Thursday, 6 November 2014

SL Kotar and JE Gessler: Strange Bedfellows

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 Kansas 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, and then in August, the second book, Audition for a Legend.

Today the Hellhole Saga comes to a close with what's probably the best book in the series -- Strange Bedfellows.

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 41st 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.

Just last month, Kotar and Gessler were awarded the following certificates of recognition from the WGA (Writers Guild of America), for their contribution as writers to "101 Best Written TV Series" for Gunsmoke.


S.L. and J.E. went on from Gunsmoke 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 HistoryCholera: A Worldwide HistoryThe 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, 1807-1860Ballooning: A History, 1782-1900The 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.

That brings us to Strange Bedfellows. As with the rest of the series, this story is set in the old west of Kansas, post American Civil War. A strange man shows up in Hellhole and Marshal Claw Kiley sees trouble surrounding the man. He's ordered him out of town. Hellhole doesn't need more trouble. He first agrees to let the man's wounds be treated by Dr Ward, but then he's got to go. While in Ward's care, he endears himself to the old doc who discovers the truth behind the stranger who calls himself Red. Will Ward help him through his troubles, or let his tormenters find him and do what they will? Will Marshal Kiley help, or prevent the doc from getting involved?  Perhaps it's not helping Red that's so hard to deal with, but the skeletons in Ward's own closet.

Strange Bedfellows is a fast-paced, western action adventure story that brings the period to life. Kotar and Gessler's voice pulls us into the story quickly and keeps us there, wanting just one more chapter. This series as a whole, pulls readers in an old west movie on the big screen with instant visuals (as if we're there) and great characters one can't help but cheers for, and boo. I'm saddened that this series has come to an end. I'd like to see it go on, episode after episode, just like Gunsmoke. But I know, given the authors' previous works, that there's some great stuff on the horizon.

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 this book. If you can't wait, just click here to grab your copy.

• • •

The expression "holy revenge" might seem a misnomer, as it is often believed that vengeance belongs to the Lord. When a race of people are cruelly and habitually enslaved, however, freedom means more than emancipation: it offers the opportunity to redress wrongs in a more earthly court.

Then a man called "Red" arrives in Hellhole with an aura of trouble surrounding him. Immediately sensing his presence meant bloodshed, Marshal Kiley orders him out of town but not before allowing him to have his wounds treated by the doctor, Fiz Ward. Even more intuitive than the lawman, Dr. Ward is quick to identify the stranger as a Southerner – not merely a man who fought on the same side he did during the Civil War – but one used to money and status, marking him as a plantation owner. Easily guessing why the man is on the run, he further deduces who is chasing him. It only remains to fill in the details.

Although Red denies he is being hunted to ground by former slaves, his fear is palpable. Just as a drowning man clutches at straws, he seeks Ward's help, placing the doctor in a moral dilemma that not only brings out the ghosts of his own past, but places him in the middle of a tragic and tangled web that can only end one way.

The stationary was a pale blue, like a clear summer sky. The aura of familiarity clung to it, like must, although it had been a long while since the writer had composed a letter.

The page lay before her, naked, empty, and cloudless. It awaited only the touch of a steel-tipped pen, the scratching of devil’s black ink, the transmission of thought to paper, as easy, one might suppose, as rain issuing forth from ink-black storm clouds.

But as so often happens, the rain did not fall, and the land, parched for want of water, dried and withered. So, too, did the writer’s heart.

The woman had every excuse not to write, she told herself, adjusting the hand-knit shawl around her stooped shoulders. She was unsure of the recipient’s name; uncertain, even, how the missive would be received, if ever it found its way into the intended’s hands.

She shivered, though the late summer day was warm, not chilly. That was a symptom of old age, she imagined: being cold while others complained of heat. While not elderly by chronological years, the would-be writer was worn, not by the wearing away of decades, but rather from the constant erosion of seconds.

Working through the perfunctory task of selecting a pen, the woman's ever-active mind calculated her age. If the year were 1868, which it was, and the month September, then she was forty-two years old. Not ancient by most standards, yet she felt the weight of time pressing down upon her rock solid, New England frame.

Born of parents recently immigrated from Scotland, in the year of Our Lord 1826, Ada Carter had been a hale, hearty child, with a jaw jutting out two feet in front of her, if her father’s oft expressed words were to be believed. She was known for her temper and her ability to stare anyone - man, boy or woman - in the eye, and never blink before they did. The game was called “owl,” and at age five, Ada Carter was the owl champion of three surrounding counties.

The oldest of seven children, she had become, in effect, a second mother to her siblings. Although of hot blood and fierce temper, Ada was never heard to complain of her lot in life. Everyone, her parents included, were surprised, therefore, when she announced late one evening in June, 1842, that she had taken an advert out in several Western newspapers, offering to hire herself out as a governess, domestic or other position suitable for a “woman of dignity.”

No one had ever heard of such a thing. Yet, once the extraordinary announcement had settled in, her mother dried her tears, her father went back to sharpening the blade of his plow and the smallest Carter began crying. No more was said on the subject, and for all practical purposes, it was a dead issue.

Until the letter arrived.

Very little information was imparted to the recipient. A stage ticket was enclosed, along with seven dollars, cash money. “Miss Ada Carter” was requested to present herself in one month’s time at the residence of one Mister Adam Burnham, where she would immediately assume “such tasks and duties as befit a woman of dignity.”

• • •

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 --

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Tirgearr Publishing --
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  1. Welcome back to Heart of Fiction, ladies, and congrats on the release of Strange Bedfellows!

    This has been a wonderful series to follow. It's obvious to see you have a love of the time period, and perhaps the state, given your Kansas Pirates saga as well.

    In Strange Bedfellows...where did the idea for this story come from? How did you develop it?

    1. This was actually a story Joan write quite a long time ago and I adapted for the Hellhole Saga. The time period was right and it fit the characters, especially Fiz Ward. I like to interweve the historical events of the time: the recently past Civil War with the more traditional Western because the War remained in everyone's consciousness for decades. People were influenced by and judged one another by what they did (or didn't do) in the War. I was fascinated by why a doctor would take sides and how he would react as a person to the great bloodletting around him. Red, on the other hand, had his own unique background, fashioned from childhood. They come together seemingly out of nowhere and are forced to listen to one another's stories and accept or reject them as their own personality dictates. I like emotional conflict and weaving in the backstory of Red's present condition was exciting for me as a writer and as a person. The goal is always to make characters real and not carbon copies of what you've seen before. I hope I have done that.

    2. This sounds a bit like the town near where we live. It was sacked in 1649 and locals still spit when you mention the man and his army who did the damage...365 years later! People do have long someone doing another wrong, and the great great great grandkids still holding the feud.

      I've seen this with friends as well. One of my very first friends made online was a German. One of the first things he said to me that has resonated nearly 25 years was "Don't hate me for what happened in WWII." That bowled me over.

      Your characters are just one of the reasons your stories become endearing so quickly. They're read as real people who are put into real situations...or at least you make everything seem to if a page from history.

      What was Joan's original intention for this story before adaptation?

    3. Joan wanted to make a movie of it; I just adapted her characters to fit into the Hellhole format. Otherwise, I kept the story basically the same.

    4. I can just picture Clint as Claw Kiley. This series would make a great big screen flick.

      I guess that leads me to the next question -- Who did Joan envision playing her characters on the big screen?

    5. The main character of Red we always saw as Darren McGavin. Darren was an incredible character actor who was always comfortable playing a sort of off-kilter character. Probably his greatest character role (and frankly I think he stole the film) was in "The Man with the Golden Arm." As a leading man (his character of Grey Holden, for example) suited him less than the beloved Carl Kolchak or even David Ross in the series, "The Outsider." And clearly Claw Kiley was named for Richard Kiley although Richard was not who we envisioned playing that part. GSFE

    6. I remember Darren from numerous movies and tv programs. He was in the movie you mention with my old pal, Kim Novak.

      No, I can't see Richard Kilely as Claw. Hence my reference to Clint. He has that worn, rugged, don't mess with me characteristic in his roles. Maybe I just look at a more rugged old west character. I loved James Arness from Gunsmoke days, but he's still fairly soft by today's standards for westerns.

      Have you ever thought to resurrect the old screenplay and submit to Hollywood?

  2. Love this pair, and their stories. Great back story as well. Amazing.

    1. Actually, I grew very fond of the Duvals and their association with Claw Kiley when he was a boy and I'm considering developing a novel that would explore the Duvals' life together and Claw's background. As a writer you know when characters are coming to life for you when you're not satisfied with a brief introduction or to use them to move along the plot. I never intended to use Jack and Ada as recurring characters but they insisted, as living characters will, and now they want to tell me more of their story. So if I get the chance, I'll give them their own book as the 4th in the series.