As I write this, I have not had the pleasure of meeting Larry D. Sweazy. But that seems almost impossible, given that we both have Indianapolis, Seventh Street Book contracts, and a friend in common. Of course I needed to ask him three questions. But as I’m hosting an event in Indy this weekend, I’m hoping Larry and I will be fast friends soon.
Larry D. Sweazy
) is a two-time WWA Spur award winner, a two-time, back-to-back winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award, a Best Books of Indiana award winner, and the inaugural winner of the 2013 Elmer Kelton Book Award. He was also nominated for a Short Mystery Fiction Society (SMFS) Derringer award in 2007. Larry has published over 75 non-fiction articles and short stories, and is the author of the Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger western series (Berkley), the Lucas Fume western series (Berkley) and a thriller set in Indiana, The Devil’s Bones
(Five Star). A new mystery, See Also Murder
, from Seventh Street Books, will debut in 2015. Larry also works as a freelance indexer, and lives in Indiana, with his wife, Rose.
What path did you take to becoming a published author?
I started out where every writer starts. I was, and am, a voracious reader. But I wasn’t a great student in school. Actually, I was average. I excelled at the things that interested me (lit classes, theater, the sciences; math was poisonous). One of my greatest pleasures was reading books I wasn’t supposed to, or was “too young for.” I bounced around and worked a lot of jobs, went into the military straight out of high school instead of going to college, but I always wrote in a journal. I found writing to be the most comfortable way to express my creativity. It wasn’t until I was 30 that I decided to pursue writing seriously, professionally. I started out writing short stories, mostly mystery and horror, and began submitting them (before the Internet, via the mail, when it cost something). I sold my first short story to Hardboiled, a little magazine that I think still exists, for $5.00, after collecting over a hundred rejection slips. That was 1993. It’s been a long and winding road twenty-one years since, with a lot of reading, writing, and rejection slips in between.
What do mysteries and westerns have in common?
A lot actually. Most westerns involve a crime of some sort. A train or bank robbery, a crime of passion, an illegal land grab. And since there’s usually a crime, there tends to be a law enforcement or investigative element of some kind in the story. A sheriff, a U.S. Marshal, or in my previous western series, a Texas Ranger. Most all of my westerns have a mystery or thriller plot. A review (Nuvo, 07/09/14) of my upcoming western, Vengeance at Sundown (Berkley) said it is “An amalgamation of genres—Western, detective, mystery, historical realism.” I have always said that mystery readers are missing out on a lot of great writers and great stories because they overlook the western as a source of the kind of novels they seem to crave. The list of writers that wrote both westerns and mysteries is long. Start with Elmore Leonard, Donald Hamilton, A. B. Guthrie, and the list just goes on and on. Even today, writers like Loren D. Estleman continue to write in both of genres. Westerns, like mysteries, are about delivering justice, good conquering evil, taking chaos out of the world, and making it a better place. Strip the cover off of most westerns, and you will find a mystery. Strip the cover off of a mystery and you’ll find a great story. In the end, that’s what it’s about, the story.
What are the pros—or cons—to writing from the Midwest?
The Midwest has a long and impressive literary history and has produced some great writers. Kurt Vonnegut, Booth Tarkington, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather all come to mind immediately. So there must be something here. Maybe it’s the flat land, the wide open spaces, or maybe it’s something else like the elements, the weather, what it takes to endure, thrive, and be successful here. Maybe the human struggle is a little more visible here? I don’t know, but there is room here to explore all kinds of stories, and there is the silence to do it in, especially in the winter. To me that’s a pro. The silence of winter. Con? I think it’s the attitude that it’s boring in the Midwest, it’s a collection of fly-over states, that there is no beauty here, no mountains, no ocean. But I wholeheartedly disagree. The beauty here is breathtaking. Some days you just have to look a little closer to find it…and that’s a good exercise for any writer.