Monsoon Season

The gray on the horizon isn’t wildfire smoke anymore. It’s rain. Heavy, thick clouds bearing blessings. Everything is new. Everything has changed. Turtleback Mountain wore a double rainbow this week instead of a brown haze, and every wrinkle in its rocky skin was visible when sunset sliced through the clouds, painting the mountain gold.
The sand in the desert is damp, dotted with the footprints of raindrops, marked with flowing rivulets and the slender tracks of snakes. A humble puddle is a miracle. A wet lizard clings to a rock, trying to get warm. I feel a bit sorry for him. He looks grumpy. But I’m joyful. Monsoon season. It’s always a cause for gratitude and awe, and this year even more than ever.

A Poem for the Burning Times

As many of you may know, New Mexico is enduring two enormous wildfires. One of them, the Black Fire in the Gila National Forest, started on May 13, 2022 and has consumed 296, 895 acres so far.  The first rain in many months fell today in brief scattered storms, giving us hope for an early monsoon season. As the storm found me at the tail end of my run, I was overjoyed to be pelted with huge drops and to see the horizon blurred by clouds of moisture instead of clouds of smoke. It was nowhere near enough, but it was a start.

The title of the poem below comes from a phrase in the Forest Service updates on the fire.

 Human Caused, Under Investigation

 In the first days after the start of the fire,

Two friends and I found ghost leaves.

One leaf each.

Perfect, charred-black, carried on the wind to land

In their hands

or at my feet

and then crumble.

The last words of dying trees.

 

Memorial Day weekend, 2022, Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico.

Smoke rolls along the northwest horizon.

A truck rolls down the road at the top of the hill, two giant American flags flapping.

The flags at the park hang at half staff

For the victims of more mass shootings.

Buffalo. Uvalde.

A bend in the trail leads toward blue sky.

Then it curves back toward the haze.

 

A smoke-red sun glows sick and strange

between the branches of an old desert juniper.

A cloud of tiny wings,

A crowd of western pygmy blues,

the world’s smallest butterfly,

flutters in the arms of the tree

Rising

Like the souls of dead children.

 

 

New Release: Chloride Canyon, Mae Martin Book Eight

Chloride Canyon

 The eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Could a faked haunting in a ghost town stir up a real one?

Mae Martin’s college summer session is off to a rough start. A classmate is out to make her life miserable. Her English professor is avoiding her. And the Paranormal Activities Club plans to investigate her psychic abilities. Her boyfriend, Jamie, is on a song-writing retreat in the ghost town of Chloride, New Mexico, population fourteen humans, twenty-three cats, and—supposedly—zero ghosts. He’s working with a famous friend who doesn’t want Mae, or anyone, to visit. But then Jamie’s neighbor claims her house is haunted, and Mae has to learn who’s behind the frightening events—the living, or the dead.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

Buy

Reading a Series: In Order or All Over the Place?

Usually, I read series in order. I want to get to know the characters the way the author developed them. It’s like growing close to friends over many years of shared experiences. Starting late in the series doesn’t let me build the same relationships. Once in a while, I’ve borrowed an audiobook from the library that was far along in a series I’d not yet read, and while I enjoyed the books, I often didn’t go back to the beginnings. Some authors write their series so there are virtually no spoilers if you discover the books out of sequence. A few others provide what I feel is such an excess of backstory that I turn off that audiobook and lose interest in how the series began.

Needless to say, this makes me cautious with backstory, trying to give as little as possible. With each new book, I find a new beta reader to join the team, one who hasn’t yet read my other books. That person’s fresh perspective helps me present the small doses of necessary backstory at the moment they’re needed—for new readers, for readers who’ve forgotten elements of earlier books, and for those who are zigzagging around in the series.

I’ve heard from people who started my series somewhere after book one, The Calling. One wanted to start with Shaman’s Blues, because it’s the book in which Mae Martin moves to New Mexico. Another started with Ghost Sickness because of the setting on the Mescalero Apache reservation. Others started with book six, Death Omen, because of its theme—fraud and exploitation in spiritual healing. And they liked the books out of order. I never asked if they went back to book one, though.

I wrote the suite of six short mysteries, Gifts and Thefts, to bridge the year and a half between the end of Shadow Family and the beginning of Chloride Canyon. Because it’s numbered book 7.5, Amazon doesn’t list this book on my series page. They have Gifts and Thefts off by itself as it were a stand-alone book. The other major online bookstores, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and Apple, are more flexible about numbering and include book 7.5 on the series page. So, if you are a read-it-in-order person and buy from Amazon, heads up. There’s a book between seven and eight. It’s short, and you can finish it before book eight, Chloride Canyon, comes out at the end of the month.

Do you only read series in order? If you start with a later book, do you go back to the beginning? I’m curious how others relate to series.

 

Coming Soon: Chloride Canyon, the eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Chloride Canyon

The eighth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Could a faked haunting in a ghost town stir up a real one?

Mae Martin’s college summer session is off to a rough start. A classmate is out to make her life miserable. Her English professor is avoiding her. And the Paranormal Activities Club plans to investigate her psychic abilities. Her boyfriend, Jamie, is on a song-writing retreat in the ghost town of Chloride, New Mexico, population fourteen humans, twenty-three cats, and—supposedly—zero ghosts. He’s working with a famous friend who doesn’t want Mae, or anyone, to visit. But then Jamie’s neighbor claims her house is haunted, and Mae has to learn who’s behind the frightening events—the living, or the dead.

The Mae Martin Series

No murder, just mystery. Every life hides a secret, and love is the deepest mystery of all.

 

 

Eccentricity as Art

I finally met the man who rides an adult tricycle in colorful suits. The day I met him in Ingo’s Art Café, his suit was daffodil yellow. I said I’d admired his many bright outfits over the years and asked what inspired him to dress that way. He said he had a background in broadcasting—mostly radio. He was a performer by nature. One of the things I love about Truth or Consequences is how clothes can be self-expression to any degree you please, without concern for fashion or conformity.

The same is true of homes. Then someone built a bland, multi-story house that looks like it escaped from an East Coast suburban subdivision and landed on the corner of Clancy and Wyona. I try to like it, but I can’t. Next door to it is a tiny bright purple-and-green place. Across the street from it is a small blue-and-white house with an array of yard art made from blue glass bottles.

T or C yard art is usually made from recycled objects, curated for color, materials and theme. Some people like windmill effects and rusty metal, others prefer glass, machinery, hats, vinyl records, broken guitars, old trophies, or even fuses. And then, there’s the tree with flexible coil ducting and a metal horse head. My picture didn’t capture the extensive ducting wrapped around the rest of the tree on the other side of the fence. I like this much better than the bland new house. I will try to think of the new house as nonconformist in its own way—refusing to be the least bit eccentric. But I hope the people who move into it will gradually get the urge to decorate.

The Spiral

Someone rearranged the collapsed mini-Stonehenge at Elephant Butte Lake into a spiral. Each rock seemed mindfully chosen for its shape, its size, and its colors in relation to the other rocks. At the end of the spiral was a kind of temple, an arch of precisely balanced stones, and then a little offering of green juniper, old wood, and pebbles that reminded me of the flower arrangement at a tea ceremony. Simple, natural, inviting of contemplation.
When I walk the spiral, I am aware of other footprints, someone else’s slow, reverent steps arriving, stopping, and returning outward. I see the bubbles and tubes of the lava rocks, hear my steps on the sand. And nothing else. I arrive at the center and arrive at silence. I return outward, past the smaller and smaller stones tapering out into open space.

The arch fell. The offering blew away. I arranged the remains in a stable position. And walked the spiral again.

Spontaneous Serenity

When I finished a long run at Caballo Lake State Park, I was so reluctant to leave the bliss state of immersion in nature, I did my yoga practice on the small brick patio behind the visitor’s center. Its adobe-brown stucco walls and an L-shaped stone bench were my props. Balancing poses in the wind became open-skill activities, challenging and unpredictable. The views of the mountains and a cute little cactus with bright yellow thorns provided a change from the familiar views of my apartment and my outdoor teaching space, making my inner space feel different as well. Savasana on a hard stone bench, listening to the wind, was deep peace.

Then I took pictures. While I may never be much of an artist as photographer, the effort makes me appreciate even more the work of those who are, and helps me reconnect with the extraordinary serenity of that moment.

 

Hit Send! And then …

I was determined to finish the eighth Mae Martin book last night, winding up the final read-through for minor repairs. I sent it to my editor with a feeling of satisfaction and completeness. Now I miss the setting, the events, and the characters. I spent more time with them than with anyone else over the past two years. To some extent, a fiction writer’s life is always like that. During the pandemic, it was even more so. As social and cultural activities resume and expand, I’m more than happy to take part. The human web of connection is good for my soul and also good for my writing. But I still miss that book. At least writing a series means I don’t have to say goodbye to everyone in it.

I dreamed a new character a few nights ago and am not sure what to do with her. I don’t think I like her. I’ve started the next Mae Martin book already, working on it while my beta readers and critique partners read Chloride Canyon. So far, book nine is a messy, fragmented first few chapters of a first draft. The final product may bear only a weak resemblance to it. Perhaps this new character I dreamed should replace the antagonist in this first draft, since I dislike her. Or perhaps, as with some people I became good friends with over time, the initial dislike will give way to appreciation. But I’m intrigued by the possibility of making her the “bad guy.” I’ll see what my explorations reveal.

Spring Winds

Literally, the dust has settled. On my white tile floors. On my windowsills. For three days, I’ve been sweeping enough to be able to tolerate the floor, but there was no keeping up with the way the desert was leaking in. By day three of the wind event, the sky was looking a bit brown. This is spring in New Mexico. I think positive thoughts about wind energy so the constant whooshing won’t drive me crazy.

Then—it stops. The stillness is special. Soothing. I can clean, and the results will last a few days until the next big blow. Cycles. Order, disorder, storms, peace. A neighbor who loves the wind says it’s the breath of the Creator. When the tree branches are tossing and dirt is flying, she sees the sacred breathing of life. I feel I may have said this before. Perhaps I have. If so, it’s a lesson I need to repeat.

Image: A desert juniper pollinating in the wind.