New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Vanessa A. Ryan

PaletteForMurderFront-(w)V.Ryan copy

Vanessa A. Ryan is an actress in Southern California. She was born in California and graduated from UCLA. When not writing or acting, she enjoys painting and nature walks. Her paintings and sculptures are collected worldwide. At one point, she performed stand-up comedy, so her writing often reflects her love of humor, even for serious subjects. She is the author of A Palette for Murder, A Blue Moon and the trilogy Horror at the Lake. She lives with her cats Dezi, Teger and Riley, and among feral cats she has rescued.

The art works featured in this interview are by Vanessa A. Ryan

AF: How did this book start? Tell me about your creative process.

VAR: The book started with a visit to Santa Fe. Originally, the story took place in Los Angeles but ended up in Santa Fe. But when I moved to Santa Fe, I changed the focus of the story to Santa Fe, with brief forays into California. Regardless, the ending of the story is similar. In fact, when I lived in Santa Fe, my house burned down and I lost the last version of this novel that was in my computer. I found half of an older version of the manuscript on the upper shelf of a coat closet. Everything below the shelf had burned, but the first half of the manuscript was intact, as well as the last page of it. I was overjoyed when I found the manuscript until I realized it wasn’t up-to-date and not all of it was there. I set it aside for quite a few years until I rewrote it last year.

AF: Amazing. It sounds as if this book was meant to be. What’s your relationship with Santa Fe?

VAR: I had visited Santa Fe a few times and then I lived there for several years.

AF: Tell me about your research. Did any of the galleries bring you behind the scenes?

VAR: I have exhibited my work in Santa Fe so I know the art scene. I also have an artist friend who lives there and keeps me informed about the galleries. I didn’t go behind the scenes for the book, though I have on other occasions.

Ryan_Collage Series City Rain 54in x 54in acryl and wood on canvas 2009Ryan_Collage Series The Lake 54in x 54in acryl and wood and canvas collage on canvas 2009

AF: Have you done work like Lana’s job in the insurance industry? You seem to know the business inside out.

VAR: I wrote a series of articles for an insurance correspondence school as a freelance job, which is how I learned about that industry. Also, my first job out of college was a claims examiner for a large insurance company. I didn’t go in the field, but stayed in the office taking statements and writing up claims.

AF: I’m curious about that Picasso. Is this based on an actual or rumored work of his?

VAR: The last Picasso isn’t based on the last painting he did. It’s fiction.

AF: I noticed you used a blend of both real locations and fictitious ones. How did you go about deciding when to fictionalize and when ones to use real names? (Example: Suique Pueblo, fictitious; Canyon Road, real.)

VAR: I did that for legal reasons. My publisher has guidelines on this issue that I had to follow. I didn’t want to write about an actual tribe, but using real streets and towns, as long as they didn’t pertain to an actual address or business, was okay.

AF: Lana is pretty darned fearless, not only about getting hurt but about getting caught. Is she like you? Or is she pure invention?

VAR: She’s more invention than not. What we have in common are blond highlights, a disdain for snobs and a driving curiosity to know things. I wanted a character who is a little gutsy and not afraid to delve into the unknown. While I’m as curious about things as she is, I have a healthy respect for danger and I like to stay away from it. But I am as outspoken as Lana is fearless. And sometimes that gets me into trouble. I guess that’s my version of living dangerously. And if there’s something I want to know, I like doing detective work—just not in person as Lana does—only online, on the phone, or by researching articles and books.

AF: If you could spend a week in Santa Fe doing anything you wanted, what would you do?

VR: I would check out the scenery, the art galleries and hang out in some of my favorite watering holes. Like Lana, I don’t drink but I enjoy being in a crowded bar. More conversation to eavesdrop on for my next book.

AF: Is there anything you’d like to add?

VR: I hope readers will enjoy Lana’s adventures and the strange and haunting landscape of New Mexico.

Vanessa Ryan blue, yellow, green triptych 3-12 inch square paintings

 

Follow Vanessa A. Ryan at

http://vanessaaryan.com

https://twitter.com/Vanessa_a_Ryan

https://www.facebook.com/VanessaRyan33

 

A New Mexico Mystery Review: A Palette for Murder

PaletteForMurderFront-(w)

Vanessa A. Ryan picked the perfect background for a murder mystery in Santa Fe: rich people, not-so rich artists, and crime and corruption in the city’s art world.

First, some relevant local data: In the Santa Fe Reporter’s 2013-14 Annual Manual, the city’s population was given as 68,642 residents. The more recent Manual didn’t give us the population number, but both editions say that the City Different has four art galleries per 1,000 residents. That’s a lot of art. After city government, it’s the primary business in town, aside from tourism. Santa Fe is ranked the number one city for air quality in the country, and has 320 days of sunshine a year, which may be part of the reason it’s the fourth happiest city. I’ll second that. Music and dancing and general festivity are a way of life. The downside? The cost of living in Santa Fe is 17.7% higher than the national average. Maybe that’s why it’s not the happiest city. But without all those wealthy people, the art scene would die. It’s a necessary symbiosis—and central to this story.

Insurance administrator Lana Davis comes to Santa Fe looking for the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. As soon as she starts her search, the plot gets complicated. I can find my way around Santa Fe’s oddly configured streets without a map, but I couldn’t figure out whodunit. This is a classic puzzle type of murder mystery. Everyone’s a suspect, and I mean, everyone.

The behind-the-scenes look at an art gallery was intriguing. A lot of the little details—how important it is to some people to be invited to a benefit auction, the way rich people can tell who’s really one of them but poor artists can’t, and even snobbery about fauxdobe—also give the book an “insider” feel.

Lana is an amusing narrator. She’s basically good but willing to bend rules just enough to take some risks she shouldn’t take, and she’s cool enough not to get as freaked out by death, danger and violence as most people would. If she were an animal, she’d be a cat: independent, self-sufficient, and persistent and clever in the chase. She has nine lives, too, and is good at landing on her feet—at least figuratively. This makes her a good fit for the amateur sleuth role—the personality has to be believable for the premise of the amateur investigator to work. More sensitive or rule-following folks wouldn’t dare get into the situations she does. I think there are two kinds of series protagonists: the ones we identify with, and the ones we would like to be for a day. Lana is the second kind.

Ryan is a polished story-teller. If you like tight plotting, a great setting and a fast pace, this is your book.

 

*****

Next week, author—and artist—Vanessa A. Ryan is my guest for an interview

New Mexico Mystery Author Interview: Anne Hillerman

Last week I reviewed Rock with Wings by Anne Hillerman. She is an award-winning reporter, the author of several non-fiction books, and the daughter of New York Times bestselling author Tony Hillerman. She lives in Santa Fe, and this is her second novel. This week I’m delighted to have her as my guest for an interview.Uncropped AnneHillerman author photo credit Felicia Lujan

  AF: I appreciate the Navajo glossary in the back of Rock with Wings. I’ve heard the language spoken, and I cannot begin to reproduce the sounds even when I know a word and what it means.  Do you speak Navajo?

AH: Just a very few words.

AF: Which language do Chee and Bernie speak at home? Do they slip back and forth—English and Navajo for different kinds of topics?

AH: Yes, they slip back and forth—English when they are talking about work and financial discussions; Navajo for more important matters of the heart.

AF: One of things I enjoy in your books is the way you portray family and friendships. Several years ago I read your father’s wonderfully titled autobiography, Seldom Disappointed, and I recall that you grew up in a large family. Remind me how many siblings.

AH: I have two sisters and three brothers.

AF: Would you say this has affected your writing? In what way?

AH I believe almost everything you experience in life helps you in some way as a writer (and a person, for that matter), although you may not realize its value at the time. Growing up as the big sister to such a diverse group of siblings helped me learn how to negotiate and compromise—skills I later discovered I needed in the world of commercial publishing. Also, because we were a busy, lively household, I learned how to focus despite chaos. The amazing and unexpected things that happen in a large family certainly honed my sense of humor. And, of course, the diverse personalities I shared dinner with each night might have given me ideas for a few characters.

AF: You’ve attended citizens’ police academies and learned from members of the Navajo Nation police and other police forces in northern New Mexico. What are some of the most surprising things they taught you? The most useful for you as a writer?

AH: The most surprising, and most useful too, was their absolute willingness to let an outsider civilian like me into the club. I was humbled by the openness of the officers I spoke with who shared their insights into both law enforcement and human nature. I was swept away by their passion for and commitment to their work, especially officers who were involved with the very difficult assignments relating to domestic violence. I never appreciated the dichotomy in basic police work, where officers can go from static boredom to high adrenalin situations in a matter of seconds. I enjoyed learning about technology used in law enforcement but getting some insight into how cops size up suspects, witnesses, and victims and how they can usually tell when people are lying helped me even more.

AF: Both your books are set in June, the hot windy time before the rains. Are you one of those people who loves the windy season?

AH: No, no, no. Wind is not my friend! It makes me restless, stirs up the pollen from the juniper trees that surround my Santa Fe house, and rolls the tumbleweeds across the highways, creating traffic trouble.  I used June as a setting in both those books because it’s a season of suspense here in the dry Southwest. Temperatures spike in June. If we’re lucky, late June eventually and after much anticipation and broken promises, brings the start of summer rain.

AF: Do you have a favorite time of year, and what makes it special in your part of the world?

AH:  I enjoy the change of seasons and Santa Fe is great for that. I love the transition from winter to spring, the discovery of those early hyacinths in my garden when the nights are still way below freezing, and the way daffodils survive April snow and keep smiling. Summer’s long days and beautiful crimson sunsets remind me of why our mountains, the Sangre de Cristos and the Sandias, are named for blood and watermelon. I enjoy the contrast between summer days in the 90s and nights cool enough to require a blanket. July’s dramatic thunderstorms, usually more sound and light than moisture, sometimes create enough rain to turn the arroyos into running streams. Fall brings more eye-popping contrasts, the brilliant yellow of the shimmering aspen leaves against the deep blue sky. Crisp days scented with apples and pungent smoke of pinon and cedar in the fireplace—and a big pot of green chile simmering for dinner.  I love winter, too. Unlike many places, Santa Fe seldom goes two days in a row without sun. I love the diamond sparkle of fresh snow, the quiet discovery of rabbit and bird tracks along the road, and those crystal-clear winter nights with millions of stars, each with a story to tell.

AF: Tell me about your favorite trading post, roadside restaurant, or other out-of-the way place in the Four Corners Region that most people might not have heard of.

AH: So many places, I hardly know where to start, but I’ll give it a try. I love the old trading post at Toadlena, N.M.  with its beautiful setting at the base of the mountains. The owners and the staff reflect an attitude of hospitality that’s hard to beat. I always try to stop at Teec Nos Pos, N.M. and the Keems Canyon, Az. trading posts when I’m out that way. They always have some surprises. The Hubble Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona always makes me smile. I try to talk advantage of tours to visit the Hubble home when I’m there. It’s like a step into the past. I enjoy the Tuba City Trading Post (also in Arizona) with its wonderful collection of books, and the Code Talker Museum that shares the building. Across the walk is another of my favorite places, Navajo Interactive Museum. It’s filled with wonderful exhibits and videos in which the Navajo people tell their own history starting with their creation stories.  I love to stop for lunch at Earl’s on old Route 66 in Gallup, N.M. The food good, and you can shop while you eat because the restaurant invites native artists sell their jewelry, pottery, sculpture, etc. from table to table. I like the restaurant at the Quality Inn in Window Rock (AZ) with its sweet little patio garden, and the eclectic food at The Junction in Chinle (AZ).

AF: In continuing the series your father wrote, you’ve mastered the inner worlds of Bernie Manuelito and Jim Chee, and I found the glimpse into the workings of Joe Leaphorn’s mind in his little notebook in Spider Woman’s Daughter strangely touching—the intimacy of the ordinary. That orderly little book, without an emotional or private word in it, often just numbers and sketches, still made me think you knew him inside-out. Do you plan to use him as a point-of-view character in the future?

AH: Yes. I’m looking forward to writing about him. He was the character my Dad loved best, and I needed a few novels under my belt before venturing into his complex mind.

AF: What was the greatest challenge in making the transition from writing nonfiction to writing fiction? How has your earlier background helped you as a novelist?

AH: For Spider Woman’s Daughter, my greatest challenge was making the little voice that kept telling me “you’re not Tony Hillerman” understand that I could continue the series without being my Dad. That some changes and my own voice would be OK as long as I was true to the spirit of his work.  I knew there were many, many people who loved Dad’s work and would be highly skeptical of a new kid taking on his characters.  I’ve been touched and humbled by the notes I’ve received from many of them, telling me they were glad to see their favorite Navajo detective back on the job. The research I did for the non-fiction book I wrote about Dad and his work, Tony Hillerman’s Landscape, On the Road with Chee and Leaphorn, was enormously helpful. I didn’t realize when I wrote it that I would write a novel, but it paved the way. That book gave me an excuse to re-read all of Dad’s novels closely and to travel to places he loved in Navajoland and elsewhere in our beautiful Southwest. Also, because I had completed book-length manuscripts before, I know what to expect in terms of time commitment on a big project. Having dealt with New York editors before, I had some insight into the business end of publishing.  All that helped with the transition.

AF: I particularly liked the role of certain plants in Rock with Wings. One of your nonfiction books is on the Gardens of Santa Fe. Your protagonist Bernie Manuelito is interested in plants; she studied botany in college. I’m looking for the roots, pardon the pun, of this synchronicity.

AH: I loved writing Gardens of Santa Fe and the gardeners I interviewed taught me to appreciate plants in a new way. Luckily for me, Dad had established and developed Bernie’s interest in botany and the natural world in several of his novels. I’m glad he did, because it gave me a nice hook for Rock with Wings. The little cactus I mention is real, by the way, and actually is an endangered species.RockWithWings hc c

AF: Some writers start with a plan, others improvise, and some work with a blend of structure and free play. Tell me about your process of creating a story.

AH: For me, it’s a conglomeration of trying to plan, trying to be organized and efficient, and listening to inspiration when it comes, even if it means major revisions. With  Spider Woman’s Daughter, I was guided by the knowledge that Bernadette Manuelito needed to solve the crime and that the crime had to be a big deal.  I knew I wanted to use Chaco Canyon as one of my settings, so that led me to consider a plot that involved archaeology. Archaeology in turn, led me to use Santa Fe as another setting because the city is filled with museums stuffed with artifacts,  and I knew it would provide a nice contrast to the rural reservation substations and to isolated Chaco Canyon.  In Rock with Wings, I wanted to build on Bernie’s interest in plants. Then, I decided to take the reader to Monument Valley, a beautiful setting Dad never used. The story grew from there.

AF: The colorful supporting characters give so much life to your stories. Do these characters just show up? Do they surprise you? Do you intentionally build them?

AH: I’d like to stretch the truth and say I’m smart enough to build my supporting cast based on a long-range plan for the series, but, mostly, they just show up. A couple minor characters in Spider Woman’s Daughter come back in Rock with Wings.

AF: Do you have an idea for the setting of your next book?

AH: Yes. I think it will open at a big basketball game in Shiprock, and then move to Tuba City, an interesting town on the border of Hopiland and a good place to stop on the way to the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon may get in there, too.

AF: Thank you for such thoughtful answers. I look forward to the next book.

Crystals

DSCN1219crystalsglow

This post is a short summary of what I’ve so far learned as a novelist incorporating the use of crystals in my books. I have more to learn about the subject, but I thought it would be interesting to share my explorations.

When I researched energy healing, I easily found twenty-six articles in the archives of just one peer-reviewed medical journal. In another, I found a meta-analysis of healing studies, including those done with subjects other than “whole humans”—healing done on animals, plants, and cell cultures, which are presumed not to experience placebo effects. A number of years ago, I read a study on Qi Gong done in China with pigs as the targets of healing by emitted chi. I can’t remember what their malady was, but I recall that they improved at a statistically significant level. Healers have measurably affected fungi, seeds, plants and mice. When researching the use of crystals in healing, I looked for a similar level of scientific investigation and couldn’t find it. However, I found anthropological literature on the subject as well as modern books on crystals.  My reading gave me the impression that the primary use of crystals historically has been for strengthening psychic ability rather than for healing.

 In North and South America and in Australia, shamans have used quartz crystals to enhance their ability to see into spirit worlds and other places and times, as well as into a sick person’s body. For example, Navajo crystal gazers use quartz crystals perceive the nature of an illness. One crystal gazer I read about also used his visions to find lost sheep and lost children. In Australian Aboriginal traditions, quartz crystals were used to make ritual cuts as part of a shaman’s initiation and sometimes embedded into a finger or under the skin. The crystals also become spirit forms or energy centers in the shaman’s head or belly.

Quartz—sometimes called a “wild stone” or a “live stone” by indigenous people—has the most uses in shamanism, but other stones have been seen as powerful. In ancient Taoist alchemy, jade was considered to enable one to fly up to heaven, which sounds like a shamanic journey. In European folk magic, any clear surface like a mirror or water as well as a crystal could be used for scrying. The Druids are said to have used beryl crystals when seeking visions.

The present-day practice of crystal healing has grown up from a mixture of influences from the East and the West. In the American colonies, European folk healers met Native healers, and their practices began to cross cultures. This blend is the root from which my character Rhoda-Sue Outlaw Jackson’s idiosyncratic folk healing springs. With the introduction of yoga in the West, color symbolism from India relating to the chakra system was integrated with the shamanic use of crystals. In The Calling, when Mae starts working with crystals, a book on this contemporary East-West approach is her primary resource.  She uses crystals in both the traditional shamanic way as a seer and in the modern way as a healer.

Practitioners of crystal healing ascribe specific influences to certain stones, referring to effects of their harmonious structures and their unique vibrations or frequencies. Crystals grow; they have a kind of vitality or life force, and yet they are also stable. An interaction is assumed to take place between the vibration of the person being healed and that of the crystal. Skeptics assume that any results are due to the placebo effect, or that hypnosis is somehow involved in healing with crystals. This latter guess makes sense to me. Trance states affecting both healer and patient are part of the shamanic tradition. **

I first encountered crystal healing at the home of some friends in Santa Fe. After running a five-K race, I’d been experiencing pain in my left ankle, which had developed a ganglion cyst. My friend Jon held an enormous clear quartz point and made circles with it over the painful part of my ankle for about twenty minutes. I was skeptical but open-minded, willing to test out his belief that he could help. That was in July 1999. My ankle didn’t hurt again until June 2013. When I went to the foot and ankle doctor in Santa Fe to have the cyst taken care of, I told him this story. We joked about my getting it treated again with another giant crystal, but I wasn’t sure I could get another fourteen years of relief from just any healer, and Jon and his giant crystal had moved away.

When I lived in Norfolk I met a young woman who used crystals in energy healing. I can’t say if they had an actual effect or contributed to a mutual trance, but the sense of lightness and peace I felt from her work was strong.

While preparing to write the Mae Martin series, in addition to reading about crystals I acquired a collection of them to experiment with. Sometimes I’d try leaving different ones next to my bed at night, in the space between the lamp’s curved legs on the bedside table, to see if they affected my dreams. One night I placed sodalite in that spot—it’s supposed to be good for perception and creative expression, among other things—and I dreamed that people were sitting at a bar playing a gambling game with crystals, shaking them like dice and throwing them. I woke up in the morning and reached to the table to get my glasses—and noticed that the blue-and-white stone, which had been a smooth solid oval the night before, was now broken as neatly as if the end had been sliced off with a saw. Sodalite does fracture easily. If any crystal was going to break, this was the one, but I doubt I picked it up and threw it in my sleep, acting out the dream. If I had, I probably would have knocked over the lamp, and I don’t have any history of parasomnias. The stone lay right where I’d left it. Maybe it already had a crack it in and quietly fell apart while I dreamed it was being thrown. This is one of those strange little things that I could explain away, but that’s different from actually explaining it.

Sources

Harner, Michael, The Way of the Shaman, Harper, 1990

Benz E and Luckert K, The Road of Life: Report of a Visit by a Navajo Seer, Ethnomedicine II 3/ 4, 1973

Cowan, J. Wild Stones: Spiritual Discipline and Psychic Power Among Aboriginal Clever Men,        Studies in Comparative Religion, V. 17 no. 1&2, Winter-Spring, 1985

Permutt, Philip, The Crystal Healer, Cico Books, 2007

Knight, S., Pocket Guide to Crystals and Gemstones, Crossing Press, 1998

* I use the male pronoun because my sources focused on male shamans. Female healers’ and seers’ roles in traditional societies often differ from the men’s.

**If I understand correctly, people in shamanic cultures who use crystals don’t feel the need to differentiate between placebo, trance, and spiritual effects, or between power objects and symbols of power, or between the crystals the shaman carries in his belly or forehead (spirit objects) and the ones in his medicine bundle (physical objects). Their world view is of a whole system, not separated by the veil modern people place between the spiritual and the material.

 

 

A New Mexico Mystery Review: Spider Woman’s Daughter

While continuing the characters and settings from Tony Hillerman’s books, Anne Hillerman has her own style and voice as a writer. I didn’t feel as if I was reading one of her father’s books, but I felt fully at home with her mastery of the series. She has the understanding of Navajo culture that’s central to the stories, and she knows the characters well. Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn and Bernie Manuelito are familiar and fully developed, with touches ranging from Chee’s off-beat humor to Joe Leaphorn’s meticulously detailed little notebook to Chee and Bernie’s deep spirituality. Even the secondary characters like Captain Largo are immediately recognizable as the same people from the earlier part of the series.

The setting is portrayed vividly— the land, the cities, the small towns, and the people. Accurate details and human touches make the places come alive. The bone-jarring washboard roads going to Chaco Canyon have livestock wandering them. A local can’t give directions for driving in downtown Santa Fe. The groundskeeper Mark Yazzie, a minor character, stood out as delightfully real and original. The tenacious and amusingly ferocious Gloria Benally is another unforgettable supporting character. Even if I weren’t a New Mexican, I think Hillerman’s writing would make me hear the voices, feel the air, and see and smell the place, from the plants in Santa Fe gardens to the hot wind in June before the rains come.

This book kept me awake at night reading it, and I found myself thinking about it between times, wondering what would happen next. The suspense is effectively structured, but it’s depth of the relationships that make the story powerful.  Bernie’s dedication isn’t just to her job, but to people, and that dedication drives the story.

It was intriguing to see characters from Tony Hillerman’s A Thief of Time come back. I hadn’t read it for a long time, and think it would have been fun to re-read it before entering this story. I’m going to rediscover it after instead.

*****

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I follow a review with an author interview. My interview with Anne Hillerman will come later, paired with a review of her next book, Rock with Wings.

Winners, Santa Fe Reporter Writing Contest

I don’t usually post twice in one week, but the Santa Fe Reporter published the winners in its annual writing contest today. I’m honored to be in some excellent company among the winners.

http://www.sfreporter.com/santafe/article-9560-fiction.html

Talk to Strangers

In Truth or Consequences and in Santa Fe, I find it normal to strike up conversations with strangers, and to say hello on the street to people in passing, whether or not we’re acquainted. No one seems to think it odd. I’ve never had a rebuff, nor have I been offended when someone randomly started talking to me.

A few years ago I was sitting in the now-closed and much-missed Little Sprout juice bar in Truth or Consequences when a man in a white terrycloth bathrobe came in and asked me if a certain bumper sticker he found wonderful might be mine. (It said Coexist, with the symbols of various religions forming the letters.) It wasn’t mine, but we talked a while anyway. He was on his way to water aerobics and had seen the bumper sticker, seen me in the window wearing my sun hat against the glare, and decided the Woman in the Hat looked like someone who wanted to spiritually Coexist. We became friends, and until he moved away last year he was my best sunset-walking and philosophical-talking friend in T or C. Another conversation with a stranger in the Sprout led to my meeting my dancing buddy the same year, and we still go dancing together four years later.

Unlike some more frequent fliers, I don’t mind people on planes talking to me. Good book recommendations and good stories have come from these encounters, or just good lines. I remember being on a plane about to leave Albuquerque for a job interview in Northeastern North Carolina, and was talking to my seatmate about my eventual destination. The long-haired young man in front of me turned around when he heard the name of the town and said, “Turn your clock back twenty years.” He was right. I ended up needing that job and moving east for a few years, and the town is now fictionalized as Cauwetska in The Calling.

Another stranger on a plane entertained me when I was unhappy after the breakup of a relationship. I didn’t tell her, but maybe she sensed it and wanted to be cheerful, or else she wanted to say what she had to say to someone she would never see again. Imagine a Texas accent for this. “I’m a dog breeder. And you know, I’m a Christian, and I’m supposed to think certain things are wrong, but I know homosexuality can’t be a sin, it has to be genetic, because I’ve got a lesbian Chihuahua.”

Back in July in Santa Fe, waiting in the shade at the Railyard Plaza while the Bill Hearne Trio set up, I ended up talking to my shade-mates about the Santa Fe Opera while we waited for country music. I have no idea how we got into this conversation but it felt normal. They told me one of the apprentices was going to have to play a lead that night, and sing in Chinese. An ongoing character in my series, Jamie Ellerbee, was once an apprentice with the Santa Fe opera. If I ever write the details of the crisis he had during that period of his life, a pressure like that could be part of it.

In previous academic years I’ve usually seen students in the classroom ten minutes early, heads down, engaged with screens instead of each other. This year for some wonderful and mysterious reason, they’re different. I come in and find them having real live face-to-face conversations, even the freshmen who don’t really know each other yet. I’m glad they aren’t missing out on the pleasure of talking to strangers.

Dancing in New Mexico Part One

This is going to take two or three posts to cover, because dancing has roles in both social life and spiritual life here. It plays a big part in my books, too, because dancing is how Jamie communicates when he experiences life at its highest intensity, as in the Santa Fe Bandstand scene in Shaman’s Blues. I’m a barely adequate ballroom dancer myself, but I enjoy it anyway, especially the flow when I have a partner who can lead, and I love to watch people who are better at it than I am.

Part one: The perfect partners.

No matter what kind of music is playing, there are people who will dance to it, and dance well, whether the Santa Fe Chiles are playing Dixie jazz and swing dancers from the Rhythm Project are cutting loose in creative kinetics at Bandstand, or the Bill Hearne Trio is playing “alt country” at the Best of Santa Fe block party, inspiring older couples to dance in the elegant flow that embodies a whole history of partnership.

Sometimes at Sparky’s in Hatch it takes an icebreaker to people out on the floor, or the right kind of music—Western Swing. Then those couples who dance the way old married couples finish each other’s thoughts start moving their boots. When the Renegades played a couple of weekends ago, I enjoyed one man’s smile even more than I enjoyed dancing with my dancing buddy. We took to speaking of this tall, gray-bearded, Hispanic cowboy as The Smile. He bowed over his lady, cradling her in the shade of his body, with a look of radiant bliss glowing over her shoulder. If only she could have seen that look.

When I left the Best of Santa Fe block party Saturday to go pick up my car at the Firestone place on St. Francis, the man who’d taken care of my car knew where I’d been and he came dancing out of the garage with a smile on his face as if there were music. I danced too. Why not?

This is my new favorite song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=96UkbM6cII4

Picture the older guy, Bill Hearne, and the two guys to his right, as a trio, outdoors under a mixed cloudy-sunny monsoon season sky, the Railyard water tower to one side, and the free food and coffee and books and other festivities to the other side, and in front of them those perfect partners swaying along.

Next installment, sacred dances.

Virtual Tour of New Mexico, Part Two: Music in Santa Fe, a trip to T or C, and Desert Beauty

This started as a virtual tour of Santa Fe last week, but I decided to expand it to other locations as well.

First stop, music. Santa Fe Bandstand is one of the highlights of my summer. I enjoy the atmosphere and the range of artists, and as a writer of course I especially like watching the audience. Every summer I come up from T or C for a week or a few days, timing my trip for the performers I most want to see and hear.

Bandstand plays a key role in Shaman’s Blues. If you’ve read the book, see if reality matches your imagination.

Photo gallery

http://santafebandstand.org/galleries/bandstand-photos/

Not many videos available right now, but here are a few. My personal favorite among the bands in these videos—Felix Y Los Gatos. Love the blues accordion!

http://santafebandstand.org/videos/

This next stop on the tour is part of the “on location” visit for Shaman’s Blues. New Mexico Magazine recently featured an article on my beloved Truth or Consequences, where Mae moves in the beginning of the book. Read the article and you’ll see how an off-beat artist like Niall fits right in, and how a place like Dada Café just might happen. (I located it on Broadway in a building that has had a high rate of restaurant turnover.)

Turtleback Mountain is prominent in the picture that accompanies this article, and it’s in Mae’s view from her back yard.

http://www.nmmagazine.com/article/?aid=84968#.UxkFLdiYbDA

If my book or this “tour” made you fall in love with New Mexico, I recommend New Mexico Magazine as a way to keep the virtual tour going year round. They cover art, music, books, food, history, recreation, and their photography alone is enough to make the publication worth my subscription.

http://www.nmmagazine.com/

The final part of this tour is immersion in the natural beauty of the state. These pictures are not related to scenes in the book, other than the fact that one can’t drive on the interstate in NM without seeing something breathtaking, and that is part of Mae’s experience in her new home.

I discovered this photographer’s work at an outdoor art show in Santa Fe a few years ago. His way of seeing the world is attentive to grand vistas and subtle details, often in the same picture, and makes me feel the sacredness of the land.  He has a name that somehow suits his work—Amadeus Leitner.

The photo gallery could keep you in a state of exalted bliss for quite some time. Imagine the smells of sage and juniper, the breath of the wind, the texture of a rock heated by the sun, and you’ll be there.

http://www.amadeusleitner.com/

Welcome to the Land of Enchantment.

Shaman’s Blues Released!

                                            Shaman’s Blues

                           The second Mae Martin psychic mystery

Mystery crosses between the worlds and romance gets turned upside down in Santa Fe, the City Different.

Mae Martin gets a double-edged going-away gift from her job as a psychic and
healer: beautiful music by a man who’s gone missing, and a request to find him.

When she arrives in her new home in New Mexico, aiming to start life over as she comes to terms with her second divorce, she faces a new challenge in the use of her gift. Her new neighbors are under the influence of an apparently fake psychic who runs the health food restaurant where they work. When Mae questions the skills of the peculiar restaurateur, the woman disappears—either to Santa Fe, or another dimension. The restaurant’s manager asks Mae to discover which it is.

Finding two missing people proves easier than finding out the truth about either of them, or getting one of them, once found, to go away again.