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.

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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, and Mae, on a visit to North Carolina, is going to end up knocking on doors for her as part of trying to solve the mystery. 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 just may have a future in the book. 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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Inner Beauty

I’m a people-watcher. My fellow humans are endlessly fascinating and the fragments of their lives that I observe have the seeds of stories in them, maybe even new characters. They also give me an opportunity to practice what Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield describes in his book The Wise Heart as seeing the inner nobility in in others.

On a recent run in a park, I noticed a romantic young couple setting up a hammock, and they asked a man who was walking his dog to take their picture in front of it. The man had a pair of hot pink headphones parked on his neck. He was around six foot three, wearing a baggy old T-shirt over a broad chest and prominent belly and khaki shorts that revealed thick, powerful calf muscles. They thanked him and he walked on with his stubby-legged little white mutt, a comical creature that looked all the smaller and stubbier for being his dog. As I finished one lap, I encountered the dog sitting patiently while the man fiddled with his MP3 player, pink headphones now attached to his head. On my next lap, he and his dog were in the middle of the green space, and he faced away from the couple in the hammock, who had vanished deep into its blue embrace. The man was singing. I realized the headphones were providing him with his accompaniment, and he was … rehearsing? Creating? He had a huge soaring tenor voice, classically trained, sweet yet strong and passionate, filling the air with a song about lost love.

You never know what’s inside another person. The pink headphones were a hint that music mattered to him, but the sound of his voice, the feeling and beauty with which he sang, expressed far more than anything on the outside. The inner depth, the inner nobility.