Friday, November 1, 2013

History: Lincoln, by Ray John de Aragon

Title: Lincoln
Author: Ray John de Aragon
Publisher: Arcadia Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction - History
Price: $21.99

Author and historian Ray John de Aragon explores the story of Lincoln County by looking at the lives of people who lived, worked, raised hell and raised families during a tumultuous time in history.

Lincoln, the newest in the popular Images of America series published by Arcadia Publishing, features vintage photos with interesting facts about the people and places captured by the camera. Cattle rustling, fraudulent claims against landowners, murder and mayhem were the order of the day. As often as not, the bad guys prevailed leaving devastation and death in their wake. For a time Lincoln seemed to be at the center of more corruption than anywhere in the state. Members of the Santa Fe Ring – unscrupulous lawyers, lawmen, judges and landowners ­­– held sway over anyone unwilling to go along with their plans. Yet people continued moving into the territory bringing education, churches, and families.

The area teemed with colorful, and often violent characters. Aragon writes of Jose Chavez y Chavez: “(He) was Billy the Kid’s sidekick. He went back and forth from lawman to outlaw. Chavez joined the Alexander McSween faction (opponents of the Santa Fe Ring). He was sentenced to death for murder, but Gov. Miguel Antonio Otero commuted the sentence. Later, Gov. George Curry pardoned Chavez. He spent the rest of his life thrilling youngsters with stories of Billy the Kid as he sat on a park bench on the Old Town Plaza in Las Vegas, New Mexico.”

These factoids about people make for interesting reading and offer insight into what life was like in the Old West.

The town of Lincoln has been described as the most authentic Old West town remaining in America. It sits in the lush green valley of the Rio Bonito in southeastern New Mexico and has been a National Landmark since 1960. Spanish settlers arrived in the area during the 1840s. By the 1860s it served as a supply center for local ranches, mines and nearby Fort Stanton. Merchants vied for lucrative government contracts creating conflict and resulting in the Lincoln Country War. 

The small town boasts 17 historic buildings and four museums. Many notable characters crossed paths in Lincoln and rode into history. Among them Lew Wallace, Billy the Kid, Sherriff Pat Garrett and John Chisum. 

In Lincoln Aragon recreates the drama, intrigue and turbulence of the town, the county and the times, bringing to life an era that spawned a legend.

Aragon’s book is available in bookstores, independent and online retailers, and through Arcadia Publishing (888-313-2665)


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Q&A With Author Sally Ooms

Title: Finding Home
Author: Sally Ooms
Publisher: Home Free Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction

Sally Ooms has been a print journalist for 30 years—a reporter, correspondent and editor for publications in Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Missouri and Kansas. She has covered spot news, government, education issues, the arts, mental and other health concerns, business, sports and local crises during times of war, and has written hundreds of feature articles and investigative reports. Among the publications she has worked for are: the Sacramento Bee, the Las Vegas Daily Optic, the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican, New Mexico Business Weekly, Springs Magazine (Colorado Springs), the Kansas City Star and The Sun newspaper (Johnson County, KS).
In this Q&A Sally candidly talks about her book and her personal engagement with the stories.

H: Talk about your book, “Finding Home.”

SO: I have been a print journalist most of my adult life. I spent four years interviewing people around the country about displacement from the place they called home and hearing how they recreated or regained them. I talked to them about what home means to them as well, and discovered a wealth of meanings in that word or concept.
H: Does the book follow a pattern, regional or otherwise? And why?
SO: The book is divided into about 10 types of displacement—from foster kids to veterans, immigrants to Native Americans, victims of natural disasters to homeless men and women. They all tell in their own voices how they climbed out of their adversities and “found home.” That often meant how they regained their center. Witnessing their determination and grit is what makes the book upbeat in general and downright inspirational at times.
H: How has your personal life experience shaped the way you wrote “Finding Home?”
Throughout my journalism career, displacement has arisen and been a huge issue for me. I gravitated toward, and received assignments, of that nature. For example, I have interviewed farmers who have been relocated from their land and written articles about mental hospital outpatients who were being taken advantage of by boarding house landlords.
At one point, I went to Oklahoma and interviewed Wilma Mankiller who was then chief of the Cherokee Nation. She, of course, talked about the Trail of Tears and this led me to do research into forced relocations of other Native Americans.
As a Midwestern child, I spent time cowering in the basement wondering if my home would be ripped away. And, I was raised by a father who had lost his parents at an early age and had been tossed from family member to extended family member several times in his upbringing. I sympathized with his early-years predicament and learned the importance of family as home.
H: What was the writing process? Did you do it story by story or gather bunches of stories and then put them together?
SO: I began the book after I watched Katrina’s sad aftermath and a tornado destroyed the entire Central Kansas town of Greensburg. I had first-hand knowledge of Greensburg because I traveled through it and sometimes stayed in it on my trip from New Mexico to see my mother in Kansas City.
So, I began investigation of my topic with people who were rebuilding their physical houses and communities. I discovered then that the word home contains a wealth of meanings, from the structure we inhabit to a place strictly in the heart. I decided that was what I wanted to talk to people about. Furthermore, I wanted to hear from people who are on in the fringes of society and have felt isolated or alienated from mainstream America. I saw so many groups of people that we dismiss, either because we do not understand their plights or, if we do, we are clueless as to how we might do anything to uplift them.
I found people who have been dislodged from their core, if you will, and regained their identify and the “place” where they can be their authentic selves.
I did all the things reporters are supposed to do in terms of researching my material. I read newspaper accounts, mined the Internet, read books on the issues related to various types of displacement. I told everyone I came into contact with what I was doing, always carrying my trusty pad with me. People would ask me what I was writing down. That is how I got a tip from a man in a Missouri motel breakfast room, a suggestion from a waiter in a Chicago hotel restaurant and a helpful comment from a fellow subway rider in San Francisco. I talked to people at the head of agencies that are helping people climb out of their difficulties. I heard from friends, relatives of friend and friends of friends.
I set up interviews and traveled to towns, cities and regions around the West, Southwest and Midwest and to Washington, D.C. More often than not, I would arrive at an appointment with a person I thought was crucial to be a part of the book and that person would say, “Sorry, I’m busy today,” or “I just don’t have the time.” They would then lead me to another person who actually turned out to be the perfect person to interview. So, there was a lot of serendipity in the process.
For example, the coordinator of the Youth Empowerment Project in New Orleans, turned me over to the man who really rolls up his sleeves and creates a home atmosphere for young people who have been incarcerated and have troubled homes. In addition, he had walked the walk himself, having experienced similar troubles in his own youth. He then interested one of the young people in talking with me about her experiences.
Another example would be when, after quite of few days of pursuing the head of a Navajo organization called Forgotten People, (he kindly took me around to chapter house meetings on the reservation to meet people but they only spoke Navajo), he introduced me to his mother and said she was the right person for me to interview. Her story is incredible—a tale that spanned her life as an adolescent sheepherder in remote New Mexico mountains, to her hard-won education and election to the Coconino County (Arizona) Board of Supervisors where she served for 30 years.
Putting together the book was quite a journey. I began to see that it was best not to try and rule the material with an iron fist. There began to be a natural flow as to the people who were “right” to tell their stories. I gained confidence that they understood what contribution they were making to others in relating them.
I also recognized that there is a healing power for people when they tell their stories. I would see them move from the memories of devastation or hardship to pride in overcoming the problems. Pride in what they had accomplished. Gratitude for those who had assisted them.
H: In the process of writing the book, what resonated most with you?
SO: People ask me what I learned in creating the book. I think one of the things I learned is something that I perhaps already suspected: there is increasing connection between and among people, and this connecting is a powerful thing. It particularly comes to the fore when there are hard times or collective predicaments to be tackled.
I have heard people read some accounts in the book and compare themselves to them. “I would never had been so brave,” or “I could never have overcome those circumstances.” But, I think they don’t understand the reserves that they—that we all— have to draw upon. If you have never been tested, as it were, you don’t know what enormous strengths you possess. Or recognize the value of partnering with others toward a common goal until a desperate need arises.
That is why I included the word “prevail” in the subtitle: How Americans Prevail. I saw, and hope others see, how Americans of all shapes, colors and persuasions are discovering what is meaningful to them and taking charge of their lives. They would all agree, I believe, that divisiveness is not the answer. They are living, breathing examples of how we cope, and then go beyond simply coping.
H: What kinds of reception are you getting from people who read the book?

SO: Readers have told me a variety of things in reaction to “Finding Home.”
One woman said she was going to be more patient with her adult son who had a learning disability. Another person said she wanted to start a scholarship organization to help former foster kids get their college degrees. An ex-combat veteran told me the book was important. A retired boat captain says he will tell everyone he knows to read it because these are stories people will want to hear. An investment manager bought 10 copies, saying simply that he loved it. The formerly battered woman who was interviewed in the book came to a reading in Taos and publicly thanked me for writing the  
book and for including her in it. (That, of course, touched me deeply.) I have just completed a six and a half week book tour and will resume it this week. As I travel, I hear how timely the book is and how people have renewed hope in their countrymen and women as they read “Finding Home.” I feel very gratified to hear their comments.
I feel very privileged to have made the acquaintance of my interviewees as well. You can’t hear people’s struggles and follow their accounts through to their triumphs, both large and small, without developing a sense of intimacy with them.
This I think is one of the things I hope people take away, that they “meet” people they might never have come into contact with, that they find some commonality with them. They might say, “Gee, I never thought I would have anything in common with that person, but I might have done the same thing in their circumstances. I might have found that same solution or taken a creative approach like that.”
So, I always hope for a reaction that is more than “There but for the grace of God go I.” Not that there is anything wrong with feeling that. I just want readers to move one step forward toward considering what home means to them and realizing that hopelessness is not really stitched into our consciousness. I believe that hope is.
H: The image on the cover is interesting. Talk about what that means to you.
SO: Jerry Uelsmann is the creator of the photomontage on the cover. He is famous for this technique and taught it in the ‘70s and ‘80s at various schools and universities. His website is really worth checking out. Lots of interesting images. This one was on a postcard that I had sitting on my desk in front of me the whole time I was working on the book.
Once I decided that the issue of home was where I was going with the book, the image became even more linked in my mind with my topic. A huge root system arises from the ground supporting a house. The strength of the support system is symbolic for me of the wellspring within us that grows our sense of home.
I silently kept wishing that I could use the image for the cover. When I moved to San Francisco to get the book published, I found my terrific editor. I told him about my long-time desire to include it in the cover. He said, “Why don’t you e-mail the guy?”
Oh, hmm, now that seemed too simple a solution. However, I did e-mail him immediately, explaining the concept of the book. The next day I heard back that I could definitely use it. It’s funny how we get these, “Oh that could never happen” thoughts in our heads and cling to them.
The overall design is by Stewart Cauley, a New York cover designer who suffered the loss of his own home and business because of Hurricane Sandy. The cover was held up several months because of his circumstances. The publicist and I found it ironic and sad that he had been working on the cover for “Finding Home” when he lost his own. He has now recovered. Perhaps fodder for a second book?
Along that line, I would very much like to travel back east and hear what creative things people are doing to rebuild their lives after the hurricane hit such a populous area. Also, I neglected the east and most of the south in this book except for Louisiana and Mississippi, strictly because I had more familiarity with the areas I went to. I lived and worked in most of the regions in the book, but I’d like to take up other home-related issues with people back east. I’ve done loads of phone radio interviews with stations in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and more, so I’d like to follow up.
H: In the course of writing “Finding Home” did you learn something about yourself you didn’t know before?
SO: That I possess that same resilience that I admire in so many others. I just access it differently than I once did, partly because I have taken to heart the examples of the people I had the good fortune to listen to.
It is good that I am half stubborn German and half pig-headed Scot. These traits carry me through when I need them to. But only up to a certain point were these attributes useful in gathering the people for the book and during the process of putting it all together. I had to abandon the “this-is-how-I want-it-to-be” approach to the project and give it over to the universe, in a sense. I had to trust that things unfold as they are supposed to and make room to allow for that in my psyche and my heart. Oh yeh, in my mind too. Did I mention the doubt demons? I think for any author a book is a battle over preconceptions and what is expected.
I guess the short answer is: I learned more about who I am, and I feel more capable of living my calling.
H: When you asked people if they would share their stories through your book, what was the most consistent reaction?
SO: Most understood what I wanted. I would just ask a few questions about their lives and they would start talking. I didn’t have to prompt them much. As I say, I think most were glad to tell their stories.
They were sometimes reassured by the agencies I found them through. It was always a matter of trust but I told each one that they would be able to review their stories (a horrifying pursuit for a journalist, believe me. But necessary.)
Some Native Americans were concerned they would not be able to use their own stories after I published them, that I would have some right to them. I signed things saying that this would not be the case.
I solicited all the stories. The exception was one man who came up to me at a friend’s party in Colorado Springs and said to me, “You have to interview me. I’ve never felt at home anywhere.” Incidentally, he reverses himself in the telling of his story, but it was an interesting account because for him, like so many of us, what home means to us has evolved as we go along in life.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Review: Just One Evil Act

Title: Just One Evil Act

Author: Elizabeth George
Genre: Mystery/British Detectives
Price: $29.95 (Hardcover)

Barbara Havers, nothing gets in the way of her loyalty to a friend

Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, second banana to Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard in most novels in the series, takes the lead in “Just One Evil Act,” a story of betrayal, lies, and loyalty.

Barbara does not let anything get in the way of her quest to help her neighbor Taymullah Azhar, whose daughter has been taken by her mother Angelina. Hadiyyah’s parents never married. Consequently Azhar’s name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s birth certificate. He has no legal claim, which makes getting the
police involved problematic.

As the story progresses Angelina returns and demands to know what Azhar has done with their daughter. It turns out the child has disappeared, this time from in a marketplace in Tuscany where Angelina now lives with her lover.

The story heats up and so does Barbara’s efforts to find the child. Barbara figuratively climbs into bed with a tabloid journalist whose prime directive is to get the story, spin it with rapier disregard for consequences and sell papers. The best that can be said for Mitchell Corsico is his determination to get the facts. What he does with them is another matter entirely. Barbara hopes to manipulate him and his newspaper to achieve her own ends, but her plans backfire on her time and again, causing Lynley’s high regard for her to take a tumble, and their boss to threaten to sack her.

She can hardly get past one crisis before another rises. The private investigator Azhar hires hits a dead end and Barbara is left with nothing but frustration.

But there is much more going on than Barbara knows. As she learns about Azhar and his actions, she must decide between loyalty and facts. She will do anything to protect him. In her determination to find Hadiyyah and keep Azhar safe from legal action, she is blind to what is going on around her. An enemy within the ranks of Scotland Yard is doing everything he can to undermine her and tarnish her reputation. Not even Lynley can protect her, especially since she insists on going her own way. The private investigator she has hired, who had previously worked for Azhar, is lying and covering his tracks.

The one thing Barbara refuses to believe or even consider is that she cares more deeply for Azhar than she’s willing to admit. These feelings color every decision and effect every choice on her road to discovery.

Be prepared to curl up for a long siege of reading. Every one of the 725-plus pages draws you into the story. You want to keep going until you reach the climax.

In “Just One Evil Act,” we see Barbara in a different light and come to understand more about her as a woman. She is clever, determined and loyal. She may not be conventionally attractive but everything about her speaks of a woman at peace with who she is.

Elizabeth George is a master at complex story lines. Her characters are rich and colorful, distinctive and compelling. Her plot development is flawless and her use of language memorable.

George is a graduate of University of California in Riverside. She also attended California State University at Fullerton, where she was awarded a master’s degree in Counseling/Psychology and an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

She is American born and educated but writes with a sharp understanding of British culture, use of language, and police procedure.

According to her website she started out as a teacher, and much like Barbara, not inclined to go along to get along. She was fired from her first job along with ten other teachers for union activity.

George has won the Anthony Award, the Agatha Award, and France’s Le Grand Prix de Literature Policiere for her novel “A Great Deliverance,” for which she was also nominated for the Edgar and the Macavity Awards. She has also been awarded Germany’s MIMI for her novel “Well-Schooled in Murder.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Book Review: A Serpent's Tooth

Title: A Serpent’s Tooth
Author: Craig Johnson
Publisher: Viking
Price: $26.95 (Hardcover)

I’ve read every single Walt Longmire mystery in the series. That tells you how much I like the characters, the storyline and the writing. A Serpent’s Tooth doesn’t disappoint. From the moment Walt jails a “lost boy” with no apparent connections, to the arrival of the ghost of Orrin Porter Rockwell – a legendary enforcer for the founders of the Mormon religion, right down to the confrontation with greedy thieves hauling oil out of a camouflaged canyon by the truckloads, the action moves with lightening speed.

Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morretti and the rest of the sheriff’s crew do their part to keep the action lively. The dialogue is crisp, the mystery compelling, the characters well defined and the premise timely.

Author Craig Johnson has a way of engaging the reader by weaving current events, history, literary references, spirituality and a touch of romance into his novels. 

Walt Longmire is clearly a man to be reckoned with, unwilling to vary from his personal true north, which is to protect those who need protection and go after the bad guys with relentless determination.
In A Serpent’s Tooth the difficulty lies in who to go after. The boy, Cord, is from a compound posing as a religious community, but Walt has his doubts. There’s something odd about Cord, the place he comes from and the disappearance of the boy’s mother.

Walt must look beyond the obvious, tread carefully through a morass of unrelated clues, and determine what crime has been committed and by whom.

It’s further complicated by suspicions that a couple of Walt’s deputies may have known more about what’s going on than they let on. And then there’s the guy claiming to be with the CIA on behalf of Homeland Security. Who is he? Is he telling the truth? Walt is on the hunt, and he won’t quit until he has the answers, all the answers.

Johnson, a proud resident of U-Cross, Wyo., is a New York Times best selling author with eight published novels, several of which have won awards and critical acclaim.
In a radio interview I did with Johnson a year ago, he talked about how important it is for his

characters – particularly Sheriff Longmire – to be realistic. In the development of Longmire he spent hours with working sheriffs and other law enforcement personnel learning how it’s done. Detail is important to him as is understanding and conveying the complexity of his characters.

In a Publisher’s Weekly interview, Johnson was asked if his books are “westerns.”

“They are in the sense that they’re novels set in the American West, but I try to deal with the universal imperative of the human condition. I love and live in the West, but I also try to be honest about it. I’d be a fool to not realize that there’s a certain amount of baggage that goes along with writing contemporary western fiction, but instead of falling into the ruts, I try and take it down the road less traveled.”

Johnson is good at taking his readers down that road, and he’s good at telling stories, which is the best thing you can say about a writer no matter what genre they’re writing in.

A Serpent’s Tooth is available at booksellers nationwide, and through online retailers. For more information about the author and his books go to


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Featured Author: Frances Bonney Jenner

A life-changing journey across America

 Title: Prairie Journey
Author: Frances Bonney Jenner
Publisher: Irie Books
Genre: Historical
Price: $14.99

I’ve been on a journey. It hasn’t always been pleasant, nor has it been particularly fun, but it has been life changing for the Clarke family, sometimes tragic, often heroic, and every day a challenge. Frances Bonney Jenner has captured the story of young Savannah who is wrenched from her familiar surroundings and lifelong friends to embark on a harrowing trip across the continent in a wagon train.

Facing unknown obstacles 12-year-old Savannah and her family set out in search of better prospects, leaving their Missouri farm and the life she loves. It is a coming of age story set in a historical setting. Savannah considers herself less-than her smart and pretty sister, Faye. She is a sensitive child and as many children do, internalizes much of what happens and finds fault with herself, taking on worry and uncertainty like ill-fitting coats. Despite her misgivings, she proves to be self-reliant, courageous and daring.

Jenner’s careful research brings to life the perils of traveling across the country by wagon train, an endless line of lurching prairie schooners pulled by oxen, barely able to hold the essentials of life – food and water – and little room for carrying passengers, and then only when absolutely necessary.
The rhythm of wearisome days and nights of restless sleep are the heartbeat of trail life it seems, punctuated by conflicts and fears, obstacles to go over or around, and Savannah’s certainty that it will end in disaster for her family.

Through it all there is an underlying song that brings harmony and hope to the story. Savannah’s poetry peppers the narrative, which is told in her voice. Each milestone on the journey reveals her fears and her transformation.

At Ragtown in the Carson River Valley, Savannah and her mother rest by the river following the trip across a brutal and unforgiving desert. Her mother reads from a familiar book. Savannah’s mind wanders and she thinks…

I listened.
Saw herds of buffalo, the Kentucky salt
springs long ago,
the singsong rhythm
of Mother’s voice, the comfort
of words I knew so well, soothing the pain
of the desert crossing.

These bits of Savannah’s heart and mind shared throughout the narrative bring light to a story of pain and suffering, healing and hope.

Prairie Journey is told from the perspective of a young girl, but its appeal is in a story well told about a time in American history that is perhaps romanticized in movies, or at the least glossed over. Jenner’s research for the book was extensive. She learned that despite starvation, illness and death the pioneers also had exciting times and times of pure drudgery. The story conveys life on the trail with insightful attention to detail, and characters you hope will find their way safely to their new home.

The author lives in Evergreen, Colo., with her husband Doug. The couple traveled all 2000 miles of the California Trail and walked alongside a covered wagon and rattlesnakes to reach Chimney Rock, which is featured in the storyline of the book. “We slept there overnight, just like Savannah, my star character,” she writes on her blog. For more information about Frances and Prairie Journey go to

This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Book Review

Title: Spider Woman’s Daughter
Author: Anne Hillerman
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Crime Mystery
Publication Date: Oct. 1, 2013

Bernie Manuelito isn’t about to sit out the investigation into the shooting of her mentor and friend, Joe Leaphorn. When the retired lieutenant is shot point blank Bernie is the first to see him fall, and the only witness to the incident. Joe’s prognosis isn’t good. Bernie, and fellow officer on the job – and husband at home – Jim Chee, start looking into what Joe has been up to, and who might have wanted him dead. They are troubled by questions about his personal life, factors which lead other investigators to suspect someone close to Joe of the crime. Add to the mix a case he’s been working on as a private detective that delves into the history and provenance of Native American pots dating back centuries.

Missing data, incomplete reports and the mysterious activities surrounding the car used by the shooter all serve to complicate the investigation. Bernie has been ordered to stay away from direct involvement. After all, she is the only witness, and her boss doesn’t want her testimony to be tainted when the perpetrator comes to trial. And then there is Bernie’s relationship with Joe, rocky in the past, but rock solid as her respect for him has grown over time.

Spider Woman’s Daughter is a first class mystery filled with interesting detail about being a member of the Navajo police department, and part of an extended and sometimes complicated Native American family. While Bernie is coping with her concerns about the shooting, and trying to adhere to her boss’ order to take a few days leave, she is also dealing with an aging mother and an irresponsible sister whose troubles are escalating.

There is plenty in Spider Woman’s Daughter to hope author Anne Hillerman will continue in her famous father’s tradition of taking character to new depths with every outing. Bernie is a conscientious officer, a dedicated wife, daughter and sister, and a strong character whose future seems golden as a respected police officer, and as a strong protagonist in what we can only hope will become a new series. Hillerman’s research is evident, her love of New Mexico comes through in her clear description of southwest vistas, and her respect for Native American culture is an underlying melody that holds the novel together and gives it life.

This book is described as a Leaphorn and Chee Novel. In my view it stands on its own, a crime mystery in which a determined young woman becomes a police office to be reckoned with; someone who doesn’t wait to be rescued, but who takes an active role in her own survival, her own success.

About the author (From the Harper Collins website): Anne Hillerman is the author of six books and has been a journalist for 10 years. She has received awards for her work from the National Federation of Press Women and the New Mexico Press Association. She is the director of Wordharvest Writers Workshops and the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference: Focus on Mystery. She lives in Santa Fe, N.M.


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Monday, July 15, 2013

Q&A: Sherry Robinson

Careful Research Produces Well Told History of Lipan Apaches

Title: I Fought a Good Fight,
a History of the Lipan Apaches
Author: Sherry Robinson
Publisher: University of North Texas Press
Price: $32.95

Sherry Robinson is a journalist who loves history. She has been a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor in New Mexico for more than 30 years. She credits her passion for history to three good high school teachers. Other history books she has written include “El Malpais, Mt. Taylor and the Zuni Mountains” and “Apache Voices.”

H: Writing history requires a lot of research. Where did you start in terms of collecting information for “I Fought a Good Fight, a History of the Lipan Apaches?”
SR: I began with local libraries and quickly moved on to UNM’s Special Collections and the State Archives in Santa Fe. Researchers learn quickly that librarians can be your best friends. By the time I finished, I’d visited more than a dozen libraries and archives in six states.

H: Your book has been described by one reviewer as the most thorough historiography of the Lipan Apache. Tell about what sets the book apart from other historical perspectives.
SR: When I started this project, I attended a history conference in Texas. Every time I mentioned what I was working on, some learned soul would recite in two minutes what he knew about Lipans and then tell me the Lipans were extinct. I was already interviewing Lipan descendents and knew the learned souls were misinformed. Because I figured it would be difficult to find information about the Lipans, I pursued every tiny thread of information, so my research was extensive.

H: In compiling this history, what was your greatest challenge?
SR: Information about Lipans appeared in little bits and pieces. Often the history I found was riddled with errors or warped by historical biases – old racist attitudes as well as new revisionist silliness. I kept on collecting my bits and pieces and every now and then was rewarded with a good, objective account. When I began stitching them together, I was surprised at what I had.

H: Where are the Lipan now?
SR: Several hundred Lipan survivors came in to the Mescalero Apache Reservation in southeastern New Mexico between 1875 and 1914. Others, who were in Mexico, began drifting back to their former homes in Texas during the 1880s, and because they feared the army and the Texas Rangers, they passed as Mexican Americans. Some ended up on reservations in Oklahoma. And some are still in Mexico.

H: How much of what you wrote came from the descendents of a people who managed against all odds to remain free when many other Native Americans were being sucked up into a system designed to alter who they were and how they lived?
SR: I was fortunate to interview two Lipan elders at Mescalero. One was the great-granddaughter of the last Lipan chief. They were wonderful ladies. And I spoke often to the leader of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. He is also the descendent of a prominent Lipan chief and began years ago at his family’s urging to try to find the scattered Lipan descendents. I also had access to oral histories done from the 1930s through the 1960s, in three different archival collections.

H: Movies and books have portrayed Native Americans in less than heroic light and pretty much bunch all Apaches together. What sets the different tribes or bands apart and how are the Lipan different?
SR: People often think the Apaches were one big tribe, and they were all in Arizona and New Mexico in the desert. Not so. There were a number of bands, and within the bands there were groups. They were all autonomous, didn’t necessarily like each other, and each group spoke Apache a little differently. Lipans are Eastern Apaches, along with Mescaleros, Jicarillas and Kiowa Apaches (now called Naishan). Eastern Apaches lived in the mountains and plains east of the Rio Grande. Lipans are culturally Apache, but they absorbed habits of their friends and enemies. For example, Apaches don’t eat fish, but Lipans do. Apaches didn’t count coup, but Lipans did. 

H: This is one of several books you’ve written. Talk a little about the craft of writing. What is your discipline?
SR: Newspaper work has been a great blessing. You learn to report and write no matter what. Illness, fatigue, elusive sources, broken hearts, too little time, computer glitches, whatever – the newspaper must be published. It’s the reason I don’t believe in writers block. You sit, you write, and the writing may be crappy, but that’s what revisions are for. I’m a freelance writer, so I work on books alongside my assignments. In one day I may go from business writing to politics to high tech to history. The gear changes keep me sharp. I set aside time every day for book projects, and I’m pretty obsessive about it. 

H: You’ve worked as a journalist, columnist and editor. How do these roles differ from being an historical or travel writer?
SR: Each role serves the other. In journalism, you’re programmed to be objective, and I often thought historians should have been more objective. At the same time, the historian has to interpret the material for the reading public, and then the columnist is handy. You can’t just recite facts, you must create a place and time, which draws on a travel writer’s skills. My internal editor was most useful. After leaving the writing for a period of time, I could wade into it as if it were somebody else’s work, and slap it into shape.

H: What author events or speaking events do you have scheduled?
SR: I will be at Bookworks in Albuquerque on July 16, Collected Works in Santa Fe on Aug. 6, and in Alamogordo in September. I’m still in the process of setting up events.

H: Where can readers buy your book?
SR: Your local bookstore can order the book if they don’t have it. I like to support local book sellers. You can also order directly from the publisher, University of North Texas Press, at,7451.aspx


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine. For more information go to

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Book Review

Anonymous Sources
Author: Mary Louise Kelly
Publisher: Gallery Books
ISBN: 978-1476715544

Women who are flawed but focused make for intriguing characters. Alexandra James is fighting personal demons, and on some days barely keeping it together when a story falls into her lap that alerts her reporter’s instincts. In “Anonymous Sources,” James becomes convinced the death of Harvard graduate Thomas Abbot Carlyle, a gifted student who has just returned from a year abroad, is neither an accident nor a suicide, despite evidence – or the lack thereof – to the contrary.

She manages to get past police lines and other barriers through sheer guts to further her investigation. Her tenacity and ability to sort through clues keeps her moving forward to the story of a lifetime, or perhaps to no story at all.

In this fast-paced book about international intrigue and an ever-changing newspaper world where online instant headlines vie with above-the-fold breaking news that sells papers, James finagles her way to Cambridge believing Thom’s last year holds the key to his death.

She learns a lot about Thom, his liaison with a glamorous woman, and other facts about his life in England, most of it innocuous, hardly cause to commit suicide or reason enough be a murder victim. Nor does everything she’s learned about him indicate he is careless. He was well liked, had no controversial friends and seemed to have it all. With a charmed life ahead of him, how and why did he end up with a broken body in the cobbled courtyard at Harvard?

In her pursuit of the truth the New England Chronicle reporter triggers events that put her life in danger and make her even more determined to continue asking questions. What she learns exposes a conspiracy bigger than anything she could have imagined and puts her in the crosshairs of an assassin.

Author Mary Louise Kelly spent two decades traveling the world as a reporter for NPR and the BBC. Her assignments have taken her from Belfast bars to the glittering ports of the Persian Gulf, and from mosques in Hamburg to the ruined deserts of Iraq. As an NPR correspondent covering the spy beat and the Pentagon, she reported on wars, terrorism, and rising nuclear powers. A Georgia native, her first job was working as a staff writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kelly was educated at Harvard University and at Cambridge University in England. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Author Interview: Elizabeth Barlow Rogers

 It's all about Place

Learning Las Vegas,
Portrait of a Northern
New Mexican Place
By Elizabeth Barlow Rogers
Publisher: Museum of NM Press

In her book, “Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History,” Elizabeth Barlow Rogers wrote, “Throughout the ages landscapes have reflected cosmological notions underlying one of humanity’s great imponderables: Where are we? How was the world created, and what is the place and fate of human beings within the context of space and time?” As the author of several works about the subject, Rogers is well prepared to delve into what makes a place distinctive.

Rogers, who has a background in art history and city planning is the president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies. A native of San Antonio, Texas, she has lived since 1964 in New York City, N.Y. and has received many accolades for her work and dedication. Among her many accomplishments, she is a writer and photographer. For people from a small town in northern New Mexico how she writes about place tells a story about life, culture and history. Why did she choose the small town as the subject of her book, “Learning Las Vegas, Portrait of a Northern Mew Mexican Place?”

“I wanted to look at the subject of place in a unique and special place. In Las Vegas people have strong feelings about their town. As a part time resident of Santa Fe and a photographer and writer, it seemed ideal for what I wanted to do. It was an assignment I gave myself. I took photos of things that go on, and I began talking to people. I realized the best way to write the book was through their voices.”

Rogers began taking photos and collecting information in 2007. What she found was a town in transition, past its glory days, and living in the struggle that comes when a local economy can’t sustain the next generation.

“I learned about the glory days by researching historical documents. At one time Las Vegas, with its vibrant economy, was one of the most important cities in the West,” she said. “I learned about Las Vegas today by talking to people.”

Rogers said that discovering the layers of identity for Las Vegas are like peeling an onion. “One person led me to another person, and that person led me to someone else. It helped me build the story over time. It needed that multi-year perspective to get a sense of how this place became what it is today.”

She had no outline to work from at the beginning, letting the book shape itself as she went along.

The book is beautifully constructed, with evocative photos and elegant prose, lots of white space, fonts slightly suggestive of another era. Rogers said she was deeply involved in the design and selection of photographs.

“I brought the book to the Museum of New Mexico Press because I know they have great production values and I have a lot of respect for David Skolkin. I worked closely with the editor and David as the book developed.”

In her selection of content, Rogers said she wanted most to convey the notion of what makes a place unique historically, geographically, and culturally.

“I would say the book has an anthropological slant,” she said. Given her concentration on the origin, historical behavior, and the physical, social, and cultural development of the area, this is a fitting statement.

Rogers said that the principal theme of the book is the meaning of place. She sought long and hard to understand Las Vegas as a place whose identity has developed and changed over time. Focusing her discerning photographer’s eye on the local scene and the architecture and people of Las Vegas helped her determine the shape the book would take. The chapters are defined along thematic lines, but within each you learn a lot more than the headings would imply. The book’s narrative structure came only after Rogers had spent hundreds of hours talking to Las Vegans from all walks of life.

“After talking to Jesus (Lopez, local attorney), and listening to the things he told me, I have a degree of insight into the way the city runs itself, the way Hispanics have felt disenfranchised, and how that has informed later history and the way (some) people continue to think and behave.”

Rogers has a way of writing, allowing the subject of the chapter to speak for him or herself, or in the case of actual place, itself, without injecting her own spin. All of her books are written with detail and poetic imagery, enhanced by striking photos. I asked her if her writing is influenced by her photographic art.

“The writing has to stand on its own, but I love the image itself. I want the writing and the photos to complement each other. I didn’t actually need them, and I wanted the text to independently tell the story. But I love photography, and feel that words and images together capture the essence of place better than either would alone.”

She said her biggest challenge in the whole project, was cutting out so many pictures. Of the several thousand she took, Rogers, her editor, and the book designer selected photos that most closely conveyed the special aspects of her story about Las Vegas as place. Not surprisingly, many of these were shot in the plaza when she attended fiestas, motorcycle rallies, weddings, and Fridays al Fresco and spent hours watching all the impromptu things that go on at the bandstand gazebo.

“In lots of ways you can consider the plaza to be the soul of the town,” she said.
“Learning Las Vegas, Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place,” is considered to be a regional book. Rogers said she hopes it provides a sense of place compelling enough to interest the general reader outside of New Mexico. She also hopes its sociological and anthropological slant will increase its audience beyond the confines of landscape history, the field with which she has traditionally been associated.

The cover photo is of Bridge Street, an iconic image of Las Vegas photographed by many. Why did that photo among the thousands she had available end up on the cover?

“I thought the cover should be a West Las Vegas streetscape. In this particular photo the light was right, the composition was good, and to me it says a lot about Las Vegas as a place. So that’s the one
we all agreed on.

When asked if there was anything she would like to have included but didn’t have room for, Rogers laughed.

 “Oh, yes, a lot of interesting things have happened since the book was finished. You might call me an Optic addict. Every time I read an interesting story and meet another interesting individual in its pages, I think to myself, “Darn! Why didn’t I get that in the book? But you have to stop somewhere.”

Rogers will be featured in upcoming events at which she will talk about “Learning Las Vegas, Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place.” Look for her on Saturday, June 22, 2 p.m. at the New Mexico History Museum Auditorium where she will be participating in a panel discussion and book signing along with Elmo Baca, Frances Levine and Christopher Wilson. On Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m., she will be at Bookworks, 4022 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, N.M. On Saturday, June 29 at 2 p.m. Rogers is scheduled to be at Tome on the Range, 158 Bridge Street, Las Vegas, N.M., immediately followed by a reception sponsored by the Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation, at 116 Bridge Street.


This article also appears in Happenstance Magazine, published by Happenstance Publishing. For more information go to

Monday, June 3, 2013

Author Interview: Susan Gardner

Q&A With Poet, Artist and Creative Spirit

To Inhabit the Felt World
By Susan Gardner
Publisher: Red Mountain Press

On Sunday, June 9 at 3:30 p.m., Susan Gardner will be at op.cit. bookstore, Sanbusco Center in Santa Fe, to read from and sign her book of poetry, To Inhabit the Felt World. The book received an Eric Hoffer honorable mention for poetry award, and is a finalist for the Da Vinci Eye Prize for cover art and design. Gardner is a poet, painter, photographer and literary editor. Elizabeth Raby, author of Ink on Snow, said of Susan’s work, “I don’t believe I have ever read lines of such ferocity, honesty and pain. Yet Gardner continues, observes, listens... she opens herself to passion.”

I would agree. The work is painfully honest and joyously expressive. You can almost hear the voice of the poet in the structure of the poems and in the powerful cadence of the words. Susan’s work speaks of honest emotion, introspection, and heart. In her Q&A she talks about To Inhabit the Felt World, and her writing journey.

H.Talk about the title, “To Inhabit the Felt World” and what it means to you.

SG. The poem “Sticks and Stones” is about the process of calligraphy — crafting the ink from carbon and glue, fabricating brushes, making the paper and allowing the ink to settle into the paper as a poem or painting. Calligraphy is a joy to me. I wrote my first poems in Japanese calligraphy and experimented with all the phases of the process described in the poem.
The paper is made from a slurry of fibers and then “felts” into the paper sheet. I used this physical process to suggest the felt world of the poem, the felt world of the poet — the observation, experience and emotions we feel and understand through poetry and art.

H. How did you select pieces from your body of work for this collection?
SG. The poems for this book were written during several months in 2012. A few of the poems reconsider earlier themes, but all are new and written specifically for this book.

H. “Trilogy for My Daughter” is heartbreakingly beautiful. What does it take from you to put into words such a deeply personal and life-changing loss?

SG. My daughter's illness and death were a soul-shaking event. For years I had no words for it, spoken or written. Much later, as I started to write about it, my husband urged me to speak  clearly and fully. The third section of the trilogy was written just after the death of my much-loved mother-in-law and it was the final reconciliation I needed. The trilogy unites my philosophical persuasions with my emotional sensibility. Although the whole poem was composed almost complete in just a few days, I had a vivid sense of growth and transformation as I wrote it.

H. You are an artist and photographer. How does that inform your poetry?

SG. I have been a painter and photographer for a long time and I see the world through that field of reference. Many descriptions in the poems are influenced by the wonderful names of colors and the vocabulary of the art studio. My practice as a visual artist encourages, even forces, scrupulous attention to fine detail, the particularity that reveals the essence of the whole. It is just the same with poetry.

H. Your work has been described as being a “…landscape of experiences and perceptions not our own, but hauntingly familiar.” What does that mean to you as a writer?

SG. Art-making in all its forms is a universal human need and characteristic. We are related by our human-ness and our place in nature. My job as an artist is to look carefully, point directly, try to shape experience so that we, poet and reader, can apprehend its meaning. We make use of this particular moment, here and now. I hope that through my work the reader will recognize the value of our shared experience.

Art – regardless of form or genre – has the potential to awaken us to our own humanity and to our place in the world. More than joy and beauty, more than sensory pleasure and satisfaction, the practice and presence of art can offer redemption in the face of almost irredeemable sorrow.

H. Your bio also says you are a literary editor. Talk a little about your experience in that arena.
SG. I love the poets and their work. A poet brings me what seems to be a finished manuscript and that is the starting point for creating a book. We look at every line, every poem, trying to see how each element supports every other. Formatting the words on the page is graphic as well as literary. We consider the sequencing within each poem and through the book. We are after clarity, beautiful sound, natural language pacing, each word inevitable.
Most important of all: how do we let the reader hear the voice of the poet on the page? Within the lines, we want to leave room for the reader to breathe with the poem, to come closer to its heart, to the poet’s intention.

The collaboration is intense, creative and for most books, very satisfying.

H. You’ve traveled extensively. Talk about some of the places you’ve been and how those experiences are reflected in your poetry.
SG. Away from the familiar, jolted from the expected and taken-for-granted context, we can see ourselves new, make an opportunity of an unimagined and perplexing puzzle. My early adult years in East Asia were the introduction and context for my exploration of Buddhist philosophy and calligraphy.

I have learned Korean, Japanese, French and Spanish well enough to live in them, sometimes teach in them, for Japanese and Spanish, write in them. Language embodies the values of the culture and contains a point of view. Using a new language, participating in a new culture, shakes me out of old assumptions, forces me out of the ruts of old habits.
In Drawing the Line I wrote:

“I think that Heraclites had it right: it is not possible to step in the same stream twice. Even the Rocky Mountains seen from my window are in flux, uplifting themselves, eroding away, their shadows and colors changing every minute under the high altitude light. I find myself astonished every day by the sights on this expedition, the new, unruly landscape to be negotiated.”

H. You’ve written other books. Talk about them and the inspiration that motivates you to write about a particular subject.

SG. When I began Drawing the Line ~ A Passionate Life I intended to write about the nature of making art. Artist and poet are not a label or description; being an artist is in the context of my whole life. It is not a job but as much my identity as woman, mother, wife, house-builder, garden-planter, teacher. My initial essay speculating about the nature of art inevitably became a memoir.

Part of the artist’s task is to cast what light we can on the human condition. It has been fashionable to say that beauty and harmony have no meaning, that all we need is some adrenaline-pumping, eye-popping hugeness to be satisfied. I believe that humans are hard-wired to desire and recognize beauty in all its forms. It is the human mind that transforms facts into truth, stone into sculpture, empty sounds into poetry and music. Each of us is alone, an anonymous, separate being. Art lets us see who we are; it is the bridge from one mind to another. It lets us hold a transforming mirror to our human qualities and remember who we can be. It is the ultimate freedom.

Box of Light ~ Caja de Luz is Spanish and English poems, about half originally in each language. Moving between languages is moving between cultures. It was interesting to try and capture both sense and music of the original language in the second. The poems are cousins rather than twins. It was a joy to explore these possibilities and I learned so much about language and making poetry.

My first book, Intimate Landscapes, was a chapbook published by St. Johns College. I had a photography exhibition at the St. Johns College Gallery and instead of standard wall text (that almost no one reads) I wrote poems for the walls. The gallery director immediately asked to publish them as a chapbook and made the edition in time for the opening reception. Almost all 300 copies left with the visitors to the gallery and I was left with the pleasure of having my poems in print.

H. Whom do you write your poetry for and what do you hope readers of your work get out of it?

SG. In all my work, as in my life generally, I try to realize the idea of direct pointing, to look carefully, with attention. I try to put aside expectations, fear, preconceptions and acknowledge what I am seeing right here, right now. I hope the readers will recognize what they may have overlooked or forgotten or will re-examine it with renewed attention. Most of all, I hope the work has lasting value and will bring pleasure to readers many years from now.

H. In what ways has writing changed you?
SG. Writing and photography as well as painting are investigative processes.

I accept change as a central quality of life. Each new poem suggests another step in my evolving understanding of the world around us and our place in it.

Writing Drawing the Line was very illuminating. Looking at my parents through a new perspective I found a deeper understanding of them and came to accept the cruelties and anomalies of their lives with more equanimity. I now see some of the ongoing themes of my own life with more clarity and fuller appreciation. The tragedies, achievements and serendipitous good fortune seem to be more in balance.

H. Where is To Inhabit the Felt World available?

SG. The publisher’s website is; also the distributor, independent bookstores, and, of course, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

This article appears in Happenstance Magazine, a digital publication available by subscription. For details go to

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Happenstance Literary

Happenstance Literary Check out a sample of the May 15 issue. This quick read magazine includes serial fiction, poetry, short stories, book reviews and more.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Happenstance Literary

Happenstance Literary -->
A digital magazine featuring original fiction, nonfiction and poetry from talented writers in a variety of genres. The May 1 issue includes essays by Sharon Vander Meer, a Q&A with Joanne Sprenger about her trail guide, poetry from Rosanne Sterne, the forth episode in Sergio Harthorne's fantasy, time-travel fiction novel, "The Changling King," a Mother's Day story by Alan M. Guy, and a review of Peggy Riley's first novel, "Amity and Sorrow."

Please consider subscribing to Happenstance Literary. It's a little different from the usual. Something you can enjoy reading at your leisure.

10 Reasons Subscribers Enjoy Happenstance

• It’s a quick read.
• Digital means you can read it anywhere.
• Original content.
• Green - There’s no paper to throw away.
• Save and read at your leisure.
• Links take you to related sites.
• Prose.
• Poetry.
• Art.
• Photography.

For information about becoming a sponsor contact


Book Review: Amity and Sorrow

Amity and Sorrow
By Peggy Riley
Little, Brown and Company
Price: $25.99

The fire that sets this story in motion flames through “Amity and Sorrow” in every cleverly crafted scene. It is a dark story about sisters who grew up in what might be considered by some a cult atmosphere. In desperation, their mother Amaranth, snatches them away terrified by escalating threats from outside and unsettling changes from within.

Their flight is interrupted when in utter exhaustion she crashes her car into a tree. Miraculously none of the three are seriously injured, and are rescued by a farmer who reluctantly and with bad grace, befriends them. The story travels back and forth from the uncertain present into a disturbing past. Amity and Sorrow are bound together by more than the strap that links them and keeps Sorrow from running back to the only home she has ever known, despite threats that await her.

“Amity and Sorrow” follows Amaranth, whose trust has been betrayed by the man she believes loves only her, and looks at the “perfect” world created by this man who through polygamy takes advantage of the broken and shattered lives of women with no place to go. His two daughters are caught in the middle with no understanding of what life outside the community is like.

There is a touch of mysticism, harsh lessons in how religion can corrupt and be corrupted, and a wrenching coming-of-age story.

The strict and structured world as Amity and Sorrow knew it is nothing like the farm where their mother insists they take refuge. There is more at work in the lives of these girls than their mother knows. Her only hope of saving them is to keep them away from the man who is their father. Their multiple layers of conservative clothing, prim aprons and cap-covered hair cannot protect them from what lies ahead.

This is a fascinating tale of a mother’s love, renewal, and the power of the mind to create what it will. Amity and Sorrow are at the mercy of a dangerous past they can relate to and a future they fear.

Riley’s scenes are gripping and visual, and her character development is powerful.

Author Peggy Riley is a writer and playwright who lives on the North Kent Coast. “Amity and Sorrow” is her first novel.


This review appears in Happenstance Literary, a digital magazine available by subscription. For details go to

Author Interviews: Joanne Sprenger

Sprenger Book

Q&A with author about her book: Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area

Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area, by Joanne M. Sprenger is a small volume packed full of essential information about hiking generally and the trails around Las Vegas in particular. She throws in a little history, personal anecdotes and photos. At $9.95 it’s a bargain for anyone planning on hiking and camping, and priceless in terms of the helpful hints and trail information.
Joanne grew up in Wisconsin where she said there was a lot of private land and not as much opportunity to hike as in New Mexico. After college she taught at Cassville, Wis., on the banks of the Mississippi where she met and married George Sprenger, who taught Chemistry at Cassville.  Joanne taught physical education and an English class for two years. The couple moved around a few times, she said, and landed in Las Vegas, where she taught at Highlands for 25 years.

H. This is a second edition of Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area. What’s different and why did you decide to do another one?
JS. I decided to do a second edition of the Trail Guide I had printed in 1987 as those 2,000 copies were almost gone. There were also some changes I needed to make. For example, just after the first edition came off the press, the State Highway Department changed the number of Hwy 3 through Las Vegas to Hwy 518.
H. Give a brief description of the book.
JS. The second edition left out the wildflowers and Chapter 3 on cross country skiing, which I had in the first edition. One lists information on precautions, such as hypothermia and hyperthermia, dehydration, altitude sickness, lightning, blisters, how to find appropriate maps, etc. Chapter Two lists a number of trails and  directions on how to find the trail head, difficulty, length of trail,  elevation change, and GPS coordinates at the trail head.
H. Who is the target audience? 
JS. The target readers are those seeking information on finding the trails as well as staying safe in the mountains. George and I used to lead week long trips in the Pecos Wilderness for backpackers from the east coast to west coast. One year on the final day of a hike, a gentleman from California died, and local search and rescue volunteers came up with a packhorse from Gascon Ranch to bring down Karl’s body. Although I had two physicians on that trip, no one expected an aneurysm on the aorta would suddenly turn into an emergency. Also, treasure hunters who come from lower elevations will be unprepared for this environment. We’ve already had one mission over at Bandelier National Monument for a woman from out of state who survived a cold, wet night out, unprepared for the weather. However, the subject of a search could be someone who knows the area who has an accident on a horse or many other problems that can arise. Sometimes the weather – such as heavy fog – can cause problems to even people who know the area.  
H. Why is it important to leave the environment as you found it, such as not picking wildflowers? 
JS. I was at a Forest Service meeting several years ago when a woman asked, “Why have all the flowers disappeared? When I was young we used to pick arms full of flowers.” It may be that the flowers she had been talking about reproduced by seed. Let’s leave the flowers, camping area, the way we found it for the next group to enjoy. No one enjoys camping in a garbage dump. Clean up your campsite before you leave. It’s easy to put that candy wrapper in your pocket for later disposal instead of throwing it along the trail.
H. What is the most important thing every hiker should do before starting out, and why? 
JS. One of the most important things you should do before starting out is to inform someone who knows you where you plan to go and when to expect you back. In other words, someone who can be counted on to sound the alarm if you are seriously overdue. They should know your plans, have a description of your vehicle and license number, who you’re going with, and other information, which can help a search and rescue team know where to start. 
H. You talk about modern technology. Why is it important to not put too much reliance on devices?
JS. Some of the electronic aids we’ve come to depend upon may be lost or left behind, even a compass. Cell phone signals may not be able to reach a tower, especially if you’re in the bottom of a deep canyon. Batteries may not last. A Global Positioning System could have several things go wrong. The batteries may go dead, you may be under such thick vegetation that the signal can’t  reach that overhead satellite, some people may not know how to use it properly or have a map along or they may lose that GPS. There are personal locater beacons on the market, such as the SPOT, which also depend on satellites. These can be programmed to send a pre-programmed signal if an emergency comes up. They have some of the same weaknesses as the others, but they have also saved lives. If you become dependent on something which is suddenly not available, there is more of a tendency to panic.
H. What is the best way to let people know where you are if you have an accident?
JS. One of the best ways to get help if you’ve had an accident is to travel with a small group of friends. If you are in a group offour, for example, one person could stay with the injured person while the other two go for help, or if two are needed to provide assistance, only one would be available to go for help.  While I have violated this rule on occasion, I have been fortunate so far.
H. What are the most common problems beginning hikers experience? 
JS. I would guess that the most common problem beginning hikers experience would be blisters.
H. What about experienced hikers?
JS. I would guess that this would be weather related. Weather in these mountains can change quickly. As I mentioned in the book, George and I have been backpacking at 11,000 feet elevation two separate 4th of Julys and awakened to a white environment. The snow or hail quickly evaporated after the sun came out, but people who are not prepared for “winter” conditions in July could find themselves in trouble.   
H. You’ve walked many trails. What got you started?
JS. This is a tough one. I think I’ve always enjoyed the quiet of the woods as well as the expectation that there will be some wildlife. One time George and I were canoeing in northern Wisconsin and came upon a family of otters who had a muddy embankment where they continued to slide down into the lake and then climbe back up for another turn. We sat and watched them having fun for quite awhile. Another time we were driving near Pendaries and spotted a mother bear sitting in a small meadow while her two cubs rolled down the hillside to join her. Many years ago George and I were backpacking up Pecos Canyon near the headwaters of the Pecos River. We stopped to rest and kept hearing this loud noise. I finally recovered enough to sit up and look up the hillside behind us to discover a herd of elk a short distance away. If you’ve ever been fortunate to hear an elk bugle, or a loon in the evening on a lake in northern Minnesota, you know what I mean. 
H. What trails have been the most challenging? Enjoyable? 
JS. Hermit’s Peak is challenging if you try to go too quickly. Enjoyable? Probably Porvenir Canyon Trail 247. They both have the same parking area up Gallinas Canyon.
H. Where can readers get a copy of Trail Guide to the Las Vegas Area?
JS. The Trail Guide is available at several locations in the Las Vegas area: (Listed alphabetically) Chamber of Commerce, Furniture and More, 519 6th Street, KOA Campground, LaCueva Horticulture (Raspberry Farm),  Laguna Vista Quick Stop, Las Vegas Museum Gift Shop, Mallette’s Feed, Midway Grocery in Sapello,   Semilla Natural Foods, Tito’s Gallery, Tome on the Range, and War Dancer on the west side of the Plaza.


This article appears in Happenstance Literary, a digital magazine available by subscription. For details go to

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Author Interview: Terry Wilson

Q&A: Confessions of a Failed Saint

Terry Wilson has written a book both funny and touching, in an engaging style with a flair for
humor. Her collection of essays is a kaleidoscope memoir revealing  her toughness and vulnerability, a combination that has served her well as a stand-up comic and actress. Her spiritual journey reveals a woman with solid core values enriched by experience. She has been published in The Santa Fe Reporter and Santa Fe Literary Review, and nationally in Artemis Literary Journal and Silverleaf Humor Anthology, among others. Her honesty is refreshing, her storytelling right on. The book is a quick and fun read. Below are her responses to questions about her work.

H. What is your background?
TW. I have been writing for many years, and I’m also a performer. I used to be an actress and have also presented two one-woman shows, the most recent being Confessions of a Failed Saint, a show I wrote and performed at El Museo Cultural in Santa Fe, N.M. I also did stand up comedy when I lived in Los Angeles. In addition, I have taught English and creative writing at Santa Fe Community College for the past 21 years. I think of myself as a writer and an entertainer.
H. Confessions of a Failed Saint is a memoir. Talk about the title.
TW. Confessions of a Failed Saint is a title I came up with because it seemed so impossible, growing up Catholic. As I say in my book, “I could never get Jesus off the cross, for one thing.” I always had this sense that I couldn’t do enough to be as holy as my mom wanted me to be. And this is why I originally decided to be a nun because if I gave up my whole life, maybe that would get me into heaven and get Mom to love me. Being a saint, though, was the main thing—they were the ones who had the ticket into being best friends with God. The only problem was, being a saint usually involved martyrdom, which was hard to achieve when I was only seven. Or even 47!  It’s a drag to not be perfect, but at least I’m a failed saint. And this might get me into Limbo. 
H. This appears to be a “work in progress” in that you wrote the essays over time. The book is a collection. Talk about the process and how you selected the topics?
TW. Selecting the essays for my book was tricky. I love the writing process, so I had many pieces to choose from. But structuring the book was more difficult. Each editor I consulted had a different idea of what should be included. Finally I decided the main thrust of the book would be how I tried to find spirituality in my own life, and the comical situations that ensued. Sean Murphy was the editor that helped me with line by line editing, and then Miriam Sagan helped me eliminate the essays that didn’t seem to fit with the arc of the story.
H. How has your family reacted to you writing in such a personal way about your life? 
TW. Only a small portion of my family knows about this book—so far! I plan to tell them slowly (and individually) since some of the essays are rather personal. The family members I have talked to so far, however, are supportive and glad I’m bringing up some old secrets that need to be discussed. Whether all of my family will embrace my book remains to be seen. But I had to write it anyway because it’s my truth. As Natalie Goldberg once said, “The writer is the bravest part of me.”
H.  The hardest thing is watching a parent decline. I love the tenderness with which you write about your mother. Why was it important for you to include these pieces of your mother’s life?
TW. It was important for me to include Mom’s dementia in this book because we have all lived with it for so long—the past 15 years or more. And also because in her dementia, I have seen a softening of the toughness with which she always approached life. It’s allowed me to get closer to her. When she was younger, I was never allowed to touch her face or massage her neck or even wash her hair—she got irritated if we got too close. Only in her later years has she let some of those defenses go. Now when I put my cheek against hers, even if she doesn’t remember who I am, we’re just two human beings loving each other. 
H. Much of what you write is funny, and yet there is an underlying message of hope and wisdom. Talk about the process of writing a memoir and turning difficult moments into humorous reflections.
TW. I think there is a part of me that is always an observer, so even in a painful situation, I can often see the humor in it—though sometimes it takes awhile to laugh about one of these experiences. And when I’m too self absorbed and serious about something that happened, for example with my family, I will share that incident with my husband or at an Alanon meeting, and in the sharing, (and when other people laugh), I find the comedy. Which is a relief!  
H. Were you a performer first or a writer?
TW. Good question! Considering the environment I grew up in, a large Irish Catholic working class family, (though the most important thing to my mom was to be saintly),  the most crucial thing to my dad was to be a comedian. We used to have to stand in front of the refrigerator when I was a kid and we were expected to perform something: we had to imitate Jimmy Durante, or John F. Kennedy, or James Cagney or Alfred Hitchcock and this was all to entertain my father. I was not good at any of these impersonations, especially since most of these people (except for JFK and Hitchcock) were from my parents’ generation, not mine. But if I could make my father laugh, I was successful. The writing for me came when I was a pre-teen—creating poems for my family’s birthdays, for Mother’s and Father’s Day, etc. Then once I read Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, no one could stop me! The writing just poured out.
 H. What other projects are you working on?
TW. My next project is another one woman show which I have a lot of material written for, already. It’s going to be weird and hopefully hilarious stories about living in Santa Fe with New Age practitioners, and it’s also going to be about aging. Working title now is “New Aging!”
H. What do you want readers to get out of your writing?
TW. I hope my writing makes my readers laugh. I want them to feel as I do, that we’re all human beings trying to make it in this crazy world. I also hope my writing helps readers to learn about themselves and not feel so alone. I think the best writing lets us find out who we are.
H. What do you find most challenging about writing?
TW. I suppose what I find most challenging about writing is getting my butt in the chair to write! The blank page is always a bear, but it helps to teach and use Natalie Goldberg’s ideas of, “Put your pen on the paper; then go for ten minutes and it doesn’t have to be perfect.” I seem to have a nun in my head who is very critical, so I have to shut her up in order to get myself going!
H. Getting personal or memoir essays published is no easy task. How did you get your work into such a variety of publications?
TW. I think persistence is the only answer for this—I wish I had a secretary who would deal with all the business aspects of writing, but I don’t (though my husband has often been very helpful!) Writers can’t ever give up on getting our work out there. I always tell my students that great truth I heard from Antonya Nelson, I believe it was—to think of your writing as birds flying in and out of a bird cage. When a piece gets rejected, you send it out again. You try not to get discouraged when something does not get published; you just assume it will find its home somewhere else. The other thing that I heard another author say once is to think of marketing your writing as selling dog biscuits. You don’t get personally offended if your dog biscuits are not bought by someone. This, of course, is easier said than done!
H. What do you most want people to know about you?
TW. That I’m not perfect but I try hard! That (as Timothy Leary once said) “We’re all bozos on this bus!” That there is hope because most people have a core of goodness in them. That we’re all doing our best in this crazy world and humor helps. And that we all have important stories inside of us. 
H. Where can readers find Confessions of a Failed Saint?
TW. The easiest place to purchase my book is on, though it’s also at several bookstores in Santa Fe like Garcia St. Books, The Ark bookstore, and Op Cit books. If anyone has questions about my book or comments you want to share, my e-mail address is I’m also doing readings in Santa Fe at Santa Fe Community College on May 8, 5:30 p.m. in the Planetarium, and at The Ark Bookstore on Sat., May 25, from 3-5 p.m. I plan to be at the Book Fiesta in Albuquerque too, on May 10 and 11. 
 I do have a website that will direct you to my page on Facebook which is my blog: Or you can get on FB and go directly to my blog by typing in Confessions of a Failed Saint. I would love to hear your impressions of my book!

This interview is featured in Happenstance, a digital magazine with original stories, articles, poetry and more written by talents writers.