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Roy Chaney

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Roy Chaney's first novel, The Ragged End of Nowhere, won the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut mystery set in the American Southwest. He has worked as a military journalist, photographer, newspaper editor, investigator, and auditor. A native of Seattle, Washington, he currently resides in Kansas City, Missouri. Chaney is a member of the Mystery Writers of America.

Number One Novels

 

The blog Number One Novels, developed by fantasy fiction writer Rebecca Chastain, was a place for first-time published authors to spread the word about their new novels. This interview was first published in November 2009.

 

 

Number One Novels: Congratulations on the publication of your first book! Tell me a little about it--what's your pitch?

Roy Chaney: Thanks, Rebecca. My novel, The Ragged End of Nowhere, is a fast-paced mystery that tells the story of Bodo Hagen, a former CIA employee who returns to Las Vegas to find his brother's murderer. The trail leads him to, among others, a crooked casino owner named Marty Ray, an inscrutable gentleman who calls himself Colonel Zahn, two oddball fences named Sidney Trunk and Winston W. Wilson, an old card mechanic known as the Sniff, and Maxine Peach, an ex-cocktail waitress with a taste for custom-made firearms. When Hagen stumbles across a second murder and learns the truth behind the tale of the Dead Man's Hand, he finds that he's the next one slated to die. Strong stuff. Booklist has called it "a wildy entertaining tale." I can only agree.

NON: How did you get the idea for your novel?

 

RC: There were a number of ideas that seemed to coalesce into The Ragged End of Nowhere. The French Foreign Legion plays a role in the story because I've always been intrigued by the facts and the legends that surround that fighting force. It seems odd to me that they still exist-they seem to belong to a time long past. Another spark was a business card given to me by an ex-CIA man at a dinner party in Las Vegas a number of years ago. He was working as a business consultant at that time, and on the back of the card was written: ''There's always one more son of a bitch than you counted on." Apparently he thought that was all that needed to be said about why his consulting services were needed. Those are two of many ideas and images that came togetl1er to form the foundation of the novel.

 

NON: No two authors seem to take the same route to publication, butalmost every author has an interesting story about their journey. How did you get published? Did you use an agent? How did you find out that your book had sold?

 

RC: The Ragged End of Nowhere was agented for a time, several years ago, but for a number of reasons nothing came of it, except for a handful of very nice rejection letters from publishers. What finally put the novel on the map was a writing competition sponsored by the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico and managed

The Page 69 Test

The Page 69 Test was a blog produced by Marshal Zeringue. The idea behind the blog involved asking an author to write a short summary of the action that occurs on Page 69. The theory behind it, as I understand it, is that whatever happens on page 69 of any given novel reflects the beating heart of the story as a whole. It’s an idea that is probably open to lively debate, but the following paragraphs are the result of applying the Page 69 theory to The Ragged End of Nowhere. The following was first published on Zeringue’s blog on November 24, 2009:

 

Page 69 of The Ragged End of Nowhere finds the protagonist, Bodo Hagen, sitting in a Las Vegas hotel room. It is morning. He picks up the phone and places a call. To Paris, France.

Hagen has only recently returned to his hometown after an absence of ten years. He came back to bury his only brother, who was murdered out at Hoover Dam. It seems that his brother possessed a wooden artifact with a curious provenance that he called the Dead Man’s Hand. He was trying to sell it when he died.

Hagen sets out to find his brother’s killer. But first he has to learn what the Dead Man’s Hand is, where it is, and why certain people want it. Maybe badly enough to murder his brother for it.

The phone call to Paris is intended to establish the bona fides of a Frenchwoman who Hagen met the night before. She has only just arrived in Las Vegas herself. She claims to work for a firm

 

 

 

by Anne Hillerman, Tony's daughter. The competition was limited to novels set in the American Southwest, and the prize was publication of the manuscript by Thomas Dunne/Minotaur Books, a St. Martin's Press imprint. So I entered. And I won. And now here I am. Go figure!

 

NON: I think that names say a lot about a person, especially a fictional person. How did you decide on your protagonist's full name? Did you have any other names that were in the running?

RC: I don't recall a lot of deliberation going into my choice of a name for the protagonist. He was Bodo Hagen from the start. The name "Bodo" isn't often seen in the U.S., but it is not entirely uncommon in Europe. I lived for a couple of years in West Germany in the early i98os, and I ran into several men named Bodo. The name always struck me as being at once familiar, like a nickname you'd give to a favorite child, and entirely unfamiliar, in that it seems to carry with it medieval origins. The name "Hagen," of course, is a common German surname. It's short and has a good sound to it. Rolls right off the tongue.

NON: Do you have another book in the works?

 

RC: Well, I am in fact just completing a novel-length draft. It doesn't have a title yet. For the moment, I'm referring to it as "the new thing" and leaving it at that. The story has much the same style as The Ragged End of Nowhere, but I haven't quite decided whether it's generally darker than the first one, or lighter. I'm beginning to think it's both, it just depends on what page you happen to be looking at.

 

NON:  What's your writing routine? Do you write in the mornings, nights, daily, or when the mood strikes you?

RC: I write when I can, which isn't as often as I'd like. I generally like to write in the afternoons and early evenings, especially in the fall and winter months, when the days are shorter and the twilight seems to linger outside the windows.

 

NON:  Who are your favorite authors?

RC: I could pick one hundred favorite authors, but I can't pick one. My reading habits tend to be a little eclectic, but when it comes to mysteries and thrillers I still like the usual suspects: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James M. Cain, Ian Fleming, Ross Macdonald, Charles McCarry, Donald Westlake. Don Winslow's recent book, The Dawn Patrol, was a great find, particularly because, having lived along the coast of California myself, the idea of a surfing P.I seems perfect to me.

 

 

 

based in Paris that buys and sells rare artifacts. She also claims have known his brother, and wonders if Hagen might know the whereabouts of the Dead Man’s Hand.

 

It is early evening in Paris.

A man answers the phone.

The man’s manner is gruff but his answers seem genuine. After a short conversation, Hagen decides that the story the Frenchwoman gave him might be less farfetched than it had sounded at first.

But that doesn’t mean Hagen can trust her.

Trust is in short supply in the Las Vegas that Hagen has come home to.

Although Page 69 of The Ragged End of Nowhere is a relatively quiet page, Hagen’s suspicions about the Frenchwoman describe exactly the problem that Hagen is faced with throughout the novel. Hagen is surrounded by a rogue’s gallery of people who all want the Dead Man’s Hand. And they want it on their terms. But no one is who they seem. And it is up to Hagen to unravel the complicated web of intrigues surrounding the mysterious relic, before his brother’s killer decides to get rid of Hagen too. It is this edgy give-and-take between the protagonist and a cast of lively and deadly characters that led Booklist to call The Ragged End of Nowhere “a wildly entertaining tale.”

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