Michael A. Black is the award winning author of 50 books. A retired police officer, he has done everything from patrol to investigating homicides to conducting numerous SWAT operations. He wrote eleven novels as Don Pendleton in the Executioner series and many Westerns in the Gunslinger series under the name A.W. Hart. His recent novel is in the Trackdown series, Devil’s Lair.
Devil’s Lair – With witnesses falling and a federal case against the cartel in ruins, ex-army ranger Steve Wolf and Special Agent Lucien Pike head to Mexico, chasing both a traitor and an irresistible reward. But betrayal thrives in the heart of darkness, dragging them into a merciless battle where survival is a blood-soaked quest with no mercy given or expected.
When death comes knocking, there’s no quarter given or expected.
Do you write in more than one genre? Most of my stuff is in the mystery and thriller genres. I’ve also been published in other genres, including westerns, sci-fi, horror, pulp fiction, young adult, and sports. Mysteries and thrillers will always be my first love, but I also believe in genre blending. My Western novel, Gunslinger: Killer’s Ghost, is a Western but also a monster story.
What brought you to writing? I’ve been writing all my life. I wrote my first short story in the sixth grade. I was always begging the teacher to let me write a short story. One Friday, she relented and told me I’d have to read it in front of the class on Monday. I struggled all weekend. After I read it aloud, the teacher gave me a “D—Poor Work” grade and told me never to do it again. I look back on this experience as invaluable. It foreshadowed my entire writing career: I got my first assignment, my first deadline, my first writer’s block, and my first rejection, all in three days.
What are you currently working on? My latest book in the Trackdown series is Devil’s Lair. It follows the continuing adventures of ex-army ranger Steve Wolf, who served time for a war crime he didn’t commit and has been trying to clear his name while working as a bounty hunter. He also has some very powerful enemies who set him up and are trying to kill him. In this entry in the series, he gets to strike back a little.
Who’s your favorite author? If I had to pick a single writer who influenced me more than most, I’d have to say, John D. MacDonald. He was a real pro.
How long to get your first book published? My first one never got published. Looking back, It was that bad—a lot of rookie mistakes. I’d gotten some short stories published, so I knew a bit about writing. I wrote a second manuscript and felt it had legs. I sent it off with high hopes and optimism and started a third novel. I’d written the opening line one morning: It had been a year of ups and downs… Then the mailman came, and I found my second manuscript had come back with a rejection letter. I sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while, trying to decide if I wanted to continue. After a time, the second line came floating to me: More downs than ups. I liked the sound of it and made a solemn vow right then and there that I was going to finish writing the manuscript and I was going to make it the best I could, even if I was the only person who would ever read it. This one eventually became my first published novel.
Do you ever kill a popular character? If so, what happens to your story? A few authors have done this, and I always thought it was a dumb move. I suppose you could make a case for your hero to die heroically, but it would pretty much end any chance of a continuing series. Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and eventually had to bring him back.
How do you raise the stakes for your protagonist? It’s a simple formula: introduce conflict and make things worse as the plot progresses. Then, when it reaches critical mass… BOOM! You have your climax.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? The biggest problem is avoiding anachronisms. I just read a book set in 1913, and the author still had Maximillian as the emperor of Mexico. He was executed in 1867. Naturally, this ruined it for me, and I didn’t finish it. This unfortunate practice of rewriting history started a few years ago and needs to stop. It’s not only irritating, it breeds stupidity.
What is the best book you have ever read? I’d be hard pressed to pick just one, but I’d have to say James Dickey’s Deliverance is in my top ten. Dickey was a nationally recognized poet who spent ten years crafting the novel. The imagery is stunning, and the writing is lyrical. After I read it, I reread the opening and realized he’d foreshadowed the entire story in that first line.
Do you have any advice for new writers? You can’t be a good writer unless you’re first a good reader, so read all you can and learn from it. Take the time to perfect your craft, get feedback on your work, and try to write every day, even if it’s only one line.
Anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself and your books? If you’re looking for a good thriller, I’d appreciate it if you’d check out my new one, Devil’s Lair. It’s got a little something for everyone—action, thrills, and romance. And many thanks to you, Big George, for this opportunity to be on your blog once again.
How do our readers contact you?
Give me a shout at DocAtlas108@aol.com
I’m a member of the VFW, the FOP, the WWA (Western Writers of America), and the PSWA (Public Safety Writers Association).
Virgil Alexander was born in his parent’s home in rural Gila County between Globe and Miami, Arizona. His uncles and cousins worked in law enforcement for various agencies. His dad was a volunteer reserve deputy, so he grew up with a lot of cop-talk. His father raised subsistence livestock and kept horses, so as a youth, he spent a lot of time taking care of these. His recreation was camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding. His hot summer afternoons were spent reading at the Miami and Globe public libraries. He enjoyed history, mysteries, westerns, and Arizona geography and nature.
He worked for 42 years in mining jobs, from laborer to corporate management. After retirement, he began consulting with museums on mining and Arizona history, researching and writing papers for the Historical Society, and articles for newspapers, magazines, and webpages. He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Public Safety Writer’s Association (PSWA), Western Writers of America, Southwest Writers, and Storymakers. He has won awards from the PSWA in categories: Best Published Fiction Book and Best Non-fiction Published Article.
Alexander’s contemporary rural police series, the Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor Series, consists of five mysteries published by Aakenbaaken & Kent. Broken Earth is the 5th book. Alexander’s books are infused with real settings in which the natural and human history of the place is part of the setting. The western lifestyle of ranching, farming, timber, and mining feed into the stories, as does the contemporary Hispanic, Mormon, and Native American cultures.
Broken Earth: Released by Aakenbaaken & Kent on October 6, 2021.
Sergeant Al Victor must walk a thin line between legal ethics and sacred Apache secrets when a fellow medicine man goes bad and flees into the sacred Broken Earth.
My Writing In my pre-retirement career I wrote technical manuals, standard operating procedures, research papers, and training manuals. I also wrote public communications articles and project newsletters. This turned out to be a handicap when I started writing fiction. I sent my first draft of Wham Curse to an editor, and she called me and asked, “Are you an engineer?”
“I’m a technical superintendent.”
“I thought so. You write like an engineer; STOP IT!” She then spent several weeks teaching me not to write like an engineer.
When I’m actually writing my story, I have the general idea in mind. From this, I create a simple outline to refer back to when I start wondering where is this going? But I don’t write to the outline; I let the story flow as it goes. This impromptu style often takes turns I didn’t plan on and often requires adapting earlier parts of the story to make more sense.
I write in vignettes representing one viewpoint, either of a character or the all-knowing narrator. In order to keep track of characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of all my regular and minor characters. So a jeweler, or medical examiner, or rancher from an earlier book might reappear in the book I’m working on when I need one of those people. Likewise, I track all the vignettes and storylines on a spreadsheet. These allow me to control my clues and events in a logical sequence.
Because my books involve two neighboring agencies, I always have multiple storylines. Some of them involve both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tribal Police, and others only involve one of the agencies. So I may have from three to six major storylines, plus quite a few minor ones.
I write several strong women characters in my books, principally Deputy Pat Haley, but also FBI agents, a State Department attorney, ranch women, and Deputy Sanchez’s petit wife, Jennie, who in one of the books shoots a bad guy to save her husband. How do I write my women characters? I think of a man then take away reason and accountability… Wait. No, that was Jack Nicholson. I base my women on women I know or have known. I was fortunate in my career to work with many outstanding and competent women, many in nontraditional roles. The women closest to me, my wife and daughters, are highly accomplished and leaders in their chosen fields.
I generally do a lot of research as I write. Since I really have no idea where my story may take me, about the only preparatory research I do is on the places I plan to use and if I have a particular source of murder I want to pursue. So when I wrote scenes in Chaco Canyon, I researched the place, as well as the organizational structure of the park, the routes that can be used, hotels and restaurants my people would use, etc. Then as I develop the story, I research new items as they pop up.
I use real places for my settings, including towns, streets, specific stores, cafes, wilderness trails, mountains, rivers, hospitals, etc. The only time I use a fictional place is if the place is really bad so that I won’t put a bad light on a real place. If somebody gets food poisoning at a restaurant, it will be a nonexistent place.
Many of my characters are based on real people I have known. I don’t say who I translate as a character because some would be honored, and some would sue. Most are a conglomerate of several people from whom I’ve borrowed their looks, integrity, dark side, or manner of speech.
Looking forward, I will likely write more books in this series. I would also like to get my book on the history of ranching in Gila County finished up. I have been dabbling in writing an epic historical novel using all real people and history to track the western movement of the American frontier, factual but written in novel style.
George, I appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can go to my webpage to see an expanded bio, all my books, my blog, coming events, photos, and more at: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/
In The Pale-Faced Lie, David Crow presents a riveting account of growing up on the Navajo Indian Reservation with a mentally ill mother and violent father, an ex-con from San Quentin who groomed David to be his partner in crime.
DAVID CROW spent his early years on the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona and New Mexico. Through grit, resilience, and a thirst for learning, he managed to escape his abusive childhood, graduate from college, and build a successful lobbying firm in Washington, DC.
Today, David is a sought-after speaker, giving talks to various businesses and trade organizations around the world. Throughout the years, he has mentored over 200 college interns, performed pro bono service for the charitable organization Save the Children, and participated in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. An advocate for women, he is donating a percentage of his royalties from The Pale-Faced Lie to the Barrett House, a homeless shelter for women in Albuquerque. David and his wife, Patty, live in the suburbs of DC.
Do you write in more than one genre? I have only written non-fiction so characters are real people, and the book captures what they actually did. I hope to write fiction in the future.
What brought you to writing? I always wanted to write but knew the process is completely different from ordinary business writing, which I had always done before. I studied creative writing but must confess that my publisher was my greatest teacher. Sandra Jonas took a very rough manuscript and helped me create a readable book that has been quite successful. The creative writing process, in my opinion, requires a great deal of study and practice. There has been nothing easy or quick about it. On the contrary, it may be the hardest thing I have ever attempted.
Tell us about your writing process: I write every day, but it can be painful. I struggle to get into a rhythm and to move the process forward. It took nearly ten years to write the book. The last two working with Sandra were very challenging because I still had a significant learning curve.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I belong to several writers groups, including the Western Writers of America. I have attended the Writer’s Digest Annual meeting in NYC and several others. Every one of them has helped me better understand what it takes to be a successful writer.
Who’s your favorite author? I have several favorite authors and new ones all the time. I am finishing Kristin Hannah’s, The Four Winds, a novel about the Dust Bowl—it is excellent. I loved Larry McMurtry, Cormac McCarthy, Erik Larson, Jeff Guinn, Chris Enss, and countless others. I am an avid reader.
How do our readers find you and your work?