Monday, August 1, 2011

Interview with Western Author Melody Groves

The Divine Secrets of the Writing Sisterhood would like to welcome Western author and SouthWest Writers' president Melody Groves!

New Mexico native Melody Groves has a deep love for anything cowboy and Old West. As a member of New Mexico Gunfighters, she “shoots” sheriffs and outlaws every other Sunday in Albuquerque’s Old Town.
Winner of two first-place writing awards, Groves is President of SouthWest Writers and publicity chairman for Western Writers of America. She writes for American Cowboy, True West and New Mexico magazines. Her non-fiction book, Ropes, Reins, and Rawhide: All About Rodeo, is a guide to understanding the sport. Additionally, Hoist a Cold One! Historic Bars of the Southwest, a look at the history and beauty of 26 front and back bars, launched in mid-July.

She is also author of the Colton Family Saga series, Border Ambush, Sonoran Rage, and Arizona War. Recently, her essay about living in New Mexico was published in Voices of New Mexico.

As an author, what drew you to not only become a writer, but specifically the genre of Westerns?
 I’ve always been a writer—I think it’s a passion that comes from within. And specifically the genre of Westerns, it also comes from within. I wrote them kind of in a closet for years until realizing that they’re a valuable, viable part of literature. Since I grew up in southern New Mexico and spent time on horseback and visiting old ghost towns, Westerns are sort of in my blood, so to speak. I feel a definite connection with the past.

Border Ambush
by Melody Groves
When people think of Western novels, they tend to think of writers such as Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. Do you think their work still properly represents the types of Westerns being published today? Are Western novels as popular today as when authors such as L’Amour and Grey were being published?
L’Amour and Grey’s Westerns are similar and yet different from today’s. All of the Westerns speak to redefining oneself and also the landscape is usually a character. Westerns today aren’t quite as popular as say, in the 1950s, but we’re seeing an increase in readership and sales. I think it’s because people want a good story and are looking for something with moral characters. People would buy them if bookstores would promote them. There’s definitely a need and a market for Westerns.

Why do bookstores shy away from promoting Westerns? Is there something specific about the genre that keeps them from doing so?
It's a nasty spiral. Bookstores don't carry a wide range of Westerns because people don't request them. People don't request them because they don't know about them. I've attended many Western events where we sell a wide range of Westerns, and people are always so very grateful. They say they can't get them anywhere else. And I don't think it's necessarily the genre itself, it's the sales that guide the book sellers. WWA is doing what we can to change people's reading habits. It's frustrating, to say the least.

What was your experience like on the road to getting published?
My experience to getting published was up and down, pretty much like everybody else’s. Once I decided that I really, truly wanted to get published, then I attended workshops, conferences, classes and talked to everybody I could. A ton of rejections later, I got an article published in a magazine, and the rest as they say…is history.

Your novels are published through La Frontera Publishing, a smaller press. Can you give some insight as to what it’s like to work with a smaller press as opposed to having your work published through one of the “Big Six”?
A small press has tons of advantages and disadvantages. The publisher knows you and you know him/her. It’s usually easier to get him on the phone than a larger publisher. They’ll also keep your book in print longer than the Big Six. The down side is: they’re small, which means even more of the marketing burden is on you and if they have a personal crisis (I know one small publisher who had pneumonia and then hip surgery, so was out for almost a year), the work pretty much stops.

A larger press has a staff to handle everything that needs to be done to get a book published. It’s a bit more impersonal, but their books could have a wider distribution range. The down side: if your book doesn’t perform well, it’s taken off the shelf in a matter of months.

Would you recommend a smaller publishing house, or does it depend on the genre and what a writer hopes to accomplish with his/her work?
My recommendation as to whether to go large or small—just go. There’s nothing wrong with small publishers, I like them a lot. The important thing is that if your book is on the shelf, somebody will pick it up and buy it. If your small publisher isn’t doing his job, then try to find another who will. Genre really doesn’t matter.
Ropes, Reins and Rawhide
by Melody Groves

You’ve also written a non-fiction book entitled Ropes, Reins, and Rawhide: All About Rodeo, plus you have another non-fiction book that was recently published about historic bars of the Southwest. Is it more challenging to write non-fiction as opposed to fiction or vice versa? 
Non-fiction or fiction—which is more challenging? Both. Writing is hard work, whether it’s made up or real. In both areas, you’ve got to be accurate with your facts, whether it’s the date of a certain battle or what kind of matches they use.

What type of advice would you give to an aspiring writer of a non-fiction work?
Write about something you love. You’re going to spend thousands of hours with the topic and if you don’t have passion about it, you’re going to end up hating it and probably not doing your best work. Also, pick a topic that will appeal to a wide audience. That’s your best chance of getting published.

What I mean by that is instead of writing about say, hummingbird nests of Albuquerque, make the topic something like “Small birds of the Southwest.” That way, people in Phoenix may buy it, too. After my rodeo book came out, I decided to write a book on Ranch Rodeo. What I discovered was that very few people knew the difference and even fewer knew what one was. I didn’t want to spend my time promoting a book to people who needed to be educated first. So, I abandoned the idea, even though I had a publisher for it!

I’m seeing a wide audience for my bar book, Hoist a Cold One! Historic Bars of the Southwest, which just came out in June. Everyone knows what a bar is and they’re even more interested when I tell them that it’s not about the building, but about the wooden bar itself.
Melody Groves' newest release!
If you could pick out one scene in your writing that proved to be the most challenging, what would it be and what made it so difficult to write?
One of the first scenes I ever wrote in a Western was the most challenging.--a cattle stampede! Why did I think it would be easy? Not only did I have a thousand steers running in various directions, thunder, lightning, rain, dust and cowboys yelling all had to be described. Needing to bring in all the senses: smell, sight, sound, taste, seeing…it was organized chaos. I got through it and then realized I’d forgotten wind. Any time I have a barroom fight or some such, those are tough because there are so many moving parts.

You are the current president of SouthWest Writers, an all-genres writing group in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As the president, what kinds of challenges do you face when it comes to managing a fairly large writing group?
As president of SouthWest Writers, the biggest challenge is providing speakers, classes, workshops and conferences that address the various levels of writing skills our members have. Unlike Western Writers of America where in order to join you must be published in the Western genre, SouthWest Writers accepts anyone who is even vaguely interested in writing. Our members range from those who just like to be around writers, to those who’ve won national awards. Trying to please everybody is tough.

Conferences are a large part of any aspiring writers journey to getting published. In the last year, SWW has not held a writers conference. Can you give a little insight as to what goes into organizing a conference and what happens if for some reason the conference has to be cancelled?  Do you have any alternate suggestions if an aspiring writer is unable to attend a conference due to any number of reasons (i.e. financially unable, time conflict, conference doesn’t offer what writer is looking for, etc.)?
Conferences are extremely important, so in developing one, we look for wide appeal but a specialized topic that many genres can learn something from. To organize one, we need about five dedicated people to select topic, place, date, speakers, etc. The best is to start at least a year out. We’re organizing a February 2012 conference on screen and script writing, which at first blush sounds like it’s a limiting topic. But from my own personal experience, I know that two classes on screenwriting I took drastically improved my dialogue and understanding of structure in my fiction. This conference will offer something for everyone.

This year we had a perfect storm for not being able to put together a conference or two for SouthWest Writers. In a span of five months, I had two conference coordinators quit, even though the conferences were in the works. The executive board and I sat down and did some hard, cold number crunching. We decided that no matter what, we’d lose money and we didn’t have enough time to put on the quality of conference we wanted. Canceling it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make.

There is no good substitute for conferences, but the next best thing would be to read on line about the various writing topics. With today’s online blogs and websites, writers can pick up a lot of helpful tips. But my recommendation: save your pennies and locate a conference that you’re interested in and go!
According to your website,, you make several appearances throughout the year for book signings and conventions such as Western Writers of America. When it comes to publicity and marketing your work, how important are these scheduled events to your career?
Publicity and marketing—hugely important. Scheduled events such as signings and presentations have several benefits. First, you meet people who are unfamiliar with your work. Now, they know your name. Second, you become more and more comfortable speaking about your work and talking to strangers. Third, you get to meet some amazing people.

When I attend Western Writers of America conventions, not only do I get to renew my friendship with writers across the US, but meet editors and agents who become not only friends but critical elements in my career. I look at it this way: I can write all I want to, but if I want someone to read it, I need to get out in public. Thankfully, I’m no longer shy.

On your website you also list that you are a gunfighter re-enactor. You play “Mad Mel” and you “know what it feels like to shoot a sheriff.” This sounds like it would be so much fun. Does doing something like this allow for you to feel, in some small way, what the characters in your book would be going through? How important is re-enacting when it comes to your writing? 
 Believe it or not, my Old West gunfighting re-enacting is vital to my writing. While it’s a ton of fun, and we do use blanks, I learn something new every show that I can put in my writing. I’ve stood toe to toe with sheriffs and outlaws, shooting at them, they shooting at me. And while the bullets aren’t real, the adrenaline is. It’s scary to stand facing someone with a gun.

And I know what it feels like to hit the ground after being “shot.” It hurts, unless it’s on grass.

A couple of years ago, my group was in Tombstone playing at the OK Corral. I was Morgan Earp, so I was lined up on one side with my “brothers” and Doc. On the other side stood the McLowry’s and Clanton boys. Two things happened that I’ve used in my writing. Doc’s shotgun had a hair trigger—it went off before the cue was given. We all started shooting, ducking, dying earlier than we’d rehearsed. Secondly, there was so much dust from our boots and smoke from our guns that I couldn’t see across the corral. I knew they were there, but I couldn’t see my target. That was the way it really happened. Spontaneous and smokey.   

If you could give two words of advice to any writer out there trying to break into the publishing world, what would those two words be? 
Keep Writing. Pure and simple. You won’t get any better or published by not writing.

My mantra, especially when I’m discouraged: “Never Give Up. Never surrender.”  Thank you “Galaxy Quest” movie. 

And thank you, Melody Groves, for your wonderful insight into the world of Western writing!

Feel free to visit her website at


  1. Melody is such an engaging woman in person. Had enjoyed meeting her at conferences and think this post was a wonderful idea, Mary Mary!

    Thank you both for having taken the time.

  2. Great interview!
    It’s very refreshing to see women authors dealing with a genre that for long has been considered masculine territory. Too bad westerns belong to a forgotten genre, and bookstores don´t advertise them. I wonder what other genres are also forsaken by the market.

  3. I think it's so cool that Melody does gunfight re-enactments! I've noticed that the best way to describe an action is to do it first (our minds/imaginations can do a lot of things our bodies can't, ha!)

    I'm not sure if Melody will stop by our blog, but if she does, I'd like to ask her a question sparked by last week's interview with agent Elizabeth Kracht. Melody, did you ever hire a professional editor to help you polish your work? And if so, do you think it's necessary for all writers?

    A very informative interview. Thanks Melody and Mary!

  4. Violante took the words right out of my mouth! How wonderful to see a woman writing in the male-dominated Western genre. I am putting "Hoist A Cold One!" on my to-read list, that looks like a great book.

    I would still be curious what Melody's path was *after* the article. I've published plenty of articles but am not at all sure how this is going to help me sell my fiction. I'm always curious how fiction writers get their first contracts. I could listen to such success stories in all their itty-bitty detail and never get bored: in fact, I wish we'd hear a lot more about this.

    Thanks for the fascinating interview, Mary Mary, and thanks to Melody for participating!

  5. Great interview! I love the comparisons Melody made between small and large publishers, and I totally agree with her last piece of advice. "Never give up! Never surrender!" That sums it up right there. :)

  6. Melody is a dear friend of mine and a true inspiration to western writers. And as a past gunfight re-enactor, her comments are spot on. Nothing like seeing the blast from a double-barrel aimed right at you!
    My hats off to you my friend!

  7. Suze, I agree with you about Melody. She was so great to do this interview for me and I think she's been great as the current SWW president.

    Violante, You make a great point. How many other genres out there seem forgotten or "shelved" because bookstores and such just aren't promoting them? It's a little sad if you ask me. But it does go to show you that a genre doesn't have to be dominated by one or the other gender (Hello any men out there who want to tackle romance :-)). I think it's great that Melody writes Westerns.

  8. Lorena and Steph, I'm not sure if Melody will stop by or not, but you both raise some good questions. Maybe I should have asked her to go a little more in depth after having an article published. And Lorena, you raise a good question with whether she ever had a professional editor for her work. I'd kind of like to know the answer to that one too.

    Jennifer, I'd have to agree with you on that final statement. What a great mantra!

    Monty, I'm glad you could stop by. I think the whole re-enacting gig would be so much fun. I've never checked it out, but now I really think I would like to. Thanks for your great comments!


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