When I found pictures of the stairway descending from the mesa at Acoma, I recognized an image I used in Ghost Sickness, the fifth Mae Martin mystery, and looked for the scene that featured it. In my search for the word “stair,” I assumed I would find the gallery scene with the paintings of the stairway.
I found it, but first, I discovered a connection I hadn’t consciously created. A major character in the book, Acoma Pueblo artist Florencia Mirabal, left her family—one of the last families to live on the high mesa—and eventually settled in Truth or Consequences. For Florencia’s house in T or C, I selected the one that is, like Acoma Pueblo, perched up high, with an extraordinary view … and a stairway. Writing the book, I was unaware of the parallels.
Mae pulled the truck into the weedy patch of dirt that qualified as a side yard, drawing near to the porch’s side steps. The front steps led to a long, winding set of stone stairs set into a steep cliff, giving the little house the feeling of a castle. On their way in, she and Niall paused on the porch, looking down at Main Street and the view of the Rio Grande and Turtleback Mountain beyond the town.
Mae said, “This is such a perfect place for an artist to live. It must have been hard for her to leave.”
Then, I found the scenes featuring Florencia’s stairway paintings.
- Several small canvases with what appeared to be drafts of the work she had in mind stood around her, images of a narrow rocky staircase like a crevasse in a mesa.
- Clemens circled the room again and paused in front of a pair of paintings. Both showed the exact same scene, a stone stairway winding between steep rock walls. The perspective was slightly distorted, suggesting multiple parts of the twisting path seen from different angles. A shadow of someone’s legs and a foot lifted to take a step fell on the stairs, but no human figure was shown. One version of the painting was in shades of yellow, brown, and gold, the other in shades of blue.
Much of the mystery centers around Florencia’s art and her separation from her family. I knew I was writing that part. But I didn’t realize how her choice of a home reflected the one she left but never let go of in her paintings. And since I didn’t realize it, I think it was her choice, not mine.
The view from the stairway