Last year I had the honor of being asked to join a group of authors devoted to improving and promoting fellow authors. As things can happen, after many months, this group evolved into The Underground Authors, publishing an anthology of short mystery stories: Beyond the Sea, Stories from the Underground. https://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Sea-Underground-Charles-Breakfield-ebook/dp/B093DRG1ZK/
We had such fun we decided on a much larger undertaking: nine full-length novels set in a small Texas hill town we named Magnolia Bluff. Within this town, we’ve written our own characters and plot lines so each book intertwines Magnolia Bluff with some of our individual characters giving a really cool cohesiveness to the series. With that said, this book is dedicated to my fellow authors, CW Hawes, Caleb Pirtle, James Callan, Linda Pirtle, Grace Marshall, Richard Schwindt, Charles Breakfield, Roxanne Burkey, Mike Clifton, Jinx Schwartz.
The first in the series is CW Hawes' Death Wears a Crimson Hat. I’m delighted to present an interview with CW. Get to know the man behind the story!
Meet Bliss as she answers some direct questions.
Where are you from? You avoid the topic in the book. As people like to note, I’m from ‘out east’.
What happened to drive you from a comfortable home? People kept directing where my life was going, pushing for a degree, the nine-to-five commitment, marriage, two point five grandchildren. Some people take forty years to figure out who they are—I think it’s called a mid-life crisis. Well, I wanted to save all that time and find me now. So I took off.
You didn’t tell anyone? I hinted a few times. Nobody picked up on it. Funny though. For a while after I left, I watched papers and news. Not a single missing person report. That told me I did the right thing.
So you just drove around? Alone? I never planned a route, just went where it felt right at the moment.
And you live outdoors. You know it gives the impression you’re homeless, right? First, I don’t care what people think about me. Their impressions are just that—theirs. Second, I’m not a chatty person. I cannot sit around making small talk. Nice weather we’re having. Where are you from? What’s your sign? Not for me. I enjoy my own company. I know that sounds egotistical, but really, I’m happy just being alive. Third, what is better than communing with nature? People go on vacation and marvel at the sunrises and sunsets. Well, I get to see them every single day. What can be better than that?
How long do you plan to be on the road? When will you settle down? You sound like my family. I’ll know when it’s time. It could be a month; it could be a couple of years. How does a person ‘find’ themself? What situations have to occur where you suddenly understand why you were born, what you were meant to do? It’s not something you can put into a schedule.
How did you come upon the town of Magnolia Bluff? It’s not exactly a major metropolis on a main highway. Like I said, I let the road take me. Besides, my motorcycle broke down. Am I sorry about that? No. I’ve met some down-to-earth people who treat me like family.
And kill each other. Hmm. Yes.
Can lyrics from Jimmy Buffett’s songs help Bliss solve a month-old murder?
The Texas hill town of Magnolia Bluff looms as a mere distraction for Bliss Jager when the new-to-her motorcycle breaks down under a banner publicizing the annual persimmon festival. Her other thought at the time: What in the world is a persimmon?
Only in town an hour, she’s offered pizza-for-life and a job at Doyle’s General Store. The job comes with two perks: a yellow throat toucan, which is odd enough, but add to that the ghost of Merrick Doyle and life takes a vociferously strange turn. The fatherly man is friendly and much loved, and related to most everyone in town. Trouble is, he’s been dead a month. Townspeople think he died of natural causes but he insists he was murdered.
Can Bliss expose the killer before people find out she’s been getting clues from a ghost, and um…a toucan? More important, can she find the killer before the killer finds her?
What makes your stories unique?
Especially in my historical mysteries and thrillers, I believe each sentence, each paragraph, each book should have impact and hit with the force of an explosion.
It grabs you.
It holds you.
It intrigues you.
It mystifies you.
And you remember every haunting scene, every fascinating character, every twisted plot as though it were a lingering dream – always out of your reach but never out of your mind.
As August Wilson said, “The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”
If you met one of your characters in person, who would it be, and what would you ask?
To me, Ambrose Lincoln is the most fascinating character I’ve written. It was back in the 1930s, and he was selected to undergo secret experiments, including shock treatments, so the government could control his mind and remap his brain. He is a secret agent, and the experiments erase his mind and remove his memories. The government believes that a man who can’t remember is a man unafraid of dying. He will go places where others would never dare go and accomplish things others are too frightened to achieve.
I would ask him: “When the electrodes touch your brain, where do you go? What do you see? Who do you meet? Is it a dark world, and is it more mysterious than the one in which we live? Do you visit with the dead, and what do they ask you to do for them? Or do you merely step off the edge of the earth and tumble into a dark abyss where you may fall forever.”
Who or what has influenced your writing, and in what way?
Every author writes differently, and many of them have influenced me in many different ways. For example, I read Robert Parker for his short, punchy dialogue. I read Leonard Elmore to see if I can figure out how he brings such outlandish, warped, and dark humor to a story. I’m a fan of James Lee Burke because he taught me that you can write literary fiction in any genre, even hard-boiled mysteries. And I have long read Hemingway to learn that good writing is not simply a collection of words. It’s a collection of the right words. Don’t use a word unless it’s the best word you can find to create the vision, the emotion, and the impact you want to deliver in a sentence or in a story.
What is your secret guilty pleasure?
Watching my eleven-year-old grandson play soccer and baseball, and watching my nine-year-old granddaughter dance and then try to figure out how she’s going to rule the world, and I’m not betting against her.
They say ‘write what you know’. But do you reach a point where research is needed?
I’m bored with what I know. I’m fascinated with what I don’t know. As a result, I do as much research before writing fiction as I do writing nonfiction. Research, especially for us who prefer to write historical fiction, takes us to places we’ve never been, do things we’ve never done before, and meet intriguing people we never knew existed. I may have my character walk into a town with one story in mind, and by the time he walks out, he has told a better story than I originally had planned for him. Research makes the difference. Research can turn an ordinary story into an extraordinary piece of literature.
How do your family and/or friends feel about your books?
My friends and family pay as much attention to my books as they do the yard when I cut the grass. It’s what I do. When the family sits down at the dinner table, everyone talks about what they did that day. Made a presentation at work. Took Jackson to soccer practice. Carried Avery to dance. Finished a legal brief before court on Monday. And I say, “Lincoln met the dead man today. The dead man has been following him ever since the night Lincoln shot him in the alley.” I look up, and everyone has quietly eased out of the room.
How do you choose the books you read? By genre? Author?
I choose books by the author, primarily because the authors I like write the genres I like to read.
What advice would you give a new author?
I have one piece of advice for aspiring writers. Forget the rules for fiction. There are no rules that count. Simply write the story the way you want to write it, and tell it in the voice you want it told. Write as if you are sitting at a table and telling the story to a stranger, from one heart to another. But never tell the reader too many secrets too soon.
How do you feel about rewrites? Describe your process after the first draft is complete.
I’ve been told many times, don’t re-write until you’ve finished the book and have the story on paper. I can’t do it that way. I re-write as I go along. I may write six good pages today. Tomorrow, I will edit and re-write those six pages, and that puts me smack dab back in the middle of the story. Then I write another six pages and will re-write those tomorrow. It’s a drill that may not work for everyone, but it works for me. However, when I finish the manuscript, the real re-write begins, and I wind up cutting twenty pages and adding forty, or vice versa.
What project are you working on next?
I am presently working with J. Ronald Hardin on a narrative nonfiction book about the boomtown of Borger, Texas. The town did not exist until oil was discovered on a patch of isolated ground in the Panhandle in the 1920s. Borger was wild, a town of shanties and shacks crowded with gamblers, bootleggers, moonshiners, con artists, and outlaws. It was known as “the wickedest town in Texas.” Its first forty murders were never solved. It all exploded when the district attorney was murdered, and the governor declared Martial Law and sent in the Texas Rangers and National Guard to clean up the town.
Back in the 1950s, Ron Hardin worked for the Borger Herald and was fascinated with the town’s history. Night after night, he used an old manual typewriter to type the stories of Borger that appeared in newsprint from 1926 to 1929. It was a tumultuous time. He has turned those pages over to me, and I have created the newspaper as the narrator who tells the story of Last Dance at Sundown.
Death Stalks a Small Town.
Magnolia Bluff waits.
May twenty third is coming.
Somebody always dies on May twenty-third.
No one knows.
A killer walks in the shadows.
The killer is ready to strike again.
Secrets, gossip, and a murder that could reveal all.Harry Thurgood just wants a quiet life, and to leave his past in the past. And he thinks he’s found the perfect place in sleepy Magnolia bluff, Texas. Until the murder of a prominent citizen threatens to let the skeletons out of his closet.Quiet and unassuming, the Reverend Ember Cole wants nothing more than to be a good pastor to her congregation. And when her friendship with Harry threatens her job, she has to choose between friendship and the church.However, when the murder is pinned on Ember, Harry decides he and Ember have to find the real killer to keep Ember out of jail and Harry’s past in the past.But when Harry and Ember are almost killed in a hit and run, they realize the killer will stop at nothing to avoid being found. Even if he has to kill again.Death Wears a Crimson Hat by CW Hawes is the first book in the new multi-author crime series: The Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles. Each book in the series will be written by one of The Underground Authors and will feature action, suspense, humor, and, of course, murder.Get in on the action today, and see if you can solve the mystery!
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