R.L. MERRILL -Author – Teacher – Mentor

Thank you so much for having me on your blog!

The pandemic has been a tumultuous time for so many of us writery folks. Still, I’ve been super busy and full of ideas. My most recent release is a gothic romance story called “The House Must Fall,” which is a queer homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher. It’s part of the Haunts and Hellions Gothic Romance Anthology, and you can order a special edition with extra goodies from HorrorAddicts.net.

I also re-released my Rock ‘N’ Romance series in May. The Rock Season, Road Trip, and You Fell First are all music-inspired stories full of hope, love, and rock ‘n’ roll featuring folks from the San Francisco Bay Area on their journeys toward a happily ever after. Here’s a quick excerpt from You Fell First. The scene is told from Deputy Calvin Graham’s perspective as he’s directing traffic during a storm where trees are threatening to block the road. Those of you from the Bay Area will recognize this as Crow Canyon Road.

Cars flew by, ignoring signs to slow down, and my field training officer, Sergeant Diaz, warned me this could be a seriously hazardous situation. Diaz and I had thrown down some flares to hopefully grab the attention of drivers multitasking in their SUVs.

I couldn’t help but be distracted myself. Way up high on the hillside, a lone tree trimmer was strung up in the tree, trying to cut back some limbs that had fractured but hadn’t dropped. The guy’d been up there for at least two hours and the crew kept a close eye on his progress. He’d come down a few minutes prior and was on his way up the second tree, and for the life of me, I couldn’t help but watch the graceful way he managed to climb the ropes like some sort of acrobat in Cirque du Soleil. He was obviously experienced. I turned back to watch the traffic but I kept glancing back, captivated by his movements.

The wind picked up and howled through the canyon, causing his ropes to sway. Someone in his crew shouted at him in Spanish and he flipped them off. I chuckled to myself at their camaraderie before I turned back around. In time to see my life flash before my eyes.

Diaz shouted as the SUV heading right for us skidded at a forty-five-degree angle. The driver overcorrected and clipped our patrol car, causing the front end to slam into me and knock me backward. The SUV crashed into the trees, one of which the trimmer was suspended from.

Everyone froze as that tree groaned and lurched sideways, falling into the tree next to it. The trimmer dangled between the two, frantically trying to grab on to one or the other. He swung to the other tree and wrapped his arms and legs around the trunk.

I was still trying to catch my breath from where the fall had knocked the wind out of me. Diaz ran to my side. “Sonofabitch, Graham! You alright dude? You went down hella hard.”

I nodded as I coughed and gestured for him to help me up.”Paramedics are on their way. You need to get checked out.”

A cracking noise came from the other tree the car had smashed against and it shifted, jolting the car. I heard another crack and then shouts from the public works crew.

I reached into the SUV and came out with both kids. I managed to get several steps away as the tree groaned once more and fell forward onto the car.

The tree trimmer screamed as the rope, which was caught in the second tree, pulled his legs away from the tree he was holding on to.

That was a female scream. That’s a woman up there!

I watched in horror as the woman was pulled towards the fallen tree. She held on to the other tree desperately but she was losing the battle.

One of the other workers was getting harnessed up so he could climb the other tree and grab ahold of the hanging woman. The crew was trying to get around the giant tree but I spotted a more direct route. I pulled out my Leatherman and climbed up the back of the SUV so I could get to where the rope was attached.

Time stopped for a moment as I looked up into the trees. She stared down at me and then she nodded.
“Sí officer, corta la cuerda!” An older man on her crew who’d been trying to get to the rope gestured for me to cut it, but I worried the sudden change in tension would cause her to let go. My heart was in freefall as I prayed she wouldn’t be.

Do you write in more than one genre? I do! I love challenging myself. I started with paranormal and contemporary romance, and now I’ve branched out into horror and supernatural suspense.

Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? Wherever I can, whenever I can. I have all the distractions, especially over this past year. My current workspace is a standing desk in the living room. Between my two cats and psycho black lab, my two teens, and my husband, who is also working from home, it’s quite chaotic in our 1000sqft house.

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on a co-author project—remember what I said about challenging myself? It’s a gay romance set in the custom car world featuring a Puerto Rican family shop in Florida. It’s been so fun to have someone be just as excited about the story you’re working on as you are. We’re using Google Docs to go back and forth and writing a chapter at a time. I love it. My partner Sera Taíno and I are a good match.

Do you base any of your characters on real people? Well yeah. Anyone I know is fair game. Kidding. Maybe.

Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? A sabbatical from teaching after 27 years. I’ll be full-time writing as I work on my health and my home. As far as writing is concerned, I have a queer anthology coming out June 8th called Love Is All Vol 4 with some fantastic authors, which will raise funds for charity. Later this year, I have two full-lengths—a contemporary romance set in Spain and a supernatural suspense follow-up to last year’s Healer. I’ve got lots to do to get those ready for launch!

Do you have any advice for new writers? Find your people! Whether it’s a formal group or a site like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) that supports folks at all levels of their journey. Find a place where you feel accepted, where there are folks at different places in their journey, and where you feel supported. If all else fails, hit me up. I love to chat with folks, and brainstorming might be one of my superpowers… Maybe. If they actually exist.

How do our readers contact you?
Folks can find me at www.rlmerrillauthor.com, and I’m usually lurking @rlmerrillauthor on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. I love connecting with readers and other writers, so don’t hesitate to reach out! I also write horror-inspired music reviews for HorrorAddicts.net, and I hope to start attending shows again soon now that I’m vaccinated. Maybe I’ll see you at the rock show! Thanks to George for having me on the blog today, and Stay Tuned for more Rock ‘n’ Romance…

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Virgil Alexander – Miner, World Traveler, Historian, Author

History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

My first book remains a large, fractured manuscript, still a work in progress, titled Ranching in the Heart of Arizona. From a conversation with a coworker about 14 years ago about the fact that many old ranchers in our area were passing away and my comment, “Someone should get their history before it’s too late.” She said, “Why don’t you do it?” Expecting to be dealing with a score or so ranches, research has turned up more than three hundred old ranch-families in my home Gila County; and started me on my never-ending personal story.

In fact, it was the act of researching that history that I first happened on the very interesting 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster Major Wham and his escort at Cottonwood Canyon in Arizona. My first fiction novel, The Wham Curse, set in two different centuries relates the story of the robbery and creates a fictional answer to what if the Wham loot were found in modern times?

I became friends with my lead characters and needed to keep them alive. I am the author of a four-book series of mysteries set in rural Arizona and the greater Southwest. I am also an Arizona Historian, with several papers for the Historical Society, museums, on-line history pages, articles in print magazines and newspapers, and an editor and contributor to a history book.  My interest in the Southwest’s natural and human history and my love for mystery stories are combined in my fiction stories. A sense of place and history plays out in my stories as a natural part of the setting.

Each of my books has a primary murder plot, three or four subplots, and character backstories. In The Wham Curse, the primary plot is solving the inexplicable killing of a young Apache boy, which makes no sense until connected with the old robbery. Secondary plots deal with historic preservation, environmentalism, and crime on the Indian Reservation.

Saints & Sinners has the main plot of protecting a Mexican girl from cartel assassins. Secondary themes resolve around border issues, a romance blooming for Deputy Sanchez, international crime, and Mexican culture.

Archaeological theft and international illegal marketing and murder are the primary plots of The Baleful Owl. Subplots include dealing with differing views among different tribes, acceptance of the mentally disadvantaged, and the place of preservation in the rapidly changing Southwest.

Set in two fictional mine developments in Arizona, Murder in Copper, deals with a murder and both industrial and international espionage, justice on the reservation, international relationships with former Soviet republics, alcoholism, and grief.

I do a lot of research, even for my fiction. The Apache, O’odham, Mexican, Mormon, and rural culture will be as accurately depicted as I can make it. The geography, natural environment, and history of each setting will be very accurate. I research the legality of situations and law enforcement jurisdictions, and the local culture’s influence. So when the story is in Hermosillo, Solomon, Spain, Turkmenistan, San Carlos, Tempe, Tucson, Ft. McDowell, or wherever, I used actual street names, buildings, office locations, and sometimes business names, such as the Casa Reynoso in Tempe and Taylor Freeze in Pima.

When I write, I have a general idea, sort of a very sketchy outline of my main plot. From there, I simply tell the story, let it flow naturally. I’m often surprised where this takes me; I guess that’s the pantsy part of me. But the “engineer syndrome” part of me comes to play in that I keep track of each plot and subplot, the clues, and each character I invent on spreadsheets. While I always have new characters in each novel, I also reuse characters from other books. This organized tracking facilitates reuse of interesting minor characters, keeps me from revealing a clue or a clue-related action at the wrong time, and lets me weave the progress of plots and subplots in a logical order, and to sometimes connect subplots as contributory to the main plot.

I love the act of writing, especially fiction because I can take it wherever I want it to go, as long as it makes sense to the story. But I hate to be interrupted when writing. This makes it kind of a tough, lonely time for my longsuffering wife. I need about a three-hour block of time, so I can get the story flowing and translate it to words; with any less than that, I spend most of my time trying to figure out where I am in the story and where I want to go. There have been times I started writing at seven pm and interrupted to go to bed at seven am.  Such a session is very productive; it’s like playing at the top of my game.

One thing I do when writing either pure history or depicting actual history in a novel is present the facts as they actually happened and in the context of the period, without passing judgment or equating it to today’s values. History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

For more about my work or myself, visit my page: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/books.html

The books are available in print and digital at Barnes & Noble Stores and Online, at Indy stores, and through Amazon.

 

10 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    I like your method of using real places, Google maps and the Internet to accurately describe locations depicted in your novels. I’m sure your experience as a historian has helped you a lot, as well. One of my daughters lived in Arizona for a while. I look forward to further exploring the Southwest via your books.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It definitely sounds like you’ve got a system that works well for you, Virgil. Using spreadsheets to keep things on track is a novel idea. Good luck with your writing. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference.

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Once, I decided to maintain minor characters across by books, it became necessary to keep them straight. In was an idea for novels, so truly a novel idea, right?

      Reply
  3. Valerie Leach

    I have known Virgil for many years and graduated high school with his wife, Lois! Just finished reading “The Wham Curse” and loved it! Will now be reading “Saints and Sinners”! Learning a lot about Gila County where I grew up and love the accuracy of these historical novels!!

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Gila County gets a little more exposure in the Baleful Owl, and Globe-Miami are a major setting in Murder in Copper.

      Reply
  4. Keith Alexander

    So, what are the best methods for researching distant locales which you can’t visit them in person?

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      For scenes of places where I’ve never been, I review the official webpage of the place, then I “explore” it using google street view, so I can accurately describe the setting. I did this with the scenes in Saints & Sinners set in Hermosillo, and in Spain. The CIA World Book is a great source of basic economic, political, and cultural information for any country. Research is so much easier with the internet than having to use physical archives or microfilm.

      Reply
      • Katherine Alexander

        What does pantsy mean?

        Reply
        • Virgil H. Alexander

          Pantsy refers to “flying by the seat of the pants”, writing as ideas flow to you, rather than planning a detailed narrative and following it. This is the way most of my writing is done, though I also usually have a rough outline of what I want in the main plot.

          Reply
  5. Virgil H. Alexander

    Thanks again George for helping to get the word out on my works. I’m hoping we get some interesting discussion of questions. Fellow readers, I will be out for a while late morning today, but will check in periodically for comments.

    Reply

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