There are two writers I look forward to reading every year: Stephen King and Dietrich Kalteis.
Like King, Dietrich is a writer readers can count on to produce compelling stories on a regular basis. His intense latest thriller, like many of his prior novels, takes us back to an era when life wasn’t as peachy. In “Under an Outlaw Moon” readers are introduced to Bennie and Stella, a couple of lovebirds from the 1930s, who are destined to go down in history. Not as lovebirds, however, but as outlaws.
Outlaw Moon is based on real life couple Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson, semi-famous bank robbers of the Depression-era, and their ill-conceived quest for a better life, one that pits them against the relentless J. Edgar Hoover and the F.B.I.
I got a chance to talk with Dietrich about the book. Read the interview below!
WHITEHURST: First off, congratulations on “Under an Outlaw Moon.” Is this project how you spent the pandemic? And what else kept you busy during that time?
KALTEIS: Thank you, Patrick.
I came upon the story of Bennie and Stella Dickson while doing research for Call Down the Thunder. That was two years before the pandemic, but by the time I finished that novel and the one after it, Cradle of the Deep, we were already in lockdown as I started the first draft.
I’ve kept busy writing. When I’m not doing that, I’m going for long walks, cooking, reading a lot, watching films, and when I get in the mood, I paint or play guitar.
WHITEHURST: Your novel is based on real life criminals Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson, bank robbers from the Depression-era. What led you to these two?
KALTEIS: What struck me about their story, Stella had just turned sixteen when they got married and robbed two banks. The scores weren’t huge, and they pulled them off without anyone getting hurt, yet they quickly found themselves at the top of the FBI’s most-wanted list, becoming the focus of a nationwide manhunt — newlyweds wanted dead or alive. Their story fascinated me.
WHITEHURST: Bennie and Stella Mae meet for the first time in a roller rink, and this is where we meet them in the opening pages of Outlaw Moon. What instinct told you to begin the book here?
KALTEIS: I wanted the reader to get to know them as they meet and fall for each other. I think Bennie and Stella become likable in this scene, and I hope the reader will be drawn in as the sparks fly between them.
WHITEHURST: A lot of readers, and writers, like to know how an idea begins. What burst of inspiration led to Under an Outlaw Moon?
KALTEIS: When I read a 1938 newspaper article that introduced me to them, I saw a story of the underdog, and as I dug some more, I saw them as misunderstood and treated unjustly.
WHITEHURST: You once told me you listen to music to block out the white noise while you write. Was there a soundtrack for this book?
KALTEIS: There’s always music, and its whatever works with the rhythm of the story I’m writing on any particular day. There’s no set playlist, I just put on whatever feels right in the moment.
WHITEHURST: When you talk about Outlaw Moon, how do you describe it conversationally?
KALTEIS: Side note: Some years back I was asked by another writer what my first novel was about, and I found myself tongue-tied and stammering, like a deer in headlights, stumbling as I tried to explain what the story was about. Since then, I’ve always had a pitch ready.
For this one it’s: Under an Outlaw Moon follows the true story of Bennie and Stella Mae Dickson. He’s reckless and she’s an outsider longing to fit in. When they pull off a bank robbery to celebrate her sixteenth birthday, their lives take a turn that they never could have imagined.
WHITEHURST: Where can readers get their hands on the book? And is there an audiobook?
KALTEIS: Readers can find the book in print or digital formats at the ECW Press website here, through Amazon, or at a favorite bookstore. And yes, there’s an audiobook version coming soon via ECW Audiobooks here.
WHITEHURST: With many restrictions being lifted across the globe, will there be any signings or in-person events in your future?
KALTEIS: For now, certain restrictions remain in place here, so all events will be online. As soon as they lift, I’ll be looking forward to signings and live events. Events and updates will be posted on my website here.
WHITEHURST: Are you working on anything new?
KALTEIS: I finished final edits for Nobody from Somewhere, a crime novel set to be released by ECW Press next June.
Here’s the pitch: When long retired cop, Fitch Henry Haut, sees two men forcing a runaway girl into their vehicle, he steps in and gets the upper hand. He and the girl escape in his broken-down Winnebago, and as Fitch listens to her story, he realizes the men will come after them. A bond forms as he and the girl struggle to escape out of town. Anyone interested can find out more on ECW’s website here.
Visit Dietrich’s website here.
Order Under an Outlaw Moon here.