Like so many authors, Mark Edward Langley was inspired by many of the great mystery authors of the past.
Mark began writing seriously when he retired and now has many book ideas waiting to be written. He is inspired by the Four Corners area of Arizona, a place familiar to Tony and Anne Hillerman fans. In our interview Mark shares the story of driving through this landscape and recording what he saw into a tape recorder so that he would have that information available to him when he wrote.
We mention an interview with Mark’s at the International Thriller Writers site and you can read that here.
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This week’s mystery author
Mark Edward Langley was instilled with a love for the American West by his father at a young age. After revisiting it throughout adulthood, his connection to the land and its people became more irrevocable. After spending almost thirty years working in business, he retired at the end of 2016 and began to focus on writing his first Arthur Nakai Novel, Path of the Dead, which was released August of 2018.
Mark’s latest novel in the series, Death Waits in the Dark, was released on August 4, 2020. Mark has already written book three of the series, When Silence Screams, and is currently working on book four, Midnight Harvest.
Mark and his wife, Barbara, live in Indiana and spend their time between there and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
To learn more about Mark and all his books visit MarkEdwardLangley.com
Press play (above) to listen to the show, or read the transcript below. Remember you can also subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts. And listen on Stitcher, Android, Google Podcasts, TuneIn, and Spotify.
Excerpt from Death Waits in the Dark
The drive to Flat Iron Rock from Farmington took less than twenty minutes; enough time for Arthur to let the desperation he had heard in Margaret Tabaaha’s voice sink in. The thought that she had just lost both of her sons simultaneously was too much for him to comprehend. And he could hear that fact tearing away at her soul every time he replayed their conversation in his mind.
As he passed the bulky profile of the Northern Edge Navajo Casino on his left, he could see the image of Flat Iron Rock rising tall against the backdrop of a clear blue sky. It made him wonder who would have had a reason, or thought had a reason, to kill Tsela and Tahoma Tabaaha. He had known the boys from the day they were born, and in the ways of the Bilagáana he would have been referred to as their godfather. His gut churned compulsively as he drove, while his heart ached a pain that he could only imagine was a thousand times worse for his first love.
He was there when their father had been killed in Iraq and felt an obligation due to take part in the 17-year old brothers lives like a father and be there for them whenever they needed it. And they were good boys too whose maternal clan had been the same as their name— Tábąąhá, the Waters Edge People clan and their paternal clan was the Two Who Came to the Water clan. He remembered that their maternal grandmother had been born for the Towering House clan (one of the original four clans and Arthurs own) and that their paternal grandfather had been born for the Meadow People clan.
Arthur couldn’t understand it. They boys had been brought in a loving family who had taught them to live in the teachings of the Blessing way and the Protection Way. But in today’s world, it is not what you teach your own children, but what others teach theirs that has life-changing effects.
They teens would have had to have been targeted by someone, Arthur had already established in his mind. Of that much he was sure. And he had never heard of them getting trouble at school or in the community. Was it some nut case trying to make a statement? he wondered. Or was it some sick bastard filling his racist need to kill an Indian. In today’s climate, who the hell could know? He shook his head sadly. Sometimes, he admitted to himself, things really haven’t changed much in the last 100 years.
Arthur tapped the brakes suddenly and made the left turn onto BIA Route 363. If he had been paying any less attention, he would have missed the handwritten 363 scribbled on the back of the stop sign in a black Sharpie and missed the turn altogether. The Bronco’s big tires burped across the steel cattle guard as Arthur studied at the smattering of rundown trailers and tan NHA housing with their sandy-brown roofs that sat off to his right. Scattered around them were piles of wood and other debris, working and derelict automobiles, children’s toys and a few smaller buildings that he couldn’t make out that sat among the buckwheat plants, Indian rice grass and scattered junipers.
The short stretch of pavement that lead away from 36 quickly ended beneath taught power lines that stretched between the tall blackish-brown wooden poles that flanked the freshly-graded dirt road. Arthur remembered seeing the Navajo Nation DOT graders a while back moving slowly though the landscape followed by the CAT vibrating rollers that compacted the stone and sand surface into a hardpacked road. He watched as the dust filled his rear-view mirror before being swept away by the prevailing winds that blew the hot, baking air across the valley.
The view ahead was clear. More buckwheat and junipers seemed scattered perfectly by the creator’s hand and dotted the land from the low, flat mesa on his left and down the slope to his right until his eyes lost sight of it. He took a breath. It was the kind of solitude that made him hold it satisfyingly in his lungs before letting it go while he kept his eyes transfixed on the long hardpacked road ahead.
The graded road made a slight swerve to the left as it moved over a land scattered with small tracts of ragged housing that sprang up at the ends of unmarked spurs that swung off at intermittent distances toward them on his right. The road seemed to become even harder packed in some areas and looser in others, forcing the Bronco’s wide-lugged tires to dig into the softened sand to move itself along. The road swung left again then straightened out, and Arthur could see Flat Iron Rock clearly silhouetted now against the bright backdrop of a clear sky. He also noticed the flashing lights of Navajo Unit 18 standing guard by the greenish and elongated, triangular metal gate covered in the red and white reflective tape. The word “SHIPROCK” on the front fender along with the green and yellow swath down the side made Arthur smile as he pulled up and stopped. The drivers side window of Unit 18 rolled down and Arthur recognized the 27-year-old behind the wheel.
“What are you doing here?” Officer Brandon Descheene questioned with a curious stare sitting comfortably inside his air-conditioned unit. The toothpick clinched between his lips moved as he spoke, and his short black hair had been covered by the white straw cowboy hat that sat above dark sunglasses.
“Margaret Tabaaha called me. Told me to meet her here.” Arthur looked ahead and noticed several figures moving in the desert scrub flanking both sides of the dirt road. He turned his attention back to Officer Descheene who hadn’t changed much since Arthur had helped him fill out his application for the department a few years back.
Officer Descheene exited his unit and walked over to the Bronco, glanced toward Flat Iron Rock, then faced Arthur. “Not a good sight, I don’t mind telling you. Not good at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Both took head shots, ánaaí.” Officer Descheene had spoken the Navajo word for older brother and studied Arthur’s eyes while he leaned on the Bronco’s door. “Not a good sight.”
Arthur nodded. “You mind letting me through?”
“Not at all. Prepare yourself though,” he warned again. “Like I said, not a good sight to see.”
Interview with Mark Edward Langley
Alexandra: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Arthur, about his background and where he comes from.
Mark: Arthur is about 45 years old and he joined the Marines when he was 18. He spent 10 years in the Marines and then after he discharged out of that, tried to go to college a little bit, left that, and then went into the border patrol, at that time when it was just the border patrol, uh, into a group called the Shadow Wolves.
And that is an actual 15 man group of native American trackers that are out there along the Arizona border tracking all the legal drugs that come across, and any of the immigrants that come across with the coyotes and so forth and stopping them and then taking care of those.
He’s done that for a long time. After the 12 years is up, he retires. And before that he had met his wife. We didn’t talk about in the first book Path of the Dead. They live in the Northwestern part of New Mexico in a place I call White Mesa. He runs an outfitting business there and she works for a local radio, a TV station as a reporter.
Alexandra: And so he’s not currently involved in law enforcement. Is that right?
Mark: No, that’s been transforming into that. Um, because he has the experience he has. I knew he had what it would take to do what he had to do. It really shows up in the first book of how he tracks the serial killer down who’s kidnapped his wife from the Four Corners area, all the way to the mountains of Montana and things up there trying to get her back.
The good thing is, is that I mentioned in the second book, because it’s getting around the reservation that he’s this kind of person that can do this kind of thing, because they can’t really trust the police off the reservation and so forth. Nothing hardly seems to get done with that or takes forever, or they never hear anything other than just making their claim and then waiting months or years.
The police captain in there, Jake, suggested to him that he may want to get up here and get licensed if he’s going to attract as much attention from the Navajo people that might need him for help. So that’s left to be thought about in the second book, and then the third book, he has his newly minted PI license, which I make reference in an homage to Tony Hillerman because one of his characters, Joe Leaphorn, after leaving the force, got a PI license.
And in one section of the books and book three there, the guy sees his car to go off Navajo PI. And he goes, “not the first one, you know?” And I refer to that with that. He knows what he’s doing.
In the ending of the first book I wanted to really figure out was I going to have it be like a revenge part at the end or just as part of the end? I think I chose right on that one. He’s always trying to make that decision because your wife is kidnapped. You want to get her back, the guy is armed and is the adrenaline going to pump enough to make that be a revenge act or is he going to really be reverting back to what do you know and handle the situation.
He is a person who, anyone who hits a woman, or treats them badly, which really comes out in the second book, you understand that a little more with that really comes out in the third book is that is really a lot to go through in that particular particular book.
Alexandra: Did I read somewhere too that he’s dealing with PTSD?
Mark: He has in the past. What happened there is he struggled with that when he was first out of the service and trying to make sense of everything, moved back into society and went through the psychological evaluations you have before you leave. And that kind of thing. He tried to deal with that had a rough time of it.
So in this second book there, he talks about having to deal with that and really count on and revert back to the spirituality of the Navajo. In the past they had a lot of ceremonies and got himself straight, got back into harmony, as they say, with the world. So he’s good with that. The main person’s struggling in the second book that he doesn’t even know about until it’s revealed later on, is his wife because of the situation that happened in the first book.
She’s having a lot of psychological trauma dealing with that. So it comes to a point where she has to seek help from a psychologist, psychiatrist, and doesn’t tell him, so he’s unaware she’s even seeing anybody, and then when that comes to a head there’s that situation to deal with.
But he can relate to her situation and kind of helps her through things. He’s good with his, but she’s still struggling with hers.
Besides that, to any of the people, the guys he meets at the funeral, which are the last. He’s part of the last six remaining members of his group, because over the 12 years, six of them have already committed suicide. The last one being the one, he’s at the wake of right there.
So, those little coffee rooms, they have set up a funeral, where you can go back in there and talk and eat and so forth. He’s back there where with the five of them, and they’re all talking about situations they’re going through right now. And what’s happening in their lives and so forth and how they’re trying to deal with it. It’s an ongoing thing through that because I wanted to really honor the men and women as in the service.
I didn’t join up with that, but right after high school, a lot of my friends that were in high school did that. So I sat down and talked with them and got a lot of information from them stories that I could not believe you wouldn’t even see in magazines. But I use some of those in the book.
Some things I researched in the book to bring more of a realistic atmosphere to the whole thing. I think it’s something that a lot of people don’t understand that people struggle with every day and even the smallest thing can set somebody off or send them back to that battlefield.
You could be in an auto repair shop and somebody is using the air gun, the same situation. A simple thing is just driving down the street. If you’re surrounded by a bunch of cars, it’s claustrophobic, then you start to freak out because that’s the situation.
So a lot of those things are in that, but I want to really do the right thing and treat them with respect.
Alexandra: Before we spoke, you sent me a link to an interview you’d done with the international thriller writers, which I’ll link to in the show notes.
One of the things you mentioned was that before you started writing, you took a two week trip through Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico.
And the thing that really intrigued me was that you said you dictated what you saw, which I thought was so cool. So tell us about that.
Mark: What I did was I took two week vacation and I’m back and he was, I can’t pull up cause all thing and drove about two.
I already had them in mind to write the first book Path of the Dead. So what I did was I traveled the route in real life that the characters do in the book. So everything you see in the book, where they go is where I actually was, because you can’t use Google earth for everything, so you have to be there.
You have to know the heat, the cold and the smells. Know the sound, everything that encompasses that area, you need to be able to understand and feel for yourself. So I dictated that into several cassette tapes of my little Panasonic.
And then when I came back, I sat down and played the tapes and wrote it all down so that I’d be able to go through that and then started developing character’s backstories things like that. So like you go through there then. Like I always do is I met about each chapter. I do a little synopsis of each one and go through it. So I know where I’m going.
On the first book and the second book. Um, but by chapter six I kinda had an idea. So I wrote part of the ending. I knew where I was going. Okay. I had to get there, you know, it was quite, you know, so I did all that. And then, uh, it went through several different incantations of what the story was going to be about and how it opened up.
I read a long time ago, some, one of the writer and I forgot who it was said that after you write your first chapter throughout the complete first paragraph, start with the second one, you know, so that was a good advice. Um, but then. As I was still struggling, struggling, trying to find my voice was the whole situation that, um, once I did, I realized what I had to do and then the whole story pretty much.
Told itself. So at the beginning changed some things in the middle of change. The ending stayed the same, but it all came around to make that story and same thing with death weights. I mapped out every chapter and went through all that. And, um, it’s funny. I’m sure you might know too, you know, even though you map it out, Okay.
You started writing it. And when you get into things of the character, thinking something, or having dialogue sessions and so forth, it may take you in a totally different way than you had mapped out to go. You know? I mean, so it’s just wild that, uh, that, that actually would do that. Cause they talked to him.
I did something here. No,
I can still see you and hear you. So that’s
good. I got you very small. Now look on that. No, don’t click on that. What about this over here? Have you been like that? I guess that was about it. I did all that. So it, um, It just worked out where it took a while to get that right. But if I wanted to get things right, as far as the PTSD aspect of it, and I wanted to get things right.
As far as the Navajo aspect of it, because you really find out too about Arthur spirituality in the second book.
Mm. Okay. And then just circling back to the driving and dictating. Cause I’m fascinated by that. Would you stop? Like if you saw something particularly interesting, would you stop and stop the car and record what you were seeing?
That kind of thing.
No, actually I would, uh, I would pretty much do it as I was driving a set right there on the seat next to me. And if I, if I saw something as I was passing by, I didn’t have a cell phone at the time. Wouldn’t take any pictures, you know, so I grabbed my tape recorder, hit the button and just started dictating being into it.
So yeah, I had reams of notes to, uh, to go back through and do that. So, um, just as dry and. And talk, drive and talk, drive and talk now.
Alexandra: We mentioned you’re writing book four now. Do you still refer to those notes today?
Mark: Actually, no, because once I was out there to do research for book two, I was lucky enough to hookup with a person that lived out there. And we were friends on Facebook with a lot of Navajo people and native Americans in general, out there.
I had a question whether or not a young man of 18 would go to school in this school, if he lived in this particular area and I saw she lived there so I asked her and she said, yeah. We got a conversation going about that.
And I said, well, I’m going to be out there. At that point it was the beginning of June of that year. And I said, I’d love to talk to you, yada, yada. So what she did was she said, I have people you might want to meet. So she contacted them and we kept in touch over the time until we got out there.
And then it was so funny, I literally lucked into this guy who to look at him, you wouldn’t think much of. He is all old gray hair guy and glasses and so forth, a little baggy clothes sometimes, but he’s a good guy.
Name is Arnold Clifford. And what he is, they call him the encyclopedia of the Four Corners. He actually is the foremost botanist and geologist of the area. And he does dissertations at colleges around there. He takes the students out in the field and studies, botany, and so forth, and the geographic designs out there and teaches them all about that.
So at first sitting down with him it was a little bit nerve wracking because they were leery to talk to people, especially me. We went back and forth. I answered questions.
And Arnold’s final thing to me was he knew I had a dog in the book. What’s the dog’s name he said, and I said, uh, keys. And he goes, Okay. Good. So where do you want to go? And that’s when I said I’d love to go to the first location that opens the book and go from there. Let’s get it going. So we all went out to that and I have my little digital recorder at that time.
He started talking about the geology of the area and all the history of it and native history of it and all these glacial patterns and so forth. I said, can you stop for a minute while I get my recorder out? Because if you keep talking, I will not remember anything you say.
So he said, Oh yeah, sure. So I got it up and he went to town. I’ve got two hours of information on there of him talking about, you know Eagle catching and the clifff over there on the side and the reason the fence is up there runs from flat iron rock down the slope right there, the whole area out there, the plants.
I got all the information. So I know basically what I’m talking about out there with that. And I have planned for the next book to go back out this June. We know how that went. I had to cancel that reservation and not go out there, which really saddens me because as far as knowing someone only through email back and forth and Anne Hillerman, and I have been back and forth on emails for awhile and I told her I’d love to meet her when we got out there.
And she said, sure. All those things were going to come to fruition, but oh, well. I was lucky enough to get her to do a cover blurb for the book. William Kent Kruger did a cover blurb for the book and his was just fantastic as well.
When I posted on the Western writers of America, the book had been released and so forth and went on there and posted a post on there that she had read the book, thought it was great. Go buy it, everybody. It was amazing. I hope I can count her as a friend at some point in time when I actually do get a chance to meet her and sit and talk when they’re going to be a wealth of information.
Alexandra: Maybe next year. We’ll keep our fingers crossed,
Mark: I hope so. I really want to do that. She asked how did I learn to write and stuff. I told her, I said, well, I was kinda nervous. Well, that’s kind of a strange thing because I did take a few classes at a college. No big deal, but it’s like I really have a need to tell a story.
It’s inside me. I’ve got six other books already titled and have some ideas written for what they’re going to be. They may change, but I haven’t written down right now, and I told her in my twenties, I started reading a lot of books. I worked at a bookstore in Houston.
And at that time, the television show Spenser for Hire was on. The Robert Urich one. So one of the women I worked with said if you like the TV show, you should read the books. So I tried to pick up Parker’s Spenser novels and reading those loved him, and then went on to Mickey Spillane and Tony Hillerman and John D. McDonald.
I told her, I says, well, the funny thing is I learned how to write dialogue from Parker, because some people say his books are full of it, and there’s too much of it. I love it. I think it’s the right amount of everything that he has in there. As far as action sequences, I learned that from Spillane, being the hard-boiled Mike Hammer. And then plot lines I did go with John D. McDonald reading him. He and I are both born on the same day. Many years apart, but born in the same day, I told her, I says, your dad really taught me about location description and how important that is in a book to set the scene with where anything is.
But whether it be outside, inside, whatever. And I learned that from your dad, because to learn from the masters while you were reading them. You don’t really register that until you sit down at one point, you tell yourself I’m going to write something. So that’s how that worked out to do all that.
I just do things backwards from what I hear from a lot of people who write that I’ll normally think of a title first. And then conjure a story that will go along with that title and then using the same characters I have basically out there, but develop in different characters to fit those stories.
Alexandra: Well, that’s great. Everybody has their own way. Don’t they? What matters is that it works for you.
Mark, it’s been lovely talking to you. Why don’t you let everybody know where they can find out more about you and your books.
Mark: My website is Mark Edward Langley dot com. That’s Mark Edward Langley dot com. You can purchase my new novel from there by clicking on my picture down there that you can go to Amazon.
You can go to Barnes and Noble, any pretty, any online retailer has them, a lot of bookstores have it on the shelf. I’m also on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.
Alexandra: Awesome.Well, thank you so much again, Mark has been lovely chatting with
Mark: Take care. Bye bye.