In November, Steven F. Havill appeared with other Southwestern authors at the Poisoned Pen. My summary of Havill's appearance is perfect for DETECTIVES AROUND THE WORLD week.
Barbara Peters introduced Steven Havill. His first book, Heartshot, came out in 1991. Peters said when she was dating her husband, Rob, she thought they were going to live in New Mexico, since he went to St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Instead, they ended up in Scottsdale.
Heartshot is set in Ruidoso, New Mexico, in southwestern New Mexico. Havill said in the Posados County novels, he invented his own county. That's a hoot for a fiction writer. But, he forgot an important element. He didn't put a railroad there, and that could have been a nifty plot device. Peters reminded him he
had all kinds of small airports. He said if you fly over New Mexico, there are all kinds of small gas company runways, because they would fly in to check on the gas. Drug runners and student pilots love those short little runways, but they have to remember they're very short, usually with barbed wire.
Havill made Posados County a border county. His character in Heartshot, Bill Gastner, was sheriff, but he was not a young man when the series started. . Gastner was already 60, smoked too much, and had a heart attack in the book. Then he sold it, and had no clue for the followup. In Bitter Recoil, Gastner is recovering. It's the only book set outside of Posados County. But, Havill locked himself into a real-time series, and Bill is getting older. But, the series that started out as a Bill Gastner mystery is now a Posados County series. In the first book in the series, Deputy Estelle Reyes is single. As time passes, she's engaged, married, then gets pregnant and has kids. Gastner retired from the sheriff's department, and took a job as a livestock inspector. Estelle Reyes-Guzman took over the series as the new Undersheriff, and Bobby Torres is the Sheriff.
The action in the latest book, Red, Green, or Murder, goes back in time. It takes place immediately after Dead Weight, and before Bag Limit. Red and green are chile choices in New Mexico, and one of them will kill you, which is where the title comes from. The book didn't fit in the sequence. It was a transition book, and St. Martin's Press didn't want to publish it since it was out of sequence. So Barbara published it with Poisoned Pen Press. She said it was weird to step into a series as editor, when it was a series she read as a reader. Havill said sometimes an author goes too long before running into a hard-core editor. Stephen King said, "Editors may be wrong, but they're always right." Steven Havill said he listened to Barbara Peters, and thinks it's a better book because of that. Barbara said as an editor, she's a really good reader, and if she doesn't get it, others won't either.
According to Havill, the art of the writing business is storytelling. A good editor finds places where the story is too opaque. An editor says, the story loses me. Find a way to get me back. A good editor finds a way to write stuff without putting their footprints all over it.
Havill had a good editing story. he wrote a western Timber Blood, published by Walker in New York. His editor sent him one of those dread four page letters, single-spaced. It said, I like it, like it, like it, however the story is set in winter, but you don't know much about how much snow falls there on average. You have horses prancing through snow, and men walking through thigh high snow. Havill never thought of that. He made the amount of snow in the manuscript consistent.
Barbara mentioned that Havill is taking a different route for a new series, setting Race for the Dying in the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century. Havill said he wasn't leaving Posadas County forever. It has the highest crime rate in the U.S., he thinks.
But, he's always been interested in the history of medicine. It's a hobby. So, he wrote an historical medical adventure. He found a report done by the AMA called Nostrums and Quackery. It included things such as mail-order diagnoses, and getting the desperately ill hooked on drugs.
The protagonist in Race for the Dying is a University of Pennsylvania medical school graduate, Dr. Parks. He made him a graduate of that school because Havill owns an 1890 edition of Modern Surgery, written by Dr. Roberts, who was on the faculty there. Havill's character, as a graduate of the school, would own a copy of that book. And, the book gave Havill the mindset and medicines of 1891.
Dr. Parks went to the Puget Sound area because his father suggested it. He wanted to practice trauma medicine, and the lumber industry would provide a danger. A rule for a writer is that it has to be an uncomfortable life for the hero. Dr. Parks is hideously hurt, and has to cope while trying to treat new patients.
From there, the conversation went to medicines and Coca Cola, and the early ingredients. In 1910, fussing babies were given opium. Havill said, well look at the trip they've taken, and where they've just been. Wouldn't you be fussy?
During the Civil War, there was no anesthesia. Speed was important in surgery; how fast you could do things. Surgery was sometimes so fast, and so rough, that it would put back the convalescence.
Steven Havill said there will be more Posadas County books, but there will also be sequels to Race for the Dying.
Steven Havill will be one of the Guests of Honor at Left Coast Crime in March 2011 when it's held in Santa Fe.
Check out the other blogs participating in DETECTIVES AROUND THE WORLD. Jen has links to all of them, along with information about the scavenger hunt, here.