I am half-way between houses.  Some of my stuff is in California and some in Arizona.  Almost everything is packed, so when I try to cook something I find pots and pans missing.  Or I have only a teeny plastic fork to make mashed potatoes.  Or I find that the can of condensed milk that expired in 1991 has turned GREEN and smells like wet dog.

We spent Christmas in the new house in time for a blizzard, the first Harold and I had ever seen.  The snow blew sideways in gale-force winds and in the morning birds pecked unhappily at the frozen bird bath.  Those of you who live in cold climates are probably used to this, but we’d only seen snow a few times.  A troop of javalinas (they look like wild pigs) chomped up the prickly pear cactuses under the bedroom window.  The snow didn’t last that long because this was southern Arizona and the sun dried everything up.

Even in such cold weather illegal immigrants moved back and forth across the Mexican border.  The Border Patrol was staked out on all the back roads, and one day they sent in a helicopter to rescue someone stranded in the snow.  They sat all night long in their vans with the motor off and the lights out.  They must have been cold, too.  During the day they searched for horse droppings on trails because the cartels move their drugs on horses.  When the animals get too old, the drug dealers abandon them to die in the desert.  The Border Patrol rescues these horses when they find them.

Now I will try to answer some of the letters you have sent me.  First of all, I am not going to do anyone’s homework.  There is a lot of information about me on this website, if you look around.  I am, very slowly, working on the sequel to Scorpion.  The problem is that my office isn’t set up in Portal yet and the laptop I’m using now has a black keyboard with green letters that I can hardly see.  Also, I don’t like working in little spurts.  Once I’m in a book I work all day and don’t stop unless the house is on fire.

Our son Daniel painted the walls of my new office and patched the cracks in the floor.  It is a huge room, bigger than I’ve ever had, and filled with beautiful light.  It used to be an artist’s studio.  There were racks to hang paintings and there was paint spilled everywhere.  Someone had allowed a dog to pee all over the floor and it stank.  I scrubbed everything until it smelled fresh.  The artist left behind a small refrigerator where I think he stored martinis.

No one has an option on making a movie of House of the Scorpion.  The rights are held by my publisher, Simon & Schuster, which means that anyone who wants to do a screen play or make a film has to deal with them.  They are a big company and difficult for a first-time film maker to deal with.

To Keiko, who wondered whether I really did marry my husband two weeks after I met him.  Harold proposed to me ONE WEEK after we met.  It took a little longer to set up the wedding.  We have been happily married for 35 years.

To Jacob Garcia:  I speak a little Spanish, but I’m not that good.  I learned it as a child, but it wasn’t grammatical and everyone thought I sounded like a hick.  I have read a lot of Spanish books, though, and when I get to Portal I will really study the language.

To Micky:  The Islands of the Blessed is out in paperback.  If you can’t find it, ask the librarian at your local library to order it.  Then you don’t have to spend any money.

To Tessa:  I read your thoughtful book review, for which thank you.  You will see a lot more of the country of Opium in the sequel and (perhaps) get a look at the United States.  Authors usually have to choose a point of view and stick with it.  Some pick first person (“I did this, then I did that” etc.).  I chose Matt’s view point, to make people experience his feelings from inside.  If I had chosen the omniscient viewpoint, I could have moved from character to character and explained things that only the author could know.  (“If you looked down on the mansion of El Patron, you would have seen red tile roofs with extensive gardens and clusters of eejits clipping the grass with scissors” etc.)

For Souzie:  Benito and Senator Mendoza died.  Matt did not see any dead bodies.  He was told about them by Daft Donald.  He is not going back to the convent to tell Maria.  What he does next will be in the sequel.

For Martockla:  Thank you for your ideas.  I was, in fact, thinking of using an evil African drug lord called Glass Eye Dabengwa in the sequel.

Thank you for being so enthusiastic, Vanessa.  Alas, Warner Brothers does not have an option on Scorpion.  They wanted to write the sequel themselves and to own the characters.  I couldn’t let them do it.

For Anonymously Ominous:  Olaf One-Brow was created before Limony Snicket’s Count Olaf, so perhaps he stole the idea from me.

For Justin:  Thank you for your letter.  I answered you directly.

For Daisy:  You didn’t say whether you had a publisher or not.  I’m assuming you do.  You can market by asking local bookstores to let you have a signing.  You can offer to read at local schools.  If possible, get interviewed on the radio.  Quite a lot of stations have programs where they introduce new books.  It’s almost impossible for new writers to get on TV or to be mentioned by national radio shows, but small, local radio stations can do a lot for sales.  I have to warn you that most publishing companies do zero as far as publicizing your book, but they do sometimes pay for you to go to booksellers conventions or the American Library Association convention.  Ask your editor or agent.  If your book has an important theme, find organizations or magazines that are interested in that theme and get your publisher to send them a copy.  Also, don’t overlook the local newspapers.  Fewer and fewer newspapers are doing book reviews, but local ones make an exception for local authors.  I have to tell you that it’s very hard to get noticed.  I know someone who spent at least $10,000 making a YouTube video advertising her novel, paying her own way to conventions, giving away free copies, printing T-shirts with her cover (and giving these away) and baking muffins for book signings.  She – there is no better word for this – sucked up to hundreds of possible sellers, bookstore owners, people who review books on blogs – and got nothing for all her efforts.  I know several authors who have spent years trying to market themselves with few results.  The trick is to reserve your strength for whatever you do best.  And don’t spend your own money. 

I did no marketing when I started because I didn’t know how.  What made my success was (1) writing about a brand new topic, Africa, (2) getting an editor who wanted to further my career and (3) getting a Newbery Honor.  If you do something original and make friends with your editor that’s a start.  As for the Newbery, somebody has to win it so why not you?  Your main job is to write BETTER than the competition.  It may take several books before you perfect your ability.  I hope this helps.

For Roonil:  I have met a lot of writers, but I only know a few of them well.  Yes, Brutus did marry Ethne.  She kicked the Lady of the Lake out of his castle and the Lady, in revenge, cast a spell on Brutus.  Whenever he looked into a mirror, he saw a pig’s face.  To others, Brutus was as adorable as ever, but he could no longer enjoy admiring himself.

For Farah:  Alas, I don’t have time to answer questions that are explained in the book.  The family hated Matt because they thought clones were lower than animals.  It’s common for people to think that others who are of another race or religion, are not human.  It makes it easier to be cruel to them.

For Josh:  I wanted Ricardo Montalban for El Patron, but unfortunately he died.  El Patron and Matt have to look like Mexicans.