Western Mysteries

Photo by Ladyheart

Photo by Ladyheart

I have a confession to make. I love westerns, all kinds of westerns. I like characters with a sense of independence, who live life by their own rules. I like studying that era of our history. It has everything you could want that makes a great story: evil-doers, heroes, the clash of cultures (Native American/European, city/country, poor/rich), people trying to make their lives better, people trying to hold on to their heritage. You name it.

I also like modern westerns. They still hold the same sense of character and grit as the older ones.

So it’s no great surprise that like western mysteries. I thought I’d delve into that subgenre and look for books to add to my TBR (To Be Read) shelf and take you along with me.

 

That's Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig and me eating BBQ with friends.

Craig Johnson

Those of you who know me know that I’m a fan of Craig Johnson and the Longmire series. The way he captures the essence of the west and the clash of cultures while respecting both sides is masterful. The books are full of drama, humor, and history. The characters grow deeper by each book. (As they should.)

At the moment I’ve only read the first three books in the series. I have a lot of reading to do! But I’ve watched all of the TV episodes. If you haven’t seen them, check them out on Netflix. It’s one of my favorite shows. All of the actors are excellent at their jobs and they’re nice in real life. And Craig Johnson is as nice as could be too.

Check out his website for all the info. http://www.craigallenjohnson.com

 

 

Billy Kring

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Manning Wolfe, me, and Billy Kring. We like Mexican food!

 

Most of his Hunter Kincaid series takes place in Texas and along the Mexican border since Hunter is a border patrol agent. I’ve read the first one, Quick, and let me tell you, it’s good! It’s a page-turner. I will say it’s not for the squeamish, but Billy tells me (since he’s a friend of mine) that the others aren’t quite so graphic. But it didn’t bother me since I kind of expected that, considering the topic.

I think it’s interesting that Billy’s a big cowboy (former border patrol and anti-terrorism expert) and the Kincaid books are told from a woman’s perspective. And he writes it well!

Go check out his website and book list. It’s impressive! He also writes other genres. There’s something for everyone. http://www.billykring.com

 

 

J.A. JanceJanceJA

And just so you don’t think I only read books written by big burly cowboys, (Yes, I’m partial to them) I want to tell you about J.A. Jance. She has a special place in my mystery reader/writer heart. She is one of the writers who inspired me to pick up a pen and write. Her Joanna Brady series is very good. It takes place in Arizona and Joanna is a sheriff in a small border town. She’s a full and complex character that deals with all sorts of horrors and problems, big and small.

Jance also writes a Detective Beaumont series, some of which I’ve read and it’s very good too. http://www.jajance.com

 

Those are my favorties, but I wanted to know more. So whenever I have a question about mysteries, I turn to my friends. And the person I know who’s the most knowledgeable is Scott Montgomery, mystery coordinator at Book People in Austin. He pointed me to Tony Hillerman and Peter Bowen.

**Scott gave me an extra tidbit of info. “The first hardboiled detective novel, Hammett’s Red Harvest, is about a detective coming into a corrupt Montana mining town and playing both evil interests off one another like A Fistful Of Dollars (inspired by Yojimbo, which was inspired by Red Harvest)”

So there you go.

 

 

Tony Hillerman 27hillerman.large1

You can’t talk about this genre without talking about Tony Hillerman. He’s famous for his Navajo Tribal Police Series. The series starts with The Blessing Way (1970) and goes to the 18th one, The Shape Shifter (2006). The series features Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo police officers who solve mysteries with their knowledge of the people and knowledge of the area. The two first work together in the seventh novel in the series, Skinwalkers. (I can’t wait to read some of these!)

Hillerman was such an accomplished writer that his books have won numerous awards and he’s considered to be one New Mexico’s foremost novelists. TH is no longer alive, but his daughter, Anne, has continued his legacy. http://www.annehillerman.com

 

 

Peter Bowen Peter Bowen

Bowen lives in Montana and is known for his Yellowstone Kelly historical novels (fictionalized stories based on a real person) and the Gabriel Du Pré mysteries are set in modern Montana. All of his books sound rich with characters and place. You can find out more at his website: http://peterbowenmt.com.

 

 

 

Dusty Richards 

Since I’m talking about Westerns, I have to tell you about Dusty Richards. He doesn’t write mysteries but he writes darn good westerns. How did I come to discover him? My husband was a co-op engineer and Dusty serves on the board of his electric co-op. They were both attending a conference and got to talking. My husband told him about me and Dusty said, “Hold on a moment.” He went up to his room and came back with a signed copy of his book to me to wish me well in my writing endeavors.
Since then my husband has read many of his books and said they are great. (And this is coming from a guy who compares EVERY book to Louis L’Amour.)

Since then I’ve followed Dusty on social media and I see that one of his books is being made into a movie. Yay! I like it when good things happen for good people.

He also has a literary quarterly that’s always looking for western stories, modern or historical. If you’re interested in submitting, the website is: http://saddlebagdispatches.com

And his regular website is: http://dustyrichardslegacy.com

 

Well, thanks for moseying along with me on this trail. Since I’m partial to this genre, it’s no surprise that I’ve written some Western short stories (Suspense and Horror) and the novel I’m working on (Suspense) is set in West Texas. I hope to make it the first in a series, or two.

 

So happy trails and vio con Dios! Hasta luego!

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

At our Double Mountain ranch where we used to live.

Write What You Know: A BookPeople Event with Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring

A lawyer, an Army clerk and a border patrol agent walk into a bookstore…

BookPeople, our much beloved independent bookstore here in Austin, hosted a panel of crime writers this past week, and the discussions kept us laughing, interested and entertained the entire evening. Scott Montgomery, BookPeople’s Crime Fiction Coordinator, moderated the panel, although it quickly evolved from a formal Q&A session to a fascinating conversation amongst colleagues and friends.

Martin Limón, Manning Wolfe and Billy Kring gathered together to share how each of them has taken their professional experiences and used them as foundations upon which to build successful crime writing careers. The program was titled “Write What You Know,” and it’s clear that each author has executed this writing tenet with substantial skill.

martin_manning_billyIt seems that a solid sense of humor is a requirement in each of these fields, as Billy, Manning and Martin shared stories that were equal parts heartbreaking and humorous. Like any profession that is also a passion, the work is made easier by the love for it, but the injustices are more painful for the same reason. Manning’s debut mystery novel, Dollar Signs, is loosely based upon one of her cases while working as an Austin attorney, and the nuances of that case are brought to life, mixed with a healthy dose of savvy storytelling.   When asked what had prompted her love of reading during her childhood, Manning gave credit to a librarian in her life. “Once I started, I just took off and read every book in the library. Books were a way for me to escape my small town and expand and travel in many ways, all while just sitting in my room.”

Martin’s fascination and respect for Korea and its culture was evident during this panel discussion as he shared how some family and friends were puzzled by his desire to stay in Korea during his time of service. As he explained to Scott Montgomery, “Culturally, I realized early on how different Korea is from the West. Not only are the buildings and the food and the clothes and the music and the art much different, but also the way people think. I was fascinated by this (and I still am).” His attraction to the culture and the time period in which he served is evident in his latest release, Ping Pong Heart, which takes us into the heart of a North-South Korea espionage mystery.

When asked what drew him to reading, Martin admitted that he hadn’t been much interested in reading when he was a child. He’d found it difficult to find stories that captured this imagination. Then along came Jack London, whom he had discovered when he was fourteen years old, and To Build a Fire converted him into a life long reader.

panel_bookpeople1.jpgMartin shared with us that, while he would have loved to have spent his entire military career in Korea, the Army decided to send him back to the States to serve as a recruiter. It was during this time that he decided he would use his spare time to write. “I had wanted to write for twenty years, and at that point, I decided to give myself permission.” That decision was the catalyst that sparked a successful writing career, one that has allowed Martin to share his fascination of both Korea and time period in which he served in that country.

Billy Kring’s latest novel, Tonton, features female border patrol agent, Hunter Kincaid, throwing her into a South Florida case involving a Haitian community and vodou. When asked if some of his villains were based upon actual people he had encountered during his time working border intelligence and security, he replied, “Yes, and I haven’t even used some of the worst offenders yet.”

Are you scared yet, readers? You should be. Billy paints an effectively frightening villain within his book’s pages, and it has been recommended that this latest book is best read during the daytime. The opening scene of Tonton is based upon an actual experience of Billy’s while working border security. “Well, everything but the shark, but the shark is from another case,” he explained.

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Billy explained that he truly enjoyed the work he did, which meant that he came late to the writing game. He had once had a bank job and he hated it, living each day in a cubicle and not being out in the world. He loved the fact a career in border security meant that each day brought new challenges and experiences. “I never knew what was going to happen next, and I liked that part of the job.” Like Martin and Manning, Billy then realized he could take his enthusiasm and experience for his work and bring it to a life writing fiction. Billy also shared the nuances that ripple across our borders. “There are two distinct cultures that have changed and merged over many generations, and it’s important to recognize that and bring those elements to the story.”

One thing is clear after spending an evening with these three authors–each one of them brings their experiences to life in ways that are engrossing, entertaining and compelling. While an evening with their books is fantastic, an evening with the authors behind those books?

Even better.

–Laura Oles

 

 

 

Banishing Lazy Words by Terry Shames

This week we have a guest blogger, friend and fellow mystery writer, Terry Shames!

Terry grew up in Texas, and has an abiding affection for the people she grew up with and the landscape and culture of the town that is the model for Jarrett Creek. She graduated from the University of Texas and has an MA from San Francisco State University. Terry now lives in Northern California with her husband, two terriers and a regal cat.

Terry’s first Samuel Craddock novel, A Killing at Cotton Hill, (July 2013) and was named one of the top five debut mystery novels of 2013 by MysteryPeople. The second in the series, The Last Death of Jack Harbin was named one of the top five mysteries of 2014 by the Library Association’s Library Journal. Dead Broke in Jarrett Creek, the third in the Samuel Craddock series, came out in October of 2014, followed by A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge in April 2015 and The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake in January 2016.

A member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, she serves on the boards of Northern California chapters of both.

Welcome, Terry! shamesTerry_1

Banishing Lazy Words

When I’m editing a book, I know that when I begin to get restless I’ve probably come across a nest of lazy words–words that are shorthand, or placeholders, for what I really want to say. Here are some lazy word indicators:

These, this, those, thing, stuff, some, about, just…and the dreaded “to be” verb (was, were…)

I often find when I come across several of these words on one page it means I was reluctant to dig deeper into the emotional content in the scene. When I buckle down and confront what I’m avoiding writing, digging deep to find the emotional core of the scene, I often end up writing a lot more words than I had before.

Here’s an example of a piece I was editing for someone else. I ran across several places on one page where two characters were talking about, “This thing we have going,” and “This thing we are trying.” The “thing” the writer was talking about was a difficult relationship between people of different ethnic backgrounds. By repeating the words “this thing,” she avoided addressing in depth the painful aspects of the relationship. The words fell flat on the page. Only when she changed it to say what she really meant, “Our risky experiment,” and “The way we are thumbing our nose at tradition,” did it begin to have the depth it deserved. Instead of a romance novel, it because more like Romeo and Juliet.

In first drafts, we often use shorthand for what we know is going to be a difficult description. But as writers we have to work hard to ferret out those lazy little words and phrases and say what we really mean. Not, “Amanda’s bedroom was a mess. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” or “I walked into Bill’s office. There was STUFF lying everywhere,” but instead, “Amanda’s clothes were strewn on the floor leading to the bed,” or “Judging from Bill’s office, he was a guy who dropped whatever he was reading onto any handy surface as soon as he was done with it.” Instead of saying, “there were several things he wanted to tell her,” it’s more interesting to read, “he stored up little criticisms that he could spring on her later.”

Contrast these two paragraphs:

“They dated for a few months, during which he told several lies. Some time later, she tried to remember which lies bothered her the most. There was the time he told her he was an accountant and lost his job when the economy went bad. And another time he said he looked around for a job for a long while before he could find another one. But the worst was when he said he’d buy her some jewelry, and never did.”

The fix:

“They dated for six month. After he disappeared, she found that he had hardly opened his mouth without lying. She bought into it when he told her he was an accountant, and lost his job when the economy went bust. She even believed that he pounded the pavement looking for a job for six months before he found one. But the lie that hurt most was that he promised to buy her a diamond ring, and he never did.”

The first paragraph is full of lazy words like “a few,” “several,” “some, “tried,” most,” “there was,” etc. The second one uses livelier, mores descriptive words.

When you read authors you admire, note that they pin down real time, real place, real emotion. It makes their prose richer and keeps readers engaged. It takes hard editing work, but it’s worth it. It’s the key element that will make your prose come alive.

You can find more information about Terry Shames at www.terryshames.com 

Thank you, Terry! That’s good concrete information that all writers can use. What do you think, reader? Any questions or comments?

 

Gretchen Archer on Road Trips, Super Spies & Double Knot

DOUBLEKNOTfrontF.jpgGretchen Archer’s biography claims she is a Tennessee housewife who turned to a life of crime (fiction) when her daughters left for college. Don’t let the housewife title fool you.

Gretchen Archer is a writer with mad skills, blending humor throughout her tightly plotted Davis Way mystery series that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Archer is a USA Today bestselling author with a loyal readership that continues to grow with every addition to the series. Fortunately, the latest mystery, Double Knot, hits bookstores and e-readers today.

Gretchen’s ability to create hilarious high jinx in her novels must come from, in some part, raising kids because we parents know how much material our offspring provide. Gretchen’s writing is clever in its ability to draw us in immediately, giving us Davis Way, a ‘super spy’ who works for a covert security team at the Bellissimo Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Super spy she may be, Davis is also wonderfully relatable, allowing her humanity and imperfections to come through with an authenticity that keeps readers rooting for her success.

Double Knot has been praised by Janet Evanovich, who wrote, “Powerfully heartfelt and knock-your-socks-off hilarious. I’m a fan!” Double Knot charts new new territory with this series because it is a locked-room mystery with Davis Way and company traveling on the luxury liner MS Probability. My mind immediately went to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man. Gretchen readily admits that this book was both difficult and exhilarating to write, exploring growth in both Davis’ world and the characters who occupy it. I asked Gretchen to give us a peek inside Davis’ life, how she came to be, and what she sees in the future for her favorite crime caper chasers.

LO: How did you discover Davis Way-or did she find you? 

GA: I was driving from Biloxi to my home in Tennessee on I-65 North in Alabama when I saw an exit sign for Pine Apple, which I thought was hilarious. When I pulled into my driveway three hours later, it was with Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama, who moves to Biloxi. You know how road trips are good for thinking.

LO: What is it about Davis that you think has created such a loyal following of readers? What do you hear most often?

GA: Is it Davis, you think, readers come back for? I hear “I love Davis!” and “Hurry with the next Davis!” but I get even more letters about her husband, Bradley Cole, and her doppelganger Bianca Sanders. What readers have told me they love about Davis is her vulnerability—that she’s human. They love Bradley for the opposite reason, because he’s perfect. (A perfect man is hard to write. Seriously. Because there are no ROLE MODELS.) And Bianca. First, I’ll tell you she’s enormously fun to write, and next, I’ll tell you the letters I get about Bianca are hilarious. “When is someone going to slap that woman?” and “Davis needs to shoot Bianca and get it over with.”

LO: What do you think readers would be surprised to know about Davis?

GA: She loves a good con. She doesn’t say she admires the bandits who cleverly steal from the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, because they usually leave a pesky dead body in their wake, but she’s in awe of a clever thief. Another Davis semi-secret? I wonder if readers remember that Davis had a baby when she was sixteen. I remember it all the time. It’s something they don’t tell you in Mystery Series Writing School, maybe because there is no Mystery Series Writing School (we should start one), but the history you write for your main character in book one stays with her. For the whole series. Another Davis surprise? She can’t cook. You never read about Davis cooking, which is crazy, because I feel like it’s all I do. (“What’s for dinner, Mom?” (“Anything you want! Frosted Flakes! Goldfish! Popcorn!”) What about the fact that Davis never shops? I never send her shopping but her closet is full of fabulous clothes.

LO: How do you feel Davis has changed and grown since Double Whammy?  Are there certain areas or themes you hope to explore going forward?

GA: Davis grew up in a town of four hundred. The biggest change for her has been the people she’s met since leaving Pine Apple. Fantasy is the first BFF she’s ever had, and their relationship is so much fun because they’re so close. And true love. Davis wouldn’t take a million dollars for a hair on her husband’s head. So, her biggest changes since book one are in the personal relationships category.

LO: Are there any special talents that Davis has yet to bring to one of your stories?  Ninja warrior?  Underwater basket weaving?

GA: She might learn how to land a plane. She just might.

LO: Anything else you’d like to share about DOUBLE KNOT or Davis’ world?

GA: Double Knot was a labor of love. I absolutely loved writing it. It’s a locked-room mystery on a two-day timeline. It was challenging and rewarding and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to write one this close to my heart again.

 

Here’s a sneak peak of Double Knot

At midnight, the clock clicking from Saturday to Sunday, I locked the door to my stateroom behind me. I gathered my cat, pajamas, vitamins, toothbrush, and was in a hurry for the bed when I stepped into the gold bathroom and saw an envelope taped to the mirror above the vanity. It was addressed to me. I recognized my name right away; I’ve had it all my life. The problem was—I took slow and steady steps toward the envelope—no one outside 704 knew my name. Correspondence to me aboard Probability should have been addressed to Bianca Sanders. Not Davis Way Cole. I reached for it, curious and apprehensive at the same time. I opened it to find a photograph of my boss, No Hair. My knees gave way and the vanity caught me. Hands bound behind his back, legs secured at the ankles, clothes disheveled, his tie gone and his lower lip split wide open, he was in a straight chair against a wall between two dark porthole windows. No Hair was someone’s prisoner. He looked straight at me when the picture was taken, his eyes apologetic, but everything else about his expression and posture was livid.

My head swam and I saw stars. I backed up to the square porcelain bathtub in the middle of the gold floor and sat down on the wide edge. I read the letter.

Mrs. Cole,

To ensure your safety and that of your guests and loved ones, sit back and settle in, because you’re not leaving your suite. Rest assured no harm will come to anyone as long as you follow these simple instructions: Do not attempt to escape or make contact with anyone. Jeremy Covey will be detained for the duration of the cruise, as will you and your party. You will walk off this ship unharmed if you cooperate.

Unfortunately, the medical staff accompanying you tried to board with controlled substances and was refused passage. They’re not looking for you. Your photography crew has been reassigned. They’re not looking for you. No one is looking for you. There’s no way out. Not only is escape impossible, you will most assuredly jeopardize everyone’s welfare if you attempt any overt attention-seeking endeavors. In other words, Mrs. Cole, don’t start a fire. You’ll burn.

Arrangements have been made to communicate with your husband for you. Should you try to contact him directly and by some miracle succeed, you run the risk of never seeing him again.

Relax, follow these simple instructions, and all will be well. Attempts to escape, alert your husband, the authorities, or other passengers will be met with deadly consequences. It’s up to you.

And that was it.

We were hostages on a luxury cruise liner.

Gretchen_  To learn more about Double Knot and Gretchen Archer, please visit www.gretchenarcher.com. You can find Double Knot at your favorite bookstore or online through Amazon and other retailers.

–Laura Oles