Thursday, December 31, 2015

Zozobra Burning!

Before I start this week’s post, let me reproduce something I received from Michael Goddard, Software Engineer for Google Friend Connect:

"We encourage you to tell affected readers (perhaps via a blog post), that if they use a non-Google Account to follow your blog, they need to sign up for a Google Account, and re-follow your blog. With a Google Account, they'll get blogs added to their Reading List, making it easier for them to see the latest posts and activity of the blogs they follow."

Then he adds that this change will take effect on January 11, 2016.

Folks, I have no ideas what he just said, but I have faith you readers will be more knowledgeable than I am about such technical computer thingys. At any rate, I’ve done as he asked and sincerely pray Google’s machinations will not result in the loss of readers.

Now to this week. Given my blog of last Thursday advising that DSP Publications had contracted for the three BJ Vinson books, my thoughts have turned increasingly to The Zozobra Incident and The Bisti Business and The City of Rocks. Back in October of 2012, one of my first blog posts was an excerpt from Chapter 15 of Zozobra when BJ was attending the burning of the giant marionette prior to the opening of the Santa Fe Fiesta. Let’s take a further look at the spectacle. The Darrel that BJ is speaking to in the scene is an architect he’s just met at the burning. Let’s watch Old Man Gloom go up in flames:


The crowd grew larger, noisier, and more restive as evening arrived. Booze was banned in the park, but flasks abounded, and they sure as hell didn’t contain sassafras tea. Another band had taken the stage—if anything it was more enthusiastic and louder than the first. Every thump of the bass reverberated inside my chest. It was just like being at an outdoor rock concert. Pretty soon, we’d have to give in to the press of people and stand up, but first, I shared my corned beef sandwich and some water with Darrel.
After that, we stood, and I tried to retrieve my blanket. There were too many people standing on it, so I abandoned it to its fate. Eventually, the decibel level grew to a pitch where conversation became impossible.
We stood and craned our necks to do some more people watching. Just as I figured my back was going to give out, a blare of trumpets heralded the approach of the traditional procession from St. Francis Cathedral. The Conquistador Band approached the base of Zozobra’s stage from a gate that spared them from having to squeeze through the mob. Immediately, the Star-Spangled Banner blared through the speakers, and the crowd sang…no shouted along.
Then the tempo switched from triumphant to funereal. Black-robed and hooded Kiwanis members led the parade bearing the effigy of the Mother Mary in the persona of La Conquistadora. Gloomies, eight and nine year-old children who dance as ghosts around Zozobra, preceded the Fire Spirit Dancer, the Queen of Gloom, Gloom Princesses, handlers, dignitaries and a seemingly endless host of others.
As darkness fell, a synthesizer blared when white-sheeted Gloomies began cavorting before Zozobra. The Fire Spirit Dancer, clad in a flowing red costume, drove away the mischievous children in an acrobatic dance originally created by a New York ballet dancer especially for the burning. A drum crew added to the din of the frenetic synthesizer. A band added brass and reed as the dance reached its tempestuous climax. Then the master of ceremonies stepped forward and whipped the assembled crowd into a chant of “Burn him! Burn him!”
As the demand for his death grew, Zozobra flailed and roared in protest. I could almost believe he was some grotesque human personification facing a burning at the stake. It was eerie.
At last, Santa Fe’s black-suited mayor took the stage to solemnly pronounce the death sentence to the screaming crowd. Instantly, weird green lights lit the periphery of the doomed monster. As the official stepped away, the crowd broke into a chant again. Cries of anticipation reached a crescendo, grown men shouted, women screamed, and children yelled. And everyone pressed forward for a closer look. For a moment, I wondered if I’d be able to draw another breath. The panic passed, although the pressure continued to mount. The noise was indescribable.
Then the Torch Handler gave in to the demands of the frenzied crowd by touching a brand to the skirts of the giant. Old Man Gloom’s grunts and groans became squeals of agony. His arms flayed helplessly as a white-hot blaze raced up his loins. Thousands of throats let out a deafening roar when the first fusies, little containers of black powder concealed in the marionette, fired off. The band struck up the Mexican revolutionary tune, “La Cucaracha.”
The animated creature continued to flail as parts of him began to come apart. Gloom was now totally consumed by flames. His lower jaw fell away, blasted apart by fireworks concealed in his head. The roaring fire reached for the sky. It was a miracle half of Santa Fe wasn’t incinerated by now. Of course, Zozobra’s auto-da-fé came at the end of New Mexico’s monsoon season when the countryside was wetter than usual—at least in theory.
A deafening roar came from the crowd as the personification of Anxiety came apart. A flaming arm fell to the ground in a burst of sparks. The massive fire seemed to exert a magnetic force, drawing spectators at the rear to press even harder against those in front. The conflagration turned the chilly night warm as Old Sourpuss disintegrated before our eyes. I stole a glance at Darrel. His eyes were glued to the dying monster. He trembled from unconcealed excitement.
     The raging inferno collapsed in upon itself and became a mere bonfire. Immediately, the most spectacular fireworks show I’d ever seen began. Rockets flared, shells burst. Vivid, vibrant colors filled the entire sky.


Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into The Zozobra Incident. Make a deal with you: if you will keep on reading, I’ll keep on writing. I’d be interested in hearing from you.

Happy New Year, everyone! Have a safe one.

See you next week.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Good News … Definitely, Absolutely

On Thursday, November 5, I published a post entitled Good News … Possibly, Maybe saying a friend had recommended I submit the three BJ Vinson mystery novels to DreamSpinner Press. I sent a query and was invited to forward all of the manuscripts to DSP Publications, an imprint of DreamSpinner. I did so with the understanding DSP had no open publication dates earlier than 2017 and their staff would likely require upwards of sixty days to review three manuscripts.

I am pleased—that’s too mild a word—delighted to let you know I signed a contract with DSP for all three books this past weekend. Thus far, I am as happy as my friend by the professionalism of the staff. Prior to forwarding the contract, the publisher laid out in clear terms what to expect. I read, considered, and signed. If nothing else, this is an opportunity to see that The Zozobra Incident and The Bisti Business will continue to be available to readers (although possibly not with those titles) and that The City of Rocks will see the light of the publication day.

The first of the books, Zozobra, is now tentatively scheduled for release in November 2016 with the other two to follow one after the other at four-month intervals. Folks, that’s warp speed for the publishing world.

DSP wants to give the overall series a name so the books can be branded as a set. As to the possible renaming of the individual books, their experience shows that because of the way readers now buy books, titles should “pop” in words that are easier to spell. Such titles survive better in today’s search engine environment. I like my titles but, hey, I’m open-minded.

This post probably isn’t nearly so exciting to you as it is to me; nonetheless, I wanted to let you know what was going on.

Looking forward to working with the professionals at DSP Publications.


Note: I understand The Eagle’s Claw got an uptick in sales… possibly from the other Don’s guest posts on this site. Thanks for responding, guys. Remember, keep on reading… and let me hear from you.

By the way, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year to all!

See you next week.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Don Travis: More of THE EAGLE’S CLAW

Don Travis: More of THE EAGLE’S CLAW: A couple of weeks ago, another Albuquerque author, Donald T. Morgan, guest-posted the Prologue to his post-WWII family sage entitled THE E...


A couple of weeks ago, another Albuquerque author, Donald T. Morgan, guest-posted the Prologue to his post-WWII family sage entitled THE EAGLE’S CLAW on this blog. If you recall, we were introduced to the protagonist, Román Otero (or Ro as he comes to be called) as an orphaned child growing up in his spooky grandmother’s wickiup on the Edge of Mountain Apache Reservation in New Mexico. (Well, she seems spooky to me.) We learn a little more about Ro and his grandmother (Cane-Woman) and their way of life in Chapter 1 of the book. Enjoy.



By Donald T. Morgan


After foraging what seemed half the reservation, Román came up with only six empties: three strawberry, two Grapette, and a Coke with a chip in it. If only someone would pay for the beer bottles littering the ground, he’d be full of food and candy all the time. Booze wasn’t allowed on the reservation, but that didn’t stop the bootleggers. He picked up a long-necked beer bottle and put an eye to the amber mouth. Pretty. He shoved his tongue into the opening and sucked noisily. It was as dry as Barranca Seca in June. He tossed the bottle aside.
The store in White Pine wasn’t open yet, so he played in the mud puddle beneath a faucet for a quarter of an hour before it occurred to him to wash his face and hands. When the place finally opened, he swapped the empties for a full bottle of strawberry. Like he figured, the man refused to pay for the nicked Coke bottle.
He collected his scrawny pony and rode deep into Dead Scout Canyon where the mare could graze while he nursed his drink. It was no longer cold, but he didn’t mind. Warm soda pop made him burp, and he liked to burp. The bubbly water filled an empty belly better than anything. And red strawberry was the best of all. A man would never be hungry if he could buy four bottles a day.
For no reason other than his thoughts were so bent, he belched loudly, once in each cardinal direction, beginning in the east as all things begin and proceeding as the hands of a white man’s clock move. The ritual complete, he drained the bottle and dropped it on a rock.
The noise flushed a woolly spider from beneath the flat stone. Román nudged the creature with his toe. It scooted sideways on eight hairy legs and then froze. Cane-Woman said that if you killed a spider, its relatives would try to kill you. And his grandmother knew about such things. He hesitated, his foot suspended above the tiny animal. Abruptly, he dropped his heel.
“The white man at the Agency did it. The one with fuzzy hair that’s falling out on top,” he lied to the dead spider and all its kin. For emphasis, he nodded in the direction of the Indian Affairs Office in the settlement. There. That should fool the spiders. They weren’t very smart.
When he began moving again, he sensed he was not alone in the canyon. The hair on the back of his neck and the faint clink of stone from the deep shadows told him so. In that moment, he felt a kinship with ancestors who lived when danger covered the earth like a blanket. He decided to stay…even though the image of a huge Grandfather Spider bent on revenge crawled across his mind.
After tying the mare to a piñon, he headed for an outcrop where he could hide. Maybe the presence was other than natural. For years, he’d listened to tales of the Mana, the Great-Power-Flooding-the-Universe, and of the ga’an, the Mountain Spirits of his grandmother’s winter stories. Everybody said Cane-Woman knew Eagle, and that he gave her great power, although Román wasn’t exactly sure how that worked. But things might not be the same anymore. Was this world the same as when the Old Way prevailed? He frowned as he recognized the words of Miss Marshall, his last year’s teacher. Did his mind belong to the Indah woman now?
The mare whinnied and danced at the end of her reins. Whatever shared the canyon was near. His eyes raked the tufa above him. He saw nothing that didn’t belong. Ashamed of cowering behind rocks, he rose and poked his head over the boulder. Below him, he saw his “presence.” No supernatural shared the canyon with him. It was only Clarence Wolf sneaking up on his pony. He didn’t like Clarence very much. A year older and almost twice Román’s size, Clare-Ass wasn’t just a Dumbo. He was a bully, to boot.
Feeling cheated his interloper was merely human—and an inferior one, at that—he scooped up a handful of stones and ran down the hill raining missiles upon his enemy. The bigger youngster retreated before the barrage to a more sheltered place. They settled down to throwing rocks at one another with only sporadic accuracy until the morning failed and his stomach began growling again. The sport gone from the half-serious game, he reclaimed the mare and wandered off, leaving his enemy to hurl obscenities at his back.
Abandoning the high canyon to his foe, Román ranged down from the Capuchas onto the edge of the desert. The noise in his gut grew stronger. Chewing a wad of sap from a wounded piñon provided a little relief. He eyed a colony of prairie dogs, but they were such wary little creatures he didn’t even unwind the slingshot tied around his waist.
He rode the mare down the steep side of Split Nose Gulch and came up out of the gully hungrier than ever. He reined in and listened. Had he heard something? No, it was just his head playing tricks on him. His head must be hungry, too.
Then from far away, so faint the wind must have whispered in his ear, he heard a voice. He scouted and found nothing. Perhaps the ga’an toyed with him. Or was it the One-Great-God-Who-Was-Three they talked about at the settlement church? Weird. Three was such a strange number. He preferred four. Four was good and natural. Four was the ritual number of his people.
There it was again. Closer now. A cry for help. He skirted a clump of juniper and cut the trail of a horse. Curiosity set him to following the tracks. The hoof prints made straight for Blind Man’s Arroyo, an enormous ditch snaking down the foothills that carried the spring runoff to the distant river. He dismounted, stepped to the brink, and peered over the edge.


I like to feature the other Don’s book because he loves New Mexico just as I do. South central New Mexico is as much a protagonist in Eagle as Ro is. Besides, I like his cover.

Read, read, read! See you next week.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dear Mr. Lord, Sir

Courtesy of the Open Clip Library
Do you remember the excitement this time of year brought when you were a child? I was thinking the other day about how I lost my enthusiasm for the holiday season once my sons were of a certain age. Amazing how the glitzy stores and the commercial hype soured so quickly after that. Some acquaintances accuse me of being an old Scrooge, and they might be right. So this year I sought to see Christmas through a child’s eyes anew, and the following came to me.

Dear Mr. Lord, Sir

Dear Mr. Lord, Sir, I’m kinda new at this, so I hope I do okay. Mom and Grams are lots better at it than I am, especially Grams. She can go on and on almost as long as Preacher Pasternack down at church. But she doesn’t get as mad as he does. He shouts and wants You to do this and damn (I’m not supposed to say that) something else. Sometimes I think the pastor wants You to spank everybody’s bottom for all their sinning.
Never heard Dad and Pops praying like this. But I know they talk to You because I’ve heard them, usually when I do something to make them mad or they slam a door on a finger or that kinda crap.
There’s some things I need to say before we come down to the good stuff, so we might as well get it out of the way. Can You bless my folks and the Gramps? And even Suzie, I guess. Yeah, You oughta do that. She’s not too bad for a sister. But You can yank her pigtails, if you want. Mom won’t let me do it, but You can probably get away with it.
Suppose I oughta ask You to bless me, too. Oh, yeah, and forgive me. According to Mom, it’ll take a whole lot of forgiving for me. Suzie says I’m way past re-dem-shun, but I don’t even think she know what that is. If I’m past it, she’s bound to be way down the road ahead of me. So You don’t have to waste any time on that kind of stuff.
We can lump Aunt Helen and Uncle Bosco and Cousin Jim together and get them out of the way. Course, seems like you already blessed Jim enough, ‘cause he doesn’t have a sister to put up with. If You can just bless them, that takes care of that. There are some others I’m supposed to mention, but I’m getting kinda sleepy and we aren’t even down to the stuff that really counts yet. Besides, You know who they are, so just take care of them … please.
Okay, pay attention now. I don’t know how Santa Claus stands with You, but ya’ll both run around up in heaven – at least on Christmas Eve when he’s in that sleigh– so You’re bound to brush up against him now and then. Would You please flag him down and tell him to forget about socks and underwear and things like that? Do You know how embarrassing it is to open up a package and show off your shorts to everybody in the room? Things are bad enough without that.
You might tell him … you know, Santa … to read what I wrote him in the letter this year. I spent a whole hour printing it out. Most of the time he doesn’t pay much attention to what I say.
Anyway, I really, really, really want the air rifle. But I think I’d like it to be a pellet gun, instead. They’re way better, I hear. Mom says I’m too little for one, but I can hold Jeff Bascomb’s Ridley Airgun steady, so I oughta be all right. And if I had it, Suzie wouldn’t pester me so much. She’d be too scared.
But the thing I really, really, really, really want is the Super Spy Skycraft Drone. And if You tell Santa to make it big enough, I could just crawl on top of it and fly myself all over the place. That way, I could get to grade school without running into those bullies from the third grade. Do You know how icky it is to walk to school with Suzie just so they talk to her and don’t pick on me? Ugh!
Suppose I oughta ask you to have him bring Suzie what she wants, even though it’ll be paper dolls and Pick-Up Jacks and sissy stuff like that. I know she’s asking for a big doll house this year, and that might be okay. I can play like there’s bank robbers holed up in it and shoot it full of holes with my new pellet gun. That’s funny. Shoot holes in their hole. That doesn’t sound very nice, so I probably oughta take it back. Mr. Lord, can you back something out of a prayer? Well, You know what I mean.
That’s about all. The important stuff, anyway. Oh, this is Jeremy, but I guess You knew that already. Grams says you know everything. Everything I’m doing and everything I’m thinking. Boy, I sure hope she’s wrong.
And Mr. Lord, Sir, You might want to write all this down so you don’t forget to tell Santa Claus what he’s supposed to do.
Oh, yeah. Amen.


Wish I had been that bold when I was a child. Come to think of it, I’m still not.

As always, thanks for reading. I’m interested in your reaction.


New Posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Short Story This week: Love, Desperate Love

Let's take a look at another short story this week. See if it strikes a chord anywhere within you. But don't let it motivate you to any rash actions. Read and enjoy.
                                            LOVE, DESPERATE LOVE

I lay abed in our cramped guest room listening to my wife bang around in the kitchen. She was simply making coffee, so there was no accounting for the clamor she was creating other than to make sure I was awake and aware of her mood. How could I not be? Her snit had been going on for a solid month. How had it come to this?
Cupping a hand behind my head, I sighed and considered that question. Merilee and I had been high school sweethearts: me a pug-faced footballer and she a cheerleader. The pairing had seemed right and natural then. But after graduation, the roar of my adoring fans had died while she remained the prettiest girl in town.
That didn’t seem to matter to Merilee. We went on just as we had, even after I decided not to go to college in order to take a job as a lineman with the local power company. When she agreed to marry me and became a secretary in a local accounting firm, I realized what a lucky slob I was. Looks and brains and personality mating with a local jock not quite good enough to land a football scholarship.
Looking back over the last twenty-five years, I realized that had set the course of our marriage. I worked and went to sports events and came home. She worked and ran with her circle of girlfriends and came home … and more or less decided how we lived on a daily basis. I was comfortable with that. Even grateful for it until I realized she pretty much controlled our married life. Even then, I acquiesced to most of her wishes – which ultimately became demands – in order to keep a peaceful domestic domain.
Ten years ago, things changed. Merilee’s sweet life caught up with her. And I do mean sweet. While I might occasionally overdo the beer, my wife never met a sugary confection she didn’t fall in love with. Her weight gain was slow but steady. I didn’t see the warning signs, and if Merilee did she ignored them. The day her doctor diagnosed her with diabetes marked her transition from dominate partner to domineering bitch.
Life had been hell on Elm Street since then, and I’m not talking about some movie franchise. Our modest home was located on Elm. I sighed again and stretched beneath the thin sheet. From a rocky heaven to a fiery hell in one short medical diagnosis. I do believe Merilee had been faithful until that day. But condemnation to Diabetes Purgatory had driven my wife – still attractive even with thirty additional pounds – to other men as a way of proving to herself she was still desirable. Apparently, I wasn’t evidence enough.
She had been discrete, and I likely wouldn’t have known if the wife of one of my friends hadn’t complained about Merilee seducing her husband. Confronting my straying spouse was worse than learning about her affair. She threw a hissy-fit to end all tantrums. Naturally, it somehow came out as all my fault.
That wasn’t the last of her peccadillos, but I’d learned to have another beer and go to another ball game and ignore the painful knowledge. But the pounds continued to pile on until she became so gross no one wanted her any more … including me. An angelic face atop a grossly corpulent body wasn’t all that attractive.
I scooted up in bed and leaned against the headboard. No longer being attractive to men opened the next phase in our increasingly troubled marriage. She lost her job, most likely because she was as domineering at work as she was at home. She made no effort to find another, instead devoting her time and our money to seeking reassurance of her feminism with expensive spa treatments and costly cosmetics. Within five years, she had run through our modest savings and even more stingy investments. Once those assets were depleted she turned from shrew to harridan.
Almost one month ago to this day, I’d had enough and reasserted a measure of masculine control that I didn’t even know had survived my smothering marriage. I’d taken away the checkbook, cut up her credit cards, removed her name from our bank accounts, and put her on an allowance. I’d managed to stem the flow of red ink, but there was nothing left at the end of the month beyond a near goose egg in our checking account. Like many American families we were one paycheck away from disaster. Hell, we were a half a paycheck away. And the necessary relaying of the floor in our garage was inching us closer to the brink. The contractor hadn’t even poured  concrete yet, and the cost estimate was inching higher.
And for saving us from bankruptcy, what had I earned? Marlie’s undying enmity. No, her hatred. She could hardly stand the sight of me. She stopped cleaning house, washing herself, laundering our clothing, fixing meals. Crap, I might as well be a divorced man living on my own.
An attractive idea, but impractical. A lawyer friend I’d consulted unofficially pointed out that a divorce would merely mean my paycheck would have to support two independent households rather than a single fractured one. If I took a second job, the thing might have been manageable, but that would mean I’d have no life beyond working my ass off. Well, I didn’t have much of a life right now, but was I willing to go to that extreme just for the privilege of turning my house over to her and existing in some closet-sized apartment somewhere?
No, but I had to do something. Fast. And permanent.
That last thought shook me. Permanent. That would be difficult. Whatever financial straightjacket I put Merilee in, she’d find a way out. Cutting her off from the accounts, had made it harder for her to spend money, but she still managed. And as time went on, she’d come up with more efficient ways of getting around me.
Permanent. A good word. A seductive word. Fascinating. That led to another thought. Merilee had no relatives. She’d driven away all her friends. If she vanished, I imagined a great sigh of relief rising from the whole town.
And there was a hole in the ground right inside my attached garage. A hole that was going to be covered with concrete tomorrow morning.
I thought hard about things for a good fifteen minutes before rising and rooting around in the bedroom closet. I selected a two iron from the bag of golf clubs I could no longer afford to use. The weight was just about right. And it was long enough so nothing was likely to get on me. Nothing. Blood, I guess. Maybe brains. But just to be safe, I stripped off my pajamas. Still I hesitated.
Then I heard Merilee waddling down the hallway and conjured her image. Her dirty blonde hair would be sticking out like Medusa’s head of snakes. Her bathrobe would gape open over her bulging belly and hike up on the sides, caught on hippo hips. I shuddered. She was doubtless coming to see what misery she could inflict. Well, today we’ll see who does what to whom.
Naked, I walked to the door and threw it open, taking her by surprise. Without speaking a word, I lifted the two iron …

Just as she raised the little .22 revolver almost swallowed by her pudgy hand.
Well, how do you think it ended? Was that small .22 caliber gun sufficient to take down a former football player before he could wield his trusty two iron? Was one faster than the other? Or did they both go down? Only you, the reader, can answer that.
Hope you enjoyed the tale. Thanks for reading. I'd like to hear your reaction to the story.



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