Monday, August 19, 2013

It's a New Mexico Thing!

Note: It's summer, the season of reruns, and I decided to take a day off and rerun this post from August 19, 2013... because it's that time of year again!

You either have to live, or have lived, in the southwest (particularly New Mexico) to understand what I go through every August.

Mid- to late-July is the time of year that it sets in... withdrawals.  By that time, the previous year's supply is gone, the freezer is empty, and you're finding yourself visiting restaurants for a fix that is, somehow, never as good as what you usually have at home.  Or succumbing to the desperation that drives you to the frozen food section.

I am talking, of course, about green chile!

Some may disagree, or even become offended, by this but to us here in New Mexico, green chile is the drug of choice.  Once the chile roasters start running in early August, you'll see lines of people willing to endure scorching summer heat as they haul their burlap sacks and cardboard boxes to the front of the line to have their bright green fresh chile rendered blackened and blistered and bagged in plastic, ready to take home to their kitchens and freezers.  The bonus is that your car smells like heaven for a week or so!

Some years--like this one--there seems to be a shortage and the chile season turns into a fevered hunting season.  Facebook postings about your chile conquests and triumphs can turn your friends and family and people you trust into stalkers.  "Where did you get it?  How much do they charge?  When are they open?  Do they have plenty?  How much did YOU get???"

Sorry, Onate, THIS is what New Mexico gold really looks like!
Today I was fortunate that I had my right hand man, Paul, to help.  Last year he got shut out of the chile hunt after I scored two sacks in Ruidoso and had to buy them without warning (he usually takes the day off to help with the bagging for the freezer.)  After a friend clued us in to a place in Tularosa that had Big Jim chiles (a must for the best rellenos!), I called and ordered two 40 lb. boxes.  After picking them up and salivating the entire 15 miles from Tularosa to home, we unloaded them on the back deck and while Paul bagged two dozen per gallon-size Ziploc bag, I warmed up tortillas and kept the iced tea glass filled (usually it's Bud Light, but it was only 9:30 in the morning....)  And yes, this is HIS preferred way to bag the chiles!
So now we have a freezer loaded with 80 lbs. of New Mexico's best and it feels like we just won the lottery.  And sure enough, next July when the last bag is taken out of the freezer and the last rellenos made with the 2013 crop are enjoyed, we'll start to feel that mild desperation building into all-out withdrawals and again we'll start the hunt for the best green chiles when August rolls around.  Until then, we'll sit down to each meal made with our "New Mexico gold" and really mean it when we say, "Thank you, Lord, for this food."

Monday, August 12, 2013

Here, There, and Everywhere

I love to travel.

Some people might interpret this as a way to escape my day-to-day life and small town.  Nothing could be further than the truth!

I was a reader long before I was a writer.  Books took me to places I had never been and left me with a desire to see what was in this huge world around me.  I used to listen to my parents tell stories of their youth in other places and my dad telling of the places he'd been while in the Army Air Corps.  I learned early on that the world was not just me, my house, and the space immediately around me.  There was so much more out there....

Traveling was not something I did a lot of when I was a kid.  Yearly trips to visit family in Roswell, NM or Chihuahua, Mexico were about the extent of it. Mostly it was because my parents were not big on traveling; they pretty much lived all their lives in the same place.  But the idea stuck with me that "when I grew up", traveling was something I wanted to do!

And when I got married in 1988, our honeymoon took us to Niagara Falls, NY and Washington, D.C.  You have to remember that, until then, I'd never been any further east than Carlsbad Caverns!

Paul and I have traveled a lot... for me anyway!  We've been to Rome (Italy) and on a cruise to Cozumel.  We've made a lot of trips here at home in the U.S.  Spent a week in Alaska (bad idea in the wintertime for a desert rat!) Colorado is a favorite place to visit.  I love northern New Mexico and visit at least once a month.  Arizona is another state I like exploring.  I'd like to travel back east and spend more time there.  I finally got to Las Vegas (Nevada) this past January (cross that off the bucket list!)  And of course, there was this last fall:

In Key West, Florida with Paul and wading in the Mexican surf in Cozumel!

I bring back with me a little of each place I visit, locked in a memory.  Sometimes all it takes is a word or a sound, a scent, a taste, and I'm right back there, reliving a moment of my life.  I'm happy to say that most of them are absolutely wonderful.  I don't remember any truly disastrous travels. 

Maybe it's because I'm truly happy at home... in fact, I'm happy wherever I am!  I like to look at life as a never-ending adventure, whether at home or down the street or across the globe.  There's always something new to see, to learn, to try out.  So whether my next exotic meal comes from a restaurant on a Caribbean Island or from my own kitchen, I know the most important thing is to have fun no matter where you are!

Tell me where you've been and where you'd like to go!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Who's That Girl?

Admittedly, not one of Madonna's best songs, but the title sums up my latest experience as an author.

No, seriously... who IS that girl?
It seems incredible to say this, but it's true: I received my first fan letter as an author a few days ago.  Yes, it was from a friend, but she wrote as a FAN of Amy Bennett, author.  And what she said was music to the ears of a writer.

"At first I was reading because I admire you as a person and a friend, but somewhere in the first fifteen pages I forgot about you and just found myself not wanting to put the book down; a very good sign of being captured by the story and the characters.  The authenticity of the characters made the book very appealing as the interesting story reveals their true natures."  I'll stop there because I'm getting too misty-eyed to continue.

Ask any author and they'll tell you that no matter how compelling the story might be, it's ultimately all about the characters.  The most interesting story in the world can become the most boring if the characters are not someone the author--and ultimately, the reader--cares about.  And believe me, the reader can tell if the author doesn't like, or more importantly, care about their characters.

I care about my characters; I really like my characters.  Maybe not everything about them (does anyone ever really like everything about everyone they know?) but enough to want to follow their day-to-day lives and hope that everything works out for them... even though we know they're going to face obstacles, set-backs, and trouble along the way.  Conflict is what drives a story... and why should their lives run any smoother than ours?

A writer gets asked many questions about being a writer.  Some of those stock questions have stock answers, but sometimes a writer gets a question that makes them pause.  At my book launch party last week, this was the question that gave me pause:

“Which character is you?"
Of course, a writer creates their characters, but not, as some might think, out of thin air. At some time, the writer has met someone who sparks an idea for a character (work in retail long enough, I guarantee you'll have a never-ending treasure trove of potential murder victims.) But the reality, of course, lies in that question.

Which character is the writer?

Many people seem to think that the writer automatically identifies with the hero/heroine of the story, especially if the character is good-looking, brave, resourceful, and manages to thwart the villain with near-superhuman martial arts skills while demonstrating a rapier wit and a flair for appreciating fine wines. Perhaps it's true that the writer creates a larger-than-life hero or heroine, a character everyone would like to be, but very rarely do such characters mirror the actual flesh-and-blood person who created them.

If you want to find the writer in any of his or her characters, look for the flaws.

That's where the fear of the dark, of spiders, of failure, of love and commitment, of success, all those things that make the characters REAL is where you will find the author. It's only in the anonymity of writing fictional characters that a writer has the freedom to admit their own flaws and find a way to overcome them (or avoid them!) while creating characters with whom the majority of readers can identify. It's where you'll find me. But I didn't exactly say that in answer to the question.

What I did say was, “There's a little of me in ALL the characters.”  And maybe that's why I get so emotional when I read a comment from someone who's read my book and it's about how compelling they found my characters.  There's a little love in there for me, the author, as well.