A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Kaye George

I’m a huge fan of the People of the Wind series. It’s a pleasure to have Kaye George as my guest today to talk about the latest book in the series, Death in the New Land, which I recently reviewed.

BIO: Kaye George, award-winning novelist and short-story writer, writes cozy and traditional mysteries and a prehistory series, which are both traditionally and self-published: two cozy series, Fat Cat and Vintage Sweets; two traditionals featuring Cressa Carraway and Imogene Duckworthy; and the People of the Wind prehistory Neanderthal mysteries.  Over fifty of her short stories have also appeared, mostly in anthologies and magazines. She reviews for Suspense Magazine and writes a column for Mysterical-E. She lives in Knoxville TN.

AF: What drew you to writing about prehistory? And about Neanderthals in particular?

KG: I became more and more excited about Neanderthals after the genome was first sequenced and so much was being learned about them, almost every week. About that time, I read something in a short story magazine by a guy who writes an ancient Roman character. Someone asked him why he wrote about Romans and he said that he thinks the further back you go, the better. I remember saying this out loud. “I can go WAY further back than that.” The idea was born and I started working on it.

AF: The language you use in the narration of this series is unique. Simple, a bit formal, and lacking certain constructions normal to English such as “taller.” The Hamapa concept is “more tall.” Did the speech patterns come to you intuitively? Did you construct them consciously?

KG: I had many versions of the language, both in narration and in their communication. At the time, I lived in Austin and had an excellent critique group who met in a book store every week. I brought version after version to them and most did not work.

When I started in on this, the thinking was that Neanderthals could not speak. I also knew that their brains were larger than ours. To solve both those problems, I decided to give them telepathy, using that brain. I was reading Temple Grandin and learned that she thinks in pictures rather than words. She also posits that animals think in pictures. Ms. Grandin is autistic and a renowned animal handler. A cattleman was having trouble getting his animals to enter a narrow, dark passage and he appealed to her for help. She immediately saw that the passage was dark, and had confusing light in it. When the animals could see clearly where they were going, they went with no problems at all.

This made me think that my Neanderthals should communicate solely with pictures. You can imagine how cumbersome that was! It didn’t work at all. Then newer theories came out that they probably could talk. Their voice boxes did not last all those thousands of years to be fossilized, which was the basis for the first theory, but the second one is based on the fact that they did actually have all the structures to be able to speak.

One early reader told me she didn’t want to see modern people dressed as Neanderthals in my books. I didn’t either! I had to give them a language at this point. I studied how children first learn to speak, how people who have trouble speaking are helped, and what the universal sounds are among many languages. I gave them a language with sounds in the front of the mouth, which are easiest to pronounce. But I didn’t have them speaking very much because I still like the telepathy idea.

As for the narrative, I wanted it to convey something of another time, a vastly different time. So I made my own grammar rules. No contractions, nor –er and –est comparatives, and a few more. I wanted it to be slightly stilted, but readable. I hope I accomplished that.

AF: What was the hardest part of writing this book? And what was the most fun?

KG: I guess the research is both, the hardest and the most fun. At least the most rewarding anyway. I do find creating my characters and following them through their lives and adventures satisfying also. But the best of all of this is having fans like you who appreciate the series.

AF: Thank you. Your fictional Neanderthal tribe, the Hamapa, migrate to the place that later became New Mexico. What made you choose this location?

KG: I’m not sure. I did calculations using Google maps to see how far they could get in a day, at my best guesstimate anyway. I found a detailed study of the terrain in that area, around Tucumcari Mountain, so I knew I could portray it accurately, as it was those thousands of years ago. I also liked the idea of the mountain, or mesa, itself, because it’s so distinctive looking. I thought that I could describe it accurately (it hasn’t changed much since then, except for what grows there and lives there) and people could figure out where this was. I actually pictured having it on the cover, but my publisher came up with such a good one, that I let that idea go.

AF: Your research is impressive, and I appreciate the way you share tidbits of it at the beginnings of chapters. Is there anything you learned that you wish you’d been able to fit into a book but couldn’t—some favorite fact or discovery you’d like to share?

KG: I’ve mentioned my love for the mega fauna of the last Ice Age. I have a bare mention of giant beavers in a legend told by the Storyteller, and a meeting with a glyptodont in the new land, but I wish I could cram a lot more of these fascinating animals into the plots. It’s hard to make up reasons to stick them in there! What would be fun would be movies of these with the mega fauna portrayed on a big screen. Or a little one, if people are watching at home.

AF: You’ve blended history with fiction, with deviations from the record in some cases and adherence to the facts in others. How did you choose this blend?

KG: My one main deviation, as I’ve said, it locating the tribe in what is now North America, and locating a bunch of other types of people there also. These all did live concurrently on this planet, but many did not meet each other. I liked to think about what would happen if they did, so I wrote that. My other “invention” isn’t a deviation, since the social structure isn’t known, and probably never will be. But the matriarchal society is my idea, kind of as a feminist, and kind of for logical reasons.

In everything else, I try to stick to the facts as we know them. What their art and dwellings were like, how they hunted, how they lived, what they ate and wore, clothing and burial methods. The ancient flute is controversial, but I took the stance that it was an actual instrument and that they made it and used it.

AF: The Hamapa are a female-led society. Can you share your process in creating the roles they assign to females and to males?

KG: I wanted an elder female for the leader, and she had to have a mate, even though she didn’t always keep the same one. When I decided to give them handed-down folklore, I had to have a person designated to learn it and to tell it, so that’s the Storyteller. It made sense that one person would know the most about healing herbs and practices, so she’s the Healer. Her son may one day succeed her, and none of the other roles aside from leader are gender specific. One guy is the best at flint knapping, one at making clothing, several are the best at throwing spears, and one is innately good at tracking people and animals. And, since fire was probably very important to them, one person is assigned to be the Firetender as his full time job. I tried not to have strict division of labor, but for people to naturally find where their talents lie.

AF: I know you have multiple series to keep up with, but this one is my personal favorite. Will there be another People of the Wind book?

KG: I’m ending this one so it can wrap up and end the series. I’m not saying I won’t write another one, but I’m not planning on it now. These are intense and difficult to pull together and, although I love doing them, I’ll take a break and maybe think about it later.

AF: Is there anything you wish I’d asked you but didn’t? Feel free to answer that question now.

KG: I might mention how hard it was to get this published. When you write the only series in a genre, no one knows what to do with it. I queried every agent on the planet and it was well-received, but no contracts. One agent told me she loved it, it’s “better than Jean Auel” (author of the Clan of the Cave Bear books), but that she had no idea how to sell it (to a publisher). I wanted to tell them to look at Harry Potter and maybe try harder, but I didn’t. I finally found a publisher who loves the series and has done everything they can for me and for these books. I couldn’t be happier than I am at Untreed Reads, unless I could sell a million copies. Somehow.

AF: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. I appreciate getting an inside look at these books.


To purchase books by Kaye George, click here.

Visit Kaye’s website


A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Pari Noskin

Clovis_frtRecently I reviewed The Clovis Incident, the first Saha Solomon mystery, and today I’m happy to have the author, for an interview. Pari Noskin (aka Pari Noskin Taichert) garnered two Agatha Award nominations for her first mystery series originally from the University of New Mexico Press. Like her New Mexico heroine, Sasha Solomon, Noskin is a multi-year veteran in the PR industry. Her first three books are: The Clovis Incident, The Belen Hitch and The Socorro Blast. She is also founder of the Anthony-nominated blog, Murderati.com, and a national award-winning freelance features writer. In her new series, featuring television personality and psychic Darnda Jones, Pari leaves the comforts of the familiar and explores what it means to be truly connected to the natural world, to understand other creatures’ perspectives. That’s because Darnda is much more interested in communicating with non-humans than most people she knows. Don’t worry, Pari isn’t anti-social. She enjoys hearing from her readers whenever they take the time to send her a line!


AF: I noticed in your notes at the end of the The Clovis Incident that many people in Clovis helped you witthe book. What it was like bringing this idea to them? Any favorite stories from your research?

PN: People ranged from amused to moderately concerned. One of the things that really has struck me through writing the first three Sasha books and working on the fourth is that my ideas about PR and marketing, of the places about which I write, often mirror what city councils and local tourism departments are already discussing. This was true a bit in Clovis; some people really wanted to cash in on the UFO angle. It has been even more striking with my subsequent books.

A favorite research story? Hmm. I learned a lot during the writing of this first book in the series. One important thing was that it takes time and knowing the right people to get at the kinds of information I wanted. I was fortunate enough to speak with some city leaders and influencers who were quite frank with me. I don’t know if they liked the final product, however. It seems to be much more popular with people who have either lived in and moved away from Clovis or live close by but not in the city itself. That said, it has sold very well there.

AF: I know nothing about the PR field so I found Sasha’s work fun to read about. She comes across as a creative risk-taker, someone who enjoys the gamble of bidding for a free-lance job over the security of something steady. Has your PR experience helped you as an author in addition to making it Sasha’s profession?

PN: My PR experience spans well over 30 years and it has been tremendously helpful in my professional and writing life. PR forces one to always consider the perspective of the audience. I don’t write to audience, per se, but I think about how my words and stories’ structure affect the end product… the telling of the tale.

I did work as a freelancer for several years. It was a great experience in forcing organization and nurturing a continual moxie when it came to thinking about projects — how to get them done and what angles would be most effective.

AF: I have a partially-formed urge to visit Clovis after reading this book, though I’m not sure why. If I follow up on it, what would you recommend?

PN: I don’t know if I’d recommend going there nowadays. One challenge in writing about local restaurants and other businesses is that things change. Life rolls on. The Clovis Incident was published long enough ago that I suspect there are far more changes than constants in that city. Roswell has changed quite a bit too.

AF: The next books in the series feature Socorro and Belen. What made you choose these locations? And Clovis?

PN: This may sound strange, but I write about places that have an identifiable personality and human center: a there there!  I can tell pretty quickly if a town or area will yield the kind of spirit and flair that will intrigue me and make a great location for a story. I also always start with a much deeper theme than what many readers ever perceive — with a big question that I want to explore. Some people never realize what I’m doing because they focus on the humor and the speed of the story. Other’s “get it.”

Belen with its artistic center and great aspirations for tourism made me look at questions around “What is art?” “Who has the right to define it?” And Socorro, with NM Tech there, was a fabulous place to explore the themes of interpersonal as well as national prejudice and intolerance …

I always fall in love with the places about which I write, too.

AF: What is your favorite place in New Mexico and why?

PN: Not fair. I love many places here. I’m a native through and through—born and raised in NM—and I know there are so many locations to discover. You know what my favorite place (characteristic) is in NM? It’s the space … the ability to drive for just a few minutes outside of ABQ or any other town and be in the middle of all of this glorious, stunning, gorgeous land. I love the colors of this often parched land, the hues of yellows, browns, pinks, reds, blues … I love that we can be right next to ancient history without expending much effort: the ruins of old pueblos, Tres Piedras’ petroglyphs, old towns, plazas, wonderful old cemeteries.

Driving around NM, I always wonder about the people who passed before. When I see a solitary road going off into the distance, I wonder who might live there, what life would be like in the middle of this possibility in a basically harsh environment. I find all of New Mexico, especially outside the cities, incredibly inspiring and intriguing.

AF: This is off the wall, but then the whole book is (in a good way). Do you speak Cantonese? I may have taken more interest in this than some readers, but I studied Mandarin for a year and had no idea how different it was from Cantonese until I read the scenes in which Sasha brushes off her language skills. From this and from the way you blended Buddhist beliefs about the dead into the story, I got the impression you were well-acquainted with Asian cultures. What’s your background in this area?

PN: That’s a fun question. Thanks for asking. I earned my undergraduate degree at the University of Michigan in Asian Studies and lived in Hong Kong for almost a year as a college student. Asian philosophy has interested me for decades; it also helps that my mother collected Asian antiques so I grew up learning about these cultures. Also, I’ve always been interested in other languages as windows into the way other cultures think and perceive the world. I’ve studied seven so far.

AF: In The Clovis Incident, Sasha meets some apparently sane, coherent, functional people (as well as some who are more on the fringes) who claim to have encountered aliens. Tell me about your sources for this material.

PN: All of the characters came straight out of my odd imagination. I study people and so some did remind me of folks I met along the way. But I made every single one of them up — from cell to cerebellum.

AF: When you start a book, do you know how it ends? What’s your creative process like?

I never know the ending. I really admire people who outline and know where their writing is going. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. But I have to just jump in and start writing and see where the story and characters take me. It’s not a very efficient way to write and I end up throwing away a lot of words and concepts — far too many — but no other way works for me. I love the process of discovery and am grateful that I enjoy editing too.

AF: What are you currently working on?

PN: I’m actively working on the second book in my Darnda Jones series. The first one, Stung, is available electronically and will be, eventually, in print. Darnda was born in the Sasha series and I liked her so much I wanted to know her better. She is a psychic/telepath who works as a professional “pest controller” and has a television show doing just that. What makes her especially interesting is that she cares far more for insects, animals and most plants — and for the natural world and health of our planet — than she does for most human beings. She’s a deep and wonderful character. I really wish I knew someone like her.

Does it say something weird that I’ve actually created one of my own best friends?

Also, I’m part of a writers’ collaborative now, Book View Café, and we serve as a publishing house for each other. All of us are multi-published, so the quality of all of our work is very high. I like the independence of this model — rather than more traditional models — and the fact that I can write what I want rather than what might be expected. I’m also working on the next Sasha book. It is located in Las Cruces, NM and explores the chile pepper industry and organic vs big agriculture.

AF: Thanks for being my guest. I look forward to discovering Darnda.


Follow Pari Noksin on Goodreads  and on Facebook .


A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: J. Michael Orenduff

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Last week I reviewed the Pot Thief Who Studied Georgia O’Keefe.


I’m delighted to have the author as my guest today.

 Bio: Mike Orenduff grew up in a house so close to the Rio Grande that he could Frisbee a tortilla into Mexico. A former president of New Mexico State University, he took early retirement from higher education to pursue his career as a fiction writer. His many accolades as an author include the Lefty Award for best humorous mystery, the Epic Award for best mystery or suspense e-book, and the New Mexico Book Award for best mystery or suspense fiction.

AF: You’ve been a professor at various colleges. What did you teach? Which class did you most enjoy teaching and why?

JMO: I taught philosophy (primarily logic courses) and mathematics. The mathematics courses were what are now called developmental. They used to be called remedial, but someone decided that’s politically incorrect. That may be, but remedial is a more accurate description. It is no blot on students who are not skilled at math. Good math teachers are rare in the public schools, so students often show up at college unprepared for college level math courses. My courses were a remedy. My favorite teaching experience was the pre-algebra courses I taught at Central Wyoming College. Many of my students were from the Wind River Reservation. The most rewarding thing about teaching is not standing at the blackboard writing the steps of some arcane proof. It is having a student say, “I thought I couldn’t do math. But now I can.”

AF: What’s your favorite place you’ve lived outside of New Mexico? Could you share an anecdote or memory from that place?

JMO: I lived in La Serena, Chile for a summer while my wife was teaching at La Universidad de la Serena. It was an idyllic life. I shopped each day at the market for food and fresh flowers, both of which were waiting when my wife arrived home from work. La Serena is in the northern desert area of Chile, so it was like New Mexico except it’s on the Pacific Ocean. Albuquerque with a beach. And even more Spanish being spoken. Two of my favorite memories from northern Chile are seeing the southern cross in the beautiful clear skies and being stranded in a small fishing village twenty miles north of La Serena after travelling there in a collectivo (a taxi into which six people are crammed to go to a place with no bus service). It was easy to find a collectivo in La Serena, a large city. But Las Casetas was a village and had no collectivos. Hence, no means to return. As we stood by the road wondering what to do, a man in a small Japanese pickup pulled over and asked us if we wanted to go to La Serena. We crowded into a bench seat designed for two people and had a delightful conversation with him on the ride south. I offered to pay him. He declined. I offered to at least pay for his gasoline. He declined again, saying he was going there anyway, so no extra gas was being burned. He told us about his wife whom he obviously adored. When we arrived in La Serena, I finally coaxed him into accepting money by holding out enough pesetas to buy flowers and saying, “This is for flowers for your wife.”

AF: Your books make me want to pay more attention to very old Native pottery. What would be the best places to go for a (legal) pottery tour of New Mexico?

JMO: Of course the shops and museums in Santa Fe are the places most people associate with ancient Native pottery, but my favorite place is Western New Mexico University in Silver City. Their museum has the largest collection of prehistoric Mimbres Mogollon pottery and artifacts in the world, including pottery and artifacts of the Upland Mogollon, Casas Grandes, Salado, and Anasazi. And as an added benefit, you can tour the Gila Cliff Dwelling just north of town and see artifacts in situ and where the people lived who made them.

AF: You share my love of T or C. I noticed that every place you mention there is real. What about the places in Albuquerque? I found myself guessing that every location except Hubie’s shop might also be a real place, but I seldom dine out in Albuquerque so I’m not sure. Are they? What’s behind your decision to use actual places rather than fictitious versions of them?

JMO: You guessed it. Every place is real. The only fictional ones are Hubie’s shop and Dos Hermanas. All the other places are real, even Sharice’s condo. Georgia O’Keeffe said that she preferred painting flowers instead of models because flowers, “are cheaper and they don’t move.” I prefer real places because it’s easier to describe them than to make up new ones. And I like to give them free publicity.

 AF: What made you choose the White Sands Missile Range for Hubie’s latest pot thieving adventure?

 JMO: There were several reasons. Perhaps the most interesting one is a real event that happened there is 2001. A man hunting Oryx found a Chupadero black-on-white water jug dating back to around 1300. Where else could that happen? Especially the Oryx part.

AF: Why Georgia O’Keeffe in the title?

 JMO: After starting out with a bunch of dead white males with no connection to New Mexico, I finally tumbled to the realization that I should use people with NM connections such as D. H. Lawrence. Then I decided a woman in the title would be good. And I chose O’Keeffe because she is strongly identified with NM but also because I had a small personal connection with her. In 1985, I was serving as the academic vice president at West Texas State University, known as West Texas State Normal College when Georgia O’Keeffe taught there from 1916 to 1918. We were celebrating the 75th anniversary of the school’s founding and looking for something to make the event special. I decided we should ask O’Keefe to grant us the right to make prints of a painting she had done while teaching there and allow us to sell those prints to fund scholarships. I gave the task of approaching Ms. O’Keeffe to my wife, whose charm and grace were best suited to the task. And it helped that she is also an artist and an art historian. O’Keeffe granted her request. So Georgia O’Keeffe helped me raise scholarship funding and also inspired me to write the latest book in the series.

 AF: Who are your favorite mystery writers? What is it that makes them stand out?

JMO: In no particular order and with apologies to the many others whom I like but didn’t pop to mind: Simon Brett, Michael Bond, John Mortimer, Mary Jane Maffini, Aaron Elkins, Carl Hiaasen, Leann Sweeney, Lawrence Block (but only his Bernie Rhodenbarr series), and Tim Hallinan (especially his Junior Bender series). What makes them stand out is clever humor.

AF: Did you know you were going to write a series when you wrote the first Pot Thief book? Which book in the series was the most challenging for you to write and why?

JMO: I knew it was to be series, but I didn’t know the titles would all start with The Pot Thief Who Studied…. In fact, the working title of the second one was The Pot Thief Who Gazed at the Stars. What was I thinking?

The first was the most challenging because I had to create everything from scratch. The rest somewhat less so, but I try to have the characters grow and develop as people do in real life.

AF: Any idea what the pot thief will study next?

 JMO: Edward Abbey. Like Hubie (and me), he was a graduate of the University of New Mexico.

AF: One of my favorite writers—and a good match with Hubie. I look forward to it.




A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Ann Myers



I’m happy to have Ann Myers, author of the Santa Fe Café Mysteries, as my guest today.

AF: Where did the inspiration for this story begin?

AM: Bread! I love baking and trying new recipes. I was baking up pan de muerto around the time I was brainstorming a culinary cozy and thought it would make a great title. Plus, it’s a marvelous bread, like a brioche but even better with anise and orange flavors and you can shape it like a skull and crossbones. What other bread has all that?

AF: Your book shows your love for the City Different. What’s your history with Santa Fe?

AM: This is where my main character Rita and I share a bit of similarity (along with our inability to dance). I’m originally from Pennsylvania and have lived in Louisiana, Japan, Ohio, and Florida and now Colorado. All great places, but like Rita I was instantly enamored with New Mexico and Santa Fe. Lucky for me, I get to go there a lot since moving to Colorado ten years ago. My husband researches water issues in New Mexico. It’s a never-ending project, and one I heartily encourage since it means summers and holidays in Santa Fe.

AF: Rita’s appreciation of food, kitchens, kitchen gadgets, and the art and meaning of cooking makes me think you must be a great cook yourself. Have you ever done it professionally or are you an enthusiastic amateur?

AM: Just an amateur cook and a very enthusiastic eater. Perhaps a little too enthusiastic? And, yeah, kitchen gadgets…I have a bit of a problem there too. Do I really need that raclette griddle that’s been languishing in my basement for years? Or the heavy cast-iron ebelskiver pan I was sure I’d use all the time, or the ice cream maker? Surely I’ll be making ice cream and round pancakes any moment now, so of course I’m hanging onto them. Lately, however, I’ve gotten better about sticking to small items, like cute old cookie cutters and cookbooks. You can never have too many cookbooks…

AF: What’s your favorite Santa Fe restaurant and why? You mention a few real ones in the books. Is that your tribute to them? And is Tres Amigas based on a real place?

AM: Oh, what a hard question. Santa Fe has so many great restaurants. My husband and I have a long list of places we have to visit when we’re in town, and the list keeps getting longer. One of my favorites is Tune-Up Café, which I couldn’t resist mentioning in the book. They make the best breakfast chiles rellenos with fried eggs and refried beans. So good! I also love Clafoutis for their fabulous French pastries, and I can always go for sopapillas, something I’d never make at home. I draw the culinary line at deep frying.

Tres Amigas is all fiction, or perhaps a mashup of some of my favorite cafés. I wanted someplace warm and cozy, serving up comfort-food favorites. The place I dream of having down the street from my house.

AF: I found details like Cass’s process making jewelry of fascinating. What was the most fun part of researching the book? What was the hardest part?

AM: Thanks! At the time I was writing Bread of the Dead, a friend and I were trying our hands at soldering and jewelry making. “Trying” is the key word for me. Whereas my friend was merrily wielding a giant flame, I was terrified by my tiny kitchen torch (which can melt metal, by the way). I did manage to master crème brûlée, and I learned a lot of about jewelry making, which I added to the book with Cass’s character.

Researching the food was also fun—and tasty! I’ve acquired a big stack of New Mexican cookbooks, including some great older ones with recipes from home cooks. Some of the recipes are simple in terms of ingredients but turn out so delicious. Like green chile stew, a basic stew but with loads of roasted green chiles. I’ve also enjoyed learning about Pueblo culinary traditions, both through reading and—better yet—attending Pueblo feast days, when residents invite family, friends, and strangers into their homes to eat. Such generosity and an amazing culinary feat to keep up a buffet for unknown numbers of guests. I always think of my family and how we’d stress out seeing hungry people lined up on the sofa, waiting to rotate in for a place at the table.

One of the research challenges I hadn’t anticipated was fitting my fictional places into the real landscape. Rita’s casita, for instance, is on a well-known street, although I didn’t have a particular address in mind. For Tres Amigas Café, I had a general idea of the location, but after my husband read the book, he thought it was somewhere else. In Feliz Navidead, I added an entire fictional hotel to the historic downtown since I wouldn’t want to be staging murders in real places. That took a lot of walking around and scoping out empty lots and worrying about how to make the fictional setting mesh with the actual one.

AF: Who are your favorite authors—mystery or other?

AM: I’m a huge mystery fan. It’s hard to pick favorites, although I adore British mysteries, such as those of Martha Grimes and Elly Griffiths. I’m also always reading cozy mysteries of all sorts. I love the everywoman heroines of cozies, as well as the craft/culinary/DIY themes. I’ve also recently discovered audiobooks, which I listen to at the gym or when working around the house. My local library has all the Hamish Macbeth mysteries on audio, and I went through at least a half-dozen while painting our house this fall. Fun to hear the Scottish accent read aloud and to imagine the bleak moors.

 AF: Tell me about your work in progress.

AM: Two more Santa Fe Café Mysteries are with my publisher right now! Cinco de Mayhem will be out in March 2016, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. In this book, Rita takes on a bully French chef, a corrupt food inspector, and a killer to help her friend Linda. She also has to come up with a perfect dinner date menu, a Southwest-French feast featuring a green chile and cheese soufflé.

The third book, Feliz Navidead, let me think of Christmas all last summer. So much fun, but also a little difficult to conjure images of snow and farolitos when sitting in front of a swamp cooler in our broiler Santa Fe rental casita. I won’t give away too much, but there is a devil involved and pie. I’m still trying to settle on the perfect pie recipe. So far I’ve tried a green chile, apple, cheddar (wow!) and a pumpkin brûlée. I’m thinking chocolate and red chile with a cookie crust should be next. Or maybe I’m delaying to have an excuse to make and eat more pie…

AF: Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to share?

AM: How about a recipe for New Mexico’s official state cookie, the bizcochito? It’s a yummy, anise-flavored shortbread cookie, perfect for any special occasion and the upcoming holidays.


Bizcochito traditionalists swear by lard for the proper flavor and texture. If you can’t find good lard, or prefer not to use it, shortening or butter can be substituted. You can also spice up your cookies by adding some chile powder to the cinnamon sugar. Delicious!

Makes three to four dozen cookies, depending on cookie cutter size


1 c lard (or butter or shortening)

1 c sugar

2 eggs

2 T anise seeds

1 t vanilla extract

½ t salt

¼ c brandy, sweet wine, or an anise-flavored liqueur, OR apple or orange juice

4 c all-purpose flour

1½ t baking powder

Cinnamon-sugar topping

¼ c sugar

1 t ground cinnamon

¼ t (or more) red chile powder (optional)


Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a stand or hand mixer, in a large bowl, cream the lard or butter until it is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, sugar, vanilla, and anise seed.

In separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir the lard mixture into the dry ingredients, along with the brandy (or juice). Mix until you have a dough that is soft but not sticky. If you’re baking in a dry region like the Southwest, add a little more orange juice or brandy if the dough seems too shaggy or stiff. Form the dough into a ball.

Place on a lightly floured surface and roll out to about ¼ inch thick. Cut the cookies out, using your favorite cutter. Small round or rosette shapes are popular. You can also forgo a cookie cutter and simply cut the dough diagonally to form diamonds. After cutting, dip the front face of each cookie in the cinnamon sugar mixture (you might have to press the sugar in and/or sprinkle a little extra sugar on top). Place the cookies on the baking sheet, leaving a little space in between.

Bake until lightly golden and puffed, about 11 to 13 minutes. Cool on a rack. Bizcochitos store well in containers, if you can resist eating them all.


Thank you, Ann. This has been delightful.

For more about the Santa Fe Café series and more recipes, go to http://www.annmyersbooks.com/

and https://www.facebook.com/AnnMyers.writer


A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Patricia Smith Wood

high1952front cover Easter Egg


Patricia Smith Wood’s father, first as a police officer, and later as a career FBI agent, sparked her own interest in law, solving crime, and mystery. After retiring from a varied and successful business career (including eighteen months working at the FBI, being a security officer at a savings & loan, and owning her own computer business) she attended writing seminars, conferences, and in 2009 graduated from the FBI Citizens’ Academy. Aakenbaaken & Kent published her first mystery, The Easter Egg Murder, on February 14, 2013. Murder on Sagebrush Lane, the second in the series, is finished and awaiting publication.

Last week I reviewed her book and this week she’s here to talk with me about it.

AF: The Easter Egg Murder has one of the most complicated plots I’ve ever read. How did you keep track of it as you wrote? (I picture you with a wall-sized chart covered with color-coded diagrams, or moving some sort of double-layered chess-board of characters around.)

PSW: It really wasn’t a problem for me. I’m a “pantster” and I didn’t map it out. The story simply developed as I wrote. Sometimes I’d start a chapter with a vague idea of it going one way, but it ended up completely different. I would finish and think, “Well, now what?” Then the next idea would just be there, and I’d go with it. I routinely found myself surprised at the twists that came out.

AF: Was there a historical event similar to the murder of Chipper Finn that inspired this book? Are any of the characters from that 1950 part of the plot based, even loosely, on actual people in New Mexico history?

PSW: Definitely! The actual murder of Cricket Coogler happened in Las Cruces, NM in 1949. But her body wasn’t discovered in the desert until sixteen days after she disappeared. Four young men (17-18) found her partially buried body in the desert on the Saturday before Easter when they went rabbit hunting. I used the basics, but changed the details to suit my version. Many of the actual people make an appearance (usually in disguise) in my version. And of course, Cricket’s murder was never solved.

AF: 21st century Albuquerque is the main setting in your book, and easily recognizable. Tell me about Los Huevos. I looked it up and found a rock-climbing site of some apparent difficulty, but no town. Is it based on a real place? Do you have any connection with a little town like that?

PSW: Los Huevos is a completely made up town, located conveniently at the foot of Los Huevos Peak (also fictional). Since the body in my story is discovered on Easter Sunday morning at the foot of Los Huevos Peak, that would be a natural reason to call it The Easter Egg Murder. I had been told I should have a title that stood out, and that seemed to me to fit the bill. I have no connection with such a town, but I suppose the small town of Los Lunas (which is actually southwest of Albuquerque about 20 miles) might have given me the idea.

AF: The story of the murder in 1950 and all the events around it, all the characters involved, could have been a book by itself. Did you ever consider writing it that way? How did you decide to make it a story within the story?

PSW: The story of the actual murder (in 1949) has already been written. In fact, I read everything I could get my hands on about Cricket Coogler’s murder. An excellent book by Paula Moore, titled Cricket in The Web, came out in 2008, right about the time I finished my first draft. I wanted to use some actual things, but ended up fictionalizing most of it. No one in New Mexico who knows about this murder wants to say, on the record, who they think was responsible. It was much more fun (and safer) to make it up.

AF: Harrie has precognitive dreams which add a sense of foreboding to the early part of the story. Was there any additional reason behind your decision to integrate this into the plot? I have this kind of dream myself so I liked that you treat it as only a little unusual. Also, it seemed true to “the woo” of New Mexico to have it in there but not make big deal of it.

PSW: I know several people who have some form of precognition, or “knowing”, about events. It’s always fascinated me and seemed like an interesting story-telling tool to use in fiction. I hoped to convey the mystical atmosphere that weaves it way through New Mexico’s history and culture, from the Anasazi and Chaco Canyon ruins to present day native practices.

AF: Tell me about your research. The illegal gambling and the political corruption in New Mexico back in the fifties were things I really hadn’t heard that much about, and I found them fascinating.

PSW: My father was an FBI agent who was transferred to the Albuquerque Office in 1951, two years after the murder. Events were still transpiring when he arrived here, and he later told me what he knew about the case. I also interviewed many people who lived through that era in New Mexico politics during the period 1949-1950. That included former FBI agents, former residents of Las Cruces, a couple of newspaper men who were around at the time, and even the former governor of New Mexico, who was elected mostly because of the Cricket Coogler murder. I also read books, and watched a film made on the subject: The Silence of Cricket Coogler. The book Cricket in The Web goes into the gambling issue in great detail, but I had also heard a lot about that from the people I interviewed.

AF: I know you have a good background in law enforcement, but you chose to give major roles in solving the mysteries to the two amateur sleuths, though you do include police and FBI. I’d love to know how you made that choice, and how you came around to casting two editors in the role of sleuths.

PSW: I have been a fan of the “cozy” mystery genre since I was a teenager. The cozy requires the sleuth (or sleuths) to be amateur, so it was always my intention to follow that basic rule. My favorite series at that age was the Judy Bolton mystery series by Margaret Sutton. In the early books, she was a teenager like me, and her boyfriend, Peter, helped her solve the mysteries. When they grew up, Peter became an FBI agent. Since my dad was an FBI agent, I thought that was a cool thing to do. Toward the end of the series, Judy and Peter eventually married, and she still managed to help him solve crimes.

As for making my sleuths editors, it seemed the best way to get them involved in a half-century old murder. By editing Senator Lawrence’s book about the murder, it gave them an excuse to become embroiled in digging out the answers. I didn’t stop to think how that might play out over a series, but in the beginning, I didn’t know it would be a series!

AF: Just for fun, I have to include this “outtake.” I made the mistake of asking Pat a question about some other books, and here’s the answer.

PSW: If you “Googled” my name, you might have run across a different Patricia Wood (which is why I insert my maiden name into the mix: Patricia Smith Wood) who has written at least one book (The Lottery) and perhaps more by now. She lives on a boat in Hawaii (which I obviously don’t). But that didn’t stop a local magazine from running a small piece about The Easter Egg Murder in which they stated that the author, Patricia Wood, lives on a boat in Hawaii!

It turns out Patricia Wood is a pretty common name. One day in 2012 I received a phone call from a local television station asking if I was Patricia Wood. I agreed that was me, and they then asked if I was the Patricia Wood who had stolen jewels from luggage at American Airlines and was I headed for federal prison in two weeks. Once I recovered my senses I assured them I was not that particular Patricia Wood, they thanked me and hung up.

AF: Tell me about your newest project.

PSW: My newly finished second book in the series is Murder on Sagebrush Lane. In the first chapter, Harrie McKinsey goes out to retrieve her newspaper at 5 a.m. on a summer morning and finds a small girl playing in her flower beds. She notices a dark stain on the child’s pajamas and teddy bear, and when she realizes it’s blood, her journey to find the child’s parents gets her involved in another murder. Of course, Harrie’s life is never that simple, and before it’s over there’s another murder, a race to uncover a plot to steal top secret data, an attempted kidnapping, and a desperate killer who intends to make Harrie his final victim.

AF: It sounds exciting. I’m glad to know there will be more of Harrie in the future. Let me know when the book comes out. Thanks so much for being my guest.

Pat’s web site: