New and Innovative

I’ve mentioned before that I get requests to do written interviews. This usually comes from blogs and web sites focused on indie authors–often sites hawking something themselves. They send me a list of questions that I do my best to answer in thoughtful, honest and even funny ways.

Recently as part of a long list of questions from a web site, they asked: What are some things that haven’t been done in the mystery genre that you hope to introduce through your books?

What an interesting question. Things that haven’t been done in the mystery genre? What the hell would that be? How about divulge who did it at the beginning? Have the good guy commit the crime? Have no mystery at all? It was such an interesting question that I could not stop thinking about it. Then it occurred to me; why would that even be important?

Why screw around with something that works? It’s our addiction to new, innovative—different. As consumers, we want the latest thing there is; so that must mean as readers, we want something different, right? I stumbled across an article where some people (none known to me) were predicting the future trend in book genres; they mentioned—Urban Fantasy, Science Fantasy, Utopian stories, and Cyberpunk. Maybe this is new and innovative; but I write mysteries—I don’t think I’m going to end up on anyone’s trend list.

Many of my books follow a rather predictable path. An introduction, character development, a crime is committed (usually murder), investigation, a few twists, discovery of the truth and the conclusion; which must address all of the details that have not been fully explained before. Hey, it is a mystery novel –what were you expecting.

I’ve seen way too many movies that just end. Did they run out of money and this was all they could finish? Or maybe that is being creative. In the middle of a scene the movie just ends. What happened to the characters in the movie—how did it really end. I definitely would not want to read a mystery book that ended before the mystery was solved—or is that something new; let the reader solve the mystery however they want! I would think most readers would not be pleased with an abrupt ending without knowing who did what.

My answer to the question from the web site was: Wow, I have no idea. If I knew I might not tell you—something that hasn’t been done in a mystery after a billion mystery books—I’m going to think about that.

So, now I’ve thought about it, and I’m going to stick to the classic format of mystery books. For innovation I will work on better, more in-depth characters, improved realistic dialogue, unique settings and more surprises in each book. Nothing really different than a thousand other mystery books, but do it better.

This brings me to a confession of sorts. The Hightower series was an attempt to break my pattern. Hightower is someone who, mostly by accident, has discovered how to extend life. The book starts in 2020 and at that time Hightower is 120 but still looks as if he is in his 50s. The murders that are at the heart of the story took place in the 1930s and Hightower knows (and the reader knows) who committed the crime. This book will fit into several genres including mystery; but it’s different. So maybe I do want to write something innovative. Now for the confession part—I’ve hit a brick wall. Yep, not sure what to do next. Approaching the half-way point in the book and not sure where to take the story. I’ve been here before.

That time it was Four Corners War. I got stuck in 2016 and it took three years to get back to the book and finish it. During that time, I wrote five other books—but FCW just laid there; waiting for inspiration. When I returned, it all came to me how I wanted the story to go and quickly finished the book. It had never left my mind. It will be published Sept 3rd, 2019.

Pre Order Now!

My cure for my Hightower blues will be the 4th Vincent Malone book, Durango Two Step. While Hightower rests I will complete DTS. In the next few weeks I will give you a peek at the first few chapters of DTS. This will be Vincent’s most challenging adventure, putting all of his new life at risk.

What’s in a Name?

What’s In A Title?

Currently writing the first Hightower series book. Working title has been A Doctor Hightower Novel: The Case of the False Prophet. Maybe as a consequence of the writing going slower than I would like I’ve decided the series name and the title of the book are wrong. Yes, this may be akin to shuffling the chairs on the Titanic—but I’m going with a different name. For the series it will now be Hightower Chronicles and this first book will be False Miracle.

Could this possible matter at all? Okay, maybe this is just a smoke screen to hide the current delay in progress, but my honest answer is yes, it does matter. The second Vincent Malone novel was going to be about artists and the art business in Santa Fe. I envisioned some unique or possibly even odd characters populating this story of greed, lust and murder. I was looking for a clever title and decided on Blue Flower Red Thorns. Okay, nice words; but what the hell does it mean. Maybe it is allegorical referencing beauty and pain. Maybe it has no meaning and was designed to confuse and irate readers? Of course, that would be very stupid thing to do. Or would it?

The name could be a reference to a Shrek movie where the donkey is sent to search for a blue flower with red thorns—which he bemoans would be easier if he was not color-blind. Searching for a healing flower while you cannot see the difference does sound like something with lots of hidden meanings. Maybe it relates to the beauty of the great art produced by less than perfect people. The characters were seeking beauty but not seeing the ugliness in their midst. Could be.

Another possibility is from the Urban Dictionary: “a way of saying you don’t care about someone else’s current situation, or what they are trying to do, because you have shit of your own to take care of.”

That attitude would definitely fit the story line of some very egotistical self-absorbed characters. So there is the answer– it is a vague reference to something most people do not know that reflects the overall attitudes of several of the main characters.

The metaphor with the flower and contrasting thorn (no matter the color) fits the contrast between the beauty created by a talented artist and the challenge of a troubled person who is creating that art.

Now the question is; was that a good idea to name the book something that is at best confusing? I think the answer is no. If I had it to do over again I would choose something else. But I’m not changing the title—it is what it is. While I think my logic about the title had merit it was just to obscure to have general meaning to most people. I could have made the title Elephants and Rats and it would have meant as much to most.

I thought Blue Flower Red Thorns had some of the most interesting characters I have written about. Some of this inspiration came from my short-lived desire to be an artist. When I was young my ambition was to be an artist. I was talented but not exceptionally so—as a result I could have the dream, but the reality stayed far away. But my experience in the art world introduced me to people who more often than not saw the world through a different lens. The main character in BFRT is Ilse De Vries, one of the most talented contemporary artists in the world—all at an incredibly young age. She swoops into Santa Fe and creates a storm of not only artist expression but mayhem.

In ways maybe not obvious, all of the characters in Blue Flower Red Thorns referenced the contradiction in the title; sometimes nice, sometimes very nasty. Much like the art world in general.


Pre-Order Now!

The latest (and maybe last) Pacheco & Chino book, Four Corners War, is now available for preorder on Amazon. This book is definitely inspired by my personal experiences in Farmington, New Mexico. Much of my working career as a financial adviser was related to business acquisitions. One such experience in Farmington was especially memorable, and much of what I saw many years ago is the basis for FCW—although in the book it is enhanced to make it more interesting. Plus, a large portion of the story is just made up out-of-whole-cloth. It was great fun to write because of that past connection—but this book took forever; for various reasons. I enjoyed writing FCW but am also glad that it is done.

Polite Society?

“That is not polite!” Not sure how many times I heard my mother say those words as I was growing up—but it was a lot. I accounted for most of those utterances, but also my brother, neighborhood kids and the world in general had a few dressing downs.

What does it actually mean to be polite?

Dictionary.com says;

  1. showing good manners toward others, as in behavior, speech, etc.; courteous; civil: a polite reply.
  2. refined or cultured: polite society.
  3. of a refined or elegant kind: polite learning.

Sounds like a good thing—being polite. Have mothers stopped telling their children to be polite? Maybe we stopped teaching what it means to be polite? Something has happened. Maybe as a society we have decided that being polite is a sign of weakness. Or maybe we just don’t care anymore? Something has happened, all right; because being polite is no longer the mother standard it used to be.

Of course all of this gets confused with political correctness—which seems to be the same as being polite but with a negative label. In one form political correctness seems to be limiting the words that can be used to describe people. Usually offensive words.

Dictionary.com says:
Marked by or adhering to a typically progressive orthodoxy on issues involving especially ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or ecology: The actor’s comment about unattractive women was not politically correct. The CEO feels that people who care about being politically correct are overly sensitive. Abbreviations: PC, P.C.
Or from Wikipedia:
The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated PC) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to a preference for inclusive language and avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race.

I’m sure my mother was not overly concerned with group identities being infringed with marginalizing words; but I’m also really sure she understood the impact of uncivil, hurtful words and knew they were not polite.

I use words to tell stories. Many of my characters would not be considered polite by my mother. Actually she would be upset that I know some of those words and more than likely blame the whole vulgar words usage on Johnny who lived down the street and was known not to be a polite child. He had obviously been a bad influence on me when she was not watching. If she could have, she might even call Johnny’s mom.

Writing is about words. While many readers think there are bad words and good words; I don’t. Words are just a way to describe something. If the word is vulgar, maybe the use of that word is intended to convey ugly emotion or anger–something vulgar. The correct word used to fit the right time and place.

What troubles me is someone using words to harm people. Name calling was forbidden on the elementary school playground for a very good reason; words can be cruel. How we got to a place where being a name caller, using hurtful language is okay for so many people who lead our society, is just bizarre.

Once again my mother: “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Of course this is not original with my mom; but she believed it. Now on occasion I did hear her pass along some gossip about some of the ladies at the church or in her garden club. It’s hard being perfect 24/7.

Maybe it was just easier in the past to be polite? No internet, no Facebook, no nasty tweets. It’s hard to maintain the same venom in a long-hand written letter on scented paper. Also a key factor is that much of our ugliness today is directed at a faceless, nameless audience. Anonymous postings aimed at the dumb, stupid, idiotic people who deserve to be hated.

My mother lived to be over a hundred years old. She came from a time that was very different. She left a world that had become richer and full of amazing things; but a world that was much less polite. Being polite might be a sign of weakness to some, I think it is really a sign of great strength. Shouting vulgarities may attract attention but it is not an indication of a good, thoughtful person. Moms do know best.

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Good, Evil and Stuck

Doctor Thomas H. Hightower the Third is a new character in a new series. He’s a secretive man who has a very troubled past and is engaged in an epic battle with evil. Evil in the form of one monstrous person Trevor Boxer. The man who killed Hightower’s wife.

To the world Hightower appears to be a semi-retired attorney who has odd ways and takes on occasional cases that peak his curiosity. Living a reclusive life in the Denver foothills would make him eccentric; but not all that unusual—but he is very unusual.

The first book in the series, Case of the False Prophet (debating title –it may change), is progressing rather slowly from idea to book. This process should probably be best hidden. Better from a reader point of view to think of a book as a burst of inspiration that leads to a few months of frantic writing and viola; a completed manuscript. None of my books have been like that. Some have been smoother than others, but all have had periods of mental challenges.

I’ve read about authors who have worked on a single book for years, even decades; I can’t imagine. While I’m writing a book it never leaves me, I’m always thinking about the story; where it’s going or maybe not going. Every day, even when I’m not able to actually write, it stays there—churning away, trying to reach the conclusion. Going through that mental process for years would be painful. I know because it happened to me.

I got stuck. Some call this malady, writer’s block. It was Four Corners War, my next book scheduled to be released in a few months. I started FCW in early 2016. Quickly wrote about a third of the book and then I hit a wall. At that point I had written and published three books in about a year’s time. I expected to finish FCW in three to four months. It didn’t happen. I got stuck and couldn’t move. For over a year I didn’t write one word. Eventually, I took on another project, Murder So Wrong, with a co-author and left FCW hanging.

During this period, I wrote three Muckraker books and three Vincent Malone books, but FCW was always there; waiting. The story never left my mind. Once whatever was causing the block went away, I quickly finished FCW.

Most likely the block was due to holes in the plot. I write mysteries and have a bad habit of starting books before I know the complete story. I trust myself to be able to develop the total plot of a book while I’m writing. I have a broad idea about the story and the characters but expect some things to change as I write. That approach has worked for me—but no doubt it was that lack of planning that caused FCW to stop. I reached a point where I had created plot lines that no longer felt like they were connected and did not have a good way to end the mess I had created. So I was stuck.

To get unstuck, I walked away. But it was more than that—I wrote other books. That process helped me build a better plot for FCW. I didn’t just come back to an unfinished book and complete it—I changed it. It was wrong, and I didn’t know how to fix it. The idea of the book and the problems stayed with me the entire time I was writing other books, and eventually, I knew what to do to complete Four Corners War.

If this all sounds a little chaotic or maybe even a bit unhinged—I think it was just that. This is no way to write a book. Do not do what I do. I admire the heck out of people who prepare detailed outlines, develop scene story boards, construct character lists with descriptions and backgrounds—wow, those people are real writers—that’s not me. I jump in with an idea and start creating that wonderful, exciting story on the fly. My creativity requires that I let the characters interact with the story in ways that would not have occurred to me at the beginning, would not have fit a preordained outline—in other words; loosy-goosy.

Of course, there is a problem with loosy-goosy; sometimes I get lost. That may be happening with Doctor Hightower or it could be a spell of creative thinking which will be followed by a period of creative writing. We’ll find out soon.


The audiobook for Santa Fe Mojo is still in the works. Due to lots of complications this project has taken a lot longer than expected but is now getting close. It has only been recently that I was able to listen to a portion of the book. I liked all of the elements of the audiobook, but it was strange to hear. I had never listened to anyone read one of my books before.

During the process of writing, editing, reviewing and reviewing again, I probably will read a book fifty times or more before it is finalized. To hear it read by someone else (a very good narrator, by the way) was strange. This may sound odd to you, but it was like the book had been private before but somehow now it was public. Remember this is a book that has thousands and thousands of copies distributed—obviously it’s not a secret. Hearing a book read is really a different experience than reading to yourself. The book that was in my head was private this audiobook is very public.


Want to thank everyone for reading the blog. My current schedule is to write a post about once a week. I also put out a newsletter once a month. The newsletter is a little bit more structured with recurring features. You can subscribe to both the newsletter and blog from links on this page.

Thanks for being a reader.

Lies and True Lies

Where do story ideas come from? My first book, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, story idea was to have a couple of “normal” guys try to make a drug deal to help them with their financial problems. It was going to be about how they managed to screw everything up—since they were not criminals, just people with money problems looking for an out. As much as anything, I think at the beginning I saw the book as a comedy with some stupid crooks making all kinds of lethal mistakes. This idea came from my own experience in Oklahoma City in the 1980s.

This was a difficult time for most people in Oklahoma with a sudden and dramatic collapse of the oil industry. This was especially true for small business owners. Of course, with the local economy in the toilet, business was bad for most everyone. But there was an ugly ripple effect related to banks. All of the local banks were heavily involved in the oil industry, and when that industry tumbled, it brought down banks. The bank failures led to small business loans being called by the FDIC. Even a healthy business usually cannot pay-off a loan immediately that was not expected to be due. And, of course, there was no way to get another bank loan because the whole banking industry was on the ropes.

One such business was owned by a friend of mine and he sought my advice. As you may or may not know my background is financial—CPA and financial consultant. I helped him analyze his situation and basically told him there was no hope. Not what he wanted to hear. He had to come up with a boat load of cash or he faced bankruptcy. This actually is the first part of The Bootlegger’s Legacy story.

I did not know it at the time, but heard later, that he and another fellow developed a scheme to make a drug deal with some people from Mexico to solve their money woes. Fortunately, for my friend, his plans fell through. He never executed his absurd idea—where more than likely he would have been killed. He brought a partner into his business who had some cash and they were able to refinance the debt with an out-of-state bank. As the economy recovered his business grew and thrived.

So the actual story I based my idea on was basically boring. Nothing much happened and with a little luck the business owner survived. He never had a wild, dangerous adventure in Mexico, never got shot, never did much of anything except refinance his debt. Not exactly a book anyone would read.

But from that kernel of an idea came an adventure involving a bootlegger, a vast hidden fortune, a gorgeous mistress, divorce, romance, new life paths, family mysteries solved, great wealth and new loves.

Why did the story change? Because the actual story was not very interesting; the original idea was okay but the real story was just plain boring. So, I did what writers do; I made up a bunch of stuff. Hopefully fun, interesting, exciting stuff—a story you would want to read. Much of the story I made up as I wrote. Obviously this is not the best way to write, but it seems to work for me. I just get started and it seems to take on its own life, going from one thing to the next based on what seems right in the world I have created.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy became an entirely different story than what I thought at the beginning. In retrospect that was very good.

My next book, Dog Gone Lies, was a direct result of The Bootlegger’s Legacy. There was a small part in that book for a local sheriff who helped the TBL guys while they were in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Sheriff Ray Pacheco. I liked this character a lot and decided I wanted to know more about him—so I wrote a book where he was the main character. In a way TBL and the Pacheco & Chino books are a result of a bad idea a friend had on how to solve his financial problems that he never really attempted. Ideas for books come from all sorts of things– even out of thin air or some past experience.

The third Pacheco & Chino book, Four Corners War, will be available for pre-order July 1st. This story also was due to one of my own experiences. While not a true story by any means, many of the events in FCW did actually happen; but none of the murders. Maybe that is what novels are—real life stories exaggerated and contorted to make them more interesting to read. After all; it is fiction.

Interview

Why would I lie?

Occasionally I have an opportunity to be interviewed. These are either web sites or blogs about authors and writing. The structure of these interviews is usually a written Q and A. Some of the questions can be pretty lame but all and all these people work hard to make the interview interesting. This is not a give and take type interview so the exchange can be very static; but recently did one and thought it might be interesting.

Q. How did you come to see yourself as a writer, and what inspired you to seek publication?
A. From a very early age reading was a vital part of my life. I think many avid readers imagine themselves writing a book someday—and I was no exception. Family and career dominated my life for the majority of my working years so I never wrote that book. Towards the end of my career and as indie writers had more opportunities to get a book published, I decided to give it a try. It was not a complete disaster– but close. From that humbling experience I spent time learning a new craft, along with understanding the process of writing and publishing. Some years later I published my first book “The Bootlegger’s Legacy.” Currently I have written ten books and now self-identify as an author. You can’t change your past, but if there is one thing I would re-do, it would be the waiting so long to become a writer.

Q. Tell us something about your writing process that’s unusual or that you haven’t revealed before.
A. The unusual thing about my writing process is that it is not unusual. I write at a desk with a laptop and an extra-large monitor. Most of my writing happens in the morning. I’m an early riser and will have written for several hours by the time the household begins to stir. I may write some throughout the day but the heavy lifting is always in the early morning.

My original answer to this question included that I wrote while submerged in a vat of lime Jell-O; it was funny, to me, but sounded stupid–so I deleted it.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to trade places with?
A. While he is probably my favorite character right now; he would also be the character I would least like to trade places with–Vincent Malone. A man so flawed he is almost toxic. From what was going to be a great life of privilege and honor; disaster occurred as everything fell apart due to his weaknesses. For the next few decades he punished himself because of his failings. I wanted the reader to sense that Malone was a good man who had lost all of his confidence and was merely looking for a way to die in peace. He was done, a broken man. He had paid the price for his tremendous shortcomings and now wanted to be left alone. That is how Santa Fe Mojo starts–he’s just about at the end. The story of how he finds his “mojo” in Santa Fe is uplifting, but I don’t think I would like to experience the lows of Malone’s life.

The character I would most like to trade places with is Joe Meadows from The Bootlegger’s Legacy. This may be odd in a way because Joe is probably the character most like me. It is not me, but we had many similarities. Through twists and turns that can only occur in a book Joe finds wealth and great happiness. Most everybody would want to be like Joe.

Q. Which of your characters would you most and least like to become romantically involved with?
A. One-word answer for most likely; Sally. A portion of The Bootlegger’s Legacy takes place in the past when a 1950s Oklahoma bootlegger and his mistress (Sally) plant the seed that is the “legacy” which drives the main story about the next generation. This is my favorite portion of any of my books, and Sally is one of the best characters I’ve written about.

Least likely would be Joe Louongo—I shudder at the thought. He is a secondary character in the Muckraker series. Louongo is a loud, foul-mouth attorney who has no ethics and maybe no redeeming qualities of any kind—but a great addition to those books. These less than admirable characters make writing so much fun.

Q. What advice, as relates to your writing career, would you give your younger self?
A. The best advice is to keep doing. I have had many different occupations and few have offered the satisfaction I have gained from writing. It would have been very easy for me to think that the chance to be a writer was something I had passed up; but that was not true. My advice to my younger self would have been to not give up on your dreams.

Q. What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?
A. I had a long career in business which impacted my writing. Much of that time was as a financial adviser related to business acquisitions. While number crunching does not lead to very many novels, I have been fortunate to meet an amazing number of unique characters. That stored resource of all of those wonderful, awful, funny, sad, smart, stupid and unique people has been a fantastic treasure trove to populate the books. And it’s not just the characters. My next book Four Corners War is loosely based on actual happenings I experienced while working on a business transaction in New Mexico. My books have consistently been affected by what I actually saw and then enhanced by a few murders, millions in lost treasure, dogs, crazy sheriffs and heroic detectives.

Characters Make the Book

Writing books is a chore. Yep, it does not just happen—it takes work. Obviously there is the mental issue—no that’s not saying you have to be “mental” to write books—but; okay, it helps. Before writing you have to have an idea for a book. Let’s say you want to write a mystery. You have to have a plot—or maybe several. Is it a murder mystery? Who was killed and why and by whom? Of course there must be characters—some of my books may have thirty or more —each needs to be developed to fit the story and described to the reader.

If you read my blog you know that I claim the characters write the book—just a little BS there. The characters drive the story; but they are directed. As you write, the characters take on their own existence and reactions in the book are based on those characters and how they would respond to what is happening. Of course they don’t write the book—that task falls to the author. Hours and hours of writing.

The characters make the book—usually more than the plot. People read books about people. My focus has always been on the characters. Often these fictional actors are a mixture of people I’ve known or, even in small ways, myself. Of course many of the characters are completely made up to fit the needs of the story.

The character I’m currently writing about is Doctor Hightower. He’s a man of mystery living in a small town in the foothills outside of Denver. He’s an attorney and apparently a doctor of some sort. But the most interesting aspect of this reclusive man is that he has discovered the fountain of youth—or at least a laboratory created substitute. Through the whims of happenstance, he was in the right place at the right time to stumble into a chance for everlasting life. That gift was accompanied by the tragic loss of his greatest love and the pain of a life of loneliness and grief—a never ending life.

So here is a character, who has no resemblance to anyone I knew—seldom ran into folks who claimed to be hundreds of years old—well wait a minute, there was that time in a bar in El Paso, never mind; that is another story. Dr. Hightower sure isn’t me. So a character that I’m not familiar with—how do you write about this unique person. Easy answer –you make it up.

I’ve never met a famous author, I know some people who write but they write mostly non-fiction, historical stuff. I often think about the great authors of the 1800s and early 1900s and the amazingly long novels they wrote, by hand, about the human condition. Some of these works explored the misery that existed for so many people; and yet more often than not these writers were usually well off—often from elite, wealthy families. One of these authors in particular fascinates me—Victor Hugo. His two greatest works were Les Misérables, 1862, and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, 1831.

These stories take us into the underworld of misery and injustice that existed for most people at the time. How does someone like Hugo write with such detail about something he had not experienced. What I have read is that he did research. For Les Miserables he visited some of the horrible prisons that existed at the time and talked to men who had no hope. But research is just observation and data gathering—he was still able from a position of privilege to describe the misery that existed in a way that touched everyone who read his books. He made it up.

A fiction author is someone who makes up stories. There is always an element of truth buried in every fictional account. Maybe it’s the author’s experience, or maybe observation, or maybe it just popped into the head of the author from some place we don’t yet understand.

Children are very good at making things up, even creating their own worlds; but are often scolded by adults for this creative act. Story telling becomes a no-no. A good fictional author may be the result of non-scolding parents who loved their children’s stories or maybe these authors are just good liars.

PS. I first read Hugo’s books as Classic’s Illustrated comic books. These comic books from the 1950’s had a great impact on my life—I still recall the wonderful feeling of reading these great stories. Obviously Hugo’s writing was dumbed down for kids—but the overall impact was still there. Both Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame were available as comics and they were two of my favorites. The sadness of the stories had a great impact on me. I spent a great deal time thinking about how these people lived and must have suffered. Why other humans would be so cruel was very troubling. I still don’t know the answer.