I grew up with respect for American Indians (Native Americans, First Nation Peoples, Indigenous Americans, Earliest Emigrants, etc. for those who don’t understand the term American Indians). We were always proud that we had Cherokee and Choctaw heritage via both of our family lines. With extensive genealogical work, we have failed to prove or disprove that belief; but nevertheless the idea of kinship is instilled in our psyche. As a child I had friends and playmates who were from the San Carlos Reservation, and others from various Indian communities in Arizona and other states. I worked professionally with several men and women for many years, most notably Harold Victor, a fellow Instrumentman at the mine.
It occurs to me that I would like to give a nod to our Native American citizens in this their official recognition month. The marvelous accomplishments of the early agricultural people of Arizona prehistory are numerous; the rock and adobe construction of apartment house type dwellings, extensive and well-engineered irrigation systems, and remarkably utilitarian yet beautiful ceramics, weavings, carvings, and other craft work have intrigued all those who followed them. When the Spanish, the first Europeans to reach our Sonoran Desert, arrived along the Santa Cruz, San Pedro, Gila, and Salt Rivers they found an intelligent people with thousands of acres of well cultivated crops.
These were the O’odham Peoples, called by the Spanish the Pima, Papago, Sobaipuri, and possibly other related cultures. Today they are the Tohono O’odham (Desert People), Akimel O’odham (River People). They have large verdant acreages of beautiful cultivated fields. They also have many commercial ventures including office and retail buildings, professional baseball facilities, leasing and building management, hotels, restaurants, and entertainment facilities.
The Western Apache was located in the mountains of central Arizona. They were latecomers migrating from the north and east into what is now Arizona in about 1300 AD. They were hunter-gatherers who were extremely adept at living off the land. They did some very primitive agriculture, but were better known as raiders, and quickly became mortal enemies with the existing O’odham People. It is believed that, along with a long period of drought, they were part of the cause for the disappearance of the O’odham ancestors, the Hohokam and Salado cultures. They were skilled at warfare and stealth, and had the respect of all their enemies as fighters and trackers. They were the last group of American Indians to be pacified and placed on two large reservations and a couple of smaller ones in Arizona. Related tribes are on reservations in New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Reservation life was hard for the Apache because they were expected to abandon their nomadic lifestyle, settle in one place and farm. It was a severe cultural shock for the men who had been trained from youth to hunt and raid more stationary people for goods, livestock, and hostages or slaves. The skills of a warrior had no place in the new scheme, so their purpose in life, their identity was removed. It has taken longer for them to develop the skills to flourish in the modern world, but the last two generations have seen a surge in the development on the reservation, of education and general improvement in the standard of living.
In my books the Apache people, their history and their trials, are represented by Al Victor, San Carlos Apache police officer and Apache historian, who frequently mentions these things. I know the Apache people as people with a terrific sense of humor, a patriotism to America that puts most Americans to shame, and a quick mind that allows them to learn most anything they set their mind on. Apaches make good, loyal friends, and bad enemies. In all three of my books, not just the Apache, but all our numerous past and present Indian cultures in Arizona and the Southwest are treated with heart-felt respect. I salute them as we come to the end their month of recognition.
I had an enjoyable signing at the Phoenix Metro Center Barnes & Noble. We sold about a dozen books and I distributed a lot of free bookmarks. About half the books I signed were to first time readers. I enjoyed visits (and signing) for some of my family and friends, and as he often does my brother Bill was there assisting me. Bill is good sized, fit, and retired military, so makes an impressive body guard. He helps me with all sorts of things, including visiting with people waiting for a signing. We also always have a few quite moments when we can visit with each other and we never run out of things to talk about. My thanks to Adrianna, the B&N Events Manager for her support.
I’m currently featured on fellow Oak Tree Press mystery writer Marilyn Meredith’s blog Marilyn’s Musings. Marilyn is an accomplished writer with many books to her credit, including her Rocky Bluff P.D. series. Like me she features an American Indian protagonist, Tempe Crabtree, in her series. You may have noticed that to honor me she named her character after the city of my abode. Quite an honor, especially since she was using the name long before she ever heard of me. You can check out her blog at: http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com/2015/09/about-baleful-owl-by-virgil-alexander.html
Like most writers, I love reading for pleasure. However, between doing research, writing, events, and marketing stuff, I don’t get a lot of opportunity to enjoy reading. But in the last couple of weeks I read Mary Anna Evan’s Isolation, Charles Kelly’s Pay Here, and am currently reading Marilyn Meredith’s Violent Departures.
I always enjoy Mary Anna Evans' stories including Isolation, the latest in her Faye Longchamp mystery series, I gave it a five star review on both Amazon and B&N and highly recommend Isolation. http://www.maryannaevans.com/the-books/
Charles Kelly is a retired reporter for the Arizona Republic and is an excellent writer; however, Pay Here is not to my liking. It is well written and has all the elements of a good mystery, but it is set in the seamy underside of society and I do not enjoy noir mysteries. There may have only been one character in the book that resembled anything like a normal person; they were almost all mental messes. It also contains a lot of profanity and obscenity, I usually don’t read books with that content; I read this one because a friend of the author requested me to read it and let him know what I think. I do not recommend this book, because I didn’t enjoy it for the reasons stated.
I’ve only read a few chapters of Marilyn Meredith’s Violent Departures, and am enjoying that book. It is only the second of Marilyn’s books that I’ve read, but I like her writing and am looking forward to reading all her books. I recommend that you include her on your “to read” list.
In non-fiction I recently read the out-of-print History of Globe, Arizona by Bob Bigando, and a booklet by Bill Kishbaugh, Memoirs of Hayden, Arizona. Both of these have lots of period photos and are well researched and quite enjoyable. History of Globe is available used on Amazon, and Memoirs of Hayden is self-published and available by direct ordering from the author by sending $12 per copy to W.G. Kishbaugh 4793 S Longhorn Ln, Winkelman, Arizona 85192.
Of course if you are looking for a good Southwestern mystery involving artifact theft and murder along US-60, I highly recommend The Baleful Owl by me.
I recently had a book signing at the Pickle Barrel Trading Post in Globe, Arizona. If you’re familiar with me at all, you know that I love my native copper towns, Miami & Globe. They are two thousand feet higher in altitude than Phoenix, so have between six to ten degrees cooler temperatures. Maybe more important, the more rural environment does not create the artificial “heat island” that we get in the city; so when the sun sets it cools down quickly in the foothills of the Pinal Mountains.
Is it just me, or do you also feel that critics rarely like the movies or books that you like? I can almost decide which movies to see by acting inversely to the critic’s recommendation. If they love it, I probably won’t. If they hate it, I will probably like it.
That’s because there is a difference between a critic and a reviewer. A reviewer will simply tell you whether or not they enjoyed a movie (or book) and how much they enjoyed it. The critic is a trained expert; a guy that knows if they got the back-lighting in a scene right or who judges a film on the cleverness of the camera angle, or the smooth segue between scenes. It seems like a critic is supposed to be an artsy snob who is disgusted with movies that are simply funny, sappy, exciting, scary, romantic, or sad in a good way. In other words if it’s enjoyable to the un-scrubbed masses it can’t be good. A gross generality, I know, but the feeling still comes down that way.
I’m certainly no literary expert, but my meager training and now considerable experience with writing fiction has taught me a lot about writing sharp sentences, keeping tense right, and being picky about grammar (and no I’m not picking on the dear old soul). But these are not the reasons I buy a book. I buy a book because I’m entertained by it, or because it contains information I want to know. When it comes to putting my money down for a book those are the most important things.
I have a book that I love, but which critics would tear apart. It’s a historic narrative told in the language of a generation older than mine (meaning there aren’t many left now). So it has really long, complex sentences, and paragraphs that sometimes span multiple pages. It uses some peculiar phraseology and a few terms that no longer mean the same as it did back in the day. Historic narratives are supposed to be presented chronologically; this one is, sort of… Occasionally it takes a whiplash inducing bunny trail back to a different period of time. It gets confusing at times; a couple of times I never did figure what the author was talking about.
But what I love about the book is it gives intimate insight into a time I never knew. It is like sitting across the table from a grandparent as they relate stories verbatim from memory. The author frequently provided the date or period and occasionally had documented evidence, but the vast majority of the story is reality as they experienced it. When I reviewed the book I honestly gave it five stars for its content and its sincere presentation. A more critical friend declared they couldn’t force themselves to read past the first chapter, mentioning many of the technical problems listed above. It’s a pity because there is so much great stuff between that book’s covers.
Books are a lot like people, they have their own personality. It is delightful to know people from all the demographics of society, as long as they aren’t mean and nasty. I feel the same way about books.
There is time for a critique. I get those from my beta readers and editors; it helps me fix a lot of what’s wrong with my book before it goes to the publisher. In that case a critique is better than a review. But when I post a review on Amazon, Barns & Noble, Goodreads, or other such places, I simply rate it on how much I received from the story in knowledge or enjoyment. The purpose is of a review is to tell fellow readers what books you really like. So if I don’t like a book I simple will not review it.
By the way, if you enjoy my books please do review them at those sites; most readers believe what other readers recommend.
Last Saturday I had a great signing at the Eastern Arizona Museum, sold out the museum’s stock of all three of my books, plus sold a few extras I brought along. Those in the Gila Valley can still pick up a copy of The Baleful Owl at the museum, and if you would like The Wham Curse or Saints & Sinners they can order it for you. Buying at the museum provides income for that institution.
An opportunity to “meet the Author” and pick up a signed copy of my books is coming this week to the East Valley. This coming Saturday, August, 15 I will be signing in Mesa at Latter Day Cottage from 10 AM to 2 PM. The bookstore is located in a strip mall at the northeast corner of University Drive and Lindsay Road. I hope to see some friends and make new acquaintances there.
An interesting thing happened the evening before the museum signing. I mentioned this on Facebook, but had some of the details wrong. My son Keith, who lives in the Gila Valley, called me and asked to lay aside two copies of each of my books, so he could pick them up for the Mayor of Safford, Chris Gibbs, who would not be able to come to the signing. Some time ago Mayor Gibbs had a conversation with a fellow member, from Oregon, of a professional organization who told him about Saints & Sinners, giving it a good endorsement. The Mayor had forgotten about it until he saw the article on my signing in the Courier. He called Keith and asked if he and I were related, then asked that he get two signed copies of each book, one for him and one for his brother Garth. Of course I was only too happy to comply with the request, and Keith picked up the books to deliver.
This is an example of the power of person to person communication in advertising. When I talk to people about my books about half the time they first bought one because a friend told them about it. If you like a book, or a movie, or anything else, the best thing you can do to insure that product or enterprise succeeds is to tell others about it.
Critical reviews by professional editors, writers, or readers are important, but often do not agree with popular opinion; people value the opinion of a friend who shares their interest more than they do that of a professional critic. That’s why many shows that are panned by critics become big hits; readers do the same thing. The may not know all the technical and technique skills of writing, but they know what they like. To me, if I like a story, it is not because of the cleaver writing, though I can appreciate that, but because the story, simply as a story, appeals to me.
That is what is so great about reader reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, etc.- They are people saying what they enjoyed, and it carries weight with other readers. So if you like my books, please say so on those review pages, on social media, and as you chat with friends!
Again my brother Bill travelled with me to the Pima signing, and the conversation coming and going (that’s about six hours) was wonderful. He is also a tremendous help during the signing, chatting with people about the books, taking care of things that need to be done, and interceding to draw a dominating visitor into conversing with him, so others have a chance to chat as I sign their books.
I enjoyed seeing several repeat buyers, as well a meeting some new ones. It was a real treat to visit with two of my work friends from the Phelps Dodge days, Larry McDaniel, and Robert Reed and his lovely wife. I worked on many intense multi-year projects with them and treasure their friendship and wisdom.
Early response to The Baleful Owl has been most gratifying; I always worry that readers will not be as happy with the new book as the last. Several have used terms like “excellent,” “my favorite,” and “it reminds me of Tony Hillerman.” To them thank you for reading my story and for sharing your thoughtful comments.
For the last several weeks as I waited for my new mystery The Baleful Owl to complete editing, receive an offer from the publisher, and am now awaiting actual publication on July 15, I have been able to work on my non-fiction Ranching in the Heart of Arizona. I've enjoyed it, not because it's easy (it's hard) but because I enjoy digging into history, then trying to figure out how to write it both accurately and interestingly.
I love history. But I don’t enjoy much of history from text books; a great deal of history is a recounting of data and has no soul.
There are two general kinds of history, documented and lore. There are potential problems with both.
Documented history relies on government and vital records, written accounts, newspaper stories, letters, journals, books contemporary to the time, etc. Lore is generally oral history passed down through generations, or firsthand memories of participants. The best kind of history incorporates both sources.
I usually consider personal memory and family lore as based in truth, but it’s usually imprecise, because it relates the story and feelings not necessarily the exact, date, time, place, and people.
I consider documented history to be precise to the degree that the original source was precise, and accurate to that same degree. It is most reliable when you have multiple unrelated sources.
For example a ranch family arrived in Gila County in the late 1880's and set up camp at Bloody Tanks near current-day Miami. They ranged their herd in the nearby hills. One day the men were out working their cattle, the women and older children engaged in camp chores, and the young children playing. Geronimo and a band of Apache's with war point on their faces rode into camp, watered their horses, and demanded coffee beans. They took the beans and rode away to the east. The women were so frightened that when the men came back they demanded that they break camp and move immediately to Wheatfields, a more populated area. I believe everything about the story is true except one point. At that time Geronimo and his band had been taken prisoner and were in Florida.
Either the Indians used the name Geronimo to frighten the women, or the women made an assumption that is was him. Either way they truly believed it was the infamous raider and the were truly terrified. So I will tell their story exactly as they experienced it, but will then explain why it could not have been Geronimo.
When I assemble a history I start with the documented history and create a chronological timeline using birth, death, marriage records, census records, newspaper articles and other dated sources. Then I work through the lore and memories and place them in the logical sequence of possible occurrence.
Then I write the story as a chronological narrative with the dates and facts in order, and references available, as the skeleton of the story and the lore and memories as the flesh of the story. Without the facts of documentation it isn’t really history, and without the elements of humanity it is dry and boring.
The biggest problem with almost all historians is that they tend to filter the story through their own experiences, beliefs, and values. Once a historian starts using terms like “greedy” capitalists, or “greedy” union members they stop being historians and become propagandists.
So when I write history I try not to judge, just relate what happened, and if available I'll include what the antagonists and protagonists gave as their reasons or thoughts on the matter. We cannot possibly pass rational judgement on a time that had a completely different understanding and experience from our own.
The first significant literary accomplishment for me this year was finishiing writing The Baleful Owl. The manuscript is out to Beta readers now, and I just got the results from my cultural editor with some nice "catches" of errors which I can now correct. I expect to be doing my last edits by next week, then send it on for professional editing, and then submittle to the the publisher.
I'm also working with the artist on the cover, which will feature the namesake Salado relic backed by a landscape view from the pass near the ancient ruins from which it came.
The inset photo shows Kings Crown Peak from the west; the site of the ruin and the murder in the story is just behind this peak on the headwaters of Queen Creek.
The story line includes solving two murders in two states, plus an attempted murder, as well as trying to identify a major artifact theft ring. It also involves the marriage of Deputy Manny Sanchez and Jenny Mondragon, a blooming romance of tough-girl Deputy Haley, and a reappearance of two old charcters, Alf Hesse and Richard.
This weekend I participated in manning the Oak Tree Press booth at the Tucson Festival of Books, along with the publisher, Billie Johnson, and five of my fellow Oak Tree authors. Oak Tree is a small tradtional publisher with over 400 authors publishing and around 260 actively writing. We had a nice selection of books for sale, and lots of literature to hand out about our books and the company. As always it was fun to talk with readers about my books, as well as other books the publisher had to offer. It was great to meet Billie in person, she and I have corresponded for over a year, but had never met. The same was true for Authors Amy Bennett, Robert Richter, Carolyn Niethammer, Diane Ransdell, and Janet Greger; I got some good ideas from them about all aspects of writing, publishing, marketing, and surviving the grind.
The Tucson Book Festival is one of the largest in the US and had over 400 booths, plus several concert, lecture, and media venues from tents to halls, and big name authors like Dave Barry, Clive Custler, J.A. Jance, Leonard Pitts, and many others. There were food booths (expensive) and Cuisine Booths (very expensive), and four or more concerts going in diferent spots at the same time. An exciting event, but it really took a toll on me; I'm getting too old for this stuff! It is nice to see so many people are interested in books.
Mystery writer, Southwestern Historian, researcher, husband, father, grandpa, with an opinion on everything.