When itinerant ranch hand Buck Ellison took a job with Sarah Watkins at her ranch in the Sandhills of Nebraska, he thought he had found the place where he could park his pickup, leave the past behind, and never move again.
On a rainy July night, a dead body at the south end of Sarah’s ranch forces him to become a reluctant detective, digging into the business of cattle breeding for rodeos and digging up events from his past that are linked to the circumstances surrounding the murder of Sam Danielson.
Working with his boss Sarah, her nephew Travis Martin, and the cook Diane Gibbons, Buck unmasks the murderer, but at the cost of learning the reality of past events that he chooses to keep to himself.
Genre: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth
Published by: Down and Out Books
Publication Date: April 27, 2019
Number of Pages: 216
ISBN: 1643960121 (978-1643960128)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Down & Out Books
WARREN EMBREE and his wife grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska. He did both farm work and ranch work during those years, and he still keeps track of what goes on in the hills. After leaving the area, he pursued an academic career in English, Classical Languages, and Divinity. He lectured at a couple of institutions and preached at a few churches, and he now works in Lincoln as a data analyst for the University of Nebraska. His knowledge and love of the unique culture of the Sandhills, his education in languages and literature, and his analytical skills contribute to his story telling. He and his wife currently live in Nebraska and have 3 grown children.
Q&A with Warren C. Embree
Welcome and thank you for stopping by CMash Reads
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to answer a few questions.
Reading and Writing:
What inspired you to write this book?
I have been writing fiction off and on for over fifty years but, with a few exceptions, I never took it seriously. Even those exceptions were half-hearted. Then, a number years back, I ran into an old college classmate at the University bookstore, and he wondered if I was still writing. He said he had always enjoyed what I had written in the classes we had taken together and told me I needed to write a novel about the Nebraska Sandhills. I wrote a couple of novels after that, but I wasn’t happy with them. However, a few years ago I finished one I rather liked. After numerous rewrites, I let it sit for a while with the intention of making a final version. Then my older sister, Paula Horii, wanted to read it, liked it, and said I should get it published. It was her dogged persistence that got it finished. So I was inspired to write the book by one individual and motivated to finish by another. Unfortunately, the gentleman passed away last year before he could see results of his “charge” to me.
What was the biggest challenge in writing this book?
Actually, there are two biggest challenges for me with anything I am writing. One is focus and the other is an obsession to find the right word or phrase. With respect to focus, I often go down the rabbit hole when my imagination is ignited by some image or an idea that pops into my head in the process of writing. While writing and thinking about how to motivate Buck to look into his mother’s past, I thought finding an old thimble of hers would be an interesting thing. So I wondered about what metal–gold or silver or steel. Then I wondered about what pattern would be etched into the thimble. Before I knew it, I’d worked on a number of pages and literally days and weeks, and I had to throw it all away and backtrack to get back on track. I enjoy those adventures, but there comes a time to force myself to finish a book. I’ve learned over the years that I need to create an outline of some sort to guide my thinking and keep me focused on the story. Otherwise, as noted, I get lost in my imagination.
With respect to the right word, I’m haunted by Mark Twain’s observation that “the difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” As an example, as I was writing one scene where I was having Buck consider his options, he crumpled up a beer can and tossed it across the floor. I spent countless hours trying to come up with the “right word” that embraced both the motion and the sound of the can across the floor. All the rest of my writing stopped. I finally came up with it–skittered. But the whole thing never got into the book because it ended up not being able to drive the story. Which dovetails into the challenge of focus.
Give us a glimpse of the research that went into this book.
While I grew up in the Sandhills of Nebraska, Dad was a school superintendent and Mother a teacher, so I didn’t grow up on a ranch. I did work on ranches and worked on our farm on the edge of the Sandhills, but I never worked much directly with livestock. Dad had a small ranch and would buy calves in the spring and feed them out during the summer to sell in the fall, he didn’t breed cattle. Fortunately, my wife did grow up on a ranch, was familiar with the various nuances of the cattle industry, and so was always my first source of knowledge. I also read books and articles about brands, bulls, cattle chutes, DNA, rodeo bulls, leatherworking, red angus, saloons, soapweed, windmills, and the like. And of course, the internet is now a great resource.
That would be a glimpse. But as I mentioned in the previous question, my lack of focus would have be researching things in a wide range of areas, none of which found their way into the novel.
How did you come up with the title?
I had a working titles for the novel throughout the process. One was “Death of a Bullfighter” and another “Recessive Gene.” However, after the book was finished and I needed to have a title, I wanted one that embraced all the layers of the novel as well as focus on a central thread that was woven into the entire story. “The Ornery Gene” seemed to provide such a focus and tied rather nicely into the central story, the characters, and the various scenes.
Your routine in writing? Any idiosyncrasies?
I’m afraid my routine in writing is “fits and starts.” Although I work full time, I do daydream a lot about characters and storylines. I enjoy the process of research immensely and even enjoy rewriting once I have something to edit, but the actual business of writing takes place in a rather haphazard fashion. At one time I did force myself to write 2 to 4 pages a night, but I neither liked the process nor the results. I hope to be a little more dedicated once I retire.
Tell us why we should read your book?
It is simply a well-written novel, with a satisfying story, set in a little known part of the United States, and populated by interesting and compelling characters. The Sandhills of Nebraska is the largest grass-stabilized sand dune region in the Western Hemisphere and sits atop the largest aquifer in North America (the Ogallala estimated at 174,000 sq. mi.–450,000 sq. km.). Its culture is as unique as its geography.
Are you working on your next novel? If so, can you tell us a little bit about it?
I am working on another novel, plus a couple of other books.
My sister wants to know about one of the minor characters in the “The Ornery Gene,” Peggy Williamson, who did not make the final cut of the novel. Buck knew her from the time he worked construction in Gordon, Nebraska and roomed with her boyfriend, John Lambert. She had left Gordon under suspicion of having had a part in the death of a classmate and ended up working in a bar and grill in Tryon, a small town north of where Buck was working at Sarah Watkins ranch. When Lambert turns up dead in Tryon, Buck gets reluctantly involved in finding out why Lambert was killed and why Peggy has vanished. The background to the story is, of course, the Sandhills, but more specifically the county fair, show cattle, 4-H, trucking, and whatever else I might be able to weave into it. I do not know when it will be done or if it will be picked up to be published.
Your novel will be a movie. Who would you cast?
Buck Elison: Jeremy Lee Renner
Sarah Watkins: Ellen Tyne Daly
Travis Martin: Kodi Smit-McPhee
Diane : Chloe Bennet
Goff Hansen: Robert Duvall
Harvey : Joshua James Brolin
Tom Anderson: Kurt Russell
Eleanor Anderson: Annette Carol Bening
Favorite leisure activities/hobbies?
During the summer I garden and during the winter I work on indoor projects, but reading is my primary leisure activity.
Philly cheese steak sandwiches, but only when I’m in Philly. Sweet corn, shrimp, ice cream sandwiches and, believe or not, spam. Spam was a treat when I was a kid.
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This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Warren C. Embree. There will be 2 winners of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card each. The giveaway begins on August 1, 2019 and runs through September 2, 2019. Void where prohibited.