Thursday, December 27, 2012

Zozobra’s not the only big doll we burn: Meet El Kookooee

Official Logo of
Back in August, one of my first blog posts described the burning of a fifty-foot marionette called Zozobra or Old Man Gloom in Santa Fe. It turns out that’s not the only big doll we burn in New Mexico.

Leslie Linthicum’s UpFront column in the Albuquerque Journal on October 28 reminded me of our similar treatment of El Kookooee. This fellow’s an out-and-out boogeyman, designed to frighten children (and some adults?) into behaving, whereas Zozobra simply burns up our troubles and problems of the last year.

El Kookooee has existed for centuries in the Latin American cultures, known variously as El Cucui, El Coco, Cocoman…and El Koo-koo-ee. In 1989 or 1990 (reports differ), famed New Mexico author, Rudolfo Anaya, proposed to a group of Chicano artists in Albuquerque that they construct a figure of the boogeyman and burn him at dusk as a way of doing away with both personal and communal fears.

Since that time, the Festival de Otoño (the Autumn Festival) in Albuquerque’s south valley ends with the symbolic burning of this “bulto of fears.” The first effigy of wood, paper, and metal was sixteen feet tall. He’s grown to around thirty feet, but remains a static figure (unlike Zozobra, which is animated).

Ms. Linthicum’s article (which I recommend you read) describes this year’s conflagration of El Kookooee. She points out that Zozobra is a “relatively modern martyr sacrificed to exorcise our collective worry and gloom.” El Cucui, in one incarnation or the other, is a much older phenomenon used to keep mischievous children in line.

Photo Credit:
There is one other major difference between the burnings of Zozobra and Kookooee: The auto-de-fé kicking off the Santa Fe Fiesta the first Thursday after Labor Day in Fort Marcy Park is a highly commercialized, tightly controlled, pay-per-view extravaganza, while El Coco’s death this past October 28 in Bravo State Park off Isleta Boulevard SW in Albuquerque was free and open to the public with the atmosphere of a neighborhood celebration. Take your pick.

Next Week: How men fold fitted sheets

New Posts are published at 6 a.m. each Thursday

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Divine Intervention

The following is a piece of flash fiction I entered in a SouthWest Writer's contest where it won second place. Sorry, but it's a late Thanksgiving entry. Hope you enjoy it.
Jordy banged the screen as he barged out the back door on his way to the barnyard. Gramma usually yelled at him, but tomorrow was Thanksgiving. She’d be too busy to worry about slamming doors.

He liked watching the chickens scratch and the turkey strut. There was something grand about Tom Turkey. Goofy grand. The big black and gray feathers with white tips were awesome, but the bald, red head and bloody-looking beard were just plain gross. Tom walked and talked funny, too. First, his head darted forward, and then the rest of him just sorta caught up with it. His gobble made Jordy giggle.


I don’t like the way that kid’s looking at me. The big people are bad enough, but at least they feed a guy. This yahoo just stares like he knows something I don’t. Gives me the creeps.

I ambled over for a closer look, stopping now and then to peck a seed the hens had overlooked. He was a pale creature with icky yellow stuff on his head and teeny blue spots in his eyes—the only bits of color on the drab little fellow.


Jordy pictured Tom as he would look on Gramma’s table tomorrow, baked to a golden brown and giving off those great, mouth-watering smells. Jordy liked the dressing and giblet gravy Gramma served—even though he’d refused to eat the stuff for a long time because he’d seen her poking it up the bird’s heinie. But when he finally tried it, the stuffing was super.

“Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving,” he said. “You’re gonna taste sooo goood.”

He took a step backward as the bird sudenly raised a ruckus.


Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was when turkeys went missing. My dad had disappeared the day before the last one. My feathers went stiff, and I raced in rapid circles. I gave an anguished gobble. No place to hide. No way out. I halted at the back gate and stared across the fields to the woods. So near, yet so far. I was doomed. Unless….

I turned and went on display, giving the kid my best strut. My magnificent ruffle feathers scraped the ground. My tail popped open like an awesome fan as I let out a plaintive gobble.


Jordy snatched a look at the bird on the platter as he took his place at the far end of the big table and bowed his head for Gampa’s Thanksgiving prayer.

“Dear Lord, we give heartfelt thanks for this great bounty we are about to receive.”

Jordy peeked up to find Grampa’s stern eyes fixed on him.

“Even though we’re having chicken on this Thanksgiving Day…due to what I can only attribute to Your Divine Intervention.

Jordy hid a knowing smile behind his reverently folded hands.

 Next Week: El Kookooee
A new post is published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday

Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Word Picture of My Hometown, Circa 1949

Broken Bow was a lumber and farming town situated in the rolling hills and green forests of the “Little Dixie” Baptist bible belt of southeastern Oklahoma. The town sat nine miles west of Eagletown, an important Indian trading community on the Arkansas border back when the two states were known as Indian Territory. Eagletown, now reduced to no more than a nondescript service station, huddled beside the highway as busy travelers whizzed past without noticing. 

Broken Bow began life as an Indian village called Con Chito. Over the generations, it waxed and waned and died and revived until two brothers by the name of Dierks incorporated the community in 1911, naming it after their hometown in Nebraska. 

The town of roughly 2,500 souls fastened itself to the narrow blacktop highway coming in from Arkansas and the railroad tracks paralleling it. Most commercial businesses clustered along the two paved downtown streets running north from the highway and a couple of graveled roads pacing them on the east and on the west. The Dierks Lumber Company sawmill, the town’s largest employer, lay on the other side of the railroad tracks where the highway turned south and ran twelve miles through open farm country to Idabel, the McCurtain County seat, and beyond to the rich river bottoms. From there, it crossed into Texas after another twenty miles. 

Broken Bow was the kind of place where no one knew his own address. A family lived three blocks east of the feed store and one block south, second house on the left, or some such descriptive direction. There weren't even street signs when I was a child. There was no postal delivery, except for rural routes. Town mail was collected from rented boxes or the free general delivery window at the post office. 

Generations of children had measured their growth by running down the sidewalk on Main Street and jumping to touch the rafters of the wooden overhang protecting pedestrians from the blazing sun or heavy rain squalls. The drug store on the uphill corner of this block-long shaded section boasted a soda fountain, making it a magnet for the younger set. 

The town’s most popular Saturday night pastime was parking head-in to the curb along the main drag, as near the drug store as possible. Entire families sat in their cars and trucks to indulge in some serious people watching until it was time for the picture show half a block down on the other side of the street. It was a good way to keep up with budding teenage romances and the state of the neighbors’ marital relationships. Sartorial splendor was considered anything beyond a gingham housedress and bib overalls. 

The Broken Bow High Savages annually engaged the Idabel Warriors in the “Little River Rumble,” one of the oldest football rivalries in the state. Back then, the schools were segregated, of course, and remained that way until 1964. In fact, although we were in the midst of the Choctaw Nation, I don’t recall attending class with any Natives except two boys a few years behind me. However, the school secretary was a Native American…a Hopi import from distant New Mexico. For what it’s worth, the first year two black players were permitted on the team, Broken Bow High won the championship in their division. 

I fondly remember the town as an easy-going, not much happening place where my grandmother and I would rock on the porch in the early summer evenings, while my grandfather sliced open a plump, red-meat watermelon. The setting sun caught in the topmost branches of the chinaberry tree in the front yard and played among leaves ruffled by a gentle breeze. Often, as heat waves slowly dissipated on the asphalt highway and the delicate scent of roses and hydrangeas and morning glories flooded the porch, we’d hear a family on the far side of the railroad tracks harmonizing familiar gospel songs. Sometimes we joined right in. I’ve always wondered if they could hear us as clearly as we heard them.
Next Week:  A Flash Fiction Story

A new post is published at 6 a.m. each Thursday

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Wallowing in Nostalgia

The last three posts describing the trip my friend, Joycelyn, and I took to the Jemez Valley triggered powerful emotions. Since that time, I’ve been thinking a great deal about my late wife, Betty. So much so that I’d like to publish the letter my younger son, Grant, and I delivered to the staff at Kindred Hospital the morning of Betty’s death. 

February 12, 2009 

Kindred Hospital
700 High Street NE
Albuquerque, NM 87102 

Dear Friends: 

We would like to thank you for the care and courtesy you extended Betty and me, our family, and the friends who visited during her stay there—including, of course, Gizmo, the little white Papillion. We will each have our say here, but first, I would like to channel Betty’s thoughts as she would express them were she able: 

Hello, to all of you. You are an extraordinary group of people: professional, competent, but most important to me…caring and compassionate. You did your very best for me, and I am sorry I was not strong enough to allow you to see more positive results from your efforts. Alas, I wasn’t. Too old and weak from my illness, I guess. But my family and I will always remember that you were there for me, offering your best care, always delivered with respect and, I like to think, fondness. Even though I have slipped away, please let my feelings spur you to offer the same level of professional and personal treatment to others who may better benefit from them. You mend broken bodies, ease tortured minds, and provide an environment where the soul is nurtured. Always, always remember this and take pride in it. Goodbye, thank you, and God Bless. 

Now, may I, Donald, add my opinion. I echo Betty’s thoughts and feelings about Kindred and its staff, both professional and administrative. During the nine or so weeks my wife was under your care, I received the utmost support from everyone I met. My requests were honored, my wife was well tended…and adored. You made it easy to admit her, gave her excellent medical care, helped me wend my way through the financial morass, nourished me in your excellent cafeteria, and showed concern for me while I sat with Betty every day she was with you. This includes everyone from the medics to the maintenance personnel. In other words, you delivered human compassion in addition to professional care. When it was obvious the end was near, we made it known we wanted Betty to die at Kindred among friends, not at some hospice in the midst of strangers. 

Most of you met my son, Grant, and his wife, Anna, and both have often commented on the extraordinary care Betty was receiving. They were made to feel their opinions were as important as mine. And for this, we all thank you. The guests who came to see my wife were also favorably impressed. We cannot all be wrong. As far as we are concerned, the evidence is in: you are a very special group of people. And in this, we are joined by Gizmo, whom everyone met at one time or the other, including some of your patients. 

Once again, thank you for the care, concern, and love bestowed upon our family in an extremely difficult time of our lives. We will remember it forever. God bless you for your humanity. Please share this effort to express our gratitude with everyone at the hospital. 

From the bottom of our hearts,

Dear readers, forgive me for going maudlin.

Next week: A word picture of my home town.

A new post is published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Magical Trip Through an Enchanted Land (Finale)

J and I headed north up the mountain from Battleship Rock on NM Road 4 full of anticipation. Our goals of enjoying New Mexico’s fall mountain foliage and finding J’s favorite picnic and hiking area had been so fulfilling I wondered if our expectations of Valles Caldera would live up to my memories. J had never seen the place, and I hoped I hadn’t over-billed it.

Again, we traveled through familiar territory, one that held so many family memories. Betty still rode with us. We entered Dark Canyon, a place where the ground on the right side of the road fell away sharply, giving only glimpses of the Jemez River rushing below. We passed an area where what we called “hippies” at the time bathed nude in the cold waters and then climbed the hill on the other side to find exposed spots to sunbathe. My sons always made sure the binoculars were at hand as we approached the place, but we never stopped, despite their protests. 

This was the road where one August day we came barreling down the mountainside to find the left side completely washed out, eaten away by the monsoon rains. August was when we got most of the annual rainfall at the cabin. During that month, I often had to find a place to park my car in the lowlands. Betty and the boys would drive down to meet me in the Blazer. We had a winch on the front bumper and figured we could go anywhere in that plucky vehicle. 

As J and I emerged from the canyon, we encountered larger numbers of aspens shimmering among the dark evergreens in the light breeze. They are always a delight, whether they quake with the gold of autumn or the two-toned green of spring and summer. I say two-toned because their leaves are dark on top and pale on the bottom. 

Then we had our first glimpse of the massive grassland of the caldera. As we rounded the curve, the depth and breadth of the place was revealed, and I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. There was no way to oversell this place. As I’ve said, it is the most beautiful spot in the world…at least to me. The Grand Canyon and a hundred other places might be more dramatic, but for pastoral peace and serenity, the Valle Grande (the front portion of the caldera) cannot be surpassed. 

When my family and I had passed by the place on the way to and from the cabin, Valle Grande (as it was known then) had been a privately owned ranch, so we were unable to visit the place. Now it is a National Preserve open to the public. Finally, after all these years, I was able to nose my automobile down the long, winding (and somewhat rough) road onto the property to a modest visitor’s center in the middle of Valle Grande. And “modest” is an appropriate description since it leaves little imprint on the place.  

The Valle Grande Portion of the Valles Caldera National Preserve
Source: Wickipedia
The Valles Caldera (or Kettle) is a volcano fourteen miles in diameter (175 square miles) that exploded some 1.2 to 1.4 million years ago and then collapsed in upon itself. The eruption spewed up 150 cubic miles of rock and blasted lava and ash as far away as Iowa. It was estimated to be 2,000 times as powerful as the Mt. St. Helens explosion. The cabin my family and I owned was on the back side of the caldera, meaning over a mountain range or two. Often, as we walked the forest, we’d come upon huge boulders that had no way of reaching there…unless they had come from the sky. 

The Bear Paw as seen from above
Source: Wickipedia
The caldera is made up of a vast expanse of grasslands free of any trees and mountain country covered by Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir. The grasslands had been badly overgrazed in the past, but seem to be recovering well. The timber had been heavily harvested for some time, but many of the old growth trees still remain. As you approach the visitor’s center, an odd knoll appears in front of you...a 250-foot, pine covered bump sitting in the middle of this vast meadow of yellow autumn grass. This is Cerro La Jara, a Rhyolite dome created by the pressure of magma underneath area. It is one of several such domes that, when viewed from the air, create a pattern resembling a bear’s paw. The area remains geologically active, as demonstrated by these building domes and numerous hot springs in the vicinity.

Archaeologists tell us the Jemez Valley has been occupied for 4,500 years. Camps have been found where natives of the area came to work the obsidian stones thrown up by the volcano. The local Santa Clara Pueblo Indians still come to collect these stones and consider the area…particularly nearby Redondo Peak and the adjoining Redondito…to be sacred. 

Recorded history begins when a sheepherder named Baca in the vicinity of present day Las Vegas, NM complained to authorities that his large Royal Land Grant was being encroached on by others. The dispute dragged on until after the old man’s death. In 1876 his five sons were given 500,000 acres in five different, non-contiguous tracts in exchange for permitting others to graze their original land grant. Each son took one tract. The 100,000 acres encompassing the Caldera was designated as Baca 1. The son who took this tract grazed sheep here until he traded the property to another sheepherder named Otero. In the 1930s, Otero traded the tract to Frank Bond, an Espanola sheepherder, who grazed as many as 30,000 sheep on the place. 

In 1963, the Bonds sold the property to Pat Dunigan, a rancher from Abilene, Texas. While Dunigan ran cattle on the caldera, his primary interest was in developing an electrical power plant using the geothermal activity beneath the surface. Several wells were sunk, but he could never develop sufficient power to support such a plant. He began to look for a buyer for the property, and considered the federal government as the most likely purchaser. The feds finally bought 95,000 acres (5,000 acres were deeded over to the Santa Clara Pueblo), paying over $100,000,000. In July of 2000, the Valles Caldera Preservation Act created the Valles Caldera National Preserve and opened it to the public on a limited basis. 

Cerro la Jara, a Rhyolite Lava Dome
Source: Wickipedia
For the princely sum of $5.00 each, J and I boarded a van with nine other sightseers and enjoyed a forty-five minute tour of a small portion of the property. (These guided tours are conduced only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday). The ride-along was worth every minute and every penny. We saw the homes of all four of the owners, one of which was being used as headquarters for elk hunts going on at the time. Permits are extremely limited and by lottery only. That particular house is currently being used as the home of the sheriff on the TV series Longmire. Scenes from the program regularly feature vistas from the caldera. Several movies and TV programs have been made in part or in whole in the caldera. 

In July of 2011, the Las Conchas Fire, which ultimately consumed 158,000 acres, burned 30,000 acres of the Valles Caldera. Rows and rows of trees to the west of the Valle Grande stand black and naked as a result of the wild fire. Some of the grasslands were burned, as well, but recovered quickly. That same fire consumed about 60% of the Bandelier National Monument in nearby Frijoles Canyon. 

I do not have the words to adequately describe the beauty and serenity of this magical place, so I encourage readers who live or travel in this part of the country to experience the place for themselves. On the way to the caldera, J and I talked more or less incessantly. On the return to Albuquerque, the cabin of the car was silent more often than not. I attribute that to our awe of the Valles Caldera. 

Next week: Nostalgia

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Magical Trip Through an Enchanted Land (Continued)

Last week, I took you through the first leg of the journey my friend J and I took three weeks ago. On the second segment of the trip, we entered the Jemez Valley, a place that has seen human habitatation for something like 4,500 years. You understand, of course, I cannot vouch for that personally.
J's Photo of some of the fall colors
We departed San Ysidro on NM Road 4 and almost immediately encountered what was the first of our stated goals: New Mexico’s vivid fall colors. Mother Nature displayed some of her finest raiment for us, especially along the Jemez River bottom off to our left. The gradual (but continuous) climb to Jemez Springs was a pleasant drive on a gently curving paved road. We knew we were getting close when we passed Jemez Pueblo, from which the town of Jemez Springs takes its name. This Towa reservation (Traditional Name: Walatowa) is a closed Pueblo. Outsiders are allowed on the reservation only during feast days, which are announced with a minimum of fanfare. The tribal authorities welcome visitors to the Walatowa Center, but claim they do not have facilities to accommodate tourists on the Pueblo, itself. The tribe is known for its excellent distance runners. One of the Jemez Runners won the race up Pike’s Peak several years in a row. 

My family and I once attended the wedding reception for the niece of a woman I worked with in one of the Pueblo homes (by invitation). My sons were small at the time, and I recalled them being excited at the prospect of seeing some “real Indians.” While we ate delicious home-cooked native dishes, my elder son, Clai, went outside to play with some other kids. Later, we looked out the window and saw one blond head amid a host of dark-haired children. As we were leaving for home later, Clai complained he hadn’t seen the Indians we promised. When we told him he’d been playing with them all afternoon, he wrinkled his nose. “No, I mean real Indians with feathers and flowers in their hair.” 

And speaking of hair color. One young man at the reception took a fancy to my late wife, Betty…or probably Betty’s bright, coppery hair. As we pulled out of the driveway he walked beside the car holding onto her hand and staring at her wistfully.

J and I pulled into Jemez Springs, a peaceful village spread out along the Jemez River. It is a place famous for hot mineral springs. The Catholic Church has placed its imprint on the town with the presence of the Congregation of the Servants of the Paraclete and the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. Among its other functions, the Congregation is said to receive and counsel errant priests. The Kiowa author, M. Scott Momaday, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel, House Made of Dawn, maintained a retirement home here until 2011.

Soda Dam on Jemez River

We drove through the town to Soda Dam, where a centuries-long buildup of minerals has virtually blocked the Jemez River and formed a waterfall. I used to stop there with my wife and sons so the boys could explore the area and watch venturesome swimmers slide down the waterfall into the pool below. Then we would soak our feet in the hot sulphur spring across the road before either leaving for home or proceeding into the mountains to our cabin.

J's Photo of the prow of Battleship Rock
Farther to the north of the dam, we rounded a curve and caught a glimpse the impressive Battleship Rock. It truly does look like the prow of a mighty sea vessel…probably of a warlike nature. The picnic and hiking area J wanted to visit was at the base of the Monument. Unfortunately, I parked in the wrong place and we had to walk down a pretty steep trail to reach the area. Readers of this blog will recall I had a back operation to repair a herniated disk and to relieve my severe stenosis of the lower lumbar region about two months earlier, so I was still walking with a cane. My doctors and physical therapist would have been horrified when I tackled some steep steps made of stacked railroad ties (with no handrail), but I maneuvered them without mishap. When we reached the bottom, the area was as enchanting as J had said, but the thing that caught my immediate attention was the paved road snaking through the park.

J's Photo of her favorite picnic and hiking area at the foot of
Battleship Rock
This was our second goal, and it was as worthy and rewarding at the first. Peaceful trails meandered up either side of the river rushing down the mountainside. We walked (J much farther and faster than I) along the trails and among picnic tables and covered pavilions with fire places. We had the park virtually to ourselves and enjoyed the gently swaying trees, a few squirrels and birds. We watched a fascinating play of reflected sunlight dapple a black basalt rock at the riverside. My contentment with the place was marred only by the thought of mounting those rough steps on the way back. In the end, we elected to follow the road which met the highway a quarter of a mile or so to the south of our parked car. I was tired and leaning on the cane more than usual by the time we got there. But it was worth the effort.

Then we headed north to accomplish our last goal.

Next week: Valles Caldera

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Magical Trip Through an Enchanted Land

Two weeks ago, my friend and critique partner, Joycelyn (hereinafter known as “J”), and I drove out of Albuquerque on Interstate-25 for a trip through New Mexico’s Jemez Mountain country. We had three goals: to take in the beautiful, vivid autumn mountain foliage, to spend some time at a picturesque picnic and hiking area J knew north of Jemez Springs, and to visit the most beautiful place on earth—the magnificent Valles Caldera south of Los Alamos.

Sandia Pueblo Flag
Less than fifteen miles north of home, we passed Sandia Pueblo, a fourteenth century Tiwa Indian village, which still bustles today. Its traditional name, Na-Fiat, meant the “Place Where the Wind Blows,” although today, the natives referred to it as the “Green Reed Place.” This was a reference to the two hundred-mile grove of cottonwoods lining the banks of the Rio Grande known as the Bosque, which ran through part of the reservation. 

A few miles up the road, we forsook I-25 to drive through Bernalillo, a town formally established by Don Diego de Vargas in 1695, although it was a center of Spanish and Pueblo trading long before this date. This was the village from whence the intrepid souls set out to found Villa de Alburquerque (see my post of August 9, 2012 to learn how we lost the second “R” in Albuquerque). 

Upon departing the town via US Route 550, we crossed onto the Santa Ana Pueblo (traditional name: Tamaya). There were the three distinct villages on the reservation, and most families, I am given to understand, maintained two homes…the second of which was in the Old Pueblo some eight miles northwest of Bernalillo, a place mainly used for traditional ceremonies and rituals. 

From there, I turned my 2002 Buick LeSabre up 550 toward our destination. I should explain at this point that my late wife, Betty, and I had a cabin in Los Pinos Canyon deep in the Jemez Mountains, so I had driven this route weekly (except in the winter months) for a number of years. During the summers, Betty and my sons, Clai and Grant, often remained at the isolated cabin weeks at a time while I drove back and forth on weekends. There was (and is) a Blake’s Lottaburger just outside of Bernalillo where we stopped both coming and going because they had the best hamburgers in the state. I must admit, I felt my Betty riding along with J and me on this Sunday excursion. I remembered so many things we had done and places we had explored when my two sons were small and there was no hint of illness or death on the horizon.  

Zia Flag with famous Sun Symbol
A few miles up the highway, we passed Zia Pueblo (Tsi’ ja in Keres), often known as the invisible pueblo. The village actually sat in plain view on a knoll to the right of the road, but it blended in so well with the environment it was difficult to see. But once you spotted the church, the rest of the village began to take shape. Its inhabitants are known for their fine jewelry making. The village may be hard to spot, but its Sun symbol is everywhere you look in the State of New Mexico. We took this traditional Zia symbol as its official symbol. It is everywhere from our state flag to our road signs. 

A church in San Ysidro
We passed a small white mountain which was mined for high-grade gypsum for a number of years. The ore was hauled to an Albuquerque wallboard manufacturer. There the road took a long curve to the north, and crossed a bridge over a dry Rio Salado before entering San Ysidro. This old Spanish village was established in 1699 as a farming community by one Juan Trujillo, who named it after Saint Isadore the Farmer…or San Ysidro. The village sat at the southern end of the Jemez Valley at the junction of US Route 550 and New Mexico Road 4. The latter was the gateway to the Jemez Mountains and our stated goals. 

That’s a lot of history, folks, and we haven’t yet achieved any of our three stated goals. 

Next Week: Entering the Jemez Valley

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bisti Business Cover Art

Well, folks, the second BJ Vinson mystery is out. Above is the cover art for the book. I kinda like it. Hope you do, too. It's available as an ebook or in paperback form through Amazon and Barnes and Noble (online).

Have as much fun reading it as I had writing it!

Sorry, I had to put in a plug for my work.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

More Excepts from the Next BJ Vinson Novel

A BJ Vinson Mystery Novel

Chapter 1 (Third Installment)

I returned to the visual meditation of the landscape outside my window. As nature’s glow dimmed, man-made lights came alive: amber lampposts, white fluorescents, flamboyant neons, yellow vehicle headlights reflecting off wet pavement, and far in the distance a tiny spot moving slowly across the sky—one of the aerial trams hauling patrons up Sandia Peak’s rugged western escarpment to the restaurant atop the mountain.

By leaning forward, I caught the faint, rosy underbelly of a western cloudbank, the lingering legacy of a dead sunset. Was that what had drawn Orando and Dana to the Land of Enchantment? Spectacular scenery and surreal sunsets? Or was it our rich heritage of Indian and Hispanic art? The two were history majors, and Albuquerque had a long history. It was approaching its 300th birthday, while Santa Fe and many of the nearby Indian Pueblos had longer lifelines.

Beyond my line of sight, the city’s original settlement lay to the west where one- and two-storied adobe shops—some ancient and some merely pretending to be—hearken back to their Spanish colonial roots. Now known as Old Town, it was founded in 1706 by Governor Francisco Cuervo y Valdez as the Villa del Alburquerque—some say Ranchos del Albuquerque. In either case, the Spanish colonial outpost was named in honor of New Spain’s Viceroy in Mexico City. The second “R” of the Duke’s name disappeared in 1880 with the coming of the railroad to New Town, located two miles east of Hispanic Old Town, a signal the Anglos had successfully wrested the heart—if not the soul—of the community from its founders.

It seemed as though a similar battle was being waged between Dana Norville and Anthony Alfano for the heart and soul of Orlando. Papa Alfano had given me cell phone and pager numbers for his son. He kept his pup on a short leash—or tried to. Not only that, but the old man had checked Norville out at the first signs of a budding friendship between the two. I’d bet Alfano was accustomed to throwing his weight around, railroading or buying whomever he wanted, including his son. My instinctive dislike of the homophobic bully made me wonder how far he would go to “turn his son around.” Maybe Orlando went on the run to get out from under the thumb of his tyrannical patriarch.

Spinning back to the desk, I went on the hunt for information over the Internet. According to Dun and Bradstreet, the Alfano Vineyards’ net worth was somewhere around $100,000,000. Although California is notoriously anal retentive about releasing it’s criminal records, the Superior Court websites I searched revealed nothing on Alfano, but that only meant he wasn’t a known murderer, rapist, or kidnapper. He would have bought his way out of anything less than that. Orlando, on the other hand, had a sheet in Los Angeles. From the limited information available, it looked to be nothing more than a couple of disturbing the peace charges. Norville’s record was about the same, leading me to believe they had been activists in their early university days. Maybe they met while agitating for some cause or the other. Gay rights? Voting rights?

There was no answer at their room in the uptown Sheraton. Well, no surprise there. The call to the kid’s cell phone went to a message center. I left a callback on the pager without much hope. Things are never that easy.

I had finished dictating instructions for the Alfano contract and was reaching to snap off my old-fashioned, green-shaded banker’s lamp when the telephone rang again. Maybe I’d caught a break. I hadn’t, but the sound of Paul Barton’s baritone sent my energy level soaring.

“You still at work?” he asked.

“Just finishing up. How about meeting somewhere for a late dinner.”

A deep chuckle. “Meet me at 5228 Post Oak Drive NW.”

“You’re home?”

“Yep. And I have a surprise for you.”

“Let me guess—green chili stew and warm, buttered tortillas. Uh…what’s for dessert?”

“I’ll leave that to your imagination.” He hung up in the middle of a wicked laugh.

This is the end of Chapter 1. For the Prologue and previous installments of Chapter 1, please see the prior three posts.

Please feel free to comment. I encourage feedback from readers. Thanks.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

More Excepts from the Next BJ Vinson Novel

A BJ Vinson Mystery Novel

Chapter 1 (Second Installment)

“Now wait a minute.” Anthony Alfano obviously was not accustomed to getting the brush-off. “I know all about you. And except for that—nonsense—you’ve got a good reputation. You can move in both the straight world and the gay world. You’re the one I want. Find my son, Vinson, and send him home to his mother and me.”

“It’s Mr. Vinson.” Might as well set the bigoted SOB straight right at the beginning.

“All right, Mr. Vinson, score one for you. Are you sure you’re gay? You don’t sound it.”

“Does your son?”

“No, but—”

“But in your dreams he’s not twisted, right? How about Norville? Am I looking for a flaming queen?”

“Of course, not. Lando wouldn’t hang out with someone like that. No, I’ve got to admit, looking at Dana Norville, you wouldn’t suspect.”

“Then how can you be certain?”

“I did a quick background check on Norville when the two of them started bumming around together, and the guy was clean. But when they…uh, got close, I took another look and found the man Norville had been shacking up with before he latched onto my son.”

“Very well, Mr. Alfano, I’ll look into the matter. I’ll do it for Orlando and Dana, but you’re going to be footing the bills.”

He promised to have his secretary in California call Hazel tomorrow with the credit card information for my retainer and to provide anything else we requested. I asked him to email color photos of the two men. If they were as close as he believed, there would be a few around somewhere. He also gave me his son’s cell and pager numbers.

After hanging up, I tapped my desk blotter with a gold and onyx letter opener fashioned into a miniature Toledo blade. I sighed aloud. The Alfano case had all the hallmarks of developing into a nightmare. Working for attorneys was easier; they understood the process. Private individuals had a warped idea of what a PI did, which was nothing more or less than gathering information. But I was committed, so I might as well make the best of it.

Next Week: Third Installment of Chapter 1

To read the Prologue and the first installment of Chapter 1, please see the prior two posts.

PS: Please feel free to comment. I appreciate receiving feedback from readers.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

More Excepts from the Next BJ Vinson Novel

A BJ Vinson Mystery Novel 

Chapter 1 (First Installment) 

Albuquerque, New Mexico 

The telephone jolted me out of my reverie. Hazel Harris, my secretary, aide, and surrogate mother, had left for the day, but the answering service could field the call. Ninety percent of my clients were attorneys, and there weren’t many of them working this time of day. But when the phone shrieked a second time, I glanced at the unfamiliar long-distance number on the Caller ID and caved in to curiosity.
“B. J. Vinson, Confidential Investigations.” 

“Who’s speaking?” 

“B. J. Vinson. What can I do for you?” 

“What’s this?” a gravely voice demanded. “Some rinky-dink outfit where the boss answers his own phone?” 

Curiosity has its limits. Without another word, I dropped the receiver back into its cradle. It usually takes a while to recognize a problem client, but this obnoxious prick had done me a favor by convincing me of it within a couple of sentences. 

I swiveled my chair around to return to what I had been doing, savoring the view from the north-facing window of my third-floor office in one of Albuquerque’s historic buildings at Fifth and Copper. I often undertook this ritual before heading home. It was my favorite vista at my favorite hour in my least favorite time of year—about three-quarters of the way into evening on a muggy summer’s day made uncomfortable by the lingering humidity of an earlier quick-moving thunderstorm. Fortunately a more hospitable autumn hovered just around the corner. 

The phone intruded again. Determined to cut this guy off at the pass, I snatched up the receiver, but before I could say anything, a loud laugh threatened to burst my eardrum. 

“Short fuse, huh? Okay, I can respect that. Look, I’m in Hawaii on business and lost track of the time difference. Sorry to call so late.” 

The bastard was pretty good at defusing things. 

“Let’s start over, shall we? I’m Anthony P. Alfano. I run Alfano Vineyards in Napa Valley. I’ve got a problem out there in New Mexico, and I think you’re the guy who can help me. I got your name off the Internet. I like your website. It’s a solid professional layout.” 

He left me little recourse except to respond gracefully. “Thanks. I assume you checked me out with someone, too.” I exhaled and tried to ignore the feeling I was being manipulated by an expert. “Okay, what’s the problem?” 

“My son. He’s missing. Probably nothing serious, but I need to locate him.” 

Orlando Selvanus Alfano—was this family Italian, or what?—twenty-one, and a graduate student in history at UCLA, had left on July twenty-second for an extended vacation. He and his traveling companion, another student named Dana Norville, intended to explore the natural wonders of the great Southwest and sample the wares of local vineyards. Even though they were three days late returning home, the vacationers were still registered at the Albuquerque Sheraton on Menaul and Louisiana across the street from Coronado Mall. Repeated phone messages left at the hotel and on Orlando’s cell phone had gotten no response. The two were going to miss the first classes of the fall semester if they didn’t return immediately. 

“I take it the other student—this Dana—is his girlfriend.” 

Alfano’s pregnant pause and terse answer raised my antennae. “It’s Dana James Norville. One of those names that can go either way.” 

So that’s the way it was. Alfano needed a gay PI to look for a gay son. “Does he? Go either way, I mean?” 

His rage was palpable. “Only one way. The wrong way.” 

“And your son?” 

Instead of the expected explosion, Alfano sighed heavily. “You have to understand something. Orlando’s not queer. Hell, most of us jerked off with buddies when we were kids. We grew out of it, no harm done. Lando’s just a slow developer. He hasn’t come out of it yet, but he will.” 

“How about Norville?” 

“That bastard’s a dyed-in-the-wool pansy, and he’s contaminating my son.” 

I bit my tongue at the sophomoric outburst. “For your information, Mr. Alfano, I’m pretty ‘dyed-in-the-wool’ myself. I think you need to call someone else.”

Next Week: Second Installment of Chapter 1

To read the Prologue of the novel, see the previous post.

PS: Please feel free to comment. I solicit readers' opinions of my writing.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Excepts from The Bisti Business

A BJ Vinson Mystery Novel


Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, South of Farmington, New Mexico

A lopsided moon daubed wispy tendrils of scattered clouds with pewter. Glittering pinpricks of muted light smeared the Milky Way while moon shine bleached the barren landscape silver. Sharp-edged shadows shrouded the feet of mute, grotesque gargoyles of clay and sandstone: hoodoos masquerading as monumental toadstools, spheroid stones aping gigantic dinosaur eggs, and eroded clay hills with folds like delicate lace drapery.

A great horned owl soared above the high desert floor, its keen eyes scouring the panorama below. The plumed predator dipped a wing and veered eastward, attracted by the dull metallic shine of a large foreign object. Quickly discerning it represented no culinary opportunity, the raptor flew in slow, ever-widening circles in search of something more promising.

The huge bird’s flitting shadow startled two figures, interrupting their heated argument. Both glanced up quickly. Taking advantage of the moment, the larger man snaked a belt from his waist and slipped behind the other. He whipped the leather strap over his victim’s head, driving him to the ground with a knee to the back. After a short, desperate struggle, the man sprawled in the cooling sand ceased to resist. The violent tremors in his extremities passed, and he lay still.

Panting from his exertions, the killer rose and began the hunt for a suitable crevice to hide the body. It wasn’t difficult to find one in the unstable terrain of these remote badlands. Satisfied his cairn of loose stones and sandy soil blended well with the rest of this weird, other-world place, he turned and plodded toward his distant vehicle.

Next Week: Installment One of Chapter 1

PS: Please feel free to comment. I'm interested in readers' reaction to my writing. Thanks.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Gestation and Birth of the BJ Vinson Series

A reader—actually a dear friend and fellow scrivener—commented on my last post and suggested I describe how and why I wrote the BJ Vinson books. THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT is available as both an ebook and in print. THE BISTI BUSINESS, the second in the series, will be coming out shortly in ebook form with the print version to follow. The third, called THE CITY OF ROCKS, is already in the hands of the publisher. A fourth, with the working title of THE LOVELY PINES, is in the works.

I am, and always have been, drawn to mystery novels. James Lee Burke, Robert B. Parker, and Stuart Woods are among my favorite writers. So it was natural that I decided to write a mystery. Maybe even a series. But who would be the hero…the protagonist…the doer of great deeds?
As I began to think about the possibility, a name popped into my head. Burleigh J. Vinson. Burleigh? An unlikely name for a fellow who had to carry the load for an entire series. But there it was, and it wouldn’t go away. He could be known as Burl. Or Leigh. Neither rang a bell. But B. J. Vinson sounded pretty good. Okay, so it would be BJ…with no punctuation. I liked that. Punchy. What did the J stand for? Nothing. It was a MIO…a Middle Initial Only. Why? Because I didn’t want to burden the guy with any more letters of the alphabet.

Now that was settled. But when you got right down to it, BJ didn’t have an intimate sound. Because my hero was a flesh and blood guy, he had to have some cozy moments. In a previous post, I explained why he was gay, therefore I won’t cover that ground again. So how about Vince (taken from his last name) for those who were closest to him? Sounded good to me. In the post titled “Who is BJ Vinson and Why is He Gay,” I gave you his history and threw in the fact that he was independently wealthy—thanks to his parents—which allowed him to pick and choose his cases. That was important since I wanted to write about is this great, big, beautiful state I have chosen to call home.

New Mexico is truly an amazing place. Members of my family, who hail from Oklahoma and East Texas, come for visits and shake their heads because everything isn’t covered in carpets of green. There are places lush with grama and buffalo grass, but there are also great swaths of stark, barren rock. There are exotic, unreal places like the Tent Rocks, the Bisti/De Na Zin Badlands, the black lava beds of the Valley of Fire, the enormous caverns at Carlsbad, the Rio Grande Gorge…and other places too numerous to mention here. That was what I wanted to write about…the State of New Mexico. I wanted to share the beauty of this place with readers. 

One way to accomplish this is to send the intrepid BJ all over the state on behalf of his clients. Each of the novels takes him to different parts of the state. The Zozobra Incident is set in the Albuquerque-Santa Fe corridor. In The Bisti Business, BJ travels from Albuquerque to the Continental Divide, to Taos, Farmington…and finally the Bisti/De Na Zin Wilderness area. The City of Rocks sends him to Deming and deep into the Boot Heel country. The Lonely Pines, puts him squarely in the wine country north and east of Albuquerque. 

BJ is an ex-Marine MP and an ex-Albuquerque Police detective, so he is seldom satisfied with simply collecting information (which is essentially a private investigator’s job). He’s compelled to dig into it and see what lies behind the data he collects. He’s gay, but he doesn’t serve just the gay community. Some of his cases involve homosexual clients, but in others there isn’t a gay in sight…except for BJ and his companion, of course.

I also have an abiding interest in various cultures, and New Mexico is awash in them. So BJ deals with Anglos, Hispanics, Pueblo Indians, Navajos, and in one case, Swiss immigrants.
This is a very lengthy way of saying BJ Vinson was created as a foil to indulge my passion for history, love of my adopted home, a fascination with diverse cultures, and the intrigue of a good mystery. I pray my writing enmeshes the readers in these fascinating subjects, as well.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Getting Personal

Okay, BJ Vinson is going to have to fend for himself this week. I, Don Travis, his creator and master (I like to believe) am going to hog the spotlight. It’s been an “interesting” couple of months. On Saturday, August 4, I thought I was a young squire again. You know, one who could walk and chew gum at the same time. After all, I was on my way to pick up a lady named Bobbi for a nice dinner out. Well, I walked straight off two steps and ended up falling on my hip. A neighbor helped pick me up from the concrete, and I limped the rest of the way to my car. I went to dinner, as planned, and figured things weren’t too bad.

Yeah, right. By Wednesday or so, I was virtually helpless. After considering my options, I dialed 911 and took my first ride in an ambulance to the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Albuquerque. The Emergency Room of any hospital is not normally a pleasant experience, but those folks took pretty good care of me. Most likely, because they recognized I’m a big baby when it comes to pain. The long and the short of it is, I was admitted that night and had surgery for a herniated disc between L4 and L5 (and there are more of you out there who understand that terminology than I would ever have believed) on the 16th. They either felt I was recovered sufficiently to release or got fed up with my mewling, because they threw me out on the following Monday. But since I live alone, I was delivered into the hands of the lady who went to dinner with me that fateful night of the fall. 

I am sufficiently recovered to return home; however, as fate would have it, my Florence Nightingale had surgery on her right hand, and now we provide mutual help. She’s the legs, and I’m the hands. Together, we manage to get everything done, despite the fact she has six dogs, a cockatiel, and three canaries.

Next week, I’ll try to do better.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Bisti Business, a Novel

A few days ago, Robert Brown, the publisher of Ampichellis Ebooks, sent some suggested cover art for the next BJ Vinson mystery. He also asked for the back cover blurb, a dedication, and acknowledgments for The Bisti Business. That means release of the E-book is getting close. Hopefully, Martin-Brown Publishers will follow with a print copy soon thereafter.

In this novel, the second of the series, a phone call from Anthony Alfano, a wealthy Napa Valley vineyard owner, sends BJ on the hunt for Alfano’s younger son and his traveling companion. The trail first leads to the Continental Divide country on Interstate 40 west of Albuquerque. Then the Porsche Boxter the two young men are driving is reported in Taos. BJ charters a Cessna for a quick trip to the historic town, flying over the Taos Box—which will mean something to the white water rafters among you—and soaring over the great steel bridge spanning the gorge in time to see a bright orange sports car crash through the protective fencing, plunge into the canyon, and crash into the river 650 feet below.

It takes some time to determine the younger Alfano and his gay traveling companion, Dana Norville, were not in the car, and requires some good, solid detective work to determine the two were separated from the vehicle in Farmington, an oil and gas town in the Four Corners area of the state. From there, the trail leads south to the Bisti/De Na Zin Wilderness area—as weird a landscape as you’ll ever see. There, a grisly discovery turns the investigation on its head.

During the course of this tale, we visit the awesome volcanic plug called Shiprock and the great Navajo Reservation. Hopefully, readers unfamiliar with our state will discover interesting and beautiful places, and those who are will find themselves visiting treasured locales.

I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait for the publication date.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

More Characters from The Zozobra Incident

In the real world: Last week’s Burning of Zozobra at the Santa Fe Fiesta got a little dicey. High winds delayed the firing of the monster for approximately an hour and a half. But there were still thousands in the park to cheer the ogre’s death. Last night’s local newscast told of a petition being circulated by locals to make the event into a family-friendly affair again. As the event has grown over the years, it has lost a good deal of that air. 

Last week, we learned additional information about some of the people who populate The Zozobra Incident. In addition to BJ, our protagonist, we took a look at Hazel Harris, his secretary, office manager, and surrogate mom. We also looked at Del Dahlman, BJ’s first love and first bitter disappointment, who was now a successful Albuquerque attorney. And finally, we gained some insight into Emilio Prada, the handsome gigolo responsible for breaking up BJ and Del. This week, let’s look at some of the other characters.

Detective Eugene (Gene) Enriquez was just shy of his 41st birthday when we first met him in The Zozobra Incident. A local (he was born in Bernalillo, a town 15 miles north of Albuquerque) he was stocky, five-seven, and weighed 155 pounds. A Hispanic, he had vaguely Polynesian features a lot of women find attractive. After his army service, he went through the Albuquerque Police Academy and was sworn in as an officer. He walked a downtown beat, and even rode horse patrol for a short period, but his interest was in becoming a detective. Some years after he achieved his goal, he found himself assigned to a new partner…a gay partner. B. J. Vinson. It bothered him at first that BJ, who could have passed as a hetero, didn’t bother to deny his homosexuality when asked about it. Before long, he came to admire his new partner’s honesty. The guy was gay, and that was that. Once Gene learned he could trust his partner’s judgment and instincts, they got along professionally and socially. Gene took some flack from other cops about riding with a queer, but he was married to Glenda, an attractive woman with whom he had five kids, and he figured that provided all the cover he needed. He took it hard when BJ nearly died while they were apprehending an accused murderer, but he kept in touch when his partner took medical retirement and opened a confidential investigations office. He was one of the few people who knew BJ inherited a fortune upon his parent’s death. 

Paul Barton looked Hispanic to Anglos, and Anglo to Hispanics. When BJ first met him, the family name “Barton” took him by surprise. He expected it to be Spanish. But it was Paul’s mother who carried the Latin blood. Paul was born on June 13, 1985 in Albuquerque’s South Valley. That made him twenty-one at the time of The Zozobra Incident. BJ first spied him with a cowgirl on the dance floor at the C&W Palace, the city’s biggest boot-stomping joint, and was drawn by his good looks and lean frame. BJ later realizes the kid was the new lifeguard at the North Valley Country Club where he swam as therapy for the bullet wound in his thigh. Once he made the connection, the mutual attraction soon became evident. This was the first time BJ has been tempted since Del’s betrayal. But Paul was not only a lifeguard, he was also a full time student at UNM pursuing a degree in Journalism. He worked in the school’s cafeteria so he can live on campus his senior year. Paul was 5’11” and weighed 155 pounds. He had brown eyes, brown hair, a swimmer’s build, and has a small dragon tattoo above left nipple. Fiercely independent, he drove old Plymouth Coupe even though BJ offered to buy him a more recent model. He was an expert swimmer, played soccer and golf, and loved to dance. His father, Paul Barton, Sr., was a carpenter who died of TB when Paul was ten-years-old. His mother, Luisa Maria Arrullar de Barton worked two jobs thereafter to raise her son. He was exposed to gang activity in the South Valley, but resisted temptation to join. Once Paul and BJ get together, Paul was absolutely devoted, even though there were some stormy times ahead. 

And then there’s the fun character, the surprise, the widow. Mrs. Gertrude Wardlaw has lived across the street from BJ for as long as he can remember. He considered her as this frail diminutive old woman who wore her white hair like a helmet and spoke in a thin, tremulous voice. But when the chips were down, he learned she and her late husband Herb (whose ashes rested on her fireplace mantle) were both retired from the DEA, and she still had the spirit…as well as the will of a fighter. 

Next Week: We’ll have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Other Voices in The Zozobra Incident

 Today…or rather tonight…is the annual Burning of Zozobra, a historic event which plays an important part in the book. I had planned to be present and participate in the festivities, but my recent back surgery put an end to those aspirations. Would that I could be there! 

Last week, we learned a little more about the protagonist of The Zozobra Incident, BJ Vinson, so I thought it might be fun to take a deeper look into some of the other voices in the novel, starting with Hazel Harris, BJ’s office manager and surrogate mom. 

At the time the Zozobra Incident takes place, Hazel, who is a retired teacher and the best friend of BJ’s deceased mother, Frances, is sixty-three-years-old. She stands 5’5” and weighs 150 pounds. She is plump, rather dowdy, gray-eyed, and considers it her responsibility to be a stand-in mom. Although he tweaks her nose now and then, BJ puts up with Hazel’s smothering because he is truly fond of her. Besides, she’s runs the office—and sometimes him—efficiently and makes sure the clients pay their bills…something BJ wouldn’t be nearly as efficient at doing. Plump, efficient, and nosy, she reminds him of that sassy maid of comics and TV who runs the fictional Baxter household. She doesn’t approve of his gay lifestyle, but loves him like a son. We meet her throughout the series. 

Delbert David Dahlman, known as Del to his friends and associates, is slender, blue-(sapphire) eyed, blond, and trim with an athletic build (obtained in a gym). He stands 5’11” and weighs 160 pounds. Del possesses an eternally youthful appearance that seems to defy ageing. A Chicago boy who came to the UNM law school after high school, he’s practiced mostly corporate and tax law in Albuquerque ever since 2001. He is an associate attorney with a large local firm named Stone, Hedges, Martinez, Levishon, etc…or the Blahs, as BJ calls them. He is thirty-two-years-old in 2006 when he comes to BJ and asks for help running down a blackmailer. He had met BJ in the line of duty, and when they were attracted to one another, they ended up living together in BJ’s home on Post Oak NW until BJ was seriously wounded in the right thigh by a bullet from an accused murderer’s gun. During the long recovery, Del wasn’t able to take care of the home nursing and allowed himself to be seduced by a handsome gigolo named Emilio Prada. The manner of the split-up makes it hard for him to come to BJ when he assumes Emilio is handing around some raw pictures of Del and himself. Nonetheless, he swallows his pride and asks BJ for help. 

Emilio Prada is a twenties-something legal immigrant from Durango, Mexico. He is handsome in that way some Hispanic juveniles are prettier than their girlfriends, although “Milio” never grew out of it. Rather than work for a living, he uses his looks and slender, wiry build to make his money. He is amoral more than immoral. He sees nothing wrong with selling himself to men or women. In fact, he enjoys the seduction. When he meets Del Dahlman, he figures he’s found a goldmine…the answer to his dreams. Here is a handsome, successful man wealthy enough to take care of him for the rest of his life. Besides, the sex is good. But Milio likes to dominate his marks (and that’s what Del is) and oversteps the bounds of their relationship. When Del sends him packing, he takes some very graphic pictures of the two of them with him, the genesis of Del’s belief Milio is behind the blackmailing. 

But things are not as simple as they seem. 

Next Week: More voices from The Zozobra Incident. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Who is Burleigh J. (BJ) Vinson?

When I write a novel, I constantly struggle to avoid “over describing” my major characters. This is to allow readers to paint a mind picture of these individuals for themselves. Apparently, I succeeded with BJ. When Robert Brown of Martin-Brown Publishers and Ampichellis Ebooks and I were trying to settle on a book cover for The Zozobra Incident, his business partner and wife, Sharene, proposed a dramatic cover of the head and torso of a bearded young man surrounded by flames. The cover art held a great attraction for me, but I couldn’t accept it because BJ is clean-shaven. In fact, none of the book’s characters who might be displayed in the cover art had facial hair. When I expressed this objection, I remember quite clearly that Robert said, “He could have. You haven’t given us a clue as to whether or not BJ is bearded.” So I was successful in my goal of allowing the reader to for his or her own image. Please feel free to picture the Albuquerque PI as bearded, if you wish.

Actually, I have a very firm idea of how he looks, acts, thinks, and feels. I know who he is because I created him. I know, for example, Burleigh was a family name (his mother’s father’s name, as a matter of fact), and that J. was a MIO…middle initial only. He was born September 12, 1972, and was 36 at the time The Zozobra Incident takes place in 2006. 

His parents, Robert and Frances Vinson, were both educators. They raised him with a steady, firm hand and always sought to guide rather than impose. His father was a very strong influence in his life and probably knew BJ was gay before he did. Robert was always supportive and encouraged him to play football in high school and even backed his son’s decision to join the Marines. In later years, BJ understood this was not an attempt to “convert” him, but was rather to provide as normal a background as possible to give BJ as rock-solid basis for deciding who he was and who he was going to be. 

BJ came to grips with the fact he was gay slowly, finally accepting his sexual orientation in his late teens. Since he had a strong, supportive father and a nourishing, yet not dominating, mother in his life, he came to the conclusion his homosexuality was “hard-wired.” Thereafter, he accepted who he was without obsessing over it. He neither hid nor flaunted his sexuality. As a result, he moved easily through all spectrums of Albuquerque society. 

The senior Vinsons died on January 2, 2003 in a car accident on Interstate 40, leaving their only son and heir an estate of $12,000,000. Some years earlier, they had loaned a struggling local business a modest amount of operating capital. That business later moved to Seattle and became Microsoft. By the time of their deaths, BJ had a degree in Criminology from UNM and was a detective with the Albuquerque Police Department. A little over a year later, he was shot in the thigh while he and his partner, Gene Enriquez, attempted to apprehend a murder suspect. That occasioned both the breakup between BJ and his lover, Del Dahlman, a local attorney, and his medical retirement from APD. 

Even though he was independently wealthy, he continued to live in the home his father built at 5228 Post Oak Drive NW in Albuquerque’s North Valley. The residence was located in a ’50’s middle class neighborhood, which is growing a bit geriatric by now. The home, a contemporary red brick, white trimmed, cross-gabled structure with stone foundations, had a basement—something unusual for Albuquerque at the time.  

 BJ was incapable of sitting around and living on his inheritance, so on September 18, 2005, he opened B. J. Vinson, Confidential Investigations. Referrals from his many cop friends help turn the business profitable. He hired his mother’s best friend, a retired public school teacher named Hazel Harris, as secretary and office manager. What he got was a surrogate mother, whom he suffered fondly. 

Eleven months after opening his office doors on the third floor of a historic building across the street from the Albuquerque Library’s main facility, Del Dahlman came to ask his help. He was being blackmailed. Against his better judgment, he accepted his former lover’s request and thus The Zozobra Incident began. 

We will meet BJ again in the upcoming Bisti Business and The City of Rocks. 

Next week: Still to be determined.

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