Phyllis Morreale-de la Garza was born and raised in northern Illinois, but her heart has always been in the West.
Her father was a livestock buyer, and the family lived in Harvard, Illinois. Horses were a way of life, and books about horses were as good as it got. While still in her 20s, she headed West and never looked back.
TW: For you, the West also included Mexico, right?
PG: Yes, I married a retired Mexican cavalry officer and former member of the Mexican Equestrian Team. Together, we operated a civilian riding school in San Miguel de Allende for nearly 10 years.
TW: What drew you back to Arizona?
PG: By 1980, I had learned a little Spanish and a lot about Mexico, but I missed Country music, the Fourth of July and Dr. Pepper. One day, I was sweeping the floor and Gene Autry came on the Voice of America radio station, singing “Back in the Saddle Again.” I started to cry. It was time to go home.
After closing the riding school, Phyllis and her husband moved to Willcox, Arizona, the hometown of movie cowboy Rex Allen, where Phyllis began writing full time.
TW: Why Willcox?
PG: Willcox is cowboy country, and Cochise County has a wealth of Old West history. I wrote more than 100 articles for Western magazines. In 1990, my first novel, Chacho, an adventure story about a Mexican teenager and his horse, was published. I forged ahead with The Story of Dos Cabezas and The Apache Kid. Both books found homes with Westernlore Press in Tucson. My magazine article about the Apache Kid, published in True West magazine, became a nonfiction Spur finalist with Western Writers of America
In Willcox, Phyllis joined the Sulphur Springs Historical Society and was one of the founders of the group, Parade of Willcox Characters. In time, more than 30 Willcox residents joined in portraying early settlers from the region. Besides amassing an impressive collection of period clothing, the group helped keep Phyllis in the right frame of mind when writing.
TW: Is writing the West still very important to you?
PG: Absolutely. Royal Fireworks Press published my Charissa of the Overland and Camels West in 1995. Then Five Star published my Bounty Hunter’s Daughter. My short story “The Widow’s Stallion” was included in Five Star’s anthology, No Place for a Lady. This was followed by The Iron Horse, a horse story about a crippled young man and his sister who save their horse herd from a band of outlaws in Arizona.
TW: You have also appeared in a cameo role in a Western, haven’t you?
PG: I appeared in the Arizona ghost town video Ruby to Paradise, which won a WWA Spur award in 1995.
Phyllis finds Willcox to be a great place to write. She lives on a 40-acre place just outside the burg and is surrounded by distant mountains, including the Dos Cabezas Range, Chiricahuas, Cochise Stronghold, Winchesters and the Grahams.
TW: Why do you enjoy living in the West?
PG: At night, the coyotes howl right outside my window. The distant valley was once the ancestral homeland of the Chiricahua Apaches as well as the stomping ground of some of the wildest outlaws and biggest cattle outfits in the Southwest. When I walk around my place, I often stop to look at the barbed wire fence and to kick around a spot where an old line shack once stood.
Although Phyllis’ place is dreamy, we’re not sure about ever accepting a dinner invitation from her. When sharing her recent works, which include Silk and Sagebrush, an anthology about pioneer women, Phyllis had this to say about her nonfiction release.
TW: Tell us about Death for Dinner?
PG: Death for Dinner was released in July 2004 by Talei Publishers. I tell people that this true story of the infamous Bender clan of murderers who terrorized eastern Kansas in the 1870s is my cookbook.
It looks like she’s set mass murderers aside for the near future though as her next works sound more lighthearted—probably perfect for train travel.
TW: What are your writing plans?
PG: I have three contemporary Western mystery books completed. The investigator is a cowboy who lives in Willcox and has an Apache friend. They solve mysteries and have a lot of fun along the way.