Apache Wars cover
book review, Taos

The Write Stuff: History Lessons

Here is The Write Stuff column I wrote for the Aug. 18 issue of Tempo, the arts and entertainment section of The Taos News. I am sharing it here.

The two nonfiction books reviewed this week focus on history and the people who lived it in the Southwest and Mexico.

The Apache Wars: The Hunt for Geronimo, The Apache Kid, and the Captive Boy Who Started the Longest War In American History

There’s no doubt the Southwest has a brutal past. And through his extensive research, author Paul Andrew Hutton gets to the grit of one piece of its history: the Apache Wars.

The wars begin in 1861 when the leader of the Araviapa band kidnaps the young son of settlers living in what was called Apacheria. Later known as Mickey Free, he becomes a significant figure during the wars and Hutton’s book.

Hutton writes, “The Apaches, much like the Vikings, lived by raiding. They made a clear distinction between raiding, an economic necessity, and warfare, which was almost always an act of revenge.”

Their revenge is beyond cruel. I will spare you the gory details. But then there’s corruption on the part of the U.S. military and government, plus their typically inhumane treatment of the Apaches and other tribes.

At the wars’ end 30 years later, the frontier was no longer a free-for-all for settlers and the Apaches were banished to Florida or reservations.

Here is a description of the encounter between Geronimo and Gen. Nelson Miles, when the chief makes a pitch so he and his people could return to the White Mountains instead of being moved to Florida.

“Geronimo must now surrender with only the promise that his life would be spared. He and his people would be sent to Florida to join their relatives.

‘This the fourth time I have surrendered,’ he said to Miles.

‘And I think it is the last time,’ the general replied.”

Later, the fierce Apache warrior meets an undignified end.

And who is the Apache Kid? He and his death were the stuff of legends.

Fans of Southwest history will relish this book. Hutton knows his stuff. He is a distinguished professor of history at the University of New Mexico and the former executive director of the Western History Association.

I imagine for Hutton the people and their stories became ingrained as he put this book together. But that is unlikely the case for readers who might not be similarly absorbed in this historic period. Yes, many such as Cochise, Geronimo and Kit Carson may be household names but most are not. A glossary of the players and perhaps a timeline would have been helpful.

Hutton does employ a bit of storytelling including dialogue to make his book more than a historical account. I get it. But as a former journalist, I cringed a bit when I read this line about the Apaches: “Some young men joined because they were bored or wished to escape for a time from their nagging wives.”

The book’s 514 pages include an index, photos, bibliography, extensive notes of sourced materials, plus a satisfying epilogue. Published by Crown, the hardcover book retails for $30.

Hutton will read and sign his book Saturday, Aug. 27, 2-3:30 p.m. at Op Cit Taos at the John Dunne Shops.

The Women of La Raza: An Epic History of Chicana/Mexican-American Peoples

This book is obviously a labor of love for its author Enriqueta L. Vasquez, who explores and promotes the contributions of women in Mexican and Mexican-American history. They include queens, scholars, activists, revolutionaries and even a saint.

La Raza coverAmong my favorites were in the chapter, “Women of the Independence.” Several were women of privilege such as Leona Vicario. No jail could hold her. In one escape Vicario returned home to gather her jewels and money to help finance the revolution.

Then there was Gertrudis Boca Negra, who prior to her execution, tore off her blindfold and said in part, “The day of freedom will arrive. You who love me and have come to grieve for me, carry on the fight.”

Vasquez spent years on her research and its ultimate end product — a historical book augmented with footnotes and glossaries. Her book is so jam-packed with stories of strong women, however, at times the information is overwhelming. I recommend reading in chapter-sized bites.

While Vasquez is straightforward in her factual presentations, she is not hesitant to give opinions grounded in her own background as a person of Mexican-Tarascan parentage, especially regarding Mexico’s warfare with the U.S.

Certainly likeminded students of history will find this book informative.

Vasquez, a Taos County resident, was on the editorial staff of the Chicano newspaper El Grito del Norte in Española. The Women of La Raza is available in paperback for $15.


books, hippies, Taos

Keeping Up With Appearances

The publishing experiment continues with two readings, actually three, in two days. Not as racy, certainly, as Lenora, one of my main characters in Peace, Love, and You Know What, having sex with three guys in two days, but that is fiction. This is real life.

On Thursday, June 30, I was part of the lineup of 50 or so writers who read from their works as part of SOMOS of Taos’ open house in its swanky new headquarters. I was the first, reading from Los Primos y el Pez Mágico — the English part anyway — in the kids’ hour. We had a good crowd of gymnastic campers from next door and even adults.

somos reading June 2016

Reading at the SOMOS of Taos open house. Thank you Bleuzette La Feir for the photo.

Throughout the day, writers of all genres read from their work. That night I was back with the adult fiction writers. I read from a chapter in Peace, Love, and You Know What called The Hard Truth, which is the second in the book.

I had nine minutes. When I prepared, I realize a lot happens in my novel. Since the plot involves college hippie tribes and dirty professors, I wanted to keep it simple and focus on the main characters. I wanted dialogue. The Hard Truth worked.

The next morning I drove across the mesa to KNCE 93.5 FM for David and Carolyn Hinske’s radio show, You Kids Get Off My Lawn. (Don’t let the title fool you into thinking the Hinskes are curmudgeons. They are really sweet.) The station is located in an Airstream trailer, aka the Silver Twinkie, next to Taos Mesa Brewing.

As a journalist for over 30 years, I am usually the one asking questions. This was a change for me. But I was delighted the Hinskes read the novel. (Carolyn made a pitch that it would make a great movie.) And they asked great questions about the book, the writing process, and my former life as the managing editor of a newspaper. I think I gave decent answers.

And I read a bit from Peace, Love, and You Know What. Here was the challenge: as I told David and Carolyn, I not only swear like a sailor and I write like one. The FCC frowns on that. So I printed out a chapter and change a couple of the words so the radio station wouldn’t get into trouble.

That won’t be the case Friday, July 8, when I do a solo reading. Again it will be at the SOMOS office in Taos, from 6-8 p.m.

This time I am going to read sections from chapters to get those who attend through the three-day bash — and then one from a year later to show where this book heads.

My friend Teresa Dovalpage, who grew up in Cuba and knows nothing about hippies, will do a short Q&A. I will have books to sell — $12 each — and sign. And I will be serving brownies, without the magic ingredient, of course. To make it authentic to the book, however, I may even use a Betty Crocker mix.

I am hoping for a raucous good time.

Can’t make it and want your own book in Kindle or paperback? Here’s the link: Peace, Love, and You Know What

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Hank and I were sitting in our front yard after dinner when the light hit the landscape in a rather magical way for several minutes.

books, Taos

Practice, Practice, Practice

I’m a nut about preparation when it comes to speaking in public. When I was the managing editor of a newspaper, I did it frequently — quizzing candidates at political forums and emceeing the paper’s yearly awards event. Then there are the Q&A’s I’ve done in Taos with visiting authors and writers-in-residence.

I do my research and plan my questions. Then I print them on paper in a large font, say 22 or 24. And I practice.

I’m doing two readings for SOMOS on Thursday, June 30. The lit group of Taos is celebrating its new headquarters aka salon with a marathon reading of about 50 authors from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The evening will end with noted author John Nichols.

In the morning, Teresa Dovalpage, my collaborator and translator, and I will read from the first book in our los Primos bilingual series — the one about the magic fish. We’ve done a few of these. Teresa will bring her large, stuffed dog and I have posters of the illustrations my son Ezra did of the cousins (los primos) and their grandfather (abuelo).

I return in the evening for the adult fiction portion of the event. I will read from Peace, Love, and You Know What. Each author will have the floor for 10 minutes.

So what to read? My novel moves awfully fast and a lot happens. So I chose a short chapter, called The Hard Truth. The three-day bash hasn’t started. The characters have pulled three all-nighters in a row for finals. One of them is a few credits shy but is figuring a way to fake his graduation so he doesn’t disappoint his mother. We meet Lenora. There’s lots of dialogue and humor.

My plan is to give the listeners a taste and hopefully entice them to return a week later, July 8, for my solo reading. (Yes, I did write a short intro with big lettering.)

I’ve practiced a few times this week, using the timer on my phone. It’s well under 10 minutes. I think it will work.

Oh, I will be on David Hinske’s radio show on KNCE 93.5 FM on Friday, July 1, at 9:30 a.m. If you’re not in the Taos area, it is live-streamed on truetaosradio.com

David’s show is called “You Kids Get Off My Lawn.” There’s some irony there since there is no lawn at KNCE. The station, located inside an Airstream, is surrounded by sagebrush and located next to a brewery.

This time the shoe will be on the other foot, as my mother used to say. I have no idea what David will ask me and that’s just fine.

Lastly, here is the link to my novel on Amazon. Thanks readers!  Peace, Love & You Know What

PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the poster for the SOMOS open house June 30.

Screen Shot cover
Taos, Writing

My Writing Companions

I am lucky to have two offices. One is a room inside our home where I write in the early morning, usually with a large cup of coffee. The other is outdoors in the ramada.


Three years ago Hank, with help from our son Zack, built the ramada, which by description is an open shelter. But being a skilled woodworker and a bit of a perfectionist, Hank built a ramada that is timber-framed wood with a tin roof. The floor has slabs of sandstone. It comes with views of the Sangre de Cristo mountains and the sage-filled mesa, plus a nice breeze and wi-fi from the house.

What more could I want during this spell of hot weather?

But I am not the only ones who feel that way. A bird has built a nest beneath the eaves in a spot that’s inaccessible unless you can fly. (Last year, a bird built a nest in another part of the ramada, but that didn’t work out.)

I am not a birder but my best guess from checking a bird book is that it’s a canyon towhee. The feathers are light gray and there’s some buff color.

Things must be getting serious because mother and father don’t like it when I — or anyone else for that matter — sit in the ramada. The father perches somewhere above in the ramada’s beams or on the house to sound a warning chirp. Sometimes he puffs himself up. He is relentless. The mother chirps too when she’s not sitting on the nest. (I can only see her tail when she does.)

Here is a recording of the father I saved on my phone:

I’ve tried talking in soothing tones to the birds. “I come in peace,” I tell them. But they don’t believe me. I resist trying to see if the eggs have hatched although last night the mother had a worm or something in her beak as she was returning to the nest so maybe they have.

It’s a dilemma. I enjoy working outside. Hank built the ramada because we need shelter and shade from the strong sun. But I don’t like stressing the birds.

I once had an agent who wanted me to join writing groups, because he once heard a famous author say he had been a member of one. I told him I am not a joiner of any group, that I’m a solitary writer. I don’t like sharing my writing until it’s done or close to it. But these days, alas, that’s not true.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the ad for my novel Peace, Love, and You Know What that is running on the website of The Taos News, which is taosnews.com. Designer Jason Rodriguez created the ad, which takes anyone who clicks on it to Amazon. Thank you to my former colleagues, especially publisher Chris Baker, at The Taos News for their support.

Here is the link Peace, Love, and You Know What on Amazon

book review, Taos

The Write Stuff: Two Books on Life and Death

Here is my first book column, which appeared in the May 19 fiber edition of Tempo, the arts and entertainment magazine of The Taos News. I was away at the time, so here it is.

The two books have common themes about life and death. A Taos artist, known for using images of death in her works, reflects on having a life in full in her food-infused memoir. Meanwhile a psychic shares interviews she collected of people whose lives were never the same after undergoing near-death experiences.

Coyota in the Kitchen: A Memoir of New and Old Mexico

Artist Anita Rodríguez aims to nurture readers with recipes and stories about her life in the two Mexicos.

First, an explanation about the book’s title is in order: coyota is a term for a female of mixed heritage — half-Hispanic and half-gringa.

Rodríguez’s father was a Taoseño who worked as a druggist on the Plaza. Her mother, who had a genteel Southern upbringing, came from Texas to study art.

She recalls classmates taunting her for being a “coyota,” which inspires her to create stories in which the animals are her real relatives.

“Don’t pay attention to those two-leggeds. They’re stupid. Come with me. Let’s go steal chickens and howl at the moon!” she imagines a coyote saying.

Such cruelty makes one sad for that little girl.

But then again, Rodriguez’s own opinions about outsiders come through with such observations as: “A person doesn’t exist in Taos without an identifying family. Until you have lived here for two generations, you are transparent.”

In her take on the food-based memoir, Rodríguez recalls good cooks and some really horrible cooks such as her paternal grandmother Hipólita Ramírez Trujillo. Grandmother’s food had one constant ingredient: rancor.

“Occasionally, Mother’s food was good, but mostly it was just so-so. Once in a while, it was a disaster,” she writes.

Likewise Rodríguez gives unflinching descriptions of her relatives.

Her life story thus far includes working in a California restaurant, where she learns about good cooking from its owner. Later, as a single mother in New Mexico, she raises a daughter under harsh living conditions. She searches for gainful employment and finds it as an enjarradora creating mud plaster for adobe structures and building fireplaces, hornos and mud floors. She lives in Mexico for 15 years before returning home.

Rodríguez is an artist whose paintings and illustrations typically contain images of death — skeletons enjoying what the living do. “Besides, death is so deeply a part of the human story that omitting it diminishes life, takes away its wholeness. If that’s not enough, you can blame my love of painting skeletons on a near-death experience, after which I became an artist, hiding in plain view the knowledge that life is eternal.”

“Coyota in the Kitchen,” a paperback published by the University of New Mexico Press, contains her illustrations and several paintings, including “Pie for the Dead” featured on its cover. Unfortunately the plates inside the book are not large enough to do her art justice.

Now about the food: Rodríguez includes numerous recipes throughout the book from Biscochitos to Frijoles con Chile Colorado to Chicos from the Ground Up. Several recipes were discovered during her travels.

Her advice for making Chile Caribe begins: “If you are going to make a lot of chile caribe, use rubber gloves. If you handle enough of it, your cuticles and hands will begin to burn.” Readers certainly will be grateful.

Life After Near Death: Miraculous Stories of Healing and Transformation in the Extraordinary Lives of People with Newfound Powers

lifeDebra Diamond left behind a successful career as a Wall Street money manager and university professor after discovering her psychic and clairvoyant powers during a transformational experience in 2008.

Diamond, who is a part-time Taos resident, shares first-person accounts of “science-based, cognitive and physiological near-death aftereffects.”

The people she interviews developed such new skills as heightened musical and artistic talents, spontaneous healing and electrical super-sensitivity. A man she meets in Taos has enhanced hearing among other gifts.

Given the subject matter, this should be a fascinating book. Perhaps it will be for those involved in the field. But as a layperson, I wanted to know far more about the people Diamond interviewed and less about her psychic abilities.

Do we really need to know she took a sip of lemonade while talking with a subject or that she put two crystals beside her computer before she did a Skype interview? I wanted to read about the transformation her subjects underwent.

Life After Near Death, published by New Page Books, is available in paperback.