Monday, December 08, 2014

Monty McCord Award Winning Author of Mundy's Law

Monty McCord, a name synonymous with heroism, fell in love with all things western and law enforcement as a young boy. He’s not only an award winning author, but the subject of other authors’ works.
Monty’s own career in law enforcement started in 1974, and by 1993 Monty held the rank of lieutenant for the Hastings, Nebraska Police Department when the Chief picked him to attend the FBI National Academy--the FBI's academy for ranking officers worldwide with training at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia. After working as a deputy at two rural sheriff’s offices, Monty finished his nearly three decade career as a Lieutenant of the Hastings, Nebraska Police Department.
Monty’s writing career began with his book Police Cars-A Photographic History-1991,  then Cars of the State Police and Highway Patrol-1994, and Law Enforcement Memorabilia-1999 (all from Krause Pub.) Monty’s works also includes many articles and historical accounts.
More recently, Monty released his fiction novel Mundy’s Law (Five Star/Cengage 2013). For his audio book version (Books-In-Motion), Monty received a 2010 Spur finalist award for Best Western Audio Book from Western Writers of America and Mundy's Law (print version) won a PEACEMAKER AWARD from the Western Fictioneers for Best First Western Novel, and a Finalist for Best Western Novel in 2013. The book was also a Finalist in the 2013 Will Rogers Medallion Awards.

Monty has also featured his love for his home state of Nebraska in his books:  Hastings-The Queen City of the Plains (Arcadia Pub. 2001), I Christen Thee Nebraska-The History of the USS Nebraska  (iUniverse 2005), and The 1931 Hastings Bank Job & The Bloody Bandit Trail  (The History Press 2013).

Glenda: Monty, I’ve covered only a portion of your interests and works. However, there is a Monty McCord behind the books and awards who fell in love with the subjects he writes about. For this part of the interview, I’d like you to share with us some history of you and what made you identify with the subjects you write about. So the page is now yours for as much as you’d like to share.
Monty:  Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s was fun in part because of all the great television programs we had on only 3 channels. The westerns and police dramas really caught my eye. Hopalong Cassidy was the earliest western I remember. I lost some interest when they started singing though! But when Gunsmoke, Have Gun Will Travel, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, aired, I was really hooked. When I was about 7, I got my first horse. We soon moved to the country and added to our herd, which included some cattle. Although we don't have any now, my love of horseflesh never died. My daughter is infected with it too, she trains horses and people in South Dakota. Through all of this and school studies, I was hooked on history.  
                Also, at some point, police programs added to an interest in law enforcement. At my parents urging though, I first tried training for refrigeration and air conditioning repair, but was bored to tears. I ended up transferring to marketing and management, something that helped when I got my first police job in 1974. When asked why I chose police work, my only answer was sort of a cliché, but it was true. I wanted to help people. I was in a position to help crime and accident victims, especially children that I removed from homes due to abuse and neglect. All police officers help way more people than the public ever knows about. They all know when bad things happen however...
                It is from this background that I write about lawmen. And of course, lawmen wouldn't have much to do without outlaws! I try to portray lawmen in a realistic way for the given period in my books. The period I write mostly is from around the 1850s to 1950s. Crime solving stories are more fascinating to me when there are no computers, DNA or NCIC (National Crime Information Center) involved.

Glenda: Almost all writing takes at least some research. You, as a novelist, and historian must do week, months or even years of research for your books and articles. Personally, I’m a great fan of good research, would you mind explaining your approach to research?
Monty:  As you know, I write both fiction and non-fiction, and BOTH take LOTS of research. All of my reading of history has really helped my writing, including fiction. If you're not doing a lot of research for fiction as well as non-fiction, you're not doing right by your readers. Reminds me of a novel writing session I took at a convention in New Mexico. They talked about an author who wrote a submarine story. It went something like this, "Dive, the captain ordered. So the man controlling the knobs that would make the submarine dive, turned those knobs and the submarine dived." That's the simple version, but the original kept the group laughing for ten minutes! Obviously, it illustrated a lack of proper research for a novel. And, we've all read them!
As far as my approach to research, I first decide what I want a book to cover and write notes or an outline. I examine every piece of information I find for leads to further research (pretend you're a detective). Nearly every bit of info will give clues to more. You may decide not to use some of it, that's fine, but you can be satisfied that you've covered everything you could possibly find. I've learned that when I tire of research for a project, I buckle down and work harder and longer at it. I've never been sorry; in fact this extra effort usually produces a bit of solid gold information. Poorly researched books are dime-a-dozen. I try to not make mine one of them. I also have to give credit to my wonderful wife Ann, because she is a great research assistant!
Research can also be an editing tool. Case in point, I just wrote a book review for a national magazine. The book I reviewed had the incorrect first name of one of the most famous westerners of all time (more than once!). Part of the problem was an over-dependence on internet research which rings a death knell for authors. We, as writers, don't know every fact, and sometimes just plain get things wrong, so it's good to double-check now and then. Bottom line, don't be lazy with your research.
                I mentioned editing, so will throw this out here. If you publish traditionally, any real publisher will provide professional editing. If you self-publish (POD, printed locally or from book producers, etc.), NEVER, NEVER, EVER, be the only one who edits your book. Pay for editing services if you don't have a contact who knows how, and will do it. One of my books is self-published and I may go that way again. I have nothing against self-pub, but it continues to get a bad name because of no editing, or the author does the edit, AND for non-fiction books WITHOUT an index and bibliography! I have purchased many self-pub books on fascinating topics (that should have sold to publishers) but have been disappointed with every one of them because of these types of problems. 'Nuff said.

Glenda: When I started reading Mundy’s Law, one of your characters, Lute Kinney, has an eye you describe as larger than the other. For some reason, the face of Jack Elam, the old western actor, flashed through my mind. Putting any visual cue into the mind’s eye of the reader takes a keen mind’s eye from the author and a way to describe it. When choosing your characters and describing them, what do you ask yourself in order to answer that same question for the reader?
Monty:  Oh yes, the reference to killer Lute Kinney was, "One eye socket looked larger than the other, and no one knew if he was born that way or it was the result of an injury." Now, we shouldn't give a detailed description of everyone and everything in our books, but we DO want our readers to be intimate with our primary characters. Regarding Lute Kinney, he is a cold-blooded killer, so his description leans toward something un-attractive instead of describing his "smooth golden skin" for example. I don't mean that he should be made into a caricature either. And of course, some killers look very handsome or attractive. We have to decide how we want him to appear in a given story.
                I try to avoid describing my characters like I'm reading from a police report. Here's another character from Mundy's Law, Judge and Justice of the Peace Elsworth T. Worden..."with a white beard and soon-to-match hair. Tufts of hair protruded from both sides of his head and on top, which combined with the beard, covered all of the points of a compass." There's a little more to his description as he is a regular in the story. For a character who only appeared once, but in an important scene, I described..."Elizabeth Ranswood was a handsome woman of forty-three years. She sat erect on a velvet-upholstered armless chair and waited for Lyman to speak. Her red hair was piled and pinned on top of her head, her blue taffeta dress immaculate."   
Study people and think how you would describe them. I write only period 1950s and older, nothing modern, there's plenty of that now. Some people I see in public are easy to imagine in a different time period and place. Some look like bad guys and some fit other characters we need for our stories. This is only one source, books are another.

Glenda: From the time you were a young boy, you’ve also had an interest in horses. You’ve also raised quarter horses. We can escape into our writing and we can escape into reading a book by another author. However; we also need a way to escape from books.  You also worked many years in law enforcement, which must be stressful. Are horses a way for you to escape in another way?
Monty:  I wish horses were one of those escapes, but we don't have them anymore. But, I will say that reading is still a major escape for me. Fortunately, or unfortunately(!), I have fairly wide interests. I claim to be a closet naval buff which resulted in my 2005 book, I Christen Thee Nebraska - The History of the USS Nebraska and Nebraska Related Naval Ships. Not all of my interests produce books and probably never will. I'm interested in U.S. war history, specifically, Civil War naval warfare, World War I fighter pilots and aircraft and Indian War cavalry. Other interests are Jack the Ripper (I own 30 books), miniature models, photography, 19th century architecture, dirt track auto racing and the old auto thrill shows, Husker football and Boston Red Sox baseball. I've also collected police badges and memorabilia for 40 years. I enjoy all of these things through reading and movies. Watching old movies is most likely my favorite escape.


What can I learn from Monty McCord in this interview? First I’ve learned that Monty is a conscientious author. He doesn’t cut corners, like doing a bit of research and filling in the rest. That happens more than I’d like to see. I’ve learned that Monty loves to bring history to life for us in both his fiction and non-fiction. The ability of a writer to bring information to life with a face, colorful environment, or whatever; is what can grab at the reader with that “oh, Lute Kinney reminds me of Jack Elam.” That puts a real picture in my mind, something identifiable.
Monty isn’t afraid to continue his research long past what may fit in his story, but make no mistake, that information may become part of another story or article. I never consider research as a waste of time.
Monty’s process and love for his topics make him a sought after and award winning author. I’d rather have Monty teach me through his work than to study a history textbook. The one exception being if I’m going to write about a period of history, then I need to research for myself.

Thank you Monty for sharing knowledge, interests and a desire to read your works and maybe develop a new interest through them, much the way you developed interest in westerns and law enforcement.