A New Mexico Mystery Review: Spider Woman’s Daughter

While continuing the characters and settings from Tony Hillerman’s books, Anne Hillerman has her own style and voice as a writer. I didn’t feel as if I was reading one of her father’s books, but I felt fully at home with her mastery of the series. She has the understanding of Navajo culture that’s central to the stories, and she knows the characters well. Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn and Bernie Manuelito are familiar and fully developed, with touches ranging from Chee’s off-beat humor to Joe Leaphorn’s meticulously detailed little notebook to Chee and Bernie’s deep spirituality. Even the secondary characters like Captain Largo are immediately recognizable as the same people from the earlier part of the series.

The setting is portrayed vividly— the land, the cities, the small towns, and the people. Accurate details and human touches make the places come alive. The bone-jarring washboard roads going to Chaco Canyon have livestock wandering them. A local can’t give directions for driving in downtown Santa Fe. The groundskeeper Mark Yazzie, a minor character, stood out as delightfully real and original. The tenacious and amusingly ferocious Gloria Benally is another unforgettable supporting character. Even if I weren’t a New Mexican, I think Hillerman’s writing would make me hear the voices, feel the air, and see and smell the place, from the plants in Santa Fe gardens to the hot wind in June before the rains come.

This book kept me awake at night reading it, and I found myself thinking about it between times, wondering what would happen next. The suspense is effectively structured, but it’s depth of the relationships that make the story powerful.  Bernie’s dedication isn’t just to her job, but to people, and that dedication drives the story.

It was intriguing to see characters from Tony Hillerman’s A Thief of Time come back. I hadn’t read it for a long time, and think it would have been fun to re-read it before entering this story. I’m going to rediscover it after instead.


If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I follow a review with an author interview. My interview with Anne Hillerman will come later, paired with a review of her next book, Rock with Wings.

Healing Hands

uttabodhi mudrakalaswari mudramatangi mudraapana mudra

Energy healing or healing through touch is practiced in many forms and many cultures. Some people seem to have a natural gift for hands-on healing, with no special training. Reverend Rosalyn Bruyere had the ability first and then studied how to enhance it. She has been studied extensively, too, as she collaborates with scientists in research on healing. Dr. Barbara Brennan started out in atmospheric physics but she found she had a gift for hands-on healing. Both have now created modern systems for training healers. I say modern, but both use the chakra system from Ayurveda and yoga.

Traditional medicine in India, China and Japan includes a sort of energy anatomy and concepts of prana, chi, or ki (all meaning life force or energy) as part of the health of the mind-body complex.  The Chinese qi gong (or chi kung) and the Japanese Reiki are probably the best known traditional energy healing methods.

It may be surprising to think of yoga as a form of energy healing, but it is, and it even has healing hands. I use Uttabodhi Mudra as my image when I comment on other WordPress blogs, and someone may have seen it and wondered about it. What you’re seeing is my hands doing yoga. In addition to being a writer and professor, I’m a yoga teacher. All yoga poses not only move prana through channels in the mind-body complex called nadis, and they also work like antennae to draw prana in. Mudras work the same way. They can be integrated into asanas (poses), practiced in a series for a particular effect, or held during meditation.

I first realized mudras were powerful medicine in my yoga therapy training. We had an early morning class in mudra practice, and I had not had coffee. Sleep clung to me like cobwebs. Then we did Vajrapradama Mudra. (Spread the hands and fingers, like a “jazz hand” and interlace the fingers right over left, palms facing but not touching the heart.) Suddenly, I was awake. This mudra was like espresso.

Uttabodhi Mudra (1) balances and energizes the whole body and all of the chakras.

Kaleswara Mudra (2) is a strong self-healing mudra, affecting the first, third and fourth chakras, with an emphasis on the fourth—the heart. Its shape looks heart-like.

Matangi Mudra (3) revitalizes strength and energy at the third chakra. It can be used to enhance creativity and shake off lethargy.

Apana Mudra (4) is grounding— good for letting go and for balancing energy at the root chakra.

Sometimes in a class where everyone is in a mudra, I see all the hands with my eyes closed. I’m not sure what that means, but it feels blissful.

Translations of the Sanskrit: Vajrapradama, unshakeable confidence; Uttabodhi, highest wisdom; Kaleswara, Goddess of time. Matangi , Goddess of inner power. Apana, the downward current.

A great resource for this practice is the book Mudras for Healing and Transformation, by Joseph and Lillian LePage. (These are the only two editions I could find.) I studied with the authors and they are wonderful teachers.



Research on energy healing can be found under the research projects links on


and on


There are also numerous scholarly articles published in




Other links: Barbara Brennan School




I have a friend whose favorite saying is “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.” He’s a wonderfully eccentric and open man, the one who walked into the Little Sprout in his bathrobe on his way to water aerobics and struck up a conversation with me. (See post on Talking to Strangers, link below.) Some people have the gift of fearlessly being their true selves in public without any worry about what others will think.

I love it when people don’t try to be cool. Enthusiasm, eccentricity and honesty are all so much more appealing. I was walking with another professor today, about to cross a street through the middle of the campus, when I saw a student who’d been in my freshman seminar last semester running toward me from a block away with open arms and a glowing smile. Of course, I stopped. He hugged me and said he missed me. Wow. You don’t get that often when you teach a required first-year course. Faculty members don’t get a lot of hugs for teaching, period. It made my day. We talked about what he’s currently studying, hugged again, and I caught up with my colleague, who had been dealing with a disgruntled student who’s fighting a failing grade. We often hear more from the dissatisfied few than from the happy ones, so my day was set alight by this happily “uncool” young man. Now I feel like going around showing other people how much I appreciate them.

Anyone who takes the time to read anything I write—books, reviews, blog posts—thanks. Fellow bloggers that I follow—thanks. I appreciate you. Everyone who surprised someone with a hug today—thanks. Keep on hugging, reading and writing.


Reading over a Character’s Shoulder

Readers who picked up Snake Face when it came out in November may have had time to finish it by now. I thought it would be interesting to share this while the book is fresh in those readers’ minds.  In the scene where Joe Wayne Brazos is reading Yeats, the poem he’s reflecting on is The Mask, a dialog between a man and a woman.

Put off that mask of burning gold

            With emerald eyes.”

            “O no my dear, you make so bold

            To find if hearts be wild and wise

            And yet not cold.”


            “I would but find what’s there to find,

            Love or deceit.”

            “It was the mask engaged you mind

            And after set your heart to beat,

            Not what’s behind.”


            “But lest you are my enemy,

            I must inquire.”

            “O no my dear, let all that be;

            What matter so is there is but fire

            In you, in me?”

It would break up the scene to have him say what he read, and I don’t use his point of view. If you’ve read the book I think you’ll understand how the poem fits. And if you haven’t, I’m sure you’ll enjoy this lesser-known Yeats work on its own.

A New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Rebecca Grace


BeckyMartinez-1DeadMansRules-4Last week I reviewed Rebecca Grace’s Dead Man’s Rules. This week I’m happy to have her for an interview about the book and her writing life.

Rebecca Grace is the pseudonym of Becky Martinez, a former broadcast journalist who has worked in TV newsrooms from San Diego to Seattle and from Denver to Los Angeles with a stop in Las Vegas for good measure. After 30 years she left the newsroom for five years in public relations before turning to the world of fiction writing full time. She also teaches writing classes online and has presented workshops at a number of writing conferences.  Her short story, “Trouble in the Rockies” was part of an anthology, The Trouble with Romance, that was a 2006 New Mexico Book Award finalist. Her latest book, is Dead Man’s Rules, was published by The Wild Rose Press. It is the first of a three book series. Her next book will be a humorous cozy mystery, Blues at 11, coming in January 2015 from The Wild Rose Press.

AF: How has your background in journalism has influenced you as a fiction writer? I’m curious about the thinking processes, the writing skills, and the research skills, as well as the authenticity it brings to Cere’s character.

RG: When I first started writing stories at the age of 12, I knew I would always want to write in some form. That turned me to majoring in journalism in college where I worked for the school newspaper, the CSU Collegian, and I never looked back. A lucky break got me into television where I had the opportunity to work with some great news people who helped me with my writing.  Several skills I learned as a journalist have carried over into my fiction writing. One was making certain that each sentence made sense and being willing to edit whatever was written. That made it easier for me when it came time to work with an editor. I always knew things could be written differently and I was willing to improve. Another thing I learned was to re-read my work out loud. It might make people around me crazy to hear me reading my work as I write, but in a TV newsroom lots of us did it so we knew how it would sound on the air. It also helps to pick out awkward phrasing, and it’s great for dialogue.  Being a journalist also made me a slave to deadlines. You couldn’t just say you didn’t feel like writing and you might do it later. You didn’t have the luxury of waiting. You had to write no matter what every single day. And I pretty much do that. If I’m not writing every day, I miss it. When I’m not writing, I’m researching. As a journalist I’m very aware of my surroundings and the people around me and always looking for a story (or book) in almost any situation. That partly influenced my view of Cere. I can see her looking for a story, even in an old newspaper story. But not just any story—a story that helps her career.

AF: How much of you shows up in Cere?

RG: I think a part of me shows up in most of my characters, or perhaps my characters have qualities that I wish I had.  The part of Cere that is like me is that person who is determined to find out the truth and get to the bottom of things. I think, though, that I probably wouldn’t carry things as far as she does—that may be the part I wish I was.

AF: What made you choose the northern New Mexico setting?

I grew up in southern Colorado but three of my grandparents were born in New Mexico and we visited there often. Our family vacations were usually spent in the mountains and towns of northern New Mexico. My uncle worked as a cowboy on the Vermijo Park Ranch for years and we would drive over to see him every summer and sometimes camp outside the cabin where he was working. He’d take my dad and brother fishing while my mom and sister and I went hiking in the hills. It was so beautiful and untouched. The fishing was great and sometimes we’d wake up in the morning and there would be deer right outside. I loved that part of the country. Then we would come down into Cimarron or Raton or drive over to Questa, Eagles Nest or Taos. Later my parents retired in Trinidad, Colorado, which is only ten miles from the state border so their favorite places to drive were northern New Mexico. They’d think nothing of going down to Springer or Maxwell for lunch or over to Folsom, or Capulin.

I still have ties to New Mexico because my older brother retired in Santa Fe several years ago. Just like me he loves the region and the special nature of the people who live there. He spends a lot of time exploring and whenever I visit we always hit the road and just see where we end up. When I was there in November we ended up in Abiquiu because he had never been there and he had been reading about Georgia O’Keefe. But we don’t just do the tourist haunts. We like to get on the back roads and just drive.

AF: Is Marco Gonzales based on any historical figure? If not, what inspired you to create this character? He’s dead throughout the whole book and yet he really came to life.

RG: Marco was one of those characters who just seemed to keep growing in my mind for years. He is totally fictional, but the first time I wrote the story it was partly in his viewpoint. He is a tragic figure who kept speaking to me, sort of like that ghost figure that spoke to Cere.

AF: I loved the ghost tour of the old dance hall. I’d have gone on it for sure, if I’d been a kid in Rio Rojo. Have you ever seen a ghost? What do you believe about them?

RG: I’ve never seen a ghost, though I like to believe that some people see them and they might be out there in the form of a spiritual connection.  My description of the ghost tour of the old dance hall was one of those things that was a real life incident—just not the ghost part. There is an old mining company store right outside one of the Vermijo Park gates that you can’t get to anymore where there is an old handprint on the wall. The story was that the handprint was made by a bloody hand, though I don’t know if the person died. My college friends and I sneaked in one late afternoon to see it, and I think I sort of glorified my memory of that afternoon as I described the building. We did see the handprint, though, and it did give us all a spooky sensation.

AF: Freeda lived on a commune for a while as a child. (I notice her name is spelled Freeda, not the normal Frieda. Nice hippie touch.) What made you decide to include this connection to the Taos area hippie communes?

RG: Back in the late 60s and early 70s, my uncle complained about the hippies who would try to settle at Vermijo and he would have to run them off the privately owned ranch, so I was very aware of the hippies in the area. I also spent my early college years at Trinidad State Junior College and we would go over to the Taos area. We also had several communes that sprang up right outside of Trinidad. A few of my buddies were always threatening to drop out and go live off the land until we went over to visit and they saw the primitive living conditions and how hard people were working to survive.

AF: There’s a fair amount of cooking in Dead Man’s Rules. Two of the important secondary characters are restaurateurs, and their establishments come to life on the page.  Are you a good cook? Are these familiar recipes or did you have to research the food?

RG: Okay, I have to admit that I am not much of a cook, but the one thing I can do is make a mean pot of red chile (I actually won a cook-off once) while my younger brother is great with green. My older brother spends much of his time going from place to place in Santa Fe and sampling both!

As for the restaurants, they are a combination of so many places I have visited. As I mentioned, my mom and dad were always going to different small cafés in the small towns in northern New Mexico and I always loved going with them. The food is always tasty and there is plenty of it. My family still loves to visit those small restaurants and cafés when we are down that way.

AF: Red or green?

RG: How about Christmas?  Or for those unfamiliar with that saying, I like both red and green.  It actually depends on my mood at the time.

AF: Tell me about your writing classes. What do you like best about teaching?

I teach classes on a variety of topics. In the past I have taught regularly for Savvy Authors. This month (January) I am teaching a villain class for Colorado Romance Writers.  Next month I will be teaching a class on writing short stories for Maryland Romance Writers.

For me the best part of teaching is watching my students develop. I enjoy their enthusiasm and get a special feeling of accomplishment when one of them says they made a breakthrough in their writing as a result of my teaching.

At the same time, I enjoy learning from my students. There are times I find myself noticing problems in their work and then I realize I am doing the same sort of thing. Helping others also helps me improve my own writing.

AF: I hope to see a lot of Freeda in the next book. Will I? When does it come out?

RG: You’ve hit the nail right on the head. When I first put Freeda into the book I found that I had fallen in love with her as a character. She was everything I would have liked to be if I didn’t have to worry about anything or had someone around like Cere to take care of me. She was such a joy to write that I found she was taking over the story. The only way to calm her down was to give her a book of her own. And that is the second part of my series, Dead Man’s Treasure, as she continues to look for her Dad and get caught up in a mystery of her own. I am putting the finishing touches on it right now and hopefully it will be available within the year.

AF: I’m looking forward to it. Thanks so much for being my guest.


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