Saturday, February 07, 2009

One of the best things that has come from my attending mystery conferences is meeting my agent, Terry Burns, from Hartline Literary Agency. In addition to being a great agent and friend, Terry is also an author. His latest is an exciting YA title set in the Old West (Adults will like this one too!). Terry is also celebrating the launch of his book with great contests for libraries and teens. I asked him if I could interview him for here, but only if he could provide some weird food stories as well. Meet Terry Burns!

Here is his description of Beyond the Smoke, from BJU Press:
They were all dead.No one alive in the whole wagon train.He was alone. When Bryan Wheeler's parents are killed by Comanche raiders, he wonders how he will survive without them. With a few supplies, two guns, and his mother's Bible, he sets out to create a new life for himself in the western wilderness.Beyond the Smoke is the story of one young man's adventures in the Wild West.

Amy: What do you like about Western stories?

Terry: I grew up on Saturday matinees and personally helped Roy and Gene rid the west of bad guys. At home it was a diet of Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Have Gun Will Travel, Wanted Dead or Alive and other western fare. The books I read included a heavy dose of Zane Grey, how could I not love the old west? It has been said that a western is a morality play on horseback. Good was good, bad was bad, and the American west is to the US what King Arthur and the Round Table is to England.

Amy: Why do you like writing for Young Adults?

Terry: I believe the only difference between an adult book and a YA book is the age of the principal characters and the plot should move along more briskly. That's how I like to write anyway. I also believe that young people today do not realize there was no such thing as a teenager before WWII. Kids went straight from whatever education they were going to get straight into the workplace. There was no "growing up period." I like to write stories that give them an idea what their life might have been like if they had lived in an earlier time.

Amy: What are you working on next?

Terry: I have a new YA in progress intended to be a followup book for the one that just came out. It will have an added feature, however. In addition to the story the reader will have the opportunity to see the author writing the story and will learn a lot about how to get started writing fiction. This is particularly aimed at the homeschool market and teaching creative writing.

Amy: What good experiences have you had with libraries?

Terry: I grew up in a library. I read far more than we could afford to buy so I stopped in on my way home from school. The library would hold back new books behind the counter for me before they were shelved. In college the library was where I studied. I do a lot of library programs now and it is my preferred place to do research. The library is our front lines as far as advancing literacy and in encouraging our young people to read. I love libraries and I work hard at getting my books shelved there. I'm in over 1800 libraries and I believe that is one of my best chances to get my work known in that many towns. I still work at getting shelved more.

Amy: Describe the contest.

Terry: The contest encourages libraries to shelve "Beyond the Smoke" so it will be available for young people, then offers a chance for young people to win $100 by answering some questions on the book and giving me some feedback on the way they look at books set in the old west. I hope to interest young people in reading more in that time period. The questions and contest info is at

Amy: Do you have a recipe?

Terry: Instead of a recipe with ingredients as you normally have, I had the chance to spend some time with legendary ranch cook Richard Bolt. Richard said that no matter what else they cooked, ranch cooks had to be able to do two things, cook coffee that was smooth and had no bitterness, and cook pinto beans that didn't give the cowboy's gas. In both cases he said it wasn't the ingredients, but how they were prepared. In the case of the coffee he said the secret was to put the coffee in cold water at night and put it in the chuckwagon. The coffee makes cold overnight and the next morning you heat it gently to the side of the fire. A lot of people have made "sun tea," and the process is similar. If the water never boils the grounds never come up off the bottom and there is no need to put egg shells in it to settle the grounds as we have so often heard. Also, it is the boiling that gives it that slight bitterness that many people object to. No boiling - no bitterness.

In the case of the beans he said it was simply taking the time to do it right. He'd put a mess of beans in cold water and bring them to a boil. After boiling for a while, he'd take them off the fire and pour off the water. Much of what causes the gas is in that water. He'd start over again with fresh water and cook more slowly, putting a couple of large raw carrots in with them. He also liked to dice up onions and a little jalapeno pepper in them. By the time the beans were cooked these two would could nearly away, but they really left a taste. Because of varying tastes he liked the cowboys to salt and pepper their beans to individual taste or possible sprinkle on a little chili powder. Whatever it is in the beans that causes the gas that remained after pouring off the first water is absorbed by the carrots so they are thrown away. Unless, of course, some cowboys have been giving the cook a hard time. In that case they are given some of the carrot with their beans . . . with predictable results.

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