Un-poisoned

At the time of my writing this, my Bad Neighbor, the smoker, squatter, and apparent drug dealer (based on traffic in and out of the apartment he’s occupying) hasn’t left yet, despite the two eviction notices. It’s going take a court case. And since he won’t move out, I have—temporarily. There’s no safe level of second-hand smoke, and ventilation isn’t enough to get rid of it. The physical impact of the toxicity—headaches, sinus pain and congestion, light-headedness, and difficulty concentrating—was obvious. I didn’t fully realize the mental effect until I escaped. When your body is being poisoned, it’s hard to clear your head.

My landlord found me a place to stay until the problem is resolved. I am so grateful for this escape, and am amazed at how different I feel. I’m in, of all places, The Red Pelican. If you read Death Omen, I expect you remember it well—it’s so eccentrically beautiful. I’m in the room I gave to Kate and Bernadette in that book, and I don’t think I described it quite right, though I got the general ambience of Red Pelican rooms with their Asian art and bright colors.  Some of them have purple walls and red trim, but my room has red floors and white walls and a wonderful collection of Japanese prints. Three festive porcelain Buddhas fling their arms up in delight on the shelf of the transom over the bedroom door. A huge sequined dragon festoons the bedroom wall.

And then there’s the courtyard, with the enormous rock framed by four benches and sheltered by a three-tiered pagoda roof, with gaps open to the sky between each tier. On the rock is perched a Buddha, a radiantly wise, alive-in-the-moment being, a happy traveler with a small sack slung over one shoulder and a fan resting against his round belly. Though I always felt drawn to him, I never knew what his props meant, so I looked them up. The fan is a wish-giving fan, while the sack is said to contain various things, depending on the legend. Treasure. Candy for children. The troubles of the world. The Hotei—or Laughing Buddha—with the fan and the sack is a wandering monk who takes away unhappiness.

On my first night free of being poisoned, a magnificent, long-overdue downpour arrived and stayed for hours. When it lightened to drizzle late at night, I went out into the courtyard, my steps on the gravel the only sound in the world. I visited all the deities and Fu dogs around the perimeter, circled my favorite Hotei on his rock, and then gazed up at him and at the moon through the shredded remains of the storm.

Cleansing. Wholeness. Fresh air. Stillness. Safety. We have no idea how toxic our world, our lives, our minds, our interactions—anything—has become, until we step away from it and breathe.

*****

Thanks again to Donna Catterick for the picture of the traveling Buddha in the Red Pelican courtyard.

Ghosts, Mediums, and Scientists: A Review of Spook by Mary Roach

Reading Spook was one of the most enjoyable pieces of research I’ve done. My fiction often involves ghosts and other forms of contact with the dead, as well as psychic phenomena. I’ve found numerous studies of mind-to-mind communication, remote viewing, precognition, etc., but this is the first time I’ve read about scientific attempts to study the afterlife. I read a couple of books on ghost-hunting and paranormal investigation; however, the author of those books is more a professional skeptic than a solid scientist.

Mary Roach explores current science on reincarnation, soul weighing, out of body experiences, and also the history of mediums and other interactions with the spirits of the dead. She’s one of the funniest writers I’ve come across. She manages to find the strangest items in the historical record—her chapter on ectoplasm, for example. The fact that it was regarded so seriously at the time it was a popular mediumistic trick is as fascinating as the methods used to produce it.

Roach participates in a training for becoming a medium; takes part in a study on creating the perception of a ghost through infrasound; goes along on reincarnation research trips in India; visits a small North Carolina town where a ghost helped a man win a lawsuit; and more. Her inquiries are serious, but she never takes herself seriously. Much of the humor comes from her ability to laugh at herself, and to notice the workings of her own mind.

Whether or not you believe in ghosts or life after death, you can enjoy and learn from the author’s journey.

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.

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.