ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Author Melody Groves grew up in Las Cruces, where she burnished a love affair with the West.
“I rode horses in Cruces. My first boyfriend came over on a horse,” Groves recalled.
With that came an abiding attachment to Westerns. “I have always, always, always loved Westerns. … My mom wrote romance. She told me, ‘No, don’t write Westerns because they don’t sell,’ ” she recalled.
Twenty years later, Groves rejected that maternal advice and started writing Westerns: “I thought, ‘What the heck?’ ”
She hasn’t looked back. Groves has had a successful career as a writer of Westerns.
Her latest novel is “Black Range Revenge,” the fifth volume in the Colton Brothers Saga. The year is 1863, and teenage Andrew Jackson Colton is hit with gold fever. He rides into Birchville (later renamed Pinos Altos) in the Black Range of the New Mexico Territory and joins up with prospector-friend Thomas O’Malley to pan for gold. Luckless in finding the precious metal in a Birchville stream, they head deeper in the range to Mogollon. There they have a disastrous fight with Apaches.
Andy Colton is wounded, and O’Malley is killed. Colton’s survival is precarious. First he ends up in the hands of a runaway slave and then within the grips of the leader of an Apache band seeking vengeance from a Colton brother, Trace, who’s a lawman in Mesilla.
The book opens with a reference to the Warm Springs Apaches’ retaliation for the killing of Mangas Coloradas earlier in the year.
Characters, the Albuquerque author said, are the most important part of the Western novel.
“With no characters, there’s no story. I make sure each is alike but different. With the Colton Brothers, they’re as much family to me as anybody else,” Groves said. “Westerns are always fun to write. I know where the story needs to go.
“I do a lot of research on historical events, such as the Battle of Picacho Pass. The brothers need to be in that battle.”
Groves also has a good grip on creating action scenes in her Westerns. Her 10 years as a re-enactor with the New Mexico Gunfighters Association has helped inform her writing those scenes.
“The adrenaline is real, while the bullets are not,” Groves said of the re-enactments in Old Town.
She admits liking “a good barroom fight, and I’ve learned how to write those over the years. I’ve witnessed a couple but wasn’t directly involved.”
In working on “Black Range Revenge,” Groves said, she visited Pinos Altos, where she “hugged buildings.” And she has memories from her childhood when her parents took her to explore Mogollon.
She also consulted with several friends who she said are Apache experts and has begun reading Paul Andrew Hutton’s monumental history book “The Apache Wars.”
She intends to keep the Colton Brothers Saga going for a while. The next one up already carries the title of “Trail to Tin Town.”
“Then I think I’ll do one more after that to resolve some issues,” Groves said.
Though known for her Westerns, she has also written history books and magazine articles.
Earlier this year, she won two awards for an article that appeared in True West magazine, “Milton J. Yarberry, Albuquerque’s First Town Marshal, Jerked to Jesus.”