“Are You Psychic?”

(This is revised and recycled from a previous post on my Facebook author page, for those who don’t read me on Facebook.)

Am I psychic? Yes, but I can’t do what Mae can do. I have history of precognitive dreams, some that predicted major events such a relative’s death or illness, or a major change in my workplace, and others that foresaw peculiar and unlikely but utterly trivial events. I have no idea why this happens, but it’s happened forty or fifty times. I stopped counting. I’ve only been able to harness this ability intentionally, to see something for a friend, once, and the dream took months to come true. I would not make a good psychic in a novel. I plan to have a character with a more focused and useful version of this talent in a later book. Ezra Yahnaki, the thirteen year old grandson of Mescalero Apache medicine woman Bessie Yahnaki, will be introduced in book five of the series.

The idea for Mae’s gift was planted a number of years ago when a neighbor invited me for dinner. She had a friend visiting from out of town. This visitor could hold something you owned, and pick information about you and your life. I didn’t know what to expect, but I asked her to find out what I most needed to know. She turned away from the dinner table, holding my eyeglasses, and was quiet for about five minutes. When she faced me again, she said she’d seen an elderly woman in a bed, and sensed that this woman was very sad. My mother was in a nursing home suffering from multi-infarct dementia. In this condition a person remembers the past well, and the personality is intact, but the events since the series of mini-strokes are lost. She had no short-term memory. It was distressing for her to be lost in the present and yet be intellectually sharp and know who she was in the past. My mother died shortly after this. I based Mae’s gift on this woman’s ability to see the present at a distance through touch, and added the ability to see the past.

Tribute to James D. Doss

My favorite author, James D. Doss, died last year. He influenced me as writer of what I call mystical mysteries, where the ordinary and the spiritual meet, though I don’t attempt to write like Doss. No one else could.

I’m about to read his final book, Old Gray Wolf. In the second-to-last one, Charlie was thinking—and not thinking—about marrying Patsy. Sarah was hoping he wouldn’t. Officer Alicia Martin was taking an interested look at Scott Parris, who didn’t seem to notice. With Daisy being the oldest living member of the Southern Ute tribe, will Sarah inherit the pitukupf and all the spirits in the canyon?  I’m curious how much of this Doss resolved in this last book. I wonder if there were more books in his mind when he left this world.

What I love about Doss’s books:

  1. Characters. Complex and eccentric, they surprise the reader. I love the ongoing characters and the unique, colorful people introduced in each of the seventeen books. My favorite one-book character is six-year-old Butter Flye in The Night Visitor. Doss wrote child characters with unsentimental realism and humor. Butter is tough and strange and yet likeable, and I have never laughed louder or longer reading any book, let alone a mystery, than I did when I read the encounter between Daisy and Butter in the back seat of a truck. Sarah as a child was mystical and serious, but just as real.
  2. Spirituality. The visionary experiences that Daisy and Sarah have are beautifully written. I feel as if I’ve taken the shaman’s journey with them. This spirit world is integrated seamlessly with an earthy reality and humor that says Doss understood this aspect of Indian culture. The sacred and the funny are not opposite or incompatible. He mixed Catholic mysticism into the books as well, with beauty and sensitivity, another Southwestern truth. Many people adhere to both Native religions and Catholicism at the same time. My favorite character for expressing that is Nahum Yacitii, the old shepherd who apparently ascended to heaven in a windstorm.
  3. Beautiful language. I read a Doss book and I am in the place. When he takes us for walk in the canyon with Daisy, I hear every step, smell the place, and feel the air. Even the description of the nervous, jerky second hand of a ticking clock could be marvel of observation. (I leave you to find this treasure, also in The Night Visitor.)
  4. Mastery of the Omniscient Narrator. Most writers can’t pull this off, but Doss could show us the thoughts of every character in a scene without causing the slightest confusion or disorientation in the reader, often to humorous effect. He could even use the point of view of an animal as the only witness to an event and make it work.
  5. The masculine company. Charlie often fails to understand the women around him, but he does it so sincerely I like him for it. The friendship and repartee between Charlie and Scott give me a sense of hanging out with the guys in a way a woman doesn’t often get a chance to in real life.
  6. The cowboy tall-tale quality of certain scenes, and the tall tales Charlie tells just for the fun of it.

A blessed journey to you, James D. Doss. The West is little less wild without you. I’m putting off opening that final book, knowing it’s the last, and yet I can’t wait. If your spirit is inclined to drop by and inspire a fellow New Mexican whose books also cross between the worlds, I would be honored, and no doubt highly entertained.

How I Write

I used to be an actor, dancer and choreographer, and loved improvisation. Writing is getting into character in all the roles and doing “improv”. I start with characters, and create situations that will challenge them. I’m what writers call a “pantser”, meaning I plot by the seat of my pants for the first draft. My favorite part of writing is the arrival of a new character. They seem to show up and reveal themselves in ways I don’t plan or expect, and this brings new complexity to the lives of my ongoing characters. I like mining my ongoing characters’ past lives, too.

I have critique partners who read my works in progress. There’s nothing like another writer’s input to make for better writing. Revising can take longer than creating. I rewrite a book at least five times, sometimes more.  The series may seem to come out fast as it gets published, but each book has actually been in progress for years. I have a stash of scenes and ideas extracted from books I didn’t use them in, and probably always will. I review my writing recycling bin periodically and clean it out. I find occasional gems as well as scenes that I need to reinstate that I thought I should cut—and a lot that makes me glad I cut and revise so much.

Settings in My Books



Although Mae doesn’t love Northeastern North Carolina, I do. I love the flat swampy land, the little towns, the farm fields, the colorful and caring people I met when I lived there. It was interesting to write about it from the point of view of someone who struggles with the place. Cauwetska and Tylerton are fictitious towns, but the landscape is real. It was a pleasure to revisit its sights and sounds as I wrote. The Ghent section of Norfolk, VA is another favorite place that gets to play a role in the first book.

The love of my life is the state of New Mexico. In the Calling, New Mexico hovers in the distance—Bernadette’s home state. It will get a starring role later.


New Mexico

As the T-shirt by Dukatt in T or C says, “Not Really New, Not Really Mexico.” For friends and readers who have never been there, here’s link to a video that will take you on a trip to the Land of Enchantment. Longest URL I’ve ever seen. Great song and video. This band (two young guys from ABQ) won a contest to promote the state.