STORYTELLER’S 7: STEVEN W. KOHLHAGEN, CON ARTISTS OF THE FRONTIER
Written by Tom Rizzo on December 16th, 2014 under “Best Western of 2014”, Steven W. Kohlhagen, StoryTeller’s 7, Tiger Found, Where They Bury You. Comments 2
Someone once advised Steven W. Kohlhagen to “Do good work and lots of it.” He responded by focusing on creating compelling fictional characters in historical fiction murder mysteries.
Steven’s award-winning novel, Where They Bury You, is an 1860s historical fiction mystery based on an actual murder and features a cast of interesting characters, including con artists – some historical, some fictional – during their poker games, scams, love affairs, and bank robberies,.
His desire to write Western fiction surfaced after reading Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder, a non-fiction history of Kit Carson and the West.
The sequel – Chief of Thieves – follows two con artists in August 1863 who head for the Washington Territory to build a dream ranch with the money the’ve embezzled. In vivid details, readers witness the disasters of early Western ranch life and the births of lawless Wyoming towns.
Steven and his wife Gale got married forty-four years ago and make their home in Chromo, Colorado.
1. In researching Where They Bury You, what did you find out about the impact of con artists in the history of the American frontier?
Steven KohlhagenWell, of course, we only know what we know. I suspect that it is only the tip of the iceberg.
The prevalence of vigilantes on the frontier tells us that law enforcement, not surprisingly, wasn’t what it is today.
The con artists that I uncovered in my research for Where They Bury You brazenly stole, embezzled, and laundered between five and ten million of today’s dollars from the U.S. Army, the New Mexico Territory, and the Catholic Church.
The aide-de-camp of the head of the U.S. Army in the Territories was clearly among the con artists, and he brazenly accompanied General Canby back to Washington after stealing the money.
The U.S. Marshal of Santa Fe was suspected of being a part of the thefts as well. Other research suggests that creative accounting in the West was responsible for more wealth transfers than bank robberies. Probably safer, too.
2. How did you make the transition from international economics and finance and investment banking to writing fiction? What inspired you to get into this business?
I wish I had a more dramatic answer—something like my former colleagues and students always viewed my economics publications as fiction?!?
But, a former colleague introduced me to the work of Elmore Leonard and Michael Connelly and Ross Thomas–mysteries where characterization and dialogue, rather than plot, drive the story, and I enjoyed them and thought I could give it a try.
Being a good writer is important as a professor and as a bank executive, and you get plenty of practice. And I’ve discovered that the important part of being a writer is to write and write and write, so the two previous careers were good preparation.
3. You and your wife, Gale, wrote a missing persons murder mystery, Tiger Found, a few years ago. How did that come about and do you plan another collaboration?
Steven KohlhagenActually, the plan was for me to retire from investment banking and the two of us would write murder mysteries together under the pen name of Steven Gale.
Tiger Found was to be the first of a series. But Gale was diagnosed with breast cancer after we finished it.
After successful treatment, she concluded writing fiction with me was not an appropriately serious enough goal (or she didn’t like sitting down with me to write during investment banking hours!).
In any case, any future collaboration at this point is not being planned.
4. What is your approach to the writing process?
Write and write and write. Then write some more.
Because I am on corporate boards and still following daily financial developments, I don’t have the luxury of planned hours for writing time.
Thus I just grab the manuscript and pick back up wherever I left my characters when I stopped writing the last time. It doesn’t seem to hamper their creativity and it works for me.
5. What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Reviewers and people I know stopping me to say “I don’t normally read Westerns, but I really enjoyed Where They Bury You.”
Also getting awarded the “Best Western of 2014” by the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.
6. What do you take away from writing that gives you the most satisfaction?
A combination of putting the characters in situations where they can write an interesting story, and then getting the ending right.
7. When you’re not writing, reading, or researching, how do you spend your leisure time?
Hiking, movies, and fantasy baseball.
More on Steven Kohlhagen:
Tags: Catholic Church, Maj. Gen. Edward Canby, Mexico, US Army, Vigilantes
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