By Andrew Zack
Lori Armstrong knows what it means to be cold. As in bone-achingly cold. You see, she lives in western South Dakota—the “modern West” she calls it—just like her main character, Mercy Gunderson, the “star” of her latest novel, MERCILESS. What’s really neat about Mercy is that she’s former military, and a sniper at that! (Down boys! She’s a fictional character.) And what’s need about Armstrong is that she’s not just writing about a cool character, but she’s also writing well about a cool character, as evidenced by her 2010 Shamus Award for Best Hardcover Novel. Here’s the pitch on MERCILESS.
Newly minted agent Mercy Gunderson is back and ready for action— unfortunately, she’s stuck doing paperwork in an overheated government office building. But she gets more than she bargained for when she’s thrown into her first FBI murder case, working with the tribal police on the Eagle River Reservation, where the victim is the teenage niece of the recently elected tribal president. When another gruesome killing occurs during the early stages of the investigation, Mercy and fellow FBI agent Shay Turnbull are at odds about whether the crimes are connected.
Due to job confidentiality, Mercy can’t discuss her misgivings about the baffling cases with her boyfriend, Eagle River County sheriff Mason Dawson, and the couple’s home on the ranch descends into chaos when Dawson’s eleven-year-old son Lex is sent to live with them. While Mercy struggles to find a balance, hidden political agendas and old family vendettas turn ugly, masking motives and causing a rift among the tribal police, the tribal council, and the FBI. Soon, however, Mercy realizes that the deranged killer is still at large—and is playing a dangerous game with his sights set on Mercy as his next victim.
Writing a series set where you live really helps. Armstrong has built a good relationship with local law enforcement, which helps her in plotting her novels. Where she lives “you have to be really careful where you drop a body” because of the jurisdictional issues. There’s tribal police and federal lands and state lands, etc. So understanding which agencies might be involved in an investigation is a big part of getting the details right.
Armstrong’s drive to succeed is impressive. She started out writing for a smaller press, Medallion Press, but has since graduated to Touchstone Books, a Simon & Schuster imprint. That’s no easy leap to make. Armstrong was assisted by her agent, Scott Miller at Trident Media, whom she met through another author she met at Bouchcon. (See, it’s not about who you know, it’s about who you know and who he or she knows!)
When I asked Armstrong what one piece advice she would give an aspiring writer, she said, “Write every day. Regardless. Even if it’s a paragraph.” Sounds like that would make a good motivational poster. So what are you waiting for? Go write!
The books in Lori Armstrong’s Julie Collins mystery series have been nominated for and won the Shamus Award, the WILLA Cather Literary Award, the Daphne du Maurier Award and the High Plains Book Award. The first book in the Mercy Gunderson series, NO MERCY, won the 2010 Shamus Award for Best Hardcover Novel and was a finalist for the WILLA Cather Literary Award. Lori lives in Rapid City, South Dakota.
To learn more about Lori, please visit her website.