Monday, April 22, 2013

Spider Latham Redux

Yes, I'm bringing Spider back.

 I'm still getting emails from people I don't know asking when I'm going to write anothr Spider Latham book. I've been working on other things, but moving to Kanab has stirred the mystery writer in me, and I've decided this area is the perfect setting for a series. And why go about creating a new protagonist when everybody loves Spider?

The first book in the new series will center around the Red Pueblo Anasazi Museum and Heritage Park. It's a little gem of a museum on the north edge of Fredonia a tiny town that sits on the south side of the Utah/Arizona border.

The museum has a wonderful collection of Anasazi artifacts, and the adjacent heritage park has a replica dugout house as well as an authentic pioneer cabin, a sheep wagon, and an old drill rig completely made of wood--including a wooden flywheel. 

They have a Facebook page. Check it out and 'like' it.

The mystery concerns a cache found by Dixon Spendlove, the museum director. Someone had secreted a gun, a saddle, and other personal items in a cave sometime during the mid-1800's and Dixon came upon the cache as he was exploring the area.  The display is fascinating and certainly set the creative juices flowing.

So, here's Chapter One of (working title) The Red Pueblo

Spider Latham yanked at his tie, loosening it in anticipation of reaching the safety of home. With one hand on the steering wheel of his pickup, he pulled the black polyester neckwear from under his collar and handed it to his wife.

Laurie took it absently and pointed at a small, square sedan sitting in the driveway in front of their house. “Isn’t that the car you drove home from Vegas last year?”

“Yep. That’s the one.” Spider turned off the gravel road, rolled over the cattle guard and pulled up beside the orange Yugo with flames decorating its front end. “I don’t know that I’m ready for company.”

Laurie patted his knee. “Maybe company is what you need. You like that fellow don’t you? What ‘s his name?”

“Jade Tremain. Yeah, I like him. But today’s not . . .“

“Life goes on.” The moment he turned off the key, Laurie opened the door and slid down to the ground. Smiling, she walked toward the young man just emerging from the compact car. “Hello, Jade. Welcome.”

Jade took the hand she held out to him. “Did I come at a bad time?” His eyes went from Laurie, dressed in a black dress and high heels, to Spider, wearing a black suit on a hot August weekday.

Spider got out of the pickup and ambled over, pulling down his Stetson to shade his eyes from the afternoon sun. He shook the younger man’s hand and nodded toward the Yugo. “Your dad still keeping you humble?”

Jade laughed. “It was the only company car left in the garage. No one else wants to drive it.”

Laurie patted the orange fender. “I never will forget having to rescue Spider when he drove it home that time he was doing some work for your dad.”

Spider eyed the car. “I wonder why he hangs on to it. It must be more than twenty years old.”

“It is, but it doesn’t have that many miles on it.” Jade looked at his watch. “I’ve come to talk to you about doing some more work for Dad.”

“Spider, take Jade out back,” Laurie said. “You can sit in the shade while he tells you what he’s come for. I’ll bring out some ice water.” She headed up the walk to the front door.

Spider jerked his head in invitation and led his guest across the lawn. At the back yard fence he held the gate open.

Jade passed through. “I tried to call, but it said the phone was disconnected.”

“Things have been pretty tight lately. We figured that was something we could do without.” Spider fished a cell phone from his shirt pocket. “The county gave me this to use for work, but I don’t take any personal calls on it.”

“So you’re still deputy sheriff?”

Spider pocketed the phone as he headed toward a grape arbor. “Yeah, but the county’s running out of money. Ever since this last recession hit, all employees have to take three unpaid furlough days each month. And then I had a funeral to pay for.”

Jade stopped just short of the shade. “Oh, gee, Spider. Is that where you’ve just been?” He hit his forehead with the heel of his hand. “I bet you wish I hadn’t come.”

Spider sat in one of the chairs and pointed at the other. “Take a load off.”

Jade hesitated, his hands in his pockets.

“Sit,” Spider said.

Jade sat. “I’m sorry about coming this afternoon, Spider. Would you . . . could I ask . . . whose funeral was it?”

Spider crossed his legs, resting the ankle of his black cowboy boot on his knee. He took off his Stetson, held it in his lap, and turned his face away. “My mother’s.” As he looked off to the south, his eyes welled up and a tear slid down his cheek.

Jade shifted in his chair. “I’d better go.”

Still looking away, Spider made a negative motion with his hand. He drew a handkerchief from the inside pocket of his coat and wiped his eyes. “Don’t go.” He blew his nose and turned to face the younger man. “I don’t know where that came from. I haven’t cried a tear since Mama died.”

Jade sat with his hands on his knees. He opened his mouth as if to say something, but closed it again and folded his arms tightly across his chest.

Spider cleared his throat. “Actually, the old woman who lived with us this last year wasn’t my mama.” He smiled at the confused look on Jade’s face. “My mother had Alzheimer’s. We’ve been saying that we’d rejoice when she was finally released from that prison, but here I am crying. In front of company, no less.”

Jade pursed his lips and looked down at his feet.

Spider uncrossed his legs and leaned forward. “So, what’s on Brick Tremain’s mind? Why’d your daddy make you drive the three hours from Las Vegas to Lincoln County to see me, aside from the fact that he couldn’t talk to me on the phone?”

“He needs you to do some investigating for him, but he says it will take longer than a weekend. He wants to know if the sheriff’s office can spare you for a week or so.”

“Shoot, the sheriff would probably kiss your daddy on both cheeks if he employed me for a week or more. That would mean that he wouldn’t have to take any furlough days himself. It’s really chafing him that he’s being treated the same as his deputy.” Spider put his handkerchief back in the inner pocket. “What does the boss want me to do?”

The screen door banged, and Jade waited to answer while Laurie approached with a tray holding three tall glasses of ice water. He murmured thanks and set the glass on a table beside his chair. After she served her husband and sat with her own cool drink, he spoke. “My dad is on the board of directors of a small museum in Arizona. Anasazi artifacts and stuff like that.”

Spider took a sip. “I know that Anasazi were early Pueblo Indians. That’s about all I know about them.”

Jade smiled. “Well, that’s more than I know.”

“Where is this museum?” Laurie asked.

“It’s in a little town called Fredonia, right on the Utah-Arizona border.”

Laurie’s smile was huge. “You’re kidding! I have cousins in Fredonia.”

“Dad says the museum director lives in Kanab, Utah. I guess it’s near Fredonia.”

Laurie nodded. “Seven miles north. I have cousins in Kanab, too.”

Spider leaned back and smiled at his wife. “Never mind about your relatives. Let’s hear what Jade has to say about the problem this museum has and what his daddy wants me to do.”

“I don’t know the particulars.” Jade stretched out his legs and jingled the keys in his pocket. “I just know they’re in trouble. Someone is threatening to close down the museum and ruin the director financially. They need help right away, like by the end of next week. Dad wants you to go over and lend a hand.” Jake looked at his watch again.

“That’s mighty slim—“ Spider was about to go on when Laurie put her hand on his knee.

“Do you need to leave?” she asked Jake.

The young man ran his hand through his curly hair. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to look impatient. The truth is, my wife is supposed to call me. She went to the doctor this morning.”

“Is anything wrong?” Laurie’s concerned look deepened.

Jade’s cheeks grew rosy and he shook his head. “We’re expecting a baby. It’s our first.”

“Congratulations!” Spider stood and held out his hand. “If you don’t have any more information for me, I’ll let you get on your way back to Vegas. Tell me who I talk to at the museum.”

Jade stood, patting his shirt pocket before extracting a business card. “Here’s the director’s contact information. He can tell you the whole story.”

Spider walked with Jade toward the gate, reading the card as he went. “Should I call him or just show up?”

“We’ll just show up,” Laurie said. “Since we don’t have a phone.”

Spider stopped and looked down at his wife. “We’ll show up? Are you coming with?”

“There’s no need for me to stay home now,” Laurie said. Her voice quavered at the end of the sentence and her eyes filled with tears. She accepted the handkerchief Spider proffered and turned away for a moment to wipe her eyes. “Excuse me,” she said to Jade. “I didn’t expect to get weepy.”

Jade stopped at the gate to let her go through first. “Please don’t apologize. I should have come on another day.”

She shook her head. “No, I think it’s wonderful you came today. This will give us both something to think about instead of the empty chair in the living room.”

Spider put his arm around his wife as they walked Jade to his car.

The young man stopped with his hand on the door handle and looked at the roof of the Latham vehicle, still showing the dents Spider hadn’t been able to completely hammer out after the rollover accident he had on one of his first cases. “I see you’re still driving the same pickup.”

“It runs good,” Spider said. “And it’s easy to spot in a crowded parking lot.”

“My dad would approve,” Jade said with a smile, opening the door. He paused and leaned on the top of the car. “If things are so tight here, why don’t you come to Vegas and work for Tremain Enterprises? Dad’d hire you in an instant.”

“I know that,” Spider said. “He told me the same thing last time I worked for him, but Lathams have been living in Meadow Valley for four generations. Five if you count my boys. We’ve got good pasture and artesian water. It’s worth hanging onto, even when times are lean.”

Jade slid into the driver’s seat and closed the door, speaking through the open window. “Dad says there’s a room for you at the Best Western in Kanab. It’s there on the main drag. He wants you to call him once you’re settled in and understand the lay of the land.”

“Will do.” Spider drew Laurie back a pace as Jade started the engine. They watched as the car turned around in the drive and waved as it rattled over the cattle guard.

“I’ll run over to Bud’s and ask him to check on the cattle for me every few days,” Laurie said. “Then I’ll stick all those funeral casseroles in the freezer and pack something for us to eat for supper on the way.”

“We’re leaving this afternoon?”

“You heard what Jade said. They’re in trouble and there’s a deadline.”

Spider took the phone from his pocket. “All right. I’ll call and make sure it’s okay for me to take the time off.”

Laurie headed toward the barn. “I’m getting my saddle right now and putting it in the pickup so I don’t forget it.”

Spider paused with his thumb on the key pad. “Hold on a minute. You’re taking your saddle?”

Laurie stopped and turned around. “Yeah. I thought I’d spend some time with Jack.”


“Jack Houghton, my cousin. We used to ride all around that red rock country when I was sixteen. It would be fun to do it again.”

“Isn’t he a dentist? How do you know he has horses?”

“His sister Sally was at the funeral today. She told me he’s bought the old family ranch and built a new house and stables on it.”

“Huh,” Spider grunted. As Laurie turned again toward the barn, he went back to scrolling through the menu on his phone to find the sheriff’s number.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Review of the Film, The First Grader

Whenever I announce that our next movie has come from Netflix, invariably, Derrill’s response is, “Does it have subtitles?” Never mind that he’s enjoyed almost every subtitled move that has come in the little red mailer, I always have to be reminded that his benchmark of a good move is The Guns of Navarone.

When I announced the arrival of a foreign film entitled The First Grader, his response was tepid, and it wasn’t until the last of March Madness and there was nothing else on that sounded more interesting that we sat down to watch the DVD.

The First Grader isn't The Guns of Navarone, but it is a great little film with a few subtitles but mostly in English. Based on a true story, it’s about an eighty-four-year-old man living in rural Kenya who, when the edict comes down from the government that education is to be free to all, heads to the overcrowded village school to enroll. He wants to learn to read.

The old man’s name is Kimani N’gan’ga Maruge. Though he’s not welcome, and school officials do everything they can to dissuade him, he is tenacious. The film is about his struggle to stay in school so he can learn to read well enough to decipher a letter he received from the Kenyan president. He feels he must read it himself rather than have it read to him.

Through flashbacks, we find out that as a young Kikuyu tribesman he had a productive farm, a beautiful wife and two children. When he took an oath to protect the land and fight the British who were trying to take the land away from them, his wife and babies were killed in front of him because he wouldn’t break the oath, and he spent ten years in prison camps where he was tortured in efforts to get him to renounce.

Now as an old man, alone and scratching out a living in arid ground, broken and mostly deaf because of his years as a prisoner, his fighting spirit is evident in his quest for learning.

The film shows lots of things without preaching: that a young republic has lots of problems—corrupt local politicians, tribalism, superstition and resistance to change. It also shows that educating the young is important and that the children are a nation’s most valuable resource.

I was particularly interested in seeing what the British and Anglo world designated as the “Mau Mau Uprising” from the Kenyan point of view. I was aware of that uprising when it happened in mid-twentieth century, and I remember seeing British-made movies about it. Maruge, the first grader in this film, was part of that uprising. This film helped me understand that what he did was no more than what my revered great-great-great grandfather, the revolutionary soldier, did—he fought for freedom from British rule.

This is a wonderful film. There are some images— such as when Maruge’s wife and babies are killed—that would make it disturbing for children. And younger children would become bored because the film is more of a character study. But for teens and adults there is lots to recommend. It’s got heart and humor and lots of things to think about.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

An Interview with Ann Rohrer

Today I'm interviewing Ann Rohrer, whose new book, MATTIE, is just out. From Ann's website:

Follow Mattie in her quest to find faith and love on the eve of the Mexican Revolution. After experiencing insurmountable trials, including escaping a killer and calling off her wedding, Mattie’s faith in God is shaken. In the throes of bitter disappointment, dark despair, and agonizing heartbreak, Mattie emerges a woman of faith. Recognizing God’s hand, she experiences peace, happiness, and enduring love.

LIZ: When did you figure out that you were a writer?

ANN: I kept hearing that I should be a writer from friends, but mostly my mother. They liked my Christmas letters. I never enjoyed lit classes, and I was no English major, so I figured an author I would never be. A friend, who was a playwright, advised not to let the lack of a college degree stop me. But I needed direction, at the very least. In 2000, when the last of my six children enrolled in high school, I took my first of several online writing classes. Ten years later, after writing three novels, I found the courage to join a writer’s critique group. They referred to my work in terms of great transitions and flowing, sentences. I had no idea what they were talking about, but they validated me as a writer. And now you know the rest of the story.

LIZ: Related to that question, when did you begin writing your new book, MATTIE?

ANN: MATTIE was my learning experience—writer’s lab, so to speak. I rewrote it about eight times over the last twelve years. I never intended to write novels. I figured on writing humor, like Erma Bombeck or Dave Berry. But my first Creative Writing professor suggested I consider a novel based on one of my short stories. The seed was planted.

LIZ: MATTIE is based on family history. Is this a story you grew up with, or something you recently discovered?

I grew up listening to my grandparents tell their stories. They grew and changed with each telling, so none of us cousins have the same version. Happily, the relatives give MATTIE their stamp of approval, even mother , who is the main character’s daughter. That says a lot.

LIZ: You’ve lived in lots of different places. What do you remember fondly about each major place you’ve lived?

ANN: Memories of Mexico are centered at my grandmother’s house, the setting of my story. Mother still lives there. A place of many happy summer reunions, the highlights were Grandma Wood’s giant pancakes for breakfast, playing in the irrigation ditch, horseback riding, climbing the apple tree to reach our fill of green apples sprinkled with a dash of salt. Grandpa Wood hollered at us to get out of the orchard before we got a stomachache. I never got a stomachache. I believe he was more worried about his apple trees.

I lived in Peru from age eight to age eighteen. My father was the Drilling and Blasting Foreman for Southern Peru Copper Corporation. We lived in a new company-built community at 9000 feet blasted out of the foot hills of the Andies. We could drive to the beach in an hour and a half. I learned to pop my ears as we dropped from the top of the world to sea level in so short a time. Growing up in a foreign country, I came to deeply appreciate the United States, warts and all.

LIZ: Is English your second language? Are you as comfortable writing in Spanish as you are in English, and do you have plans to write some Spanish-language novels?

ANN: English is my first language. I am about 70% fluent in Spanish on a fourth grade level. Hardly able to understand Spanish literature, I would never attempt to write it. I suppose I could do children’s books, but it holds no interest for me.

LIZ: What has been the hardest or most frustrating thing about the writing process for you?

ANN: Creating a story is a difficult process for me. I lean heavily on family history, the story that has already happened. Getting it written from start to finish in a way that will interest readers is the greatest challenge. Once that is achieved, the rest is pure fun, fleshing out the characters, the scenes, the dialogue. I love dialogue.

LIZ: What in the publishing process of Mattie has given you the most satisfaction?

ANN: Does anyone enjoy the publishing process with marketing demands hanging heavy over them? Ha ha. Signing the contract was a thrill. I nearly wept when I saw the cover of my book, it was so perfect. I displayed it on my computer desktop for months. Reading the novel in book form was surreal, like holding my baby or my grandchild for the first time. When an event that begins as a wish becomes a reality, life shifts. I see myself in a different light, added upon. And when my readers say how much they love my story, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that in the writing world.

LIZ:  Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

ANN: Hahaha! Still the aspiring writer, I find myself more comfortable with receiving advice than giving it. I guess I would say if you can lose yourself in your writing, when you surface you are shocked to see hours have passed instead of minutes, then you are a writer. Skills and techniques come line upon line. (pun intended) A successful long and ardous journey begins with the first step.

LIZ: Will your next book be based on family history, too?

ANN: My next novel is women’s fiction and is almost ready for the editor. It is based on the tragic life of a woman who was briefly part of the family when she married my Uncle. Historical events and Mexican culture do not influence the story, so I moved it from 1940’s in Mexico and placed it in 1970’s in Pasco, Washington and Albuquerque, New Mexico. The real story begins tragically and ends tragically, too heavy for the reader. I change it to a journey of redemption.

LIZ: Thanks so much for being my guest today. Good luck with your new book!

Ann blogs at and her website is at