Thursday, June 30, 2016

Johnson’s Ranch Picnic

Thanks to those of you who responded to my request for feedback on THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT cover. Most of you liked it. So do I.

This week, I want to do a short story, so let’s get right to it.
I’m not really a loner, but on occasion, I like to take off into the wilds by myself and commune with the environment without interference from other human beings. Can’t always get away with that, of course; mankind’s left traces of himself all over the landscape. We’re litterbugs even when we pick up behind ourselves. We leave our roads and trails and tumbledown buildings strewn all over the countryside.
On an early morning in March, I loaded up my brand new 2012 Jeep Wrangler and, looking for road miles to complete breaking in the motor, headed straight up I-25 toward Santa Fe. Round-trip, that would give me at least 120 highway speed miles to add to the 385 already on the odometer. The mountain roads I’d tackle in between would be icing on the cake.
Without a clear destination in mind, I bore east at the City Different and followed the old Santa Fe Trail into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. A complex of what looked to be church buildings drew me off the highway, but I wasn’t looking for the company of pastors, so I drove a tangle of logging roads back into the countryside. When I found traces of a couple of buildings in a small vale, I decided this was a good place to have lunch and grab some zzzs.
My Garmin GPS and an old fashioned paper map told me I had elected to stop in someplace called Apache Canyon and made reference to a ranch. It looked as if I was going to have my solitary picnic at the site of the old Johnson’s ranch and stage station. I was right smack in the middle of the old Santa Fe Trail, a portion that hadn’t yet been paved.
Donning a windbreaker against the brisk mountain air, I located a small depression what would make a good after-lunch resting place, ate my two chicken salad sandwiches with mustard potato salad—the entire meal garnished with baby carrots, green onions, and red grapes.
My belly full, I put away the plastic plates and tablecloth in the basket from which they came and lay back against the gentle incline behind me to stare up at a clear blue New Mexico sky with a few dark clouds hanging around in the west. Towering pines and firs shadowed my peripheral vision. A hawk of some kind wheeled high above me, and a crow cawed from the nearby forest. The scent of wild flowers drifted in on the breeze, and I spent a few minutes trying to identify them before squirming into a more comfortable position against the firm earth as a prelude to drifting off to sleep.
I woke to a burst of noise. Loud cursing and the sound of protesting mules. Startled, I opened my eyes and sat up. Below me in the bole of the small valley, I was astonished to see a long train of mule-drawn wagons. Men rushed around tightening leather here, feeding oats to animals there, tying down canvas, and attending a host of minutiae. Others gathered in small groups to talk and smoke. Their laugher sometimes sounded akin to the braying of jackasses.
Although tempted to rise and find out what was going on, something held me back. An old tintype quality hung in the atmosphere. The gray of the men’s clothing wasn’t true. The timbers and stone and adobe of the main house and something that reminded me of a stage station were off.  Unreal. Surreal.
Sudden pandemonium broke out as mounted men broke from the trees on my high side and thundered down on the surprised group at the ranch house. Guns blazed. The men in gray milled about ineffectually, as the blue horde rode down on them. Men fell. Blood spurted. Animals shrieked and dropped in their traces. Mules penned in corrals panicked and trampled one another to death.
Shock passed and fear seized me. Sudden perspiration stained my windbreaker. My hands shook as if palsied. I crouched in my depression but was unable to resist peeking over the edge of the embankment. My Jeep was mere feet away. But even as I contemplated seeking its cover, a troop of men, some firing weapons from the saddle, others brandishing wicked-looking sabers pounded straight toward me. One passed right through my red vehicle as if it weren’t there. I flattened against the earth as horses leapt my hiding place on their way to the wagon train.
Shaking with terror, I hid in my hole, eyes squeezed shut tightly as the sounds of battle gradually diminished, giving way to the occasional roar of rifles and pistols as if some sort of ritual execution were taking place. Sensing movement, my eyes popped open.
I was no longer alone. A young man shared my hiding place. He had lost his cap and his weapon, but his proximity gave me understanding denied me before. His uniform was gray… Confederate gray. It would not have been difficult to imagine him in other circumstances standing tall and proud and defiant, but now he was frightened into near paralysis. His straw pile hair gave him the look of a panicked scarecrow. He bled at the shoulder.
“Oh, lord, oh lord. Ain’t nothing left. Col. Scurry’s done for. We all done for. Slough’ll be all over us now.”
The sound of that young voice shook me out of my lethargy. “Who’s Scurry? Who’s Slough? Is this a Civil War enactment? If so it’s—”
He hissed through thin lips as a group of four men—Union soldiers by the look of them—made their way up the hill, pausing to examine an occasional body. When they arrived at the depression, my companion managed to rise to his knees.
“Don’t shoot, sir. Please! I give up. I'm Private Joe Bob Dalton, sir.”
A hard-looking sergeant stared at him without an ounce of mercy in his flinty eyes. “What’s your unit, son?”
“S-second Texas Mounted Rifles, sir.”
Without another word, the Yank lifted his pistol and fired. I nearly fainted as I stared into the boy’s dead eyes. Blue. With sandy lashes.
Fearful I was about to draw my last breath, I managed to lift my gaze. The sergeant and his men had turned and walked away without taking notice of me. I slumped back against the earth and closed my eyes against the horror I’d just witnessed.
A loud crash brought me to consciousness. A cannon shot? Something struck my face. I opened my eyes to discover the cloud bank hovering on the far horizon had moved over us. Lightning struck a tree uphill of me, sparking a brief fire before the pelting rain arrived to douse it. I struggled to my feet, almost afraid to look at the dead private who shared my hideout. Except he wasn’t there. A dark smudge tinted the far side of the depression, but there was no corpse. They had taken him away. Exposed to the drenching rain, I stood and looked over the landscape. There were no wagons. No mules. No soldiers. No farmhouse or stage station. I was alone, soaked to the bone and shivering from fear and more confused than I’d ever been.
After grabbing my picnic basket, I climbed out of the depression and slogged my way to the jeep. Uncaring that muddy water fouled the seats and pooled on the floorboard, I crawled into the vehicle, threw it into four-wheel-drive, and made my slow, uncertain way back to the highway. My mind buzzing with questions and impressions and recollections was a hazard to my driving, but I made it back to sunny Albuquerque safely.
After a long, hot shower, I sat down at my computer and began a Google search. Once I recalled the area was called Glorieta Pass, I began to make progress. That had been the site of the seminal battle of the Civil War in New Mexico. Lt. Col William Read Scurry marched up out of Confederate Arizona, took Albuquerque and Santa Fe, and was approaching Glorieta Pass with his contingent of Texas and Arizona troops and a bunch of irregulars—which I read as freebooters. After pushing Col John P. Slough’s battalions, mostly Coloradoans, back into the pass, he was well on the way to severing the mineral-rich west from the Union.
Chill bumps played up and down my arms as I read on. A column of Yankees had sneaked behind rebel lines and attacked Scurry’s supply train, destroying some eighty wagons and killing or scattering five hundred or so draft animals. Scurry quickly went from winning the battle to losing the war. Without supplies, he retreated back to southern New Mexico and into Arizona. That battle broke the back of the Confederate war effort in the west.
The raid on the supply train had been made at a place called Johnson’s Ranch on March 28, 1862. My eyes slid to the calendar on my desk. Exactly 150 years ago… today.
Had there been a young private from San Antonio named Joe Bob Dalton among the waggoneer’s that long ago day? I searched for his name… in vain.

I hope you enjoyed this little bit of prose. As always, you can contact me at

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

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Don Travis: Don Travis: The BJ Vinson Mystery Series

Don Travis: Don Travis: The BJ Vinson Mystery Series: Don Travis: The BJ Vinson Mystery Series : How many times have we been told: Know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses. I happen to...

Release Date for THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT announced by DSP Publications

Hi, guys. I’m pleased that DSP Publications has announced November 15, 2016 as the release date for THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT. This is a little later than I expected, but it is good to get a firm date on the calendar. I shouldn’t complain because the publishing business moves at a glacial pace, and this is less than a year from the date the contract for the book was signed. Folks, that represents warp speed in this industry. At any rate, I look forward to the release of Zozobra. As an added bonus, the election will be over by then (although the mourning, the celebrating, and the Monday morning quarterbacking will likely still be underway).

Now I want to do something I haven’t done before. DSP has provided me with the mock-up of a suggested cover for Zozobra. The book is about a blackmail attempt that culminates in murder at the burning of Zozobra (depicted in the cover art). a ritual that kicks off the annual Santa Fe Fiesta. I’m attaching the preliminary image as a way to solicit your comments. Note that this is not a “clean” cover, but upon final approval, all extraneous material will disappear (such as the Shutterstock logo). Please let me know if this projects a book you would like to read.

Artist: Maria Fanning/Publisher: DSP Publications
I look forward to your feedback, but time is of the essence, so don’t delay. Contact me with your suggestions at

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Don Travis: The BJ Vinson Mystery Series

Don Travis: The BJ Vinson Mystery Series: How many times have we been told: Know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses. I happen to think I write reasonably well... well eno...

The BJ Vinson Mystery Series

How many times have we been told: Know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses. I happen to think I write reasonably well... well enough to claim it as a strength, at any rate. But I also know I suck at self-promotion. When it comes to social media, the “social” tends to disappear. What that means, of course, is that I am not now nor will I ever likely be on the New York Times bestseller’s list.

I recently heard a lecture at a SouthWest Writer’s meeting expound on this subject. This was a very respected and successful local author who works almost as hard at promoting his books as he does writing them. His intent was to inspire the rest of us writers and provide some very helpful procedures to allow us to emulate his success. Alas, all he did was convince me that I am constitutionally unable to promote myself. He did, however, make one suggestion that I found interesting. “If you have reviews of your works, post them on your website." Eureka! I have reviews. So I’m not writing this post. Five other people are... individuals who come from the ranks of the finest people in my world—readers!

Below are the last five reviews posted to Amazon on THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT  and THE BISTI BUSINESS. As regular readers know, DSP Publications has picked up this series, and Zozobra is to be reborn sometime in September with Bisti coming about four months later. And then, THE CITY OF ROCKS will see the light of day for the first time about four months after Bisti is released.
The Bisti Business a Good Read
The gay PI, B.J. Vinson, takes us around the desert country of New Mexico to solve the case of a missing young man from California who is traveling with his lover. For anyone who lives in or has visited New Mexico, the desert landscape offers a challenge to anyone caught unprepared for the relentless heat. Don Travis puts you in the action and you feel you are there. "The Bisti Business" will have you convinced of whodunit before you find out you hung your hat on a red herring. And there are plenty of them. This is a book that keeps you wanting more. You won't be able to put it down until everything is known. This is Don Travis' second novel following "The Zozobra Incident." Read that one first so you have a feel for the characters when they are introduced again in the "The Bisti Business."

Don Travis is my new favorite author. I look forward to his next mystery.

Great gay detective
Love having gay detective series where I can go on new adventures with good plots and realistic stories. I will be looking for more of this series.

a great story
Very suspenseful. Some alluded to sex, but nothing graphic. Compelling read for me, enjoyed the conclusion, though the author could have spent a bit more time closing it all down. To read about the trial, and the others bits of story line would have been a great way to wrap it all nice & tidy.

Excellently Written Mystery
Don Travis writes a colorful, tightly constructed mystery. For anyone interested in New Mexico, he peppers his story with fascinating information about the cultural and historical foundations of Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The Zozobra Incident is a very good first offering from Travis and will make you anxious for more.

Good mystery!
Of the two books I read by Don Travis, this was the better. The setting is interesting and the 
characters appealing.
I hope this was of some interest to you. Keep on reading, guys. Feel free to contact me at

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Prologues (Conclusion)

For the past two weeks, I’ve published Prologues of two other local writers and asked the reader to try to determine the author’s intended message in these short passages.

For the final segment of this series on Why I Like Prologues, I’d like to review prologues from my B. J. Vinson Mystery Series, both published, awaiting publication… and one work in progress.

As noted previously, my prologues try to set the tone of the novels. They are normally short but packed with information for the discerning reader. Let’s look at some.
South of Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Sangre de Cristos to the north and the Jemez Mountains on the west stood like massive, mute sentinels. An unforgiving sun high in the cloudless sky bleached the desert landscape brown and turned Interstate 25 into twin ribbons of glistening black tar. The white four-door Impala barreling down the highway pushed the speed limit—not enough to attract the attention of passing cops but sufficient to clip a few minutes off the hour’s drive to Albuquerque.
A blue Mustang convertible closed the distance quickly and then paced the white car. When the Chevy began its long descent down the steep slope of La Bajada into the middle Rio Grande Valley, the Ford muscled past in a burst of speed. Suddenly it swerved right, catching the front fender of the Impala and sending it hurtling toward the sheer drop-off beyond the shoulder.

In this Prologue of THE ZOZOBRA INCIDENT, we meet no one, neither protagonist nor antagonist, but we are alerted to the fact this is likely a novel of action and danger. We know that lives are at risk with people willing to claim them through violence. We also get a sense of the New Mexico countryside in this omniscient point of view prologue. The narrative that follows is told in the first person, as are all of the books in this series.

Note: The photo shown here is the cover to the book that was published. My new publisher, Dreamspinner Publications is currently developing new art for their release of the book, presently scheduled for September.
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 moonshine 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.

Does this set the tone for a book, or what? Murder in the wierd terrain of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness . We certainly don’t meet the protagonist (at least we hope not as he would be either dead or a murderer), but we certainly get a glimpse of the antagonist. This omniscient glimpse of blatant murder in such an unworldly landscape sure gets my interest.

Same disclosure on the cover art as above. No release date has been set for this book by the new publisher, Dreamspinner Publications, but is anticipated to be in January 2017.
M Lazy M Ranch in the New Mexico Boot Heel
The thief froze as a string of sharp yips hammered the quiet night. Both big Dobermans were darted and sleeping soundly out at the fence, so this yapper must be a house pet. A light flashed briefly as the back door opened. A fur ball with pointed ears bounded down the steps and made straight for him. The feisty canine latched onto his pant leg and whipped it back and forth, growling furiously. A growl was preferable to a bark, so he dragged his dog-impeded leg like a zombie in some old Hollywood movie.
As he reached the poultry pen, all hell broke loose. A single quack built into a raucous caterwauling. Someone must have flipped a switch up at the house because brilliant light suddenly flooded the enclosure. He reeled backwards, stunned by a sea of white. Ducks. Dozens of ducks. Hundreds. How was he going to find the right one?
The dog attached to his pant leg shifted its grip and closed on his ankle. Cursing, he gave an involuntary kick, sending the pooch over the fence. The ducks scattered, opening a circle of dark earth around the confused mutt. The pup transferred its attention to the birds and began a joyful chase, dashing this way and that, parting its panicked prey in dizzying waves of undulating white, creating a living kaleidoscope of shifting shades and shapes.
Then he saw her. In a coop all by herself. Like she was waiting to turn into a swan or something. A clamor from the house galvanized him into action. He vaulted the fence, threw open the cage door, and dragged her out by the neck. He ignored the claws raking flesh from his forearms as he fled through a horse corral at the back of the pen. He made it to the cover of some shrubbery before the ranch came alive. Moments later a woman’s agonized wail rose above everything.
Remembering he was to deliver the duck alive, he loosened his hold on the feathery neck. The bird immediately set up a loud protest that could have awakened the dead but wasn’t enough to overcome the clamor of the hundred or so other birds. He turned and headed for his pickup. Best get out of there before Millicent Muldren’s drovers filled him full of lead.

This Prologue from THE CITY OF ROCKS has no cover art as this is the novel presently awaiting its initial release, anticipated to be late spring 2017. In this passage, the reader is led to the conclusion that the "kidnapping" of a duck is a frivolous crime. Our hero, BJ Vinson, treats it as such until people start dying when he goes on the hunt for the duck. An unusual case for him.
     The Lovely Pines Vineyard and Winery, Valle Plácido, New Mexico
     An unmoving figure watched silently from the edge of the dark wood as blustery night winds raced through undulating evergreen boughs to brush rough-barked trees with feckless lover’s kisses. Littered leaves and pine needles trembled before gusts as if the Earth, itself, were restless. Advantaging an errant cloudbank obscuring the half moon, the intruder picked up a heavy cylindrical bag and breached a four-foot stone wall. The prowler crossed  the broad lawn, pausing briefly before a brick and stone edifice to scan a white sign with spidery black lettering by the uncertain light of a small electric fixture trembling in the breeze.
Valle Plácido, New Mexico        Ariel Gonda, Vintner
Established in 1964             Fine New Mexico Reds
     The wraith made its cautious way to a larger building at the rear of the stone house and took a small crowbar from the bag to pry a hasp from the heavy door. Hesitating only to make sure no alarm had been triggered, the black shadow vanished into the depths of the deserted winery.

This omniscient Prologue for THE CITY OF ROCKS, a book that has been accepted by Dreamspinner Publications to be released sometime in 2017, paints the picture of a mystery that takes place in a Winery in the small fictional town of Plácido, New Mexico. We meet someone, an intruder, but have no idea if he (if it is a he) is a protagonist or an antagonist or fits somewhere else in the story. This is the book I am working on at the present time, so there is no cover art—present or pending.
I hope this post and the two preceding it will cause you to pause and reconsider the use of Prologues in novels. As I said in the first piece, Prologues are considered passé. But as I cautioned then: What goes around, comes around.

Hope this was of some interest to you. Keep on reading, guys.

Feel free to contact me at

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

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Prologues (Part 2)

As I noted in last week’s post, I am often asked why all of my books have prologues. I not only tried to explain that I use them to set the tone of the novels, but also provided two examples of Prologues by another Okie writer. Today, I’d like to present another approach by a second author with Oklahoma roots, Donald T. Morgan. Let’s get right into the Prologue to his THE EAGLE’S CLAW.

Sleep brought a restless dream. Rather, it was the stitching together of a memory by the boy’s subconscious from scraps collected and then forgotten over the years. There was a man in the dream, a tall Indah with brown hair and sad, gray eyes. A small, tawny woman with long, black hair and a beautiful smile was in it, as well. The izdan, well past school age, yearned to be able to read and write. The man, who taught at the Indian school, helped her learn. They were together often. They talked and laughed and grew toward one another.
They left the reservation and were married in the white man’s way. The woman often returned to her mother’s wickiup, but the schoolteacher never came. This was good because a man gazing upon his mother-in-law risked blindness. The young wife blossomed with health and happiness and child. Strength and pride replaced the longing in the man’s eyes.
One day, more Indah brought a rodeo to the reservation. The Tinneh loved a rodeo. It was great fun to watch the gaunt, pale men flop around on bucking horses. Some of the People rode, too. The crowd cheered when a cowboy rolled in the dust, no matter he was white or tribesman.
Then a hush fell over the stands. A magnificent roan pranced into the arena. A devil horse with fire-eyes and a black mane writhing like a nest of serpents. Its great hooves struck sparks from the earth.
No one could ride him, hooted the rodeo hands. No one ever had. No one ever would. They offered the bribe of money to any who succeeded. The Apache men stirred restlessly, but advised by diyi—the shamans among them—they refused the challenge even though the prize was hefty.
One man stepped forward. The white man with gray eyes. A teacher didn’t make much money, and he had a family on the way. He would claim the reward.
Death stalked the arena. Evil corrupted the air. The cowboys’ flesh turned green from it. The roan danced in savage glee. The smell of horse sweat and manure and hot dogs and dust hung heavy over the crowd. Invisible owls screeched. Whippoorwills cried, and coyotes cackled.
From the uneasy safety of his dream, the boy watched the man mount the haughty horse. The chute gate flew open. The roan shot out, bucking and whirling in a frenzy. The Indah rode him! He rode the wicked beast.
Enraged by the humiliation, the roan flung himself against the fence. The man was hurt. His fingers loosened. The animal twisted savagely, and the rider fell. The demon horse wheeled.
The woman with the beautiful smile ran into the arena, waving her arms to turn the frothy beast away. The horse charged on, driven insane by talons of monster owls buried in his withers.
The man was dead. The dreamer thought the woman was, too, but she moved. Her body strained in birth even as she died.
And he knew he had seen himself born.

Many writing coaches advise authors to steer clear of dream sequences, but I think this one is very interesting. An examination of it tells us a lot about the book. We can assume the restless dreamer is the protagonist of the novel, and if that is true, we learn a great deal about him. He is a half-breed Apache who is likely being raised on the reservation by someone who is deeply immersed in the mystical side of life. We know the violence into which he was born and can only wonder if it continues throughout his life. The Prologue foretells a struggle for the boy’s soul ty two different cultures and hints from the wealth of mythology encapsulated in the dream that the advantage goes to his Apache heritage. We can anticipate that powerful medicine will be used to keep him on the reservation. But we also know the irrestible draw of the outside world.

It spiked my interest. The viewpoint? Well, it has to be omniscient because the wealth of details are far beyond a child’s capacity to take in, understand, or even dream. Thereafter, the book is told in the third person limited point of view.

Once again, I’d like to challenge you to study a prologue and try to determine what the author is trying to accomplish with it.
Next week, we’ll take a look at some of my Prologues.

Feel free to contact me at

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

Blog Archive