On the Trail

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The time is September of 2008. The place is Ojinaga, Mexico. Observing the peaceful beauty and outward normalcy of the pueblo, you could not tell that bad things are happening.

Two unusually brutal murders interrupt Capitán Benito Escalante’s weekend visit in Texas. One perpetrator, a gringo covered in his victim’s blood, is behind bars. The other is, for now, still in the wind.

As the capitán says, “Crime doesn’t stop just because the police captain is busy.” Who is the woman claiming to be the gringo prisoner’s friend? What do a box containing a fifty-year-old mystery, a man with “eyes like a cat,” and a homeless boy with a sobering secret, have to do with the murders? What does the blind curandera know?

Capitán Escalante invites you to ride, run, and walk along with him as he tries to figure it out. “Invite” might be the wrong word…his tale of intrigue and adventure will force you to turn pages until all questions are answered. When he rests, you can rest. Then everybody can take a breather on a bench in the shade on the plaza.

But not for long.

 

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Hold My Calls

Hold my calls

I made an announcement a few days ago that Deputy Ricos Tale 5, “A Reasonable Explanation,” will be released in August. Somebody asked what happened to “The Hardest Word.” Good question. That was a working title and in the end it didn’t make sense for this novel. My publisher liked the title and so did I, but I can’t write to fit a title. It doesn’t work like that.

“A Reasonable Explanation” is the same novel I started, but it didn’t go where I thought it was going because Deputy Ricos kept taking it other places. The plot I had in mind would have made sense for the former title, but it wasn’t to be. One thing is clear to me: the deputy no longer cares what I think.

The imagination that brings forth fictional works also brings all the bugaboos you can imagine. As I write on the next Tale, I’m sometimes gripped by panic. What if my readers don’t like the new novel? What if I never finish another one? What if? What if?

“So what if they don’t like it?” counters Deputy Ricos with a lot of attitude for a woman I could erase with a tap on the delete key.

The problem is that I won’t/can’t erase her and she knows it. She is in me and I am in her. If she and I never wrote another tale, she’d still be with me as long as I live.

I think I struggled to write about 80,000 words before my character took it away from me. “Good grief,” I could hear her say, “You have no idea what you’re doing. Go read or something. I’ve got this.”

It’s with you, Deputy Ricos. Please hold my calls.

Thoughts on Thanksgiving

photoI came to my computer to write something special about the holiday, but I think every day is a day for thanks. Why limit it to one?

I am in awe of what life brings. I’m speaking in general of the good things/interesting things/fantastic things. I know that we all get our share of loss, sadness, heartbreak, and illness, but there is so much to be thankful for.

Right now my heart and head are full of Artwalk 2014. This was my first time to participate fully. I was signing books last year, but an ice storm froze out the event before it really got going, so I didn’t get a feel for the busyness or the excitement of it. Many people who had planned to attend didn’t get to, and the ones who made it to Alpine were staying inside because of the cold and slick ice.

This year’s Artwalk was a “wow” for me from beginning to end. My newest book was featured by Front Street Books. Who would’ve imagined that was possible back in 2005 when I pulled out my laptop to tell a story by writing it down? The first words of the original “One Bloody Shirt at a Time” were: “The woman was lying in a pool of her own blood.” There lay a person I thought I wanted to kill and oh, the power in that! She asked for it and by God, I gave it to her. So then a lawman had to show up, right? Not a lawman, a woman! A woman deputy!
I felt the tingle of a new challenge, an adventure. Truthfully, I couldn’t have dreamed what was headed my way, and you already know I have quite an imagination.

Here is the real truth of her name. My own precious daughter is named Margarita, so that was a no-brainer of a first name. I decided on Ricos because it means “riches.” Some part of me must have known she was going to bring me loads of them, and I’m not talking about money.

I’m talking about these kinds of things: “Dear Ms. Garcia, I just love you!” “Dear Beth, you have brought such joy to my life. I love your deputy!” “Dear Elizabeth, I wish I would have discovered you sooner!” “Dear Ms. Garcia, I think your columns are outstanding!” “Dear Beth, you are so awesome I just want to hug you.” Bring it on.

How about: “I came to meet you today because I love your books. Can I give you a hug?” Oh baby.

Saturday night someone special said, “I’ve been to nearly every book reading you’ve ever had,” and she has indeed. It does my heart a world of good to look up and see her and her husband there.

People have come across crowded restaurants to ask, “Are you Beth Garcia?” Sometimes (often) people who know me only from my columns will walk up and introduce themselves and hug me. You want to talk riches, I have thousands of stories.

How about this private Facebook message regarding my first book? I have shortened it slightly. “Beth, I went to Chaco Canyon and had to sleep in the back seat of my truck because (1) the space we rented did not allow tents to be set up where the RV’s were due to flooding and (2) no room in the RV for me and (3) it was 27 degrees the 1st two nights, then warming up to 32 the third night….I had purchased a 700 lumen flashlight and I employed it while sandwiched between two sleeping bags. Well, I figured a way to have it set up so I wouldn’t have to hold it, so I could turn the pages. It only took 2 nights to read most of the book.” This message was received a long time ago. I finally got to meet this loyal reader last night. What a treat for me. Thank you, Deputy Ricos!

At the end of the evening a teenager came up to me. I was sitting at the back of the store signing their stash of my novels. He said, “Are you somebody famous?” I replied that I wasn’t. His eyes widened. “Then how come you have so many books?”

“I wrote these books.”

“Oh my goodness! You must be the smartest person in Texas!”

You know it, Kid. We talked about how reading books will make you smarter by taking you places and introducing you to new people and ideas. I expect great things from that young man.

I would not trade ANYTHING for these experiences.

Speaking of giving thanks, on the Wednesday before Artwalk, I had an appointment scheduled with my pulmonologist in San Angelo. After undergoing an extensive breathing test, I received the most fantastic news. I have not gotten any worse! All the statistics on this disease are against me, but I am a still-breathing anomaly. I marveled on this all the way back home. I don’t care if I’m living on “borrowed” time; the important word here is “living.”

As I was giving my great news to one of my sisters, I had an epiphany. I believe I’ve not gotten worse because of the gargantuan amount of love that is poured onto me, much of it by people I don’t even know. Not to belabor last week’s message, but LOVE is everything. It’s powerful beyond measure and the only thing that really matters.
So a little Latina deputy has innocently brought more fantastic things than I can ever tell you. She has truly earned her name.

Thank for “hearing” me in what I write. I love you too.

Writing Away the Real World

On one hand, I feel blessed to have a wide assortment of friends on various social media and also in “real life.” I’m talking about people from other countries, different educational backgrounds, differing religious beliefs, and vastly different—as in all over the place—political opinions.

On the other hand, I wonder about some of my friends.

I enjoy hearing other peoples’ unique take on the things that are of concern to me, but I’m beginning to despair. And some of my friends appear to be schizophrenic, posting one thing one day and something that is directly opposite a day later. I try to be open-minded, but I don’t think you can stand on both sides of an important issue.

A recent Facebook post caused a stabbing sensation to my heart. It was a meme that blames everything wrong in America on immigrants and the poor. Wow. So many things wrong in one easy meme. My gut response was to rip that man to shreds.

I like to think I can express myself in a clear manner and without violence, so I formulated a response based on facts. I went back to the meme again. Had he really posted that? Had I misunderstood? Maybe it was a joke? I went back to writing my rebuttal and then I looked at it again. It was killing me that others were agreeing with him. Not one person suggested he take a breath and think about the utter stupidity of his post and the hurt this kind of narrow, non-fact-based thinking causes.

You know the way we run our tongue over a sore tooth to see if it still hurts? I kept going back to that post the same way and yes, it was still painful as hell.

What I wrote was thoughtful and fact-filled. I knew I was right. I knew it! Then I remembered something my mother used to say: “Beth, do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?” It’s aggravating to quote her. She was the “old” woman I thought would never get it. Then I grew up and her intelligence astounded me. Even more aggravating is that she’s been gone 40 years and I still hear her.

In the interest of my happiness as well as my friend’s, I set aside my snarky, brilliantly-constructed rebuttal to his misleading and hateful meme. I opened up a file on my computer entitled “Beth’s Writing.” I took a deep breath and clicked on a novel that’s under construction. Within minutes, I disappeared into the pages and pages of words.

How do you keep it together, my friends? If you don’t write worlds of your own making, how do you do it? You must be stronger, smarter, and more courageous than I am. I wimp out and go to my own universe when this one becomes too much.

Years ago, I saw a television production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Cinderella.” Julie Andrews, the star, sang a song that I felt in my core, even though I was a small child. “In my own little corner, in my own little chair, I can be whatever I want to be.” If I had a theme song, that would be it.

In my little corner, I orchestrate everything. Nobody lives unless I want them to. And everyone does as I say. I’m fully aware that in real life bad people sometimes don’t get caught or if caught, they don’t get what’s coming to them. Sometimes good people don’t get what they deserve, either.

In my personal experience, real life is too real. People die who shouldn’t and people live who have no right. Good people get sick while bad ones are healthy. Our children die, even babies die—and sometimes horribly. I have to quit making this list before I jump back into the pages of a novel.

Sometimes I need to go away to a place where I can run and dance and fight for justice. I can kick ass, take a kayak on the river, watch shadows play on Cimarron Mountain, or fly to Chihuahua with a handsome man.

My favorite escape is into the beauty and grandeur that is West Texas. Instead of focusing on the insanity and horror of what we insist on calling the real world, I fly away. And anyhow, what is more real than the timeless scenery of Big Bend National Park? It was here millions of years before humans came and will be here long after we’re gone.

I can’t change the minds of people who want to reduce our country’s complicated problems to misleading memes. Spewing facts at them doesn’t work. Being angry doesn’t work. So I come at it another way, by telling stories. Maybe the most I accomplish is to take them away for a little while, but what is wrong with that? I want people to have hope. Isn’t that what this world needs more than anything?

One Column at a Time

catThis is my 61st column in the Alpine Avalanche. Over a year ago when Sam Richardson, then-editor, asked me to write something for him to publish I thought he was taking a big chance. I didn’t think I could say anything in such a small space. What would I write? Write about living on the border, he said. Write about life in West Texas. Write about Mexico. Write about being married to someone from another culture.

I thought it would be a miracle if I wrote ten columns. When I expressed my fear of failure to a friend, she wisely said, “Just write one column at a time.”

My first attempt was “My Love Affair with the Rio Grande.” Since then, I’ve been all over the place. I wrote of working in Lajitas in the eighties, my great love of Big Bend National Park, what brought me to West Texas, and why I stayed. My readers now know some things I’ve never told before. I even wrote about drinking Pearl Tea with my grandma and I commented on conversations I’d overheard, both good and bad. One time I wrote a piece about having nothing, not one idea, for a column. I’ve written about misspeaking Spanish, travelling in Mexico, and even being lost in Chihuahua. I’ve shared what I’ve seen: the good, the outstanding, and the not so great.

I’ve been astounded by the response from readers. Not one person has ever said anything negative to me. People may think it, but they never verbalize it. Thank you for that.

I’ve been asked time and again if I’m “that” Beth Garcia. I wish I’d kept a tally of every time someone said, “I always read your column.” Your comments have made me laugh and made me cry. A few weeks ago a woman approached me and asked if she could touch me. I think she meant she wanted to give me a hug, but for a few seconds I felt like a rock star. And yes, of course I hugged her. Who doesn’t love to be hugged?

When I think of bowing out, I remember that I haven’t mentioned my great big Mexican wedding that didn’t happen or the hundreds of river trips I’ve taken. I haven’t told you about the hilarious words of wisdom imparted by my mother-in-law before she died or the time I went to Chihuahua with a gay man and barely escaped going to jail. I never mentioned my trip to Mazatlan or the harrowing bus trip that got me there. Oh, and I really meant to tell you about Garcia’s Misguided Tours to Guadalajara. Maybe another time.

The other day I accused a friend of making something up. Yeah, she wasn’t about to take that kind of disrespect from me. Her expression was priceless. I do love to make things up. But you know that.

For several months now, I’ve been feeling the need to focus my attention on the various novels I’m writing. What I’m trying to get to here is good-bye for now. I’m not good at good-bye so I will say instead, thank you. Thank you for sharing your time with me every week. Happy Trails, my friends.

 

Why I’m Not Going to Quit

Ann Rice

For this entire week, I worked on one scene from a novel I’m writing (read sweating, bleeding, screaming). I tinkered with the dialog until I thought it was perfect. I exchanged the verbs I used for different verbs that are more action-packed or descriptive. Where possible I used better nouns so I could delete adjectives. I slashed adverbs and even killed the little side tangents I’m so fond of taking. I added this and took out that until I felt it was exactly the way I wanted it. I was riding high when I went to bed last night.

I got up early this morning and read what I have so far. Something was off. Was the premise bad? Was it a flaw in the characters? Was this novel a terrible idea to begin with? After the third read-through, the cold truth smacked me in the face. That scene, as brilliantly written as it is, isn’t going to work. I mean not at all. Not in this story. That’s what the problem has been the whole time. So something I spent a week on is useless and I still don’t have an Avalanche column.

Sometimes I want to quit. I worked hard all my life and I’m retired, so why am I working so hard now? This morning at 4:30 I was asking myself that question. Do you know how dark and alone it is at 4:30? A writer can get into a lot of trouble at 4:30 in the morning.

Of course I can quit whenever I want to; I know that. I’m not being held captive somewhere with only a laptop for diversion. The problem is I can’t quit. Writing is hard and it makes me crazy. I was going to say “a little crazy,” but why not tell it like it is? The point is that I’m driven. I’ve tried to quit and I can’t. I love to write about make-believe things or true things or almost anything.

Over the last nine years I have read everything I could buy, borrow, or check out on the subject I love. Not only do I crave doing it, I want to be good at it. There are thousands of books about the craft. Among other things, the authors of these volumes say to read everything you can get your hands on from the classics to popular fiction, to poetry—everything—and to keep writing. I can do that. But some advice is confusing.

One famous writer, Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs. When editing, strike every one of them.” Really? He uses them. Mark Twain is quoted as saying something similar to King, but he also uses them. What kind of advice is that? It smacks of “do as I say, not as I do.” Not fair.

Another writer advises to delete adjectives and use stronger nouns. I get that, but how would you say “the blond boy with brown eyes” or the “green house” without using adjectives? “The boy with eyes” and “The house” won’t get it. No wonder I’m crazy.

Hemingway says, “Write drunk. Edit sober.” How not helpful is that? It must have worked for him, but if I got drunk I’d blow off writing and anything else that seemed like work.

The best advice I’ve received by reading what the gurus say about writing is this: Write. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Here are two examples: “My top three pieces of writing advice? Stop whining and write. Stop (fooling) around and write. Stop making excuses and write.” ~Nora Roberts

Dr. Seuss said, “You can get help from teachers, but you are going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.”

Thank you, but I figured that out for myself.

John Steinbeck was a fantastic writer, so I looked up what he had to say about writing. Typical Steinbeck, he nails it: “If there is magic in story writing, and I’m convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another.”

I do not feel better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Swing to the South

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Sometimes I’m at a loss for words. Yes; it surprises me too. I rarely have trouble drawing from the well of words in my…mind? heart? soul? Where do the words come from? I don’t know, so when I go to the well and bring up nothing but an empty bucket, I feel panicked. What if I never write again? What if it’s over for me?

“What if?” Those powerful little words drive the imagination of writers, researchers, scientists, explorers, deep thinkers. What if we could put a man on the moon? What if I could paint that? What if polio could be eradicated by a vaccine? What if nobody had wondered these things?

A couple of weeks ago I escaped to the southern end of Brewster County to answer a question burning my brain: what if a trip to where my writing life started would refill the well? In an earlier column, I spoke of swinging as a metaphor for being carefree, doing nothing, enjoying life. I set out to do that.

If you’ve ever driven down the main road of Terlingua Ranch, you know that when you begin, the Chisos Mountains are on the right side. You see them as you come down Highway 118. The Christmas Mountains stand in front of them but don’t block the view until you get close. By the time you turn left into the ranch, the Christmas Mountains dominate the skyline. But you know the Chisos are still there, right? They are, but…

The road winds and twists so subtly that by the time you near the Ranch Headquarters it’s a surprise to see the Chisos standing on the left-hand side of the view. The mountainous terrain opens up for seconds and—ta-da! We now present the Chisos! On the wrong side of the road. How can that be? Oh, it’s been explained to me a thousand times, but it’s a phenomenon that never fails to delight. I’m like a little kid who knows who Santa Claus is but still gets swept up by the enchantment of Christmas morning.

I know the surprise is coming but as I draw closer, I can hardly wait for it. A powerful feeling of awe comes over me because, you see, they are not just on the wrong side of the road, they are close. Because of the ever-changing position of the sun, the clouds, atmospheric conditions, and their own magic, they are always different. Every. Single. Time.

To test my theory, I turned my truck around to go back a few miles and drive by them again. I got distracted by an empty spot of land where there is a superb view of the Corazones. I parked and studied the ultra-rugged nature of them for five full minutes, challenging myself to describe those two natural wonders without using the words awe-inspiring, towering, rough, wild, rugged, jagged, twisted, rocky, tortured…you get the drift. I failed. All of those words fit and yet no words do them justice.

My friend was expecting me so I soldiered on, back to my Chisos Mountains experiment. Do I need to say that by the second time, ten minutes later, everything had changed? Clouds had come in from the south and were sagging over the Basin. Croton Peak had crept closer to the ranch. It was spotlighted for seconds and then the light moved on to a smaller mountain whose name I don’t know. I think of it as Beautiful Little Mountain. The entire Big Bend area of southwest Texas is full of them.

My friend and her wildly excited dogs welcomed me warmly. Her cats remained aloof and greeted me in their own time on their terms, except for the aptly-named Love Kitty. She had announcements to make about my arrival but she seemed positive overall. Maybe that was because I’d brought Emmylou, the singing kitty, back home.

I breathed in the peace that dominates my friend’s world and soaked up the scenery that always stirs my soul. I wrote and wrote and wrote. Every morning, from a comfortable bed, I watched dawn come to Big Bend National Park. Sometimes it would sneak in on quiet feet; other times it blasted in, showing off and splashing colors around. Every time it was beautiful.

I spent a full week mountain-gawking, thunderstorm-watching, laughing and talking, being quiet, porch-sitting, writing, and sleeping well. Like the little kitty Emmylou, I had come home.