Wednesday, July 24, 2013

ParaCozyMysMo - Interview with Max McCoy, author of Of Grave Concern (An Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mystery 1) - July 24, 2013

Please welcome Max McCoy to The Qwillery as part of ParaCozyMysMo 2013Of Grave Concern, the first novel in Max's new Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mystery series, was published on July 2, 2013.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery!

Max:  Thanks for the invitation. You’ve had so many terrific writers here as guests, I’m honored. I’m also glad to be able to share something about the process of creating the character of Ophelia Wylde and writing Of Grave Concern. I like to think of it as honoring the bond between author and reader. Not only does an author ask a reader to fork over eight dollars and tax for a mass market paperback, but there is a serious commitment in time involved as well, and it’s the time which is more valuable. My aim is to write an engaging book that will entertain and surprise, without pandering or running to clichés, and one that leaves readers with something to think about when the book is done. That’s my idea of a fun book, and judging from the majority of reader reviews on Amazon, others have found it fun as well.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a panster?

Max:  A combination of both, really. While I am engaged with structure on a deep level—what myth is being retold here, what’s the trigger at the end of Act One, is there a mid-point reversal?—I find that sticking to a chapter by chapter outline is deadly dull. Rather, I know what scenes and beats I have to hit in the story, and then I thread the narrative around them. When I begin a book, I suspect I know the path my character will take to get to the end of the book, but there are always some big surprises along the way. Novels are art, and all of this stuff bubbles up from the unconscious. My most tightly plotted book is MOON POOL, because it’s a thriller set against the very technical world of cave diving. The novel in which I gave the most play to my subconscious was the historical I, QUANTRILL, about the notorious Civil War guerrilla chieftain, because it’s told in the first-person as Quantrill lays dying—the entire novel is a fever dream that flits along the border of death.

TQ:  What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Max:  Time. There’s never enough of it. I have notebooks full of ideas for books I’ll never get around to writing because a human life is finite (although Ophelia Wylde would argue the point). I want more time to create worlds and populate them with intriguing characters and explore themes and ideas that will resonate with readers. I’m not guaranteed unlimited time, so I have to make careful use of the time I have, to make it count.

TQ:  You're starting a new series - the Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mysteries. The first novel is Of Grave Concern. What inspired you to write mysteries with paranormal/supernatural elements?

Max:  I was researching the last book in the Hellfire trilogy—Hellfire Canyon, Canyon Diablo, Damnation Road—and I was at the state library at Guthrie, Oklahoma, looking through old newspaper clippings. I came across an account of the ghost of a murdered Cyprian who was haunting the railway tracks seeking justice. I knew then I wanted to write about a paranormal mystery series set in the Old West, and the character of Ophelia Wylde came fully formed to me. This is typically how it happens—you’re in the middle of one book and another great idea presents itself. I wanted to drop the book I was working on and write the mystery, but I had to wait of course. Also, the time period didn’t feel quite right. The newspaper clippings were from the late 1890s, and I wanted to place the series earlier. So, I started thinking about Dodge City, and eventually made a research trip there, and chose 1877 as the perfect year. I felt it important to place the series in a very specific time and place, with an authentic history, to ground it to ordinary reality. Steven Spielberg once said he succeeded in telling some of his most fantastic stories by placing them in familiar places… a two-lane highway, a typical middle-class home. The Old West is really quite familiar and iconic to Americans, we seem to pick it up through osmosis since birth. But what most people don’t’ know is what firm believers these westerners were in things that go bump in the night, and how open they were to things like the ghost of the murdered prostitute lingering along the railway tracks, or spectral soldiers with coffins on their backs keeping pace with Lincoln’s funeral train. When I pitched the series to Gary Goldstein, my editor at Kensington, he was so taken that I had a contract within a week or two.

TQ:  Do you base your paranormal/supernatural elements on existing lore, make things up or both?

Max:  I adapt things from research, absolutely. There is an abundant amount of information available about Victorian hauntings and Spiritualism, so I had plenty of material to work from. Some of it is really quite frightening, especially the stories collected by folklorists. One of the sources I returned to was a book that had scared the daylights of me when I was a kid, Vance Randolph’s classic Ozark Magic and Folklore. I also consulted a trunk load of newer sources, including some recent biographies of the Fox Sisters—they started the Spiritualism craze in 1848 with their spirit rappings—and Victoria Woodhull, a fantastically complex visionary, feminist, trance medium and con woman who ran for president in 1872. In studying period mediumship, what struck me is how little things had changed. Even the language is the same, especially the term “crossing over.” A modern medium would feel quite at home at a Victorian séance.

TQ:  What research have you done for Of Grave Concern? What is the oddest bit of information that you’ve come across in your research?

Max:  In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I made use of a lot of local history books, archived newspapers, old photographs, and the Sanborn Fire Protection maps, which give detailed drawings of the layout and buildings of Dodge City in the 1870s. In addition, I walked a lot of Dodge City and environs to get the feel of the place. The oddest thing I’ve come across is the wicked sense of humor of the Dodge City residents. They were obsessed with practical jokes, and some of their most elaborate gags—painting their faces to fake Indian raids to frighten the greenhorns, for example—were just too cruel to use in the book.

TQ:  Tell us something about Of Grave Concern that is not in the book description.

Max:  My books aren’t for everyone. I can see my editor at Kensington cringe as he reads that. Gary would say, “What are you doing, Max, you’re driving sales away.” But Of Grave Concern is not a traditional cozy, which one might think just by glancing at the cover. Look closer, however, and it clearly says paranormal mystery, which is more to the point. I wanted to do something original with Of Grave Concern, to try something fresh (and I’ve been reading mysteries since I was a boy, starting with Conan Doyle). My novel is a paranormal mystery, but firmly rooted in the real Dodge City of 1877, and with a lead character who delights in defying expectations.

TQ:  Which character in Of Grave Concern has surprised you the most?

Max:  Ophelia, always. I know her so well, and always have, since the first page. I’ve had people ask if it was difficult for me to write in the first person as a woman, and honestly Ophelia’s character was so clear to me I never worried about it. But what has surprised me about Ophelia, however, is how frank she’s been about her checkered past, and there are some flashbacks in Of Grave Concern that left my reeling, especially the one that takes place one Easter Sunday in New Orleans. And then there’s her habit of cursing in grammatically incorrect French, which was a shocker. I knew I didn’t want profanity in the book, but I knew that considering Ophelia’s background she would be able to cuss with the best of them, and she solved the problem by doing it in French.

TQ:  What's next?

Max:  I’m working on the next Ophelia book, so that’s my immediate project. But my editor recently came up with an idea for an intriguing historical novel, a big epic book, that my agent and I are discussing how to approach. I can’t even give the title, unfortunately, but it’s shaping up to be a classic Max McCoy story, full of history and weirdness and wonder.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Max:  Thanks for having me. It was fun.

Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mysteries

Of Grave Concern
An Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mystery 1
Kensington Books, July 2, 2013
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 272 pages

In the Old West, legends die hard--and so do witnesses. But that won't stop psychic-turned-detective Ophelia Wylde from finding fresh graves, digging up clues, and catching wanted criminals--with a little help from the dead. . .

Dead Men Tell No Lies

The Civil War is over, and many a young widow has turned to spiritualism to contact their husbands on "the other side." But Ophelia Wylde won't be fooled twice. After wasting her money on a phoney psychic, she decides if she can't beat ‘em, join ‘em. She leaves New Orleans and heads West, selling her services as a spiritual medium who speaks to the dead. By the time she reaches Dodge City, business is booming. Except for a handsome but skeptical bounty hunter named Jack Calder, no one suspects Ophelia of running a con game--until an unfortunate "reading" of a girl who's still living exposes her to a town full of angry customers. As punishment, the mob drags Ophelia to Boot Hill and buries her alive in a fresh grave overnight. That's when the dead start speaking. To her. For real. And for dead people, they've got lots to say. . .

About Max

Max McCoy is an award-winning novelist and journalist. He's a member of Mystery Writers of America and is the creator of the Ophelia Wylde paranormal mystery series.

The first book in the series, "Of Grave Concern," was launched in July 2013 at the Boot Hill Museum Complex in Dodge City, Kansas. The novel is set in 1877 in Dodge City and surroundings.

McCoy is also known for his dark and offbeat westerns (which have been described as "western noir") and his original Indiana Jones adventures for Bantam and licensed by Lucasfilm.

He won the Spur award for best novel in 2008 from the Western Writers of America for "Hellfire Canyon." It's the story of a 13-year-old boy and his mother who walk across Missouri during the Civil War and become part of the gang led by Alf Bolin, the notorious Ozark serial killer. "Hellfire Canyon" was also named a Kansas 2008 Notable Book.

In 2011, the third book in the "Hellfire" trilogy, "Damnation Road," also won a Spur. McCoy is the author of many other books, including the novelization of Steven Spielberg's epic miniseries, "Into the West."

His fiction debut, "The Sixth Rider," about the 1892 raid on Coffeyville's banks by the Dalton Gang, was published by Doubleday and won the Spur/Medicine Pipe Award for Best First Novel from Western Writers.

USA Today has described his writing as "powerful." In addition to westerns and historical fiction, McCoy also writes contemporary adventures. Publishers Weekly called his novel, "The Moon Pool," an "intelligent thriller... tightly drawn characters, a vile villain and a satisfying, thought-provoking conclusion make this a compelling read."

McCoy grew up in Baxter Springs and most of his books are set in Kansas or Missouri. He began his career in journalism at the Pittsburg Morning Sun and writing for pulp magazines such as "True Detective" and "Front-Page Detective." As investigative writer for The Joplin Globe, he won first-place awards in investigative journalism for his stories on serial killers and hate groups.

McCoy's an associate professor of journalism at Emporia State University at Emporia, Kansas, and director of the Tallgrass Writing Workshop.

Website  ~   Facebook  ~  Twitter @authormaxmccoy

The Giveaway

What:  One commenter will win a Mass Market Paperback copy of Of Grave Concern (An Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mystery 1) from The Qwillery.

How:   Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on August 10, 2013. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Hmmm, I think it would be a contemporary mystery. I enjoy mysteries set in the past, but contemporaries call to me more.

  2. I would want it to be present day, so many more resources to tap into :) Thank you for sharing with us.

  3. I think I'd like my mystery set during the early 1960's---I was so fond of those years of my life.

  4. In the past! Maybe set during Victorian era :)

  5. I'd like to be involved in a mystery during the Tudor era or possibly the sixties - I just love both time periods!

  6. Ancient Egypt....or maybe back when Stonehenge was in use.

    Thanks for the amazing giveaway!
    elizabeth @ bookattict . com

  7. I would have to stick with the present day. So much more history to tap into. Thanks for the giveaway!