Monday, July 27, 2015

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, July 20, 2015

Good Company

Yesterday, I wrapped up what, if you'll pardon me sounding a little grandiose, was my first "book tour". That is, in less than a month, I had book signings at four different venues and I did a bit of traveling. It's always exciting to introduce new readers to my Black Horse Campground mystery series and I was glad to have some success in selling books at all the events. Three of the venues were bookstores and, just like having your favorite dessert after a great meal, the last stop was my favorite: Treasure House Books and Gifts in Old Town Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Don't get me wrong. I love all bookstores, indie bookstores in particular. But there's something special about Treasure House. For one thing, it's tiny; "cozy" is probably a better word, but in comparison to a lot of other bookstores I've been in, tiny is the word that fits best! Another thing is that Jim and John Hofsis, the father-and-son duo who own and run the store, are simply terrific people. They love books and they love New Mexico. So while other bookstores have had a run of traffic this week of readers eagerly lining up to buy Harper Lee's new novel, John just smiles and tells people, "No, I don't carry it and I don't plan to."

Because Treasure House deals exclusively with New Mexico--books about New Mexico and books by New Mexico authors. Whether it's fiction, non-fiction, children's books, whatever, if the main focus isn't New Mexico, you won't find it at Treasure House. And that's a good thing. When was the last time you walked into a "big box" store and found an entire shelf, let alone the entire store, dedicated to books about your own state?

Since I've become a published author, and even long before (when I was simply a voracious reader dreaming of becoming a published author), I had a special affinity for New Mexico books and authors. Rudolfo Anaya, Willa Cather, and of course, the master of southwest mystery, Tony Hillerman were all authors that captured the unique flavor and sense of New Mexico in their books--the characters and settings, even the stories, could only take place in New Mexico. It's where I wanted my stories and characters to be.

My reading, and my writing, has put me in good company. I've had the good fortune to meet several New Mexico authors: Mike Orenduff (author of "The Pot Thief" series), J.L. Greger (author of the Sara Almquist mysteries), Steven F. Havill (author of the Posadas County mysteries), and the incomparable writing duo of Aimee and David Thurlo, authors of the Ella Clah and Sister Agatha series and award-winning authors of over 70 novels. There are others I haven't met yet and hope to some day: Michael McGarrity, James D. Doss, Jude Devereaux (surprised?), and of course, Anne Hillerman. All of them have, in several ways, influenced and encouraged me to find my own "New Mexico true" voice and join them in a paean to our beloved home state.

At Treasure House yesterday afternoon, I was surrounded by their words and the words of many other New Mexico authors and books, too numerous to name, and I felt at home. I am proud to be in their company, both on the shelves and in person whenever possible....

David Thurlo and I, adding to our reading lists... we have great taste!

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Social Life of a Writer

First off, yes, writers DO have social lives. I know there have been a few who have lived in isolation with only their words keeping them company, with no interruptions and unlimited time to write from early in the morning until late at night. Some days, when everything and everyone is vying for my attention when I'm on a deadline and precious writing time is slipping away, I actually envy them.

However, I do believe it's a myth that writers don't need any social interaction. When I create characters, I have to imbue them with characteristics and traits that ring true. In order for me to do that, I have to get out and meet people, see people, observe them, and occasionally, engage them in conversation. Now lest my friends and family--the people I primarily associate with--become alarmed at the prospect of being analyzed for use in one of my stories, (keep in mind I DO write murder mysteries!) rest assured that you're not going to appear at the Black Horse Campground only to depart in a permanent manner! Mainly, you all are my vehicles for getting out of the house and being in a place where I can observe total strangers.

You won't catch me looking at my phone constantly when I'm out. I'm a people watcher. There is a lot more drama, humor, tragedy, you name it, going on in the real world among real people than you'll ever find on Facebook.

So where does THIS particular writer go to find a social life? Not the movies. I know many people consider this strange but for me, sitting in the dark for two hours, staring straight ahead and not speaking to the person next to you is about at exciting as sitting on a crowded plane and doing the same. And almost as expensive. I can't see much opportunity for socialization in going to a movie. No, my idea of socialization is going where I can see and hear people interacting with each other... or with no one at all.

Coffee houses are great, especially if you decide to venture out on your own. Of course, hiding behind a laptop gives you a great vantage point for observing others who are engaged in conversation. Some mornings, however, I often walk in to my favorite place, Sacred Grounds in Ruidoso, New Mexico, only to find every table occupied by other people lurking behind laptops, with notebooks and pens scattered around them and cups of cold coffee at their elbows. The looks we exchange say it all: "Rats, ANOTHER writer! I need REAL people to observe!"

Restaurants are also great. Watching what other people eat (or don't eat) and how they interact with others at the table can tell you a lot about their personalities. I personally like wine bars. On the now-rare occasions when I can work my part-time job behind the wine bar at Noisy Water (also in Ruidoso), I get a good long day of listening to conversations and engaging people in conversations and, the most interesting, watching total strangers interacting with total strangers. There's something about the atmosphere that acts like an ice breaker and suddenly people are pulling their tables closer together and having a great time, talking and laughing as if they'd known each other all their lives. It's a great way to learn how to introduce a character!
Oh, the things I do for the sake of my writing!

There are many other places I like to get out an socialize. Not all of them are my cup of tea, but anything from festivals (wine or church), water parks or amusement parks, parties at other people's homes (sometimes, you can't turn down invitations if you want to be a good writer), and any other places where people gather can be a great way to fill your well of creativity.

So don't be afraid to shut down the computer and get out once in a while. Your writing may become richer for it and you may actually enjoy yourself!

Monday, July 6, 2015

What's In a Name?

It's amazing the kinds of things an author has to think about when writing a novel. First and foremost, maybe even before plot or setting is considered, there are the characters to consider. Whether a story is driven by plot or by character, regardless of whether characters are major or secondary, practically the first thing one needs to consider is the characters' names.

Naming one's characters is akin to naming one's children. The name should not only reflect what attributes and character one hopes one's children will have, but also be distinctive. When it comes to naming a character, one certainly hopes that their character will not be forgotten.

The name goes a long way toward achieving that goal. After all, I doubt anyone ever said, "Yeah, the main character in 'Gone With the Wind', what was her name?" Scarlet O'Hara is probably one of the most iconic character names in the history of literature. How much thought did the author put into choosing a name for her character? Imagine Scarlet's first name being Pansy. It almost was (really!) Maybe actress Vivien Leigh had a lot to do with it, but picture the woman in red who crashed Ashley Wilkes' birthday party and try to think of her as Pansy O'Hara. Yeah, I can't, either!

A character's name has to fit. Sometimes it's easy to find a good fit for a character's name. Other times it's not. A writer has to be honest when naming their characters as well. It's tempting to name the villain of the story after someone who stole your boyfriend/girlfriend in high school or give the hero/heroine an impossibly romantic or fabulous name. It reminds me of an old Bloom County comic strip where Opus is about to meet his fiancee's ex-boyfriend who is named Bart Savagewood. Sure enough, Bart looks like hero out of some romance novel or swashbuckling adventure story. It works in a comic strip or a sitcom or a comedy movie, but in a work of fiction, it comes off as forced or a parody and it's hard to take the story seriously. Also, projecting another person's identity on a fictional character can backfire; are they the character's feelings and motivations that are being portrayed or are they the author's?

Of course, naming a character, like naming a child or even a pet is never foolproof. Someone, somewhere, will make a negative connection with a name you've chosen for your hero or heroine, or resent the fact that the villain has the same name as their sainted mother. And one has to be careful not to make the character's name too similar to a real person's name. If you're setting your story in, say, El Paso, Texas, you might want to check the phone directory to make sure there really isn't someone with the name you've chosen living there who may sue for defamation if your serial killer has the same name (unless you choose a name so common it fills three columns in the directory!)

I've said before that writing a book is similar to giving birth to a child. Picking out the right name or names for a child is part of the fun of becoming a parent. Naming the characters in the book is part of the fun of the writing process.