Saturday, September 25, 2021

Larry D. Sweazy - A Pantser who Plots

This next interview is with Larry D. Sweazy, an award-winning author of Westerns, Mysteries, and more.  I love that he is a Pantser who also does some plotting. These interviews give the reader and writer an insight into the process of various writers and the work that goes into telling a story on the page. Read on, there is so much to learn.

Author Larry D. Sweazy

1. When did you realize you wanted to be a writer? 

I was an early reader, but I really fell in love with stories via the television. We had a black-and-white nineteen-inch Motorola with rabbit ears (with aluminum foil on the tips) that brought the outside world into our one-bedroom apartment. It was the 1960s, so there were a lot of Westerns on TV at the time, Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and my mom’s favorite, The Big Valley. I liked Batman, but I didn’t fall for Star Trek or cops shows like The Mod Squad and Mannix until I was older. All of those shows were an escape, and I found the same kind of escape in books. It wasn’t until eighth grade when a poem that I’d written to a girl got intercepted by a teacher that I began thinking I might be able to write. He held me after English Lit class, told me the poem was pretty good, gave me a few books to read, and suggested that I pay attention in class. I did. It was the first good review I had. “You’re pretty good at this,” can go a long way to a small-town kid with no other visible talents.  I continued to write poetry in high school, and then after I left home, I pretty much decided that writing was what I wanted to do with my life. At that point, in my early twenties, everything I did, read, and invested in, revolved around becoming a published writer. 


2. Did you chose the genre you write in or did it choose you?

Interesting question. I didn’t start out writing westerns, or mysteries for that matter. I started writing short stories, some speculative fiction, some horror in the Stephen King vein. Carrie came out while I was in high school, and I was an instant King fan. I still admire his work and his dedication to the craft and the writing life. I moved on to writing novels after a few years, and the third unpublished novel I wrote was a modern-day police procedural. There was a mystery conference not far from where I lived, and I attended out of curiosity, hoping to learn more about the genre. That conference really changed the direction I was heading. Once writers were real and in-person, the writing dream seemed more possible than it ever had. I tried writing mysteries for several years after that with no luck. I came close a couple of times, but I just couldn’t find a way to get published. Fate intervened a few years later. Or being in the right time, right place. Whatever you want to call it. A little luck brought an invitation to me to write a short story for a Marty Greenberg/Ed Gorman anthology. Ed asked me to write a modern-day Texas Ranger mystery short story and I did. It came out in a western anthology, with my story being the only modern story in the collection. I thought I was writing a mystery. That story, my first professionally published short story, went on to win the WWA Spur Award for short fiction. I was shocked. I went to the conference, met some amazing writers like Elmer Kelton, Don Coldsmith, and Loren Estleman, and a new world was introduced to me. But, of course, it wasn’t a new world. I had loved all of those western TV shows and movies as a kid. My first published novel (but the seventh one I’d written) was The Rattlesnake Season, the first book in the (seven-book, so far) Josiah Wolfe series. I would say westerns chose me, but maybe I was destined to write westerns from the beginning.  

3. Do you write in other genres? 

So far, I have published eight westerns and eight mysteries. But it depends on how you look at each novel. Most of my novels have elements of both genres in them, western and mystery, so the lines become blurred as far as I’m concerned. Genre gets defined by other people, librarians, publishers, booksellers, etc. And I don’t mind working in the confines of genre—just like I’m sure John McEnroe didn’t mind playing tennis inside the tennis court. It’s what a writer brings to the table that counts. What I love more than anything is story. And most of my stories involve characters on their own, facing the elements of nature, the harshness of life, loss, the cruelty of humans, all the while doing their best to survive, and being productive people making a contribution to the greater good. I like stories about reinvention and survival. Westerns are a great place for that kind of tale. But so is science fiction, horror, and every other genre. At this point, I hope to continue to grow and get better as a writer, and I think writing in other genres helps to keep me fresh, but I also think there’s a wide palette to work off of when it comes to writing westerns. I have a lot more stories to tell. 


4. Are you a plotter or a pantser?

I’m a pantser who plots two or three chapters ahead. I usually work off a synopsis of the story while giving myself permission to stop in and take in the view or visit someplace that looks interesting that I didn’t know existed when I started out. I think there has to be room for spontaneity, but I also like to know where I’m going (most of the time) when I pull out of the garage to take a trip or sit down to write a story. E. L. Doctorow said, “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” I think that pretty much covers how I write.


5. Is there a writing routine you follow or do you write when the muse strikes?

I grew up in a factory town and come from a blue-collar background. Punch in, punch out, show up every day or you don’t get paid. Slack off and you lose your job. I show up everyday. That’s pretty much my routine. I write a thousand words a day, five days a week, and most times seven days a week when I’m writing a first draft. If I waited for the muse to strike, I’d never hit a deadline. I would get distracted by something else. Oh, look a squirrel! I’m curious about everything. I have to be disciplined and regimented in most all of the aspects of my life, or I would just sit and watch the birds at the birdfeeder all day (or the squirrels) and get nothing done.


6. Where did you get the idea for your latest release and tell a bit about the story?

I really wanted to explore a western hero who is a hero until he screws up. Then what is he? Lost Mountain Pass is the first book in my new series from Kensington featuring Trusty Dawson, a Deputy U.S. Marshal in 1888 Indian Territory. Trusty makes a fatal mistake while escorting a federal judge home from a trial and spends the rest of the book trying to redeem himself and regain the meaning of his name. I wanted to defy expectations a little bit. Trusty is not the usual western hero. I know that’s a risk, but I’m hoping readers will enjoy the ride, all the while experiencing the expected trappings of what a western is supposed to be and what a western can be. 

Pre-order from Amazon

7.  What advice would you give to those who dream of writing, or what advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be desperate to get published. If you’re going to be desperate about something, be desperate about becoming a good writer. Be willing to serve an apprenticeship. No one is a master craftsman out of the gate. Don’t publish until you’re ready. Just because you can publish your work doesn’t mean you should. You won’t avoid rejection. If you self-publish and have no sales, that’s rejection. If you send your work out too soon to an agent or publisher and get rejected, that’s part of the journey for us all. Rejection is part of the deal. I still get rejected. I have a project out on submission right now that’s been rejected thirty-four times. Writing doesn’t get any easier. It’s a long-haul proposition. But if you stick with it, don’t let anyone or anything discourage you, then maybe luck will find you sitting at your desk. Maybe luck will ask you to write a story for them. You never know where that bit of luck will take you. But you have to be ready. And the only way to be ready is to write. Read and write. That’s the secret. Read and write as much as possible, and don’t give up, no matter what.  

I hope you enjoyed this interview and perhaps learned even more about this career we call writer/author. 

Amazon Author Page

Follow on Twitter: @larrydsweazy

Post (c) by Doris McCraw All Rights Reserved


  1. Great interview Larry and Doris.

    I really like the E L Doctorow quote, which seems to sum up this writing business. Thank you for giving us these insights into your writing life.

  2. Thanks, Keith. Doris did a great job with this.

  3. Thanks, Doris and Larry. Larry, your dedication to the craft and the story of your journey are both inspiring. I hope a lot of beginning writers can learn from this.