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!