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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All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.