Friday, 15 August 2014

SL Kotar and JE Gessler: Audition for a Legend

We always enjoy welcoming back the amazing writing duo that is S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler. We first met S.L. and J.E. back in January when they released their first novel, Pirate Treasure, book one in the Kasas Pirates Saga. Book two in that series, Strawberry Fields, was then published in July.

Before that though, in May, we saw the launch of their new series, The Hellhole Saga, with book one, First Draw.

Today we welcome a second book in the Hellhole Saga -- Audition for a Legend.

Let me just recap who S.L. and J.E. are --

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, S.L. and J.E. are slowly revealing some of these gems.

Which brings me back to Hellhole and Audition for a Legend.

Hellhole is the name of this Kansas town, and legend has it, other lawmen refer to it as the place where lawmen go to die! In fact, Hellhole's previous marshal, Jack Duvall, hadn't been marshal long when he was gunned down by a man seeking to make himself a reputation by killing one of the fastest guns in the states. Only Duvall didn't count on losing his own life as quickly as he had. Claw Kiley, hero of this series, has now taken up where his mentor left off.

Still struggling to earn the trust of Hellhole's townspeople, Claw has managed to gain a few friends. He'll be calling on them to help him through some tough times ahead, when a gang of mountain men from West Virginia come to Hellhole seeking revenge for a woman who had been brutally attacked back home. Claw must make it clear to these men that he's the law in this town and that when the ne'er-do-wells are captured, The Law, will see justice done, not a band of hot-headed vigilantes. Claw finds himself in a similar position as his mentor -- facing down the barrel of a gun. If he survives, he becomes a legend in Hellhole. If he doesn't, he's just one more body in a grave on Boot Hill.

What more can I say about S.L. Kotar and J.E. Gessler that I haven't said before? From book one, page one, word one, I have been impressed by the accurately detailed plots they write. Instant visuals come to mind on reading, catapulting readers right back to post-Civil War Kansas, and to a time when folks were trying to get their lives back to normal, and a time when the Old West was just coming to life.

Claw Kiley is a wholly believable character for his time, one who could have definitely leapt out of the TV screen. He's James Arness, James Garner, Dale Robertson, and the rest all rolled into one man. Claw takes no guff from any man. He lives by the book, protects with his badge, and keeps it within the law, even when he's bending it to capture the bad guy. Certainly perfect hero material, and a character readers will like from the get-go.

Audition for a Legend is the perfect title for this book too. After all, if he can survive the toughest outlaws who ever set foot in Hellhole, he'll be a legend. And his stories will be come classics, just as those which came before from legends like Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Louis L'Amour.

As always, there's a free book on offer today. All you need to do is comment with your email address to put your name into the draw for an ebook copy of Audition for a Legend. If you can't wait, just click on the link to grab your copy.

And on special offer from Tirgearr Publishing, S.L. and J.E.'s previous book, First Draw, is available through August for just 99c at Kindle!

• • •

The post-Civil War era in the American West was a troubled, turbulent time. With hatreds still seething, men often took it upon themselves to enforce their own brand of justice. When they did, it brought them in conflict with those few who attempted to apply a standardized set of rules and regulations to a rawboned civilization.

Convincing men who did not fall into the category of outlaws but who were, rather, self-appointed vigilantes to follow the law was not a simple task, yet that was what Marshal Claw Kiley faced when he confronted a gang of mountain men from West Virginia, out to punish renegades for dishonoring a woman. Not unsympathetic to their cause, yet well aware how easily vengeance turned to slaughter, Kiley was forced to risk his life in order to let the law judge and sentence the guilty.

To survive past the one-year life expectancy the Federal men in Topeka had given him, the marshal will need all the help of trusted friends. Not only did he face the task of keeping peace in the brutal environs of Hellhole, a town existing solely as a half-way point where buffalo hunters gathered to sell their hides to Back East buyers, but he also faced the threat of drifters, gunfighters, and outlaws, all eager to try their hand at bringing the new "Badge" down. If Kiley lived, he would become a legend; if they gunned him in the street, he would fill a grave on Boot Hill – next to those who had come before and failed.

“It’s hot enough to fry eggs in sand.”

She could hear him say it. Right down to the peculiar emphasis he put on the word, “fry.” It conjured up images of grease-darkened frying pans, sand blowing so hard it pried the eyelids open, eggs costing two dollars a dozen and not having a dime to her name.

Those were the good memories.

In truth, there was only one bad memory associated with that statement.

The man who originated it.

The man she had heard repeat it, time after time. One thousand times. Until she was so tired of hearing him utter such nonsense, she told him if he said it once more, she would leave him.

Which was a lie.

It was he who ended up leaving her.

For a grave on boot hill.

Lowercase “b,” small “h.”

Not a famous cemetery, not in a notorious cow town.

In a no-name graveyard, in a town that would not outlive the railroad tracks bypassing its borders.

If it had been for another woman, she would have forgiven him. If he had tottered away under the influence of too much red-eye whisky, she would have understood. If lightning had struck him, she might have accorded such as the Will of God.

If he had developed fever and withered away under its burning tortures, she would have nursed him to the last, without question. If he had been trampled on in a stampede, thrown from the back of a wild mustang, been crushed in a rock slide, she could have borne her grief with dignity.

If he had died of old age, she could have accepted his passing with grace.

Of all the ways to die on the frontier, only the last was improbable.

Which caused her to laugh. The first mirth she had expressed in years.



Her man had been a lawman. He had worn the Badge.

Uppercase "B."

For “justice,” he said.

The irony was, he meant it.


Justice of acquittal for men accused of crimes they did not commit. Justice of the rope for men who used guns without giving a damn who they shot, or why.

Justice for homesteaders driven off their land; justice for Wells Fargo, recovering cash boxes filled with other people’s gold.

Justice behind bars for swindlers, card sharks, brawlers and water witches.

The only one not accorded “justice” under his system of law and order, was his wife.

She was expected to understand.

Fairness was for others.

That was part of the deal he made for both of them when he pinned that “tin badge” on his chest.

“For better for worse.”

She could hear him say that, too. He had only said it once. It was enough to sear the sentiment into her breast.
Closer to her heart than his head lying on her bosom.

He stood tall that wedding day, a brave man sweating under the burden of the oath he was about to take. Comfort. Honor. To love and to cherish. He had nodded gravely at each word, pledging his troth with a stiff nod and a firm, resounding “I will.”

He swore to love, to have and to hold, to keep himself only onto her, “as long as ye both shall live.”

He was not generally a swearing man, but he took that oath, kissed her on the lips and paid the itinerant preacher ten dollars in gold for his trouble.

He said afterwards, it was the most expensive swearing he had ever done in his life.

She asked him once, what oath he had taken when he first put on the badge. He knew what she meant and did not answer her.

Their marriage had many silent days, many cold nights.

If his death had a purpose; if it had made a difference; if anyone had cared, the widow might have been left with a memory warm enough to sustain her one single night.

It did not seem too much to ask. One night. Eight hours.

She did not get five minutes.

Nor five seconds.

Where was the justice in that?

To be sure, there were the graveside testimonials, the two-paragraph obituary in the weekly, out-of-town newspaper, condolences from his superiors in Topeka. The governor had sent a hand-written letter, penned by an anonymous aide.

Nowhere was the word “justice” mentioned.

Which, in its own ironic way, was a form of justice.

Without meaning, without empathy.

No one could understand her loss. She was expected to grasp the meaning without being told. She was a woman of the world.

A world exactly ten feet deep and four feet wide.

There had been no money for a headstone. Someone from town carved his name on a wooden cross.

The gesture held no meaning for her.

He was dead. That was the only fact she understood.

• • •

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 --
Tirgearr Publishing --
Tirgearr Publishing --

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

Audition for a Legend, Hellhole Saga, book 2
First Draw, Hellhole Saga, book 1


  1. It's wonderful to see you back here on Heart of Fiction. This series just keeps getting better.

    Perhaps you can tell our readers what inspires you to write westerns. Particularly post-Civil War westerns set in Kansas? Was Kansas a pivotal state at the time?

  2. Ever since I was a child I loved Westerns and the Civil War. It was just something I was born with. Later when we published a magazine on the Civil War ("The Kepi") I came to realize what an influence the War had on the men who fought in it and the civilians who lived through it. Too often I see stories set in the late 1860's and early 1870's where the War is never mentioned. In reality, it was like a spectre during ten years or so afterwards and it was seldom out of people's minds. The obvious question was always, "Which side did you fight on?" "Are you one of us or are you against us?" "Bleeding Kansas" has always had a particular fascination for me because it was a divided state that gave birth to John Brown's madness and arguments about coming in slave or free. As a writer I'm much more comfortable with the pre-Civil War and immediate post-War era than any other time. Although a great deal of what we consider "Western" happened after the ten years or so past the War (always spelled with a capital "W") then you start getting into phonographs and telephones and I'm already out of my element. I don't mind writing earlier because we got involved writing a non-fiction text on steamboats (not called "riverboats," at the time, by the way) and so we found that era of "Fulton's Folly" fascinating. Ultimately, I suppose both of us were reincarnated from that time period. S. L. KOTAR @ GSFE@aol

  3. I'm with you. I've loved westerns since I was very young. Might have something to do with my grandfather having a horse he called Silver, after the Lone Ranger's horse ;-)

    I read that the western era came and went quickly. Something like 25 or 50 years? I know in California it was pretty much over by the 1900s, even though there were still cowboys working the ranges, it wasn't the old west we know today from those times.

    Because you write a lot in that era, do you sometimes feel you were born too late? Would you have liked to have lived during those times, or are you happy in the current age and looking back?