Uncaged: You are releasing the 2nd book in the Emmett Hardy Mystery series, called Butcherville. Can you tell readers more about this series? How many books are you planning for the series?
The Hardy series is set primarily in the fictional small rural town of Burr, Oklahoma, located in the also fictional Tilghman County in the western part of the state. The first book in the series, Where the Hurt Is, is placed in 1965. The events in the second book occur about a year-and-a-half later; the action moves a couple of miles north to an even smaller town, Butcherville, which is the title of the book.
Emmett Hardy is Burr’s chief of police. He’s Oklahoman to the core, a Burr native who feels a strong attachment to his hometown, but is also a bit of a misfit. His mother, an accomplished pianist, passed down to him her love of jazz and literature, which—in a place where football and country & western are kings—make Emmett a kind of an oddball. One thing he does have in common with the local male population is his fondness for strong drink, which becomes an issue over time.
The ‘60s were a time of cultural and political transition everywhere in the U.S., and the kinds of crimes Emmett confronts reflect those changes.
I’ve planned the first three books as a kind of narrative arc lasting from 1965 through 1967, but I intend to take Emmett at least into the ‘70s and beyond.
Uncaged: You are also a professional musician along with being an author. How do the two professions help/hinder each other?
The only hindrance is that when I’m doing one, I can’t do the other. I also teach music. It’s very structured; there are specific hours every day when that’s what I do. The rest of my time (outside of spending time with my family, which is my number one priority), I split between writing and making music. Maybe if I only did one or the other, I’d write more books or make more records. On the other hand, doing both is a great hedge against burn-out. If I get tired of doing one, I do the other. It’s a net positive, overall. The varied experiences feed my creativity.
Uncaged: What are you working on next that you can tell us about?
I’m about fifty pages into the third book in the series. The working title is A Very Bad Thing, but I expect that to change. It picks up where Butcherville leaves off by resolving—or maybe I should say addressing—an issue that’s left hanging at the end of that book. I can’t tell you what that is, but you’ll know after you read Butcherville.
The third book features many of the same characters from the first two, although some of their circumstances have changed, not least Emmett’s. It deals with a cold case—a very cold case—and how its effects are felt many years later. Hardy family secrets play a significant role. I don’t see it as an ending, but it will tie up some things, and hopefully provide insight on what made Emmett into the kind of man he is.
Read the rest of the interview in the issue below
Chris Kelsey was born in Maine and raised in Oklahoma, the son of a jazz saxophonist and school librarian. He was educated in public schools, received his Bachelor Degree in Music Education from the University of Central Oklahoma and his Masters in Music from the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He moved to New York City in his mid 20s and embarked on a career in jazz. He’s played in many of the city’s top jazz venues and performed at major jazz festivals. He’s recorded approximately 20 albums as a leader, including 2013’s Chris Kelsey and What I Say: The Electric Miles Project, which won an Independent Music Award for Best Tribute Album.
Kelsey began his writing career as a music critic, working for most of the major jazz publications in the US, including Jazz Times, Jazziz, Cadence, The All Music Guide, and many other magazines and Web sites. His first novel, Where the Hurt Is, was published in 2018 by Black Rose Writing and won that year’s Pencraft Award for Best Fiction Book. His second novel, Butcherville, was published in January, 2020 by Black Rose Writing.
Kelsey currently lives in Dutchess County, NY, with his wife Lisa. In addition to writing and playing music, he’s Director of Instrumental Music at the Trinity-Pawling School.
The residents of tiny Butcherville, Oklahoma love their God-given freedoms so much, they refuse to hire their own police force. When they need a cop, they just call Emmett Hardy, police chief of Burr, the closest neighboring town.
Whether it’s to break up a fight, dissuade an angry good ol’ boy from hunting rabbits with an M-16, or eject an unruly patron from Butcherville’s combination strip joint/bookstore, Emmett’s always glad to oblige … that is, until a local business owner’s lust for money and power results in a deadly shootout and multiple kidnappings. Suddenly, Emmett’s good intentions are fraught with dangerous consequences. Besieged by friend and foe alike, and sabotaged by a fondness for drink that’s starting to affect his work, Emmett is the last man standing between a community of honest people trying to do their best with what little they have, and an evil that threatens not only their jobs and homes, but their very lives.
If I had to cite one quality that defines where I live (that would be Burr, Oklahoma, population 1,276—down from 1,280 after we sent two father & son pairs of miscreants to the state penitentiary in McAlester last year), it would be the natural inclination of my fellow citizens to do the direct opposite of anything a person in authority says, regardless of whether or not it’s in their best interests. President Lyndon Baines Johnson himself could drop a hint to one of our farmers that it would be a good idea to water his crops. More likely than not, the farmer’d flip LBJ the bird and piss all over his own soybeans or sorghum or whatever it is he grows just to be contrary. He might even invite over the neighbors and let them join in.
Anyone who pretends to understand anything about us Oklahomans knows we can be mulish and self-reliant, sometimes ridiculously so. Nobody—and I mean nobody—tells an Okie what to do.
I reckon to an outsider, our nature might seem a little hypocritical, since, after all, if our ancestors hadn’t been willing to accept a government handout (or two or three), the state we know as Oklahoma might instead be called Sequoyah, and a majority of its citizens would comprise descendants of men named Geronimo and Standing Bear and Black Kettle.
That wouldn’t do at all.
Nah, this wonderful land of black gold and waving wheat and championship football teams was gifted to us on the cheap by the boys in Washington D.C. on behalf of the much-tread-upon and lied-to American Indian, and it cannot be convincingly argued otherwise.
Indeed, our representatives’ generosity didn’t end with the gift of pilfered real estate.
Back in the Dirty ‘30s, a good number of farmers swallowed their pride and accepted a share of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal money, or what was left of it after the sitting governor got his cut. I don’t mean to suggest they weren’t right to take the cash. It hardly rained a drop for almost a decade and the wind didn’t stop blowing just because the ground was parched and turned to dust. Most of what few crops managed to poke through got eaten by grasshoppers and jackrabbits. Nah, those fellas accepted help because they had no choice. They had mouths to feed.
Read the rest of the excerpt in the issue below