From an interview in the Jackson Hole News/Guide—
Jon R. Horton, who also writes under the pen name J. Royal Horton, is a native of the Rocky Mountains whose pioneer family came west in the 1840s. His Mormon polygamist Great-great-grandfather moved to Star Valley, Wyoming in the 1880s and there raised the last two of eleven families.
Jon was born in Star Valley then moved to Kemmerer, Wyoming with his parents, his twin brother Jac, and two sisters. He graduated from high school there, attended the University of Wyoming then joined the military where he was a Russian linguist. After his discharge he completed his BA degree in California, majoring in Russian Language and Literature with a minor in English.
After several years, he returned to the Mountain West and Pocatello, Idaho, where he attended graduate school at Idaho State University, majoring in English. At that time the academic world was going through a lot of turmoil and positions were suddenly extremely limited for people like himself, white working class men with degrees from Land Grant universities. But, coincidentally, that was also the time of the Overthrust oil boom, where opportunities were virtually unlimited.
So he began a career in the oil exploration business, inspired by the fact that in his first year in the "oil patch" he made twice as much money as the chairman of the English Department at the university. For several years, Jon specialized in explosives and difficult terrain work in support of helicopter operations in the Rocky Mountains and Alaska. Then the work eventually took him to some very exotic places, including Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Egypt, South Africa and Yemen. He has also lived and worked in Europe and East Africa.
These experiences have proven to be wonderful grist for his writing. For instance, one of his books Murder in Mixteca is set in the southern Mexico Sierra Madre Mountains where he worked for over a year
"I love the adventure that goes with the exploration business," he says. But, he says, if he never leaves the United States again he can still bring back memories of some very exciting times. "We had a payroll robbery in Mexico and we chased the bandits down with our helicopters before the police shot them, and I gave them what medical attention I could before two of them died. Yemen was a shooting gallery, with all the locals carrying AK-47s; we averaged a shooting every 20-some days. Africa was very interesting, too. Between Africa and Amazonia, I have enough snake stories to keep you awake for a week."
When the oil boom busted in the early 80s, Jon spent a hiatus from the oil patch, working four years for the Park County Sheriff's office in Cody, Wyoming. While working there, he volunteered for the midnight shift at the jail so he could have time to write his first book, the Western titled Gib: A Contemporary Western.
"I fought drunks, mopped up vomit, babysat suicidal people, and wrote," he says. "After the book was written it went around New York for three years, got a lot of good reviews by editors at most of the big houses, but they weren't interested in authenticity. They were looking for more Louie Lamour. My books take a little more effort to read than pulp fiction does.
"So I sat down to re-think things. I knew that the market with the largest potential was the one for mystery/thrillers. I also knew that each year 3 1/2 million people came through Jackson Hole, where I live, and that was a ready-made market for a book with a local setting. I also remembered an unsolved murder that happened in Cody, in the early 60s.
"I had walked into the squad room one night and a sergeant on the Cody Police Department was looking at a file. On the top was a gruesome picture of a young girl whose throat had been slashed. He explained that this girl had been murdered when he was a teenager and it had traumatized the town's younger people. He said, ‘One of the reasons I became a cop was that I hoped that I might be the one who solved the murder, who caught the guy who did this.'
I thought, That would make an interesting story—a cop who is looking for a local who murdered a high school friend. A cop who is biding his time but keeping an eye out for a suspect as he goes on about his life, but never forgetting the murder of the friend .
"Well, that was the jumping-off place for the plot of my first novel, Murder in Jackson Hole , which I wrote while living in man camps in Latin America and the Middle East. Now I had a plot, a marketing plan, all I needed was a good cover and publisher. I found the perfect artist for the cover through friends who own a fine art gallery in Jackson. They recommended me to Malcolm Furlow, who is a very popular artist with a national reputation. He let me have one of his paintings for the first cover, and has since given me the rights to use four more for the series I call The Jackson Hole Mysteries .
"After a brief flirtation with a very politically correct editor at Dell Bantam I was looking for a smaller house where I would have some say about my writing. The publisher turned out to be right there in Jackson, someone who had never published fiction before but was looking for the right project. He published Murder in Jackson Hole and it was a reasonable success, selling almost 5,000 copies the first year. But one of the truisms of the business is that the best interests of the writer are best served only when they coincide exactly with the best interests of the publisher—and if you are the writer that isn't anywhere often enough.
"I ended the relationship, this time knowing what I really needed in a publisher. It had to be a small, honest house run by someone with a strong design background. And someone who understood the need for aggressive marketing and publicity. This had to be part of the business plan if we were going to be able to compete in one of the toughest markets in all of publishing, the mystery/thriller genre.
"In the meantime I wrote the second in the series, Murder in Mixteca. It is the sequel to Murder in Jackson Hole and deals with artifact smuggling, hallucinogenic drug trafficking, shamanism, ritual murder—the whole nine yards. It starts off with a ritual murder in the Alta/Driggs area and the investigation leads the hero, Detective Tommy Thompson of the Teton County Wyoming Sheriff's office, down to Mexico. It's a real good story with lots of exotic stuff. But when I took the rights to my books back I was dead in the water.
"Things were very discouraging until my sister Stormy, a graphics designer, phoned to say, ‘I didn't see anything your publisher did that we can't do. Let's start our own publishing company. What with all the powerful computers and terrific design software we can turn out very high quality books, equivalent to the ones by the big houses.' And so we did, until tragedy struck and she was in a serious car wreck that almost cost her a foot. Then, a year later, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a result the company was on hold for a little over three years and, finally, Stormy decided that she didn't need the stress of keeping the company going. While waiting for things to get going again I had written two more books, the third in the Jackson Hole Mysteries titled Murder in Moab , and a Christmas book, as well as re-writing a romance novel written by my Grandmother. What now?
A little over a year ago I decided to take it all on. I would publish the books I wrote and forego the leisurely pursuit of writing when my muse inspired me. The fact is that because I have moved my books so far along, the big houses refuse to even consider taking the titles over. They want everything to conform to their strict publishing and marketing plans and my efforts had muddied the waters too much. Luckily, a quantum leap in self-publishing blossomed at this point.
Print-on-Demand technology makes it possible for small publishers to free themselves from the onerous parts of storage, fulfillment, accounts receivable and much of the other business dealings that take up so much time and energy. If you read the press release on this web site you will get an excellent understanding of how this revolution makes things so much easier. It was this new paradigm that convinced me I could do it all myself.
The whole business is run through this web site and we are doing well. What with inexpensive web marketing via affinity sites and mass email, I get a hundred times the bang for my buck. It has been a real grind to put it all together but, finally, my fate is in my own hands. And that is a relief after all the mishaps, betrayals of trust, and the anguished waiting for someone else to validate what one knows to be true — that a writer is born to write.