Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 30+ novels, novellas, and short stories of murder mystery, western romance, and action adventure. All her work has Western or Native American elements in them along with hints of humor and engaging characters. Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.
How did you get started doing creative writing?
I’ve always been a voracious reader and as a child I wrote stories. I attended creative writing classes at the college level, but the first story I received payment for was a freelance article for the local newspaper. My favorite books to read have always been mysteries, and the first two novels I wrote were mysteries. Feeling sad here, the person who inspired me to write mysteries was Sue Grafton, who just recently passed away. It was her Kinsey Millhone books and character that made me think I could write a mystery. But at the time I couldn’t find a mystery group who helped newbie writers. They only allowed already published mystery writers into their groups. Then I read some Nora Roberts and LaVyrle Spencer books and decided I’d try writing romance and they, Romance Writers of America, took anyone who wanted to learn the craft of writing.
You write a variety of genres: historical Western romance, contemporary Western romance, Native American romance, adventure, and mystery. How did you come to write so many genres and how does the process of writing each differ from the next?
This is partly answered in the first question. When I couldn’t find a mystery writing group to help me with crafting a mystery, I turned to RWA. They helped me learn how to craft a book and the business of writing. Because I was part of RWA, I started writing romance books. After writing five romance and the two mystery books, my fifth historical Western romance book was published by a small press. I now have 15 novels, half a dozen novellas, and a dozen short stories published in that genre. At a conference, editors were asking for historical paranormal books. That’s when I came up with the Native American Romance spirit trilogy. I came up with three sibling Native American spirits and added them to the history of the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce. This trilogy is made up of the books of my heart. I grew up in Wallowa County where the Chief Joseph band summered and wintered and have had a fascination with the tribe my whole life.
The first contemporary Western, Perfectly Good Nanny, was written on a dare. I was lamenting at an RWA meeting that historical Westerns had slumped in sales and a friend said, “Then you need to write a contemporary Western.” I told her I couldn’t. Then on the way home a talk show host’s topic caught my attention, and before I knew it I had the makings of a contemporary western that became published and went on to win an award. When I was complaining about a book I’d read that had been toted as an action adventure and had fallen short of fitting that genre for me, another writer friend who was traveling to a writer’s retreat with me asked how I would write an action adventure. By the time we reached the retreat, I had Doctor Isabella Mumphrey fully in my mind, and the plot of Secrets of a Mayan Moon was taking shape. This is book one in the Isabella Mumphrey Adventure series, and it also won an award.
And finally, I decided I had written enough books and taken enough classes that I could tackle the genre that was my first love, Mystery. Wanting not to go far from how I’d already branded myself- Romance starring Cowboys and Indians- I came up with Shandra Higheagle, a half Nez Perce potter. I have been having the best time coming up with the murders and having Shandra and Ryan discover the clues that help them bring justice. Even the dreams involving Shandra’s grandmother have been fun. They are actually harder to come up with than the clues, because I want to keep the dreams just as misdirecting, yet showing the truth, as the clues.
As for how I write each one, the historical Westerns require research on the area where I set the stories and the time period as to what is happening there at that time. But I love the freedom of wildness of the West in the 1800’s. The contemporary Westerns usually require some research into occupations I may give the characters, but I have lived a farming/ranching lifestyle my whole life. I’ve ridden horses, moved cattle, and doctored cattle, pigs, and sheep. I’ve raised chickens, turkeys, and goats. I’ve driven tractors, swathers, backhoes, cats, loaders, and semis. I’ve changed irrigation pipes, flood irrigated, bucked bales, stomped wool, made butter, made ice cream, cooked on a wood stove, used an outhouse. I’ve lived the Western lifestyle my whole life.
The Native American Romance books required lots of reading books on the Nez Perce, and I contacted two tribal members who helped me make sure I kept things accurate and didn’t write anything that was against their beliefs. All of the historical information is factual in the books, only the characters and the story lines are fictional.
The Adventure books required a lot of research because the first two are set outside the United States in areas I’ve never been. Between using Google Earth and finding other authors who have been to these areas, along with a blogger who was born in Guatemala, lived in the U.S., then moved back to Guatemala, I was able to make sure all of the culture rang true. She was my last reader and made sure I had accurate information. I used similar means for the second and third books in this trilogy.
For the mysteries, I came up with Shandra Higheagle, wrote her past, and then started with a murder that my brother had suggested to me. He is an artist who sculpts his own bronze statues and does patina for other artists. He told me about how a statue came apart and how it would make a great murder weapon. Using that idea, I came up with Double Duplicity, book one in the Shandra Higheagle Mysteries. With each book I come up with the murder and how it happened. Then I make a chart of possible suspects and why they would want the victim dead and what clues would point at them. Next I start writing the book. I never decide who did it until I’m closing in on the end of the book. That way it is as much a mystery to me as it is to the reader, but it is always one of the people whom I made a suspect in my chart. For this series I have an author friend who lives on the reservation where I set Shandra’s family. She helps me make sure all of the culture and Shandra’s visits to her family are accurate.
You feature Native Americans in your writing. Do you have a Native American heritage? If so, what is that? If not, what entices you to that culture?
I answered that briefly up above, but, no, I don’t have a Native American heritage. I grew up in Wallowa County, Oregon. It is in the NE corner of the state. This was a large area where the Chief Joseph band of the Nez Perce wintered and summered before they were put on a reservation that didn’t include this area they called home. In the first talks with the Nez Perce, this area was included in the reservation. In the second talks it was not, and that is when the Chief Joseph band and several others didn’t sign the treaty and became known as the non-treaty Nez Perce. They eventually made a break for Canada with the military on their trail. (This is part of the plot of Spirit of the Sky.) When they were captured, the Nez Perce were taken to Oklahoma and after seven long years, finally were allowed to return to the Pacific Northwest, but to the Colville Reservation in Washington state, not part of the country they had known before. The government was afraid that if the Nez Perce were put in their historical land, the Nez Perce in Lapwai, Idaho would cause problems.
Growing up in Wallowa County, we learned very little about the Nez Perce, and the only time we saw them was when they rode in the parade for the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo. The injustice has always bothered me, and that is what brought me to write the spirit trilogy and then to make Shandra Higheagle part Nez Perce. I’m happy to say that the Nez Perce now hold a Pow Wow every July in Wallowa and have purchased land where they are putting up fish hatcheries and working to conserve the wildlife. Another reason I write about the Native Americans is that so many of their beliefs and stories are filled with nature and how that relates to living.
In your Native American mysteries, Shandra Higheagle is guided by dreams sent by her grandmother. What inspired this touch?
When I set out to write this series, which didn’t happen overnight, in my research I discovered that the Dreamer Religion, which had been strong in the Chief Joseph band even though the Whiteman tried to take it away, was still being participated in today. This led me to discover there are still people practicing the religion on the Colville Reservation and important elders and leaders who run the ceremonies. I thought, “What if Shandra’s grandmother was one of the leaders? And what if after her death she came to Shandra in dreams?” It was just one more element that made the mystery series different from others.
Your Google author description says of you: “Paty and her husband raise alfalfa hay in rural eastern Oregon. Riding horses and battling rattlesnakes, she not only writes the western lifestyle, she lives it.” How is your personal experience in the West reflected in your books?
Having lived rural my whole life has given me lots of fodder for stories and an appreciation for how people in the 1800s and rural life today lived. In my contemporary Westerns, I’ve used several scenarios of either horseback riding or cattle emergencies for scenes. And in the historical books, I’ve cooked on a woodstove, made butter, milked a cow, used snowshoes, and given many other instances that would have occurred in the 1800s.
You live on a farm. We all know that farmers have an incredibly heavy work load. How do you manage to fit your writing of over 30 books into that schedule?
We are semi-retired. In that, we sold off the cattle and only have a couple of horses. We are no longer tied to the animals all year long. The heaviest workload in having an alfalfa ranch takes place in the summer months. We have an irrigation pivot now, so there is no more having to change water twice a day. My husband and I cut the hay three times during the summer months. That takes us a day if the swathers don’t break down. Then he rakes and bales it, and I help take it out of the field. The rest of the year, I feed and water the horses and help with little things hubby needs help with, but for the most part, I have 6 hours a day that I can write and work on the business side of writing.
Tell me about your writing process.
The process is basically the same for all the genres. If it’s a series, I know the next book that will be written and try to give a little hint toward it in the one I’m writing. To start a project/book, I write a few paragraphs about the main characters, their backstories, and what their goals in life are. Then I come up with some secondary characters and how they interact with the main characters. I decide the plot to the story and where the story needs to start. Then I come up with the scenario for the ending, know a couple of turning points in the story and start writing. This is after doing whatever research I need about occupations, area, time period, anything that I don’t know that is pertinent to the story. I like to write 3000 words a day. I start the next day rereading those and then moving forward with the story.
What kind of research do you put into your books?
See all the above questions. ? Every book I write requires some form of research. That is one of my favorite parts about writing, I am constantly learning new things because I have to dig up the information for my books. I like to use non-fiction books on the subjects. I have an extensive library of non-fiction books. I like to use historical societies and meet people who work in the occupations I’m researching. I like to find people like the blogger in Guatemala and my friend on the reservation to make sure I have accurate information. I’m working on another mystery series. I’m scheduling an interview with a game warden this week to discover all I can about that occupation, as the new sleuth will be a game warden.
I’m always fascinated by the names of characters. How do you select the names of your characters?
My main characters are named either with a name that I found unique or intriguing and then I built the character out of the name, or I come up with the character and then I hunt for a name that I feel fits the character I’ve built. I use two different baby name books that give the origin of the names and what they mean, and I like to wander through old cemeteries and write down the names that catch my attention. I had a reader tell me the other day her grandmother’s name was Zelnie. It clicked with me and I told her to watch for one of my Silver Dollar Saloon gals having that name. ? Many of the secondary characters I just pull out of the air as I’m writing.
What books would you say have influenced your own life as a writer?
The books that most influenced my writing were Agatha Christie and Dorothy Gilman in the genre of mysteries, LaVyrle Spencer in historical Western romance, and Nora Roberts in romance. The mysteries taught me how to develop characters and slight of hand, and LaVyrle Spencer showed me real situations in books. Nora Roberts showed how crucial it is to have fully developed characters.
You can learn more about Paty at the following sites:
FB Page: https://www.facebook.com/PatyJagerAuthor/
Read my review of Double Duplicity.
Read my review of Tarnished Remains.
Read my review of Deadly Aim.
Read my review of Murderous Secrets.