Friday, 2 May 2014

Kotar & Gessler: First Draw

It's our pleasure to welcome back the writing duo, SL Kotar and JE Gessler. We first met SL and JE back in January when they released their first novel, Pirate Treasure, book one in the Kasas Pirates Saga. Today, they introduce readers to a new series, which I'll get to in a moment. First, let me tell you about this dynamic writing team.

S.L. and J.E. wrote for Hollywood. One of their earliest sales was to the Gunsmoke franchise -- Kitty's Love Affair just celebrated it's 40th anniversary of its first airing, 22 Oct 1973. What makes this episode so important is that it was the first time ever in which a kiss was shown on screen for this series. Until then, hand holding was as steamy as Gunsmoke ever got. It was a good old shootem up western, not a romance. But we all know, Kitty and Matt had a thing between them since the series first aired in 1955. Kitty's Love Affair also earned the franchise their highest ratings ever! Well done, ladies.

S.L. and J.E. went on from there to write pilots for William Shatner, who gave S.L. her nickname, Captain. They've both written for a number of magazines and periodicals, and as medical professionals in their 'day job', the pair have also written some very important medical texts which are used in universities today -- Smallpox: A History; Cholera: A Worldwide History; The Complete Guide to Ambulatory Cardiac Monitoring and Full Disclosure Telemetry; and their book, Yellow Fever: A History, is due out later this year.

If that wasn't enough, S.L. and J.E. also wrote and published historical nonfiction -- The Steamboat Era: A History of Fulton's Folly on American Rivers, 1807-1860; Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900; The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899; and Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series, 1959-1961.

AND I hear-tell they have about 150 novels in a shoe box under the desk! Fortunately for their publisher, Tirgearr Publishing, S.L. and J.E. are slowly revealing some of these gems.

Which brings me to First Draw and the new Hellhole Saga.

If you want to get catapulted into the old American west, put your butt in the basket and open the cover on this book. From page one, you'll find yourself immersed in post-Civil War times, the 1860s, in the state of Kansas where tempers are still flaring over who won this war. And most people ain't too happy, neither! Let me explain how this begins --

Hellhole is the name of this Kansas town, and legend has it, Hellhole is not a very friendly place. In fact, other lawmen refer to it as the place where lawmen go to die! And we're not talking about a retirement home. Hellhole's previous marshal, Jack Duvall, was gunned down by a man seeking to make himself a reputation by killing one of the fastest guns in the states. Only he didn't count on losing his own life as soon as he did.

Claw Kiley was practically raised by Duvall, so when his mentor was gunned down, Deputy Kiley took it upon himself to bring the miscreant into custody. Only Claw was drawn on and that ended that. Now Claw has been made marshal of Hellhole and takes over his mentor's roll as peacekeeper. But as soon as he takes the job, three things become abundantly clear -- the good people of Hellhole are still seething over the outcome of the War Between the States; outlaws hold no respect for the Law; and a girl working at the Lowdown Saloon is a serious distraction he doesn't need.

While still wet behind the ears with his newly elevated status, and harboring what some might call naive expectations, Claw puts his priorities in order -- First off, finding a way to get the townspeople to put aside their differences and accept the new political climate they live in and to respect each other. Next, he sets out to get to know Miss Cougar Bradburn a little better, against his better judgement. And last, to survive. In this day and age, men with guns take what they want and revel in a certain power that lends. His actions will not only determine his own fate as the new marshal of Hellhole, but also how the law of the land was to be carved out of Hell.

Here's a reminder. S.L. and J.E. used to write for Gunsmoke, so it won't be difficult to image that they'll bring the same imagery and engrossing storytelling to First Draw, and indeed the Hellhole Saga. From page one, you can smell the dirt paves town streets, the old saddle leather and horse sweat, and gunpowder from outlaw pistols. From the clank of the farrier in the stable, to the bottles tipping hooch into shot glasses, and the distinct click of the hammer being cocked on a Smith and Wesson, sounds of the old west comes alive on the pages.

Claw is a wonderful character, too. Young but certainly not dumb. A little naive, but his heart is in the right place. He wants to make a difference. It will be up to readers to determine if he has. This is an excellent start to this new series by a well-seasoned pair of writers. Well done!

Before we get to an excerpt, be sure to drop S.L. and J.E. a note in the comments below **with your email address** to enter the draw for a copy of First Draw.

• • •

Hellhole, Kansas, was no ordinary town. Like other places, it was comprised of desultory businesses, saloons, livery stable, bank, and clapboard homes, clinging to life by their figurative fingernails. What set this hider town apart from other post-Civil War outcroppings of civilization was that it also housed a United States Marshal's office. Hellhole was known to the authorities in Topeka as the place where lawmen went to die.

Claw Kiley had served in the Union Army during the Civil War, being discharged, as he had entered, a private. That fact hardly qualified him for a Federal position, yet he knew something about deputing, having served under the legendary Marshal Jack Duvall before the War. Duvall was widely regarded as the best man ever to wear the badge, yet he had been gunned down on the street of some unnamed town by a man seeking a reputation. Kiley had been the youth who outdrew the man who killed Jack Duvall. That alone made his resume worth considering, and as his life expectancy was deemed to be short, the government agents offered him the job on the expectation he could do little harm in the time he served in the position.

Bright-eyed and with faith in the almost mystical power of the badge he wore, Marshal Kiley drew three rapid conclusions about his new town: the residents of Hellhole still seethed over the outcome of the War Between the States; a girl working at the Lowdown Saloon would become very important to him; and outlaws held no respect for the Law. His first order of business was to teach the citizens to put the late conflict behind them and develop a respect, if not a friendship for the Federal man. His second, get to know Miss Cougar Bradburn; the third, to survive against those who took what they wanted by the power of guns and sheer audacity. How he succeeded would determine not only his own fate, but how the law of the land was to be carved out of hell. 

“What’s your name?”

The bright blue eyes of the tall man darted from the paper he had filled out two days earlier to the inquisitor’s face. If he thought the question superfluous, he did not say so.

“Kiley. Claw Kiley.”

“Claw?” Thomas baited.

“Claudius,” came the polite, almost embarrassed correction. The challenge had gone unanswered.

“How old are you, Mr. Kiley?”

“Twenty-three, sir.”

There was an air of military training about him, and more. An innate tact, a respect reserved; the trust it would be reciprocated.

“You wrote here that you deputized with Jack Duvall.”

“Yes, sir.”

“When was that?”

“Until the time of his death.”

“Know him well?”

“He was like a father to me.”

No mistaking the sincerity in the avowal. It made the government man want to ask him more.

He saw no sense denying himself the pleasure of speaking to someone who had known Marshal Duvall. Which did not mean he intended to offer him the job, or that he actually believed the startling assertion.

“Were you there when he died?”

A hesitation.

“Yes, sir.”

“He was gunned down in the street, Mister Kiley. In the performance of his duty. You see the fight?” Kiley nodded. “Was it 

No pause, yet behind the curt nod a regret, a hurt. A remembrance of helplessness.

“It was a fair fight.”

“Jack Duvall was the fastest gun alive.”

“He thought so.”

Kiley left the “sir” off the end of his sentence. Thomas noted it.

“The man who killed him was a gunfighter. Red McGee.” The verbalization of the name after so long jogged Thomas’ memory. His mouth went dry and he licked his lips with unaccustomed nervousness. “What happened to him?”

“He was gunned down in the street.”

“Not gunned down, Kiley. Not from what I heard. Called out. Wasn’t that the way it happened?” Kiley shrugged. The fingers of his right hand twitched, as though seeking the feel of a trigger to wrap around. “Called out on the street and shot down. The gunfighter who outdrew the fastest gun alive never lived to tell the tale.”

“Something like that.” An uncomfortable admission.

“Seems as I recall it was the deputy who shot McGee. You were that deputy, Kiley.” Not a question now, but a statement.

“That’s how rumors get started, sir.”

“Red McGee killed the man you thought of as a father, and you challenged him. Wasn’t that how it went?”

“I didn’t say so. Sir.”

“You had an axe to grind.”

Irritation egged him on. Thomas wanted to hear it all. He wanted the tall youth before him to speak. To brag of his extraordinary accomplishment.

“No, sir.” Silence hung over the room long enough for Thomas to plan his next sentence before the youth finished. “I don’t even own an axe.”

Blatant audacity. The Federal man from Washington slapped a hand on the desk.

“Who the hell are you?”

“Claw Kiley.”

Not ‘Claudius Kiley.’ Not ‘The man who outgunned Red McGee.’ Just ‘Claw Kiley.’

“You’re a gunfighter.”

“I can handle a gun.”

“You think that’s the way to tame a town?”

“I think it’s a middle road.”

“What’s the beginning?”


If Thomas had been smoking a cigar, it would have dropped from his mouth.


“Yes, sir. The duty of a law man is to uphold the law fairly; to see the rules apply to everyone.”

“Is that what Jack Duvall taught you?”

“Among other men.”

“What others?”

Another silence, this one longer, before Claw Kiley answered the interrogative.

“Jim Bennett, Dan Cord. There were more. What difference does it make?”

Claw did not want to discuss his past with these men: not coldly, not unemotionally. Duvall, Bennett, Cord. He could have named a dozen others. If ever a man could claim to have twelve fathers, Claw Kiley was that man. Each, in his own distinctive way, had raised him. Molded him. Made him what he was.

• • •

S. L. Kotar and J. E. Gessler's first writing success was an episode of the television series GUNSMOKE. The episode, "Kitty's Love Affair," guest-starred Richard Kiley as a gunfighter who saves Kitty's life and then becomes romantically involved with her. This was the highest-rated episode in the series' 20-year history. They published an iconoclastic Civil War magazine called "The Kepi" for many years, specializing in new historical perspectives of the battles and leaders as well as presenting detailed articles on life in the 1860's. Their published works include a detailed account of the series starring Darren McGavin, "Riverboat: The Evolution of a Television Series, 1959-1961" and historical non-fiction texts including, "The Steamboat Era: A History of Fulton's Folly on American Rivers, 1807-1860," "Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900," "The Rise of the American Circus, 1716-1899," "Smallpox: A History," and a cardiology textbook, "The Complete Guide to Ambulatory Cardiac Monitoring and Full Disclosure Telemetry." Their book, "Cholera: A History" is due out later in 2013 and they are currently working on "Yellow Fever: A History," due out in 2014. Outside of writing and cardiology, their main interest is baseball; they are close friends with Whitey Herzog, the great Hall of Fame manager, who inspired them to move to St. Louis and they have rooted for the Pittsburgh Pirates for many years.

Find S.L. and J.E. online at --

Facebook --
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Don't forget to leave a comment with your email address for the draw!


  1. Welcome back to Heart of Fiction, and congrats on the release of your newest book. What a great start to this new series.

    With your experience writing westerns in Hollywood, it's easy to see why this story is so gripping and reminiscent of those old west programs.

    Everyone has their favorite genres. What draws you to the old west?

    1. The Old West was something I was born with. As long as I can remember I felt as though I had lived then: been a part of the "civilization" (or lack thereof) of the West. The same goes with the Civil War. Some how, some way, I was there.

    2. I understand that feeling. The first novel I ever wrote, it felt like I had been there, in that time period. I don't think the heroine in the story was me. But that I had been to the area back at 1890s when it was another type of community from today. I used to blame extensive research, but somethings I just felt in my bones. I still feel it today when I go home for visits. It's a neighboring community to where I grew up. Always wanted to settle there. Now it's too expensive! lol Funny how that works.

      Do you have a feeling for the capacity you felt, 'being there'? Like what was your role in the community, or your job?

  2. This sounds like such a fabulous book. I can't wait to dig into it. I have to say I enjoyed your Pirate Treasure quite a bit and look forward to seeing your other novels evolve into ebooks.
    How do you find time to write with all the other things you do?

    1. "I write, therefore I am." Pure and simple. I have always wanted to be a writer and every waking (free) moment is dedicated to writing. It's how I express my soul, if you will allow me to put it that way. (GSFE)

  3. Looks excellent. Nice to be part of such exalted company!

    1. Thank you. I have found the e-book experience to exceed my wildest expectations. This is an incredibly inspired publishing company and the people associated with it are top notch. (GSFE)