Friday, October 31, 2014

English Doctor, Novelist, Medical Journalist and Nonfiction Writer

Keith Souter is a part time doctor, medical journalist, non-fiction writer and novelist. He's the current vice President of Western Fictioneers and is a member of Western Writers of America as well as  several other writers’ organizations. He also writes in four genres – westerns as Clay More, crime as Keith Moray and historicals and YA as Keith Souter. He's won prizes for his short stories, including a Fish Award in 2006 for his short historical fiction. He lives with his wife in England, "within arrow-shot of the ruins of a medieval castle."

When did you decide to write Westerns, Keith?

A few years ago I received an invitation to join a fledgling organisation called Western Fictioneers. This was based in the USA and included many prominent authors in the Western genre. The membership requirement was to have been paid for writing Western fiction, but not merely be self-published. By that time I  had published five Western novels with Robert Hale, a London based publisher of Westerns, so I joined. I must confess that I did so with some trepidation, as I was unsure whether I could actually cut it as a Western writer in the USA.

Almost immediately I heard that the Western Fictioneers were putting together an anthology of short stories by its members and everyone was invited to submit  a tale. So I threw caution to the wind and wrote a story, entitled Boot Hill Neighbors, which appeared in the anthology The Traditional West. That gave me a buzz to have a story in there with so many prize-winning authors in the genre.

Is the western written from England any different from those written in the USA? That is a difficult one to answer. When you watch a movie and you hear an actor trying to do an American accent, it may jar. But does the same thing happen with a writing style? Again, I am not sure that it does.

Of course, people may spot an inaccuracy about horses, gun lore, ranching practices and feel that it spoils the book. Yet those errors can occur just as easily in homegrown books. It all comes down to research, in my opinion. If the research is done adequately, then those jarring moments should not occur.

My own approach when writing a Western is to steep myself in research into all aspects of a locality. I study the flora, the fauna, the geography, geology and the history of the area. Then I set it against the history of the time and then I begin to build my story. And nowadays with the Internet you can research anywhere anytime. You can find newspapers of the epoch you are writing about and you can get instant pictures of the terrain. I have to say that I love this aspect of my work as a writer. I write medical and all manner of non-fiction books and I am a medical journalist, so I have a good nose for research. In medicine you have to get things right and I try to do that with everything that I write about.

I use the old writing adage – write about what you know. I think it is a piece of advice that is often misunderstood. It doesn’t just mean that you should only write about the places you are familiar with, or about the background that you come from. What it means to me, is use the things you know about and let that give your writing authenticity. I am a doctor and I use my expertise in medicine and in surgery to good effect in my stories. Virtually all of my novels have a doctor in the story somewhere and I can make things seem real. I can make wounds and operations seem plausible.

I think that I have always had a love of the old west. I was brought up with all the old Western TV shows.  You may have guessed that my choice of pen-name is a homage to Clayton Moore, the Lone Ranger. I loved those shows, along with Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, the Virginian and The High Chaparral. My father was a western aficionado and we had loads of books by Zane Grey, Max Brand, Louis L’Amour. I read voraciously, so they were all a great influence on me. Yet  I would have to single out the works of Elmore Leonard. Goodness, what a superb writer he was.

I have a couple of on-going writing projects at the moment. Firstly, I write the character of Doctor Logan Munro in the Wolf Creek series of novels for Western Fictioneers Library. These are collaborative novels featuring five or six authors at a time. Each author writes one or two chapters from the viewpoint of his or her character. Logan Munro is a Scottish doctor, as am I, so I can get authenticity in my stories from both the medical viewpoint and with my voice as a Scotsman. We have published ten of these so far, with the eleventh due out next month.
Adventures from the case book of Dr. Marcus Quigley

The other project is a series of short stories about Doctor Marcus Quigley, a qualified dentist, gambler and bounty hunter, who is on a long-time quest to find the man who murdered a friend some years ago. Here I use my knowledge of dental history, my knowledge of dice and gambling and I structure it as I do a crime novel. In fact, all of my Westerns are really mysteries. There is no ‘shoot ‘em up’ allowed in my tales. The protagonists have to solve the mystery and extricate themselves from danger using their brains rather than their brawn or their speed with a gun. And there is usually some love-interest along the way.

My latest book is due out in mid-April from high Noon Press. It is the collection of my short stories, Adventures from the Case Book of Doctor Marcus Quigley. Each story is self-contained, but linked into a greater quest.

You can learn more about Keith Souter at his website: 
 as well as at his Western blog – More on the Range:
and Western Fictioneers://

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Scottish Author Discusses Crime and Mystery Fiction

by Bill Kirton

I’m a fan of both crime fiction and mystery novels and I know that they’re the same thing. It just depends which side of the Atlantic you live. It was only when my first book was published in the USA, in 2007, that I started to wonder whether the different labels signified a difference in readers too. I still don’t know, but it’s made me think about the genre there and here. And guess what? I’ve come to no conclusions.

It all started with an American, Edgar Allan Poe, in 1841. Then a Scotsman gave it a boost with his Sherlock Holmes later in the century. Between the wars, the UK started its Golden Age, typified by cosy tales, with amateurs making the police look silly and clever old ladies riding on bikes past thatched cottages stuffed with eviscerated corpses. In the USA, Hammett, Spillane and Chandler created their private eye archetypes and started crafting the gritty, hard-boiled version. For the Brits, it was a game, a puzzle; for the Americans, it was serious.

I’m generalising, but from the start there seemed to be a contrast: on the one hand reflective, genteel stories in a rural setting; on the other violent, fast-moving accounts in the mean streets of cities. Restraint versus mayhem.

Nowadays, it’s not that simple. Leaving aside the TV series such as CSI, the preference in the States still seems to be for Private Eyes – male and female (although Ed McBain and others focus on team efforts). And the British produce police procedurals.


Statistics seem to suggest that there’s a strong cult appreciation of the hard-boiled genre in Europe while readers in the USA gobble up cosies and Golden Age-style mysteries. Maybe staid Brits with their alleged sang-froid and taciturnity long for the brash, up-front individuality of the American Way. Maybe helter-skelter Americans, surrounded by technological expertise and the responsibilities of being the sole remaining superpower dream of sipping Earl Grey on the village green.

Or perhaps it’s the exoticism of the differences between us. The mysterious implications of the distinctions between felonies and misdemeanors (or, as we’d call them, misdemeanours), the quaint notion that an Attorney General actually has to solicit votes. Or, over here, the arcane role of the Procurator Fiscal in the Scottish system or the plusses and minuses attaching to Scotland’s ‘Not proven’ verdict, and the striking differences between police procedures north and south of the border.

If only it were that easy. No, in the end, there’s no future in trying to second guess readers. Wherever they are, you either entertain or you bore them. In a recent email, an English reader wasn’t impressed with me because, as he wrote, ‘your story disturbed me, and do readers really want to be disturbed?’ Well, I’m not sure, but do they really expect laughs in a story which exploits the fear of being buried alive? I guess I’d better work out how to turn it into an Edgar Allan Feelgood tale.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

How to Become a Successful TV Journalist

by Hank Phillipi Ryan, bestselling novelist and award-winning journalist 

Here's what you need to produce a successful television story. Develop memorable characters. Build suspense. Show conflict. Tell a compelling story. Find justice. Change lives.

Here's what you need to become a successful television journalist. Never miss your deadline. Be fair. Get people to tell you things they wouldn't tell anyone else. Understand how the world works.Work with an editor. Create a brilliant and flawless product every time. Be completely devoted to your job.

As I began to write my first novel, I realized the number of parallels between writing for television and writing a mystery novel. Your primary focus is telling a great story, right? With compelling characters. And centering around an important problem. You dig for leads, track down documents, conduct intensive research, and see where the clues take you. You want the good guys to win, and bad guys to get what's coming to them. You want a satisfying and fair ending, and you want some justice. And if you're lucky, you get to change the world. 

Here's a new way of looking at your work as a journalist. And it doesn't matter if you've never written a news story in your life. 

You won't use every news story every day. Some you won't realize you need, until you do. On those days, there are journalism-based questions you can ask yourself to prod your brain into story telling--kind of a who-what-when-where-why and why-not that just might get you out of that pre-deadline panic.

Why do I Care?

If you're in a scene that seems to be flabby, or boring, or simply not compelling, there may be there's no reason to write it. Se your intention before you write the scene. What's the point of these next 200 words? Why do we care about these next 200 words? Why do we care about what's going to happen next? Figure that out. It may be that you're writing a scene that you don't need. You may be writing a scene that needs to move faster, or go a different direction, or wind up in a different place. 

Am I in the Right Place?

Not only the right place geographically, but the right place in time or space. If you've got two guys sitting around talking, or someone looking up a name on a computer, or talking on the phone, or if it's the fourth scene in a row that's taking place in an office--hmmm. Television is all about good video. Can you place your characters somewhere more cinematic? What would happen to your characters when you do?

Who said that?

Maybe you've got the wrong person talking, or using the wrong point of view. Placing the same scene in the point of view of a different person changes the perspective and as a result, shows you motivation in a different way. What's at stake in your scene? Who has the most to lose? Sometimes even thinking about a scene through a different character's eyes can open your own to different ideas.

What's the goal?

Are you at the beginning of the book where you need a big compelling hook? In the middle of the book where you need to twist and turn and keep the readers turning the pages? Or near the end, when you need to ratchet up the suspense and come up with the big finish or happy ever-after ending? Make sure you're clear on your goal. Think about what you should write to accomplish that.

(You can read more of Hank Phillipi Ryan's article as well as her  interview in The Mystery Writers.)

You can also learn more at her website:

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Writing About Women Amateur Sleuths

Writing about two 60-year old women amateur sleuths has been fun, but I always attempt to involve them in social issues. Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow,  inhabited my brain for a couple of years before they were given birth on my computer. Living in my home state of California at the time, I placed them in the San Joaquin Valley in the central area of the state, where dense Tule fog, agricultural sprays and bay area pollution have become health hazards. It’s also a place where a serial killer can hide and kill at his leisure.

I lived in the valley for more than a dozen years and envisioned a killer disappearing into the fog after taking someone’s life. In fact, it actually happened half a mile from where I lived in a rural area, when a young woman was strangled in her ranch house. It could have been me.

In A Village Shattered, the first book in the series, I placed my aging sleuths in a retirement village  where their Sew and So club members are mysteriously dropping dead alphabetically. When Dana and Sarah realize what is happening, they suspect that their own names are on the killer’s list. The newly-elected sheriff—whose only previous experience was training police dogs—is bungling the case, so Logan & Cafferty decide to put their crime solving knowledge to work in order to not only save their remaining friends’ lives, but their own. Meanwhile, Dana’s journalist daughter shows up on her doorstep, complicating matters.

I placed the widows in a motorhome in Diary of Murder, second book in the 

series, after they sold their homes in the retirement village. While vacationing 
in Colorado, they encounter a Rocky Mountain blizzard after learning that 
Dana’s sister, a mystery writer, has died. Her husband claims it was suicide 
but Dana knows better. When they arrive in Wyoming, they go through the 
sister’s possessions and find her diary, which details her husband’s infidelities 
as well as her unhappiness at having married him. Dana then learns that her 
former brother-in-law is involved in a vicious drug gang, and she and Sarah 
are nearly killed themselves when they investigate.

The murdered sister willed her mansion to Dana and the two women take up residence in Wyoming. During a picture-taking trip to Gray Wolf Mountain, their Escalade is shot at, resulting in a rollover. An old man comes to their rescue in his decrepit pickup truck and they learn that he travels the mountain to find wounded wolves to nurse back to health. Someone has been deliberately shooting them and has recently begun shooting people. Logan & Cafferty decide to help the old man, once again placing their own lives in danger.

In Murder on the Interstate, the two women are traveling in northern Arizona, where they discover the body of a young woman in her Mercedes convertible. Her killer shoots out their motorhome tires and a trucker who calls herself “Big Ruby” McCurdy comes to their rescue. The three women follow the killer during torrential rain in
Ruby’s 18-wheeler, and discover that the killer is involved in a homegrown terrorist group who plan to overthrow the government. While attempting to discover how the murder victim is connected to the group leads them into a flash flood and capture by the group.

In the fifth novel, Murder in RV Paradise, Dana and Sarah decide to vacation in an exclusive resort in northern Texas, where they find the body of a beautiful woman who has entraps wealthy men to blackmail them. There are more than a thousand residents of the resort so anyone could have killed her. Interviewing the right ones seems an insurmountable task and the amateur sleuths became suspects, themselves, in the murder. Sarah finds love with a retired rancher and Dana’s quest to maintain her friendship status with long-time pursuer, Sheriff Walter Campbell, is in serious jeopardy. When the sheriff is seriously wounded, Dana rushes to his side and is persuaded to marry him. But will she?