Author Michael McGarrity said, "In 1982, after I left a position as supervisor of a program for seriously mentally ill patients, I took the summer off and started writing just to see if I had what it took to tell a story. It turned into a hobby."
New Mexico author Michael McGarrity's newest crime novel, "Residue," is scheduled to be released today (Nov. 8). He will commemorate its publication with a discussion and book signing Saturday (Nov. 10) from 2-3:30 p.m. at Op. Cit. Books Taos, 124A Bent Street.
Tempo had the opportunity to speak with McGarrity via email about his writing life and upcoming reading.
Tempo: When did you start writing?
Michael McGarrity: In 1982, after I left a position as supervisor of a program for seriously mentally ill patients, I took the summer off and started writing just to see if I had what it took to tell a story. It turned into a hobby.
Tempo: What made you want to write crime novels?
McGarrity: I didn't want to write crime novels. That just happens to be one of the categories most of my books fall into. I'm a writer in search of a genre. Actually, I've been writing about one man and his family in all 16 novels.
Tempo: Law enforcement officer Kevin Kerney is the protagonist in all your novels, except for a recent trilogy you wrote about Kerney's family saga. How did you create this character and why have you stuck with him for most of your books?
McGarrity: Kerney has been with me from the start, including in two really bad manuscripts that were my first failed attempts. As the series grew, so did his backstory, and from that came the trilogy. He's the glue that holds everything together.
Tempo: What do you admire about Kerney?
McGarrity: He's a stand-up guy who is trustworthy, straight forward, and proud of his profession. He's got his quirks, but he's solid and admirable. I like to say women love him and men want to be his friend.
Tempo: You also set all your books in New Mexico. Why?
McGarrity: New Mexico is a place I love, that I've been constantly exploring for many decades. It's a setting I know well. I must write what I know when it comes to location.
Tempo: In your newest book, "Residue," Kerney is arrested and jailed for a cold-case murder. A missing person case becomes a homicide investigation when the bones of Kim Ward are unearthed in Las Cruces 45 years after her disappearance. Due to the new forensic evidence, suspicion shifts to Ward's old college boyfriend who happens to be former Santa Fe Police Chief Kevin Kerney. What inspired you to put Kerney in such a situation?
McGarrity: "Residue" actually ties into the final book in my American West Trilogy, "The Last Ranch." I'd thought about doing a fourth historical novel but opted instead to make it contemporary. It is part of Kerney's backstory I need to finish telling.
Tempo: What do you enjoy most about your newest book, "Residue?"
McGarrity: I bring the entire Kerney family together to help clear Kerney's name and highlight his half-Apache son, Clayton Istee, a character worthy of his own series. The book should be called "Residue: a Kerney Family Novel."
Tempo: You are a prolific writer. This is your 16th published novel in 22 years. What is your writing process?
McGarrity: I cringe at the word prolific. Writing, if it's good storytelling, is hard, hard, work. Much of it is mental, rather than pounding away at a keyboard on some daily schedule.
Tempo: How much research do you need to do for your books, if any?
McGarrity: I'm constantly doing research, both prior to and during the writing process. Getting things wrong pulls readers out of the story, and I hate to do that. Fact-checking and accuracy are of primary importance to me.
Tempo: What inspires your stories? Where do you get your ideas from?
McGarrity: I need three things to begin a book; a springboard idea to get started, a working title and a location. From there, I go where the story takes me.
Tempo: You have been instrumental in establishing writing scholarships for New Mexico college students, including the Hillerman-McGarrity Creative Writing Scholarship at the University of New Mexico, the Richard Bradford Memorial Creative Writing Scholarship at Santa Fe Community College, and the N. Scott Momaday Creative Writing Scholarship at the Institute of American Indian Arts. Why is this important to you?
McGarrity: Our society needs writers who can inspire and provoke us with new thinking, clearer vision and the ability to carve new pathways of discovery about the world and the human condition. We would suffer badly without them.
Tempo: What advice would you give to a writer just starting out?
McGarrity: Have a tough skin, be persistent and listen to your own voice. Most importantly, don't be a copycat.
Tempo: What can we expect from your upcoming reading at Op. Cit Books Taos?
McGarrity: I talk off-the-cuff and usually avoid reading from my work. That said, most folks who've attended my signings say I'm at least entertaining.
According to his bio, McGarrity has been nominated for various awards, including two nominations for the Western Writers of American Spur Award for best Western novel. In 2004, he received the New Mexico Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts - Literature. He holds a bachelor's degree in English and psychology, and a master's degree in clinical social work.
With over 25 years of experience in criminal justice, he has been an investigator and caseworker for the New Mexico Public Defender's Office, worked for the New Mexico Corrections Department after the 1980 riot, and has taught at several colleges, universities and the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy. As deputy sheriff of Santa Fe County, he founded their sex crime unit.
In 1996, he turned to writing full time with the publication of his critically acclaimed debut novel, "Tularosa." He lives near Santa Fe.
For more information, call Op.Cit. Books Taos at (575) 751-1999.
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