Thursday, September 28, 2017

Interview of Chicana Icon, Denise Chávez at her bookstore: Casa Camino Real in Las Cruces, NM by Juliana Aragon Fatula

Denise Chávez
Artist, Writer, Bookseller, Activist
Casa-Camino-Real-Las-Cruces-New Mexico
Casa Camino Real is a bookstore, art gallery and community resource center that celebrates literature and the arts in the borderland region of New Mexico, Texas and Northern México. Located in Las Cruces, New Mexico, 42 miles from the U.S./México border on the Camino Real and on the original Las Cruces townsite, we believe books are for everyone. When you enter our historic adobe, our motto is "This is the temple where books are sacred." We focus on Chicano/Chicana/Latino/Latina, Southwestern and Borderland literature but are building an impressive collection of books from New Mexico settler families.

This interview took place this summer 2017 in Las Cruces while I attended a writing workshop with the Chicana activist and writer: Denise Chávez. We sat in her bookstore and chatted like old friends, which I'm happy to say, we now are friends, comadres. She gave me more than an interview. She gave me a peek into her past. We laughed and laughed because Denise is very theatrical and very funny. I couldn't upload the video I took because I'm not that tech savvy; but here are the transcripts. Due to tech difficulties, namely I didn’t know my battery would drain so quickly, I wasn’t able to record the remainder of the interview; however, by answering a couple of questions and describing in great detail her stories, she answered many of my questions. Next time I meet an icon, I’ll be sure to have a backup battery.
J: When I was thinking of coming to interview Denise Chavez I had a bunch of questions but I really just wanted to have a chat with her and get her perspective on life so I’m going to ask a couple of questions. My husband said, “Don’t ask those questions.” And I said, “I’m going to ask those questions…”
D: Yes, those are the questions to ask.
J: He said, “Ask those later.” And I said, “No. Those are the first two questions.”
D: All right.
J: The first question is who betrayed you?
D: Well, I think the first betrayal was my father when he divorced my mother when I was ten years old and the betrayal was this. He didn’t let us know that he was leaving and I was the person who went to the door and the man is standing there with papers to say that my father has left and he’s divorcing my mother. It was a hard jolt and whether it was a betrayal… now that I think about it, we were better off separating and then divorcing eventually; but his …I’ll continue the story…It was hard that he didn’t have the strength of will to say goodbye to us; so that’s the way I always talk about him divorcing us. He didn’t have the respect for my mother. He didn’t say good bye to us; but then again he never did leave, because my father moved to Albuquerque; well, first of all to Santa Fe He was a lawyer an assistant DA and he was working up there. But he would come down …cuando…now and again to visit his sister and his mother. 
     My dad was a character and we loved him. But he would come down …cuando…now and again to visit his sister and his mother and stay with them.  And he would call us and say let’s go and eat. And it was difficult. My aunt lived down the end of the street…my mother always wanted to go with us, but he never wanted her. He was cruel.  But then, again he kept coming back because after a while he would stay at the house. He was always bringing his laundry and he would throw in his dirty laundry in the back of this pea green Pontiac that the hood wouldn’t come down and he had a coat hanger that would keep the trunk down and my mother referred to is as Jaws at the car. So, my dad is throwing his laundry in the back of his trunk no paper bags no plastic bags and he’s driving up eventually my mom would do his laundry; they may have slept together occasionally. And she always said goodbye to him with a huge roll of toilet paper so she’s helping him tend to his life and then on the other hand this is the strangeness and the beauty of relationships; they loved each other but they couldn’t really get along.
     My father was an alcoholic; my mother was a very devout Catholic who went to Mass every morning but she was very tolerant but he was impossible and so when he was possible he was still impossible; but she always taught us to love him and he remained in our lives even though he came and went and came and went. That same car, when I moved to Santa Fe and I was living there I drove that car around, too. I remember my dad lending me that car for a month maybe because I was having trouble with my little bug. He was a strange, complicated, little man but an interesting character to write about yes.
     So in a way it was betrayal but on the other hand it was good he was gone so sometimes you have to look at those things for the good. What is the betrayal? It could have been earlier but it also led to my writing… I talk about this incident. I came out of the house and our neighbor was this jangled teenager who had psychotic problems and he was pulling branches. I detail this in my short story the Willow Game. He was pulling branches and in other words denuding the tree and really going at it and my mother was out there and she said, “Billy what are you doing?” I changed the names a little bit. He says, “I’m killing your tree and I write about that in the Last of the Menu Girls. It was an awakening of darkness. He was an unhappy person and I’ll never forget that tree because we loved it. As children played in it. The branches were good for hitting their sisters and the neighbors…it was a love tree. And he did kill it. So, in my mind I couldn’t understand that sense of evil and darkness. He eventually moved to a boy’s home. He was not well.
     You don’t understand as a child that darkness that betrayal and then one day I was in school Holy Cross Elementary school and some strange little boy that I didn’t know strange because he was a stranger. Just literally came up and punched me in the stomach. And I doubled over it was an aggression by somebody that I didn’t know and I just…ugh ugh ugh…just crawled back. That was so painful. Somebody striking you and I went back to the classroom and I never spoke of it; but I later on I wrote about it. It’s hard to write about things like that. I was able to think…Thank God for writing.
     Because in this day and age its random violence. I don’t understand why people are stabbing people and jumping people and doing violence against Muslim teenagers that seventeen-year old girl or the people on the train or whatever. People are unhappy and that’s why they’re so dark and evil so maybe really earlier probably around the same time that punch and I write about that punch. That punch that punch…I think is something different. But that is a sense of betrayal. That’s a very good question. Thank your husband. 
J: Okay, the next question. Who did you betray, Denise?
D: Too many people. I’m eating some chocolate here. I think you’re always regretful about that whether it was somebody in grade school…one of my friends stole my miso. I knew she had stolen my miso and it’s pretty hard to confront somebody who steals your prayer book. And I saw her and she had glued a piece of paper over my name and I had to confront her; probably got her in a little bit of trouble. But that was okay because I felt it was just; because number one, my mother had gotten me the prayer book; I had plenty of prayer books, and I realize now, she came from a poor side of town. Why didn’t I just give her that prayer book?  I had others. Why did I have to confront her and humiliate her and peel the paper off and it’s a small thing to talk about…
J: How old were you?
D: Ten. In a way, it’s good, yes, and in a way, no, and this is the workshop we’ve done today. When is it good to speak truth? What is truth? On the one hand, I had to stand up for myself. She had stolen my prayer book. On the other hand, I didn’t have the compassion or understanding as a child to just say, “You know what? It’s okay.” And I never did speak to anybody about it. I wish I had been able to talk to my mother or somebody and say, “Look, Gloria, stole my prayer book. What should I have done? I had no one to talk to about those questions you have when you’re a young girl or a child. What was the right answer? I don’t know maybe I did need to confront her, because I had to speak up for myself, but did I? I don’t know. Now, I would just let her have the prayer book. So, whether it’s that or…
J: There are many kinds of betrayal.
D: Many kinds of betrayal. Dating your ex-boyfriend’s brother; or whatever the story is, you never know what that betrayal…or betrayal to yourself that’s the worst kind of betrayal when you disappoint yourself. I should have acted better. Why did I beat…why was I so rude and I have a tendency to be curt sometimes.
     My mother was a no-nonsense person and sometimes I’m hard on people. I realize that my hardness comes from a wounded mother who was abandoned. My husband understands this, but it’s hard to be around a woman, who you gave gifts to, for Father’s Day. The check was never in the mail. My mother was always struggling to pay her bills. The bills were mounded high and it’s like I’m still living from my mother’s story of lack.
     But it’s like you know you…lets change that story; because my mother, pobrecito, got three dollars here, five dollars there and she always had bills. I’m always ferreting out and paying this and doing that; so that sense of betrayal that you have there that you feel about yourself. Why can’t I make money? Is it that I’m living the story of my mother who never had anything?  And I realized maybe I am; maybe I’m living out the scenario of people that didn’t have much; and so you feel a sense of, you know…I’m a talented, creative person. Why can’t I make money? Because there are other things that are sometimes more important.
     I’m very generous in our bookstore. Sometimes I find myself giving a lot of things away and hey, it’s okay; because here we are at this workshop... I’ve got a donation of count ‘em five fans. Before you came here I was missing three ceiling fans. These ceiling fans are new; that were donated, by friends. And then Manuela gave me a fabulous floor fan and another little fan that I have to put together. So, in the course of calling out to the Universe that I need fans, and it’s still hot; but we have fans; and instead of one fan, I have five new fans; so in a way, money is not everything. Fame and everything. I don’t know. I’m very rich.
J: On that note, I want to ask you what do you want your legacy to be? When you leave this world and people talk about you, what do you want them to say about Denise Chavez?
D: She was generous. She loved words. She loved culture, art, and she made a good cup of coffee; but more than that, I hope that I was able to…I feel that our community center is here to enlighten, empower, and inform people. Inform, empower, and enlighten. Hopefully there are a couple of people that felt some security in this place.
     I refer to our bookstore as a sanctuary business; so I hope people come and remember that they felt comfortable here. Like I used to feel in my mother’s house. She made everybody…I remember she had a sign over the door that says, “May all guests be received as Christ.” She loved life. She was a very religious person. I might not have that sign, but I liked the beauty of it: May all guests be received here with goodness and light and love and with god-ness and then she had a little sign over her desk; and it makes me very emotional, and I think about it too...Do I oppress others with my gloom? Do I oppress others with my gloom? In other words, pick it up, be cheerful.
     I sometimes fall into darkness and I get depressed; but I hope that people will remember that I had joy and that I was happy; and that when we sat here and drank our coffee, we were…that you felt comfortable; and that the characters in my book, and I talk about my writing, brought you some happiness and laughter and maybe a few tears. Let’s cry a little bit. Because it’s very good to cry and we did in this workshop. We’ve had a wonderful time of laughing and we cried a little bit too.

J: Well the next question is a little bit of trivia. Let’s go back to the seventies. What were you wearing and what music were you listening to at that time? I see you have a huge vinyl collection.  
D: Well, I love the Beatles and George was my Beatle. I graduated from high school in ’66 and I’m not sure when the Beatles came to the U.S. It was in high school cause my dad got tickets It was maybe when I was a junior or sophomore. Something like that. My dad got tickets for the Beatles at Red Rock Amphitheatre; and we went there, camped on the campground. We sat in the third row when the Beatles came. And who’s the opening act? Let me think about this. Oh, god. Now I can’t remember; but it was a wonderful opening act.
J: When you remember you can send me an email.
D: And I will. But here’s the thing. We were there. My dad got tickets. My oldest sister, Foddy and my sister, Margo, a cousin of my brother-in-law’s, and we were all there screaming. I’ll never forget looking back up…so I might have been enjoying the Beatles.
     My mother was a character. As devout as she was, but she would take us out of school because she drove us, picked us up out of school; so we could hear the Dave Clark Five in Albuquerque; and so we’re driving on a school day to hear Dave Clark Five! She was…she…they loved music and they…I remember my mother loved, The House of the Rising Sun; and she never knew that it was about a bordello. (Laughter) No. She just loved the music. She just thought it was fabulous. So, I grew up with people that loved music. I was probably listening to a lot of music.
     I had a flip. And I’ll show you my flip. It was fabulous. Yes, I curled my hair and I had big rollers; but I had such an incredible flip and a wonderful hairdo and I was looking very mod, very hip. Minis. And my mother made a lot of our clothes so my sister and I looked…she would go into a store and see a pattern and then she’d make her own patterns.
     So, we were always muy modern whatever that style was; we looked good. We were cute girls and so here I was with my flip and my sister had a fall…I never did…we wore wiglets. I wore false eyelashes and then sometimes I would fall asleep. We used to go drinking in Juarez dancing more than anything else. There was a group of us that loved to dance so we’d go dancing and I remember coming home and falling asleep with my false eyelashes on and I couldn’t open my eyes in the morning.
     So, I was just an interesting, attractive…and thoughtful young woman. I was working as a waitress. I started my career as a waitress. And I worked as a waitress for about six years. I loved working with people. And it was one of the best jobs I ever had; because the training…for a writer…to learn service. To learn about people. I was in la posta a Mexican restaurant; so I was learning about life, people. I worked in the hospital; and it was good. There were years of training and understanding what the world was about. It wasn’t easy. My mother was very strict; but in retrospect, I realized, that was very good.
J: Okay. The next question is who were you reading? Who were the authors or the names of the books that you were reading in the seventies?    
D: I read a lot and I was studying…by then I was at New Mexico State University; and I was reading a lot of American classics. I was introduced to Garcia Lorca as a freshman in college and he stayed with me from all time. My first poetry teacher, Keith Wilson. I was in theater; so a lot of the people that I studied were playwrights: Lillian Hellman, Chekhov. I was in many of the plays; so I acted in most of Chekhov…our director was a Russian man, so we would do plays, Chekhov I was in his plays: Uncle Vanya, Ivanov, and the Cherry Orchard; and so forth, but he was doing very interesting things during…we did world drama; we did restoration drama and I never forgot that I wore a white wig and we did eclectic interesting work. el fin.
Comadres Juliana and Denise

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Copy That

By Bethany Maines 

Most of my writing this month has been in the form of copywriting and, jeez, do I miss fiction. Churning out “welcome” scripting and press releases makes for a fun occasional challenge, but is no substitute for spending an afternoon putting a character in hot water (figuratively if it’s action, literally if it’s romance) and then figuring out how to get them out again (with a gun if it’s action, with a hot guy if it’s romance).

But one thing that copywriting does provide is practice in how to think about writing. When the word count is proscribed, and the client says that it should be sort of, maybe, be something about this random list of things that has been collected, suddenly it becomes very important to communicate what the over-arching message is. What is the hierarchy of information that needs to be communicated? What does the audience/reader care about? How can we determine what needs to be said and what can be left out? In copywriting, the ability to construct thoughts clearly and to analyze and think critically about a piece come to the forefront. In a novel, an author can spend a bit more time decorating the place with adjectives and allowing characters to spiel off witty bits of dialogue that may not particularly move the story forward. In copywriting, there’s usually room for only one or two adjectives and they had better be the right adjective that supports the speaker or brands character. Copywriting skills are like exercising a new set of muscles and definitely make me a stronger writer. But on the other hand, I’ll be glad to go back to fiction! For one thing, they rarely let me write about hot guys or guns in copywriting.


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Monday, September 25, 2017

Another Highlights Inspired Post

by Paula Gail Benson

Okay, I have to admit it. Since I had the opportunity to visit the Highlights editorial offices in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, and attend a Highlights Foundation workshop, every time I go to a doctor’s office, I scan the stacks of magazines to see if the children’s magazines are there. The other day I hit the jackpot. I arrived extra early for a routine appointment and at the top of a stack were Highlights for Children (ages 6 to 12) and High Five (ages 6 to 8). I picked them up for closer study, glad to see that I wasn’t keeping them from a member of their true audience, since there were only adults in the waiting room.

Although I glanced at High Five, my focus was on the issue of Highlights because I had an idea for a submission. Both magazines were dated November 2014 and labelled as sample issues, which I decided must be the company’s advertising campaign. A savvy idea.

During the workshop, my classmates and I had discussed what a good marketing strategy it had been for the magazines to have been distributed to doctors’ offices with perforated subscription forms that allowed immediate mailings to a child and later billings for the giver. No wonder they maintain a million subscribers to each, even in this digital age. As our guide at the editorial offices told us, “Children love to get something of their own in the mail.”

I enjoyed reviewing some of the regular features, but focused upon the fiction. A contemporary story about Thanksgiving had a young girl protagonist trying to convince her parents to prepare only foods that would have been served at the first feast. The family quickly realized the idea was impractical in that several dishes now considered traditional would be missing (like pie, cranberries, and potatoes) and that others would be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain (lobster, eel, partridge, and–horrors!–eagle).

The second story that drew my interest was a historical one, set during the depression. A young boy, Chet, resented that hoboes (or askers—a term I had not previously heard hoboes called) kept frequenting his grandmother’s house and eating the best portions of their meager meals. From listening to the group of hobo visitors, Chet learned that his house has been marked by the depiction of a cat, meaning to other hoboes that a nice woman lives there. Chet asked if there was symbol for danger and the hoboes showed it to him. After the hoboes left, Chet replaced the cat with the danger sign. When his father returned after having lost his job and riding the rails, Chet realized his selfishness and replaced the welcoming signal. The story was beautifully told as well as revealing a fascinating, little known history.

Although the Highlights editors buy all rights to a story, they pay generously and display the stories to their best advantage. The illustrations are beautifully created and reflect the true nature of the stories, drawing in readers as well as contributing to the enjoyment of the story.

So, the next time you’re in a doctor’s waiting room, scan those stacks of magazines. See if you can find a Highlights or High Five and delight in the paths they lead you. Just be sure to share them with any younger readers who might have an appointment there, too!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Apples and Honey - My Wish for You

Apples and Honey – My Wish for You by Debra H. Goldstein

For more observant Jews, today is the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.  Reform and many conservative practitioners concluded celebrating the holiday last night. Besides its celebratory new year’s translation, Rosh Hashanah is also referred to as the Day of Judgement or Day of Remembrance because it is the first day of ten that Jews review their relationship with God and reflect on their actions during the past year. For on Rosh Hashanah one’s fate is determined and inscribed in the Book of Life, or not, but that fate is not sealed until the end of the ten days when the most important Jewish holiday, Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, is observed.

Other than Yom Kippur, which is a day of fasting, most Jewish holidays have food traditions associated with them. Rosh Hashanah is no exception. On that day, we dip apple slices into honey as a way of expressing our hope for a sweet new year.  Traditional commentators have said that this practice represents the Shekinah, the feminine side of God, and our belief she is watching us and evaluating our behavior of the last year. We eat the apples and honey hoping the evaluation will be kind – touched with sweetness. Another viewpoint is that the apples are eaten because of their association with health and healing.

I like to embrace the first interpretation. As my family says a blessing thanking God for the apples, eats the apples and honey, and concludes with a final prayer asking God for renewal and blessing in the new year, I take stock of my many blessings. Family, friends, health, and the ability to follow my passion are not lost on me. I am well aware of those devastated by wicked turns in life, ravaging storms, and major disappointments.

Although many of you reading this are not observing my holiday, I cannot help but take this moment, as I partake of apples and honey and observe my family doing the same, to wish all of you a year of apples and honey.    Debra

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Series and Standalones

Series or Standalone? 
By Cathy Perkins

Hitting today’s Frustration Meter - getting to the end of what you thought was a really great standalone novel and stumbling onto the words "END OF BOOK ONE."  

(Yes, First World Problem.)

Worse yet - ugh - a serial novel.

Or the flip side - you reach the end of a story, and the ending is so perfect... 

...or you're like a food addict and someone just took away your cake. 

"How am I supposed to live without these characters? What happens next? How could the author be so cruel?"

Which begs the questions: Series or Standalone?

Probably the single biggest advantage to a series is if you like the characters, you can get more of their story. After a while it becomes comfortable, like hanging out with friends.  I know these people! I like them – what’s happening?

Over the course of the series, the characters can change, hopefully improving for the better, over a more realistic, longer period. As a reader, it’s easier to commit time and money if the book in a series. If you like the first one, you figure you’ll like the next one in the series, rather than chancing another random book, even another book by the same author.

The down side is, if each book in the series doesn’t have a complete and satisfying story arc of its own, you may feel you’re left hanging while waiting for the next book. Books aren't like TV shows. You don't get the next episode a week later. Also, depending on the overall story arc of the series, there may be significant threads left unresolved. This can bother a reader who has to wait for the next book.
Writing a series means every installment has to be as good as or better than the last. No rehashing of a theme. No cookie cutter plots. No formulas. Readers deserve to feel their appetite for the adventure was satisfied, and they can’t wait for the next in the series.
Another challenge is backstory. Can the reader pick up a book in the middle of the series and get enough backstory for it to make sense? Or do they have to start with book one? How much backstory does the author include in subsequent books without boring the dedicated series fan or confusing the mid-series pick-up reader?
Finally, what if a series goes too long? What if the protagonist keeps falling into the same old danger time after time? This can result in the B word: boring. You don’t want to go there.
The advantage of writing a standalone is trying new ideas or themes without the confines of your established setting and characters. Your readers can discover a new side of your talent. A standalone for a series author is like an experimental science lab. Just don’t blow up the place and go so far over the line that your fans don’t recognize you.
What do you think? 
Do you prefer reading or writing a series or standalones?

Cathy Perkins
After publishing three standalone novels, I’m easing into the series idea. DOUBLE DOWN (presale available here) features several of the characters from So About the Money (JC speaks! He finally gets a point of view!) with events right after “book one” ends. 
I’m working away on Book Two, so hopefully readers will jump on board with this new story and series.

Keep in touch at my website or sign up for my newsletter.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Literary Boston

by Paula Gail Benson

I’m going to follow in the footsteps of my blogging partner Dru Ann Love and write about my experiences on a recent trip to Boston. It’s a city I’ve always found captivating in books.

When I was young, I read Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain and was enthralled by the young apprentice studying Paul Revere’s workmanship. Later, I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Boston-based, single-named detective, Spenser, through a television series. I avidly read Linda Barnes’ mysteries featuring cabbie and sometimes investigator Carlotta Carlyle. Not to mention Hank Phillippi Ryan’s novels about Boston investigative reporter Charlotte McNally and her Jane Ryland thrillers; some of Toni L.P. Kelner’s Laura Fleming series; and Dana Cameron’s Anna Hoyt stories that take place in colonial Boston.

In Boston’s Public Garden, a line of bronze ducks represent the characters from Robert McClosky’s Make Way for Ducklings. A plaque explains that the story made the Garden familiar to children around the world and I have read that the ducks’ bronze surfaces never need to be shined because so many little bottoms come to sit on them.

Emerson House in Concord
Growing up, I found Boston’s neighboring town of Concord fascinating for its collection of literary figures. In high school, I read about the three Peabody sisters: Elizabeth, an educator and book store operator, who introduced her sisters to their famous husbands (artist Sophia married Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mary became Horace Mann’s wife). Ralph Waldo Emerson lived in Boston and Concord, and Henry David Thoreau was born in Concord and wrote of its local Walden Pond.

As far as I was concerned, the most famous Concord resident was Louisa May Alcott, whose Little Women had been a constant companion for me and seen me through good times and bad.

I was extremely fortunate to find a tour that went to Lexington and Concord, showing us not only the Revolutionary War significant sites, but also the homes of Emerson, Hawthorne (Wayside Inn), and Alcott (Orchard House).

Orchard House
Seeing Orchard House, made even more real Meg’s garden wedding and the attic where Jo wrote her novels. Yes, this was the place where the four March girls grew to become Little Women, and I rejoiced in seeing a spot that had so long filled my imagination.

Fortunately, our tour guide was experienced enough to make a story of the journey. He traced the route that Paul Revere had taken, showing us the monument at the place where Revere was captured, and even pointing out the house that belonged to the Merriam family (of Merriam Webster fame).
Revere Monument near Concord

I also learned also that a large portion of modern day Boston was created by years of immigrants (many of them Irish) working to fill in habitable land around the harbor. The hotel where I stayed was in the Back Bay. I thought the name unique, but quickly learned it was used to describe many of the area’s buildings. An Amazon search led me to discover a William Martin novel titled Back Bay, which traces the history, and is now on my reading list.

Probably the most invigorating thing I discovered about Boston was the pride in the sense of history so clearly exhibited among its inhabitants. Everywhere I went, from Fenway Park to the TD Garden to the harbor to the theatre district, people told stories about the past and pointed to monuments that commemorated important persons and events. The city was vibrant with memories of the past and hopes for the future.

I walked near the end of the Boston Marathon course and thought of the bombing victims. May we all continue to hear and tell the stories of Boston and to remain “Boston Strong.”

Friday, September 15, 2017

She's Leaving Home--Bye, Bye

Readers of a certain age will recognize the title of this blog as the chorus to a Beatles song. Nostalgia is my mood at the moment, so I'm playing and singing all the oldies.

In this particular case, the "she" who's leaving home is me. I'm about to leave my home of the past 42 years with its marble fireplace with walnut mantel, walnut crown moldings, multiple built-in cupboards (including a corner glass-doored china cupboard), wood floors, tall ceilings, big windows, spacious rooms --and outdated plumbing and wiring. My husband and I are in the last throes of decluttering and packing for our move to a much smaller house without the great storage and space of this one but without its problems, as well. As we pack up and pile boxes and bins, I know we've made the right decision, but I'm reminded constantly of the many great years I had in this house while raising my family. So, yeah, nostalgia.

I decided I wanted to take photos of the rooms before they were turned into stacks of boxes and stripped of their furniture. Of course, my tablet's excellent camera suddenly wouldn't work, and my cell phone's too old to have a camera. I refused to be thwarted, however, and took the interior shots with my laptop webcam (which is why they're blurry enough to pass as Impressionist paintings). For the record, though, I now have photos of my living room and dining room. (My arms tired quickly--it's awkward taking regular photos with a webcam--so my ambition to snap pictures of all the rooms quickly faded.)

Above, you see my marble fireplace with walnut mantel, as well as my quilt-covered old wicker couch and one of my spinning wheels. This is the middle third of our extremely large living room. The first photo is of the front of our house with part of the front-yard gardens. The next photo is of the front third of our living room with my big floor loom and another spinning wheel partially obscured by the boxes we've started piling in the living room. The loom and both spinning wheels will join my Husqvarna sewing machine in our new home.

The final photo is of part of the dining room with its big round wooden table and chairs and one of the two freestanding china cabinets in that room. The built-in one is in the breakfast room next door. Only one of these freestanding cabinets is going with us, but the table and chairs--as old as my time in this house--will accompany us, as well.

I will not miss the extension cord shuffle which all unrenovated-old-house owners do, of necessity. I will not miss the months of the year when it's simply too cold or too hot to work in my upstairs office/studio, even wrapped in wool shawls and gloves or stripped to underwear. Modern insulation and central HVAC have a lot to recommend them. I will not miss all the stairs. Most of all, I won't miss the constant sucking sounds as all the money I make goes into household emergencies like storm-damaged gutters or yet another plumbing disaster. (When you own a house, my child, water is not your friend.)

Still, this house has been the site of many holiday feasts for the extended family. It sheltered not only my two husbands and three children but two foster sons, a nephew, and at one time or another, all my brothers and their friends or wives, as well as my sister. We've had celebrations and parties. When my oldest kids were young, the teachers went on strike for a year, and this house became a schoolroom for most of the kids in the neighborhood. Every summer, it was kid headquarters as I kept the block's youngsters out of trouble by teaching them how to make butter, soap, candles, bread, cheese, baskets, and many other projects. That dining room table has seen so many home-cooked meals and craft projects and school homework assignments and science-fair projects and family council meetings that my family's DNA is embedded deep within the fiber of the wood. It's been a wonderful home.

Now, the time is right to move on to a more convenient, safer (no stairs for me to break anything more on), lower maintenance, and smaller place. I'm looking forward to it. But yeah, I'll miss the old girl as we drive off with the moving van. 42 years is a long time, and what warm, lovely years they've been!

Linda Rodriguez's Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, are her newest books. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, will appear January 17, 2018. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Tribute to My BFF Comadre, Tracy, for her investigation skills

2010ish Tracy Harmon, investigative journalist and Juliana Aragon Fatula, private eye

The truth. I learned life's lessons the hard way; life kicked my ass.
But I learned to tell the truth and not hide things from friends and family,
I feel no shame for my past; only revelation for my future.
I'm a candle lighting the way for other writers to follow.

Tracy and I met in college about a gazillion years ago.
We were younger.
Jams with wild prints were in style.
We have been friends thirty years, three decades.
That's history; excuse me, herstory.
We shared many stories about life and love and sadness;
I don't know how I'd survive this world without her.
She's a comadre; she's a mujer muy mujer. A Chingona. A badass. 

More to come...stay tuned for my next post the 4th Thursday of the month.

September 6, 2017

My BFF, the infamous, incomparable, glorious, generous, unjudgmental journalist and professional photographer; Tracy Harmon of the Pueblo Chieftain, writes the stories that we read in the newspaper every day. Some of them are boring, some funny, some recipes. But once a year it’s a homicide.

In twenty-five years, she’s written about twenty-five homicide stories. Sometimes it was one victim, sometimes two or three, not by the same person, not the same year, but dead none the less; she’s the one who investigates and writes about these stories, so we’ll know what’s out there. And there’s some crazy mofos out there.

I feel blessed to have her in my life.  I write about fiction; I write about murder, mysteries, car chases; but she lives them: shoot-outs with the gunmen and the police, the murderers, crime scenes, coroner’s reports, and court testimonies.

She writes about the suicides; the people who jump off the Royal Gorge Bridge, or the drowned victims that go rafting in the Arkansas River every summer. She writes about toddlers playing in their backyard unsupervised and drowning in their swimming pool. She writes about inmates murdered by other inmates, that is her life.

And how she maintains such a rosy outlook on life I would have to contribute to Prozac or some anti-depressant; just thinking about those people murdered in my small town, people hung from trees by the KKK because they were not white Christians; my little town is cursed. So what better place to write about murder.

There is a bright spot though; the police did capture the person who murdered an eighteen-year-old boy at Brush Hollow Reservoir. He was assassinated by a kid with a shotgun and left to bleed to death. A senseless violence. There was a shoot-out and a police car chase and car crash on Highway 50. They caught the suspect, his girlfriend confessed to what she had witnessed. Let’s hope the sheriff’s department doesn’t take the evidence from the homicide home, forget about it for a decade, and f-up the case like they did with Candace’s murder ten years ago, and screw up the chain of evidence to prosecute.  

The clouds are massing, wind is blowing, chimes are ringing, birds are taking cover, and the sun is getting blotted out by clouds. I’m in my sunroom protected from the elements and writing about homicides, cold cases, missing persons. Tracy, mi comadre, visits and we have a cup of tea and discuss cold cases. We like to analyze the evidence and try to figure out who done it. Sometimes she vents in my sunroom on my couch about the horrific scenes she has covered. Death, murder, homicide, rape, kidnapping…

Tracy Harmon, investigative sleuth, I salute you for your undercover skills, you rock. And I love you; thanks for writing the stories we read in the Pueblo Chieftain about our town, Cañon City, Colorado. And thanks for dragging me along occasionally on landfill digs, to collect evidence before it’s destroyed. You help put the bad guys in prison. You are my s-hero. I hope we grow old together and write these stories, these unsolved murders and never forget the victims. Never.