Freud or Fiction?

Cowboys, Crime Novels and the CIA

Jackson Larson
Santa Fe Reporter
May 9, 2012

Michael McGarrity is a former deputy sheriff for Santa Fe County. For the release of his 13th novel, titled Hard Country: A Novel of the Old West, he asked Valerie Plame Wilson, a former CIA Operations Officer and author of Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House to interview him at Collected Works Bookstore.

In a telephone interview, McGarrity denies that any experiences he might share with Wilson will play into the exchange; nor will their seemingly similar approaches to law and justice. The truth is less exciting: Wilson is a longtime friend and fan, he says, and her credentials serve to verify his own.
“After all,” McGarrity tells me, “how many people are willing to risk having a trained CIA operative interrogate you in public?”
Hard Country is a well-researched portrait of New Mexico’s history from 1875 to the end of World War I, told through four generations of the Kerney family. Icons like Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid make appearances through casual dialogue and melodramatic scenes that create a visceral atmosphere of the untamed west, one of the points on which McGarrity rests his pride of authenticity.

The interrogation with Wilson “will give people a chance to find out what it takes to write a western novel without clichés,” McGarrity says.
No small task. My idea of the Old West resembles some Andy Warhol litho, in which the image deteriorates through abstraction and glamorization until it loses connection to the subject. It’s easy to dismiss the real history under the Hollywood façade.
One Old West cliché McGarrity identifies is the hot-tempered rebel-without-a-cause, whom he actually finds “comical.” His response is Kevin Kerney, whose cool, calm and calculated attitude resembles McGarrity’s over the phone.
A prequel to a 12-book crime fiction series, Hard Country explores Kerney’s roots, merging the roles of cop and rancher into a single iconic figure. I don’t find it a stretch, then, to assume that McGarrity’s background in law enforcement not only inspired him to write crime fiction in the first place, but also prompted him to draw attention to actual historical events, such as the unsolved mystery of Albert Jennings Fountain.

Nonetheless, McGarrity detained my Freudian inquisition into the motives of his book right away, claiming the idea that every writer opens up his psyche to the reader is “absolute ridiculousness.”

“I’m a very private person, and that goes nowhere,” he says.
Still, I have a hard time believing that a book containing a character whose life parallels McGarrity’s in law enforcement is in no way autobiographical. If not told from his experience, then his life at least informs his writing at the very outset—he does write crime fiction. To this point, McGarrity admits that every book is a “hodgepodge” of personal morals and perspectives, but he is a firm believer in the necessity of stepping away from oneself in order to write good novels.
So his books may not be a gateway to his psyche, but his experiences have spawned a deep interest in crime drama, experiences occult enough to require the attention of an exposed CIA officer.

Hard Country: Author Michael McGarrity with Valerie Plame Wilson, 6 pm Friday, May 11. Collected Works Bookstore, 202 Galisteo St., 988-4226