Endings. The Party’s over for Clah and Judge Knott Fans…
Interviews with David Thurlo and Margaret Maron
By Joan Leotta
When discussing endings, we mystery writers are usually talking about the ending of a book, the interplay of plot and characters that brings us to the stopping point. Recently, two of my favorite mystery series, came to an end. This means that (except for rereading) I will no longer spend afternoons retreating to the Southwest with Ella Clah and her family or traveling to Colleton county North Carolina to discover the latest adventures of Judge Deborah Knott, her vast extended family and the assorted miscreants who cross their paths.
In the case of the Clah series, written by David and Aimée Thurlo, the end came due to the death of Aimée, after they had put the series on a hold. David has decided to continue some of their joint writing ventures, but as of this writing, the Clah series is suspended. The series elements were not tied up because book seventeen was intended to be on the cusp of a hiatus, not a total stop. Moreover, I, for one, hope the series will continue.
Through seventeen books I’ve watched Ella struggle between the demands of two worlds, Anglo and Navajo. Ella is an FBI-trained Navajo investigator who returns to the reservation and joins the Navajo police. She solves crimes with the intelligence of a Sherlock Holmes and the deft familiarity and attachment to her setting, the reservation, of someone who truly loves her people and her land. She wants to find justice, bring the people back into harmony, and restore beauty when crime rips things apart. The plotting is well done in each of the seventeen, but it is the character we readers love, Ella herself is why I and others return book after book.
Throughout the series we readers have watched Ella’s struggles as a single mother to raise her daughter. We’ve grimaced and celebrated the inter play between Ella’s very traditional mother (Rose) and her own desires to be both modern and traditional. We’ve cheered the support given by her medicine man brother, her own struggles with the metaphysical and anguished over Ella’s possible romance with a Christian Navajo preacher.
The last book in the series, Ghost Medicine, is a strong entry. It brings us again to the complication of skin walkers and the play of traditional and modern beliefs in Ella’s life and in the lives of others around her. The book ties up its own plot threads but does not finalize relationships in any way. David Thurlo gives OMBD! readers some insight into what he plans to do with the couple’s writing legacy in the interview below.
David Thurlo Q & A
Q: The death of a spouse is always difficult – in your case, it was also the death of your writing partner. Could you please elaborate for the readers why you chose to end the Ella Clah series, but continue others that the two of you wrote together?
A: “Aimée and I had actually already decided to put the Ella Clah series on hold with an appropriate send-off in Ghost Medicine. This book was published 4 months before Aimée’s death. We’d begun two new series – the trading post books for Forge, and the Charlie Henry Mysteries for Minotaur, and at the same time were completing the six part Copper Canyon miniseries for Harlequin Intrigue. With our plate full, we had to cut back somewhere, so we made the difficult choice to end the Ella books – at least for at time.
“Our plan was to cut back on our projects and start taking vacations, spending more time in a semi-retirement mode, maybe writing two books a year. I was going to write the Charlie Henry series, and she’d do the first drafts on future trading post stories and the new Heartwarming books for Harlequin. When Aimée became ill we still had Looking through Darkness to complete, plus the editorial revisions for Eagle’s Last Stand and Grave Consequences. After a few days, I put those aside and spent my time with Aimée, then finished them after her death. I decided not to continue the Heartwarming book we’d planned to do next, and our Harlequin editor was kind enough to release me from the contract.”
Q: Might you continue the Rose Destea (Ella’s mother) books – there is one book on her already – delving into her past, before marriage perhaps?
A: “That’s something that I’d never considered. I assume you mean the time periods after Ella’s father died, when Ella returned to the Rez as an FBI agent and before her mother, Rose, remarried. Plant Them Deep, the only Rose Destea book, was more of a ‘cozy’ mystery, with Rose and her ‘boyfriend’ Herman working together to solve a problem which became more dramatic when a body was discovered. As a Plant Watcher, Rose could get involved in local issues regarding the environment, or when her family and friends are in danger. I wonder how many readers would like to see a more gentle, less violent mystery on the Navajo Nation, stressing more cultural issues?”
Q: What other writing are you pursuing now?
(At the time of this writing – Spring, 2016 – these were David Thurlo’s plans)
A: “I just delivered the editorial revisions for Rob Thy Neighbor (scheduled for August, 2016). This is the third Charlie Henry mystery for Minotaur, who published the first and second stories, The Pawnbroker and Grave Consequences. Charlie is a Navajo Army vet, and he and his Army buddy Gordon recently became owners of a pawnshop in Albuquerque. They now find themselves getting involved in crimes and mysteries that have connections to their customers and friends. With this series, I did the drafts and Aimée edited and offered suggestions.”
Q: I much appreciate the offering of the screenplay of the Clah series, now as a published document and am sorry it was never produced. Would you speak to this?
A: “Yes, CBS Productions bought a pilot script for a potential Ella Clah series, written by the talented team of Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin. The actual script and the story behind it’s development have been published and is available to readers. (ISBN 9781492842620 - pub. by Adventures In Television). The Lee Nez series, which featured a Navajo NM State Police Officer who happens to be a half-vampire (nightwalker) is currently being developed by Red Nation Films as a feature film. I’m hoping that production will begin soon.”
Q: Is there anything else you would like Over My Dead Body! readers to know about your writing, ending the Ella Clah series, and continuing and/or ending other series?
A: “Grave Consequences, which came out in April, 2015 was a finalist in the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards in the category of mystery/suspense, and I really appreciated the recognition for the new series. With Rob Thy Neighbor coming out in summer 2016, I’m already looking forward to the chance to write a fourth Charlie Henry mystery. The fifth book in our Copper Canyon series for Harlequin Intrigue, Undercover Warrior, won the 2014 Reviewer’s Choice Award from Romantic Times Book Reviews. Aimée would have been so proud, knowing how much her talent was appreciated.
“As for any additional projects, I’m also thinking about a future Ella Clah story. I already have two ideas in mind. Or, perhaps, I can come up with something new for my talented Forge editor, Melissa Singer, who is always so helpful in finding the right project.”
So, OMBD! readers, there is hope that Ella may return.
However, there is no such hope with the Deborah Knott series. In this case the series author has purposely brought the series to an end. While author, Margaret Maron did not kill off any of her main characters (a la Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) she has definitely ended her relationship with Judge Deborah Knott.
Judge Deborah Knott
The Deborah Knott series takes readers into a most unusual family, A young rich girl marries an older, poor man – a bootlegger. Their daughter becomes a Judge. This judge, Deborah Knott, is the protagonist of the series that runs twenty books long from Bootlegger’s Daughter to Long Upon the Land. In the last book, Maron answers questions about the family's past, the how and why they got that way and leaves Judge Knott contemplating other avenues in life. In Long Upon the Land, Maron gives us flashbacks to 1945 when Sue and Kezzie (Judge Knott’s Mom and Dad) first met. She tells us how a small-town debutante who’d had a year of college winds up married to a backwoods bootlegger who barely finished the 8th grade.
In the first book in the series, Maron mentions a cigarette lighter that was important to Sue (the debutant mother). In this last book we learn that this item had more importance than previously realized. Maron says, “Deborah thought she knew its story but it turns out that she didn’t know as much as she thought she did. Neither did I.” The lighter is one element used in tying up the tale, bringing the saga to a satisfactory stopping point. Maron also uses other devices to complete the saga for us, including land records.
Margaret Maron Q & A
Q: Why did you decide to end the series?
A: “Over the years, you have been so responsive to her story that I hate to announce that this is the last in the series. Long Upon the Land is number twenty; and while I’ve enjoyed them all, I think I have exhausted everything I wanted to say about the Knott family. After 20 books, it seemed time to move on. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do with the series and I didn’t want to start repeating myself. We’ve all seen series that went on so long that what was once fresh and exciting eventually became stale and repetitive. I wanted to avoid that.”
Q: Will you miss Deborah?
A: “Not really. In some alternate universe, she and her large rowdy family are still out there and this way, (by ending it now)I’ll never have to kill off her 80-something father.”
Q: What direction are you taking now with your writing?
A: “I had planned to do short stories while waiting to see where the creative impulse would take me. Amusingly, after telling you last year that I’d never write another Lt. Sigrid Harald novel, I seem to be writing another Sigrid Harald novel. It began as a short story that got so out of hand it needed the space of 300 pages instead of 10. Ergo… Take Out will be published in 2017. It’s set soon after Fugitive Colors, but well before Three-Day Town. After that, it really will be short stories. In fact, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine will be publishing “The Pact” sometime in 2016. It’s a light-hearted takeoff on the theme of writers who stay too long at the dance.
“While I’ve actually begun another Sigrid Harald book, after thirty years of meeting deadlines, I just don’t want the stress of meeting another. What makes this decision bittersweet is that I finally have a wonderful editor who is so great to work with that I wish I had another thirty books to give her.”
Parting is sweet sorrow, writes the Bard. But at least with these two wonderful series, we can indulge in the joy of rereading – starting from book one and savoring the companionship of these two very different female sleuths as they solve crimes in their respective communities while enjoying other new mysteries from their talented creators.
Joan Leotta is an author and story performer. Her published works include Giulia Goes to War, Letters from Korea, A Bowl of Rice, Secrets of the Heart (available from Desert Breeze Publishing and Amazon), Simply a Smile is a collection of Short Stories (available from Cane Hollow Press and Amazon), and WHOOSH! is a Picture Book (available from TheaQ and Amazon). To learn more about the author, visit www.joanleotta.wordpress.com
Copyright © 2016 Joan Leotta. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!