Reading for Pleasure

A strange thing happened to me when I started writing; I stopped reading.  From a very early age one of my great pleasures was reading.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog you know that my favorite “literature” as a child was Classics Illustrated comic books.  The great joy I experienced then has continued throughout my life—I have read lots of books.  And I mean lots. 

Then I decided to try my hand at writing a book.  It was kind of a lark based on an encounter with a “published” author.  This was in a social setting and the person was a creative writing instructor at a local community college.  He and I got along—we agreed on a lot of important stuff; like politics.  Our wives got along, so we ended up socializing on other occasions.  At one of those he gave me his book—the only one he had written, I think—which apparently experienced a level of success and was published by a known publisher.  I read it (at that time I read everything) and decided it was okay but nothing special; still I was impressed that he had written a book and it was published.  Based on the grade school playground logic of “if he can do that, so can I“— I decided to write a book.

It was day one in my new writing career.  I won’t go into the ugly details, but it was mostly a disaster.  Nothing was easy and no one (other than maybe my family) gave a crap about my sudden declaration of being an author.  The whole experience was demoralizing.  I did write a book; sort of.  It was a mess.  I just jumped in not knowing what I was doing and thought some sort of inspiration would take over and guide me to a great book.  The inspiration never showed up.  What I learned is that writing is hard.

After that experience, I licked my wounds for a while; but eventually decided I still wanted to be an author.  Now I knew I needed guidance, professional people to assist in the editing, cover design and all sorts of things to produce a successful book.  From that first experience, it was almost six years before I wrote again.  Some of that time was healing time, but most was doing the things I should have done before.  I began to do the prep work on becoming an author.  I found people to help me in various areas and spent time thinking about writing, reading about writing, and studying about writing.

Once I decided I knew enough to try again, I started writing.  That book was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  The whole experience was different.  It was still not easy.  I had worked on an outline and got about three chapters into the book and decided it was not going well—but rather than scream, I started over.  The second attempt worked.  I finished the book and was pleased with the result.  That first “real” book won a Benjamin Franklin Award from the Independent Book Publishers Association and I was hooked.  Suddenly, I really was an author.

During the writing of The Bootlegger’s Legacy, I found it was disruptive for me to read other books.  Not sure why or if this happens to other people; but it was difficult for me to enjoy reading because I was comparing it to my writing.  I was critical of the writing; I couldn’t seem to concentrate on the story, because I was focusing on the structure, or punctuation, or the totally stupid way the author said something.  I had never done that as a reader before.  Now I was a critic.

I stopped reading.  That was about five years ago and I have rarely read since.  I was a person reading dozens of books a year and enjoying the experience. But now, due to my writing, I couldn’t enjoy reading other people’s books. 

The primary way I learned to be an author was by reading.  Now my head was full of my stories and other people’s stories just interfered.  So, I guess, today I write because I need something to read.  Four Corners War was just released.  I worked for a long time on that book—I’ve written before about that experience so I won’t retell it here; but it was a very difficult project for me over an extended period.  By the time it was done, I was mostly exhausted by the whole thing.

After a little lull in writing, I decided to actually read the finished book; Four Corners War.  Okay, I shouldn’t say this, I liked it –a lot.  News flash, author likes his own book!

There were points in the process, like time schedules, deadlines, and endless editing that made me lose sight of the actual story.  Even if it is my book –it’s a good story about characters I have come to know as people and care about.  I’m glad I have the book to read.  Of course, if need be, I could always return to my childhood favorite Classics Illustrated comic books. 

Thanks for being a reader!

What is the creative process?

I have done many creative things in my life; painting, writing novels, woodworking, digital art, and of course accounting.  Accounting?  Some of those sales forecasts were pretty creative!

Painting and writing share a lot of attributes.  To be creative you first have to start.  Starting is hard.  When I was painting a lot, I would often find myself in front of a blank canvas wondering what to paint.  For some reason there were times when nothing would pop into my brain.  I had no ideas.  I would sketch some things, but it just wasn’t working.  Why?  Other days I had what seemed like hundreds of ideas on what I wanted to paint.  It was like everything I saw looked like something I wanted to paint.  Once again why?

Writing is even more dependent on an idea.  If I had no idea on what to paint, I could always spread around some color and call it abstract art; depicting the beginning of mankind.  Brilliant!  Not so with writing.  I suppose you could just write your life history over and over, but the book sales would not be good.  To write you have to have a fairly well developed idea that begins on page one.  I write mysteries, so in most cases I need to have a good idea how the story is going to go before I start.  There is a structure to mystery stories.  There is an event, action or something that prompts someone to want to uncover what happen, where something is located or hidden, and who did it and why.  So to begin the book you have to have an idea on how it ends.  Now, there is no question that as I write, the story changes.  I began The Bootlegger’s Legacy as a different story than the one I ended with; but that is mostly about false starts and starting over—I’ve definitely done that.

It would be hard to write a book and not have some idea of what the book is about.  But more than just a story line, you need developed characters and a detailed plot.  So where does this stuff come from? 

Inspiration is defined as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  That is inspiration, but where does it come from.  During my working life I was the guy with ideas.  Other people seemed not to have ideas.  Is there an idea “talent,” sort of like playing the violin?  It sure seems like some people are creative and others not at all.  I have bumped into that non-creative mind set.  There are people who actually seem to take pride in being a non-idea person; like that is a good quality.  “Don’t ask me about that stuff I’m not an idea guy!”  Maybe that is just a way to avoid having your ideas laughed at.  I’ve sure experienced that.  Being creative means taking a risk; because quite often some of those creations are real monsters.

If you’re a religious person you probably adhere to the “God-given” talent aspect in almost all things.  So creative people have been born with a creative trait that comes from God.  That’s a little too mystical for me, but it’s hard to argue with the sentiment.

In our society we have some very “talented” people who play sports.  These people are honored and paid huge sums of money for what would also appear to be “God-given” talents.  While physical skills are often inherited, the people who are really good at sports have taken those talents to entirely new levels by enhancing their inherited abilities with training, exercise and working day and night through repetition to reach the highest levels of sports.

Maybe creative is something similar, sure you’re born with certain creative traits, but most people ignore those skills and never really develop what might be call pro creative talents.  So maybe rather than lift weights, you develop creative skills by studying creative people.  Reading or viewing art could be to the creative mind the same as running around a track to the athlete.

I know much of my love of reading occurred from one source, Classics Illustrated comic books.  I loved the art with strong bold colors and I loved the stories.  My brother had a stash of the comics but was not really interested in them (he was seven years older than me and had discovered girls –he was never the same); for reasons that escape me, I began reading his collection.  It was wonderful.  I couldn’t wait to begin the next comic in the stack.  Obviously I was a troubled child—but I was quiet.

My parents would probably have preferred that I was out running track or thinking about baseball; but there I was in my room reading and reading and reading.  Rather than trying to alter my behaviors they went with the flow and bought me an increased supply of the wonderful (and cheap) comic books.  I believe the first comic I read was The Three Musketeers.  It was a story of adventure, friendship; all taking place in another world—it was absolutely great.  Not sure how many of those comic books I read and then re-read, but it had to be hundreds.

Now today, I have buried in my old brain hundreds of stories and great memories from classic books.  What a resource to stimulate the creative process.  Now a more cynical person would say most of those great memories were destroyed by hours of television; but I think Classics Illustrated comic books gave me the brain muscle memory to be a creative person.

Being creative is not magic but probably based on much of the same process as athletes honing their skills, you have to work at it; practice.

To be creative, you must try to be creative.  This may result in failure, most likely a lot of failure; but with practice you learn to polish those creative energies into something unique and hopefully amazing.  Write, design, paint, sculpt, sing, compose, sew, dance, act, build and maybe even develop that sales forecast and become the best creative person you can be.

New Mexico inspired digital art

Thanks for being a creative reader!

Is it hard work being creative?

The most successful way I’ve experienced to make contact with readers is to give away books.  “Here’s a free book, if you like it, buy my other books.”  Sure that makes sense.  But it bugs the hell out of me.  Okay, this next little part is whining.  I spend months and months, lots of money (for me) writing and producing a book.  Yes, I enjoy writing—but what creates a book is effort.  That is real, dig a hole in the backyard effort.  When I’m really writing at a good pace and I reach the end of the day; I’m exhausted.  Sure, after fifteen minutes of digging that hole I would be exhausted, but the analogy has merit.  It is hard work being creative.

So after all of this “hard” work, I’m now giving away the product of that effort.  The explosion of free books is the result of Amazon, book promotion web sites and Indie writers.  Free book promotions would exist without those factors but to a much lesser degree.  I’m sure there are readers who never read anything other than free books—if the authors choose to give them away, how are the readers at fault?  They’re not.  This is 100% an author’s decision based on a “you have no real choice” option to promote yourself and your book.  And it works!

Yep, there’s the rub.  It actually works.  You do expand your reader base; and these free book readers do buy other books.  Now, for sure, there are only free book readers—but even those might give you a good review which will help your sales.  But why does it still feel wrong to me?

I’ve spent most of my working life providing advice, usually something to do with finances, to business people.  Something I spent a lot of time working on was pricing—how should a business establish a price for their product.  Yes, I was hired by people to establish the most profitable strategy for pricing their product—I was a pricing pro.  Now for my own product, my advice is free!  That would not have made my clients happy if I said the most profitable, strategic price for your product is nothing.

Why does that work with e-books?  It’s simple, there is no cost.  Free e-books exist because there is, in most cases, no actual out-of-pocket cost to giving away that electronic file—the e-book.  However, there is an investment in the e-book.  The effort writing, the cost producing; which can be thousands and thousands of dollars before anything is assigned for the author’s time.  But, and this is the famous big “But”—how do you allocate that cost.  If you spent $5K producing a book and expected to sell 5K of e-books and paperbacks that would be a dollar cost per book.  But of course it’s not that simple.  You don’t know how many you will sell or the mix of paperback and e-book—plus paperbacks have actual cost per book for each one printed; the e-books don’t have additional costs.

Way too much in the weeds, right?  The bottom line is you can give away e-books and more or less assume you have no cost with what you gave away as free.  But, yes another big “But”; does it lessen the value of your brand.  Would readers decide that you will eventually give away each of your books at one time or another and just wait for the bargain.  Or on the macro level, does giving away books lessen the value of all books.  Are authors training readers to only value books at zero?

As an ex-pricing pro I can tell you giving away books is stupid. Unless your goal is to make no money at something you invest money in and spend many hours producing—that would be financial suicide.  I should know better—but I’m still giving away e-books.  I’m doing it less and less, but still doing it.  Because as an Indie author it is hard to break-through the fog of so many book options for readers.  There are more books available than most readers can possibly have time to read. 

Another point I want to make—and would love your input on this; readers now have libraries of free books on their devices.  They have not invested a penny in those books—do they read them the same way they would a hardback they just spent $20 on?  Probably not—if the book doesn’t hit them right within the first few pages it’s total garbage.  They move on to the next no cost book.  I remember many a book (usually purchased at a hardback price) that did not hit me at the beginning—maybe it was my mood, or the weather or something; but I was not engaged in the story.  And then sometime later, I returned and loved the book from beginning to end.  Some books take a commitment to get to the flow of the story, maybe by accident or by design by the author; but without a commitment it’s garbage.

Maybe I will re-think my marketing strategy and stop free books, or maybe not?  It’s a question that is not easy to answer.  One thing I know for sure “it bugs the hell out of me.”


Okay, just to prove I have no scruples, or maybe I have no sense; you can get a free copy of the e-book for The Bootlegger’s Legacy, Tuesday September 10th on Amazon.  If you get a free book (and like it), the least you can do is give me a good review.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy was my first book (it actually wasn’t–but that is another story) and as I have said many times, it might be my favorite.  The backstory about Pat Allen, the 1950s Oklahoma bootlegger, and his most desirable mistress, Sally, is some of my best writing (my opinion). 

Anyway at free it’s got to be a bargain.

Thanks for being a reader!

Right or Wrong?

There are a lot of things that annoy me. Flies annoy me, leftovers annoy me; often I annoy me. But there is something that really upsets me; the upbeat, happy people who offer advice on how to be better, happier, richer or achieve whatever-your-heart-desires. These people tend to be attractive, high-energy, smiling people who may or may not have a clue about any of the nonsense they offer to the unsuspecting. They are more than likely happy people who, for whatever reason, life has “just worked out.” That is hard to accept if you’re an important person who wants everyone to follow your advice—it can’t be just stupid luck that your happy and rich. It must be because you know more shit than the next person and now, from the goodness of your heart, you’re willing (maybe at a small price) to share it.

There are a lot of these people in religion; especially since someone dreamed up the prosperity gospel. This seems to be based on a premise that it’s okay for me to be rich and a man of God because it is God’s will; and if you want to be rich, you should give me money–God wants you to. Now that last part seems a little difficult to follow for me, but apparently it is completely logical to a large number of folks. My bible school background left me believing that rich people were not on the “A list” in heaven—but I lived among hypocrites so contradictions were normal.

I wrote about someone in The Bootlegger’s Legacy who found religion and soon became wealthy, preaching a form of the prosperity gospel. His name was Mike Allen. Mike was the son of the notorious bootlegger of the title. In a lot of ways his venture into religion was more about saving his marriage to the most beautiful person in the whole world; but once he started, he discovered something else that was even more appealing—adoration.

Love has induced some of the most bizarre behavior in human beings. In most cases this involves one person who loves or is loved. But adoration with hundreds or thousands of people who not only love but worship you, must be an awesome experience. Most of us can only imagine. We have celebrities, politicians, self-help gurus and, of course, ministers who seem to be addicted to this worshipful, adoration from the masses. I’m somewhat of a private person so having hordes of people loving me feels more like a threat than something wonderful. But it must be a powerful feeling to have “followers”, who hang on your every word and toss money at you. Would it be possible to be in that position and not take advantage of it? My guess, would be —no.

In TBL, Mike soon succumbs to his baser instincts and decides sex with his young, attractive worshipers was an entitlement being offered because he was such a wonderful, worthy person. Sin, under those circumstances was measured on a sliding scale. This is the same person who had suffered great emotional trauma because of his father’s sexcapades, but, as if often the case, this was different. Mike’s journey from an insecure, troubled businessman who was only looking for a small amount of financial success and a way to keep his most attractive wife; into a domineering, overly confident minister of a faith, which he knew little about, would have made a good book all by itself. However, it is only a small part of TBL—but a critical part.

On occasion I have mentioned this somewhat strange feeling I have in that the characters themselves are directing the flow of the book—okay, I know that is not true; but it does feel that way. As I write about a character they take on a whole personality, as the story progresses that character will react to the other characters and events in the story in ways that make sense for that character. Mike had always been insecure in himself. He never felt comfortable with who he was and whether he was loved or not. This had a lot to do with his father, the bootlegger, and is at the heart of the plot line of the book. He was insecure in his relationships with his father, mother and his wife. His only secure relationship was with his best friend, Joe. Who he abandoned once he discovered crowd adoration, and accumulated massive wealth.

While the main plot of TBL is a treasure hunt with a backstory on how the treasure came about and was hidden; the sub-plot is about the collapse of a life-long friendship between two flawed people. Each was looking for something different to fill an empty life. They found that something, but also lost an important part of what had made them who they were; a friendship. A friendship they took for granted until it was gone.

Probably a stupid thing to say; but I like The Bootlegger’s Legacyduh; it’s my book? Yeah, I know. Also it was my first book and maybe my best. Technically it might not be edited as well as the others—but this was a great story. My later books are mostly murder mysteries—which I enjoy writing. TBL is a different kind of story about people and their histories. I think TBL was an accidental novel—if I had planned this, it would not have happened. Maybe that is why I think it is good (sorry if that sounds like bragging). It just flowed as I wrote it. The characters allowed me to tell their story; and I’m glad I did.

PS. You might not know this but TBL is actually a prequel to the Pacheco & Chino series. When I wrote TBL I didn’t know I was going to write P&C. Ray Pacheco first appears in TBL and much of the background from that book helps in understanding some of the events in P&C’s first book Dog Gone Lies.

Thanks for being a reader!

Hard-Boiled or Cozy

I’ve just completed my tenth book. All of them have been mysteries with graphic language. The first book was a treasure hunt centered on a family’s unusual history; and how that search, and the mystery behind it, changed the main characters. All of the other books have been murder mysteries. The Bootlegger’s Legacy was the building block for the other books in style, if not substance. I have described all of the books as being about unique (I hope) characters who are flawed but likable, experiencing some kind of conflict with bad or very troubled, people. The character development and dialogue between characters is an emphasis—there is humor, romance (no sex scenes) and no graphic violence-although, there are murders.

Except for the language choice, some people have described the stories as “cozy mysteries”. I think this may be due in part to my newsletter where I discuss cooking and my favorite recipes. I like cooking—so sue me. And, of course, the Vincent Malone books feature a B&B prominently in the story. So, hey, maybe these are cozy mysteries with a few f-bombs.

In an on-line interview I was asked why I used gritty language in TBL.

My goal was to tell a story about people. Some good ones and some bad ones. Many of the characters in this book are definitely “gritty” and the language they use is part of their character. This book has bootleggers, gangsters, drug dealers and, of course, some nice people. Even the nice people, under stress, can be very expressive.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy definitely set the tone for the other books. The language in all of the books was about authenticity. The characters were real to me (okay I know that is strange) and that was how they would talk, at least on occasion. Bad guys use bad words—it’s part of being bad. Good guys use bad words if someone is trying to kill them—it’s part of being very stressed and unhappy that someone is trying to kill you.

Much of the language is attributed to the personality of the character. In the Muckraker series, Joe Louongo never stops cussing—he is a foul mouth, street smart lawyer who works the under-side of society. Foul language is language to Joe. He doesn’t even notice the words might not be appropriate.

The Governor of New Mexico, Jerimiah Johnson, in the Pacheco & Chino series is a direct speaking no BS type of guy who has forgotten how to moderate his speech. He is direct and foul—so what! That is who he is, and he will not change.

The tenth book Four Corners War will be released September 3rd. All ten books share many aspects; with gritty language being one. The shocking part to me is that it all happens without much forethought. I just start writing and this is what happens.

I had an outline of TBL which did not include the bootlegger back story. It was going to be a misadventure by two “normal” guys trying to accomplish a drug deal in Mexico to fix their financial problems; and how it all went bad. It was going to be a humorous look at how two “good” guys got involved with a bunch of bad guys and didn’t get killed. I thought it was an original story idea—but, of course, we have all seen a ton of movies more or less with that same plot line—only different. I thought it was original because I knew those two guys—really. But the guys I knew never actually did anything—they just talked about it.

I wrote several chapters and realized it just didn’t flow. It was my book and I was already tired of it. It was flat, uninteresting story telling. But something happened. I introduced the bad guys; and wow, the whole story took on a new life. The bad guys were a hell of lot more interesting than my bland, clean speaking Okies. I was inspired. I tore up the chapters I had done and started over with a new vision. I opened with a prologue of the evil gangsters talking in a bar. Foul language, foul people, foul topics—it all seemed a lot more interesting to me and I hoped, my future readers (if there were ever any). The story took off, I enjoyed writing it—and more importantly I enjoyed reading it.

That experience with TBL led to the Pacheco & Chino books; and, yes, some foul language. It just seemed right to me. I know I get criticism from some reviewers who think I should be able to write without using words that offend them—and to them, I apologize that they were offended. But for me, the characters and circumstances dictate the language. All of the books involve very stressful situations and some very bad (or amoral) people. The language becomes part of the story to convey the stress, anger, disappointment, fear, love, hate and even joy that high tension situations can bring about.

Without those evil gangsters and their foul language introduced in The Bootlegger’s Legacy, all of the books could have been G-rated cozy mysteries. I guess that might have been better, but somehow that would not have been me, and I don’t think those characters would have felt as authentic.


Pre-orders of books allow the book to be promoted before being released-obviously. I’m sure the people who know what they are doing, no doubt, already have the book ready long before the release date. Those people also would have advanced copies out to potential reviewers. Not me. My small working group use the release date as a target date to get the damn thing finished. Yes, it’s no way to run a railroad. But so far we have always gotten everything in place on time—although under pressure. The next release is Four Corners War on September 3rd. And we are pleased with ourselves in that everything is ready to go on September 3rd—we are done.

If you haven’t already consider checking out the pre-order on Amazon for the e-book, please do. The pre-orders give me a nice boost at the beginning of the launch and helps with various Amazon programs. If you are more interested in the paperback, it will not be available to order until the 3rd.

Thanks for being a reader!

Truth in Fiction

There are general themes to most fiction books—sex, greed, hate, love, sadness, happiness. These and other attributes get mixed together to form the basis of a fictionalized story. It could be a murder mystery, like most of my books, but basically it’s about human beings; their faults and their strengths—for me it’s usually emphasizing faults (after all it’s a murder mystery). My stories are made up; fiction not fact. For sure, I didn’t personally experience all of these murders first hand, just so I could chronicle them for you to read about. No, I created the characters, the plot and the conclusion from nothing but thin air. Well almost.

All of my books have an element of truth. This may be a character based on someone I knew, could be a location where I lived, or maybe an event that actually happen. Each book has a kernel of truth which grew into a story of complete fiction.

Some of those truths are small, insignificant little facts; some are very important and major to the story. But for me, each seems vital to being able to tell the story. In Four Corners War, my latest book, one of the main characters (Grimes) was based on someone I had met. The book takes place in Farmington, New Mexico, the place I had encountered this real person. The story is made-up but loosely based on things that did occur, or were suspected.

There was a scene in Four Corners War where Grimes’s girlfriend shoots at him with her pistol while he’s in a swimming pool, causing him to swim back and forth as she shot just ahead of him; like it was a strange, deadly arcade game. That actually happened; or at least the real person told the story that it happened. He was a bizarre man but I don’t think he would have made that up. There was also a scene in his airplane where he demonstrates a hard landing like on an aircraft carrier while landing in Albuquerque—I know that actually happened; because I was in the plane– silently screaming.

The Muckraker series of three books I co-authored with Stanley Nelson were based on actual events–a newspaper war in Oklahoma City in the 1960s. In the story a key character, Albright, was inspired by a real person I knew. He was a political columnist for one of the actual newspapers described in the books. At the time, I owned a printing business (yes, one of many businesses I have owned) when I met the Albright character. And, just as occurred in the fictional story, he talked me into publishing a political gossip rag for him, at no cost. Why did I do that? It was a stupid business decision (one of many) but Albright was an amazingly talented and brilliant man who fought each day of his life against corruption and lies—he was a truth teller; and the world needs every truth teller it can get. That sounds like a noble reason on my part; but the truth is probably I just did it on a lark, and had trouble getting rid of him once it started. But he sure was entertaining and I still think he was brilliant.

All of my books occur in places where I have been or lived, and each location has special memories.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy was the story of two rather ordinary and not so happy guys trying to solve their life issues and fix their money problems. The story began and ended in Oklahoma City, where I was born and lived for a big chunk of my life. Not an exotic location but it had its own uniqueness. The characters were based on people I had known and maybe ever so slightly, myself. The idea of the backstory about a bootlegger was based on a childhood memory when the kids in my neighborhood would talk about the bootlegger who live on the next block over. For one summer it was the major excitement for us to know that there was a bootlegger right in our neighborhood. I remember wondering what it actually meant to be a bootlegger (I was very young). This was kid gossip about something forbidden, and it was very enticing.

Vincent Malone and Ray Pacheco do not represent anyone I have ever met. However, those series do take place in locations that I know well. Las Cruces, Truth or Consequences, Cloudcroft, Ruidoso, Santa Fe, Albuquerque, Farmington, Durango, El Paso and Denver. Each book, hopefully, captures some of the charm and uniqueness of these locations. While my books are definitely character driven with a strong emphasis on dialogue; the locations provide a backdrop of authenticity that I believe adds to each book.

Lots of stuff floating around the internet about how to write a book. Seven steps to a successful book. Step by Step process in creating your first book. Most of these will mention creating an outline, developing character details, brainstorming story ideas, create your ideal work environment—none of that has much to do with writing a story; a fiction book—at least not for me. At the core of every one of my books is some personal experience I had. I will take that experience and stretch it, mold it, exaggerate it, throw it against the wall and finally, decide on what I want to write. Not very scientific or even akin to common sense, but it works for me.

Incorporating something familiar, whether a person or a location, can be a good way to add yourself to the story. My best work, I believe, comes from these personal connections. It gives the story a sense of truth—even though it’s only fiction.

Thanks for being a reader!

Ignorance and Fear

While the children follow Jack. The kids
all do the “rain dance” chanting “Kill the beast,
slit her throat, bash her in”. Simon, not knowing what is going on, runs to alarm the other kids of a finding of his, the kids mistake him for the beast because his rustle through the tree scares them.

This is a departure from what I had planned to post today. The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, was so upsetting I had to comment. I lived and worked for many years in Las Curces, New Mexico, which is a few miles north of El Paso. I moved to Las Cruces to take a Controller’s job with a large propane supplier which had dealings in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas. Plus, this company did significant business within Mexico through Juarez. Prior to this experience I had spent my entire life in Oklahoma, with all of the middle America bias that would suggest.

My experience in a multi-cultural, multi-language border community was an amazing awaking for me. One of my joys in life had been painting, but it had been dormant for a long time. Almost immediately this seemingly barren desert land and its colorful culture inspired me. Everywhere I looked there was something wonderful that I wanted to paint. The awareness of texture, color and beauty that I had felt, when I was young and thinking I wanted to be an artist, returned. I didn’t see a barren desert– it was alive with color and contrast. I have never painted as much as I did while living in this radiant part of the world. I fell in love with cacti—okay maybe it wasn’t love, how about fascination.

Many of my books take place in this part of the world. The Bootlegger’s Legacy has key scenes in Juarez and El Paso. The center of the mystery in the book begins to unravel in Las Cruces. Dog Gone Lies starts in Las Cruces and moves to T or C, New Mexico. Vincent Malone finds his mojo in Santa Fe. Yes, no question, that part of the country had great impact on me.

I attended numerous business meetings in El Paso and Juarez both as the Controller of the large propane company and then later as a self-employed financial consultant. There was one constant over those many years. The kindness and friendliness of the people I dealt with. Often these were Mexicans or Mexican descent Americans who more comfortably spoke Spanish than English. I was always treated with great respect and never did my lack of knowing their language cause any issues. They were bi-lingual and often some of the smartest people I have ever met in business and yet they accommodated me. If they ever thought what a dumb yokel I was, they never showed it.

Over the years I learned that graciousness was not something they did to accommodate a fish-out-of-water Okie, it was who they were; it was part of their culture to treat people in this wonderful manner. Now don’t get me wrong there are plenty of bad people who live in this area, but a lot fewer than most imagine. Over a very long business career I can assure you my most horrific experiences with people happen in places other than these border towns. One of the worst business meetings I ever had was in a high rise in LA with some of the biggest jerks on this planet—but that’s another story.

My experiences in Juarez were especially surprising to me. The business people I met in Juarez were some of the most sophisticated and knowledgeable people I’d ever been around. They were often running huge companies with international dealings and yet were polite and accommodating. I never went into a business meeting that did not feel warm and comfortable—even if we were negotiating difficult issues. Every meeting was conducted in perfect English to accommodate me—with no remarks about my inability to speak Spanish.

Some of this good feeling I experienced started to change before I left the region and definitely changed a lot after I left; due to the increased drug traffic. That change harmed both sides of the border and I believe was mishandled as much by us as the Mexicans. But even with increased violence due to the drug gangs these communities along the border are connected in ways it is hard for outsiders to understand. It was not that long ago that most of this area was Mexico. Many of the people who live here have grandparents or great grandparents who were born here when it was Mexico. Calling these people immigrants is the height of ignorance.

Our relationship with Mexico is a complicated mixture of joy, mistakes, misery and national treasure. But it is not foreign. We have great historical links that provide a wonderful cultural gift to everyone who lives in this country. We should celebrate our good fortune every day that we have this diversity. The hate we see from a few is based on ignorance and fear.

The human race has a long and troubling history with ignorance and fear—but we can’t seem to move away and embrace the goodness that exists all around us. Let’s hope someday we can.

Thanks for being a reader!