Thursday, November 18, 2010

How I Came to Write the Book, Milton Burton

“Nights of The Red Moon.” Milton T. Burton

Years ago I heard a legendary old East Texas sheriff say that he’d let one elderly black moonshiner make about fifty gallons of corn whiskey a year because, as he put it, “He didn’t sell the stuff. He gave most of it away, and it was a matter of art with him rather than profit. Besides, it was damned good whiskey. He gave me a couple of gallons every year.”

Such accommodations are common among rural law enforcement people in my part of the world. Just about every old lawman I ever knew allowed a few bootleggers to operate so long as they didn’t sell to kids, and they turned a blind eye to black working men who had their dice games going in deserted sharecropper shanties every Saturday night. The payoff was that these people had their fingers in the local criminal underworld, and they were expected to pony up the information when the sheriff needed to know who had just burgled the hardware store, of if someone was planning to rob the local jeweler.

So I started thinking about a rural county where this sort of thing still went on. Thus was born Sheriff Bo Handel and his elderly black moonshiner friend, Ira Blevins. Bo’s backstory is that he came from a prosperous timber family, and that he was in Rice University majoring in classical piano forty years earlier when his father’s death in the middle of his senior year necessitated his returning home to take over the family business. A decade later, the longtime sheriff came down with cancer and talked the commissioners’ court into appointing Bo to fill out the remainder of his term. Bo liked the job and has been running every four years since. For anyone who is interested, the original short story, “Old Ira’s Still,” can be found here:

Once I finished the short story, I realized that Bo was too good a character to abandon. Several years earlier I had written a novel about an eighty-one-year-old retired Texas Ranger who goes back to solve his very first case, the disappearance of a wealthy oilman during the early days of the great East Texas Oil Field. The story was told by a young ex-marine friend who accompanied the old Ranger on his travels to unravel the case. My agent could never sell it because the know-it-all gremlins who run the publishing industry said the sidekick narrator was “ineffective.” Never mind that it worked for Arthur Connan Doyle in his Holmes and Watson series, the most famous duo in all crime fiction. Never mind too that these stories are still in print over a century later. The gremlins know all.

So... I had begun a second book with this old Ranger as the protagonist, but abandoned it due to its lack of marketability. I had three chapters and the ending, so it was a simple matter of two hours work to convert it to a Bo Handle book, told in the first person---Nights of The Red Moon, which is slated for release on December 7 by St. Martin’s Minotaur. Pre-release reviews have been universally enthusiastic. I am currently working on a second book with Bo as the protagonist. This will be the second of a series. I was very fortunate to get jacket blurbs from Bill Crider, Dave Corbett, and retired Texas Ranger Captain/U.S. Marshal Jack Dean, for which I am very grateful. I was especially gratified when I got an email from Captain Jack telling me he had gotten his manuscript copy from the publisher at four the previous afternoon and had finished it about ten that evening. It is one thing to satisfy mystery fans, but when a man with nearly fifty years of high-level law enforcement experience tells you he couldn’t put your story down... Well, folks, such a complement is like that Old Time Religion: it just makes you love everybody!

Milton Burton is also the author of THE ROGUES' GAME and THE SWEET AND

If you have a book coming out you would like to write a piece about, please email me.


Anonymous said...

Great story and I love the cover. I will definitely look for the book.

Jeff M.

Anonymous said...

Patti - Thanks for hosting Milton.

Milton - I love the way that setting influenced the story you chose and the way you chose to write it! I think location has a really powerful effect on a story. I agree, too, about the great cover!

Charles Gramlich said...

I swear I thought the author was MIlton Burle for a moment. Sounds pretty good, even by Milton Burton. :)

Milton T. Burton said...

Thank you all, and thanks to Patti for the post. I can take no credit for the cover, but after botching my first two books the art department at St. Martin's got this one right. I think it is a good read.

Milton T. Burton said...

Margo, one thing I have heard over and over again at book signings is that people love the strong sense of place in my books. I would urge anyone beginning to do what Faulkner said: do justice to your own little postage stamp of soil.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Very glad to see this as I read an early draft and just loved the book. I really like Milton's work, but this might just be his best.

I rarely gush, but in this case, it is fully justified.

Milton T. Burton said...

Thank you very much, Kevin. I do appreciate the kind words.

lisekimhorton said...

Late to the party, Patty and Milton, but I loved this post! I am always intrigued by characters, and true stories. I've still got an image in my head of seeing a middle-aged woman, swinging on a playground swing one morning as my train passed by. All alone, swinging very high, no kids or anyone else around. Who was she? Why was she there? What prompted her to get on the swing? Knowing how character driven your novels are, Milton, and how incredibly you invoke the sense of place in the stories, I cannot imaging that Red Moon will be anything less than a smashing success!