Happy Coincidences

Dear Susan,

First, happy birthday. I’m honored that you wanted to treat yourself to my books to celebrate. Second. I want to thank you for telling me why. You said reading The Calling had a positive impact on your life. Writing it had a positive impact on my life, too, as I explored healing and loss, friendship and enmity, and the lessons learned from all of them. When you said the book had an effect as you were making changes in your place, working with its energy, I understood. I’m part-way through book seven in the series, which introduces a character who is a house healer, so this was an intriguing coincidence.

Your call to Black Cat Books to order the rest of the series was another synchronicity. My neighbor and I had gone there for tea and book shopping before the store takes its summer vacation. (The off-season in T or C starts after Memorial Day. It’s already in the upper nineties.) Your birthday happens to fall right before the store closes up for three months. I was just about to head out the door when I heard Rhonda, the store owner, mention my name. So I stayed and had the opportunity to talk with you and then signed the books dedicated to you.

Authors don’t often get to talk with readers. I hugely appreciate those who review or get in touch, but I don’t expect it of the majority. All I want is for them to read, enjoy, and repeat. Hearing how you connected with The Calling at a psychological and spiritual/energetic level meant a lot to me. Your input reminds to keep taking my protagonist on her healing journey, through mysteries that challenge her emotionally and ethically and require her to learn (often the hard way).

Thank you for supporting a small, independent bookstore and for making an author’s day—not only by buying my books, but re-grounding me in the reasons why I write them. Next time you visit T or C, perhaps the book with the house healer will be in Black Cat for you.

Amber

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Flawed

At first, she didn’t show them to anyone. But she admitted to fellow artists and creative people who would understand, “I’ve been making devils.” An art therapist, she trusted her muse and followed it. The devils finally came out on gallery walls months later, small blue or red ceramic masks with a wild variety of expressions. I especially like a red one with curved horns and a crooked grin full of sharp teeth that remind me of red chiles. It’s so gleefully wicked. The little devils sell, and I can see why. We all have our shadow side, our mischievous side, our tired-of-being-perfect side. Even the weather gets devilish. I’m not talking about the New Mexico’s summer heat and monsoons—we love the storms. I’m talking about the wind. It’s already started, a couple of weeks too early, and it’s going to be blowing for months. To live with it, you learn to wear goggle-type sunglasses, even on a cloudy day, to keep the grit out of your eyes, and the constant blowing sound either gets as normal as an air conditioner in the summer—or drives you crazy. E. Christina Herr, a gifted New Mexico songwriter, sums it up in her song “Devil Wind.”  If you love New Mexico, though, you take it as it is, wind and all. It’s not perfect. Tourist images of our state don’t show visitors chasing their fly-away hats or sneezing with a face full of dust and juniper pollen, but the cowboy’s bandana was, among many other things, a dust mask. Imperfection has its charms.

In my work in progress, I’m developing an antagonist character who’s obsessed with being smarter and more capable than anyone else, which of course, makes her anything but perfect; and the antagonist character in Shaman’s Blues likes to give bizarre advice, with the assurance, “ I’m always right.” My favorite fortune cookie message: The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.”

I’ve been pleasantly surprised how many readers love Jamie Ellerbee, the flawed and troubled character I first introduced in Shaman’s Blues four years ago. When I wrote the book, I was experimenting with turning as many conventions of romance around as I could, while still writing about love. He’s a mess, though he struggles not to be. Not exactly a conventional romantic lead. The book’s original title as a work on progress was Samskaras, the Sanskrit word for the residue of our actions and emotions that creates new cycles of karma. One of my spiritual teachers said a good English translation for it was “Some scars.” Jamie has a lot, and he’s not skilled at hiding them. But then, hiding doesn’t bring people closer to each other. Kindness does.

Happy Valentine’s day.

*****

 

Shaman’s Blues is on sale for 99 cents .

Behind the Scenes: Writing Death Omen, the Sixth Mae Martin Mystery

Now that the book has been out a little over a month, and readers have had a chance to get into it, I thought it would be interesting  to share some of the background for the story and the setting.

The idea for the plot first came to me when I was reading a book I reviewed in depth almost two years ago, The Healing Path by Marc Ian Barasch. In it, the author chronicles his search for healing, and the choices he made when he was seriously ill. He also interviews people who took a variety of alternative, conventional or combined paths. Some were healed in body and spirit; some were healed only in spirit. He visited one healer who was so tactless and blaming, her words stunned me. My antagonist character was born, blended with aspects of a director I worked with in my theater days, a gifted young woman with control issues who could be domineering and aggressive in her methods of getting actors to find their feelings.

When I read a book review describing some unusual ideas about reincarnation, it added other ingredients into my mental stew, along with several articles on Tibetan traditional medicine in a medical journal on alternative therapies. It was the healer who made me angry that got the ball rolling, though. I live in a place where alternative healing is popular, and I would hate to see sincere seekers misdirected.

Another component of the story was the stress of being a medical mystery. No one wants to be one, and yet all illnesses and treatments have an element of the unknown. When symptoms show up, some people put off getting the mystery solved. They’re like the people who would call in to Car Talk and say their car was doing something terrifying but they managed to drive it home. Click and Clack always marveled at these callers. “If it could kill you, why do you feel like you have to drive it home?” We can be that way with our bodies, too. There’s such fear of what the symptom means, it’s an incentive to avoid the diagnosis. We go into denial. Or we don’t trust our doctors and go to alternative practitioners—some good and helpful, some not.

Midway through writing the book, I had an injury that an orthopedic doctor assumed was a labral tear in my hip joint—something that would require major surgery and time in a wheelchair for recovery. It was scary, wondering what was coming. However, suspecting he hadn’t listened to me very well, if at all, I postponed the MRI for a suspenseful month, observed my symptoms, then wrote him a letter thoroughly covering all the facts. He gave me a referral for physical therapy, and I’m well now, no surgery. Not all medical mysteries turn out this well, but the experience helped me understand some of my characters who are dealing with frightening prognoses.

Earlier in the writing process, I resided in one of the suites at the Pelican Spa. It was the summer of 2016, my last summer as a part-year resident of T or C before moving here. I got the idea to have the antagonist characters offer their healing retreat at the Pelican, and asked the manager if it would be okay to write a book in which some wacky people from Santa Fe rent the Red Pelican portion of the spa for a weekend program. She said, “That’s really happened.” The staff was incredibly generous, giving me tours of the Red Pelican rooms that summer and again this year, when I wanted to get the finishing touches right. The setting with an Asian flair turned out to be perfect, since a Tibetan traditional doctor plays a role in this mystery. The Pelican Apartment Motel, the section of the spa where I spent that summer, is where Jamie stays during the retreat, and I lived in the in the green-walled room he is given.

The bright laundry line visible from Jamie’s room is one of the features of the setting I couldn’t resist using. The laundry shot was taken by Donna Catterick, who took the picture for the cover, and was originally posted on her blog. I also like this picture of the Red Pelican’s courtyard rock and Buddha that Donna took. My characters often gather on the benches around that rock.

I didn’t tell my cover designer anything about the Pelican. I considered asking her to incorporate something of its color schemes and then decided to trust her judgment. She considered many options but found she kept coming back to the pink lettering. If you look at the cover next to this picture that a friend took of me doing ustrasana, camel pose, for a yoga  studio web site (I teach at a studio attached to the Pelican), you’ll see that the colors match remarkably. The archway where I’m posing is at the back entrance to the Red Pelican Courtyard that my characters often use.

A second real location in Truth or Consequences that I used is The Charles, another classic hot springs spa. When I arrived in T or C in June this year, I asked the owner if she would be willing to fictionally employ Mae Martin as an energy healer at the Charles. This was a healing modality they hadn’t offered in the past, though they’d had massage and reflexology there for years. She told me they’d recently added an energy healing room, and urged me to talk with her manager. I did, and he not only gave me permission to use the space in my book, but encouraged me to take pictures and make sure I got it just right. When I saw the room painted as a healing cave with blue sky in the ceiling, and crystals on the shelves, even lamps made from crystals, I knew Mae was meant to work there. Sometimes reality and fiction line up perfectly.

A New Mexico Mystery Review: Zia Summer by Rudolfo Anaya

A mystery with many layers, the first of Anaya’s Sonny Baca novels is crime fiction and also literary fiction with mythical depths. At one level, it’s the story of a young private detective’s search for his cousin’s killer; at the other level, it’s the story of his spiritual development and reconnection with his traditional culture and his ancestors. The story also reflects on the ecological and ethical challenges facing New Mexico as some seek to develop it and others to preserve and protect it. The sacredness of earth, sun and water, and their spiritual place in human hearts, is as important as the question of who committed the crime, and even inseparable from it.

Sonny Baca, great grandson of the famous Elefgo Baca, is—like his bisabuelo—a flawed hero. Sonny is still maturing as a man and in his profession, learning from his mistakes, but at the same time he’s smart, perceptive, and courageous, and he thinks a lot about both the world around him and the struggles within him. For a reader used to the pace of most crime fiction, this occasional descent into deep wells of thought may feel digressive, but Sonny’s insights are part of the story. Most of the time, the pace is intense and the story flies along.

One way Anaya sustains the flow is that he never translates or explains the Spanish words and phrases his characters sprinkle throughout their conversation. This not only kept the pace and the authenticity, but taught me. I began to understand them as I read. (If you’re not a Spanish speaker, notice how you figured out bisabuelo already.)

Though they have full personalities, there’s an archetypal quality to the characters. Sonny’s neighbor don Eliseo is the Wise Old Man, human and believable, not idealized. His spirituality is both transcendent and earth-bound. Rita, Sonny’s girlfriend, comes close to seeming too perfect, a strong, loving, nurturing goddess, but she’s written as seen by a man in love with her. The villains of the story are the inversions of these benevolent archetypes, making them some of the most disturbing criminals I’ve come across in a mystery.

The writing is engaging, as one would expect from a literary master like Anaya. The first chapter, however, is the weakest, heavy with backstory. Don’t let the slow start deter you. After that, the story comes alive. While the crime is horrific, the fullness of Sonny’s life and circle of friends balance this element with humor, love, and mystical wisdom.

*****

New Mexico Magazine recently profiled Anaya in a wonderful and thorough article, linked here.

 

New Release: Death Omen

Death Omen

The sixth Mae Martin Psychic Mystery

Trouble at a psychic healing seminar proves knowing real from fraud can mean the difference between life and death.

At an energy healing workshop in Santa Fe, Mae Martin encounters Sierra, a woman who claims she can see past lives—and warns Mae’s boyfriend he could die if he doesn’t face his karma and join her self-healing circle. Concerned for the man she loves, Mae digs into the mystery behind Sierra’s strange beliefs. Will she uncover proof of a miracle worker, or of a trickster who destroys her followers’ lives?

The Mae Martin Series

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

*****

To welcome new readers to the Mae Martin series, the first book, The Calling, is free through the end of November, and so is the series prequel, The Outlaw Women.  My horror short story Bearing, based on Apache myths,  is also free this month.

 

Disappearing Words

When I was a teenager, I read a newspaper column about a myth related to the autumn equinox. After all these years, I can still see the kitchen table where I was sitting, and see which side of which page the column was on. I remember that it was about a Germanic pagan goddess of second chances who opened a path that was only visible on the night of the autumn equinox, a path seekers could take to redo a mistake or regret in their pasts. I made an effort remember her name and wrote it down, although I was confused as to whether it was Llobrodga or Llobrogda. Having had a short story published in a teen magazine, I already thought of myself as a writer, and I knew I would have to create a story about this myth someday. An image of the goddess’s twilight path of golden leaves stayed with me. When I finally wrote the story decades later, she didn’t exist. I looked up everything I could think of about goddesses of second chances and pagan mythology and the autumn equinox and found nothing. I can’t explain this. But I hope you enjoyed A Night in Betsy Gap.

The title came about a few years ago during a training session for professors who were teaching a first-year seminar class. One of the presenters was named Betsy, and she didn’t use all her allotted time, so someone referred to the open space in our schedule as the Betsy Gap. I said it sounded like some place out near Naked Creek (a real town in that part of Virginia) and we all started joking about the way things are done in Betsy Gap. The name stuck with me as perfect for an obscure place where a traveler could get stuck. Then I saw a prompt for a short fiction contest in which the theme was crossing a line, and it had to include the word six-pack and another which I’ve forgotten. The idea for a short story about Edie had been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, since she’ll never be onstage in the Mae Martin series. Her only role is in Hubert’s past. I was surprised when Will Baca showed up in the story, but this other-world experience prepares him for the big changes he goes through about ten months later in Ghost Sickness. (Not that he remembers.)

If you read the short story before it disappeared,  you know something Mae and Hubert don’t know, since Edie cut off contact with everyone she knew in Cauwetska, intentionally making herself hard to find. Her fate won’t show up in the series for a while. But in the September before the events in Ghost Sickness, she spent a night in Betsy Gap.

*****

A Night in Betsy Gap will return eventually, either in a short story collection or here next fall, after dark on the equinox.

“Book Prison”

Greetings from my cell. No worries, I like it here, and I do get out for exercise, social contact, and to teach yoga. The view of Turtleback Mountain from my back window is beautiful, and the cell is quiet. It’s my apartment. “Book prison” is a phrase I’ve heard other authors use, but I’ve never experienced it this way before. I have to get final revisions done before the next Mae Martin mystery goes to my editor in mid-September, and I keep finding more things I want to fix. Though I’ve done all the major revisions based on my critique partners’ input, I’m discovering things they missed, especially those pesky over-used words. I’m also making a few cuts and obsessing on getting the chapter-ending and chapter-opening lines just right. After that, I’ll need to read the whole thing again to make sure I didn’t change anything that affects the clarity and continuity of the plot. I have sketches of many unfinished blog posts in my “yet-to-post” file, but no time to polish them until I let myself out. Au revoir. My inner warden is telling me to get back to work.