Blog Archives

Author Update: J.R. Seeger

J.R. Seeger uses his experience in the military and the CIA to write authentically about the workings of espionage. He is the author of the MIKE4 series, about a family who serves in the intelligence community from World War II to the present, and the Steampunk Raj books that follow the same family during World War I. The Enigma of Treason, published in 2023, is the third novel in the Raj series. You’ll find all of John’s books on his Amazon author page. Read more about his writing in his 2020 interview for SouthWest Writers.

The Enigma of Treason (and your Steampunk Raj series) is a significant departure from your MIKE4 novels. What are the differences between the series, as well as similarities?
The Raj series is designed to be historical fiction with the addition of Central Asian mysticism (or magical realism, as my publisher prefers to call it) as spice to the dish. I have dabbled in historical fiction before in my short stories set in colonial New Mexico, but this is full on historical fiction with historical figures and real events passing through the novels. The only real similarities with the MIKE4 novels are the nature of “the trade” (espionage) and the importance of intelligence operations in the larger canvas of conflict among nations. Of course, for those who have read the MIKE4 series, they will know that the antagonists in the Raj series are related to the protagonists in the MIKE4 series. That connection was underscored in the MIKE4 novel Graveyard for Spies and will be more apparent in the next Raj book.

Who are your main characters? Did they surprise you as you wrote their story? Will those who know you recognize you in any of your characters?
Enigma of Treason continues with the same characters in A School for the Great Game and A Sound like Distant Thunder. The Bankroft family and the O’Connell family are on opposite sides of the imperial battle for control of the Middle East. I worked to make both families believable and have tried to make Michael O’Connell’s transition from an isolated, lonely boy to a hardened enemy of the Raj credible. Probably the most curious character in the books is Chodak. He lives in a shadow world of demons or, perhaps, exclusively in the minds of the main characters. His periodic appearances in the novel did surprise me as I wrote them.

I have worked hard not to put myself in any of my books. I do use my experience with tribal leaders from throughout Central Asia to create believable characters caught in the middle of this conflict of Empires. In the MIKE4 series, there are many characters who resemble composites of real people.

What are the main settings in the book and how do they impact the story and the characters?
The story is set in Mesopotamia — a part of what we would call Iraq today — and in the borderlands between the Ottoman Empire and the Persian Empire. The region was important in World War I as it is today. It is the crossroads of trade and central to the growing dependence on Middle East oil. The strategic significance drew three empires — Ottoman, German, and British — into conflict. Agents of great powers will always be involved in conflict zones where resources are abundant and local political control is weak.

Tell us how the book came together.
The story has its origins in my personal interest in many of the real adventurers in the region during World War I. Most will recognize the name of TE Lawrence, but his work in the Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia and Jordan) was only one of many efforts by “oriental” experts working in support of the German and British militaries. Most of these characters have appeared in the Raj series and there will be others as the series progresses. It seemed only fitting to take my characters from earlier books and place them in Mesopotamia in 1915-1916.

As to the actual craft of writing: The Raj series takes about four months of academic research before I can assemble a plot. Once that is completed, all of my books follow a basic pattern: four–five months to write, another two–three months of editing and then another month of larger assembly/formatting. Mission Point Press has a terrific graphics team that creates the covers and my wife, Lise Spargo, a formally trained, botanical illustrator, agreed to provide the chapter illustrations. From start to finish, my books take about a year from writing the first chapter to their placement on Amazon.

Is there a scene in the Enigma of Treason that you’d love to see play out in a movie?
I have tried to make my stories vivid enough that readers can imagine them in a movie. I think the final confrontation in this book mixing face-to-face combat as well as combat in the mystic plain would be a most interesting scene.

All of your Steampunk Raj books have intriguing titles. How did you come up with the title for this third novel in the series?
The Enigma of Treason title was originally planned for a MIKE4 novel. However, I realized it was a far better match for the Raj series since we have many characters trying to understand how individuals make up their minds to commit treason. As a result, MIKE4 #7 became Playground for Ambition and Raj #3 became The Enigma of Treason. I suppose I am lucky to have attempted poetry which forces compression of an idea into a few words. So far, so good, eh?

What writing projects are you working on now?
I just submitted MIKE4 #8 to my publisher. We probably won’t get it out in time for Christmas, but it is good to see another plot finished and submitted. I already have about 1/4 of the next MIKE4 book written which is another retrospective story of the life of Peter O’Connell, senior. The material written is entirely a function of the fact that I had intended to embed the story into #8 and realized it was too cumbersome for me and, I suspect, for any future reader.

As I said earlier, the Raj series requires serious academic research to match my storyline with the real world. I am about halfway through that research for Raj #4, so that will be a project for the Fall. It will be complicated, because 1916 was such a pivotal moment in the Great War as well as in the history of the British Empire. I have one nonfiction article on the world of intelligence in 1941 that I am shopping to journals as well as an outline for another of my Inquisitor short stories. I always have at least two to three stories ongoing just as my desk and my bedside table always have two to three books.

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

Author Update: William J. Fisher

William J. Fisher retired from one career as an Air Force officer and another as an economic and land development planner, and now enjoys a third career as an author. His newest release, the historical crime novel The Price of the Sky: A Tale of Bandits, Bootleggers, and Barnstormers (April 2023), is based on the true story of “a young aviator turned reluctant bootlegger and bank robber who spends his life seeking redemption, clemency, and romance.” You’ll find Bill on his Amazon author page. Read more about his writing in his 2021 interview for SouthWest Writers.

The Price of the Sky is based on real people and events. What was it about Foster Bedford Jones that intrigued you enough to write a novel based on his life?
My wife Vicki and I knew Bedford Jones in the 70s and 80s until he died in 1990. He was especially a friend of Vicki’s family. Few knew the story of his early life in our small hometown until we had access to his personal papers after he died. We discovered some interesting items in these papers about his past. Years later, I did research on Bedford and found numerous newspaper articles about him, his brothers, and his criminal gang in Texas. I thought his story would make a good crime novel.

What is your main character’s greatest flaw and his most endearing quality?
Bedford’s flaws were that he drank and gambled too much. But his biggest flaw was that he hung out with criminals and bad influences. His most endearing qualities were his skills as a pilot, his love of flying, and his determination.

How did the book come together?
I had some of the source material for many years. When I finished my first book Cruel Road, I started the heavy research on The Price of the Sky, which took about six months. The actual writing took about a year. I had two outside editors: a developmental editor and a copy editor. Editing took about four months. Vicki was my proofreader. I designed the cover.

What were the most challenging aspects of completing this book?
I find that editing and rewriting are the most challenging. Also, since this is mostly a true story, I had to balance the facts with the fiction and drama to make it interesting to the reader.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for The Price of the Sky?
There were plenty of “Oh, wow!” moments. When I discovered that Bedford had robbed banks, had belonged to a gang of about twenty robbers, bootleggers, and murderers, and had two brothers that had been in prison for murder and robberies, I thought that nobody in my hometown really knew this man. The other moment was when I discovered he had five wives, and his second wife was a prominent woman with political connections in Indiana who helped him get a pardon from the Governor of Indiana.

What is it about historical fiction that draws you to it as an author?
I got into historical fiction by chance. I wanted to write and had historical material for sources of drama, mystery, action, romance, and adventure. I then used my intuition and imagination to write a good story. Cruel Road is based on the true story of my 6th great grandparents in colonial Pennsylvania. The Price of the Sky is the true story of someone I knew in my hometown in Indiana. Both books are personal.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I have two projects in the early conceptual phases. One is a contemporary novel set in modern Indian Country. I spent nearly 12 years working for two New Mexico Pueblo tribes as a planner and business development specialist. I was exposed to areas of the tribe that many non-Indians know little about. I want to write about native culture and issues on the reservations. There are so many stories in tribes often unknown to the public.

The future book may be science fiction. I have often thought about writing science fiction but have just started to think about plots, settings, characters, etc. I am looking for something unique.

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

An Interview with Author 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.

Author Update 2023: Patricia Walkow

Patricia Walkow is an award-winning editor and author of fiction and nonfiction including magazine articles and newspaper columns, essays and short stories, and memoir and novels. Her newest release is Life Lessons from the Color Yellow (February 2023), a story collection of people and events who have influenced her life. You’ll find Pat on her website at, on Facebook, and her Amazon author page. Read more about her writing and editing projects in her 2016 and 2020 interviews for SouthWest Writers.

What is at the core of this memoir collection?
This collection of stories represents significant people, events, and places that have shaped me. It is not an autobiography, but a collection of separate stories from my childhood through the present day. I have learned something about life from each of these stories, not only as I lived them, but also, years later, as I wrote them.

Which story in the book means the most to you? Which one revealed something unexpected as you wrote it? Give us a one-sentence description of each story.
“Golden Meadow” holds a special place in my heart, as it tells the tale of sharing my youthful dreams and aspirations with two friends, all in the encompassing embrace of a beautiful meadow. What surprised me was how difficult, emotionally, it was for me to write “My Mother’s Kitchen.”

“Mr. Howard’s Roses” — a school-age child learns how to care for roses. Lesson learned: Friendships happen between people even when they are quite different from each other, and there are things in life worth fussing over.

“The Dog Against the Yellow Wall” — a dog photographed by the author turns out to be almost identical to the dog she adopted many years later. Lesson learned: Serendipities exist in this world. Enjoy them without analyzing them.

“Sunny” — the author encounters a woman who always wears yellow. Later on, she finds out why. Lesson Learned: Despite terrible things that can happen to a person, it is ultimately a choice to be happy.

“Lemon Love” — some relationships are intense and beautiful, but cannot last. Lesson Learned: Always be true to yourself.

“My Mother’s Kitchen” — a dysfunctional family forever affects your life. Lesson learned: You can get beyond the issues of your childhood.

“The Promise of the Yellow Box” — when life gives you a gift, make the most of it. Lesson learned: Make your choices reflect your hopes and dreams rather than your fears.

“The Estate Sale” — a young woman comes across an estate sale and realizes she would have enjoyed knowing the person who once owned the house. Lesson Learned: Seize the moment to make a new friend.

“Golden Meadow” — three teenage girls bond during weekly hikes through a meadow as they share their hopes and dreams for the future. Lesson Learned: Friendships on the cusp of adulthood are among the most precious.

Why did you decide to write short pieces as opposed to a longer-length memoir?
From my past, I wanted to distill specific people and events that helped form the person I am today. As a result, I wrote the book as a set of discrete short stories, unrelated to each other, rather than creating a flowing set of chapters in sequential order over a long arc of time. I know this approach is not the typical way of writing a memoir, but it is the method I found satisfying.

What was the most challenging aspect of putting this project together?
The most challenging part of writing this piece was deciding which events and people helped form me into the person I am today.

Tell us about the book’s connection to the color yellow.
As I wrote, the color yellow surfaced over and over in my stories. It is not as though I was seeking out the color…or any color at all. Yellow simply turned out to be an integral part of each story and revealed itself as my teacher over the years. It was a surprise to me.

What do you love about your writing in this book?
Writing each story reconnected me to parts of myself, to people, to places I had not thought about in years.

What writing projects are you working on now?
I coauthored Alchemy’s Reach with SouthWest Writers’ member Chris Allen. It is a murder/mystery with a romantic undertone set in southern New Mexico’s Sacramento Mountains. It was published by Austin Macauley on August 18, 2023 and is available in paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

Another project I’m working on is The Far Moist End of the Earth. It’s a literary novel about a young widow who volunteers to work at a Methodist mission in Siam in the early 1900s. Prejudice, limitations on women’s lives, and multicultural appreciation are the key themes in the book. It is scheduled to be distributed to beta readers by the end of 2023.

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

Author Update 2023: Cornelia Gamlem

Speaker, consultant, and award-winning author Cornelia Gamlem is an expert in employee relations and human resources. Along with her co-author Barbara Mitchell, Cornelia has published six business resource books. Their latest collaboration is The Decisive Manager: Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve, released by Career Press (March 2023). Visit Cornelia at and, as well as on Facebook and LinkedIn. You’ll find all of her books on her Amazon author page. Read more about her writing in her 2019 and 2021 interviews for SouthWest Writers.

What would you like readers to know about The Decisive Manager?
Most of the issues an organization has are people issues—issues and situations that must be properly and promptly addressed and managed. Doing so is not an easy endeavor. People issues can be complicated because every person is a unique individual, and there is not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach that a manager can take. Even the most experienced managers can be surprised by a new situation leaving them feeling vulnerable.

Why did you choose this particular topic to write about and why was this the best time to publish the book?
Managing people is not the responsibility of the HR department, and people management issues constantly challenge front-line managers. We wrote a similar book for managers, The Manager’s Answer Book, in 2018 that included topics across the whole spectrum of management. After publishing the 10-year anniversary edition of The Big Book of HR in 2022, we realized that a book for managers dedicated to people issues would complement both of these books. We wanted a resource for managers to turn to, especially those without an HR department like small business owners, to help with those vexing issues.

During and after the pandemic in 2020, so much about the workplace changed. That was one of our challenges writing The Big Book of HR during 2020 and early 2021. We watched so many new issues arise. The timing was right for addressing these issues. Each section of The Decisive Manager has a subsection for “Navigating the Changing Workplace.”

In a previous interview for SWW you mentioned that you and your co-author (Barbara Mitchell) “divided the work according to our respective areas of expertise then stayed out of each other’s way.” What particular expertise did each of you contribute to The Decisive Manager?
We organized The Decisive Manager around the same sections in The Big Book of HR. We’ve both had years of experience in all functions of human resources, but our individual focuses have been different. Barbara’s expertise and strength is clearly in the area of talent management, “Finding and Hiring the Best Talent.” My expertise and strengths are in the areas of employee relations and compliance, “Understanding Policy and Practices” and “Avoiding Legal Pitfalls,” another subsection. “Creating a Positive Employee Experience” speaks to both of our areas of expertise as well as our passions about creating positive workplace environments for employees and managers alike.

As for the other areas that we address, “Paying and Rewarding Employees,” “Helping Employees Grow and Develop,” and “Ensuring Graceful Endings,” we both brought a great deal of our respective experiences and knowledge.

The sub-title of the book is Get Results, Build Morale, and Be the Boss Your People Deserve. How did you narrow down these managerial goals from what must have been dozens of possibilities?
Our experience continues to show us that organizations—across all sectors of the economy, industries and size—don’t prepare individuals to manage people—the most critical parts of their management responsibilities. This is especially true when they promote people. They take the best technician or widget maker, promote them to be in charge of others and expect them to succeed. Too often these individuals have the best intentions but lack the skills, experience and knowledge to manage people. Their missteps can tear down morale and interfere with productivity. These were the observations that resulted in our focusing on those three management goals.

Did what-if questions help shape this work?
In a sense, yes. Perhaps not so much “what if” but “what do you do when?” or “how do you?” We relied on situations from our collective experiences as a starting place—those evergreen issues that managers struggle with. We also read a great deal about the emerging challenges, many associated with remote and distributed workforces. For example, with so many employees working from make-shift offices during the pandemic, how can employers make sure those arrangements are ergonomically safe.

The biggest challenges we read about and researched were how to keep remote and hybrid workforces motivated and essentially ‘be the boss [all] your people deserve.’ It can be like walking a tightrope for a manager to make sure they are addressing and meeting the needs of all their team members whether they work from home or in the same physical office as the manager.

Any “Oh, wow!” moments while doing research for the book?
Absolutely, especially in the areas of navigating the changing workplace. We had done some work with a company that specializes in using mobile communication methods, such as text messaging, that captures the preferences of younger workers. It was really interesting to learn some of the things that can be done with communication using mobile technology—everything from onboarding employees to learning and development. It really streamlines processes. Another area was microlearning that ties directly with mobile technology. It’s small learning units and short learning activities that can be done from anywhere using mobile devices. It’s very revolutionary.

What writing projects are you working on now?
We’re investigating other areas for getting our messages out. We’ve entered into strategic partnerships with some on-line business platforms and are investigating another with a global reach. I’ve also developed a relationship with Authority Magazine, an on-line business publication through Medium and have had several articles and interviews printed there.

We’re contemplating doing some short e-books that complement our current books. The objective is to both cross-market existing books and get messages out faster. I’m dusting off an old manuscript on the topic of workplace diversity. It’s become a timely topic again and there are now more opportunities and methods for getting that message out into the world.

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

An Interview with Poet Gayle Lauradunn

Gayle Lauradunn is an award-winning poet whose work has appeared in numerous journals as well as national and international anthologies. Some of her poems have also been included in art gallery exhibits and adapted for the stage. Her third poetry collection, The Geography of Absence (Mercury HeartLink, August 2022), prompted one reviewer to write: “Open this collection to the first poem—or to any poem—and lose yourself in words that matter.” Look for Gayle’s book on Amazon.

Tell us how and why you chose the title of your poetry book The Geography of Absence.
When I was camping in the Sahara I was struck by the immensity of the space and the gigantic proportions of the sand dunes that seemed to creep across the landscape. The sheer vastness. I wondered what was absent in that huge emptiness. Then we spied a brown speck in the distance between dunes and went toward it, and it turned out to be a large Berber tent, probably large enough to hold 80-100 people. But there was only an old woman and her 3-year-old grandson napping beside her. She invited us in and talked with our guide, who translated for us, carding and spinning the camel wool contained in a large bag beside her the entire time we were there. There was nothing else in the tent, not even cooking utensils, and I still wonder who or what was absent. That experience led me to become aware of absence throughout our lives. The poet Morgan Parker has said, “Absence implies a memory of what once took place.”

Your book cover has interesting details with randomly placed blocks, giving a fractured appearance. Is it representative of what this poetry collection is about?
Yes. I originally thought I wanted a photo of large sand dunes with a broad sky but could not find anything. I asked my friend Scott Wiggerman, who is both poet and artist, if he could suggest something. He sent me what he had posted on his website. Of the many items there, I kept going back to this piece even though it is not the kind of art I generally like. I went to Scott’s house to view the original and asked him what he was thinking when he created the piece. He said he was thinking about what was absent between the blocks. When he said the piece was untitled, I suggested we call it “absences” to which he agreed.

You mentioned that you write poetry to learn about the world and to learn more about who you are. What things can you share with your readers about your discoveries?
The process of writing poetry is organic for me. I begin with a vague thought, an idea, a landscape, etc., and write the first line, whatever occurs to me. The poem writes itself; I never know where it is going or how it will end. I don’t think ahead. I let it be what it seems to want to be. It’s similar to traveling to a culture that is different from ours, a landscape that is different, a different language. The absence of my own culture surrounding me is provocative and causes me to view the world in a new way. I’ve taken ten trips with a company that focuses on going off the beaten path. It’s the reason I rarely travel to Europe which is our heritage. I prefer places like Mongolia and Bhutan. After hiking up 12,000 feet in the Annapurna Mountains in Nepal, we had lunch in a tiny village and visited one of the homes. The woman had a television set and later I asked our guide what the people thought about how different much of the world is from their lives. He responded that they think what is on television are fairy tales.

In your book description of The Geography of Absence you question the validity of memory. Can you elaborate? Do you find freedom with this prospect when it comes to writing, or is vague memory more of a hindrance?
Memory, vague or clear, allows me to write both the actual event and infuse it with imagination. Whatever the memory, imagination expands it, enhances it to get to the meaning of what really occurred.

What sort of decisions do you make when putting a poetry collection together?
Good question, one I’m dealing with right now as I work on the order of my next collection. The Geography of Absence and my first book, Reaching for Air, were both much easier as the poems lent themselves to sections. My second book, All the Wild and Holy: A Life of Eunice Williams 1696-1785, is a book-length persona poem which I wrote chronologically as I followed her life. This current manuscript has a central six-part poem which is the focus of the collection. My struggle is how to arrange the other poems around this one. All the other poems reflect the central idea in the long one and that is what I need to keep in mind as I organize them.

For someone new to poetry, can you recommend where they might start reading?
It depends on what kind of poetry you want to write: open or formal. Today there seems to be more call from publishers for the latter. I find much of it fairly boring as the traditional forms do not fit our contemporary language, which causes the poet to focus on the form rather than what is being said. People are inventing new forms such as the golden shovel and calling a single line a haiku. I’m a storytelling poet, so content is more important to me than form. I do occasionally write a form poem, such as a pantoum, but I am rarely satisfied with them as the content often becomes distorted to fit the form. Some poets write a sonnet which you would not recognize as such because they are more interested in content than form. For form poetry, start with Shakespeare and improvise on his sonnets. For open, start with Denise Levertov and Gwendolyn Brooks. Galway Kinnell wrote both open and formal.

How important is accessibility of meaning? Should a reader have to work to understand a poem, or should readers find their own meaning?
I have been giving readings since 1970. In the early days, I experienced an awakening when after a reading, people would come up to me and say such things as “I love your poem about….” or “I understood your poem X as I had a similar experience.” In such cases I had no idea to which poems they were relating as I did not see what they said in any of the poems. That taught me that when we write, if we are open and not tightly controlling, people can get inside any poem that speaks to their own experiences. All we must do is write from within ourselves, organically. I remember one of my high school English teachers taking us through ten unbearable weeks of poetry. She invariably asked such nonsense questions as “What does the word the on the third line mean?” I doubt if even the poet knew. Readers should let the poem speak to them and not try to control it. Poems are a gift to allow people to find their own meanings.

Do you have a favorite poet? Someone who inspired you along the way?
Too many poets to choose just one. My early influences were William Blake, Walt Whitman, Denise Levertov, Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, Galway Kinnell, C.K. Williams, and the early poems of Louise Glück.

What do most well-written poems have in common?
A broad and deep knowledge of craft. Learn it and then you can toss it away. It will be part of you and you will use it without being conscious of doing so.

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 2023: Joyce Hertzoff

Author Joyce Hertzoff writes mystery and speculative fiction for middle grade, young adult, and adult audiences. She has written three fantasy series (completed or in the works)—the Crystal Odyssey set of four novels, the ongoing Portal Adventures, and the new More Than Just Survival books. Her newest release is Train to Nowhere Somewhere: Book 1 of the More Than Just Survival Series (July 2023). You’ll find Joyce on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, as well as on her blog and website at For more about Joyce and her writing, visit her SWW author page and follow the links to previous interviews. Visit Amazon for all of her books.

Train to Nowhere Somewhere follows a group of passengers stranded in rural Missouri after their train derails. At its heart, what is the book about?
This is a book about survival, about taking what we know and recreating a new modern world after disaster, to rebuild with the hopes of an improved life. It is also about found families, the strangers we come to embrace because of shared experiences. Third, it’s about small-town life in farm country.

You had some trouble winnowing down your POV characters to a manageable number. What was that process like and who did you keep to tell the story?
Early critiquers found twelve POV characters a bit too much, even though each had something to contribute, a viewpoint that was unique and an interesting history. Spoiler alert: after the first novel, I envisioned the second would involve two groups splintered off to find answers while the main group continues to build a new community. Each group needed at least two people to tell what happened to them. Because of this, I needed to establish the goals and viewpoints of seven of the forty people stranded in book one. Those seven included one couple, two people who’d been at odds even before the story started, and a retired doctor, a lawyer turned cook, and one of the train attendants.

Tell us about the journey from inspiration to completed book for this first in a new series.
This book, like a few other stories I’ve written, began in a class I took as part of an online MFA program. The class was called Maps, and we were to take our characters on a journey, both physical and metaphorical. My characters’ journey hit a snag due to the collapse of a railroad trestle. From there, my imagination took off, as it often does, in the form of a more widespread disaster.

How did you go about choosing the title and subtitle?
The title for this one refers to their train journey which ended in a kind of nowhere, but also to the fact that they turned it into a somewhere. The subtitle refers to the entire series, which is all about survival and how that can take unexpected turns.

What makes Train to Nowhere Somewhere unique in the dystopian market?
Is it dystopian? Maybe. I think of it as near future. When I describe it to people, often they say, “That could happen.” I hope not. We’re too dependent now on being able to communicate with people far away and to have reliable electricity in our homes. In this book, I never say what caused the disaster, although there is speculation.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
Doing research on wind generators and other aspects of the story. It was fun to learn new facts and find a way to incorporate them into the story. Also developing the characters was fun, the threads about knitting as a useful skill, working out some logistics.

Any new writing projects in the works?
As always, I have several. Besides the second and third books of the More Than Just Survival series, I’m working on: book three in my Portal Adventures series; a series of stories about a girl who’s exiled from her domed town; a murder mystery that takes place in 19th century England; a group of stories about a family that acts as couriers between planets of a system settled by people from Earth; two or three murder mysteries; the story I just workshopped about a boy who wants to work on a time travel machine while his parents want him to help at their dig in the desert near an extinct volcano; and my favorite, a story about two girls from Tucson who manage to time travel to 1873 Arizona and are accused of murdering a merchant. There are probably more projects but these are ones I’m actively working on.

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
I’ll be selling my books at assorted venues throughout the fall. Watch for announcements of when those will take place.

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

Author Update 2023: RJ the Story Guy

RJ the Story Guy (aka RJ Mirabal) is a retired high school teacher turned author. He has written three series: the completed Rio Grande Parallax trilogy (adult fantasy) and the ongoing Dragon Train Quest for young adults and Trixie the Brown Dog for children. His newest release is Dragon Train Rebellion (December 2022), the second book in his Dragon Train Quest series. You’ll find RJ on his websites at and, on Facebook at RJMirabalAuthor and TrixieTheBrownDog, and on Instagram and Twitter. To find out more about RJ and his writing, visit his SWW author page and follow the links to previous interviews.

Distill the story you tell in Dragon Train Rebellion into a few sentences and include the themes you explore.
Rebellion takes up the story of Skye, the big blue dragon, and her human friend, young Jaiden the farmer, as they prepare themselves and the rest of the small community of free dragons to fight to stay free. In addition, they want to free all their fellow dragons who are enslaved. The dragons want to live once again in the mountain caves as they always had before humans won the Dragon Wars a generation before. Jaiden is captured when he tries to rescue Skye’s children who were abducted during a human raid on the free dragons’ desert community. Things come to a head which will lead to all-out war. The main themes of the story involve the quest for freedom, the importance of friendship and family relationships, and dedication to a cause.

Jaiden returns as your main character in book two. What challenges does he face, and why will readers connect with him?
Jaiden, who is now 17 years old, struggles to take on the responsibilities of adulthood and strives to offer himself to a cause greater than himself and that is, in fact, seemingly against his own kind—humanity. He encounters an attractive and very capable young woman a few years older than himself and a teenage girl whom he barely knew back in his hometown. The difficulty of relating to members of the opposite sex are mostly a mystery and somewhat frustrating for him. He also wants to gain independence from his demanding and mercurial father but he fears he isn’t capable of standing on his own feet until he is challenged by his new dragon friends.

Who are a few of your other characters, new or returning?
Skye and her mate Caerulus turned out to be rather demanding of Jaiden, though Skye still handles him with the compassion of a substitute mother, but she isn’t quite as supportive as he expected her to be based on his earlier experience with her.

A new character is a silver dragon (about the size of a horse with the intelligence of a ten-year-old child) called Trigger. He and Jaiden train together because when Jaiden goes into battle he will ride Trigger. Trigger is annoying and mischievous but also proves to be brave and humorous. The two start to bond by the end of the novel. Another new character is Dog, a small gold dragon about the size of a dog and the intelligence of a four-year-old child. Because of his size, he can easily sneak around to explore and help Jaiden once they start to work together with Trigger, Skye, and Caerulus.

Wyetta is a young woman, probably about three to four years older than Jaiden. She is very self-sufficient and athletic which makes her both attractive and threatening to Jaiden. Her beauty makes her irresistible to Jaiden, though there is a mysterious air about her.

You’re currently writing book three of Dragon Train Quest. At what point while working on the first book, Dragon Train, did you know the story was strong enough for a series? What has been the most challenging aspect of writing this series?
When I came to the end of the first book, I knew I had to tell the story of how Jaiden would get involved in the dragons’ quest for complete freedom. The freedom of Skye’s family that she and Jaiden accomplished at the end of the first book was fine, but it wouldn’t be enough for either of them to simply quit while they were ahead.

The most challenging aspect of writing this series is to limit the complexity because this is a story intended for teen and young adult readers. I could easily take this story into levels of complexity and a cast of characters as extensive as a major epic fantasy. But I wanted to keep the focus on Jaiden, Skye, and others closest to him as he goes through his whole coming of age quest. He is a part of a monumental struggle for freedom, but I didn’t want to bog the story down with a lot of politics and cultural theories. Though those elements are present, the story sticks to Jaiden and his quest since he is the narrator throughout, except for a few rare occasions.

What makes this series unique among all the other dragon books on the market?
Though there are a lot of dragon stories, most of them focus on people’s struggle with the dragons with usually the dragons as antagonists. Some stories allow dragons to be intelligent, but I decided to make them very intelligent, wise, and highly moral. They only want their own freedom, not to destroy humanity through death, destruction, and dominance. They do not have unusual magic abilities, but they communicate with Jaiden mentally. They have a highly developed culture but virtually no technology since they don’t possess hands and the more compact bodies of humans. I slowly reveal interesting elements of their highly developed culture as the story progresses. Also, the setting for the series is not medieval as is typical for many dragon stories. In this world (which I don’t name) people have developed a 19th-century kind of life and technology but they haven’t developed steam power, so they use dragons for heavy labor to do farm work and to tow trains, etc.

Did what-if questions help shape your Dragon Train books?
Yes, the unique aspects of the series mentioned above were the what-ifs I started with. In fact, the title came to me before any story ideas once I began thinking about developing a dragon story. Somehow, the words “dragon train” came to me one night when I was falling asleep. Later, intrigued by the idea, I imagined why dragons would pull trains and it all went from there, including the characters, storylines, etc.

What writing projects are you working on now?
Dragon Train War, which will conclude the Quest series, is this year’s project. It’s been the hardest to develop because I had to do a lot of research about war, battles, strategy, weapons, and battle techniques, as well as coming up with a satisfying conclusion that deals with the contradictions and horrors of war that will be comprehensible to young readers. And of course, I had a lot of storylines and character development that began in books one and two to contend with! Sometimes, a one-off book seems very appealing knowing that I don’t have to develop characters, storylines, and themes beyond the conclusion of one book.

Is there something else you’d like to tell readers?
Love and value freedom before you lose it. Value the people in your life and make the unique contribution to life as we know it that only you can do. Accept some failure and celebrate your successes. And remember, people (in broad enough terms to include the other intelligence forms of life we share this Earth with) and your relationships with them are the most important things.

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

Author Update: Dan Wetmore

Among retired Air Force officer Dan Wetmore’s creative outlets is his passion for writing poetry. In 2016, he released My Mother’s Gentle Unbecoming: The Absentings of Alzheimer’s, a poetry collection published by Saint Andrews University Press. His second collection, Phoboudenopanophobia: Words Now for a Possible Then (July 2022), explores “dementia’s emotional toll on the leaving and the left behind.” You’ll find Dan on LinkedIn and his SWW Author Page. Look for his book on Amazon, and learn more about his work in his 2017 SWW interview.

Why did you write Phoboudenopanophobia?
Penning My Mother’s Gentle Unbecoming, about her descent into dementia, got me contemplating a similar fate, so I wrote this volume as an extended last letter to my family, sort of an “epitaph in absentia”; hoped insurance against having last feelings go unexpressed, in the event the body outlives the being.

Tell us about the structure of the book and how you worked through “putting everything in order.”
As the number of poems multiplied, I saw six different tones emerge: overwhelmsion, dread, desperation, gratitude, resolve, and acceptance, similar to the five stages of grief, it being a book about loss, simply of self. So, to reassure the reader—at risk of spoon-feeding them—that the “voices” constituted an evolution rather than an equivocation, I grouped the birds of a feather, in hope the whole would ultimately take greater flight.

When did you decide to make this a project and step into the journey to put it together?
As the previous volume was dwindling down to completion, this one suggested itself. Though having said all about the subject (my mother), the subject matter wasn’t exhausted, since we speak our empathies and our personal experience with different voices. It was the passing of a baton from one runner to the next.

How did you choose the book title?
The title is a mash-up of three fears:

The norm and the hope is that animacy and identity will prove co-terminal, but death by dementia denies that. So, first fear is of its final phase—having lost all which effectively makes one human: fear of (having) Nothing: oudenophobia.

I suspect the penultimate state of consciousness—just shy of unawareness—is incomprehension. And as what’s feared most is the unknown (and, at that point, everything will be unknowable), the final fear will be that of panophobia: fear of Everything.

And the double-teaming by those possible tomorrows threatens to taint today, prompting a fear of succumbing to dread, sacrificing all remaining moments to a prolonged flinch: fear of Fear (phobophobia).

At what point did you know you had taken the manuscript as far as it could go, that it was finished and ready for publishing?
When the flow slowed to a trickle, and further attempts at purging felt affected; trying to fabricate emotion rather than free it. That said, every quake has aftershocks, and the ledger—echoing the life—is ever a work in progression (and hopefully of progress). A few guests always arrive late at table, but fashionably so—the most composed of the bunch, because not rushed by the deadline which some impatience or another dictated.

What were the expected, or unexpected, results of putting this project together?
Somewhat managing to untie the Gordian Knot of emotions the situation set to roiling; to at least depict the Moebius nature of the matter, given the impossibility of ironing it perfectly flat. Gaining an appreciation of how many others are walking this particular road, and having the opportunity to hopefully return the favor done for me by so many others, of finding something to point to and say, “Yes—THAT!”

Do you have a favorite quote from the book that you’d like to share?
“Though fast flat on a mountain of limestone-capped granite, this is akin to falling: moving without the ability to arrest, orient, or anticipate; the trifecta of entropies which constitutes chaos.”

What does your mature self now bring to the writing table that your younger self never could have?
Appreciation that (despite occasional appearances otherwise) less is more. An identifiable/consistent voice, reflecting settled priorities and a gelled perspective. Grudging admittance that Ben Franklin was right about that perspiration business. And realization that writing is primarily about having written (vice being read). If you can comprehend your own words, you’ve already achieved audience, and everything else is icing on the cake, which liberates you from chasing acceptance beyond (and potentially exclusive of) your own, insulating you from the temptation to pander.

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you started your writing/publishing journey today?
Resist viewing quantity as the enemy of quality, rather as one means to it, having realized that the more frequently you go to the pump, the less you have to prime it.

What do most well-written poems have in common?
Concision, to include leashed ambiguity (selectively implying multiple things for the price of saying one). Perspicuity, to include exercising the rods of the mind’s eye rather than the cones—seeing peripherally, intimating rather than stating (to include liberal use of simile and metaphor—the more novel, the most mind-blowing).

Is there something that always triggers your creativity?
Always? A strong emotional spasm, usually of the yearning sort; a visceral (pre-lingual) feeling. Which throws down the gauntlet to become midwife to that muddled. And, as closest kin to the ineffable is the oblique, it usually comes into the air as poetry or poetic prose.

Often? Discerning a way in which seeming incommensurables are some way kindred.

What writing projects are you working on now?
A third volume of verse, On Our Knees in Ironies, about my dad’s dissolution at Alzheimer’s hands. Though the last generated, that’s an accident of time, it being thematically second. (Viewing the disease—more to the point, its host—as the subject, when the afflicted was my mother, Dad was serving as caregiver, and I merely spectator [third-person]. In a succession of roles, he became she, and I he, raising [razing?] my status to second-person. Trying to place myself in their shoes had me not only behind the lens, but in front of it; the wolf, at end, fully at the door.)

Is there anything else you’d like readers to know?
Building on the question (above), about what my mature self brings to the writing table, as far as dividends go, adulation and commiseration are nice, but catharsis suffices.

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

An Interview with Author Connie McNeil

Connie McNeil, PhD, has worked as a clinical psychologist for over 20 years. In 2022, she published Co-Creating, her debut release which she calls a guide to her “years of experience in teaching individuals to take a hold of their lives, with the guidance of their Higher Power.” Visit Connie on her website at and look for her book on Amazon.

Why did you write Co-Creating, and who would benefit from reading it?
I wrote Co-Creating for everyone. As a psychologist I have seen scores of clients who live defeated lives, repeating the same old patterns and mistakes. They solve small problems, quit therapy, but return within a few months with another issue. I think most people miss out on fulfilling dreams that would transform their lives from good to off the charts! I believe it is our birthright to live this type of life as a child of the Divine.

Co-Creating is not a book to tell you anything you do not already know. It is a book to help you remember who you are: a Divine child of the Universe. I believe we are born with everything we need to live our best lives. All of us are blessed with unique gifts and talents and can sense whether a decision “feels” right. Co-Creating is about honoring our Divine self. It is not a book about religion, but of radical love for you and others. This book increases awareness that working with the Creator can create a satisfying, productive, and fulfilling life. One filled with love, joy, peace, health, and wealth.

Tell us about your journey to publication.
This book has been a lifetime in the making. I grew up in a restrictive household with a God that I believed was judgmental and waiting to catch me making a mistake. As a young child, I became afraid of displeasing my family and the Almighty so I started making choices that limited my options. My life became smaller and smaller, and I was increasingly miserable. And then one day I had an “aha” moment when I realized I was creating my own misery. I realized that if I could create a life of misery, I could also create a life of joy.

I found books that opened my heart and mind to a loving, gentle, understanding, and supportive Divine Being who was a far cry from the critical God I grew up with. The truth that was driven home to me time and time again was that my thoughts create my reality and that I am a creative being, responsible for making my life what I wanted.

I dreamed of being an author for over a decade. I made some attempts to write but, honestly, what I wrote wasn’t particularly good. One day I asked a friend to critique an article I wrote, and his review was so negative I threw the article away and shelved the idea of writing. My dream stayed on the shelf for a long time.

About two years ago, the Creator sent people, places, and events into my life that were instrumental in my future success. At the outset, I didn’t know any of the people who would be the ones to help make this book a reality. I still had the desire of being an author even though I was not writing.

Then one day, during a session with a new client, George (who has given me permission to use his name), I started talking about “co-creating with the Creator” which is a phrase I had never used before. After several sessions, George told me that the phrase stayed with him and that I should write a book. I hesitated. The fear of failure and another negative critique kept me from taking a risk. But George kept after me to write and later told me that Spirit had guided him to tell me to write about co-creating. He kept asking me, “Have you started writing yet?” Finally, I told him I had. He then told me he used to be in the publishing business, and he guided me through the publishing process. Also, a client introduced me to a friend who led me to my editor. She had a son who just happened to be an Emmy-winning graphic artist. He and his team did my entire book production.

What makes this book standout in the crowded inspirational/motivational market?
A unique feature of Co-Creating discusses the process of change. We are a product of what we were taught and what we heard growing up. Many times, we were told what we wanted was impossible or impractical. Many were left feeling they were not good enough or never got lucky breaks. These negative messages leave a mark on our self-esteem and our ability to succeed. Unless we change, we are destined to miss out on what we can achieve.

I don’t know that every self-help book discusses the shakeup that can happen in our lives when we go through the process of change. Sometimes problems arise out of nowhere that can bring us to our knees. These are called spiritual storms and are necessary for our growth, prosperity, healing, and creating. These storms can support us in getting rid of clutter in our thinking and in our environment, which could block us from receiving our heart’s desires. These storms bring us out of the old and into the new. Enduring a spiritual storm is not a sign that we are being punished. It is the exact opposite. We are being prepared for a tremendous blessing.

Do you have a favorite quote from Co-Creating that you’d like to share?
I have two quotes: “We only travel two paths. One is the path of love and the other is the path of fear.” and  “We are always creating. It is our nature. We either create what we want or what we do not want.”

Any “oh, wow!” moments while doing research for this book? And what was the most rewarding aspect of putting this project together?
The “oh, wow!” moment for me and most rewarding aspect was realizing the Creator wanted me to go beyond just writing Co-Creating. I was Divinely led to write a workbook that walks through areas that may hold us back from being our best selves. The workbook has space to write what we want to create and exercises that challenge thoughts and behaviors that could be holding us back from bringing our desires to us. The workbook includes opportunities to create affirmations that can replace tired, negative thoughts with empowering ones. We cannot bring our desires to us unless we change our thoughts and behaviors. I was also inspired to create a deck of oracle affirmation cards that provide positive statements that can change your life when you keep your mind on uplifting thoughts. I use these cards every morning in my meditation to give me a powerful positive statement to supercharge my day.

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

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