This entry is in particular aimed at Jessica Fleming, who very kindly offered to help publicize my new book, The Lord of Opium. Thank you very much. I’m not sure anyone can do much after all the effort the publisher has put into advertising me. Few authors get as much support as I did.
I was amazed at some of the angry reviews I got, mostly on Goodreads. Where was this hostility coming from? I thought about it a lot and decided to address the situation here. I feel strongly about freedom of speech. People are entitled to their opinions and I don’t want to censor them. I do want to understand them.
Why were readers so upset? First of all, I think tastes have changed since I wrote The House of the Scorpion. Along with Twitter, Facebook and movies with nonstop action and special effects has come a desire for instant gratification. Plot and character are not as important. In fact, these slow the action down. My books develop slowly and don’t contain nonstop action. This is how I write and I am unable to change it.
Readers become fond of a novel and want the same experience repeated in a sequel. I felt quite sorry for J. K. Rowling stuck with producing EIGHT Harry Potter books. I admire Rowling and thank her for making the publishing world safe for long children’s books. But EIGHT books on the same topic? It would have killed me. And readers were horrible to her when she dared to write for adults. The same problem befell Jean Auel. She had six novels to slog through and was clearly fed up half way through. I think readers wanted a clone of The House of the Scorpion and got something else. It had to be. Matt was a helpless pawn in the first book and master of his own fate in the second. Of course it couldn’t be a rerun. One reader was outraged because I wrote a sequel at all. She said I had been seduced into doing a trilogy for money and that it would all turn out badly. Gentle reader, there will be no trilogy. There is no law that says books have to come in threes.
One of the most astonishing criticisms was about Matt kissing Mirasol when she was asleep. This was deemed sexual harassment of the worst sort. If you examine the book you will see that I was using the symbol of Sleeping Beauty. Mirasol is compared to a statue at the bottom of a lake that becomes visible for only a few short minutes. It has nothing to do with sex. In the first book Matt talks to Rosa, his sadistic caretaker, after she has been turned into an eejit. He is trying to wake her up. Mr. Ortega tries to wake up Eusebio with music and gives this idea to Matt. The relationship between Matt and Mirasol is one of pity mixed with love. And love is not the same as sex.
I write books for people to enjoy and think about. If you don’t like my books don’t read them. Problem solved. For the rest of you (and thanks again to Jessica Fleming) let’s all hope for a movie of The House of the Scorpion to pep things up.
This is a quick note to tell everyone that I have a movie option for The House of the Scorpion. This is how an option works: A company pays for the right to market the book to a film company. If they are successful, the film company takes over and raises money, picks a director, screen writer and actors. It's a very complicated process involving many people, as you can see by looking at the credits at the end of a movie. Most of the time the option fails.
My book, The Ear, the Eye and the Arm, failed because no one believed that people would watch a movie about African children. I had the same trouble when I sold the book. A very highly placed editor in New York turned it down because she didn't think white kids would read about African kids. And she was convinced that African American children didn't read books. Nuts to her.
The chances for a House of the Scorpion movie seem very good to me. First, because the company really understands the book, and second because they made a beautiful presentation. The contract was far better than I expected, too. Keep your fingers crossed. It's about time Hollywood did something beside rerun old comic books and 1960's TV shows.
This morning a small, thin man came to the door asking for food. He spoke only Spanish. He was dressed in the drab brown clothes of a Mexican laborer. I know what I am supposed to do in these circumstances. The border is being overrun with drug mules and criminals. Armed guards camp out in our hills to protect the drug dealers. They radio back and forth the identity of cars passing through their territory. There aren't many cars. We are a remote and sparsely populated community. Some of these men are extremely dangerous and murders don't always make the news.
But this man was not dangerous. He was alone. He had probably missed his ride to Tucson and had been abandoned by his "coyote". There are a lot of people moving across the border now because the weather is perfect and amnesty beckons. I gave him a package of flour tortillas and a bag of shredded cheese, and Harold called the Border Patrol. They came like a shot and caught the man outside our front gate. Harold went out and told them the man had not stolen the food. We had given it to him. They said he had already told them that and he could eat it at the patrol station.
This is a situation that nobody has found a solution for. I believe in a strong border. I know that among the decent, ordinary workers there are MS-13 gang members, the most vicious gangsters out there. They have been caught near here. There are people working for the Sinaloa cartel. There are men who have crossed and recrossed the border many times, committing rape and murder. This doesn't get into the U.S. newspapers, but you can find it by going to borderlandbeat.com that covers the Mexican papers.
I know I have to report undocumented aliens, or whatever they are called now. The name keeps changing. But it isn't easy when you believe the person is innocent. This man probably paid a "coyote" a lot of money to come here and now he's lost it. Or perhaps not. I understand that the Border Patrol isn't sending people back until the amnesty battle in Congress is over. At any rate, I made the choice to enforce the law. Without law and order, societies break down. I know this, but I still feel terrible.
We're back from our walkabout. It included visits to a couple of casinos, to stay at the hotel, not gamble. I hadn't been in one since I was a kid, but they're just as depressing. Many of the gamblers were overweight, handicapped and old. I remember as a child watching elderly women working slot machines for hours, using up the income they inherited from a dead husband. It's a kind of hypnosis. Indians run casinos all over the U.S. (I'm sorry, but I'm not buying into the term Native American. It makes them sound like some kind of animal species.) But what about the Indians in Nevada, the only state with legal gambling? They must feel really cheated. Anywhere else they could have been making money, but in Nevada they have to compete with the Mob.
We wandered up the California coast and discovered that many beaches cost $8 to visit. Everything in California was more expensive than Arizona. We looked for hidden trails down to the water that didn't cost anything. One of the best was Moonstone Beach near Arcata. It's the perfect place to take children. A sandbar keeps the waves away and the water next to shore is only two or three feet deep. It's like a giant swimming pool. Kids and dogs were going nuts.
On the way home we visited one of my favorite places, Mono Lake. It looks like something from another planet, weird rock formations, odd colors, a lake so salty that no fish live in it, but it is loaded with brine shrimp. These are fed on by Cuchabee Flies, also known as Alkali Flies. The rim of the lake (a recent volcanic cone) is lined with mats of these creatures. They fly up in a swarm when you get near. When I was a child there were many more flies and I remember running around the lake with friends, screaming and whooping through the clouds of flies. Okay, that might not be most people's idea of a good time, but I found them magical. Even better were the hordes of seagulls. They ran through the swarms with their mouths open, swallowing for all they were worth. Our camera battery had run down and we lost the recharger, so I had to depend on the internet for pictures.
I'm doing research for a new novel called Far Enough based partly on my childhood. One of the characters is a Cocopah Indian. They live along the Colorado River and almost nothing is written about them. I found only one good book printed in 1940. It is so rare I had to borrow a copy from an archive and scan the pages. And this neglect is a pity because the Cocopahs were a very interesting culture. There is one place in Arizona where you might find a rare, out-of-print book. It's a gamble. The owner of the bookstore sells whatever he can find from estates or old houses. We decided to visit him. He is known as the Naked Bookseller and he lives in Quartzite, Arizona. He's a nudist, except that he sensibly wears dark glasses and a hat to protect himself from the sun. The day we visited the temperature was 105 degrees in the shade. The bookstore was dark, almost like a cave, and there was no air conditioning, not even a fan. I practically fainted in there, but the Naked Bookseller (also known as Paul Winer) was perfectly comfortable. He was, not surprisingly, tanned a deep brown and in amazing shape for a 70-year-old. I suspect no one had been in all day because he really wanted to talk. I found an old book on the Quechan tribes of the Colorado River, including the Cocopah, and bought it. I found pictures of Paul on the internet, but no way can I get away with putting one up here.
A MAT OF CUCHABEE FLIES
SEA GULL HAVING LUNCH
FREE EBOOK AGAIN!!!!
For a short time the ebook of A New Year's Tale will be free. I don't know when (or whether) I will do this again. We are going on walkabout next week. "Walkabout" is an Australian word for wandering without any schedule or destination, my favorite kind of vacation. When you book hotels or campsites you are put on a SCHEDULE and can't take advantage of a perfectly beautiful discovery because you have to move on. Harold worries that we won't find a place to stay at the last minute, but that's why God created sleeping bags. You have all kinds of adventures. Once I camped out on a lovely beach to wake up after the tide came in and I was floating away. Enjoy the ebook.
A New Year's Tale, my adult novel, is free for download today, June 15, 2013. This is for the ebook only. The paperback edition has been priced as low as I am allowed by CreateSpace. Enjoy.
To answer Angel Garcia (my, you ARE busy): I am considering a separate topic on my website about writing. I trained myself from scratch in Central Africa -- no MFA, no writing courses, no support group. I had an old manual typewriter and ribbons that were so dried out you could hardly read the print. I had yellowish paper that degraded into dust after a couple of years. And yet I succeeded. I probably won't do this new topic until after we come back from walkabout -- August, probably. Harold and I wander for a month in places with no cell phone coverage, no internet connection, TV or radio.
As for whether I have Native American blood, everyone whose family has been in the U.S. since 1620 (or before) has Native American blood. The question is how much? All four of my grandparents supplied it, but were vague about how it came about. People used to lie about such things. What I do know is that my brother and I don't look Indian at all, but our mother did and our sister does. One story I was able to track down was about my father's mother. Her grandfather was from an English Catholic family that fled to Portugal during the battles between Catholics and Protestant. He was the third son, which meant that instead of inheriting or going into the army, he was shipped off to a monastery. He escaped and fled to England, where he was promptly sent back by relatives. The next time he escaped he changed his name, signed onto a ship going to America and went out into the wilds to live with the Iroquois. He had two Iroquois wives and it is from there that the family tree descended.
What was my mother's father doing on a reservation? There's an interesting story to that, too. He was herding sheep in Northern Utah when he came down with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from a tick bite. This is often fatal and in those days there were no antibiotics. Grandpa was so weak he could only crawl. He saw a fire in the distance and managed to reach a camp full of cattlemen. Cattlemen and sheepmen fought bitterly in those days, and they told him to crawl on. They weren't going to help him. After a while Grandpa saw another, smaller fire and found a group of Ute Indians. They had a shaman with them, who mixed up a perfectly vile medicine. The Indians had to hold Grandpa down and pry open his jaws to get him to drink it. But it worked! They cared for him until he was better. Later, he took the job of running the trading post on the White Rocks Reservation. The previous merchant had been killed during the last war the Utes ever had. This was known as the Meeker Massacre, and Meeker was killed by a woman called Old Sugar who drove a stake through his head. Grandpa, however, got along fine and learned to speak Ute.
FREE EBOOK TODAY: 6-8-13
My new adult novel, A New Year's Tale, is free to download today. This refers to the ebook only. Enjoy.
On a personal note, here is a photograph of myself as a small child on the Ute reservation in Whiterocks, Utah, where my mother grew up. I never knew this picture existed. I had entirely forgotten about the woman sitting next to me until I saw it. Her name was Nellie Yannawits (my brother says her name was Yannawoods, but I can't find it anywhere) and she was a friend of my grandmother. I followed her around and Nellie was kind enough to put up with me. She once made me a straw doll with a corn husk dress and corn silk hair. I loved it, but didn't realize that corn silk spoils rapidly. The next day the hair had turned black and I was devastated, so Nellie glued on more hair from a silk weed plant. Once she led me to a wild crab apple tree loaded with fruit. She allowed me to eat as much as I wanted (17 apples) and of course I was sick later. I guess she figured I would have to learn the hard way when to stop. In this picture Nellie looks about ninety, but she was probably sixty. She had led a hard life. I look about five, but was probably seven. I was extremely small for my age.
This entry appears both on my blog and on goodreads. I haven't figured out how to add pictures to goodreads, so if you want to see the photographs you need to go to my website, http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com/
Rattlesnakes spend the winter in dens above our house and when Spring comes they emerge. The young ones go first, to feed and find new territories. The older ones wait a few weeks. This means we have to be very careful when going outside. Doors must be closed and screens kept tight because snakes follow a trail with their tongues. If they detect a tasty mouse they will climb through a window to get it. One of our friends carelessly left the door of his office open. He was writing at his desk when he heard a rattlesnake buzzing by his foot. He stayed perfectly still, hoping it would go away, but it didn't. Fortunately, he had a cell phone on his desk and called his wife to distract it. The museum here sells snake catchers. They look kind of like the tongs used to lift spaghetti and you're supposed to clamp them onto the creature without hurting it. It's good to have a bucket with a lid and fast reflexes. And then what? Where do you take a poisonous reptile? Is there any neighbor you don't much like?
The other day Harold went out the back door and almost stepped on a five-foot gopher snake (not poisonous) lounging by the car. A bird called a thrasher was going nuts trying to chase it away. He must have had a nest nearby. The bird kept dancing around out of fang reach and darting in to peck. I watched for a while -- scientists aren't supposed to interfere with Mother Nature -- and finally decided to rescue the thrasher. I got the hose and blasted that snake. Guess what? He hooked himself around a tire and held on like a leech. When I stopped spraying, I saw that he was drinking happily. This happened once before when I tried to drive a rattlesnake out of my rosemary bush. The gopher snake eventually slithered away.
I have been reading Larry McMurtry's books, starting with Lonesome Dove. I put this off for a long time. Having grown up in Arizona, I don't like westerns because they're too close to home. Also, I don't know why gunslingers like Doc Holliday and Billy the Kid have been turned into heroes. They're psychopaths. The other reason I didn't read Lonesome Dove was because it's more than 800 pages long. Finally I got around it it. The first 200 pages rambled on, but then the story caught fire and I read the whole book non-stop and three others in the series. The story is unbelievably bloody. The desert is littered with dead bodies by the time you're finished, but I liked it.
Being a writer, I was interested in technique. First of all, McMurtry has an insane number of characters, but he gets away with it. Maybe because he kills so many of them off. Secondly, he almost manages to do without swear words. He invents alternate phrases for them. This is harder to do than you think. Thirdly, he is never clichéd. His characters never quite say what you expect. And fourthly, he isn't afraid to go over the top. A lot of beginning writers are afraid of sounding melodramatic, but not McMurtry. In Dead Man's Walk, so many bad things happen you can't imagine how anyone could survive (and a lot of characters don't). I am in awe of an author who can get away with this. I do have to warn younger readers that these books aren't for anyone under 21 or even 35. You won't even like the story until you are older, especially since you have to slog through 200 pages before you get hooked.
THRASHER ATTACKING SNAKE
WET SNAKE HOOKED TO TIRE
It's been a while, but I've been struggling with publishing the new adult book, A New Year's Tale. Proofreading took weeks, going over the same material again and again. I wanted a print on demand edition for those who don't use ebooks (or who don't like them). It should be available on Amazon in a week or so. The bad news is that I'm required to charge $15. 50. At that price I don't make any profit. The publisher CreateSpace does, and of course they need money for actually printing and mailing it.
Harold thought the ebook would do better if we charged $2.99 and made it free to Premier Kindle readers. It didn't. As soon as I can I'll drop the price to $.99 again. The whole point is to get people to read the book. It means a lot to me.
Now I have some good news. Angel Garcia, this is for you. You asked for the first chapter of The Lord of Opium, and I asked the publisher whether this was legal for me to give away. They have agreed to print the first chapter on the following site: www.facebook.com/HouseoftheScorpion It might not be up yet, but will be in the next few days. Of course I have to warn you, Angel, that after reading the first chapter you are going to want the second. You can't eat just one peanut after all.
It is spring here at last and the animals are waking up. We started feeding the birds because the winter was so cold and they were struggling. We were warned not to do this because spilled birdseed attracts mice and mice attract RATTLESNAKES. But I couldn't bear to watch the poor little creatures peck at the frozen birdbath any longer. Now I have two suet blocks, one for big and one for little birds, a hanging feeder for everyone and a hummingbird feeder. Hummingbirds are extremely aggressive, as little animals often need to be. They fight constantly with each other and dive bomb me when I go out to give them more sugar water. Just once did they seem to all get along, probably because they were too thirsty to fight.
They look angelic, don't they? Well, don't be fooled. These little javelinas are plotting to get into my greenhouse and eat chili peppers. They've done it twice, ate the leaves clean off the jalapenos and broke the main stems. But jalapenos are almost as tough as pigs. I watered the remnants and they grew back. They're like small trees now.
This blog is now linked to my blog on goodreads, but I don't think it works the other way around. What I write on goodreads doesn't appear here. I'm still trying to figure out what it means to have a friend on the new site. Or a follower.
Harold has almost finished working on the paperback version of A New Year's Tale. Now we are trying to see how cheap we can make it. Yes, I said cheap. The ebook sells for 99 cents. Sometime, if we get poor again, we'll have to put up the price. Right now, though, we have enough money to be happy. The publisher, Create Space, has a limit to how low we can go, but we can arrange a book giveaway once I figure out how this can be done. The other thing we might do is create our own publishing imprint, using Create Space. I think Scorpion House sounds nice.
Spring is here and I saw ten Gambel's Quail running across the driveway this morning. They were headed for a bush and huddled underneath to be safe from hawks. And boy, do we have hawks! I've been told we have the highest density of raptors of anywhere in the country.