This Life, An Autobiography was the result.

Having successfully written so many books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction for young readers, as well as educational books for teachers, is there a genre you haven’t tackled but are eager to try?
Now and then I wish I could write a series of stories, but my brain isn’t wired that way. I exhaust my supply of energy, originality, and patience for a given subject in a single effort. After that, my mind moves on to something else.

Were there any unexpected moments for you when writing This Life? Did you ever feel vulnerable revealing so much about yourself?
The first challenge was setting the boundaries of what I would include in the narrative of my life. Once I decided that this was to be an effort to trace my development as a writer, I passed on many memories that were important to me but which didn’t seem to touch on the main theme. Had I written the story of my life, instead of the story of how I became a writer, the vulnerability issue would have been more of a problem. In other words, I left out some of the good stuff. (:>

Tell us about your experience as Missouri’s Poet Laureate and what this experience means to you.
The Missouri Poet Laureate program, which began in 2006, features a new state poet laureate appointed by the governor every two years. I’d been nominated four times previously and this time I made it. I’m the first who identifies as a children’s poet to be chosen, so I’m delighted with the honor and the opportunity to meet people across our state. My first official appearance in my new role took place on September 8, 2023 in David Harrison Elementary School, which was named after me. Coming up are events in Kansas City at the Heartland Book Festival on October 6–7 and in St. Louis on April 6 to give a 2-hour poetry workshop for the St. Louis Writers Guild and general public. I expect to do a lot of traveling but will also take advantage of Zoom and other technology to reach as many as I can to read and write poetry and talk about how it enriches our lives.

I read that you started writing poetry at the age of six. Do you remember what inspired you to write your first poem and what it was about?
I wrote my first poem in a snit. We lived in Ajo, Arizona, a town not far from the Mexican border. My dad had come home from a fishing trip in Mexico and my mother was frying his catch on a skillet in the kitchen. That fish smelled SO good and I was SO hungry and I am sure I was SO much in her way. I found myself banished to the living room until she called me for dinner. I made up a poem to show how I felt.

Sometimes I wish
I had a fish
Upon a little dish.

How did you feel the first time you saw an illustrator’s interpretation of a story you created?
The first time you see how someone else imagined what you’ve imagined is a highlight in a writer’s life. For some reason, when I write about human characters, they don’t always materialize in my mind as whole people. They are symbols, personalities, metaphors. It takes an artist to be practical and say, “Come on, they have to look like something. How about like this?” I almost always love the surprise of meeting my characters face to face. I’m more at home with animals. I know what they look like!

After a six-decade writing career, is there anything you’d do differently if you started your writing and publishing journey today?
The easy answer is to say I would have avoided becoming a scientist, head of a block manufacturing company, and co-owner of a gift store specializing in crystals, porcelains, and china, and gone straight into writing, but I might not have wound up here. If I hadn’t touched those other bases along the way, I might have ended somewhere else, and, since I have few regrets about anything that happened down that rather crooked path, I think I’ll say I would walk it again.

Can you tell us about a time when you didn’t know if you would make it as an author and how you persevered?
The low point for me was toward the end of six long years of rejections. Only one guy — a professor at Drury who taught a writing course — had told me he thought I could become a writer. No one else had said that. Ever. To the contrary, editor after editor had told me by their actions that I was definitely not a writer. On one rejection letter, an editor had scribbled, “Are you kidding?” I came to feel like an utter failure. I was wasting my time. I was not a writer, was never going to be one. I simply didn’t have the talent for it. In This Life, I hesitated to describe those dismal years, filled with self-doubt and a growing sense of futility and failure. My decision to include the experience was based on two considerations: 1) it was the truth; it happened; it was part of my journey, and 2) I thought there might be other struggling writers out there who would understand what I went through and take heart.

With such a varied writing background, who are your favorite authors and how have they influenced your writing?
Among my favorites are Annie Proulx, Barbara Kingsolver, Joan Didion, John Irving, E. B. White, and Kurt Vonnegut. They’re all masters of knowing what they’re talking about before they start talking, and when they do begin, their voices are so distinctive that they hold our attention from beginning to end. My favorite authors of literature for young people are too numerous to mention here but my choices all have one thing in common. They use words like a palette of endless colors and they paint images with them that remain with us long after the printed story or poem or narrative ends. They bring literature to life. I try not to compare my developing manuscript to the so-so writers in the world. I hold my work up to the very best, sigh, and try harder to come closer.

Can you give us an update on when This Life: An Autobiography will be available more widely online?
Although the book is available through the Missouri State University site in Springfield at OzarksStudies.MissouriState.edu, ongoing efforts to connect with a major distributor for wider distribution through Amazon and other traditional outlets look promising. By the time you read this, terms may have been agreed on and become operational by the end of the year.


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 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.




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