Nostalgia City Mysteries

By Mark S. Bacon

About mbaconauthor

Mystery writer and journalist; former newspaper police reporter.

“Death in Nostalgia City” is library assn. selection

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Death in Nostalgia City is one of ten mysteries recommended for book clubs this month by the American Library Association’s Book Club Central.

The theme of this month’s book club selections is fresh starts. In Death in Nostalgia City, one of my two protagonists is ex-cop Lyle Deming. His wife divorced him then he was dismissed from the police department, in part for his erratic behavior.  Anxiety is his default setting.  Desperate  for a stress-free job that has nothing to do with consoling murder victims’ families, Lyle becomes a cab driver—in a theme park.

Nostalgia City is no ordinary theme park.  Covering several square miles in central Arizona, the park is a re-creation of an entire small town from the mid-1970s. Peace and relaxation reigns–until someone starts sabotaging rides and killing tourists.
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Desert Kill Switch wins fiction award

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Desert Kill Switch just received the first prize for fiction in the 2018 Great Southwest Book Festival.  An awards dinner will be held in April to honor the winners of the competition.

The book is set in the fictional central Arizona county of San Navarro, in Las Vegas and in Reno, Nevada.  It begins with a body, found in the Arizona desert, that disappears once sheriff’s deputies get to the scene.  While the desert murder remains a mystery, the story moves from Arizona to Nevada.  Protagonists Kate Sorensen and Lyle Deming travel from Reno to Las Vegas and back to Reno searching for the person who murdered Vegas car dealer Alvin Busick. 

Sorensen is accused of Busick’s murder and must find the killer before the police find her.

The book is the second in the Nostalgia City Mystery Series that takes place in Nostalgia City, a  theme park that re-creates an entire small town from the mid-1970s.  The third book in the series, The Marijuana Murders, will be published soon by Black Opal Books.

Desert Kill Switch was also nominated for a Top Shelf Magazine Indie Award for books from small publishers.

‘Hearts of the Missing’ and the Tony Hillerman Prize

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By Carol Potenza, guest writer

During late March of 2017, I received a call from an unknown New York area code. I answered with a wary hello and a woman introduced herself as an editor for St. Martin’s Press. She asked me if I’d remembered entering my manuscript into the Tony Hillerman Prize earlier that year. Then she asked me if I was sitting down. My book had won the prize over seventy-five other submissions.

Hearts of the Missing was released on December 4, and is the first of what I hope will be a series of mysteries with sleuth and protagonist, Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a law enforcement officer on the fictional Tsiba’ashi D’yini Pueblo in central New Mexico. Winning this prize has changed my life, but I’m actually not here to discuss that because it’s a given. I want to talk about what the Tony Hillerman Prize is and why it should be a top priority for writers unpublished in the mystery genre.

Tony Hillerman (1925-2008) was the author of 18 mysteries set in the Southwest. The first of these books, The Blessing Way, was published in 1972, and the final book, The Shape Shifter, in 2006. So popular were his books and beloved his characters, that for years after his death people would ask his daughter, Anne Hillerman, if there was just one more manuscript—maybe in a drawer somewhere—he’d left to be published posthumously. What a legacy. Hillerman’s mysteries feature Navajo police officers Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Sgt. Jim Chee with the Navajo Nation as his setting. Hillerman’s books have won or been nominated for awards like the Edgar (Dance Hall of the Dead, 1974), the National Book Award (Listening Woman, 1980), the Spur Award (Skinwalkers, 1987), and a Nero (Coyote Waits, 1990). Many of his books have been adapted into movies and for TV.

The Tony Hillerman Prize for the Best First Mystery set in the Southwest is sponsored by Macmillan Publishing and the Western Writers of America and honors the spirit of the Hillerman mysteries. Full-length manuscript submissions are due early in January every year (for 2019, January 2). The winner receives a single book publishing contract with an advance of $10,000, no agent necessary. Two major stipulations need to be followed. (1) The story’s primary setting must be in the Southwest and include one or more of the following states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas and/or Utah. (2) The winner can’t have published in the mystery genre. Since first awarded in 2007, eight prizes have been given and eight novels bearing the Tony Hillerman Prize seal have been published. To maintain a high standard of quality, some years the prize is not awarded.

Tony Hillerman Prize Winners

Christine Barber: The Replacement Child (2007)
Roy Chaney: The Ragged End of Nowhere (2008)
Tricia Field: The Territory (2010)
Andrew Hunt: City of Saints (2011)
CB McKenzie: Bad Country (2013)
John Fortunato: Dark Reservations (2014)
Kevin Wolf: The Homeplace (2015)
Carol Potenza: Hearts of the Missing (2017)

So mystery writers, polish up your best novel set in the Southwest and submit to the Hillerman Prize. Most of the winners have gone on to publish more books. That’s what I hope for my future.

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Hearts of the Missing is Carol Potenza’s debut novel.  She teaches biochemistry at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. Before teaching became a full-time position, she conducted plant genetic engineering research, also at NMSU, and worked briefly on the Jornada Experimental Range north of town and at a drug-testing lab.

She loves the desert Southwest and the beauty of New Mexico is the inspiration for her books.  She and her husband whose family has lived in the state for generations have traveled throughout New Mexico from the ancient pueblos of Bandelier National Monument to the Lincoln County Courthouse where Billy the Kid escaped by murdering two deputies, from the Plaza in Santa Fe to the depths of Carlsbad Caverns.

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