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.

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.

Last Gas

I stopped at $25.00, though the little car could have taken a wee bit more. I was only buying gas because it would be rude to sell the vehicle near empty. For a car that uses gas, the Fiesta is a wonderful thing. Forty mpg still, even after ten years and over 173,000 miles. I was getting ready to sell her to a neighbor who will give her a makeover and enjoy the fuel economy. He assured me I’ll get to see her, showing he understood how a person can bond with a car. She’s been a loyal companion, bright blue and beautiful, and I’ll miss her.

But not gas.

As I pumped, I looked forward to going electric and never dealing with the stuff again. The stink. The spills. The general griminess of it.

A guy on a motorcycle pulled up on the other side of the pumps. There were fancy leather saddlebags on his bike. He had a thick short beard and wore a cowboy hat, leather jacket, and aviator shades. When he walked into the station, his shoes made clinking sounds like spurs. I turned to look. The noisy shoes? Cut-away cowboy boots turned into a kind of slip-on mule. How he got the sound effect, I don’t know.

Nor do I know how his cowboy hat stayed on when he rode away.

At the next set of pumps, a skinny man with the kind of long white hair that you think is blond until you realize it’s nicotine stained got out of a battered, late 50s-early-60s car-truck, in the low, wide, sharp-edged style that was trendy once upon a time. The back half was pick-up truck, the front half was car—the mullet of the automotive world. It emitted a deep rumble when it pulled away, louder than the cowboy’s motorcycle.

I won’t miss gas. But I might miss gas stations.

Image: Ghost gas station in Pecos, NM.

Works in Progress

I set myself a goal to complete five short stories and get them revised and sent out for critique by November. I’ve somewhat polished three, finished a very rough first draft of the fourth, and have the outline for the fifth.

Writing these stories is forcing me to examine emotional depths within the tight plots of short fiction. It’s my job as a fiction writer to make my characters’ lives difficult. To test them and to explore how they can come out stronger. In some ways, doing this in short works is harder than developing a character arc over the expanse of a long, complex novel. I’m enjoying the work, though. It’s been a chance to reunite with characters I haven’t seen for a while and integrate their personal journeys with those of my protagonists.

Will Baca and Letitia Westover-Brown from Ghost Sickness are featured in the first story. They’re trying to make a go of honest work and an honest relationship, but then someone sends Will a strange gift, and they need Jamie as a healer and Mae as a psychic to solve to mystery.

The next story takes place at the college fitness center where Mae works. No visits with “old” characters here. She finds herself with a new enemy, one who could undermine her future career.

The third story brings back Kyle and Vaughan from Shadow Family and Rex from Death Omen as well as Mae’s stepdaughters. I loved working on it, a project that made me rediscover pre-pandemic Truth or Consequences, as the twins attempt to plant a trivia mystery for Vaughan to solve. Another mystery emerges as a consequence, and the girls want Mae to find out the truth.

The fourth story centers around Montana Chino, a character from Ghost Sickness. She and her sisters, Melody and Misty, have planned a thirtieth birthday surprise for Mae, and then Montana, a hotel housekeeper, gets a much bigger surprise in a tip envelope at work. A tip that could change her life in more ways than one when Mae’s psychic inquiry brings up answers Montana wasn’t looking for.

I haven’t decided if the fifth story is more of romance or a mystery, as Mae and Jamie attend two weddings almost back to back, one in T or C and one in Santa Fe. (Trivia question: What happened in New Mexico in 2013 that would cause this to happen?)

Yes, it’s still 2012 and 2013 in these stories. (The Calling is set in 2009-2010.) I’m moving along. But so far, I can’t skip any part of my characters’ lives. They want me know what they’ve lived through, so I’ll understand them better for the next book.

Pilot Car

My inner voice told me to drop in on a friend who’d been sick recently. Her shop being open was a good sign, so I went in. While we were chatting at her desk near the front door, a man walked in, making a beeline across the store.

“That’s a man on a mission,” I said. “He knows what he wants.” My friend agreed. A minute or so later, he brought my nonfiction book, Small Awakenings, to the desk, and asked my friend, “Do you know when she’s bringing out the seventh book in the series?” He’d probably come in for another Mae Martin mystery and settled for essays on mindfulness instead.

I was in my running gear, including purple five-finger shoes that clashed with my red pants and my Mescalero T-shirt featuring the Ga’an dancers in bright yellow. I don’t dress to impress the lizards. I’d rather look better for a reader, but he met the real me. I explained that the first draft of book eight was written. It was supposed to be book seven, but my critique partner had so many questions about what happened in between its events and the end of Death Omen, I needed to write the story that covered everything I’d planned to skip. If you’re asking the same question he was: Sorry it took so long. Yes, it’s been a year since Death Omen came out, but that’s why the delay.

He shared his relationship with the series and the characters. Like a lot of my male readers, he’s attached to Mae and has doubts about Jamie, and hopes she may move on in a new direction. Many female readers, on the other hand, love Jamie. They like him better than Mae, in fact. He’s sincere and caring, but troubled. Kind of annoying. A mess with a good heart. The gentleman in the shop acknowledged that Jamie had made progress, but he relapses.

I told him Mae has to decide about her love life, not me. I’m working on the next-to-last chapter of book seven, and she doesn’t know her choice yet, so neither do I. Though I wrap up the mystery plot in each book, the protagonist’s personal life is an ongoing arc. The friend I based her on is a strong woman, both athletically and emotionally, and yet she makes unwise romantic decisions. It’s her blind spot, her weakness.

On my way to Elephant Butte to run in the state park, I was stopped by road work and had to wait for the pilot car. As I finally drove up the hill behind it, gazing at its sign, I sensed it was a sign. Pilot Car Follow Me.

My inner pilot car drove to the shop and put me where I’d meet the next guidance. Talking with my reader made me see how the final chapter will work out in a way that’s true to the characters and their development over time. It will flow perfectly into book eight. And it just might satisfy readers on both sides of the Jamie divide. I’m honored that they care so much about my characters.

Another Reason to Read the Classics

In my work in progress, the seventh Mae Martin mystery, Mae’s ex mother-in-law is running for office again in North Carolina. I didn’t become a campaign volunteer to do research, especially since I’m door-knocking in New Mexico, but I’ve gathered a few good stories which may have a future in this book or another. FYI: Though this post does involve a political campaign, it’s non-partisan. If you suffer from political burnout, relax. I don’t even mention names or parties.

Today’s story:

In a pleasant neighborhood of one-story stucco and adobe houses with a view of the open desert beyond, I walked up to the second-to-last house on my canvassing list. On the street where the incumbent representative in our NM house district lives, I was volunteering for the opposing candidate. I’ll call them Incumbent and Challenger. Incumbent’s neighbors tended to support her, even if they were members of my party and not hers, and even though Challenger might better represent their views. They like Incumbent. That’s local politics. In another neighborhood a few weeks earlier, I met a woman who had never heard of Challenger, but said, “Is she running against Incumbent?” I said yes. The woman replied vehemently, “Then she’s got my vote.” It was obviously personal. She added, “Am I awful?” I smiled and said we were happy to have her vote.

Back to today’s second-to-last house. I’d been through a thunderstorm earlier, was now walking in heat and sun, and was ready to wrap things up. A black pick-up truck with Harley-Davidson bumper stickers pulled into the driveway just as I approached. A man with a long shaggy white beard sat at the wheel.

“Hi,” I began my perky canvasser bit. “Are you Mr. X?”

He was. And my list of voters to contact said he was a member of my party. I went on with my introduction, telling him who I was and that I was volunteering for Challenger. I asked, as I always do, if he had heard of her. People are often unfamiliar with a new name at the bottom of the ticket.

“I don’t vote. All politicians are liars.” Still sitting in his truck with the door open, he nodded meaningfully toward Incumbent’s house. The politician her other neighbors liked so much they’d vote for her even when they generally disagreed with her party.

Not sure how to handle his blanket aversion, I offered him Challenger’s flyer. “In case you should decide to vote, you can read about what she stands for.”

He actually read it, right then and there. “Hm. Social work.” He’d noticed her career field. “I studied social work in Colorado.” He told me what jobs he’d had, working with youth and then with drug users, and then informed me that “My wife, who is not a citizen, made me vote in 2016. But that’s the only time I’ve voted in decades.”

“That’s a powerful woman, if she could get you to vote when you’re so turned off by it.”

“She is. A powerful woman.” But, he told me, he’d moved to New Mexico alone because his wife didn’t understand why he had to have his motorcycle.

His way of getting involved in the community wasn’t political, he continued, but rather volunteering at the new animal shelter. “I don’t have any animals.” With a half-smile, he inclined his head toward the pair of dogs barking behind his fence.

“We all have our ways of trying to make the world a better place. You’ll take care of the animals, and I’ll knock on doors for Challenger.”

I was about to say goodbye and wish him a good day when he got out of his truck, revealing long skinny legs in shorts and knee-high black socks. “Let me show the motorcycle. So you’ll understand.”

There was a black Harley in the driveway. Apparently this was not The Motorcycle. He opened the garage and revealed a bigger bike with ivory fenders. It looked like a vintage machine, and I sincerely admired it. He said, “That’s Rocinante,” then paused. “You know who that is?”

“Don Quixote’s horse.”

Mr. X beamed. “Not many people know that. I’m gonna vote for Challenger. She’s got good people working for her.”

I felt as if I’d just won Jeopardy as well as Incumbent’s neighbor’s vote.

Hot or Cold?

My landlady and her maintenance guy put in a long day fixing a few problems in my apartment. After all the work was done, and it was hard work which I greatly appreciated, I discovered that my new kitchen faucet knobs were reversed. The one on the left marked H produces cold water, and the one on the right marked C produces hot water. Considering the hours they had put in, I can understand how one of them made the mistake. So far, I haven’t felt the need to bother them about it. As I live with my backwards faucet knobs, they make me pay attention to a simple task, bringing mindfulness into the ordinary. They also make me think. What if we all had to stop and consider this way before speaking or acting? Hot words? Pause to check. Cold actions? Pause to check. What will happen when I turn them loose? Is that outcome what I really want?

Of course, it would take a lot of the drama—and realism—out of my fiction if my characters always took these pauses, but it would take a lot of the drama out of daily life, and off the world stage as well, if more of us did. For my own part, I’m working on it.

 

Untold Stories

Certain people print their images on my mind like photographs, unforgettable:

Three orange-robed Buddhist monks in Albuquerque painting the iron fence of their compound bright turquoise-blue. One was wearing a cowboy hat.

A green-haired teenaged girl in shredded black tights and dramatic make-up playing heavy metal electric guitar for tips outside an art gallery in Deming. Her tip jar was labeled “encouragement.”

A fiddler playing outside the movie theater in T or C as people lined up and went inside. After they vanished, he kept fiddling, practically dancing to his own music. He didn’t need encouragement.

A platinum blonde woman on the edge of the dance floor at Santa Fe Bandstand, wearing big sunglasses, tight denim capris, a white shirt, black spike heels, red lipstick and a red scarf, holding the leashes of a pair of fluffy little dogs in pink and blue harnesses. For reasons known only to her, she came to hear Native drum groups and then Levi Platero’s Hendrix-style blues in her 1950s Marilyn Monroe persona.

A white-haired, white-bearded man on a bicycle hauling a small wagon covered with orange reflective material and loaded with what appeared to be all his worldly goods, traveling slowly through Nutt, New Mexico. Nutt has a lot of wind turbines and solar panels, but a population of twelve. What was he doing there? I first saw him on the way to Deming with a friend. Hours later, on our way back to T or C, we passed him again, still in Nutt, only a tad further along. Two weeks later, we saw him yet again, this time on I-25 North about a third of the way to Albuquerque. Needless to say, we remembered him and wondered about his life.

Of all these memorable people, he’s the one I wish I’d stopped to talk with. The one whose story is the biggest mystery. I can guess that “Marilyn” had fun dressing up in her retro style. It’s not unusual at Bandstand for half the audience to be so colorful they’re as much a part of the show as the musicians. The monks, the heavy metal girl, and the fiddler also seemed happy, doing things that were meaningful to them. There’s a story behind each of them and how they chose to be where they were, but they didn’t raise as many questions in my mind as the bicyclist did. Is he mentally healthy or unwell? How far does he travel in a day? Where does he sleep? How does he get food? It’s possible he’s engaged by choice in an eccentric yet purposeful life, but more likely he’s pushing his way through, doing the best he can after a series of set-backs or a disaster.

Whether he’s on a spiritual journey, a lost, homeless trek, or another kind of trip I can’t even guess at, I hope he travels safely. Perhaps I’ll see him again and pull off to learn his story.

Conscious Listening

Sound can be noise, it can be distraction, it can be enjoyable, beautiful or soothing, and it can also be a direct route to clearing the mind. Sound reaches the brain faster than thoughts, faster than images or sensation. So, if you listen mindfully, you can silence the inner chatter and be. I recently attended a concert of healing music, a sound bath, in a St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Truth or Consequences. It wasn’t religious music, but it was sacred. I started out with thoughts of writing, of possible scenes and settings, since one of my ongoing characters is a musician who composes healing music. He would have loved the event (writers think this way about their characters), but I forgot about him during the performance. The beauty of the experience was getting past verbal thought altogether and into pure sound—bells, electronic tones, rain sticks, non-melodic music created to promote a meditative state or an inner journey. The composer/performer encouraged the small audience to close their eyes and go inward, and I did. The music came through eight speakers in patterns that gave it a spatial structure and a quality of movement that triggered flowing abstract color visions in my mind, and yet I was always grounded and present in my body, aware of my own energy. The next morning I still had a lingering sense of deep clarity, as if I had been meditating. And that is not the way I normally feel before coffee!

Recommended listening: Tom Montagliano

If you have a chance to hear his music in person, don’t miss it.

Meet Mae Martin — a southerner who loves silliness, hates bullying, and has a very unusual talent for solving mysteries

Fellow paranormal mystery author Terri Herman-Ponce did an interview with my protagonist on her web site. I love this idea–interviewing the character rather than the author. Get to know Mae better, in her own words.

Terri Herman-Ponce

We’re on a character interview roll!

Over the weekend, I chatted with Mae Martin. She’s a southerner who loves silliness, hates bullying, and has a very unusual talent for solving mysteries. She’s also the product of Amber Foxx’s imagination, author of The Mae Martin Mysteries.

Mae is an extraordinary character with a very extraordinary way of seeing the world — one that’s very different from us.

Intrigued? Read on for more about Mae Martin and some fascinating mystery reading!


The first Mae Martin psychic mystery

Obeying her mother’s warning, Mae Martin-Ridley has spent years hiding her gift of “the sight.” When concern for a missing hunter compels her to use it again, her peaceful life in a small Southern town begins to fall apart. New friends push her to explore her unusual talents, but as she does, she discovers the shadow side of her visions– access to secrets…

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