Many of you have been asking when the book will be finished. I can now say that I’m in the home stretch. I will be finished in three months. After that, it goes to the editor and publisher. I don’t know how fast they will be, but I believe they really want this book out. Many of your questions will be answered in the sequel – why did Tam Lin kill himself? Was there a love story between him and Celia? Will Matt and Maria get together again? Will the Lost Boys move to Opium? And how will a 14-year-old boy handle having untold wealth and power, as well as thousands of zombies, a Farm Patrol army and enemies on all his borders. Remember that Matt doesn’t even know what lies within his own country. There will be surprises.
I wish I could say there’s a movie planned, but so far nothing has happened. There have been an amazing number of YouTube entries advertising it. Many heartfelt thanks to those of you who created a YouTube about the House of the Scorpion. I only recently became aware of them, and I am impressed with your skill. I haven’t the slightest idea how to do a YouTube video, living as I do somewhere around the year 1950 in the Chiricahua Mountains.
For a long time I worked slowly. There was so much else to do – packing, moving, eye operations, cooking from scratch where there are no stores or restaurants. Provisioning took a while to learn. What keeps and what spoils. Keeping packrats from eating the inside of the car. Surprises like the whole electrical system blowing up. I learned that I have few basic skills. Harold has more, but both of us are dummies where electrical wiring is concerned. Putting in water pipes is another mystery. A lot of people here have built their own houses. They know how everything is done, but we are babies compared to them. I can cook, clean and write novels.
Then, as I mentioned before, I rediscovered music. I have to say that music is so enthralling that I never dared to listen to it while driving. I have walked out of bookstores because of background music. For me there is no such thing as background. I couldn’t even read the book titles. But I can write to music. More than that, I can write like a demon.
So thanks to all of you for being so patient, for writing encouraging emails, and for making YouTube videos. Mil gracias, amigos y amigas!
January 26, 2012
The pictures above are of sandhill cranes. We didn't take them. They are from a blog called The Fire
We got a wildlife camera for Christmas. You tie it to a tree and wait to see what shows up overnight. It uses an infrared flash so the animal (or person) doesn’t know he is being photographed. Someone not far from us caught a picture of a drug mule carrying a bag of marijuana, but fortunately all we’ve go (so far) is animals.
First we saw one of the neighbor’s bulls emptying our water ponds. He sneaks in by walking carefully at the edge of the cattle guard on our gate. He’s a handsome creature. Then we saw a grey fox, a coyote, a beautiful fluffy skunk, and the usual herd of twenty javelinas that keep trying to eat our prickly pear. On another night we saw both the male and female coyote. He came first and gobbled up the over-ripe pear and stale bread we left outside before his mate could get to it. She’s smaller. I’m sure she’s feeding cubs somewhere and I hope we get to see these. She walks in front of our front porch in daylight. It’s generally a bad idea to leave food out for animals, but it’s tempting to get rid of food we don’t want. Last week we left out an over-ripe watermelon. Daniel (our son) chopped it into pieces. Unfortunately, it rained and we had to bring the camera in, so we don’t know who had the feeding frenzy that night. In the morning not a seed or shred of skin was left.
On the other side of the mountain is a marsh where sandhill cranes gather this time of year – over 30,000 of them. We made an expedition to see them. It was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing, but the cranes come from as far away as Siberia so it was like summer to them. When we got there, we couldn’t see any, though there were a lot of ducks floating around. Then we heard hundreds of birds calling, both near and far, but we couldn’t see them. Daniel spotted them in the sky. Vast flocks of them circled in and out of low clouds, slowly drifting closer. It was really beautiful, like listening to angels sing. Gradually, they floated down and at the last minute spread their long legs and fitted themselves into a mass of gray birds already on the ground. They only sang in the sky. Possibly, this is how they stay together as a flock.
On the way to the marsh we saw many border patrol agents, some in cars and others on a kind of three-wheeled motor bike for going over rough terrain. A group of them had surrounded a twelve-year-old girl who must have been terrified. It was out where no one, let alone a child, should be. But she was lucky to have been found. Groups of illegals cross through the desert and are met by a pick-up car or truck at an assigned spot. The car only passes once and if the illegals miss it, they are on their own. In some cases the slowest persons in the group are abandoned, as I think happened with this girl. Then they might very well die. This time of year it’s below freezing at night and a lot of people don’t realize how cold it gets and aren’t dressed for it. The girl had no sweater. She will survive because she was found.
When Daniel was coming to visit us, he saw a group of border patrolmen surrounding a car only a few miles from where we live. Two men were driving the car and in the trunk was a body. The patrolmen laid him out on the ground. Daniel said his skin was blue and he was clearly dead. We don’t know whether the man froze or whether he was murdered, but so far nothing has appeared in the news. This kind of thing goes on all the time along the border.
As for the sequel, I am writing as fast as I can. I think you will like it, because I sure do. I discovered that music helps me write faster. For years I haven’t been able to listen to music because it disturbs Harold when he is working. We lived in a very small apartment. Now I have a whole office with sound-proofed walls between me and Harold’s office. The first time I put on a CD I almost passed out it was so beautiful. I wrote for five hours without stopping.
I will answer letters very soon. I do read all of them and thank you for sending them. They keep my spirits up. I wish I could help some of you with your papers, but I simply don’t have time. If you look over my website you will find a lot of information you can use.
Our son Daniel came home recently from doing pirate ops with the US Navy off Somalia. It sounds more exciting than it is. If a US Navy patrol boat sights a hijacking they have to get permission from (I guess) Washington before they can do anything about it. It takes a day, by which time the pirates are gone and are laughing over the latest haul they’ve made. Fortunately, not every country is so slipshod. The Turks, Chinese, Indians and several others have gone into battle and rescued endangered merchant ships.
One of the neighbor’s bulls got loose and got into several yards. We have a cattle grid, but the bull learned how to walk along the edge of it and get in. He emptied the ponds we keep for wildlife. Harold went out to block the grid and found a deadly coral snake at the bottom. They are much more toxic than rattlesnakes. But they are shy creatures that come out at dusk and their mouths are so small they can’t bite anything larger than a finger. Of course you don’t want them to get your finger because it’s lethal.
One night Harold discovered a giant centipede in the bathroom and called for me to catch it. I managed to curl it up in a cup and take it outside. Harold looked out the kitchen window and saw a fire explode among some mesquite trees not far way. It was dark and we couldn’t see what was burning. Harold called 911 while Daniel and I got hoses to wet the house down. Then Daniel said he thought Eric Hayes' house was on fire. Eric is a disabled veteran and so Harold immediately drove over to try to rescue him. He arrived at the same time as the fire engine. Eric was fine. But his workshop, which contained three vehicles, was a write off. While this was going on I could hear explosions as though ammunition had been stored in the shop. Eric says he didn't have an arms cache, and maybe he didn’t.
We ‘ve been having some expensive problems here. Just before Thanksgiving Harold tried to plug in a strobe light under the car. He uses it to scare away pack rats. Pack rats like to make nests in car engines. They chew the insulation and wires, drag in seed pods and have lots of babies. They can absolutely wreck a car, so we have been leaving the hood open and a strobe light underneath.
When Harold plugged in the light it exploded in his hand, made him partially deaf in one ear and turned his hand black with soot. The lights in the house started to blink and burn out. The power surge melted the surge protectors, the modem, the telephone, the answering machine and the electric toothbrushes. It burnt out the electrical controls on the stove and dishwasher, and almost fried the refrigerators, TV and computer. You don’t realize how many electrical appliances you have until something like this happens.
It took us a week to find the problem, during which we were afraid to turn on anything. We had no internet and no telephone. We put the local repairmen to work, plus a local electrician and an official electrician. They finally found two wires that had fused, and a fuse box that wasn’t properly closed (the javalinas had been using it to mark territory), and an electric pole that had collapsed farther up the mountain because of last summer’s fire.
In the middle of this came Thanksgiving. We turned off everything and headed for Tucson to be with Jim, a fighter pilot in our old writing group, who was visiting his son. They threw a great party. On the way home we crossed the Cienega Wildlife Reserve, which is a river that cuts deep below the surrounding countryside. All the cottonwood trees by the river had turned gold and since they were at the same height as the mesquites above them, it looked like a river of gold cutting through a forest.
Yes, I am working steadily on God’s Ashtray in spite of interruptions. I will answer letters in the next blog (promise!).
The other night I heard what sounded like someone throwing a pot roast against the front glass doors. I looked out and saw AAAAA! A TWO POUND TOAD! AAAAA! I didn’t know toads came in that size. He didn’t like his picture taken and hopped away.
But he comes back every night. I put the light on and the front screen fills up with moths, beetles, praying mantises and sofugids (eight-legged hunters that run like the wind). Toady (a Sonoran Desert Toad) sits at the bottom and feeds. When I turn out the light he goes under our car. Harold has to leave a lamp there at night to keep the pack rats from shredding the engine. They climb up inside, chew off the insulation, gnaw through plastic tubes and collect things they can pry loose. The light, so far, has kept them out. It hasn’t discouraged the chipmunks. They don’t do damage, but they like to store seeds in the motor. Once, when we first arrived, I went to sleep with a bowl of popcorm by the bed. I finished the popcorn in the morning, but was surprised to find no unpopped kernels at the bottom. I found them later, hidden under a cashmere sweater in an open suitcase. The chipmunk had stashed them there, and that meant that she had to make at least ten trips across the bed, burrow into the popcorn, fill her cheek pounches and scamper off to the suitcase. And I had been eating chipmunk flavored popcorn.
Now some comments on the your letters: I’m writing the Scorpion sequel as fast as I can, but it’s going to take a while. This is a long book. I’m going to put the eBook of Do You Know Me and The Ear, the Eye and the Arm on Kindle. Harold is busy scanning them and I’m looking for an illustrator. I’m also talking to someone about making a graphic novel of The Ear, the Eye and the Arm. So far, no one wants to turn my books into movies.
I like Thorgil and Jack, too, but unless I make back the advance on Silver Apples and Islands of the Blessed, the publisher won’t touch a sequel. However, the whole world of publishing is changing. People can publish their own books now. They can put eBooks on the web without risking much money. This situation makes publishers very, very nervous, but I like it.
I’m afraid most of my books are in the control of the publisher and I can’t give permission for people to write plays based on them. This is especially true of The House of the Scorpion. I will fight to keep control of future books. J. K. Rowling did it, but she’s a lot more powerful than I am.
I’m afraid I can’t answer people personally (unless it’s an emergency) or help with homework or read essays. There simply isn’t time. I’m sorry. My eyesight is poor and I have to conserve it. But I really do appreciate and enjoy reading your letters and will give general answers.
NOW I WILL ADD ANOTHER TIP FOR ASPIRING WRITERS.
Steven King’s second book, Danse Macabre, is an excellent book for learning how to build suspense. He was widely criticized at the time for daring to tell people how to write when he’d only published one thing. Nuts to that. He already was an expert. See if you can order it second hand or find it in a library. It may be out of print. One of his rules is to wait as long as you can before revealing a monster. When the characters in a movie hear scratching noises on the door and one of them goes to open it and there’s a 30 foot cockroach on the other side, the audience screams. But a second later they’re relieved because they thought there was a 300 foot cockroach outside. The point is, no matter how awful the thing is, your imagination makes it worse. The longer you put off opening the door – or show a peek at a claw-tipped foot or hear heavy breathing – the better the suspense. Steven King explains it better.
The other thing I learned from him was to read a novel I really liked three times in succession. The first time you are swept away by the plot, the second time you begin to see how the magic is done. By the third time you memorize the pattern of the novel on a deep level. It’s done subconsciously. I compare it to practicing on a musical instrument.
We have had much drama over snakes. Tom Hayes, the local snake catcher, removed a HUGE pregnant rattlesnake just before she gave birth. She was coiled up by the bird bath waiting for lunch. She hissed and rattled for half an hour in her bucket. Then the next day Tom removed a smaller female rattlesnake that had already given birth. ( Pictures attached.) A gopher snake tried to get into a window but was stopped by the screen. The next morning the gopher snake climbed the prickly pear / cholla barrier outside our bedroom window and devoured all the cactus wren babies. We tried to pry it off with a pole, but the snake wouldn't budge until it finished eating. There were three nests out there. Harold has taken to wearing shoes rather than sandals.
If you like, you can look at Tom’s web site: tomsbirdfeeders.com/ He also sells reptile supplies and gives advice on how to pick up snakes with snake tongs. Ask your mother first.
Since some of you are aspiring writers I have decided to write a series of tips on how to get started. I had no training when I began and because I was in Central Africa, no way to get any. Here are two things you can do at the beginning:
(1) Learn to take pictures in your mind. When you see something interesting, look at it very carefully. Close your eyes and try to recreate it in your mind. Open your eyes again and see what you left out. This practice of paying close attention to what’s in front of you is a good way to have details ready when you want to construct a scene.
(2) Keep a notebook by your bed and write down the first things you think of when you awake. This doesn’t have to be a dream and it doesn’t have to make sense. When you wake up, you are close to the subconscious where ideas come from. This exercise helps you learn to open the subconscious when you need it and to avoid writer’s block. I got the idea from BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande. See if you can find it in the library.
This is a male tarantula hunting for a female. He wasn't pleased when I poked him with a twig.
Look what I found when I opened my office. It is a gopher snake. It's trying to reach a bird's nest over my door, but it simply isn't long enough (only four feet).
The monsoon rains have finally started. The yard was awash and lightning forked all around us, driving all sorts of interesting things onto higher ground. I’m not sure I can put pictures on this website, but I’m going to try.
THIS was in the bathtub. It is a half-grown Giant Arizona Centipede. It was trying to catch crickets. The adults (9 inches) can eat mice. Underneath, at the top end, are pinchers that can inject painful venom. Each of the legs has a little black claw that can also inject venom. When I was a child one of these ran across my arm in the middle of the night and left what looked like a tiny tire track. There were two rows of red blisters. My mother told me it was a centipede and that I was lucky not to have waked up.
We are on high ground and not at risk for flash floods, but most of the people here are not so lucky. They have been given heaps of bright yellow sand bags to keep water away from their houses. A picky-poo sand bag isn’t going to stop a flash flood. There was one in a canyon a couple of days ago and boulders the size of recycling bins skipped along the flood like pebbles.
Yesterday was one of the hottest days on record. We went to Tucson and I think it was 118 degrees there. I returned to find everything in the greenhouse wilted and a herd of javalinas emptying the five ponds we keep for wildlife. They didn’t move when we got out of the car. They were too thirsty, and before they left two of the males rubbed their backsides against a fuse box in the yard. They were marking territory, telling the other javalinas to stay out. Next time I change a fuse I’ll remember to wash my hands.
Tomorrow is the local 4th of July celebration, but we aren’t having fireworks. I think the townspeople would lynch anyone who set off a firework after the fire we just had. Across the border of New Mexico is a huge warehouse stuffed with giant (and illegal) fireworks. Tonight the men will dig a huge fire pit to roast 500 pounds of beef and tomorrow the women will shred it to make tacos. Personally, when the temperature is 118 the last thing I want to see is a fire pit full of meat. With any luck, a thunderstorm will blow up.
Our local handyman has a walled garden with 70 pets. I haven’t seen it yet, but he has pot-bellied pigs, peacocks, ducks, a fish pond and a grape arbor for them to take shelter from the heat. His assistant, Robert, has caught his enthusiasm and has bought four ostrich chicks. He plans to race them. Harold explained to him that ostriches are not really tame and they can kill you with one kick and anyhow they don’t understand anything about racing. Robert is sure he can make the scheme work. Harold’s car was once stuck in a dry riverbed in Africa. A male ostrich tried to drive him away by trying to break the windows with his beak. When that didn’t work, the ostrich lifted his tail feathers and crapped all over the hood. If Robert doesn’t put up a high fence I think the coyotes, mountain lions and bears will take care of the ostrich problem.
One thing I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog was how dry it is here. The humidity is about 3%. If you fill a glass with ice water there is no condensation on the outside of the glass because there’s no water in the air. When you hang clothes out on the line, by the time you hang the last thing up the first thing is dry. I have five cement ponds that I fill up every day. Javelinas, deer, coyotes, rabbits, a bobcat and some small creatures that might be packrats come to drink, as well as all kinds of birds, bees, and butterflies. They are so desperate for water that most of them don’t move when I go outside, although the coyotes like to chase the deer. Yesterday I was watering a rosemary hedge when I saw something long and gray slither through the branches. It was a diamond backed rattlesnake. I sprayed it with water to drive it away from the porch, but the snake just lay there flicking its tongue in and out. It clearly enjoyed getting wet. Harold called a local scientist, who showed up in less than ten minutes. By this time the snake was well-hidden in the rosemary, so I sprayed the bushes until it got mad enough to rattle. The scientist zeroed in on the sound, caught it with a long pole and carried it off in a bucket. He released it at a pond several miles away. He said that the small hills we can see from our house have caves that contain thousands of rattlesnakes in the winter, and that we are in the middle of their summer migration route.