I won’t know the situation with the possible movie for The House of the Scorpion until the middle of March. It’s possible that the company will simply drop the option if they haven’t found anyone who is interested.
Right now I am working on a middle-grade book called Fifteen Miles to Snockum Town. It is a contemporary novel placed in the Bootheel area of New Mexico, a place where there are more ghost towns than live people towns. The title is based on a game my brother used to play on long car trips when we were kids. Our car only went 30 miles an hour which, in 110 degree heat in Arizona, was unbearable. My sister would get ratty and my brother would entertain her with stories of Snockum Town where there was ice cream and cold drinks and a swimming pool with a waterfall, etc. He would keep it up until she was almost rabid with the desire to get there. Unfortunately Snockum Town was ALWAYS fifteen miles away no matter how fast you traveled.
The most interesting event recently was the appearance of a coati on the front porch. (see pictures) He is supposed to be a wild animal, but sure doesn’t act like it. Coatis are intelligent like raccoons. They figure out quickly who is a threat and who isn’t. He was trying to climb the ramada outside to get a suet block I put out for the birds. He could smell it. I threw a handful of shelled sunflower seeds outside and voila! Instant friend. I had to close the door to keep him out. Harold and I left the house to interview a professional rattlesnake milker for the new book. I expected the coati to be gone by the time we returned, but no. He came running up to us. I got him an apple. The apple didn’t go over well. It was sour.
I didn’t feed him anything else because I didn’t want him lurking outside. Coatis have very sharp teeth. He wandered off and I assumed he was hunting a mate, which is what coatis do this time of year. The females live in groups and the males are solitary. Most of the males I’ve seen look like they’ve been in a bar room brawl and are nearly hairless and scarred. This coati was fluffy and fat. He came by a few days later and looked in the window. I got him a slice of bread and a handful of sunflower seeds. Harold took more photos, and he said that when I went inside the coati put his paws against the door and tried to open it. He came by a third time and I gave him some stale raisin bran cereal. Not popular. This animal has fancy tastes, which leads me to believe he makes the rounds of houses.
The javelinas showed up later and fought over the stale raisin bran. They aren’t a bit fussy and will eat prickly pear cactuses and deadly nightshade.
Our son Daniel (in the Navy) was up in Eureka, California, to see whether his ship was seaworthy (it isn’t). The captain wouldn’t let anyone off the ship in groups less than four because of the big, dangerous homeless encampment next to the dock. What kind of homeless encampment WAS this?
We used to live in Arcata, next door to Eureka, at a time when we were desperately poor. The high point of the month was when we got a 2-for-one hamburger coupon from Toni’s Restaurant. It was a big event. We got the two hamburgers and divided them into three parts. It was the only place we could afford to eat out, except for (I’d better not name it because it’s still there) where we got the cha-chas after eating the bargain burrito. Well, Toni found out that Daniel was in Eureka. She drove out to the dock and fed him and his friends a huge dinner. There are really nice people out there.
Here is a Christmas card someone sent me of patriotic bugs that live in Arizona.
To Emilia: I will be in Tucson for the Book Fair, signing on March 15 and being on two panels March 16. I don’t have any plans to go to Phoenix. These days I tend to hide out in Portal (also known as the Bubble by residents) where it’s still 1951. To Maddie: Thank you for responding to my note on the dire situation in Mexico. There are many charities out there, but I don’t know them well enough to recommend one. What the Mexicans need is a stable government that protects its own citizens and only they can achieve it. There was a big shoot-out in Agua Prieta a few days ago. That is on the Arizona/Mexico border just south of Douglas, and about sixty miles south of us. We think it was a battle for control of the plaza between the Sinaloa and possibly the Zeta cartels. This is bad news because our part of the border was quiet so long as the Sinaloas ran the show. “Control of a plaza” means control of a town. If the residents resist the cartels have been known to literally destroy a town to put fear into everyone else.
On to my main topic, GRAVEYARD. I am writing a new book for ages 9 to 12+ called Fifteen Miles to Snockum Town. The title is based on a game my brother used to play when we were young and stuck on a long car trip. All cars then were black and had no air conditioning. In the Arizona sun they heated up like ovens. Our car had a top speed of 50 mph, but usually went 30. The water in the radiator used to boil every few miles, slowing us down even further.
We kids would go nuts after the first few hours. My brother and sister were a lot older than I was, so the game involved them. Lee invented a place called Snockum Town. It had ice cream and cold drinks. It had a swimming pool with a waterfall you could sit under, and so forth. He built up this place until my sister was almost rabid with the desire to get there, but unfortunately Snockum Town was always fifteen miles away. No matter how fast you travelled, you never got there.
My book is placed in a valley between the Peloncillo and Chiricahua Mountains. Harold and I went out to explore the Peloncillos to describe them, but unfortunately there are almost no roads there. The roads that do exist are somewhat dangerous. We went through a small cemetery to get close and were stopped cold by a grave site. It was for a baby girl called Angelica Gomez who only lived for eleven days seventeen years ago. Most parents grieve for a while when this happens and go on with life, but not these parents. The grave had a stone angel, flowers, a bookcase full of toys, a tricycle, a wheelbarrow and a wagon for the child to play with. There was a tiny Christmas tree and a cell phone to call home because this angel is now seventeen years old and would want a cell phone. The photos were taken last year by a friend of mine, Alice Newton. This year statues of three children reading a book have been added to provide, I would guess, playmates. Someone visits this grave regularly.
When we saw it, all thoughts of exploring the Peloncillos went out of our heads. The grave is now included in the new book.
This is an answer for Lalin. Mexico is indeed dangerous and that’s why people leave. Please read BorderlandBeat.com. The country has been carved up by drug cartels and the government is no longer capable of protecting its own citizens. This has lead Mexican citizens to form vigilante armies, and who can blame them? The cartels demand bribes from school teachers, from nurses and doctors, from ordinary workers. They have destroyed entire towns. Thousands of people have “disappeared” (i.e. been murdered) and the police don’t ask questions. The families are too frightened to even identify the unclaimed dead. You are lucky to live in safe, sleepy Phoenix. Harassment? I used to live in a country where you got five years in prison for making a joke about the president and where the secret police showed up at midnight to beat up political enemies. Harassment is nothing. Many who cross the U.S. border are not poor people trying to feed their families back home. They are drug mules and armed halcones. They are members of the Zetas or the MS-13. Groups of them prey on coyotes and their groups. They rob and kill the very people you are sorry for. They rape the women and hang the women’s clothes on “rape trees” to brag about what they have done. I have seen these trees. Your anger should be directed at them.
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.