Monday, December 21, 2015

'Tis the Season....

For some, the holiday season is a never-ending time of joy. The parties, the decorating, the music, the gifts, the food... it all inspires a near-rapturous sense of happiness.

Then there are those that absolutely loathe the holiday season... and for pretty much the same reasons.

I fall a little in between.

Don't get me wrong; I am not a Scrooge that declares Christmas to be a humbug. What I deplore is the greedy commercialism that the holidays seem to be inspire more so that peace on earth. Just ask anyone who feels the pressure to be everywhere and do everything in the space of about three weeks. And forget "goodwill towards men" if those men happen to be after the same last fill-in-the-blank gift item that you need in order to ensure a "merry Christmas" for whoever is on the gift list that ONLY wants THAT item.

I don't mind the gift shopping, the cooking, the merriment. What I don't like is the sense of almost "obligation" to fulfill every material desire, have the most perfectly decorated house, and prepare twenty different kinds of cookies and/or foods in order to do the holidays "right".

This is one of those years that the Christmas season "got away from me"... if you look at my house. We didn't do a tree this year. Or lights. Or much of any kind of decorating. Christmas cards? Pffft. Right. And between not having 1) a freezer (mine conked out two summers ago) and 2) time, I didn't do any baking. So no one is getting a platter with a dozen each of ten different kinds of cookies and loaf of cranberry pumpkin bread. Not even my own family.

What DID happen this year? Well, we finally took the time to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe with the community that we've always wanted to do except for never having the time to do so. Instead of preparing a twelve-course meal for a select few, we prepared a couple of potluck dishes we shared with the entire community including the local clergy and the bishop... and made a few friends in the process. Instead of spending my days off from work baking like mad and hating the cleanup, I bought a couple of packages of Christmas cookies from the bakery (the more expensive ones that probably ended up costing less than actually baking the same thing at home) and spent time visiting with the recipients and enjoying the treats with them rather than dropping them off and madly dashing off to the next obligation. And instead of worrying about making sure I'm checking off everything on everyone's wish list, I'm taking the time to focus on the true meaning of the season and making a gift of myself to others and to God. That means not giving what's left over of my good will and peace of mind after wringing myself out over the material stuff... it's giving the best of myself, whenever it's needed.

So maybe next year I'll put the tree and lights up, or maybe I'll have time and space to bake like mad. And that will be good, too. Maybe I'll make the community potluck again, or maybe I'll be somewhere else. What matters most is finding the spirit of the season no matter what I do and being a gift of peace and goodwill to whomever I meet.

Have a blessed Christmas!

Inside the cup, the text reads, "Through the years we all will be together".

Monday, December 14, 2015

A Writer's Christmas Wish List

Everyone has something they really want for Christmas. Writers are no exception. However, writers want things that make most people question their (the writer's) sanity.

1) Time to write.

Between the Christmas parties, the cooking, the shopping, and, oh yeah, the real-world job, most writers can barely find the time to breathe, let alone write. Please don't feel you're leaving us out if you don't invite us to your third-cousin's great-grandniece's Christmas concert. Offer us a gift card to our favorite coffee house and help us get away for a while!

2) A publishing contract.

That's kind of a big deal, whether you already have a publisher or not. 'Tis the season for them to start planning their upcoming publication schedule for the coming year. It's nice to know you have a place on it! True, this isn't something just anyone can pick up at the mall, but wish along with us now!

3) Book reviews.

The gift that keeps on giving. Save your money on the pen set or the coffee cup warmer (we're used to cold coffee... and besides, God invented microwave ovens for a reason.) You can even buy YOURSELF a present with the money you save AND make a writer happy! Win-win!

4) Buy the book.

You deserve a gift. Books make great gifts. Book sales make wonderful gifts to a writer. What else is there to say?

This is only a small sample. Writers are very easy to please. We don't really need something expensive. Just knowing that someone enjoys our work is enough to make us smile all year long!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Christmas in the Southwest

There's something special about the holidays in the Southwest. Of course, the holidays are special no matter where you are, but because I grew up in El Paso, Texas and have lived in New Mexico almost all of my adult life, I have a different perspective of the holidays than folks who have grown up in other areas of the country.

Most cultural depictions of Christmas include snowy scenes. We get snow in New Mexico, but not much and sometimes more likely in January than December. We are far more likely to have a "brown" Christmas and a "white" Easter than a White Christmas!

Christmas caroling is not as common; here, the predominant tradition is Posadas, a Mexican custom of the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph seeking lodging before the birth of Jesus. This usually begins on the 16th of the month and goes on nightly for the next nine nights, culminating in the Christmas celebration when Mary and Joseph are given shelter and Jesus is born. Lots of food and a pinata for the kids mark the end of the festivities.

Because of the strong Hispanic-Catholic influence, another holiday observance is that of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the 12th of December. The holiday honors the visit of the Virgin Mary to an Indian, Juan Diego (now a canonized saint in the Catholic Church), in 1531 which resulted in one of the oldest Christian artifacts in the New World--an image of the Virgin on Juan Diego's cloak which is still on display on the Basilica in Mexico City. This feast day is celebrated with dances, religious services, processions, and lots of food.

The holidays, or at least the Christmas observance, usually ends on Christmas Day, but in the Catholic Hispanic tradition, the Christmas celebration BEGINS on December 25th and goes through January 6th (the twelve days of Christmas!) which is when the Dia de Los Reyes Magos (Three Kings' Day) is celebrated. On that day, gifts are given (after leaving hay and carrots for the camels of the three kings, who brought the first gifts to the Christ Child) and the celebrants partake of a yeast coffee cake called a rosca de los reyes, or crown of the kings. It's decorated with colorful sugar and fruit and baked into the dough is a small figure of Baby Jesus. Whoever gets the piece with figurine wins an extra gift and the privilege of hosting another party on February 2 (the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.)

For me, the holiday season has always been a season, with some special day occurring almost every week. Regardless of what is being celebrated, the common denominators are always food and family... two of my favorite things!

Happy Holidays... all of them!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Food for Thought

It's the last day of NaNoWriMo and I'm hoping to finish strong this year (even if I don't make 50k words) and since we just celebrated Thanksgiving, food is still very much on the brain. Allow me to rerun a post about food that ran on the blog a few months ago. I'll be back with a new post next week!

Food features in a lot of stories... and with good reason. Most stories are shared around a meal, whether it's the dining room table at Sunday dinner or a picnic table during a cookout. Food, of course, is a major part of living and therefore it only makes sense that it is present in the lives of fictional characters. It could be as simple as NYPD Detective Michael Bennett (no relation!) in James Patterson's series stopping to buy a bagel and coffee at Starbucks or it could be as involved as a food-themed series such as Ellery Adams's Charmed Pie Shoppe mysteries.

While I'm not a big fan of "recipes included" novels (though I do love to read cookbooks!), seeing a mention of food in a novel makes me feel at home. And sometimes, it's not even that obvious. Often times, because food and eating is a part of life, we take it for granted that, of course, the characters in a book must eat, too. Grabbing a cup of coffee and a slice of coffee cake from the courtesy table at the Black Horse Campground store isn't exactly an exotic culinary experience... but we can relate to it. Corrie whips up a quick meal of migas, a Southwestern dish of tortilla strips, eggs, cheese and chile, for Rick and J.D. as they take a break from trying to figure out who murdered the victim and why.

Beans optional, but in New Mexico they're a staple!

Meals also help pace the story. Think about it. Can YOU go a full day without eating? I've sometimes discovered that my characters have already put in a 16-hour day of sleuthing and it isn't even lunch time yet. While it's not necessary to list every meal or bite of food eaten, it sometimes helps to have the characters stop for dinner... and it gives them time to talk about the case, too!

Food can also help with the story's setting. Read a Mary Higgins Clark novel and you'll find references to Neary's, an Irish pub in Manhattan (which, I'm delighted to report, actually exists and now I have another reason for wanting to visit the Big Apple!) and meals of fresh seafood on the Cape and fresh pasta dishes. Read a novel by Aimee and David Thurlo and you'll have characters stopping for a meal of mutton stew at their home on the Navajo reservation or for a green chile burger at the Totah Cafe. Those foods and places are very particular to the region of the country where the stories are set. True, you could get lobster in Nebraska or green chile in Vermont... but it seems a little weird!

In the spirit of talking about food, I'm guest blogging today over at Mrs. Happy Homemaker. The owner of the site, Cheryl, lost her husband two months ago. Support of her site and sharing it will help her support herself and her children. There are lots of great recipes there and today, you'll find my recipe for migas! Stop by and, if you like, subscribe to her page and "like" her on Facebook.

Now time to start planning dinner....

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Writer's Life and the People in it

I had a great couple of hours Saturday at our local coffee shop, Plateau Espresso, with a member of my writers' group. Missy and I have busy lives with full time jobs and family and while we have always tried to set November aside for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), it's not easy to find time to meet.

As usual, our writing sessions are more about touching base with others like us than about actual writing. Unlike most writing groups, we don't critique each other, or beta read, or talk about our works in progress that much. Perhaps it's because we write in such diverse genres that we don't want to lose our grounding in the world we've created in our own stories. What we do is encourage each other, offer each other advice on tools we need for writing, lend an ear when frustrations need to be vented, and occasionally help with finding just the right word ("lamp post" is the code word for situations like that... definitely an inside joke!)

We've each developed our own "teams" of editors, beta readers, and supporters, but none of those team members are actual writers. While they help us hone our craft, they don't really understand the process of writing and the struggles writers sometimes have. And that's a good thing; we want them to be the audience for whom we're writing. They don't have to know all the angst and deleted paragraphs and horrible first drafts we've gone through to get to the finished product. And while they may catch some important typos, continuity errors, and boring passages, they aren't the ones who come up with the story ideas, plot twists, and character development. They let us know if we got the job right.

Our writer friends? They're the ones we confess our fears to, the ones who know where we could go off the rails, the ones who keep us from taking the easy way out of writing conundrums ("Yes, killing the ex and framing the main character would solve the love triangle but you are NOT going to do it that way! You're a better writer than that!") They know what we love and hate about other books, they know which writers we admire and which ones we vow to never be like, and they know, they really KNOW, how we feel when we receive rejections, criticism, and praise.

I will always be thankful for the writers who have become my friends. Writing is a journey we make alone, for the most part, but knowing there are others making the same journey keeps us from feeling lonely.

Monday, November 16, 2015

On the Radio

Today's Back Deck Blog is a re-run from last November. I will be making a "return appearance" on Barbara Hodges' radio show tomorrow, Tuesday, May 17, to discuss my latest Black Horse Campground mystery, "At the Crossroad". My co-guests tomorrow will be fellow OTP authors, Lorna and Larry Collins. Here is the link to tomorrow's show:


This coming Tuesday, November 17 at 4 p.m. (Mountain time), I'll be a guest on Barbara M. Hodges blogtalk radio show, Red River Radio's No Limits with Barbara M. Hodges. This is not a local radio show following the farm to market report. This is a nationwide broadcast. Most of the listeners will be complete strangers who have never heard of me or my books. Am I nervous? No. Not at all.

Petrified? Oh, yeah!

It helps to know I'll be sharing the airwaves with fellow Oak Tree Press author, Virgil Alexander, author of "Saints and Sinners" and "The Baleful Owl", mysteries both set in Virgil's home state of Arizona. With my Black Horse Campground series set in New Mexico, the Southwest will be well-represented on the show!

I blame my jitters on the fact that this event is definitely pushing me out of my comfort zone. A nationwide audience is a bit more intimidating than a local one. Locals, by their very nature, embrace their counterparts. They're always out to support "our local gal". And I am very grateful for that! It's given me to courage to pursue my writing career. Knowing there are people who like my books motivates me to keep writing. And while I know that there are those who don't care for my stories, that's okay... I know not everyone will like them. But the "locals", like family, still love you anyway. Kind of like Grandma's tapioca pudding... it might have a few fans, but even the ones that wouldn't eat it if they were starving still love Grandma! Tomorrow, I face an audience who's never met Grandma and hope they like her... even if not her pudding!

So tomorrow, I take a deep breath and present myself and my Black Horse Campground series to what will hopefully turn into a larger readership. The link to the radio show is below. Feel free to call in if you're so inclined!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Writing a Series--Keep the Ball Rolling!

It's NaNoWriMo and I'm taking a day off to work on my next book. With that in mind, I thought I'd run a repeat of a post about writing a series... especially since book 4 will be out in a couple of months. Enjoy!

When I made the decision to write a mystery series, I had several reasons for doing so. One of them is the idea, touted in many articles and books about becoming a published author, that a publisher is most likely to take on an author who is willing to deliver more than one book, especially if it is a mystery.

The main reason, however, is that I love to read series myself. I love to immerse myself in a world with characters that become familiar as friends. And I love to go back again and again.

This is why it's important for the writers of series, whether mysteries or not, to keep the ball rolling and not keep the readers waiting too long between books. The average wait, especially from traditional "big name" publishers, is about a year. That is why you will find several "big name" authors releasing books at the same time every year (even though she doesn't write a series, Mary Higgins Clark always releases a new book every April, usually around my sister-in-law, Dawn's, birthday. Guess what she always gets as a gift?)

Personally, I think a year is too long to wait. For a reader like me, who can race through an eagerly-anticipated book in a matter of days (if not hours), a year is just too long to wait till the next part of the story is told. However, that's how fast the wheel turns in the publishing world. I'm fortunate that my publishing house can work a little faster and, in a matter of weeks, the next Black Horse Campground novel, "No Vacancy", will be published. This is a "mere" eight months since "No Lifeguard on Duty" was released... and it's still not fast enough for several of my readers.

Of course, one has to keep in mind how fast the writer can work as well. Not every writer has the luxury of writing full time. I certainly don't. But I'm just as eager as the reader to get to the next book in the series and I think that helps me to keep working on the series, to not keep the reader waiting too long. Because, as any reader can tell you, it's the waiting that's difficult.

Some authors have taken a long time in between books, sometimes even years (A Game of Thrones comes to mind immediately... seriously, George, six YEARS between books four and five???) The danger in this is apparent, as well as the benefits... yes, it's great to build anticipation so that your readers rush out in hordes to buy the long-awaited next installment, but you don't want to annoy your readers and make them give up on your storyline. If it's been too long between books, the reader may not want to have to go back and re-read the series to remember who the characters are and what was happening at the end of the last book. This is especially dangerous when writing for a target audience of teens or young adults. I started my nieces and nephews on a YA series a few years ago. The first book was published in 2008, the fourth book in 2012 (with a two-year gap between books three and four.) It is now 2014 and the fifth book is still in the works, with no projected publication date in sight yet. Those teens for whom I bought the first book are now adults and have "outgrown" the series without having seen how it works out (my understanding is that the author was planning a seven-book series.) Subsequent generations have the benefit of being able to read the series without interruptions, but will the series be completed if readers lose interest before it's completed?

This is why it's important for writers to stay ahead of the game and start working on the next book. Always be working on the next book. A writer makes a commitment to the reader with the first book in a series... I'm not going to keep you hanging that long. "Dallas" only made viewers wait about five months to find out "Who shot J.R.?"
 "No Vacancy" possible cover art

We'll be back in Bonney County in a few weeks! Hope you're all as eager to get back as I am!

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Tour of Ruidoso, New Mexico (Black Horse Campground edition!)

As I've stated many times, the Black Horse Campground and Bonney County, New Mexico are entirely fictitious and only exist in my imagination and on the pages of my Black Horse Campground mystery novels. However, in order to create the setting, I've relied on real-life places in and around Lincoln/"Bonney" county for my characters to live their lives. Here are photos of places that Corrie, Shelli, J.D., and Rick have visited or will be visiting in future books. I still leave what the characters look like up to the reader's imaginations!

 Mid-town Ruidoso, early morning before the tourists are out and about! Noisy Water Winery is to the left of the store with the green awning (Books Etc.)
Hmm... maybe my characters should visit Books Etc... they have excellent taste in literature!
 A nice sidewalk for a stroll. There are even places to sit!
Noisy Water Winery. Yes, it's real and so is the Jo Mamma's White wine! You won't find Shelli behind the wine bar, but you'll like the people there just as much!
Inside Noisy Water's tasting room. In the fourth book, "At the Cross Road", there are a couple of scenes that are set in this location.
 Sacred Grounds Coffee and Tea Shoppe. Corrie and Shelli hang out here in "At the Cross Road" (yes, Corrie actually leaves the Black Horse Campground for a day!)
 Inside Sacred Grounds. This is the new location. The old location was what I used to call my "branch office", where I would go to write after work and where my writers' group would meet. I try to come here whenever I can. Great food, coffee, and atmosphere!
The outdoor deck (one of many!) where Corrie and Shelli have breakfast in "At the Cross Road".
 Beautiful statue of the Apache Crown Dancers at the Inn of the Mountain Gods by Mescalero Apache tribe member, Frederick Peso.
 View of Lake Mescalero from the top of the stairs, overlooking the Medicine Basket fountain. The Inn of the Mountain Gods is a beautiful resort on the Mescalero Apache Reservation near Ruidoso.
 Just past the fountain is Wendell's, where Corrie had dinner with Eldon LaRue and ran into Rick's mother in "No Lifeguard on Duty".
Inside Wendell's dining room (early in the day, before the candles are lit!)
 St. Joseph Apache Mission. Completed in 1939, it took over 20 years to build and the stones used to build it were quarried from Bent, NM (where I live!) four miles away. A restoration project was recently completed.
 St. Joseph Apache Mission, seen from US 70.
 The Old Road Restaurant in Mescalero, one of the region's best kept secrets and the home of some of the best Mexican food in New Mexico!
The Old Road will be a future setting for a scene in Black Horse Campground mystery... no murder takes place here, just food to die for!

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Thanks for visiting my neck of the woods. I'm blessed to be able to call this place my home! 

Monday, October 26, 2015

The Art of Being Alone

Over the years, I've learned the art of being alone. This is something almost every person who aspires to be a writer needs to learn.

There seems to be what appears to be fear about being alone, and I think it's because many people equate being alone with loneliness. I've met many people who can't fathom eating alone in a restaurant, let alone one choosing to do so. Or going to a movie. Or shopping.

Personally, I don't mind being alone. In fact, I enjoy it. Perhaps it has to do with being a writer and enjoying solitary activities like reading, writing, and other artistic pursuits. That doesn't mean, however, that I'm a loner or that I don't like people. But for a person who enjoys solitary pursuits, working in retail means having to engage in a lot of interaction with a lot of people. It feels good, after doing so day after day, to withdraw and spend time alone.

Sometimes I enjoy being able to read or write without interruption. Having people around means that I feel I'm neglecting them or being rude if I'm not actively interacting with them. Other times, I enjoy taking a drive someplace without having to justify where I'm going or what my purpose is in visiting a certain place. A writer's mind (well, THIS writer's mind) works in mysterious ways and trying to explain it to someone can end up confusing or frustrating them (and me) and only rarely creating a deeper understanding.

I also don't mind being alone in a crowd. Yes, it sounds funny, even ironic, but sometimes that's when solitude can turn into loneliness. I spend time alone in groups trying to watch and absorb how others interact. It's a great tool for a writer, but then I long for company or else solitary solitude.

I do enjoy my own company, but I also enjoy spending time with people, especially my husband and son, and friends and family who really know me and understand me. In a way, my "alone" time helps me reconnect with my books' characters and spend time with them. By extension, it means I'm spending time with readers who enjoy my books as well.

"Language... has created the word 'loneliness' to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word 'solitude' to express the glory of being alone."--Paul Tillich 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Pet Peeves and Other Things I Keep To Myself (Sometimes!)

I normally keep a lot of pet peeves to myself or else I share them with only a select few people (sorry, guys, you know who you are!) but, for the record and in case there are some kindred spirits out there, here they are:

1) People who claim they never have time to do anything, yet can still tell you what happened on every TV show that was on in the last week. This annoys me especially when the person complaining is a writer or another kind of artist. And don't get me started on writers who find time to update their Facebook page every single day but whine that they don't have time to write!

2) People who complain about every ache and pain. If I mentioned every time my lower back felt like someone had ripped out my vertebrae and replaced them with rusty barbed wire, or that my shoulders felt like Atlas had asked me to "hold this a minute" and went for coffee three years ago... yeah, you don't want to hear it and neither do I. Everyone has aches, pains, and bad days. I worked with a woman who had cancer and came to work with a smile and without complaint every day until she went into hospice a week before she died. My headache (and yours) aren't that big of a deal.

3) People who refuse to see the bright side. Yes, bad things happen and usually at the most inopportune time. But if we stop and look at the big picture, we can see that not everything is terrible all at once. It's easy to be focused on the bad, but I try to remind myself to see that there is still good around and try to focus on that instead. It makes it easier to bear the bad stuff.

4) People who believe their way is the only right way. Whether it's how to raise a child, write a book, frost a cake, or whatever it is that I'm currently doing, I always remember that if you ask ten people to clean the floor, they'll probably each do it differently, but in the end, you'll have a clean floor.

I could go on, but another pet peeve of mine is people who complain incessantly, so for now I'll thank you all for listening to me rant and I'll get back to work on what's important!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Bonney County Photo Tour

Today, I decided to give my blog readers a tour through my neck of the woods (quite literally, in fact) and acquaint them with the area that inspired fictional Bonney County and the Black Horse Campground mystery series.
The road just past the Bent, New Mexico post office... down the road from my home!
The Hondo Valley near San Patricio on a rainy day
First off, Bonney County, like both Otero and Lincoln counties, is in the south central region of New Mexico. Unlike many people's perception of New Mexico, there are trees, mountains, rivers, and much cooler temperatures than there are in the lower desert elevations. To the south is the desert basin which includes White Sands National Monument and Holloman Air Force Base and to the north are the Pecos river plains that include Roswell. The village of Ruidoso, where I worked for twelve years, is a green oasis in the middle of a lot of brown and gold desert and plains. For years, when I was growing up in El Paso, Texas, we made the trip every summer to visit family in Roswell and I was always fascinated by the area around Ruidoso. The Mescalero Apache reservation is right in the middle of a beautiful pine forest and in the summer, right around July fourth, you'll see teepees erected along the highway near their homes as they prepare for the annual coming of age ceremonial for their young daughters. Tradition and modernity live side by side on the rez and they are rightly proud of their culture and homelands.
Mural along US 70 through the village of Mescalero on the reservation
Ruidoso is a mecca for tourists, whether campers, skiers, mountain bikers, shoppers, casino and horse-racing enthusiasts. I'll give a more in-depth tour of the village itself, but for now, we'll stay on US 70 and continue up to the Hondo Valley and the area where Bonney County came to life.

Once you leave the village of Ruidoso, you come to Ruidoso Downs which is the home of horse racing's All-American Futurity. But beyond horse-racing, the American West is closely identified with horses and tribute to these magnificent creatures is exhibited at the Hubbard Museum of the American West and the amazing sculpture “Free Spirits at Noisy Water” by local artist Dave McGary (1958-2013) who perfectly captured the likenesses of seven different horse breeds. The sculptures and the surrounding “display” park are a wonderful (and free!) roadside stop to stretch your legs and relax.

Driving on further, there are several small villages along the highway, very much like the village of Bonney. Roadside fruit stands, little churches and cemeteries, and beautiful views of farms and ranches along the river make this a beautiful drive. It's easy to see why this was where Billy Chee Black Horse decided to build his Black Horse Campground and why guests are happy to stay there... murder mysteries notwithstanding!
 Glencoe Fruit Stand, Glencoe, New Mexico
 Old parish church, San Patricio, New Mexico
Inside the San Patricio (San Ignacio?) parish church

 San Patricio Retreat Center, San Patricio, New Mexico
Harvest bounty, Glencoe Fruit Stand, Glencoe, New Mexico

This is just a quick tour of the area where my series came to life. I hope you enjoyed the trip and can picture Bonney County and the Black Horse Campground a little bit better in your mind!
The bridge over the Hondo River and the Hondo River

Monday, October 5, 2015

No Place Like Home

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time in my home town and birthplace, El Paso, Texas. I still call it my hometown though I haven't lived there in almost thirty years because, to me, home is more a feeling or state of mind than a geographical location.

I can still go up to the front door of my family's home in El Paso and walk in and say "I'm home" and it's completely natural and normal... just like walking in the door of my home in New Mexico. Home is where you feel you belong.

That's the feeling I want my readers to have when they read my Black Horse Campground mystery series. When they open the book and find themselves back in Bonney County, even though it isn't a real place on the map, they feel that they are in a place that is familiar and comforting, even though there is a mystery to be solved. The characters are as well-known and loved (or not) to the reader as their most intimate family members.

When I visit El Paso, there are certain things that just come naturally. I was reflecting on this Sunday morning as my husband and I stood in line at Supreme Bakery, waiting our turn to buy traditional Mexican sweet bread (pan dulce) and containers of menudo (a Sunday morning hangover cure... er, traditional breakfast in El Paso!) The line snaked around the bakery and several patrons were there toting a large pan that they brought from home to fill with menudo. Anyone who's lived in El Paso, or anywhere along the border, for that matter, knows that this is standard operating procedure, whether you're getting your menudo at a bakery, restaurant, or church breakfast--you bring your own carryout container. It's what we do back home.

Likewise, in Bonney County or, more specifically, the Black Horse Campground, you know that Friday evenings bring the campers and employees together for an enchilada dinner or a fish fry and that every morning they'll be greeted by freshly brewed pinon coffee and home baked goodies in the campground store. It's what they do at home.

This is the theme I've managed to carry through all the books and is highlighted even more in the fourth book, "At the Cross Road" (due out in a few months): home is where you feel you belong. And more and more, J.D. Wilder is starting to feel very much at home in Bonney County. So when his new home is threatened with danger, he becomes fiercely protective of home and family... in all shapes and forms.

I hope my readers also feel that the Black Horse is home and my characters are family and when they open up my new book, it'll be just like opening the door and saying, "Hey, I'm home!" I can't promise you'll be greeted with a cup of pinon coffee, but the welcome will surely be just as warm!

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Name Game

We had an interesting discussion last week on my publishing house's round-robin e-mail. A fellow author asked if any of us had ever used a real person's name (knowingly) for one of their characters.

I say "knowingly" because there is always the distinct possibility that the name you made up for one of your characters--whether it's the hero, the villain, the victim, a secondary character--actually belongs to a real person. That's completely out of the author's control, of course, that someone, somewhere happens to have a name you've chosen for a character. But suppose the author knows someone who has the perfect name for a character?

First off, I always think that it's simple courtesy to ask someone if you can use their name for one of your characters. And it's very wise to make sure that, unless you discuss it first with the person and are 100% sure they're a good sport with a fabulous sense of humor, you don't name your nefarious villain or irritating busybody secondary character after them (last time I checked, no one complained if the hero or heroine--you know, the one with the ripped bod, the marvelous sense of wit, and the genius IQ to foil the most nefarious of villains--had the same name....)

Second, the author must ask him/herself what it is they hope to accomplish by naming a character after their sister, best friend, the local bartender, etc. Is it an attempt to pay tribute to the person whose name you're using? If so, make sure the character is worthy of being the trophy (unless, as I stated before, the person whose name you're using has a great sense of humor!) Is it a lazy way to create a character? Be warned that most people might not see themselves the way you see them; there's a chance that the author might, without meaning to, offend the person.

Third, there's always the author who will include a real person--name and all--as a minor character in the story. This is something I've done with two good friends, Patty and Mike. But there is a stipulation to doing this; they (your friends/characters) should have a reason to be in the story in the first place. In my third Black Horse Campground mystery, "No Vacancy", J.D. had to follow up the investigation at a motorcycle shop. It just so happens that Mike and Patty own one. I used them to deliver information to J.D. about a suspect and I used their real names. The scene wasn't forced because they had a purpose in being in the story. I probably won't use this element very often, but it also served to thank them for helping me get the details right in the story!

No friends were harmed in the creation of this story!

Naming the characters after real people might work in some instances, but an author should always be aware of the pitfalls and always, ALWAYS, ask for permission to do so. It certainly will inspire the character's namesake to promote the book for you!

Monday, September 21, 2015

A visit with Oak Tree Press Author Marilyn Meredith: WHAT DOES ETHIOPIA HAVE TO DO WITH MY LATEST MYSTERY?

Today, I'm hosting fellow mystery writer and Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, whose credits include the Rocky Bluff P.D. series as well as the Tempe Crabtree series. Marilyn, tell us about your latest Tempe Crabtree mystery, "Not As It Seems".

In the last Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, River Spirits, Blair announces his engagement to a young woman whose family came from Ethiopia.  I felt like the next book should incorporate the wedding which, of course, should include the bride’s family.

This meant of course, doing some research into several things.

The bride’s name is Amaresh Barili. I mentioned in the previous book that she is Ethiopian and Italian. I needed some history about why Italian.

Of course I had to find names for her mother and father, and come up with a history for both of them.

For their home, I described the house that our Italian neighbors  built and lived in across the street from me when I was growing up in Los Angeles.

Because I like to include food in my mysteries, I needed to discover some Ethiopian dishes for the parents to serve. Though I’ve never tasted what I included, writing about them made me hungry.

I love legends. A major part of the plot is the Ethiopian legend of the disappearing hitchhiker which comes from the New Testament.

Though the wedding itself isn’t Ethiopian, I wanted to include some Ethiopian touches.

While doing the research, I also learned a few things from a friend on the Central Coast, Paul Fahey, who’d been assigned to Ethiopia while in the Peace Corp.

Research took me on a fascinating journey to a most intriguing place.
--Marilyn Meredith

Not as It Seems Blurb:
Tempe and Hutch travel to Morro Bay for son Blair’s wedding, but when the maid-of-honor disappears, Tempe tries to find her. The search is complicated by ghosts and Native spirits.

Character Naming Contest:
Once again, I’ll name a character after the person who leaves a comment on the most blogs.
Tomorrow I’ll be stopping by
with the topic, Eating Your Way Through a Mystery.  

Bio: Marilyn Meredith now lives in the foothills of the Southern Sierra, about 1000 feet lower than Tempe’s Bear Creek, but much resembles the fictional town and surroundings. She has nearly 40 books published, mostly mysteries. Besides writing, she loves to give presentations to writers’ groups. She’s on the board of the Public Safety Writers Association, and a member of Mystery Writers of America and three chapters of Sisters in Crime, including the Central Coast chapter.

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Home Stretch

It's getting close... that time when the first draft of a new book is almost finished. The end is in sight, I know how the story is going to wrap up (I think!), and the germ of an idea is in place for the next book.

This is about the time the relief and exhilaration kick in, along with niggling doubts and a tiny whisper of panic.

Obviously, a writer feels a sense of accomplishment and excitement at having done it again--created a story and written it from start to finish--especially since, many times, I have started a project with that whisper (or is it a roar?) of panic: "Can I do it again? What am I going to write about? What if I can't make it work? What if it's boring?"

Strangely enough, those same whispers of panic come back at the end of the first draft, when I read it through for the first time. I cringe at obvious mistakes in continuity, mixed-up names or places, bloated exposition or dialogue, and tired descriptions I'm sure I've used in the three previous books. For a brief moment, the panic blooms into worry if I can fix what I've already written.

It helps to remember that I've lived through this three times already. And every time, I managed to get my focus right and I was able to edit my books well (with the help of my amazing beta-readers and editors!), send them in, get them published, and, most incredible of all, sell them! I tell myself that if I've done it before, I can do it again... and I'll be telling myself that every time I set out to write another book!

So now, as I take a deep breath to plunge toward the finish line, I keep in mind that the work is still, in some ways, just beginning: the edits, the cover art, the title, the promotion. But despite all the seemingly never-ending work and stress and confusion, there is the over-riding feeling of joy and excitement in doing what I love to do.

Now, back to work....

Next week, I'll be turning the Back Deck Blog over to fellow Oak Tree Press author, Marilyn Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff PD series and the Tempe Crabtree series. She'll be promoting her latest Tempe book, "Not as it Seems". Follow her book tour and see how she crafts her mysteries!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Setting and Mood: How a Writer Takes a Vacation

It's Labor Day and I've had a busy weekend with a family wedding and then working a wine festival so today's Back Deck Blog is a reprint from September 15, 2014. Hope you enjoyed your weekend as well!

Labor Day weekend Paul and I were lucky enough to be able to take a couple days off to get away from our neck of the woods to visit his sister, a Carmelite nun in Santa Fe, and visit the Santuario de Chimayo, a well-known shrine in northern New Mexico. In addition to recharging our spiritual batteries (always a necessity a few times a year), I was also able to recharge my creative batteries.

One of the things that a writer must do in order to draw the reader in, besides create interesting characters, is to be able to create a setting, a world if you will, where these characters will live and breathe and move... in short, where the story will take place. Often I've read a story or novel where I find myself feeling lost and disoriented. The characters appear to be floating in space, talking heads. Where are they? Are they inside or out? Is it summer or winter, warm or cold? A big city or small town? In a familiar place or a strange place?

Being able to describe the setting in a way that doesn't intrude on the story helps create a mood for the story as well. A foggy, cold evening sets a different mood than a bright, clear morning, and either of those can convey a different feeling based on whether it's on a crowded city street or a deserted city street. Depending on what the writer wants to convey to the reader, the mood can foreshadow the events to come or set up a surprise.

Paul and I did a lot of walking in Santa Fe and Chimayo at different hours of the day and evening. A few pictures, a few notes, and a lot of observation helped me refill my "tank" of setting and mood, even though my stories are set in a completely different area of New Mexico. It's always a good thing for a writer to get away from the familiar and explore the unusual and use it to see things in a different way.

Plus, you can always use the excuse that you were "working" while you were checking out that interesting little café with the flamenco musicians (darn, I seemed to have left my camera and notebook in the car....)

Monday, August 31, 2015

My Biggest Fan

I shared the following status on my Facebook page last week about what occurred at my book signing event at Barnes & Noble the previous weekend:

So yesterday, at my book event, my husband totally lost his mind. It began when he started browsing through other titles on the shelves and decided that several novels I had written in past years (LOOOONG ago) were every bit as good as what this guy had written (this guy being Nicholas Sparks) and stated that he was going to dig up the manuscripts and read them over and I was going to edit them for publication. After I finish Book 4, of course!
So instead of going to the 10:30 Mass this morning, we are now going to the 1:30 Mass because we have spent the last three hours digging through old boxes that have been gathering dust under the basement stairs and in my office closet and he has culled a total of two complete manuscripts (the reason it took so long was that the pages were not in sequential order and there were several edited versions combined) and two partial ones (which I never finished) and has set himself the task of reading them and doing preliminary edits. Should I ever find the time to work on them, there might be something worth submitting for publication... however I dread looking at my early efforts because I know they are going to stink to high heaven (one is sixteen years old... going to have to do a LOT of updating on that one!) Still, I have to say I AM excited at the thought... 

Going through those manuscripts was eye-opening (and eye-watering as well... lots of dust!) For one thing, I discovered that, back when I first wrote those stories, I was far from being a good writer. Even now, I still have a lot to learn but back then... well, it's understandable why I collected a good many rejection letters!

Still, even then, I knew I had something--maybe it was talent, maybe it was passion, maybe it was just plain stubbornness--and I continued to dream about being published. And I continued to write. Whenever I have a book event, I usually meet at least one person who has that same dream. At that last event, it was a teenage girl. She had been shy and reluctant to approach me, even though her whole family kept urging her to, and it wasn't until her ebullient younger brother came up to me and loudly announced to the entire store that his sister wanted to be a writer, too. "She writes all the time! She wants to have a book published! I think she's good, too! She wants to know how you became a writer!" When she finally came up to me, she asked the question that usually makes or breaks an aspiring writer: How long did it take?

My stock answer is twenty years. I figure it's the one closest to the truth, if we're talking about actively trying to get published. In reality it was much longer than that, if you count all the stories I wrote when my age was still in single digits, but forty years can REALLY be a discouraging number to hear! Still, every writer knows that getting published doesn't even figure into the equation until one learns to craft a story and write it well. That's what takes so long to "become a writer".

This young girl had something going for her, though, something that not every writer is privileged to have: A family that supported and believed in her dream. When even your eleven-year-old brother is marching up to total strangers and touting your talent and dreams and boldly approaching someone to get information for his sister, you've got a winning team! 

I am also fortunate--make that blessed beyond belief--to have my family and friends championing me in my writing career. Their support and encouragement means so much to me. However, many years ago when I first put words on paper, most of my family and friends had no idea what my dreams were, what my goals were, that I was taking those first tentative steps from being a writer to being a published writer. But one person did. He was the one who, despite our tight budget, encouraged me to subscribe to writing magazines; to purchase books on the art and craft of writing; who decided to buy me my first word processor, then desktop, then laptop without batting an eye about the cost; and most of all, who took the time to read my work and give me honest feedback.

So once I finish the fourth book in my Black Horse Campground series and while I work on the fifth, I plan to make time to go through those old manuscripts and work on editing and updating them and preparing to submit them for publication. Will they get published? I'm not sure. That will be entirely up to my publisher. But that's never stopped me from writing before! And my husband Paul is already on the job, reading, making notes, highlighting yellowing manuscript pages, and helping me prepare for the editing process. It could be a daunting challenge, but with Paul's encouragement and support, it's going to be an adventure. Just like everything else in our marriage!

Let's do this, babe!