DR. MEL'S MESSAGE - From my novels to my other projects, no telling what you will read. This is the only place you will get to read about how I developed a screenplay into a novel and what is the driving force. I will talk about many things from films to books to acting to producing. It really will depend on where my mind takes me. I hope you will join me on this journey.
"An enjoyably twisty mystery with appealing characters and a vivid setting" Kirkus Reviews"The writing here is clever, crisp, and consistent." Critic's Report, Book Life A Public Library Association 2019 Regional Award Winner
No-nonsense rookie paralegal Naomi Manymules pauses on a lakeside clifftop to enjoy a moonlit moment and hears someone swimming far below. When something loudly shatters the quiet – firecrackers, maybe? – she heads for home. The next day she learns that a lifelong friend is now a prime murder suspect, because her sleazy, abusive husband has turned up naked and dead in a boat on the lake. When her friend can offer only a coyote as her alibi, the police aren’t inclined to look much further. Undaunted, Naomi and her new boss, Grant Carson, launch an investigation of their own. With wicked humor and a big helping of snark, they navigate through a colorful assortment of petty criminals, surly teenagers, prominent locals, likable polygamists, and a big-city mobster or two. It’s only a matter of time before they become targets themselves.
Meet the sleuths: Naomi Manymules is bluffing her way into a new paralegal career. A divorced, thirty-something mom of two, she needs a steady job. She’s smart and feisty and knows just about everything that goes on in Sage Landing, so she is the perfect person to nudge a reluctant attorney into getting serious about practicing law. Grant Carson is a cynical, handsomely scruffy ex-prosecutor who has escaped to a remote lakeside town. Until Naomi decided he would do otherwise, he was practicing just enough law to support the real passion of his life: his old yacht, the Deep Inn. The Southwest setting is an important character, too.
Picture the enormous Grand Canyon and its many side canyons. Now fill it most of the way with blue water, and that’s what the remote lake next to Sage Landing looks like. The town itself is small and compact, perched on a red sandstone mesa between a mighty dam and the Navajo Nation. It’s a unique place that brings out whatever’s unique about everyone who shows up there.
KIRKUS REVIEW - A would-be paralegal and her attorney boss take the case of a woman accused of murdering her unpopular husband in this novel. In the mid-1980s, Sage Landing, Arizona, is a tiny town hard by a Navajo reservation, the kind of place where everyone knows everybody else’s business. Thirty-something Navajo narrator Naomi Manymules is a divorced mother of two with “only half of a paralegal certificate,” the just-hired office assistant to attorney Grant Carson, a newcomer from Phoenix in his late 40s. Walking around late one night, Naomi unexpectedly becomes a witness to murder when she hears gunshots from the lake below. The next day, Willard Highsmith is found shot to death. Since he was “a crooked son of a bitch with lots of enemies,” possible suspects are many, beginning with his Navajo wife (and Naomi’s friend), Ellen, whom Willard mistreated. Naomi is sure that Ellen is innocent; her alibi makes sense—she drove the long way home after a coyote crossed her path to the east, a Navajo omen not to be ignored. When Ellen is arrested, Carson agrees to represent her. He and Naomi sift through clues, suspects, and complications, including an ever growing potential conflict-of-interest problem with other clients; out-of-town thugs; and personal attacks. Can Ellen’s coyote alibi hold up? Though set in a landscape similar to Tony Hillerman’s mysteries, this series opener by the husband and wife team of J. Burges and D. Burges (Graves Gate, 2003) takes a lighthearted approach while still honoring Navajo culture. That ethos is integral to the plot in large and small ways, whether Ellen’s alibi or how to conduct oneself during a job interview (“The correct white protocol was to ask directly....")
J. & D. Burges are an award-winning husband-and-wife writing team. Having lived for many years on the edge of the Navajo Nation, they write with cheerful authority about open spaces, big lakes, and the unique mix of cultures captured in their Sage Landing stories. Coyote Alibi is a Public Library Association 2019 regional winner in fiction.
Their mysteries are now hatched in a cottage in the woods near a lake. It’s a great place to plot light-hearted homicides, capers, scams, and other fictional mischief. When they’re not doing that or working out, they might be dancing a foxtrot or tango. There’s also some knitting and woodworking going on.
They can’t resist tinkering with each other’s work. It’s often hard for them to remember which story idea originated where and whose words made it into the final draft. Each of them claims that the best lines belong to the other.
In a different mood, they have also written darker historical thrillers set in 1920's Europe.