Q&A – When They Were Young: A Sam Dawson Mystery

Answered by Steven W. Horn

Each of your Sam Dawson mysteries has been very different from each other.  Is that on purpose?  Why?

Sam Dawson is not a professional crime fighter. He gets pulled into mysteries under various circumstances, each one different. Additionally, I try to present mysteries that are not formulaic in writing or traditional in structure. I prefer to challenge the reader by making it difficult for them to discover the antagonist, plot twists, or solution until the story’s end.

Why do you write a series?

Like my readers, I get caught up in the lives of my characters and want to see what happens to them next. We’ve only scratched the surface of understanding who Sam Dawson is. The guy seems to be a magnet for bizarre mysteries. I can hardly wait to see what trouble he and his daughter Sidney get into with each new title.

There seems to be two plots in this mystery.  How did you come up with them?  Why two?

All of my novels have multiple plots and frequently involve flashbacks in time. In When They Were Young, Annie’s life is complicated by inexplicable phenomena that add to the uncertainty of the primary plot’s mystery. Again, the reader is brought deeper into the story as they attempt to determine what is happening. As in real life, the reader is forced to form opinions or make decisions based on the information they have available to them. When this happens, the time is ripe for a plot twist.

Recently, authors are writing more books from multiple points of views. Is it a challenge to write from two points of view in one book?

Yes, it’s always a challenge to write under different points of view (POV) in a single novel. This is especially true when one POV is from a female and the other from a male. The key is to stay in character for each individual and attempt to become that character. The development of a detailed biography for each character before beginning the story is helpful. I believe it is more difficult to accurately express POVs when writing in third person past tense than when in first person present tense. Observation and description become critically important in presenting believable characters.

How do you decide where to plant clues in a book without giving away the ending, but without leaving the reader with a ‘gotcha’ ending?

Clues are often added in the second or third re-write of the book. Frequently, they are sprinkled into the dialogue near the end of a scene break or chapter in order to develop dramatic tension and set the stage for the next scene. Consistency must be maintained when adding clues and is best achieved after the first draft is completed.  The reader, however, should never feel tricked at the end of a book. Rather, they should be able to reflect back on everything that has happened and say, “I should have seen that coming.”

This story takes place in southeastern Wyoming, with flashbacks taking place in rural Nebraska. Could it have taken place anywhere else?

Writers are often admonished to write what they know. I am familiar with both southeastern Wyoming and the Sand Hills of Nebraska.

The Sand Hills are beautiful and mysterious. I wanted the reader to experience their unique beauty, isolation, and culture. Their vastness is inspirational to me and I believe helped to set the mood for much of the novel. However, the fictional town of Dismal River could have been located in almost any economically depressed rural area.

Those who are familiar with southeastern Wyoming will recognize both the beauty and the loneliness of the Horse Creek valley. The events that took place there played upon the isolation and extreme weather of the area.

What would you like the reader to take away from this book?

There are several take home messages in When They Were Young. First, never underestimate the intensity and duration of vengefulness. It runs deep in the human psyche. Second, the complexities of relationships are infinite. People often torture themselves by not being truthful with the ones they love. And third, dogs possess an amazing behavioral repertoire that combines both innate and learned responses to the stimuli that bombard them. I hope the reader takes home a better understanding of why our best friends act the way they do.

Why does Sam Dawson continue to pursue solving crimes when he is not a private investigator or in law enforcement?  Have you considered having Sam change careers in future books?

Sam suffers from an acute sense of needing to seek the truth in order to ensure justice. His almost pathological curiosity is better suited for someone in law enforcement. However, his art form allows him to express himself and provides an emotional outlet for his somewhat repressive personality. He might consider fly fishing as an alternative career if he could make money at it.

What does Sam Dawson look like?

Writers have a tendency to link personality with physical appearance. I have purposefully attempted to not give the reader clues as to what or who Sam looks like. Instead, I have hopefully given them some insight into the character of the protagonist. He is a complicated and somewhat troubled antihero. His flaws and weaknesses are often portrayed sympathetically. Readers can identify with Sam Dawson and that, I believe, is the first step in developing a mental image of him. When I ask readers if they know what Sam looks like, they always answer yes even though he has never been described in detail.