Indiana author Larry D. Sweazy writes both westerns and mysteries, and has won numerous awards for his novels and short stories. (He is a two-time winner of the Will Rogers Medallion Award for Western Fiction twice for books in his Josiah Wolfe, Texas Ranger series.) But perhaps just as interesting is, for 18 years, he has been a "back-of-the-book index" writer for other people's books including This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon, and Outdoor Life's How to Hunt Everything. Roughly every other week he receives a non-fiction manuscript from a publisher, which he reads and then creates the index. The subject matter is completely random and varied – he has created indexes for science books, history, anthropology, art history, bios, etc. We spoke about his job, newest book and what's next.
NUVO: How many books a year do you usually index?
Larry D. Sweazy:
Since I've started, I can tell you exactly. Because, imagine that, I keep really detailed records of what I do. I am going to ship the Romanian index today and that is 824 in eighteen years. So, probably thirty to forty a year. I work two jobs. I think of myself as a full-time indexer and a full-time author. I get up in the morning and write until noon or one o'clock, and then after that I index until I'm done.
NUVO: When I read See Also Murder I thought that this indexing work is such a fascinating thing for an author to do, both in the book, and in real life. With all the things you have to learn, it obviously helps you as a writer.
I'm always getting a vocabulary lesson. With every book I have to learn the vocabulary that the author uses. In the diverse worlds I travel in, between computer books and scholarly books and history books, I'm always learning something. Maybe I would be good on "Jeopardy!," on the right day, if I had the confidence to go on television. Which I don't! But, you know, I've never met anyone who grew up wanting to be an indexer. Everyone I know who does it has just fallen into it. But it is one of the luckiest, most fortunate things that has ever happened to me in my entire life.
NUVO: Let me ask you about your next book, coming out in May, which is the second book in the Marjorie Trumaine mystery series. The first book was See Also Murder, and the new one is See Also Deception. Marjorie Trumaine has a career that also parallels your own.
True. Marjorie is a back-of-the-book indexer, although how we go about our days is completely different. It is set in 1964, so she works the old-fashioned way with index cards and goes through physical pages, whereas I sit at the computer all day, and use software. She has to mark everything up, and type it up on an index card, and put it in a shoebox, and then go back and create a document by compiling all those index cards. It's different for her. Of course, as an indexer, you never know what kind of books are going to come across your desk. I mean, I'm finishing up on one right now about the effect of the fall of socialism on the environment in Romania.
NUVO: In Romania?
(laughs) Yea, Romania. But at the same time I'm also working on a computer hardware manual that's going to be part of the test for a certification. Two completely different worlds. So, an indexer has to be kinda curious. You never know what your next book is going to be. You attain a certain level of knowledge that is really diverse. It makes for a great sleuth.
NUVO: Tell me about your latest mystery novel (his eleventh novel, A Thousand Falling Crows, was just released and is The Library Journal's Mystery Pick of the Month for January, 2016.)
It is a little bit of a change for me, but also kind of a throwback. Because it is set in 1933 Texas, which is new to me, you know, a new century. But it features a Texas Ranger at the very end of his career. He is 62 years old, and one day he is sitting in the town square and Bonnie and Clyde walk out of the Ritz movie theatre and he follows them and gets into a shoot-out. He is injured — shot twice — and ultimately loses his right arm. And that is actually based on a real event. Bonnie & Clyde got into a chase and wrecked their car and the battery from the car flew back on Bonnie's leg and really burned her leg pretty bad. And from that point on, until they died, Clyde pretty much carried her everywhere she went. Most people don't know that story. I came across it doing research for one thing or another and it just kind of stuck with me. I thought, well that's a great starting point for a story. I had this character, this Texas Ranger at the end of his career. What's he going to do now? It's in the middle of the Depression. He doesn't have a job. He doesn't have a right arm. He's widowed. He's pretty much on his own. And he ends up in the middle of robbery, which involves the janitor from the hospital where he had his arm amputated, who now needs his help. And there are girls turning up dead in fields around town, so it is kind a serial killer thing too.
NUVO: Does it connect back to any of your other westerns?
Other than it is a Texas Ranger, no. It is this century with a the Texas Rangers, instead of the previous century.
NUVO: You've written a lot of westerns, and have writing more mysteries later. This sounds like a combination of the both.
It could be. That's what a lot of reviewers are saying, that it is a hybrid. That it appeals to both western fans and mystery fans. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. You know, all of that basic research that I've done of the years, with Texas and the Texas Rangers, that's all foundational stuff. You don't want that to go to waste.