Stephanie: Phillip, it is a pleasure to be interviewing you! Congrats on winning the BRAG Medallion for your novel, “Reno Splits.” What an interesting title! Please tell me a little about your story.
Phillip: Thanks for having me as your guest, Stephanie. Winning the BRAG Medallion for Reno Splits is a great honor, a surprise to say the least. I’m glad you like the title. It’s meant to convey the essence of the divorce ranch era that prevailed in the mid twentieth century in a place that styled itself as the ‘Biggest Little City in the World.’ During a period of about 35 years (from 1931 to the mid 1960s) Reno was a mecca for divorce seeking women, particularly eastern socialites and Hollywood starlets wanting a quick and easy way to split the sheets of an unhappy marriage.
While establishing the six weeks residency required by the state of Nevada before being granted their independence, many of the split-seekers lived a luxurious and pampered lifestyle sampling Reno’s dazzling nightlife, high-stakes gambling, and majestic scenery. When New York lawyer Sam Carr’s twin sister, Sally, disappeared on the day she was scheduled to receive her divorce and later is found dead in the desert, Sam travels west to track down her killer. In the process he confronts his own troubled past and jeopardizes lives as he moves closer to uncovering a shocking secret.
During the forty-two days of their Nevada hiatus many of the split-seekers lived on dude ranches, exclusive enclaves the locals call “divorce ranches.” Those rustic establishments catered to their guests’ every need, something Sam quickly realized when his search began peeling back the seamy layers of Reno’s unique Wild West culture. To his astonishment he learned Sally had been an enthusiastic consumer of that way of life; or at least had been until she fell in love with a man whose identity no one seems to know—or is willing to reveal.
Sam’s hunt for Sally’s murderer becomes more complicated when he discovers that his fiancée before the war, a woman he’s searched for since returning home from Europe, fled to Reno after he broke off their engagement. She now helps run the divorce ranch where Sally stayed.
Struggling to come to grips with his feelings about rediscovering the woman he loves, Sam plunges ahead with his pursuit of Sally’s killer. Frustrated by the peculiarities of the Reno lifestyle, he soon stumbles into the sights of a madman, leaving him with only one choice—succeed in his quest or die.
Stephanie: What inspired you to write this story? Was there research involved?
Phillip: One afternoon several years ago, close to the time my forty-year-long legal career was starting to wind down, I found myself sitting in my ophthalmologist’s office next to a stack of long out-of-date magazines. By chance I picked up a copy of Smithsonian and thumbed its well-worn pages until my eyes settled on a two-page spread about the now extinct Nevada divorce ranch industry. I smiled at what I was reading, not only because it brought back memories of a simpler time of life, but also because the story was planting a seed in my mind. What if I wrote a murder mystery centered around life on a divorce ranch? That would give me something to do with my newly found extra time.
Within weeks, as the first images of what such a story might include flooded my imagination, I found myself on an airplane to Reno to start the research process. Growing up in the central valley of California during the 1950s, I had a vague recollection of hearing adults talk about the easy quickie-divorce process available just across the Sierra Nevada mountains, but had little knowledge of what a divorce ranch was, and much less about the people who took advantage of the opportunity. That trip, the first of three, was exciting and educational. It opened my eyes to a slice of American history not known to many people other than those who lived it. During those trips, with considerable assistance from the staff of the Nevada State Historical Society, I was able to pull together enough material to validate going forward with the now fully germinating ideas that were spouting in my mind.
Stephanie: Were there any challenges along the way and how long did it take to write?
Phillip: Writing Reno Splits involved an exhaustive research process that took place over a period of almost eighteen months. The actual writing of the story took less almost twelve months with another six months devoted to editing and rewriting.
The main challenge I faced during the entire creative process was the fear I was writing a story that would not find an audience. The concept of what a divorce was and what went on there fascinated me. Would it intrigue others? That fear dogged me until my last visit research to Reno and a side excursion to the Santa RosaMountains northwest of the town of Winnemucca where the novel’s concluding scenes occurred. Back home after that trip I felt confident I had a tale that others would enjoy.
Stephanie: What is your favorite scene in,” Reno Splits”?
Phillip: That’s a tough question, because I have several. But, if I have to make the hard choice, I opt for Chapter One. That’s the chapter in which the actual murder takes place. I wrote it not just to hook readers, but also to push them to like and identify with the young woman being murdered so that they can better understand what drives the other characters in the book to act and react in the manner they do throughout the rest of the story.
Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?
Phillip: I used a company called BookBaby to convert my manuscript into the various eBook formats. The BookBaby Design Studio created the cover. https://www.bookbaby.com/
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Phillip: Most internet bookstores including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBookstore, eBookPie, Kobo, etc.
Stephanie: Are you currently working on another book project?
Phillip: Yes. I’m in the final stages of editing my next eBook, Falling from the Sky, a suspense novel set in 1944 and 1947 England. The hero of the story is young American B-17 bomber pilot Alex Kent. During the war when Alex isn’t struggling to survive bombing raids in the skies over Germany he busies himself pursuing a conundrum with even greater danger: uncovering the lost heritage of William Kent, his seventh great-grandfather. Alex knows nothing about William’s life prior to his arrival in 1740 colonial Virginia as an eleven-year-old indentured servant. Kent family folklore suggests William might have been a member of the English aristocracy. Over the generations several Kent family members tried to prove that belief. None succeeded. Some died trying.
On leave in war torn London from his bombing duties, Alex meets Lady Sarah Perkins, fiancée of the Duke of Wyeford’s only son. Alex and Sarah soon realize they are attracted to one another and she agrees to help him with his quest for William’s heritage.
When the duke learns of their collaboration, he understands Alex’s quest poses a threat to the conspiracy of silence concocted two hundred years earlier to deny William his birthright. Discovery of the conspiracy would topple the Wyeford dynasty. The duke vows to take whatever actions are necessary to see that never happens. Danger and tension escalate as Alex’s quest barrels toward a conclusion that will change lives forever.
I’m excited to see reader’s reactions to Alex’s story because I thoroughly enjoyed writing it.
Stephanie: When do your best ideas for stories come to you?
Phillip: Inspiration and ideas come from many places. I told you earlier in this interview about how I came to write Reno Splits. Falling from the Sky is the product of my discovering a minuscule reference to a distant relative when I was doing some family genealogy research a few years ago. I let my imagination run wild with that minor detail and Alex Kent’s story was the result. The idea for my next novel comes from closer to home. The story will be set on an island at the northern end of Puget Sound. I live on such an island. The tentative title of the story is Foxglove. Foxglove grows in the wild on my island. Over the years, it’s been used for medicinal purposes. It has also been used as a murder weapon. Put all of that together and you have the making of a great mystery.
Stephanie: What are the hardest things about writing?
Phillip: For me the hardest part is knowing when to stop the research and start the actual writing. The internet is a vast source of knowledge, but it can also capture you and keep you thinking the next discovery is just around the corner.
Stephanie: How did you discover IndieBRAG?
Phillip: I “discovered” IndieBRAG while doing an internet search on the subject of marketing indie books. That proved to be a great find because IndieBRAG provides priceless assistance to writers like me who are seeking validation as well as a respected entity to help promote their stories. And, of course, as a result I’ve gotten to meet you. Thank you for this opportunity to introduce me and my stories to your audience.
Stephanie: Thank you, Phillip!
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Phillip Winberry , who is the author of, Reno Splits, one of our medallion honoree’s at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Reno Spilts merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.