Virgil Alexander is a Public Safety Writers Association award winning Author of three murder mysteries set in the contemporary west, The Wham Curse, Saints & Sinners, and The Baleful Owl. He is an Arizona native who was born and grew up in a rural area between Globe and Miami. He spent most of his childhood in the outdoors, hiking, hunting, fishing, riding, and working. When it was too hot outside he was reading; the Miami and Old Dominion libraries were almost second homes. He developed an interest in history and especially Southwestern history.
In addition to his mysteries, Alexander writes non-fiction Southwestern history. He is working on a history of ranching in Gila County, and will be presenting a paper on mining pioneer J. B. Newman at next year’s Arizona History Convention. He also contributes to online history pages and provides consulting to museums.
He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Western Writers of America, Public Safety Writers Association, LDS Story Makers, and Southwest Writers Association.
BMH: What is the hardest thing about writing?
VA: For me the hardest thing is to find a long enough block of time. I need a minimum of three uninterrupted hours to get any real work accomplished. Dailey life often gets in the way. Writing is enjoyable to me; once I start writing the storyteller in me kicks in and it just flows.
BMH: Of the many sub-categories of mysteries, such as cozies, police procedurals, amateur detective, what sub-genre describes your book and why?
VA: My books are mixed-genre mysteries cutting across a number of genres; crime, police procedural, suspense, with elements of historical, western, and romance, and sometimes international thriller. Because they avoid most cursing, overt sexuality, and graphic violence, they could be consider almost cozy.
BMH: Which comes first the characters or the plot?
VA: Both are very important. Without the plot there is no story, and without the characters there is no personality. In my stories a third element is almost as important as characters and plot; setting, in the American Southwest, including natural and cultural history has a big role in my stories.
BMH: There are lots of mysteries out there. What makes yours different?
VA: The mysteries are set in a rural setting, with small rural police agencies, the Graham County Sheriff’s Office and the San Carlos Apache Police, doing the investigation. Of necessity the officers are involved in many other police activities while working on the main case, and each officer is expected to play a bigger role in the work. Not all the resources of a large agency are available to them, but they also don’t have as much bureaucracy to deal with.
BMH: What kind of research do you do?
VA: I do a lot of research. I study the geography, natural history, and human history of the scene of the murder. I use the state archives and online newspaper archives and other such sources. I read up on the forensics involved in my case, study the recommended police procedures, and other such elements of the case. I also discuss my ideas with police friends as a reality check, and with others who have particular expertise as needed. I belong to the Public Safety Writers Association, and they are a great resource for all types of crime, police, and law related information.
BMH: What’s your view on social media for marketing?
VA: I think it is wonderful. A large portion of my local sales comes from announcing my events on Facebook. Facebook also reaches many of my readers in other states, as does LinkedIn and my webpage. However, I don’t think I really understand how to effectively use electronic media to my best advantage.
BMH: When did you start writing?
VA: Technical writing was an important function of my career for forty years. I also did articles for a weekly newspaper and published articles on history web pages. I started writing my first novel six years ago, and have now published three; The Wham Curse (2012), Saints & Sinners (2014), and The Baleful Owl (2015).
BMH: Tell us about your first public appearance as an author.
VA: My first event was a signing in the historical museum of the small town where The Wham Curse was set. I have spent my entire adult life doing public appearances of one kind or another, so I was not bothered by doing another. I was a little anxious as to whether anyone would come and pay the rather high price for my book. It was an incredible stroke of luck that I sought out that venue, because many of the townspeople were descended from people involved in the robbery of Army Paymaster Wham, which took place nearby. There was a lot of interest, not only from the citizens, but from the local media, so it was well attended and I sold a lot of books. A side benefit was that their reader reviews were enthusiastic and positive, which helped with sales in other places.
BMH: How do you promote yourself?
VA: Social Media, e-mail, webpage, event announcements and book reviews in newspapers and radio, nice print bookmarks and business cards. In my correspondence signature I include may award, books, and profession organizations.
BMH: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
VA: Yes. I submitted The Wham Curse to a small traditional press, and made it through the first three levels of submission, but didn’t score high enough with editorial readers. The submission editor said he really liked the story, and provided the three critiques and encouraged me to use them to improve my story and resubmit it. I spent about a year doing so, but when I was ready to submit, my supportive editor had died. I didn’t have the heart to go through the whole submission process again, so I self-published my first novel through a self-publishing house. They were very good and I was pleased with the results. Oak Tree Press, another small traditional publisher, gave me a contract for Saints & Sinners, then for The Baleful Owl. My experience with them is excellent.
BMH: What do you read?
VA: For pleasure I read mysteries and spy thrillers, and history, especially history of the west.
BMH: How do you compete in an overcrowded market?
VA: I do a lot of events, and I have been studying and applying “guerilla marketing” techniques. As mentioned earlier I do quite a bit with electronic media, but feel an am really a newbie in that area.
BMH: What have you never written about, but want to some day?
VA: I would like to do a true historic novel; writing the actual life of a real person as factually as possible while filling in the blanks with my own imagination.
BMH: What is something you wish someone would have told you before you became an author?
VA: Start thirty years earlier. Good editors are more important than good proofers.
BMH: Do you have some hard learned advice for new authors?
VA: Find a good content editor and use them before you ever submit your manuscript. Keep track of your book sales at signings, and if you place any on consignment. Even honest book sellers lose track and you lose money.
BMH: Where do you draw your inspiration from? Is it dreams? Things you see on television or in movies. Books? People you meet?
VA: All of the above. By avocation I’m an Arizona historian, so a lot of my ideas come from research I’m doing on unrelated history. For example reading about the Wham robbery and that nobody knows for sure what happened to the loot, keyed the idea of “What would happen if it were found today?” I include a lot of my own friends’ personal experiences in my stories. I keep an idea file where I stick these random bits of inspiration for possible later use.
BMH: Pick three words to describe your writing style/voice.
VA: Third party omniscient, casual.
BMH: Tell us about your hometown as a child. What influence did your upbringing have on your writing?
VA: I grew up between two home towns, Miami and Globe, Arizona (Yes, there is a Miami in Arizona; I graduated from Miami High). My growing up in a rural setting with many cops in my family, Apache, Mexican, and European immigrant friends, all have an enormous influence on me personally, thus on my writing.
BMH: How do you know where in time to start the story?
VA: My stories are generically contemporary, with bits of history, so they normally start “now.” But my opening scene in The Wham Curse describes the scene and commission of the murder. Saints & Sinners opens in Hermosillo, Mexico. The Baleful Owl, gives the history of the namesake artifact pottery owl in at a Salado pueblo in 1249.
BMH: How do you know when it ends?
VA: I tie up all the loose ends, when that’s done, the story ends.