Casualties: A compelling and convincing read by debut novelist Elizabeth Marro

February 2, 2017

“His war is over. Hers has just begun.” ~ from the book jacket of Casualties, published by Berkley Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

What others are saying:

“… this powerful first novel will leave the reader reflecting for days. – Library Journal 

“Marro’s perception of the hurt and guilt her characters carry is deftly portrayed… Marro provides a clear sense that, while the past can’t be undone, the future always offers a chance to make amends, and the human spirit can triumph over pain and find hope in family and forgiveness. Marro casts a ray of hope that a good life can be lived after terrible tragedy.” Kirkus Reviews

“Elizabeth Marro made me care about these two people so much that by the end of the novel I’d forgotten they were fictional characters and I was ready to call them up to see how they were doing and if they’d finally found their way toward peace and forgiveness.”—David Abrams, author of Fobbit.

To find out how to win either an E-book or signed hard copy, read on.

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen M. Rodgers: Welcome, Elizabeth. I must admit, as a military mother whose youngest son served in combat, I approached your novel with some trepidation. From the book’s description, I knew going in that Robbie, a Marine fresh home from the war, was going to break his mother’s heart. In breaking Ruth Nolan’s heart, he broke mine as well. And yet, I couldn’t stop reading. Without giving too much of the plot away, can you describe how the story first came to you?


I knew this story would be about a mother, her son and one of the scariest “what if” questions that keeps parents awake at night. I didn’t know until we moved to San Diego in 2002 that it would be about a mother whose son goes to war. My husband and I had been living and working in central New Jersey, an area dominated by the pharmaceutical industry and other corporations. We knew few people whose immediate family were in the military. My own family’s involvement in the military ended with my father’s generation. Now we were in a city that many think of as a sunny escape to paradise but is one of the largest military communities in the country. Here we saw the recruits come in, the families waving goodbye, the pews in church occupied by one less family member as troops were deployed. Then we began to read the names of the fallen in our local newspapers and see the photographs that went with them. Each of those names led to a family whose lives would never be the same. It became important to me to try to understand their journey.

KMR: The story alternates between three point-of-view characters. First we meet military mother Ruth Nolan, an affluent executive who works for a major defense contractor. Next comes Robbie, back on American soil after fighting in Iraq. After tragedy strikes, we meet Casey MacInerney, a wounded warrior and con artist with a heart of gold. All three characters are equally convincing in their roles. How did you get inside the heads and hearts of your main characters to create story people readers care about, enough to still worry over them days after finishing the book?

EM: It’s wonderful when characters stay with you, isn’t it? I think part of it is that I lived with these people for a very long time. I had conversations with them, asked them questions, and sent them down blind alleys a few times. After all that you find you have them or, more accurately, they have you. You hear them in your dreams. They start telling you what happens. Some opened up much more easily than the others. Casey, for example, came quickly and easily. Robbie was also accessible in a way that his mother, Ruth, was not for a long time. I think that to crack to code for each of them — particularly Ruth. Initially, I was a harsh judge of Ruth but writing isn’t about judging. It’s about understanding. When I wrote a number of scenes about Ruth’s childhood that never appear in the story, I recognized her vulnerabilities in a way I couldn’t before.

KMR: Casey’s character is so authentic, not only with his war injury but his need to find a loved one he’d abandoned years ago. By the end of the story, I felt complete empathy for him due to the physical and mental anguish he’d suffered. I wanted him to be happy. Did you interview wounded warriors who’d lost limbs?

EM: Casey emerged not from interviews but from piecing together elements of men I’d observed and imagined. His conflicts stem only partly from losing part of his leg in the first Gulf War. He is shaped as much by his upbringing, the losses he’d had over the course of his life, and his need for family which is complicated by his conviction that he doesn’t really deserve that kind of love. Having a feel for who he was before the injury helped me to understand how his injury and the events that followed could land him in the situation he was in when he met Ruth.

 KMR: Casey’s love of reading and his respect for books turns what could be a cliché down-on-his-luck-character into a well-rounded person. Why is reading so important to the development of a person regardless of his or her background?

EM: As a lifelong book addict, I’m very aware of how stories have opened the world to me. They challenge me, they help me to go places and meet people I’d never otherwise meet, they help see life a little more fully. Books are also a refuge, a place to go and live for a while and to come back with a fresh perspective. Knowing Casey the way I did, I knew he’d not want to sever every connection he had with who he’d been as a promising younger person.

KMR: Is your book an indictment against war?

EM: I’ve never thought of it that way for the simple reason that I’m focusing on people, not an agenda. There are very human universal issues at stake for the characters in this story and war is one of them. Human history seems to be inextricably bound with war and I venture to guess that most of us all over the world would like to see less of it. The consequences of going to war are tremendous and far-reaching. It is important for as many of us as possible to recognize and feel those consequences on our youth, families, and communities. It is important for those of us who do not serve to recognize what we are asking those who serve to do on our behalf. We need to do what we can to be sure we are going to war for the right reasons and make sure the needs of our veterans and military families are met. And we must consider the consequences suffered by the civilians living in war zones whose lives are affected for generations.

KMR: Ruth drives an expensive jaguar. It’s sleek and represents the trappings of her well-heeled life. But later, after days on the road, the jaguar begins to show signs of a long journey. Then near the end of the story, you gift the reader with an image of the hood ornament and the symbol becomes a metaphor for the possibilities awaiting both Casey and Ruth. During the writing of the novel, did you ever find yourself wanting to take a road trip and travel the exact route of your characters?

EM: Yes! In fact, I’ve driven portions of this trip but not the whole of it. I’d love to do the whole thing some day.

KMR: I finished the last pages of your novel with a tissue pressed to my nose. When Ruth turned onto Lost Nation Road, I found myself wanting to be alone as she pulled up in front of the house she grew up in. The ending was quite satisfying and I can imagine life continuing on in this fictional world you created. Will there be a sequel?

EM: There are no plans now for a sequel. We may catch glimpses of Ruth or Robbie or Casey and his daughter in future stories about other people.

KMR: What are you working on now?

EM: I’m working on my next novel, a few short stories and some essays. The novel, as it is currently evolving, is a complete departure from Casualties.

KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?

EM: I tried everything with Casualties. I wrote thousands of pages and threw out hundreds. One thing that seems to be true for me: nothing happens unless I understand my people first. I have the basic story for my next novel but before I plot it out extensively, I want to make sure of them. That way, they can help me fill in the parts I don’t know.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

EM: I start with messy scenes and fragments, see what I’ve got, then write a draft. Then another draft, Then another one. Lots of drafts, lots of revisions. About half way through my work on Casualties, I threw out about 600 pages and was left with the last scene and a few disconnected chapters. That was the moment that got me closest to the book that was finally published.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

EM: There is always a deadline in my mind. I have only so many years on this planet and I want to use them as well as I can. Writing is an important part of that. These days, I feel worse when I’m not writing than when I’m struggling. Self-doubt comes with the territory. There is no getting away from it. I try to treat it as I would an itch or a cold, something temporary to be endured. The best medicine for self-doubt are writing friends who can listen and urge you on. Give yourself permission to write really awful stuff on days when it isn’t coming. Chances are you’ll stumble on a line that gets you to where you want to go the next day. Writing is like anything we’ve done in life and there is a way to draw confidence from that. We weren’t born experts in anything we’ve had to learn to do. We’ve had to figure it out, do it, practice some more. I say try anything – meditation, walking, screaming but sit down and write what you can each day even with the self-doubt riding on your shoulder.

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” Are there other writers in your family? 

EM: I was pretty young when I had dreams of writing but I was sixty when my book was published. I credit two teachers with spurring me in the direction of actually putting pen to page. The first was my third grade teacher Sister Maureen James and the second was my English teacher in high school. I wrote a story that made Sister laugh and then, later, an essay that my English teacher praised. There is at least one other member of my extended family in the business. My cousin Megan Mulry has written a series of women’s fiction novels and erotica. There may be others. I’ll start asking around! I do come from a family of die-hard readers and nothing fosters the desire to write more than reading.

KMR: You mention your ten siblings in your acknowledgements. I come from a family of six kids; I’m the third one down. I jokingly tell people I became a writer to have a voice. What role, if any, did growing up in a large family play in your becoming a writer?

EM: I’m the oldest of five and, later, my mom married a man with six kids. While still at home was always escaping into my own world. I read, I made up stories that I told to myself. I was the kid who would nod at everything my mother said while hearing nothing over the sound of my own thoughts and imaginings. I was the one who would disappear into the bathroom with a book when it was my night to do the dishes because the dishes could wait but the story I was reading could not.

KMR: When did you take up walking and how does it affect your writing? Do you go for long strolls or do you power walk to get your heart rate up? Do you have a walking partner?

EM: I began to walk in a serious way a couple of years ago. Until then, it had been something I did with my dogs (a lovely way to walk), but not a way of actually getting anywhere or of seeing anything. I gave myself a goal in 2015 to walk 800 miles for the year. I never came close but I did develop a habit that has led to so many wonderful things for me and my writing. I stroll and walk fast. I look for hills but my favorite thing is to walk the cliffs near my home and see what is new that day. I enjoy walking with others but I walk most often alone and I enjoy that too. I don’t walk with earphones in my ears and I try to notice something new each time.

Special OFFER:

To celebrate the first anniversary of Casualties, Betsy is offering a free copy of her novel to my readers. Winners can choose between a signed hard copy or a free e-book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or iBooks. To enter, comment below before midnight on Monday, February 6. The drawing will be held on Tuesday, February 7.


Elizabeth (Betsy) Marro is the author of Casualties, a novel about a single mother and defense executive who loses her son just when she thought he was home safe from his final deployment. Now she must face some difficult truths about her past, her choices, the war, and her son. A former journalist and recovering pharmaceutical executive, Betsy Marro’s work has appeared in such online and print publications as, The San Diego Reader, and on her blog at Originally from the “North Country” region of New Hampshire, she now lives in San Diego where she is working on her next novel, short fiction, and essays.  Casualties, published in February 2016 by the Berkley imprint of Penguin Random House, is her first novel.




Firebrand: A Novel rife with tension on every page

October 28, 2016cover-image-med

“In the summer of 1860, when slavery ruled the heart of America, two young abolitionists discover how dangerous it can be to believe in freedom for all.” From the book jacket of Firebrand by Texas author Sarah MacTavish (Dove Hollow Books).

Q&A with the author:

Kathleen: Welcome, Sarah. Your story is so well crafted. The writing is tight, and from the opening sentence until the closing scene, you pull the reader along at a breathless pace. How did you breathe life into this emotionally charged story where your characters rise up off the page fully formed? I’m in awe of your talent.

Sarah: Wow, first of all, thank you! Well the first thing that comes to mind is just time–I started writing this book when I was a teen, so I’ve spent so many years with these characters, and I got to know them pretty well. But I think I just focused on knowing their hearts–who they were at their core. And at risk of sounding cliché, after I gave them a historical framework, I just let them drive the story. After many many revisions, they finally took on lives of their own with their own distinct voices.

KMR: The story alternates between two teenage narrators, Saoirse Callahan in North Texas (longing for a lost brother and her native Ireland) and Westleigh Kavanagh in Pennsylvania (longing for the truth about his parentage). How did these two characters come to you? Did they appear as voices in your head demanding to be heard? Did they first show up together or separate?

SM: Westleigh was definitely first. He came from a very old draft that bears little resemblance to Firebrand now, and I don’t remember much of how he first came to me. But even as the story changed over the years, his quiet voice stayed pretty constant. Saoirse sort of barged in–as is her way–many years later, after I discovered that there were women in history who disguised themselves and fought in the Civil War. I knew I had to tell that story. So then the original book I started became a series, and Firebrand became the background for why these characters will go on to fight in the war to come.

KMR: Can you talk about your process? Did you plot out the novel chapter-by-chapter, scene-by-scene, or did you scribble a few notes and let the characters lead you on their journey?

SM: I did a little of both. The characters really shaped the story early on, but after a while I had to give myself an outline to keep track of the alternating POVs, and the historical timeline, etc. Plus it helped give the story focus. So I did a one-page overall outline with one sentence chapter summaries, then I would do chapter-by-chapter outlines that could be 2-3 pages of notes, character dialogue snippets, historical background, etc.

KMR: Do you revise as you go or do you complete a first draft straight through and then go back and revise?

SM: I did some revision as I went. I had an amazing critique group that met weekly, and they helped push me along by getting a chapter to them every week. And their feedback definitely helped me shape the story as I went. Later I got an editor who helped me to revise it even further.

KMR: About midway through the story, there’s a scene that grips the reader by the throat. I found myself stopping to catch my breath in places. Although you wrote about an extremely cruel act of violence, you handled it with class and didn’t push the reader over the edge. Without giving too much away, can you describe how you created this vivid scene where so much is at stake for Saoirse, her beloved cousin, Jack, and Abigail, Jack’s secret sweetheart?

SM: Oh, that scene. I absolutely hated writing it–I still cringe every time I think about it, sometimes I wish I had not written it at all, but I didn’t want to sugarcoat just how awful slavery was. And it was a way to stress how helpless these characters were, and how much power men like Reeves (the antagonist) had. It’s really a character-testing point for everyone involved–even Saoirse’s father, Brian. I think we all, when we look back at history, like to think we’d act or do things a certain way, that we’d stand up for injustice and be heroic, but it’s not always that simple, or easy, and this is the point where idealistic Saoirse begins to understand that.

KMR: There’s a lot going on in the story between Saoirse and her family in Texas and Westleigh and his Da, David, in Pennsylvania. How did you keep track of your fictional family tree?

SM: I had a literal family tree! I kept notes with names, dates of birth, places, family timelines, even a little chart with how old everyone was in certain years (because math is definitely my weakness). I referred to those notes quite often! I’m probably going to include some of this information in the second book, too, for readers’ reference.

KMR: What advice can you give writers who are struggling to write a book, be it fiction or nonfiction? Most writers deal with self-doubt about their work. How do you push through it and get your work done, especially if you’re working on a story without a deadline?

SM: Find a critique group. Make sure it’s full of encouraging, challenging writers who will push you to finish, cheer you on, and help you improve along the way. I never would have finished without mine, especially since I did not have a deadline. My group made me brave enough to believe I could do it!

KMR: At what age did you proclaim, “I am a writer?” And how do you handle the naysayers who tell writers, “You’ll never make a living at it?”

SM: I was probably a teenager–13 or 14, but even younger than that I knew I wanted to be one. I’ve never really had to worry about naysayers per se, I’m usually my own worst enemy when it comes to discouragement. I have had an incredibly supportive family, and as a teen I had a few powerfully encouraging teachers. They probably called me a writer before I called myself one. So it’s their words I usually try to remember whenever I’m feeling like a fraud. And I try to remember that this is my passion, this is who I am, and even when I’m feeling discouraged, I couldn’t imagine being or doing anything else.

KMR: Please tell us about the writers’ conference you hosted in Roanoke, TX two years in a row.

SM: Well, I’m also a librarian, and for years at work I’ve had this idea to put together a sort of local mini-conference for aspiring writers in our area to come and network, learn, and get fired up with their own writing… and to give them this for as little cost to them as possible. Writers conferences can be so pricey. So our library finally made this happen in 2015, and it was successful enough that we expanded this year, and hopefully will continue to expand each year. We bring in a keynote speaker and other local authors and offer classes, workshops, one-on-one critique sessions, and plenty of chances for networking. We’re also trying to offer more writing related programs like small workshops throughout the year, contests, NaNoWriMo events, grow our local critique groups, and really just make our library a hub for writers.

KMR: You end the book on a bit of a cliffhanger with “to be continued…” I saw on Instagram where you recently visited Andersonville Prison, a former Confederate prison camp located in southwest Georgia. You mentioned that you were on a research trip for the sequel to Firebrand. Can you tell us the name of the sequel and hint at things to come?

SM: Shh, spoilers! Kidding. Well, Firebrand is the first book of four, and I’m currently working on book two, which will pick up right before the Civil War starts. I haven’t released the title yet but I’d love to do that for you–Book Two will be called Paladin. Concerning my trip to Georgia, my research in Andersonville will probably be making its way into Book 4, but that’s all I can hint at right now! I can say that the next three books (including Paladin) will be following some of the main characters–Saoirse especially–as they fight in the Union Army.

KMR: In closing, is there anything else you’d like share?

SM: Just want to point out my short stories on my website–if you want to read a little more, I have three “prologues” for Firebrand available for free online, and I plan on writing three short stories for in between each of the rest of the books. So check out the ones I have now, and stay tuned for more to come before Paladin releases next year! *fingers crossed*

author-photo-mediumBIO: Sarah MacTavish is a small-town Texan with Yankee roots and a heart that belongs to Ireland. In addition to being a writer she is also a teen librarian, incurable Star Wars nerd, and proud Hufflepuff. When she isn’t writing, she’s either gaming, watching British television, or chasing down “just one more hint” on her family tree. Sarah is a member of the Historical Novel Society, and finalist in Novel Rocket’s 2014 Launch Pad Contest in the Historical Fiction category. Firebrand is her first novel.

Twitter & Instagram: @sarahmactavish


New Mexico author Lesley Poling-Kempes, Winner of the 2013 Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction

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Lesley Poling-Kempes

I am pleased to introduce New Mexico writer and historian Lesley Poling-Kempes, author of Bone Horses and Winner of the 2013 Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards.

Update 3/8/15:  Lesley’s book, The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West, has been optioned by Atalaya Productions of Santa Fe for a television series. You can read about Atalaya Productions here.

Update 8/15/14: Bone Horses won the 2014 Willa Award in Contemporary Fiction from Women Writing the West. 

(Kathleen): Welcome, Lesley. Please give us a brief summary of the book. What is your genre and who is your target audience?

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“Lesley Poling-Kempes is deservedly known for her beautiful nonfiction books about Abiquiu and the Ghost Ranch area of northern New Mexico. Her second novel, Bone Horses, can only enhance her reputation. Her love of the land and its wild spirit shines through this tragic story with redemption at the end. It is a fine mystery, with complex twists and turns. Bone Horses is also a paean to the land and especially to its rare wild horses who symbolize all that is wonderful about our high desert country and all that needs our love and protection.”
–John Nichols / author of The Milagro Beanfield War.

New York school teacher Charlotte Lambert is practical and predictable, and never allows life to veer off course. Until she comes to New Mexico. During one summer in Agua Dulce, a village haunted by a phantom herd of wild horses and where ravens embody the spirits of ancestors, Charlotte’s world is upended as she unearths the details of her mother’s forbidden love affair, chilling murder, and courageous last act of redemption. Pursued by a madman hell-bent on killing her, Charlotte finds shelter, romance, and her own misplaced soul at the desert camp of a surprisingly sophisticated cowboy, and learns how love in its myriad forms is the only path to lasting salvation.  

My target audience was and is readers like me…I love a good story about people living through the best and the most difficult times of their lives, and emerging stronger and happier. The heart of all of my stories is…my heart. BONE HORSES has been called a mystery, woman’s fiction, and last week in a review by the Western Writers of America Roundup Magazine, the novel was called literary fiction. I like all of those genre/labels. I did not, however, start out to write a genre novel.

KMR: What did it feel like to have John Nichols’ endorsement? (See text at left.)

LPK: Oh, John is such a rock star author and person! I just glow every time I read his blurb for BONE HORSES. I suppose John remains the author against whom all Southwestern writers measure ourselves at some point in our careers. He is generous, smart, relevant, politically active, opinionated, incredibly well read, savvy, human, loving, and funny as heck!

KMR:  How long did it take you to write Bone Horses?  The story has multiple layers and is peopled with characters that feel like your own family and neighbors. In your acknowledgements, you mention that it took many drafts and revisions. Can you talk a bit about the process? For fiction, do you write from an outline, notes, or do you wing it? Did the story change over time from the original vision you had in your head and did any scenes and characters appear that surprised you?

Ghost_Ranch-210LPK: Yes, yes, and yes. The novel began with the story of the wild horses – told to me by several old-timers when I was researching my book GHOST RANCH. I couldn’t get past that story and what the shooting down of those mustangs did to the heart and psyche of the people who knew and loved them. From that extraordinary and heart-wrenching bit of history, BONE HORSES was birthed. Characters began to step into the story – Charlotte’s mother, Alicia, was first, and her story was told in more detail in early drafts. Charlotte and Thea came next, Barty Bill and his gas station – I just love that gas station! – and Conchata speaking from the Other Side. I would wake in the night and scribble notes about these characters; they were chatty and had lots to say. I’d take a pad and pen out walking on the desert (I go out every day) because one of the characters from Agua Dulce would strike up a conversation and I had to write it down. (I need written notes…how did we write books before post-it notes were invented?)

It took seven years to pull the stories and scenes together (the novel had to be shelved while I wrote the book GHOST RANCH), and many revisions of a 500 page manuscript that eventually was cut to 350. I draft out an outline and scenes in longhand in a notebook over many months, and when I’m ready to really dig in and write, I use a computer. My handwriting is atrocious and I’d never be able to figure out what I’ve drafted if I wrote in longhand…although I love good journals and wonderful pens!

I am taking notes for a sequel.

KMR: Was it hard for you to switch from writing nonfiction to fiction? If so, did you find writing fiction more challenging?

LPK: I find nonfiction much harder to write than fiction. When I began writing after college, I hoped I’d only write fiction, but then I kept finding great untold nonfiction and I was given contracts and even advances for those projects, so I have written more nonfiction than novels. I am just this very moment completing a new book of nonfiction LADIES OF THE CANYONS for the University of Arizona Press. It has taken two very intense and challenging years to research (at archives and collections on both coasts) and write.  I think it may be my best book of nonfiction. I was both energized and exhausted by the scope and potential of this project. (The narrative is based on the true stories of four women friends who came to the Southwest before WWI.)

I next will return to complete a novel that is 3/4ths done. I so look forward to fiction again! This new novel is called GALLUP, and is a fictionalization of the true story of Gallup, New Mexico, in World War II: Gallup was the only community in the US that did not intern their Japanese American citizens when ordered by Executive Order 9066 to do so. The novel is based on a screenplay of the same name, and both are co-authored by me and Robert N. Singer. The film is in development.

KMR:  I first read about Bone Horses in New Mexico Magazine shortly after the book came out. Although I didn’t order it at the time, I was intrigued by the title and the whimsical cover art that depicted a lonely gas station with red mesas and snowcapped mountains in the background. I stared at the artwork for a long time, getting homesick for my native New Mexico. The cover brought to mind all the old gas stations that dotted the highway between my childhood home in eastern New Mexico and my aunt’s and uncle’s home in sprawling Albuquerque on the other side of the Sandia Mountains. Can you talk a bit about the cover artist, Carolyn Barford, and if you had any input in the design? It’s a striking cover.

EPSON MFP imageLPK: Carolyn Barford is a gifted painter and illustrator and one of my oldest and closest friends. We work very closely on a cover – she also did the cover for the paperback edition of my first novel, CANYON OF REMEMBERING. For BONE HORSES we sat down and discussed what we imagined for a cover – after she had read the manuscript – and then she just goes at it. First as a sketch, and we tweak and discuss the first drawings – and then she paints. And Carolyn brings to life my vision in a way that is even grander than what I imagined. She also drew the page from the missing notebook that is key to the novel – she was fooling around and showed me the sketch and I grabbed it and said, “this is going in the book.” And it became the wonderful title page illustration.

KMR: When your novel tied for first place with Growing Seasons, penned by my friends Sue Boggio and Mare Pearl, I immediately ordered your book. You are an extremely gifted storyteller and you write with emotional impact. Your story rings with authenticity and your characters feel like real people, and yet you employed the use of magical realism and it all worked for me. I never questioned the legend of a phantom herd of horses coming down from the mountains to attend the burial of young men killed in the Bataan Death March. If anything, the legend of the horses lends dignity and honor to the military ceremony.

The same goes for the conversations that the story’s matriarch, Dorothea Durham, carried on with her late friend, Conchata. For me, these were some of the most unforgettable and emotionally charged scenes in the novel. I highlighted so many lines in the story that made me pause, look off in the distance, and ponder life and death. And what’s out there beyond the mountains of life. Were these the moments in the middle of the writing that recharged your battery? That told you that you were on the right path?

LPK: I depended on the sage counsel of Thea and Conchata throughout the writing of this novel. They were a calm, steady, affirming source of guidance. The best kind of self-help! My husband’s favorite line in the novel is Thea’s answer to Barty‘s question as to why Thea and Conchata don’t give people warning but let them suffer life’s catastrophes: “Because Conchata’s not all here… and I’m not all there. Yet.” (p. 255)

KMR: Bone Horses was published by La Alameda Press based in Albuquerque, NM, and your first novel, Canyon of Remembering, was published by Texas Tech Press. If you’re comfortable discussing the details, can you explain the difference between working with a university press and a smaller traditional press? I’m curious because more and more authors (including myself) are finding success with small presses. While many of us still dream of getting picked up by a major house, the paradigm in the publishing world has shifted and small presses offer hope to writers who want to get their work out there but wish to avoid self-publishing.

LPK: BONE HORSES had a winding road to publication, including two agents who had to give it up for personal reasons, several Big Houses that were very interested, but then the crash of 2008, and mid-list novels were cut from lists, and BONE HORSES became a casualty of the global crisis and its effect on publishing. I put it in a drawer for a year or more, and then began to discuss the novel with La Alameda Press. I knew if Alameda published the book, I would do all of the marketing. But I also knew if JB and his press wanted to do the book, it would be a beautiful book from design details to paper/typeset choices, to cover and etc. Alameda said yes, and BONE HORSES was published.

KMR: Does your literary agent represent all of your work, including your novels?

LPK: Yes. I now have a wonderful agent (Liz Trupin-Pulli) and I discuss everything past, present, future that I am working on or thinking of working on. For the first time in my literary life, I have an agent with whom I feel safe, cared for, and completely affirmed as a writer and a person. We even share recipes!

KMR: When it comes to marketing and promoting, do you have a publicist or do you do most of it yourself?

LPK: For BONE HORSES, I am the publicist. I have had to learn as I go along. I really prefer having a marketing/PR department behind me and a book – I’ve published 2 books with the University of Arizona Press, and look forward to working with them to promote LADIES OF THE CANYONS. But I’ve learned a LOT about the Internet and book marketing with BONE HORSES that will serve my other books.

In 2013, I also took the initiative and published CANYON OF REMEMBERING as an eBook (Texas Tech U Press, the publisher, wasn’t interested, so I acquired the ebook rights) and I’ve been amazed at how a book can have a new audience as an eBook. It’s been wonderful to have new readers and reviewers for my first novel, published in 2000.

valley coverKMR: You are originally from New York. I read where you first visited New Mexico as a child. What led you to return to The Land of Enchantment years later, and did you envision how much the state would shape your life as a writer?

LPK: My dad was raised in El Paso, and we had family out west. My parents moved to Albuquerque when I was in college, and I transferred from the College of Wooster in Ohio to UNM because I just loved New Mexico. That was 1971. I’ve never left.

KMR:  What is it like to live in Abiquiu, New Mexico, surrounded by the landscape that inspired Georgia O’Keefe?

LPK:  Abiquiu is my idea of paradise. I love desert living, and with my husband, built a solar adobe house on the edge of the national forest (aka high desert). I met O’Keeffe a few times around Ghost Ranch, before she became so famous and iconic…I really didn’t know much about her back in the 70s.GOK cover

I love rural life and rural people and their stories. I’m also quite the hermit when I’m writing, and enjoy the silence and space and light of my home country near Abiquiu. I imagine I’ll stay here for the rest of my life, god willing.

Other books by Lesley Poling-Kempes:

Ghost Ranch  (University of Arizona Press)

Southwest Books of the Year “Top Choice” Award 2005; Finalist, Independent Publisher Book Awards 2005 – Best western non-fiction; Time Magazine Notable Paperbacks

“Poling-Kempes is a skillful writer, smoothly dovetailing the human stories that make up the narrative of this pristine, peaceful, and appealing place. The author flat out knows how to tell a good story.” Richard Etulain, author of Re-imagining the Modern American West

“Rare is an author who possesses equal talent for writing both fiction and nonfiction. Lesley Poling-Kempes succeeds at both. Moreover, her historical material is as pleasing to read as a gripping novel.” New Mexico Magazine

Harvey Girls coverThe Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West (Da Capo Press)

Winner, Zia Award for Excellence, New Mexico Press Women

“A story that seems to have completely vanished from the national memory; for giving it new life, Poling-Kempes deserves gratitude and praise.”  Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World

“Although Poling-Kempes’ subtitle might mislead you into thinking they were an all-female wagon train or a roving band of women outlaws a la the James Gang, the Harvey Girls actually were ‘only waitresses,’ as one denigrator put it to the author… an interesting, sometimes even amusing bit of Americana.”  Susan Rice, New York Times Book Review

Canyon of Remembering   (Texas Tech University Press)

Spur Award Finalist, Best First Novel, Western Writers of America

“Lesley Poling-Kempes has given us a story full of joy, sadness, love and beauty – and most of all, full of truth. Canyon of Remembering deserves a place among American classics.”  Tony Hillerman

“Like its New Mexico setting, this debut novel offers beauty in simplicity as it depicts a variety of people, licking their wounds from a variety of hurts, who come together to form a true community…Poling-Kempes writes with a quiet, seductive rhythm…”  Publisher’s Weekly

Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu  (University of Arizona Press)

“A writer’s acute, compelling history of one of America’s more endangered landscapes…Digging deeply into the history of a place, Poling-Kempes mines a rich vein of lore and myth.”  Kirkus Reviews

Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place by Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, & Frederick W. Turner  (Princeton University Press)

Winner, 2005 Independent Publisher Book Awards, Best Fine Art Book

“In her meticulous account, Lesley Poling-Kempes discusses the geophysical origins of this land of ‘extremes and contrast,’ analyzing the layered stone formations and matching them up with O’Keeffe’s keen observations of red shales, sandshales and silt stones created 200 million years ago.” Dore Ashton, Times Literary Supplement

Forthcoming fall, 2015:

LADIES OF THE CANYONS: A League of Extraordinary Women & the Creation of the Modern American Southwest, University of Arizona Press.

crow canyon 4Lesley Poling-Kempes

Author bio

Lesley Poling-Kempes is the award-winning author of six books about the American Southwest, including “Bone Horses,” winner of the 2013 Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, “The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West,” and “Ghost Ranch.” Her work has won the Zia Award for Excellence, and her first novel, “Canyon of Remembering” was a Western Writers of America Spur Award finalist. Lesley was born and raised in New York, and received her BA in journalism from the University of New Mexico. She has lived with her husband, Jim, in Abiquiu, New Mexico, since 1976. They have two children.

Links:  (signed copies via internet)  (FB author page)  (Wonderful review by the Santa Fe New Mexican)

Harvey Girl Olga Berg
Harvey Girl Olga Berg
(Kathleen’s grandmother)



Native New Mexican Kathleen M. Rodgers grew up in Clovis, NM, enchanted by her grandmother’s stories of her younger days as a Harvey Girl.