Sunday, August 13, 2023

Guest Post: Bruce Borgos on Folks Who Help You Along the Way

Today I’m delighted to welcome Bruce Borgos to the blog. I was lucky enough to get an early read of his new mystery, The Bitter Past, several months ago, and I’m been talking about it ever since. It’s that good. Set in a rural county north of Las Vegas, it alternates between two timelines—a modern day police investigation and nuclear testing during the Cold War. Bruce brings both eras to life with vivid characters, twisty plotlines, and humor. It’s what I hope is the start of a long series featuring Sheriff Porter Beck. (Go figure that I’d have a soft spot for a rural sheriff . . .). Plus, as someone who grew up in the Nevada high desert, anything set that state is aces with me. - Claire

Here's Bruce with more:  

In Appreciation

My debut mystery novel, The Bitter Past (Minotaur Books), has been out for two weeks, and it’s been a whirlwind. I’ve done six author events and book signings already, from Houston to L.A., and the travel and hand cramping continues until the end of September. It’s a good problem to have. But tonight I’m home, and I’m driving just a short distance to take a copy of my book to a special person.

I grew up in the harsh sunlight of the Nevada desert not long after and not far from where the U.S. Government once tested its growing arsenal of atomic bombs. In the 1950s the prospect of nuclear Armageddon had school children hiding under their desks in Duck and Cover drills and their parents digging fallout shelters. These warheads were detonated above the parched, cracked ground of sand and tumbleweeds, lighting up the sky for hundreds of miles and sending shockwaves that would shake buildings and break windows in the small but booming city of Las Vegas only 75 miles to the south.

When I began outlining this novel in 2019, I wondered how I might tie that tumultuous history to the present. I wanted to capture the shadowy world of Cold War espionage while envisioning how the possible consequences of those real events might play out more than half a century later, providing readers all the emotionally-charged elements they love in dual timeline stories. Out of those musings comes Sheriff Porter Beck, a retired military spy with a quick-draw sense of humor, trying to solve a peculiar and gruesome murder in sparsely populated Lincoln County, just downwind of where that radiation eventually settled to the ground, poisoning everything and everyone it touched.

Novel writing is a mostly solitary activity. You lock yourself away in a room for long periods, hoping to walk out with something other people will want to read. But even before you go into the room, there are plenty of folks who have lent you their expertise and experience so that your characters are believable and the places and things you describe in your story ring true. You find these people along the way, sometimes by painstaking effort, sometimes by pure happenstance, and they make up your research team.

The man I’m seeing tonight is the recently retired sheriff of Lincoln County, Nevada, where my book takes place. Without him, my protagonist would have lacked the knowledge to manage the crime scene of a brutal murder or how to best utilize his tiny staff of officers to hunt an assassin and look for a missing woman at the same time.

It’s a novel, so my sheriff is not real, and he’s not very similar to my new friend. But he’s built around the real challenges of a rural law enforcement officer. He knows what he can and can’t do in any given situation. When I asked how long one of his deputies might have to wait for backup in a dangerous situation, he remarked “your backup is generally the other weapons you have in your vehicle.” Lincoln County, as it turns out, is the size of the state of Maryland. I didn’t have that insight when I created the character. I needed to find someone who did.

There is a reason books have a section called Acknowledgments. By definition it means to accept knowledge, to admit it. The individuals listed therein comprise the group that eventually got you over the goal line, that give the story its heft and credibility. Without them, you’re writing in a vacuum, and unless you’re creating some manifesto, that’s not a good place to be.

I had many of these experts on The Bitter Past, as I had on my first two novels. Military men, a female crime scene analyst, academicians and museum curators. There were the survivors, too, the people who lived through the era of aboveground nuclear tests that occurred during the 1950s in the Nevada desert. Some of them are still alive, whereas others had left their voices behind, recordings captured over the years and preserved as a part of our history.

If you’re writing a novel, you can’t be bashful about approaching those you need for research purposes. The good sheriff I called out of the blue one day, long before the book was written and long before there was any chance of it finding a publisher. I explained what I was doing, and there was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments. Then, as is his fashion, he said he would be happy to help. And that’s typically how it goes. People like to help. As the author, I’m ever grateful for it.

Bruce Borgos lives and writes from the Nevada desert where he works hard every day to prove his high school guidance counselor had good instincts when he said “You’ll never be an astronaut.” He has a degree in political science from the University of Nevada-Reno, which taught him that political and science are words that should never be used in the same sentence and otherwise discouraged him about the future of humanity. He has had a lifelong obsession with words and stories as well as a fascination with how telephones work. His crowning achievement in life is that he married Pam, whom he met in the second grade and secretly dated through elementary school. This year is their 40th wedding anniversary.

Visit his website at: or on any social media channels by typing his name in the search box since there is only person with that name…in the universe.

It's Claire againyou can order The Bitter Past on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or best of all, at an independent bookstore via IndieBound.

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