Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Spirit Road Mystery Series

A Lakota in a Crow Land
by C. M. Wendleboe

My latest novel in the Spirit Road Mystery Series, Death on the Greasy Grass, opens with FBI Special Agent Manny Tanno and Oglala Sioux Tribal investigator Willie With Horn taking some much needed R&R at the site of the Battle of Little Big Horn. But when a death on the reservation cuts his vacation short, he learns that the secrets of the past have a way of stirring up trouble in the present.

As a scout for the infamous General Custer, Crow tribe member Levi Star Dancer kept a journal chronicling his exploits from the Battle of the Greasy Grass onwards. Now, the missing journal has been found and the descendants of those mentioned in the account, including Levi’s own, want to keep their family secrets hidden at all costs. . .

Manny’s trip to the Crow Agency Reservation turns out to be ill-timed when a reenactor of the Battle of Little Big Horn is killed right in front of him. It turns out the victim was the one who found Levi Star Dancer’s famed diary and was planning on selling it to the highest bidder. And while the dead body is hard to miss, the coveted book is nowhere to be found. Now, Manny has to watch his back while searching for a murderer and the missing journal, because this slippery killer will do anything to make sure the past stays buried. And Manny and Willie are targets of some very nasty people that do not want the murders solved.
As I was reading an article a couple years ago, I came onto the term a “murder of crows” to express a group of the birds. That got me thinking about the Crow Indians, and what might have killed some back in the day. The logical answer was their traditional enemies, the Lakota, and the working title was “A Murder of Crows” before I changed it. I was told there still exists some animosity between the two. I played on this conflict with my sleuth, Manny Tanno. He is a Lakota assigned to solve a case on Crow Agency, and must work together with Crow BIA Officers.
During the course of the investigation, someone tries killing him while on Crow Agency to prevent him from learning the truth. And someone tries killing Willie as he follows-up on leads on Pine Ridge.
I’m often asked how I developed Manny, and I always answer that he developed himself. My first law enforcement job out of the Marines was working an off-reservation town in South Dakota bordering two Sioux Reservations. As our town was the closest to grab coffee or a meal, BIA officers and tribal police, U.S Marshalls and FBI Agents would come into town and we’d visit. Manny is a little bit of this officer, a little bit of that agent, until he took the form that you’ll read about in Death on the Greasy Grass.

C. M. Wendelboe entered the law enforcement profession when he was discharged from the Marines as the Vietnam War was winding down. During the 1970s, he worked in South Dakota towns bordering two Indian reservations. The initial one-third of his career included assisting federal and tribal law enforcement agencies embroiled in conflicts with American Indian Movement activists in other towns and on other reservations, including Pine Ridge.

 He moved to Gillette, Wyoming, and found his niche, where he remained a sheriff’s deputy for over twenty-five years. In addition, he was a longtime firearms instructor at the local college and within the community. During his thirty-eight-year career in law enforcement he had served successful stints as police chief, policy adviser, and other supervisory roles for several agencies. Yet he has always  felt most proud of “working the street.” He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a mystery writer. He lives and works in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Wendelboe now revisits the Pine Ridge Reservation for research and recreation. He lives within a morning’s drive of Devils Tower, Bear Butte, the Black Hills, and the Badlands—“tourist sites” that are sacred places to the Lakota people. The distance of geography and expanse of time has accorded him an appreciation of their culture and spirituality. His developing awareness of their diverse perspectives on historical and contemporary issues is reflected in the themes of his Spirit Road Mysteries.

 You can learn more about Curt Wendleboe at his website:

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Remembering Elmore "Dutch" Leonard


“Dutch” Leonard’s overnight success began in 1951, when he flipped a mental coin to decide between writing crime novels and westerns. “Westerns won because I liked western movies a lot,” he said, “and because there was a wonderful market for western short stories. You could aim at the Saturday Evening Post or Colliers, and if you missed there, try Argosy, Blue Book, and on down to the lesser paying pulp magazines, the most prestigious being Dime Western and Zane Grey. Right behind them were Ten-Story Western and Fifteen Western Tales.”

Leonard was always been an avowed reader. “A bookworm, yes,” he said, “beginning with The Bobbsey Twins and The Book House volumes of abridged classics that included everything from Beowulf to Treasure Island. In the fifth grade I read most of All Quiet on the Western Front, serialized in the Detroit Times, and I wrote a World War I play that was staged in the classroom, my first piece of writing.”

His first nine years were spent south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the youngest of two children. He lived in Dallas, Oklahoma City, and Memphis before moving to Detroit in 1934, during the World Series. Raised a Catholic, he graduated from Detroit High School and the University of Detroit, both Jesuit institutions where he majored in English and philosophy.

A baseball player during high school, he acquired his nickname “Dutch” from teammates, who borrowed it from the Washington Senators knuckleball pitcher. The second Dutch Leonard served in the Navy during World War II with a Seabee unit in the South Pacific. Four years later, he acquired a bride and a new job with an advertising agency.

Leonard lusted for full-time writing, and remembers a letter from his agent in 1951, which attempted to discourage him from quitting his advertising copywriting job to freelance. He had concentrated on truck advertising for Chevrolet and, by that time, had a tank full of writing catchy ads. Getting out of bed at five o’clock, he wrote two pages of fiction before going to work “with the rule that I couldn’t put the water on for coffee until I’d started writing. I’ve been a disciplined writer ever since.”

While working for the ad agency, he supplemented his early morning writing by placing a pad of paper in his desk drawer. With the drawer partially open, he wrote fiction on the job. His first two short stories were rejected, so he decided to spend more time and effort on research. Although he had never set foot west of the Mississippi, he concentrated on the Southwest, Apaches, the cavalry and cowboys, while subscribing to Arizona Highways magazine to learn all he could about the arid terrain. His first sale the previous year was a novelette titled, “Trial of the Apache,” which sold to Argosy for their December issue. His next story, “Tizwin,” earned him a rejection letter from Argosy and a sale to Ten Story Western, which eventually appeared in print in 1952 under the title, “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo.”

Thirty of his short stories sold during the 1950s, four of them to Argosy and the Saturday Evening Post, while the majority appeared in Dime Western and Zane Grey. Leonard sold everything he wrote with the exception of his first two short stories and several with contemporary settings. By the end of the fifties, television had taken over. “The pulps faded away and the book advances didn’t compare to what was once offered. It took nearly two years to sell Hombre, for an advance of $1,250.” Multiple printings followed, with the book listed among the twenty-five all-time best westerns. Hombre more than made up for its meager beginning, along with a film version starring Paul Newman, which earned the writer a modest $10,000.

Gunsight was his last western novel, written at the request of Marc Jaffe in 1979 for Bantam Books. Leonard then flipped his genre coin and found that crime can pay quite well. Stick and LaBrava made him an overnight success, nicely padding his wallet along with the 1985 film version of Stick, starring Burt Reynolds, a production he prefers to ignore. The writer’s innate humor is deadpan, he said, not slapstick.

Glitz sparkled for eighteen weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, ensuring him top billing on the literary marquee, but although the film rights were optioned by Lorimar, production stalled for more than two years.

His sudden popularity cut deeply into his writing time. “It’s nice to get fan mail,” he said, “a few letters a week, and being recognized on the street, but the interviews are wearing me out. I’m asked questions about writing, and about my purpose in the way I write that I’ve never thought of before. And I have to take time to think on the spot and come up with an answer. I’m learning quite a bit about what I do from recent interviews, and getting a few answers.

Interviewers ask Leonard for advice for budding writers. He usually responds with: “The worst thing a novice can do is to try to sound like a writer. I guess the first thing you have to learn is how not to overwrite.” His advice is simply to write. “Don’t talk about it, do it. Read constantly, study the authors you like, pick one and imitate him, the way a painter learns fine art by copying the masters. I studied Hemingway, as several thousand other writers have done. I feel that I learned to write westerns by reading and rereading For Whom the Bells Toll.”

A portrait of Hemingway hung on the wall of his office, reminding him that he studied the revered novelist’s work for “construction, for what you leave out as well as what you put in. But I was not influenced by his attitude, thank God. My attitude is much less serious. I see absurdities in serious situations, influenced in this regard by Vonnegut, Richard Bissel, and Mark Harris, and this shows in my writing. It’s your attitude that determines your sound, not style.”

Leonard wrote for many years in longhand on specially-ordered yellow sheets, rewriting and revising until he was ready to type his final draft. “I’ll do a few pages this way and then put it in my Olympia manual office-model typewriter,” he said. “I hate to change ribbons, but have no interest in electronic advances. How the words are eventually reproduced is not my concern. I revise as I type, aiming for five or six clean pages a day. Then I continue to go back and revise and the pages begin to pile up. Sometimes I’ll go back and add a scene or shift scenes around, but most of the revising has to do with simplifying, cutting out excess words, trimming to make it lean or to adjust the rhythm of the prose.”

(This was an early interview with Dutch Leonard and can be read in it's entirity in my book,  Maverick Writers.)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

On Writing a Series

To series or not to series; that was the question.

by J. J. and Bette Golden Lamb
After our first co-authored medical thriller (BONE DRY) was published, we started work on our second collaboration… although we should have started much sooner than that!

It was a time of thinking, thinking, thinking about whether to do a sequel, or write something totally different. We agreed that what we didn’t want was to get involved in all the details, strictures, and rigmarole of doing a series. You know, free spirits, too many things to write about.

So, the second collaboration (Heir Today…) was a suspense-adventure novel, with romantic overtones. Both books followed that well-worn – and accurate – axiom, write about what you know. With one of us an RN and the other a journalist, well, you get the gist.

Still, while writing that second book, we never stopped thinking and talking about our first book’s lead character, RN Gina Mazzio.  We liked her … so did a lot of other people. And we kept speculating about other criminal/medical plots where Gina could get involved … without being tossed out of her hospital for being a magnet for trouble … deadly trouble.

Pulled in two directions – stand-alones or series – we compromised with an off-beat medical thriller (Sisters in Silence), where the lead character would be the killer. Certainly not a role for our favorite RN, Gina Mazzio.

One would think that long before this we would have given in to all the published evidence that readers like series, and many writers do quite well with them. (With our inherent stubbornness, we were still working on stand-alones, together and individually!)

But … Gina kept popping up, in thought and conversation. We just couldn’t abandon her. She cried out for a new adventure, to be pushed to new limits. Thus was born the second Gina Mazzio, RN medical thriller (Sin and Bone).

There it was – we had a sequel, and possibly were on our way to what we’d tried to avoid from the beginning – a series!

After two books and two attempts on her life, Gina needed a break, not from us, but from San Francisco’s Ridgewood Hospital … and all the deadly memories associated with it.
What better plan than to take off on twin travel nurse assignments with fiancĂ© Harry Lucke, who’s been doing this sort of thing virtually his whole career. Their destination: a rehab center for Alzheimer’s patients in an area we know quite well – the country in and around Virginia City, NV.

On arrival at the Comstock Medical Auxiliary Facility, the first thing Gina notices are iron bars across all the second-floor windows. Before the day is out, her ever-present curiosity draws her and Harry into the midst of an illegal scheme to manipulate test results for an experimental drug being touted as a cure for Alzheimer’s.

It’s medicine, mines, madness, and murder.


Bette Golden Lamb, a registered nurse, has developed parallel careers as a painter, sculptor, and ceramist. Her art works can be found in a number of galleries and private collections.

Bone Pit is the third book in the Gina Mazzio, RN medical thriller series, which includes Bone Dry and Sin and  Bone. These, along with Sisters in Silence and Heir Today, were co-authored with husband J.J.

J. J. Lamb is a career writer – journalism, short stories, and novels. In addition to fiction co-authored with Bette, he is the creator of the Zachariah Tobias Rolfe III private eye series, the latest of which, No Pat Hands, is scheduled to appear in 2013.

The Lambs live in Northern California and are members of international Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Robert W. Walker's Annie's War

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Rob. Tell us about your intriguing new book, Annie's War.

I have for years wished to go back to pick up some manuscripts that I had written in the early to late 80s, among them ANNIE'S WAR - Love Amid the Ruins.  The ruins refers to the failed attempt of the infamous John Brown who is arguably the first home-grown terrorist in America, whose raid on a US Armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia in 1859 precipitated the Civil War along with a number of other incidents and pressures of the day. I began my writing career as a historical fiction author with a Huckleberry Finn-like novel written while a high school student. I got into crime novels and horror novels as a way to make a living at writing. At the time that I wrote ANNIE'S WAR and a number of YA historical coming of age novels, there was little to no interest in historical fiction.

Previous to returning to Annie's War and dusting off the manuscript some 20 years later, I had done the same with my CHILDREN of SALEM - Love Amid the Witch Trials. With the success of rebuilding that manuscript, I was emboldened then to rebuild Annie's War with the skills and learning I had arrived at these many years later after writing well over fifty other novels from thrillers to urban fantasy.

 One of my favorite subjects has always been the Civil War and all the issues leading up to the greatest conflict ever on American soil. I wanted to tell the old John Brown story through the eyes of his 17-year-old daughter who has fallen in love with her father's 1st in command, John Henry Kagi. I love to explore relationships and character, and how characters interact. I write character-driven novels, and Annie has the greatest spirit. She is a fighter, full of spunk and vinegar and at the same time an extremely engaging character. She has to fight for every step of the way through a plot dictated by an historical timeline.

The novel is not 'just' an historical novel as I worked extremely hard to layer it; eighteen men that Annie keeps house for are going into a situation that might likely see them all killed, and among them is the father of her unborn child. This is a tragedy in the making unless Annie can win her small corner of this war. Things are further complicated when a Pinkerton agent on his first job is on a mission to assassinate Annie's father, but spending days and nights with Annie, he falls in love with her, and the boy meets girl tale plays out against the backdrop of gunfire and lynch mobs.

I had great fun, a ball really, writing ANNIE'S WAR anew, and not a bit of dust remains on the story. The reviews thus far have been glowing, and I feel it may well be my best work ever.

 ~Robert W. Walker

You can learn more about Robert Walkter on Twitter, DorothyL,  Facebook at Robert W. Walker (Rob) and Facebook at Titanic 2012 - Curse of RMS Titanic, as well as: