Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Making of Butch

I don’t remember exactly where I got the idea for Butch. She just came to me, like characters often do, ready to tell me her story. 

I love New Mexico. I often think of it as my “soul home,” so I was thrilled to be able to tell a New Mexican story again. (Much of Mercy, Unbound takes place in New Mexico.) Here’s a secret about Butch that I think is funny. I originally thought Butch would have lots of sex scenes. Butch is a sensual woman. She lives large: lots of booze, lots of lovin’, lots of trouble. The book went its own way, however, and most of the sex is off stage! 

But that’s getting ahead of the story. I had the idea for Butch. Then I wrote the first chapter. I loved it. I thought it was one of the best first chapters I’d ever written. I got scared. I wasn’t sure I could make the rest of the book stand up to that first chapter. (See what I mean about having self-talk that is not helpful.) 

A few years went by. I kept wanting to get back to it. Then I decided the real reason I wasn’t working on it was because I didn’t know enough about Taos, New Mexico, which is where the novel was set. I had to go back to Taos. (What a great excuse, eh?) 

I didn’t have enough money to go, so I decided to try doing a kickstarter. (They help fund various artistic projects.) I am notoriously bad about marketing my work. I loathe advertising. I could talk about my novels all day long. That’s not the problem. But I don’t want to be constantly shilling. For one thing, I haven’t found any method for selling books that works except one: word of mouth. When readers tell other readers about an author or a book they like, that sells books. Anyway, long way of saying that I didn’t get the word out. (I just don’t know that many people!) And I didn’t get enough pledges to fund the kickstarter to go to Taos. But the enthusiasm of those who did pledge helped boost my confidence. That helped open the gates of my imagination which allowed this creative thought to flow through: “You’re a writer, Kim. You make stuff up. Why be attached to a ‘real’ particular town? Remember Sosegado, Arizona.” 

(Sosegado, Arizona was the setting for much of Coyote Cowgirl. I’ve had quite a few readers ask me where it is so that they can visit. Sosegado is Spanish for peaceful, tranquil, etc. Although I “made it up,” I am convinced the town is out there somewhere.) 

Of course! Butch needed her own town, one that wasn’t tied to so-called reality. The town immediately came to me, just like one of my characters: Santa Tierra, New Mexico. Although the name literally means “saint earth,” I translate it to mean “sacred earth.” 

Like many of the places in my novels, Santa Tierra is a vital and important part of the story. It is a character in the novel, and it certainly has its own character. 

Once I had the town, I was ready to start again. I enjoyed writing this book immensely. In the novel, Butch has many mysteries to solve, but the greatest mystery is the one of her own origins. She is not a very reflective person, so trying to figure out her life is problematic for her. I was quite moved to learn the truth of her life. She endured a rough childhood. She had to make some tough decisions when she was still a girl. I admire her and would love her for a best friend. 

I intend to write several other Butch novels. I want to spend more time at Wayward Ranch with TomA and Patrick and their daughter, Hunter. I want to ride through the Blood Mountains with Butch and George. I want to eat breakfast with Marigold and Butch while they flirt with one another. I want to know if Jezebel will show up again. (I want to know about all kinds of things that I can’t mention here or I might spoil the story for you.)

Wayward Art Spectacle

One of my favorites parts of Butch is the Wayward Art Spectacle. Every year in Santa Tierra, after the ditch cleaning is over, TomA and Patrick (Trick) sponsor the Wayward Art Spectacle on their ranch. Everything in the novel leads up to the Wayward Art Spectacle, but I don’t have a lot of description of the actual Spectacle. Originally I had a couple of pages of description, but it stopped the narrative cold. So it got cut. Now there’s just a couple paragraphs, but I’m hoping it’s enough to give the flavor of the Spectacle. 

Every year, artists from all over the area bring their art to Wayward Ranch. The art is displayed around the ranch—mostly near the house and barns. Some of the art is hung inside the house, but most of it is outside. There are wooden mobiles hanging from trees. Quilts are draped over bushes. Metal sculptures are scattered throughout the pastures, like frozen wild animals. It’s magical and mystical and earthy. 

The genesis of the Wayward Art Spectacle was probably my own Hallows Art Show which was sponsored at our house. (We renamed our house The Little Yellow House Art Gallery for a month.) 

I came up with the idea for the Hallows Art Show after feeling as though my art had been rebuffed at an art show here in town. I decided to turn our little rental house into an art gallery for a month. It was part of my nearly lifelong effort to gatecrash and thumb my nose at gatekeepers. I believe everyone is creative, and art is in the eye and heart of the beholder. I don’t want a couple dozen people in New York (or anywhere) deciding what the rest of the country reads, and I don’t want a couple dozen people anywhere deciding what is and isn’t art. 

So I invited people from all over my community (and beyond) to participate in the Hallows Art Show. The theme was Hallows (Halloween, honoring the ancestors, death and rebirth). People brought their art to my house. I “hung” the show, and then we had a gallery opening. The show stayed in the house for the month, and people could come and walk through the “gallery” by appointment. 

We had jewelry hung here and there, alongside beautiful scarves. One artist created a Day of the Dead altar in my room. In another room, we had a long dinner table that was set for a Dumb Supper. Different artists created different place settings for it. (That was AMAZING!) My father made a gorgeous Halloween quilt, and my mother made a matching beautiful Halloween pillow. We had paintings all over the house, too. 

It was one of the most amazing events of my life. At the end of it, one of the artists—a local retired dentist—gave us a piece of colored glass we still have hanging in one of our windows. A weaver gave us one of her baskets. And I curl up under my father’s Hallows quilt nearly every day. (In fact, it’s getting a little frayed.) 

So that was partly where the Wayward Art Spectacle came from. But also, it sprang up from the New Mexican soil. When I think of New Mexico, I think of beauty and art. 

I first visited New Mexico many years ago when I was in the midst of a heated battle with the county and some of my neighbors over pesticide use. I felt like I was surrounded by people who didn’t care about the land or nature or beauty or art. I was exhausted from the fight. Mario and I decided to visit New Mexico during this time. 

We arrived in Taos after a seventeen hour drive from Kingman, Arizona. (I don’t remember why it took that long.) It was dark when we drove down the dirt road toward the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. Our headlights skimmed over a painted adobe fence and I glimpsed a mermaid swimming. (My first mermaid in the desert.) A few moments later, we reached the house, found our room, and fell to sleep, exhausted. 

In the morning, I stepped out into the bright day and looked up at the bluest sky I had ever seen. I walked across a courtyard where Georgia O’Keeffe, D. H. Lawrence, Frieda Lawrence, Ansel Adams, and so many others had walked. Huge cottonwood trees towered over me. My knees nearly buckled. Everywhere I turned, I was surrounded by beauty. I could hear the whispers of artists, writers, and intellectuals. Here they talked about things that mattered to me. Here they honored beauty, nature, and art. 

That was my first encounter with New Mexico, and the spirit of that encounter carries over into the Wayward Art Spectacle—and into all of Butch.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Making of Jewelweed Station

(This was originally published in Kim's Weird & Wonderful Gazette. I write about each of the books that were published over the last six months. I do have a FAQ page for Jewelweed Station, but here I write in a little more depth about what was going on as I began to write this book. Enjoy!)

Jewelweed Station was inspired by the Scarlet Pimpernel which was a favorite book of mine when I was young. For one thing, I was impressed that this man could let himself be seen as a fool when he was really a hero. I never liked appearing foolish. I still don’t. Yet for a greater cause, he was able to pretend to be someone he wasn’t—someone who was pretty loathsome.  I wanted to write an American version of the Scarlet Pimpernel only I wanted the main character to be younger, maybe even a teen. When I asked myself what was the American equivalency of the Reign of Terror, I immediately thought of slavery.

I had studied the Underground Railroad in depth on other occasions. I knew there was no historical evidence that white Southerners participated in the Underground Railroad. In fact, most of the participants on the Underground Railroad were freed and escaped slaves, as far as historians know.  

History is an avocation of mine. It was one of my minors in college. And this is what I know for certain: We know only a fraction of the truth about history. Even our own history. Think about your own life. If someone were to write a history of your life, just what you did over the last month, what would they write? They’d have to trust what you told them, first off, and you’d  probably only tell them about the big events—if there were any—and you’d probably only tell them about the big events you thought were socially acceptable.

In other words, most of our history is left out of history books. As a writer, I do research, but then I let my imagination take over. And there’s no one alive who can contradict me in the case of Jewelweed Station. If things were done in secret, how would we ever know? If a person in the South wanted to help slaves escape, she would have to be extremely secretive because to do otherwise would put herself and her family and descendants in jeopardy.

So Calantha “Callie” Carter was born. She wasn’t as young as I originally thought she would be, mostly because she’d have to have some maturity to be part of the Underground Railroad. Plus I wanted her to be old enough for a romance with a young man, not a boy. 

Originally I wanted this book to be a fun adventure. Callie would pretend she was stupid while she was really doing great things behind the scenes. I soon realized that realistically Callie would be under some very tight restrictions because her parents were dead and because she was a young Southern woman with very little autonomy. So this wasn’t going to be easy for Callie.

She was young and inexperienced and used to getting her own way. I wanted her to try many things and fail. That seemed realistic to me. Naiveté can be a dangerous thing.

There were other reasons it couldn’t be a fun adventure. Slavery is not an adventure. The more research I did, the more the realities of slavery turned my stomach. For a time, I didn’t think I could write the book. I didn’t want to make slavery “entertaining.” I didn’t want to be exploitive.

Eventually, I realized I could write the book if it wasn’t a simple adventure story. It became a complex story about a young woman finding her true self and coming to terms with her family history and the terrible history of her own community. She has to decide—just like I think we all have to decide—how to deal with injustice: Does she stand up or does she fall down?

She tries to stand up for a long time and she keeps falling down. But she won’t let people be abused in her name. She has to learn to be strong and humble at the same time.

This story had twists and turns in it that I didn’t expect. This always happens when I’m writing, and I think it’s one of the reasons I love to write so much. I won’t tell you about those twists here, of course, since I don’t want to spoil to the story for you.

Although Jewelweed Station is a complete story, I am planning two other books with these characters. We’ll see how it goes!

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Year and a Day Living the Old Mermaid Way

I'm going on a pilgrimage. Would you like to join me? Check out what it's all about here.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Old Mermaids Book of Days and Nights: A Year and a Day Journal

We love The Old Mermaids Book of Days and Nights so much that we decided to make a companion for it: a BIG sumptuous luxurious "a year and a day" journal. This 8.5 x 11 book has the same cover as The Old Mermaids Book of Days and Nights: A Daily Guide to the Magic and Inspiration of the Old Sea, the New Desert, and Beyond, but we've removed the dates so you can put in your own and we've made one journal lined and one unlined; you can use both for journals or use one for a journal and one for sketching or mix and match. A Year and A Day is a traditional period of time set aside for study or initiation: and you can begin any time. We hope you will find these journals inspiring and beautiful. Everyone who has seen it just oohs and ahs over it. This is a perfect place to tell your own story and find your siren song.  unlined • lined

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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.