By Jeff Ayers
In Larry Sweazy’s first book in a new series, SEE ALSO MURDER, the year is 1964. Life on the North Dakota farm hasn’t always been easy for Marjorie Trumaine. She’s begun working as a professional indexer to help with the bills-—which have only gotten worse since the accident that left her husband, Hank, blind and paralyzed. But when her nearest neighbors are murdered in their beds, Marjorie suddenly has to deal with new and terrifying problems.
Sheriff Hilo Jenkins brings her a strange amulet, found clutched in the hand of her murdered neighbor, and asks her to quietly find out what it is. Marjorie uses all the skills she has developed as an indexer to research the amulet and look into the murders, but as she closes in on the killer, and people around her continue to die, she realizes the murderer is also closing in on her.
This month, Sweazy chatted with The Big Thrill about SEE ALSO MURDER and his other works.
What sparked the idea for your new mystery, SEE ALSO MURDER?
I’ve been a freelance indexer (I write back-of-the-book indexes for academic, reference, and technical books) for seventeen years, along with being a fiction writer. A source of education for indexers is a correspondence course offered by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). The course, along with many others, was designed to give farm wives a skill outside of farming that would generate an income in the off- season. Indexers have curious, organized minds, are methodical, well-read, and relentless in their pursuit to divine the most important information from a text—all great attributes of a good detective. Marjorie Trumaine was born from that course and its purpose, along with my experience as an indexer and love of mystery novels. Mixing the two was just natural, but the idea sparked in 2005 as a short story, and is just now a novel, ten years later.
Is this the start of a series?
Yes, there will be at least three Marjorie Trumaine novels. Along with SEE ALSO MURDER, there will be The Access Point in 2016 and The Sorting Order in 2017.
Do you prefer writing standalones or a series?
I like both, though I write more series books than standalones. That’s probably due more to time constraints over preference. I like a series because I can develop a character over time, while in a standalone I have more freedom with the fate of the characters that I don’t have in a series.
You have written several award-winning westerns featuring Josiah Wolfe, and have soon to be two featuring Lucas Fume. What appeals to you about writing westerns?
Westerns are wonderful quests about endless opportunities and self-reliance. They usually involve a crime or a law enforcement official of some kind (think: U.S. Marshal, Texas Ranger, etc.), so I’ve always thought westerns were a close kin to mysteries. I love the wide palette of westerns, that the landscape is an essential character in every novel, that they rely on history but don’t have to be strictly historical to be included in the genre. And then there is the tradition of the genre. It is solely our own. It belongs to America just like jazz. It deserves a great amount of respect, but unfortunately, the genre is seen as fading, out of date, not relevant. I don’t believe that for a second. Print westerns grew at seven per cent last year, even with declining support from major publishers. There will always be tales of the west to be told. I’m sure of it.
Do you prefer writing westerns or mysteries? Are either one of these genres difficult in terms of writing and/or readership?
Each genre brings its own joys and challenges. I love writing stories, so to pick one over the other would be like choosing a favorite child. It’s impossible to choose one. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to continue to write in both genres for a long time to come.
Could you talk about your indexing service?
I write back-of-the-book indexes for major publishers in the reference and academic trade. Indexing is a publishing service, the last piece of the book production puzzle, so it’s time sensitive, stressful, tedious, and loads of fun if you like delving into a wide range of subjects that you may know a little or nothing about, and then have to produce a publishable, usable index in a matter of weeks instead of months or years. Indexing is as much an art as it is a science, and much like writing it takes a long time to become adept at it. I’ve been lucky that I could fit indexing alongside writing fiction. Both have served each other generously.
You have delved into non-fiction short pieces, but not a full-length book. Do you have plans in the future to write one?
I have some ideas for non-fiction books, but not enough time. I’m dedicated to writing fiction and indexing for the foreseeable future. But you never know—if I find myself in the right place with enough energy, desire, time, and the right idea, I may tackle a non-fiction book.
What’s next for you?
More indexing to start with. I typically index thirty to forty titles a year and this year looks no different than any other. I have a standalone mystery, A Thousand Falling Crows coming out from Seventh Street Books in January, 2016, and I’m writing the second Marjorie Trumaine book now for publication in mid-2016. In between, I might write a short story or two, and spend some time walking my dog, and living life as fully as I can.
Larry D. Sweazy (Noblesville, IN) is the author of The Gila Wars, The Coyote Tracker, The Devil’s Bones, The Cougar’s Prey, The Badger’s Revenge, The Scorpion Trail, and The Rattlesnake Season. He won the WWA Spur award for Best Short Fiction in 2005, and the 2011 and 2012 Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction for the Josiah Wolfe series. He was nominated for a Derringer award in 2007, and was a finalist in the Best Books of Indiana literary competition in 2010 and 2011. He has published over fifty nonfiction articles and short stories, which have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; The Adventure of the Missing Detective: And 25 of the Year’s Finest Crime and Mystery Stories!; Boys’ Life; Hardboiled; Amazon Shorts, and several other publications and anthologies. He is a member of MWA (Mystery Writers of America), WWA (Western Writers of America), and WF (Western Fictioneers).