Pete and the Angel

Pete and the Angel 180Pete walked along the ancient perimeter road, heading home at the end of a long day.

Ahead on the left, a rocky hillside sloped steeply away from the road. Aside from the shale and lava rock surface, it was strewn with occasional boulders. About two-thirds of the way up, a sandstone ledge traversed the face, angled slightly up toward the far end.

A scrub juniper tree balanced in one broad crack in the ledge. Yuccas and drought-stunted mesquite and creosote bushes grew from other cracks. They and various varieties of cacti also grew among the rocks on the slope of the hill.

On the other side of the road, the land sloped more gently away toward a broad, sandy arroyo. That slope too was covered with similar vegetation. Now and then a lizard flitted from one bit of shade to another. The prairie dogs were all underground beneath their horseshoe-shaped mounds. The rabbits and coyotes too were more intelligent than to be moving about in the heat of the day.

He trudged along. Even in the heat, it would be a pleasant walk if he hadn’t made it so many times. More than once he had considered naming some of the larger trees so he would have someone to talk with. Or at least someone to say hello to.

Soon, perhaps, he would have saved enough money to buy a horse. Not one of señor Vargas’ horses though. Those he could only help tame. They were far too expensive, if not for his taste, certainly for his wallet.

But for now, for the time being, he walked.

He enjoyed walking anyway. It was just over three kilometers to the near side of the village, and just over another kilometer to señor Vargas’ small ranch on the other side. But that was in the cool of the pre-dawn morning. In the heat of the afternoon, the walk was much longer.

The road was caliche. With every step, white dust hovered around his brown leather boots and settled on the lower legs of his jeans. His faded-blue long-sleeved shirt was damp in broad arcs beneath his arms and at the top of his chest.

Even his brown leather belt was discolored with sweat. Especially at his sides and at his lower back where it passed through the loops of his jeans. The brown leather braided hat band faded into the sweat stain on the crown of his worn silver belly Stetson.

Off to his left, the sun was still perhaps two hours from setting. The temperature hovered around 108.

He reached for his left rear pocket, pulled out a folded blue bandanna with white geometric figures around the edge. He took off his hat and dabbed at his brow, then ran the bandanna around the sweatband.

Shoving the bandanna back into his pocket, he put on his hat again and tugged it into the right position. He looked to the right, out over the expanse of desert. This part of the Sonoran was scattered with the same fragmented, dark lava rock and shale that was on the hillside. And heat.

Here and there in the distance, a shale or sandstone ledge protruded out of the side of an arroyo. Sometimes they were integrated among the long, tangled roots of the mesquites or creosotes growing too close to the edge above.

The rocky ground was punctuated now and again with scrub mesquite and creosote, as well as the occasional yucca, prickly pear or cholla. Many of the prickly pear had wan yellow pads, long since drained of all moisture. Yet next to them grew vibrant yellow or purple flowers. Occasionally a fishhook barrel cactus reared up out of the ground, a crown of fiery red and yellow streaked flower pods on top. They would bloom in another week or so.

He turned his attention back to the road.

And on the edge of his vision to the right, something fell through the sky.

He stopped and jerked his head back to the right, but it was gone.

He stepped off the road and crouched along the east side of a stunted corkscrew mesquite. He scanned the desert, looking for anything out of the ordinary.

At first he focused on the sandy bottom of the main arroyo, maybe a hundred meters away. That’s where he thought the thing might have landed.

He scanned back and forth there for a long moment.


Then again, it was something large. Or it seemed large. Maybe it landed a little farther away.

He adjusted his range of vision, scanning the desert just beyond the arroyo.

Then farther, working his way slowly toward the horizon in the east and north.


He craned his neck, peered up into the hot, cloudless sky.

But there was no need for that. He shook his head. Whatever it was, if it was anything at all, it was on the desert floor. It had come down, after all, not up.

He looked back down to the horizon and began searching for a cloud of dust. Anything that hit that hard would have to raise a dust cloud. Or at least a puff. Wouldn’t it?

Yet there was nothing.

He frowned. It was something like a shooting star. Something like that, but much larger. Or more substantial, maybe.

And in the daylight. So not a shooting star.

He grinned. Probably he was seeing things.

If something that large had hit the desert, there would have been a sound too. Wouldn’t there? But again, there was nothing. No sound. No dust cloud.

He grinned again and shook his head.

His imagination was working overtime. Nothing falls out of an empty sky.

But he had seen it.

Something had fallen, yet it couldn’t have.

He had seen it, yet it wasn’t there.

It didn’t make sense.

Still crouched, he took off his hat. The slight breeze felt good on his damp forehead.

He scanned the desert again, but more calmly. More sensibly. And closer. Maybe it wasn’t something large and far away. It was in his periphery, after all. Maybe it was closer and smaller.

Still nothing.

Maybe it was a meteor. A speck of dust that somehow glowed brightly enough to garner his attention even on a bright, hot day. It wouldn’t have hit anything. It would have flashed and disappeared.

That’s probably all it was. Probably it was nothing more than that.

His grandmother would love this.

She had told him dozens of stories about such things. All of them, too, occurred on the periphery of the world. “These things happen,” she said, speaking in her slow way, “at that special place on the horizon where imagination folds into reality.”

In the stories, there was a magical rabbit who hopped unscathed through a town full of starving citizens. There was a priest who was much more than he first appeared to be. There was even an incredible angel, a bony old man with massive, if ragged, wings. That one, like whatever he had seen today, fell from the sky.

So there was precedence, at least in his grandmother’s stories.

He grinned. But that one, at least, certainly landed in the wrong place. He was captured and kept in a pen in a farmer’s back yard. The farmer’s neighbors queued up to see him, and annoying children poked at him with sticks.

There were other stories too. One was about a prophet who was born of a field of mud after forty days and nights of rain. The rain was so hard that even the birds and the insects took to the ground. The mud was deep and well-mixed with grass that washed down from the nearby mountains. The people from the nearby village, after witnessing the birth of the man of mud, retrieved whole bricks from the field for years.

Many people—both people in the story and those to whom his grandmother had conveyed the story—believed that man, too, initially had fallen from the sky.

And there was another story about a man who died. As if in a dream state, his lover brought his spirit and laid it on her kitchen table. “He was a very special man,” his grandmother said. “The sun refused to shine and the clouds wept for days, both to say goodbye and to welcome him home to the heavens.” So the sky yet again.

And there were many more. They were beautiful stories, if fanciful. And many had their roots in the heavens.

But this was different. Wasn’t it? This wasn’t magic at all.

He had seen something. It was like a shooting star but more substantial. Something that fell from the sky.

Ah. Of course. The fact that it fell from the sky didn’t mean it started in the sky.

Still crouched in the fickle shade of the corkscrew mesquite, his hat still in his left hand, he turned his head to study the hillside to his left above the road.

Maybe it came from up there. But why? And what was it?

It would take a pretty strong arm to throw something from there all the way to the other side of the road, much less across the valley. And for it to approach at the angle he had first witnessed. No, it would be all but impossible. It would have to be small enough to throw, but heavy enough to travel the distance after it was thrown.

Plus someone would have to be there to throw it. But nobody was there now. And he had heard none of the scuffling that would accompany someone scrambling out of sight down the other side of the hill. Besides, even if someone threw something, it would make some sort of impact when it—

“What’cha looking at so hard?”

Pete cringed, startled, then spun to look over his left shoulder.

A slip of a woman, a sprite, no taller than five-two or five-three, had somehow crept up behind him.

She was trim but curvaceous. Her seemingly flawless skin was golden in the sun and stretched over small, sinewy muscles. Her blond hair was parted in the middle. It framed crystal clear blue eyes and cascaded down to somewhere beyond both shoulders.

A pink, long-sleeved button-down blouse was tucked into faded blue jeans. The sleeves were rolled up a couple of turns. Below her forearms, her fingers were half-hidden in the front pockets of her jeans. Beneath those were cream-colored western boots with rounded toes.

He had never seen her before. He was sure of it.

But he was aware of all the local women. Wasn’t he?

Then he remembered why he was crouching. “Shh!” he said, then gestured. “Get down!”

She pulled her hands from her pockets and quickly crouched a few feet behind him, her fingers splayed on the ground to steady her. The whole time she kept her gaze locked on him.

He frowned, and hoped the frown didn’t appear to her as harsh as it felt. He didn’t want to frighten her. Quietly, he said, “Wait. Who’re you?” He leaned slightly right to glance past her, back down the road.

It sloped away gently and was empty all the way to the village. “And where’d you come from?”

She whispered, “I’m—” She wrinkled her brow. A little more loudly, she said, “Well, I’ll be. Anyway, I’m from—” Her frown deepened. “Huh! I’m not sure. Isn’t that strange? I should know that.”

She looked at the ground and her hair slipped forward over her right shoulder. It caught the sun’s rays and shimmered. It was radiant.

She nonchalantly pushed it back over her shoulder, then stood and flexed her shoulders before leaning forward again to slap dust from her jeans. “Where in the world does all this dust come from?” She glanced at the hillside.

Then she seemed to remember she wasn’t supposed to be standing up. She quickly crouched again. Quieting her voice again, she said, “Anyhow, who’re you? And what’re we looking for?”

“Pete. Uh, Pete Grissom.” He swiveled back around to study the hillside. “And we aren’t looking for anything. I’m looking for— Well, I’m not sure.”

He turned back to look at her again. She was not at all difficult to look at. “It’s hard to explain. I saw something. I mean something fell, like right outta the sky.” He turned back to look at the hillside, but he pointed off to his right front. His index finger made little circles in the air. “Out there somewhere. But I think just a little ways off the side of the road.”

“What was it?”

Still studying the hillside, he shook his head. “I don’t know.”

She frowned. “Then how do you know what to look for? And why are you looking up there?”

Both questions seemed profound in their simplicity, and that was annoying.

He huffed. “That’s just the thing. I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, I don’t know what I’m looking for. So I was looking up there to maybe see where it came from.”

He continued to scan the hillside. “I thought it was bigger at first. You know, just the way it seemed. Bigger and farther away.” He gestured overhead, then looked straight up. “But the sky’s been empty all day. Not even a cloud. And no planes, nothing like that for something to fall out of. So I figure whatever it was, maybe it came from up on the hill.”

“But you have no idea what it was?”

Frustration crept into his voice. “Look, it was just something, you know? When I first saw it, I had a feeling it was— Well, kind’a like a person.”

She frowned. “A person?”

“Yeah, but folded, sort of. Like at the waist. Kind of scrunched down. You know. Like maybe with its knees bent, maybe its arms wrapped around its legs.”

It sounded stupid when he said it. He might have gotten the notion of the figure being scrunched from his grandmother’s story about the man of mud. If it was a figure at all.

He glanced back at her and studied her eyes for a long moment, checking for ridicule. He saw none. Only mild curiosity.

He turned away again. “It was only for an instant, but I thought I saw something sort of— Sort of smooth. Sort of soft, maybe, but folded around a human. Almost like a capsule of some kind. And with the human kneeling, sort of.”

He turned back to her.

Still there was no untoward reaction. Her eyes were clear, warm and— inviting? No, that was wishful thinking. He almost grinned. But those eyes— They were somehow both ancient and innocent.

An urge, a need, to trust her washed through him. He rushed ahead. “It’s gonna sound dumb, but I think maybe it was an angel or something, okay? My grandmother told me many stories— Well, about things like that.”

Mischief filled her eyes and pulled her lips into a slight smile. “An angel?”

He stood suddenly, color creeping into his cheeks. He put his hands on his waist at his belt and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. “Yes, an angel! That’s what I said, isn’t it?”

She stood too, and looked up into his eyes. “Hey, it’s okay.” She shrugged one shoulder, her head tipping slightly to that side, an endearing gesture. “I was just asking.”

She glanced toward the hilltop again, then leaned a little to the right to look down the road past his shoulder. “So Pete. Is it okay for us to be standing here talking now or should we still be hiding?”

He glanced around quickly again, first looking at the hillside and then out across the valley. When he looked at her again, his chest had noticeably expanded. “Nah, you know, it’s prob’ly all right. I was just being careful, that’s all. So anyway, where were you headed, Miss…?”

She looked at him for a moment, then shrugged and mumbled. “I feel kind’a good right here.” She looked up at him again. “Where’d you say the angel thing fell?”

He jerked his left thumb over his shoulder. “Back there somewhere. I don’t know, prob’ly a hundred meters or so off the side of the road. It happened kind’a fast.”

She brushed past him. “Well, let’s go have a look.”

He pivoted on his heel and grabbed her arm just above the elbow. “Hold on a minute. Let’s just take a minute here. Scope it out, y’know?”

She put her hands on her hips. “C’mon, Pete. If it was something dangerous and it wanted to give us grief wouldn’t it have jumped us already?”

He nodded, tentatively. “Maybe.”

She took his hand. “So let’s go have a look. Maybe we can find where it hit. Or maybe tracks or something.”

As they walked, he said, “What’d you say your name was again?”

She frowned.

Angie? No, that isn’t right.

Angela? That seems right, but not quite.

Angelita? “Angelita? Angelita, I think. Does that sound right?”

“Well how am I supposed to know?”

She stopped and released his hand. Her hands went to her hips as she glared up at him. “What? Don’t you know me?”

He shook his head. “Nope. But if you don’t mind me saying, I kind’a wish I did.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought we knew each other. I felt like— like this was where I was supposed to be. I mean, with you.” Color rose in her cheeks. “I’m so sorry! And I just barged in like—”

“No no. Don’t worry about that, now. Besides, we know each other now, right?”

She hesitated. “I guess.”

“So let’s follow your instincts and go see what came down over there.” He looked out across the desert again.

Again she took his hand. “All right.”

As they made their way off the side of the road and down a gentle slope through the scrub brush, she said, “So you were on your way somewhere? When you saw it, I mean?”

He shrugged. “Just going home.”

“Ah.” She nodded. “That makes sense. How far?”

“From town, a little over three kilometers. From where I work, a little over four. So it’s close by.” He hesitated. “I live with my grandmother.” He laughed lightly. “Well, she says she lives with me. But it’s her house. Only she says she’s retired so it’s mine now. Oh, watch for the babies.”


He stopped and pointed. “See the little cactuses there? It’s like they’re hiding.” He grinned.

A small group of cacti were all but hidden beneath a low creosote limb.

“They get through the side of your boot pretty easily. They don’t mean to hurt you. They’re just protecting themselves.” Color rose in his cheeks again. “That’s what my grandma says. Anyway, they’re hard to see if you aren’t watching for them.”

He pointed ahead. “Seems to me whatever it was hit probably right around there.” At the end of his fist, his index finger again made little circles in the air.

“And you think it was an angel. Or something like that.”

He shrugged. “I don’t know. I hope there’ll be tracks or something. Like you said.” He released her hand and stepped past her. “Anyway, here, I’ll go first and you can follow me.”

She smiled as he started walking again, then moved in behind him. “Okay.” He seems like a good human.

She frowned.

Where’d that come from? Human? Like I’m not?

But he does seem like a good man.

A little over a half-hour later, he stopped and pointed again. “There.”

She looked up, then moved up alongside him and looked where he was pointing.

“See the indentations? Are those tracks?”

“Maybe.” She frowned. The indentations—if that’s what they were—were very light. “But wouldn’t something that fell that far make a bigger splash than that?”

“I guess. Maybe.” He paused. “Or maybe it landed farther up the arroyo and—”

“But then wouldn’t there be more tracks? I mean, the bottom’s all sandy so—” She let the sentence die.

He turned to face her. “I need you to work with me here if we’re gonna solve this thing.” Then he glanced past her. “Anyway, the sun’s getting kind’a low. Probably we ought to get back to the road for now. Maybe we can come back in the morning and see what we can find.”

She shrugged. “Sure. You don’t work tomorrow?”

“Well, yeah, I do. But maybe you can walk with me? Señor Vargas won’t mind if I get there a little later than usual.”

“Señor Vargas? Who’s he?”

“Wow, you really aren’t from around here. He breeds and raises horses. He’s like the fourth generation on the same land. I break horses for him.”

“So bucking them and all that?”

He shook his head. “Nah, that’s called rough-breaking. I don’t do that. Well, sometimes toward the end with the more stubborn ones. But mostly I just talk with them, let them get used to me. I can usually calm ‘em down pretty quick.” He looked around. “Anyway, I can remember where this is.” He gestured toward the hill across the road. “Straight across from the top of that ledge over there.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Well. Okay then. Let’s go.” And he moved past her to start back toward the road.

She turned and followed him.

Just before they got back to the road, she said, “So where’d you say your house was again?”

He gestured to the right. “Just a little ways up there. Maybe a third of a kilom— Wait. Where do you live?” He stepped past a creosote bush and onto the road.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Are there any other houses out this way?”

“A few, but I know the people who live in them.” He grinned. “And none of them are you.”

“So where do I live?”

He frowned. “What happened to keep you from remembering?”

“I don’t know that either. I mean, I don’t even know my name, except Angelita seems close.” She held out her arms and looked at them. “But I don’t look Mexican, do I?”

He grinned. “No, you don’t look Mexican. Maybe Spanish.”

“I don’t know my name for sure. I don’t know where I’m from and I don’t know where I live. But I feel like I belong here. Like I’ve always been here. But you say you don’t know me, so—” She stopped and frowned up at him. “Wait. How long have you been here?”

“Oh. My whole life. That ain’t it. I mean, if you were from around here, I’d know you.” He frowned. “So you don’t remember anything?”

She shook her head. “Nothing. Well, the past hour or so.” She glanced back toward town. “I was— No, I wasn’t in town.” She paused. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in that town. Or maybe. A long time ago.” She shook her head again and looked at him. “Anyway, I was just— on this road.” She shrugged. “I walked a little ways. Maybe a few minutes. And then I saw you.”

“It’s weird that you aren’t scared.”


“Seems to me if I woke up not knowing my name or where I’m from or where I was, I’d be scared. But you’re not scared. Or you don’t act like you’re scared.”

She hesitated, then said, “No. No, I don’t feel scared. And I do know where I am. Sort of. I mean, I feel good here. I guess that’s why I assumed this is where I’m from.”

“Well, we’ll figure it out. Come on.” He turned away.

She followed him, and a short moment later she caught up with him. “Where are we going?”

“My house, I guess. Well, my grandmother’s house. You can stay there with us. She won’t mind. I mean, if you want to.”

She nodded. “I seem to be going on feelings a lot right now. So I’ll say okay for now, but I might change my mind. Is that okay?”

“Sure. Hey, whatever you need to do. I’m just trying to help. I don’t like to think of you out here by yourself all night. There are coyotes about, and maybe a lion or two. And snakes and—”

“They won’t hurt me.” She frowned. “How do I know that?”

“You don’t. If you ever come across a big cat out here—”

“No, but I do. I know that. They won’t hurt me. I know it, but I don’t know why I know it.”

“Well anyway, we have a spare room. It’s all yours if you want it. Or there’s an old bunk house out on the other side of the yard if you want to stay there. ‘Course there are probably spiders out there.” He grinned and cast a sidelong glance at her, but she didn’t seem bothered. “We could move some bedclothes out there for you and—”

“I’m really looking forward to meeting your grandma.”

He stopped. “What? Why?”

She stopped and looked at him. “I don’t know. I just am. I’m getting kind’a used to this going-along-with-my-feelings thing. I think maybe I like it. Hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”

He laughed as he started walking again. “Other than setting you down on a road in the middle of nowhere with a man you don’t know.”

She smiled. “You’re a good guy. You wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Well, thanks. You’re right, but you have no way of—”

She frowned. Quietly, she said, “Or maybe you couldn’t. Weird.”


She looked at him. “Oh. I was just thinking you wouldn’t hurt me. Then a stronger thought came that you couldn’t.” She shrugged. “Like I said, weird.”

“Well, maybe my grandmother will have some answers for us. She knows a lot of stuff about magic and angels and—”

When he stopped, she looked at him. “What?”


But he glanced at her as they continued to walk.

Angels. Maybe what I saw falling out of the sky was an angel. Maybe it was her. That makes as much sense as any of the rest of this. Wish I’d gotten a closer look at those tracks.

He glanced down at her feet. But do angels wear western boots? He grinned and shook his head.

She stopped in the road, her eyebrows arched. “What? Pete, what did you say?”

He stopped and looked at her.

Oh oh. Did I say that out loud? I don’t think I said that out loud but—

“Why did you ask me if angels wear western boots?”

“What? I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. You said, ‘But do angels wear western boots’.”

“No, really. I’m sure I didn’t say—” He stopped and looked at the ground, then looked back up at her. “Okay, this is weird. I didn’t say it. Or at least I don’t think I did. But I did think it.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and shifted her feet. “Why?”

He shrugged. “Just the way my brain works I guess. It was just a stream-of-consciousness thing. Remember I said my grandmother knows all about magic and angels?”


“Well right after that I thought maybe what I saw fall was you. I wondered if maybe you were an angel.”

“What?” She laughed, her eyes wide. “You can’t be serious.”

Color rose into his cheeks again. “No, I didn’t mean it seriously or anything.” He paused. “But you gotta admit, it is kind’a weird.

“I mean, you came out of nowhere right after I saw whatever it was. And then you said awhile ago you felt good here, like you belonged here. Or maybe even belonged with me. And you said maybe you were in town a long time ago.

“Oh. And the animals out here can’t hurt you and I can’t hurt you. Not won’t, but can’t. Like you know things you can’t possibly know. All that stuff.”

She uncrossed her arms and dropped them to her sides. “Well, all of that’s true. But I know me, Mr. Man, and if there’s one thing I know it’s that I’m no angel.”

He grinned. “Oh yeah? How do you know for sure? I kind’a like the idea of having my own personal angel.”

“I know because angels aren’t—” She gestured with both hands up and then down along her sides. “You know, like humans. They don’t have human parts.”

“You mean like girl parts and boy parts?”

She blushed. “Yeah, like girl parts and boy parts.”

He laughed and turned away. “All I know for sure is there’s probably more than one kind of angel.”

She hurried to catch up with him. “Well, let’s just go see what your grandma has to say.”


They turned off the road up a small path that led to the west around a massive boulder.

A stout adobe house lay before them. It was in dire need of a coat of whitewash.

The brown adobe block showed through at both front corners and beneath both windows. The front door was painted a vibrant but severely faded shade of blue. In front of it, a wood-frame screen door moved gently in the breeze. It hung at an odd angle from only the top hinge, and the screen was rusted out of the top of it.

A rust-colored screen was still in place on one window. It hung at an angle from the hook on the left side of the frame. The right hook lay on the deep window sill. The screen for what was left of the other window lay face down among the tumbleweeds that had grown up in the yard. The frame for that window contained only jagged shards around the sides and bottom.

Angelita stopped and stared, her eyes wide. “Pete, is this a joke? What’s going on?”

He pointed to the left. “That’s the old bunk house I told you about over there. See? You wouldn’t want to stay in there.”

She looked. There was no building. Only a long pile of sun-rotted, worm-eaten wood.

“And the old windmill’s pumping strong as always. Best water in the world. Kind of alkaline, but it tastes great. Y’know, cancer cells won’t grow in alkaline water.”

What? Cancer cells?

She looked at the windmill. The wooden tower stood just past the pile of wood. At the top, only one worm-eaten wooden blade and the metal vane were left. The vane was solid rust. The thing looked as if it hadn’t pumped water for a century. “Pete, that thing—”

But he’d already started across the yard. “Come on. I can’t wait for you to meet Grandmother.”

Stunned, she followed him across the yard and onto the stone walk. Half of it was covered with sand. The porch was missing the center post on the left side of the stone walk. It was sagging badly.

He cupped his hands around his mouth and called out “Mi abuela, I’m back. And I’ve brought a friend.”

Seriously? She could only barely believe any of this was happening.

She closed her eyes, opened them.

The door was opening, and Pete—

Where did Pete go? Pete?

She closed her eyes again, opened them. Pete’s abuela was coming through the door. She was smiling broadly, her arms outstretched. “I’m so glad you’ve come back to us, my dear.”

She closed her eyes, opened them.

A nurse was standing over her, a broad smile on her face, her arms outstretched. “I’m so glad you’ve come back to us, my dear.”

Analee Grissom tried to focus, shifted her head a bit. And there was Pete, peering over the nurse’s right shoulder. But there were tears on his cheeks. Why is he crying?

The nurse stepped aside, her hands over her mouth, a smile in her eyes.

Pete took her place. “I’m so glad you’re back, my angel. You are my angel, you know.”

She felt her forehead furrow. “What? Angel? What’s going on, Pete?”

“The doc said he wanted to try a new therapy. Said cancer cells can’t grow in an alkaline environment. I didn’t know what else to do, so—”

“Alkaline? Like the water well in Mexico?”

Pete laughed. “If you say so, Angel.”

* * * * * * *


Deep POV?

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 7/30/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

There’s been a great deal of talk in the past few months (when I wrote this) about a “new” technique called “deep point of view.” The truth is, deep POV is nothing new.

Most sources define it as a way to enable the reader to experience the scene as the character experiences it. In other words, don’t allow your narrator to keep the reader at arm’s distance by telling the reader what the character experienced. Instead, the narrator should simply describe the scene (that’s the narrator’s only job anyway) and then step out of the way so the reader can see, hear, taste, smell and feel the scene for himself.

In still other words, Show, Don’t Tell.

Yep, that’s right. Deep POV is precisely the same thing as Show, Don’t Tell.

Both of them mean “don’t tell the reader what’s going on; describe the scene and then get out of the way; let the reader experience it right along with the character.”

I hear your next question: Well, Mr. Man, how might one accomplish such a thing?

As you well know, I’m up to here with writing instructors who, when asked to explain “Show, don’t tell,” say something like “Well, I can’t really explain it, but I know it when I see it.” If you ever hear that from any writing instructor in response to a question about something he’s trying to teach you, run. And for goodness’ sake, stop giving him your money!

Okay, if you really want your stories to be more interesting and more engaging for the reader (for you practical types, this translates directly to more sales), use deep point of view or show, don’t tell or whatever other label you want to slap on it.

To accomplish that, first

Don’t allow your narrator to use the sense verbs: saw, could see; smelled, could smell; tasted, could taste; heard, could hear; and felt, could feel.

Are there exceptions? Times when it would be better to allow your narrator to use a sense verb?

Probably, but most of the time, no. You should be able to recast a sentence so you get rid of the sense verb. (Again, this is only for the narrator. Characters can say and do pretty much whatever they want.)

Again, just describe the scene. Here are some examples:

  • She felt the ground tremble. (The ground trembled.)
  • She heard an explosion rock the city. (An explosion rocked the city.)
  • Second, don’t allow the narrator to tell the reader how a character feels about something or what the character “knew.” Instead, trust your reader. Let him infer from the character’s own dialogue or unspoken thought how the reader feels and what he knows:
  • John felt an uneasiness growing inside him. (An uneasy feeling grew inside John or An uneasiness grew inside John.)
  • John knew the sense of unease should be setting off alarms in his brain. (Just delete this pig of a sentence. Or get on with it: A sense of unease set off alarms in John’s brain.)

Third, when the characters are talking, don’t allow your narrator to step in and tell the reader what they’re saying:

Red walked into the room. “Hey, John. You wanna go to the movies later?”

John looked up. “Sure! What’s playing?”

Red told John Gone with the Wind was playing on the first screen and that Barbarosa was playing on the second screen. At that point, John reconsidered his options and told Red he’d rather not go because he had a lot of work to do.

Okay, this wasn’t a truly engaging conversation in the first place, but do you see how the narrator just stepped in between you and the characters and took over? That will tick off even the most loyal reader.

Using deep POV (or Show, Don’t Tell or whatever) really is just good manners. Just remember that every time your narrator speaks, he’s stepping between the reader and your story, the reader and your characters, the reader and whatever tension is going on. Therefore, when the narrator speaks it should be absolutely necessary.

For much more on this and other narrative tips, consider picking up my ebook, Narrative in Fiction: Whispers from the Background. I even more strongly recommend Notes from Writing the World. It contains the full text of the narrative book and five more writing how-tos from my writing seminars.

By the way, I’ve decided to revive my copyediting service. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Daily Journal tab on the main website at

What It Was, Was Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke 180Well, an episode of Gunsmoke. That’s exactly what it sounded like.

And funny thing was, I was watchin’ a Gunsmoke marathon. It was prob’ly the sixth show, maybe the seventh.

Just as ol’ Matt took his place in the street and kind’a settled in, a gun went off. I thought it was on the screen at first. You know, ‘cause the other guy in the showdown, the one that’s not in the shot, he always shoots just a blink of an eye before Matt does. So at first I thought that’s what I was hearin’, only it sounded more distant than that.

Well, I slapped the footrest of my recliner down right away, see. And that was almost as loud as the gunshot, but a lot closer I guess.

I say that because it made Mabel jump. She was sittin’ over on the couch, and I guess she’d dozed off or somethin’. Anyway, that big slap right there in the room jarred her out of it pretty quick.

Anyway, I slapped that footrest down right away, but I was still tryin’ to get out of the chair when Mashal Dillon drew his revolver and dropped the other guy. So it took a second or two I guess.

Mabel stared at me from the couch and yelled, “What?” And her eyes all big and round.

So it took maybe another piece of a second for me to tell her to just stay there.

Then I headed for the door.

Well, I guess I just about ripped the door off the hinges. Stupid thing to do, I guess, me not knowin’ what was on the other side. But that’s what happened. Prob’ly I was showin’ off for Mabel. Like them days ain’t long since passed.

And did I stop there? No sir. I ain’t that smart.

I hit the screen door with my shoulder and barreled down off the front stoop like that poem guy with his light brigade or somethin’.

And there he was.

This big ol’ guy was standin’ with his back to me and his arms angled just right. There in front of him was a low bush, and frankly, I thought he was fixin’ to pee in my yard. Though why I thought that when I just heard a gunshot, I have no idea.

But that’s what I thought for sure, just from the way he was standin’. So I yelled at him. I yelled, “Hey! You can’t do that here.”

And dang if he didn’t turn around and point that gun at me. Though I didn’t realize it at the moment. I mean, I thought the guy was fixin’ to pee in my yard, that’s all. So when he turned around, I figured what he had in his hand was still what he had in his hand. And it was, only it wasn’t what I was thinkin’.

Well, about the time he started to turn around, I remembered I don’t have no low bushes in my yard, especially out there in the middle. I mean, who’d have a low bush right out in the middle of the yard like that? Not me, that’s for sure.

Well, I looked closer and recognized it was a human bein’ layin’ on the ground in front of him. Turned out it was that cop he’d just shot. And that’s when I understood he wasn’t fixin’ to pee at all when he was facin’ away from me. He was fixin’ to shoot that man again.

Now I have to tell you, if I’d’a just peeked out through the curtain or somethin’ in the first place, I mean even if I saw what was goin’ on and recognized it for what it was— Well, I ain’t proud of it, but I might’a just let the curtain close and went back to my chair, quiet like. Fact is, I’m almost sure that’s what I would’a done. Though I ain’t proud of it, like I said.

But that wasn’t what happened. In for a penny, in for a dollar, they say. Is that right? That don’t sound right. Anyway, I was in all right, clean up to my knees.

Well anyway, when the fella turned around he kept his arms in the same position. And maybe a half-second after I realized that low bush behind him was a human, well, I finally took the meanin’ of his arms bein’ at that same angle and his hands bein’ pinched together like that. And the reason was, he was holdin’ a gun.

‘Course that made sense all at once, seein’s how I’d just heard a gunshot and that ol’ boy was layin’ on the ground on the other side of him.

Well, I mean it kind’a made sense right there in itself, but it didn’t make sense at all in the overall thing, you know? I mean, we just don’t have things like that go on in our neighborhood.

What I mean, we don’t have any drug dealers and gun runners and the like around here. We’re mostly all god-fearin’ folks around here. Though I guess we don’t have enough sense to fear much else. Or at least I don’t. You know, like stayin’ off a guy you think’s peein’ in your yard when he’s already shot a guy once and he’s fixin’ to shoot him again.

So the guy, he’s standin’ there lookin’ at me, and I’m silhouetted against them damn white asbestos sidin’ tiles with the yellow bug-light porch light behind me. Anyway, he says, “This ain’t none’a your business. Go on back inside.”

You believe that? Guy’s standin’ in my front yard fixin’ to shoot a man in the head and he says it ain’t none’a my business. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he’s tellin’ me what to do! Right there in my own front yard! Now, you ever hear of such a thing?

I’ll tell you one thing. If I thought maybe he was from my neighborhood—which I didn’t, of course, ‘cause we don’t have such dealin’s around here—well that proved for sure that he wasn’t.

Well, now I was in my bare feet. After all, I was watchin’ Gunsmoke on TV just a minute earlier, and when I get home from a hard day in the oil field, them dogs are tired. What I mean, I kick off them boots comin’ through the door, and they don’t get a free ride again ‘til I head out the next mornin’.

Well, except for Friday and Saturday. I get Friday and Saturday off. Mabel, she always makes her doctor appointments on a Friday so the boss didn’t mind tradin’ me Friday for Sunday. And then I don’t mind workin’ on a Sunday like some folks do. You know.

My neighbor across the street, ol’ Fred, he’s a real good guy. Anyway, he asked me one day don’t I mind workin’ on Sunday. So I said why should I. Well, he said ‘cause God took off on Sunday so I should too. So I told him I ain’t God, see. Takes me the whole week to get a week’s worth of work done. Heh.

Anyway, I ain’t ashamed to tell you, after a long day of workin’, it feels pretty good sittin’ there in my recliner and that fan Mabel rigged up for me blowin’ back and forth across my tired old bare feet.

So I was barefoot when I come down off that stoop, and dang if I didn’t step on a tire iron. Probably my boy left it layin’ out there last time he was over. He’s all the time leavin’ stuff there for next time. Or that’s what he calls it. Losin’ it, is what he’s doin’. Misplacin’ it. He generally finds it in my front yard the next time he’s over. Well, if I don’t find it with the lawnmower first. Man, that’s a pain in the butt.

Now I said it was a tire iron, right? ‘Cause that’s important. I don’t mean it was one’a them four-way lug wrenches. My boy always gets them two messed up. A tire iron’s got an angle in it, see. It’s got a lug wrench on it on one end but it’s got a pry bar on the other. You know, in case you got hub caps.

Well, wheel covers really, I guess, but when I was a kid, we called ‘em all hub caps. Anyway, you use the pry bar to get off the wheel cover or the hub cap—you know, whichever one you’ve got—so you can get at the lug nuts.

So I stepped on that tire iron just about the time I saw that guy fixin’ to pee in my yard. Well, he wasn’t, but that’s what I was thinkin’ at the time. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t yell ouch or anything like that. Then again, I did yell at him that he couldn’t do that here. By which I meant he couldn’t pee in my yard. So I guess I gave him too much warnin’ even with that.

Anyway, when I yelled at him and he turned around and I saw what he was really about, I just kind’a froze up.

When I did, the toes of my right foot kind’a clenched right down over that tire iron.

Now that fella had just told me to mind my own business and get back inside when another cop peeked up past my pickup and hollered at him to drop the gun. It was settin’ out there by the curb. My pickup, not the gun.

Anyway, I guess this ol’ boy in my yard thought there was only one cop in the car. You know, the one he plugged. Silly. I mean, how many people don’t know cops travel in pairs when they can?

So the guy—the fella, not the cop—had just then hollered at me to get back inside and my toes clenched around that tire iron.

Then that other cop hollered at the guy with the gun to drop it.

Well, he didn’t. But he did spin around, only kind’a crouchin’ down like he was a spy or somethin’.

Well, when the cop yelled and the guy flinched like he was gonna turn around, I reached straight down and grabbed that tire iron by the pry-bar end.

By the time he’d swiveled halfway around I was halfway to him. And I gotta tell you, my full intention was to bury the angle of that tire iron in the back of his head. Figure the guy ain’t usin’ his head anyway for nothin’ but a ball-cap rack.

He was wearin’ a nice ball cap too. I mean a good’un. It was one’a them new blue Dallas Cowboys ball caps they come out with. The one that’s got the star on the front? Only the star is blue too and then it’s surrounded by a row of white rolled-up fabric or somethin’. And then on the brim it had these kind’a slashy things like sharks’ teeth or somethin’ in both blue and grey. And the whole thing was surrounded with more’a that white stuff. It was a nice hat.

I seen it after. ‘Course I couldn’a missed it, what with it landin’ right in front of my face like that when the cop shot him and he flopped over.

But I’m gettin’ ahead of myself.

I grabbed up that tire iron by the business end and was almost to the guy. And I couldn’t believe my luck, ‘cause he was taller’n me by three, four inches. So when he stayed crouched down like that, he was the perfect height for me to whack him with that tire iron.

I slapped right up behind him in my bare feet so he couldn’t hear me comin’, and along the way I raised that tire iron straight up over my head. I wasn’t gonna miss, and I was gonna give him a headache like he ain’t never had before. Way I figure it, you just don’t go around tellin’ a man what to do in his own front yard. Back yard either, for that matter.

So the cop hollered and the old boy flinched and squatted down and started turnin’ around and I bend down and grabbed that tire iron and come up on him. And just as I got it raised up good, another gun went off.

Well, I thought for sure I was too late, that he’d done shot that other cop. Either that or the one layin’ there in front of him.

Only I saw a flash and then I spun around hard and jerked down on my butt. Right there in my own front yard! You ever hear of such a thing? And I didn’t have any idea why.

And I was layin’ on my back but I was lookin’ past my feet only just a little to the right at the fella I first thought was gonna pee in my yard. And about the time I saw him there was another shot right quick. Well, he straightened right up. Stood up taller than maybe he ever had before. And then there was another shot, and he jerked and fell over backward.

Well, when he jerked that time, that’s when his ball cap fell off and landed over there by my head. Right beside my head, like it was comin’ to me.

And then that cop come runnin’ up. He kicked the gun away from the fella’s hand and then he looked me over good but quick. Then he squatted down next to the other cop—the one that got shot—and was askin’ if the guy was okay.

And he was. Turned out the bullet had hit one’a them plates in his bulletproof vest. He was sayin’ he was gonna have a good bruise for a few days and that was it, but his buddy told him to stay right there and let the ambulance people look him over.

I guess he agreed, ‘cause then the second cop come back over to me to see if I was all right.

I said yeah at first, but I wasn’t. He’d shot me slap through the soft meat under my right shoulder, only on accident. Seems he was shootin’ at the other guy, the one I thought was gonna pee in my yard, an’ missed ‘cause the guy stayed so low. I guess to him I looked like the upper half of the bad guy. So he plugged me.

Well, it wasn’t hardly no time at all before the sirens commenced to wailin’. Then they got louder and louder and finally Mabel come peekin’ out through the front door.

I heard the screen door squeak, so I rolled my head over that way and looked.

She looked so little and quiet standin’ over there.

Well, she stayed there just long enough to figure out everything was okay enough to come out, and then she did. She come runnin’ across the yard and went to her knees there next to me. “Sam!” she says and looks at the second cop. “What have you done to my Sam?”

So I says, “I’m fine, Mabel. It was just an accident. I’ll be fine. See, I thought there was a fella fixin’ to pee in the yard so I—”

“Well, damn it,” she says. “All this uproar for nothin’.” She looked at the cop. “They gonna take him to the hospital or somethin’?”

“Uh, yes ma’am,” he says. “Give him some stitches, probably keep him overnight to make sure he’s okay.”

“All right,” she says, then turns on her heel. “Call me and I’ll come pick you up.” And back into the house she went.

That must’a been a really great episode of Gunsmoke.

Sure wish I could’a seen it.

* * * * * * *


Despidiéndose (Saying Goodbye)

Note: This story was originally scheduled to post here way back on May 30. It didn’t. This story also serves as the first chapter of The Right Cut, the 10th and final novel in the Wes Crowley series of novels. Enjoy!

Saying Goodbye 150aWestern Z Crowley gripped the sides of the podium so hard his knuckles turned white. In his left hand, between his fingers and that side of the podium, he clenched the brim of his hat. The scent of dozens of freshly cut flowers wafted up to him.

The sanctuary was warm. Always before, it had seemed cool to him, an effect of the three-foot thick adobe walls. Especially when he first came in from the blazing heat outside.

Probably now the heat was  from the assembled audience. It couldn’t be from the candle sconces on the walls. Though there also were hundreds of small lighted candles that seemed to hover below the front of the podium on the dais. Maybe that was it.

With his right hand he took a handkerchief from the breast pocket of his dress jacket and dabbed at his forehead as he looked out over the assembly. There must be a two, three hundred people out there. And more in the street beyond. Quite the tribute.

He stuffed the handkerchief back into his breast pocket as he gathered his thoughts. Of everything he had done in his life, this was the one thing he absolutely wanted to get right.

He returned his attention to the assembly.

In the back pew of the sanctuary on the right side, there was Abregón Reyes, the son of the alcalde and the seasoned marshal of Agua Perlado. Seated next to him was his young wife, Sylvia. Next to her were two of the marshal’s deputies, Juan Carillo and Ignacio Herrerra. Next to them were the marshals and their wives, respectively, of Caleta Escondida and Rio Ondulado to the southeast, and Bahia Pacifica to the northwest.

Wes met Abregón’s gaze and nodded almost imperceptibly.

Another of Reyes’ deputies had remained at the office to deal with whatever came up. Another was posted outside, as requested by the marshal himself.

Jorge-Luís Garcia, the alcalde of Agua Perlado, was in that pew as well, then his wife. Next to her was the governor’s wife, then Gobernador Rodolfo “Rudy” Saenz and his wife. The governor had first met Wes when he joined the Texas Rangers as a young man some thirty years earlier.

The wife and daughter of the president of Mexico sat to the other side of the governor’s wife. The president himself had sent his condolences and regrets along with them. “If this had been at any other time,” his wife had said yesterday, “he would have been here.”

Wes had nodded and forced a smile.

If it had been at any other time, it might not have been at all. He might have been around to stop it. As it was, when the attack came he was at the headquarters of Los Guerreros del Estado de Guerrero­­—The Guerrero Rangers—on land donated by Roberto Carillo of the Tres Cruces ranch. But he said, “Entiendo, y gracias. I understand, and thank you.”

Across the aisle was Taylor “Tug” O’Reilly, the captain of Los Guerreros. He was accompanied by his wife and two sons. Beside Tug’s younger son sat Sergeant Iván Gutierrez of Los Guerreros. The rest of that pew, the pew in front of it, and the one back across the aisle to the right held the corporals from the four districts, their wives and some children, and several other Guerreros.

Wes himself had trained many of those men, including the governor. And most of them, at one time or another, had known the hospitality of Wes’ home and of his beautiful wife and friend, Coralín.

He scanned forward from there, then back across the sanctuary, nodding occasionally. There were the owner of the livery stable, José Salinas, and his wife. José was one of the first people Wes had met when he came to Agua Perlado all those years ago. Next to his wife were their three sons and two daughters, then Rodolfo Flores, the owner of the local general store, and his family.

Of course, Juan-Carlos Sepulveda, the proprietor of the Agua Perlado Cantina and keeper of the tales, was in attendance with his wife, Josefina.

Everyone was here, it seemed. Probably all the houses in the town were empty.

There were sailors from the three fishing fleets.

Vaqueros from the two major nearby ranches.

The bartender and proprietor of the Vaqueros Cantina southeast of town and the Fisherman’s Wharf Cantina on the bay, along with their wives and families.

It was almost overwhelming.

He intentionally avoided looking at the first two rows of pews. His extended family was gathered there. In the center of the front row were his children. Next to Marisol was Wes’ brother-in-law, Miguel, his two boys and his daughter, then his wife, Carmen. Next to her was Wes’ sister-in-law, Maria Elena, and her special friend.

He looked again at his children. Miguel would be twenty-one on his next birthday. Marisol Elena had recently turned nineteen.

And Wes had failed them.

He could never make it right, but last night he had determined to begin at least making amends.

He glanced down at the podium and remembered.

Last night, after the rest of the family was situated and settled in the various rooms of the main house, Wes had asked his children to join him on the back porch.

They had, and he had hugged them as if he never wanted to let them go.

It was only natural, having just lost his wife, to want to be closer to his children.

But when they were all seated, he said, “I called you out here to say goodbye.” He held up one hand. “With a promise to return if I can.”

Marisol Elena said, “But why, Papá? Where will you go?”

Miguel kept his silence. His elbows on the arms of his chair, he moved his index finger back and forth across his lips as he looked at his father.

“Well, I have a job to do, Marisol.”

She frowned. “But what job? What job could be more important than being here with us?”

“It’s something I have to do for your mother.” He paused and looked down for a moment, then looked at her again. He nodded. “And for myself. I have to ride after those who did this.”


“Now Marisol, this is something I have to do. It’s who I am. Or used to be. Or maybe it’s what I am. I guess the jury’s still out on all that, but it’s what I have to do.”

“But the law will—”

“I’m sorry, honey. I really am. But the law won’t do anything. Now I know those men, most of ‘em. They know how to avoid trouble, blend in. The law they have nowadays— They’ll be lucky to catch a glimpse of those men. And if they do they won’t know it.”

“But Los Guerreros—”

“I don’t want to involve my friends in what I have to do. There’s no way those men are gonna be brought to justice, so I aim to bring justice to them.”

Miguel stood. Quietly, he said, “I will ride with you, Papá.” His jaw was set, his lips a thin line.

Wes looked at him. “Miguel, I appreciate that, but you have school.” He looked back at Marisol. “You both do. Things here settle down, you go on back to the university and continue your studies. Your mama wanted that for you.”

Miguel said, “But I can drop it for now and pick it up again when we return. It makes no difference whether I finish in six months or in twelve. I promise, Papá, I will—”

Wes shook his head. “No. I’m sorry, but no.” He hesitated as he looked at them. “You are my babies, and I love you both more than air. The only thing I loved more was your mother.” He paused. “But I need you to understand, right here, right now, all that’s left to us is to honor her memory. And you can best do that by finishing what you started.”

Marisol said, “But she is not gone forever, Papá. We will see her in Heaven again someday.”

Wes nodded. “Well, now that’s possible. It is. But for now, we have to honor her memory here on Earth, each in our own way. At least the best we can. Do you remember what she used to say all the time?” A smile curled one corner of his mouth as the memory of her words warmed his heart. “She said it’s always better to be who you are than to try to be someone else. Remember?”

They both nodded.

“Now your mama wanted big things for you, and you deserve them. But that’s something you both have to do for yourselves.”

He looked at his daughter. She was so much like her mother, with the same light-coral skin, the same fine features and the same fiery spirit. “Marisol, you must continue your schooling. You’ll make a fine doctor someday. Besides, I’ve heard rumors of a young man.”

He grinned and nodded. “I hope that works out for you. I know you’ll make your choices wisely. And I plan to be back to see for myself. And don’t let bein’ a doctor get in the way of makin’ me a passel of grandbabies.”

She flushed a beautiful pink hue.

He turned to Miguel. “And Miguel, the one thing your mother didn’t want was for you to follow in my boots.” He laughed lightly, then shook his head. Quietly he said, “And honestly, I can’t say I blame her. My life was pretty rough and rugged. I was kind’a scattered in pieces until I met your beautiful mother.

“No, both of you go on and finish school. We all have our jobs to do, and right now that’s your job. Make your mother and me proud. Understand?”

They both nodded.

Miguel said, “We will, Papá.”

Marisol said, “Sí, Papá.”

“All right. Now I’m lettin’ you in on my plan. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t slip it past you anyway.

“Tomorrow morning, in the church, I’ll tell your mother goodbye. But then I’m gonna head out.”

Marisol’s eyes grew wide. “You won’t come back to the house first? But all the people! They will—”

Wes could almost hear Coralín saying, “Husband, what are you thinking?” He couldn’t help but smile. Then he shook his head. “No. No, I’m gonna leave straight from there. To be honest, I don’t think I could take all the well wishers and all that.

“Now I’ve told only one other person about all this.”

Miguel said, “Juan-Carlos Sepulveda.”

Wes looked at him for a moment, then nodded. “Reckon you’re a little more like me than your mama would have liked.” Then he grinned. “But I need you to do something for me, if you really want to help.”

Marisol said, “Anything, Papá.” Tears seeped from her eyes.

Wes leaned forward and wiped them from her cheeks with his thumbs. “None’a that, now. Save that for tomorrow. Next few days, I figure you’re gonna need those plus a whole lot more.”

He leaned back again. “Thing is, when I finish my speech and say goodbye to your mama, I’m gonna head up the aisle. An’ when he sees that I’m leavin’, your Uncle Miguel might try to come after me. So if he flinches, whichever one of you’s the closest, put your hand on his forearm and shake your head. He’ll understand. Okay?”

Marisol nodded. “Yes, Papá.”

Miguel said, “Yes, Papá.

Wes nodded, then stood. “All right. Now both of you, get to bed and try to get some sleep. Your mama would’a wanted that too. I’ve got some things to do, but I’m not goin’ anywhere yet an’ I’ll see you in the morning. I give you my word.”

And he had seen them the following morning. They had managed a quiet breakfast by themselves. Then Miguel and Marisol had ridden with their Uncle Miguel and his family in a buggy as Wes rode alongside on his horse, Vuelo.

Now they were all here in the sanctuary and he was at the podium.

All that remained was to get through his speech. It was the most difficult thing he had ever been called upon to do.

Still looking down at the podium, he cleared his throat, then again, hard. When he looked up, he quickly scanned the assembled friends again. Good people. They deserved better than to have murdering scum come and disrupt their town.

Was it all right to have these kind of thoughts in a church?

Coralín would know. But she was beyond being able to tell him.

Years ago, her older sister Marisol had visited him from beyond the grave on more than one occasion.

But Wes dared not hope for such good fortune now with Coralín. Wishing for something was a sure way to guarantee it would never happen.

Well, probably it would be better to get it over with. Let these good people go about their business and he could go about his.

As he glanced over the crowd again he nodded at a few faces he recognized. Then he looked over their heads and focused on the heavy double doors set in the whitewashed adobe wall.

Someone, maybe the priest, had told him that was a sure way to avoid an excessive display of emotion.

But the doors were of a dark, rich wood. Mahogany maybe? He’d never looked at them closely. Not that he would know mahogany from oak unless he happened to overhear someone talking about them.

He shook his head.

All silly thoughts. And they didn’t matter anyway except to delay the inevitable. Besides, he didn’t want to look at the doors. They reminded him too much of the beautiful, dark cherry coffin in front of the dais. Just as the gentle scent of the flowers reminded him too much of the gentle soul inside the coffin.

Coralín had seen a similar coffin at someone else’s funeral. She said that’s what she wanted. Dark cherry. It was beautiful, she said.

He wished more than anything she could be in the audience looking at this one. She hadn’t ever ought’a seen the inside this soon. Not by half.

He quickly averted his gaze to the right of the doors, focusing instead on the interior of the adobe walls. The candle sconce on that side was flickering. Was that a sign of something? Coralín would know.

He sighed and shook his head. He renewed his steel grip on the podium and felt the brim of his hat in his left hand. Coralín wouldn’t like that at all, that he was carrying his hat inside the sanctuary. And all the way to the podium. Of course, she could never imagine him standing here anyway.

Neither could he.

Well, it was what it was, that’s all. And he had to do the best he could. Quietly he said, “I don’t know you well, but Coralín did. I don’t like askin’ favors, now. Ain’t who I am. But— well, for her sake. For her sake, out of everything I’ve done— God, please let me get this one thing right.” He set his jaw, then bowed his head and nodded. Then he looked up.

Nobody seemed to have noticed his aside.

He focused again on the flickering candle sconce on the back wall, then took a breath. “Amigos y compañeros, gracias por venir. Friends and companions, thank you for coming. Estoy abrumado por su generosidad. I am overwhelmed by your generosity.”

He swept his right arm over the crowd. “Usted— Usted abrumarme. You overwhelm me. Mi Coralín—” His voice caught in his throat for a moment.

He looked down and cleared his throat again, then looked up and said, “Mi Coralín siempre decía que mi español no era bueno. My Coralín always said my Spanish was no good.” A smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.

Light laughter rippled through the assembly.

“Así que voy a tratar de no descuartizar demasiado. So I’ll try not to butcher it too much.”

Again, laughter tittered through the sanctuary.

Wes looked down again for a moment to gather himself.

Then he looked up again. “Voy a ser breve, porque tengo un trabajo que hacer. I will be brief, for I have a job to do.” Again he cleared his throat.

“Mi Coralín era el amor de mi vida. Mi corazón. My Coralín is the love of my life. My heart.

“Ella me enseñó a soñar. She taught me to dream. Y siempre mirar el horizonte. And to always watch the horizon. Para ver cosas nuevas y hermosas. To watch for new and wonderful things.

“Ella me enseñó que la magia es real. She taught me that magic is real. Y que lo que parece real es a menudo no tiene importancia en absoluto. And that what seems real is often of no importance at all.

“Pero más que nada, ella me enseñó— But more than anything else, she taught me— Que siempre es mejor ser lo que eres, que tratar de ser otra persona. It’s always better to be who you are, than to try to be someone else.”

He shifted his gaze to the front pew, to his son and daughter. Quietly, he said, “Recuerde que siempre,  a mis hijos. No olvides nunca. Always remember that, my children. Never forget.”

Then he looked out over the audience again. “Así que mañana por la mañana, dejo de hacer mi trabajo. So tomorrow morning, I leave to do my job. Para ser quien soy. To be who I am.

“Espero volver algún día cuando haya terminado mi trabajo. I hope to come back someday when my job is finished.

“Pero si no lo hago, por favor sepa. But if I don’t, please know. Usted y el pueblo de Agua Perlado será siempre mi casa. You and the village of Agua Perlado will always be my home.

“Usted siempre tendrá un lugar solitario en mi corazón. You always will hold a solitary place in my heart.”

He paused and nodded, then glanced back and to his right at the priest. He said, “Well,” then nodded again. Then he released the podium, turned to his left and crossed the dais, then descended the stairs.

He walked to the center of the front pew as everyone expected.

But instead of taking a seat, he stopped. He crouched and caressed Marisol on the cheek, then did the same to Miguel. Then he nodded slightly, straightened and turned away.

He approached the coffin. His hands folded before him at his waist, he looked for a moment at his beloved wife. Then as if he remembered, he whipped his left hand, still holding his hat, behind his back.

He bent to kiss her gently on the forehead, then stroked her hair gently with his right hand. He whispered, “No puedo hacer esto bien, mi Coralín. I can’t make this right, my Coralín. Pero como Dios es mi testigo, me vengaré. But as god is my witness, I will avenge you.”

Then he straightened, turned and strode quickly up the aisle to the double doors. He opened the right door.

The deputy was seated in a chair to the left, a Winchester carbine across his lap.

A crowd of at least two hundred men, women and children were gathered in the dusty street just off the porch. The men quickly removed their hats and gripped the hands of their women as they looked on sadly.

As the door swung open, the deputy quickly looked up. He frowned as he stood. “Capitan?”

But Wes didn’t look at him.

As the door closed behind him, he crossed the porch toward Vuelo. He had received the horse as a gift several years earlier from El Juez in Tres Caballos.

He freed the reins from the hitching rail, then mounted and carefully turned the horse around. As the crowd parted, he turned Vuelo northwest and headed out of town as if going home. But when he reached the road that turned off toward the sea and his hacienda, he didn’t vary his course.

His quarry was farther north.

He knew them all.

And he knew where to find them.

* * * * * * *

Note: This will also be one chapter from the forthcoming tenth novel in the Wes Crowley series. Get your free copy of the first novel in the series, The Rise of a Warrior.

Five Reasons to Hire a Ghostwriter

Hi Folks,

More and more often recently, I’m being asked about ghostwriters. Why to hire one, and why not to hire one. So I put together this handy list for you.

When folks ask me why I recommend hiring a ghostwriter, my first answer is always this:

First and foremost, a professional ghostwriter is a professional writer.

When we want something done right, we employ someone who’s already mastered the learning curve.

Hiring a professional always gets better results. Always.

The professional writer, like the professional carpenter, plumber, lawyer, mechanic or farmer, has studied his craft. He can readily apply skills, knowledge and even “tricks” to your project that would take you years to learn.

The professional writer also has a proven track record of his own work, often under his own name as well as several pen names.

In short, the professional writer loves to to write. It’s his day job. It’s all he does.

But why should you hire a professional ghostwriter?

Well, if any of the specific reasons below ring true for you, it’s something you should consider.

One: You have a great novel idea rattling around in your head.

You aren’t alone. Many, many really good novels are written in the mind but never committed to the page.

A professional ghostwriter will run with your idea. Your book, with your byline, will be written and ready for publication before you know it.

Two: You lack the time to write your novel.

This is a common problem most would-be authors face. In most cases, it’s the main reason the novel never makes it to the page.

Maybe you have a full-time job, family commitments and other interests. Nothing wrong with that. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day.

A professional ghostwriter gives the same passion and time to writing that you give—and rightly so—to the activities and interests and people you love.

Three: You lack the skills and knowledge to write your novel.

Most would-be writers don’t even realize all the things they don’t know.

Most genres (including literary) have certain ingredients and certain touchstones that occur at certain places. If you don’t include those ingredients or if you don’t hit those touchstones, readers in your target genre won’t buy your book.

Note that these ingredients and touchstones do not comprise some sort of cookie-cutter “formula.” They are merely what readers expect to see in a given genre.

A professional ghostwriter knows these conventions and many, many more. And because they are his stock in trade, he knows how to apply them.

Four: Even if you wrote your book, you lack the skills and knowledge to publish it.

The whole process seems overwhelmingly complex.

How do you avoid the scams and pitfalls that seem to litter the literary landscape? Do you even know what to watch for? Where and how do you even submit your work?

A professional ghostwriter knows because he’s been there.


I have a long history of helping other writers. Hundreds of writers have learned from me in workshops, conference presentations, and even questions posed via email.

And now I’ve decided to offer my services as a ghostwriter.

• I’ve had years of success as a professional writer.

• My work has been widely published through traditional, subsidy and independent publishers. I can guide you, as I have guided dozens of others, in finding the right publishing route for you.

• To date, I’ve published 18 novels and a novella under four names. A few years ago, I also co-wrote a psychological suspense/horror novel with a nationally known writer.

• I’ve also written 15 non-fiction books, and well over 140 short stories in almost all genres and sub-genres.

Email me at and see what I can do for you.

A few other points —

If you believe you lack the funds to hire a professional

it’s in both our interests to develop a workable solution. I will work with you in this regard, and everything will be spelled out up front in a clear and easily understood agreement.

If you’re afraid of being scammed or ripped off

it’s in both our interests that you aren’t. I make a living on my reputation as a writer. I’ll help you protect your intellectual property and your copyright. As my friend, ghostwriter Dan Baldwin, put it, professional ghostwriters are “fiercely protective of our name and […] of our clients and their works.”

If you want your book to be your book

No worries. I will write your book, not my version of your book. My fingers are on the keyboard, but you’re writing through them. For over two decades as a professional copyeditor, maintaining the author’s voice was always my number one concern.

If you’re ready to get that novel or novella out of your head and into print, contact me at and let’s get started. If you’d rather talk by telephone, we can do that too, but please email me first.


Until next time, happy writing!


The Saga of the Adverb-Finder Thingy

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

A correspondent on a ListServ I used to attend regularly wrote that she was searching for the name of “a bit of editing software that would highlight all adverbs if you typed search adverbs or all verbs if you typed search verbs.”

Hackles rose on my neck. Here we are, back to the topic that won’t die: the dumbing down of America.

This is a writer’s slippery slope.

Searching for, finding, installing and using software that highlights all adverbs put the writer a tempting single click away from deleting all adverbs. And that’s just plain silly. I strongly advise against such software, even if you can find it.

If you believe perhaps you’re using too many adverbs, follow these two simple guidelines. The third point is a tidbit of important parenthetical information (and no, parenthetical information doesn’t have to be enclosed in parentheses):

  1. Never use an adverb in a tag line (the bit of he said, she said narrative that doesn’t make sense by itself and is most often attached to the dialogue with a comma). If the narrator has described the scene well enough, you won’t need adverbs in tag lines.
  2. Use only strong action verbs in your narrative sentences. This will cause all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to fall away of their own accord. If you use only strong action verbs, you will consciously select only necessary adverbs and adjectives to modify the picture you’re placing in the reader’s mind. Again, this will occur naturally. It’s as easy as falling off a stack of platitudes.
  3. Despite what some folks say, not every word that ends in “ly” is an adverb. For example, the widely misused “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not an adverb that’s synonymous with “probably.”

English just isn’t a one-rule-fits-all language. DESPITE Mark Twain, who once wrote that when you find an adverb you should kill it, and DESPITE the felonious intent of wannabe writing instructors who tell their charges to use no more than three (or five or some other arbitrary number) of exclamation points per page.

I’ve heard similar advice concerning the use of em dashes (long dashes) and colons and semicolons. And of course we’ve all been taught that hunting season never closes on state-of-being verbs or “had” or gerunds (many alleged writing instructors call gerunds “ing words”) because those three word-types cause passive voice.

Uhh, no, they don’t, Grasshopper.

State-of-being verbs by themselves do not cause passive voice, and neither the word “had” nor those pesky “ing words” are within a thousand mles of having anything to do with passive voice.

Although it’s true that adverbs can clutter up your writing, some adverbs in some situations are necessary. And “necessary” is the key word. See item 3 above.

The secret to good usage is not to get rid of “all” adverbs, state-of-being verbs, instances of “had,” adjectives, or anything else, but to get rid of any unnecessary adverbs, state-of-being verbs, adjectives, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narrative, and dialogue.

It is the Human Mind (yours) that should determine which words and sentences and paragraphs remain and in what sequence.

Okay, here are a few guidelines (flexible, not “rules”) you can apply to your own writing:

  1. The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being and been. When one of these is used in conjunction with a “by phrase” (e.g., The pizza was delivered by Harvey) you’ve written a passive construction (or passive voice). Passive constructions, unless you’re writing a service manual for a vacuum cleaner, are bad.
  2. Some state-of-being verbs are necessary. To describe the size or relative size (the state of being) of a city, you have to use a state-of-being verb.  But don’t allow your narrator to describe the state of being of a character. (Don’t let him say “John was angry” or “John was livid” or “Joaquin was frightened” etc.)
  3. Use Your Mind. Despite what your  father said, it’s a wonderful thing. The human mind is the original spell checker, the original grammar checker, and the original verb and adverb-finder thingy.
  4. As part of using your mind, Read Your Work Aloud. If it sounds good to you, it will sound good in the reader’s mind. If you hit a spot that sounds awkward or rough, that’s because it’s, you know, awkward or rough. Fix it.

Remember that you’re only in charge until the reader gets hold of your work. Only You can decide what to leave in or omit from your writing, but only the reader gets to determine whether it’s necessary or distracting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at

Creating Characters: Resources

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/12/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Odd… I think I’ve never written a post on Creating Realistic Characters. I taught a seminar on the subject [in May 2013] in Bisbee, and I taught the same seminar in Tucson in February. Attendance was low on that one—meaning the market’s saturated—so I probably won’t teach it again for a couple years.

After the seminar in Bisbee was over, I realized it might be a good idea to bounce at least major characters—the protagonist and the antagonist—against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Doing so will help the author not only understand the character better, but it might also help the author assign particular character traits, quirks and eccentricities.

Certainly a character who still hasn’t mastered and moved beyond the Physiological level (his needs are only air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion) would have different personality traits than one who had achieved any of the higher levels. The former character also would express those traits through different personality quirks and eccentricities than would the latter. Not really heady stuff, but something to think about.

After I shared the above bit of information with the folks at Bisbee via email, I received a response from one of my friends there (Thanks Lucinda!) who suggested a visit to the Human Metrics website.

At Human Metrics this particular link will open on the Jung Typology Test. Lucinda mentioned that her acting and communication students use it and find it interesting. I can add that it’s also a bit eye-opening, or it was for me. I recommend it.

Of course, if you answer the questions as your protagonist or antagonist would answer them, it will help inform (and form) those characters. It will help assign or explain character traits, personality quirks and eccentricities, and even  help the author initiate or resolve character arcs.

Why do I believe it will help? Because according to the site itself, having taken the test, you will

  • Obtain your 4-letter type formula according to Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typology, along with the strengths of preferences and the description of your personality type
  • Discover careers and occupations most suitable for your personality type along with examples of educational institutions where you can get a relevant degree or training
  • See which famous personalities share your type
  • Access free career development resources and learn about premium ones
  • Be able to use the results of this test as an input into the Jung Marriage Test™ … to assess your compatibility with your long-term romantic partner

How could that not be a good tool for creating a well-rounded protagonist or antagonist?

I don’t doubt that there are other online personality assessment tests out there. If you have discovered any that you found useful, please share those in a comment in the form below. That way anyone who chooses to check back will see the information as well.

That’s it for this time. Until later, happy writing!


Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at

Writer vs. Author

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 4/10/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I think all of us can agree that being a writer is a wonderful, if sometimes exasperating, predicament.

For writers, especially if we must pursue a day job in order to enable our writing habit, there really is nothing like making the time to sit down to write. If you need help in that regard, I urge you to check out Dean Wesley Smith’s classic workshop, Productivity. (When you get there, scroll down).

I’ve heard often that writers don’t want to write; they want to have written.

In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth.

All of the real working writers I’ve known write as much for the process itself (and to entertain themselves) as for the eventual result of the process, whether poem, short story, essay, play or novel.

So what’s the difference between an author and a writer, other than the sense that an author is something better, somehow, than a mere writer?

My American Heritage College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) defines writer as “One who writes, esp. as an occupation.” Period. That’s it.

On the other hand, it defines author as “1a. The original writer of a literary work. b. One who writes professionally. 2. An originator or creator. 3. Author God.” Seriously, that’s what’s in the number three slot: Author God. Goodness! No wonder everyone wants to be known as an author instead of a writer!

But frankly I believe American Heritage missed the boat. Certainly writer and author aren’t exactly the same thing, but the difference is broader in some aspects than the American Heritage hints, yet I can promise you neither has anything to do with divinity.

Writers are folks who write and who are serious or passionate about writing, as outlined in the Thirteen Traits of a Great Writer. (You can read the original post for yourself.) They take great pride in the study and application of the craft, and very few things, if anything, are more important to them than their writing.

But more important to this comparison, writers are those who have the freedom to write and who exercise that freedom at every opportunity.

Authors, first of all, are writers who have written. But the author is a writer and a publicist and a marketer and a salesperson. In some cases, the author is also a publisher.

Now, if you happen to be Stephen King, you can be extremely successful and retain your just a writer status because other people are falling all over themselves to publicize, market, publish and sell your books. If you’re a highly successful author or are otherwise wealthy enough to hire publicists and marketing folks, you can also pretty much remain just a writer.

But if you’re anyone else, once your work is published, you have to be an author too. You have to be not only the creator but the manager, the marketer, the publicist, the guy who checks the coats and the guy who gets the coffee.

Now whether you bring a baggie full of Folgers and a coffee maker or just swing by Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks is up to you. Me? I’m a make my own kind of a guy.


Update: Since I originally wrote this post, indie publishing has bloomed. The best first thing you can do to promote your work comes in three parts: create a great cover, write a great beginning, and write a great ending.

The cover draws the reader to browse the book. The beginning sells the reader on the current book. The ending sells the reader on your next book.

The best second thing you can do to  promote your work is Write the Next Story.

A Phoenix

Hi Folks,

This morning as I conducted some routine maintenance on my website, I got curious. I checked the “Uncategorized” posts.

Those marked Uncategorized were not sent to any list by MailChimp. Not even the Pro Writers blog, for which I wrote them.

I found forty-three such posts, all of which should have gone to the Pro Writers list.

So I’m beginning the arduous process of perusing, updating and rescheduling those posts. Those that are still valid as-is, I will schedule to post. Those that are dated, I will either not post or add a note to the beginning, then post.

These posts will pop into your email in box every Tuesday at 8 a.m. (Arizona time).

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at

The Daily Journal is free, and you’ll get a great deal more valid information out of that than anything else you can find around the Internet. Plus you get an inside view on the life of a professional fiction writer.

‘Til next week, keep writing.


Regarding “Freelance Editors” Who Do More Than Copyedit

Hi Folks,

If you are fortunate enough that a professional writer who is much farther down the road happens to offer a critique of your work (most won’t, and I don’t), consider carefully what he or she has to say. Then decide whether to apply it to your own work. Apply it or discard it. Up to you.

However, if you receive any free critique of your writing from anyone else, my advice is to nod, smile, say thank you and go back to writing the story you want to write.

The thing is, nobody else knows your story. Period. They know only their version of your story.

And that goes double for so-called freelance “developmental” editors who offer paid critiques.

The paid critique is nothing more than a tool they use to stroke your ego, then upsell you on other services.

Recently I studied a critique (meaning I read it twice) for a friend. The critique was written by a “freelance developmental editor” whose training consisted of being asked by visitors to her husband’s bookstore years ago to look over their manuscripts and see what she thought.

Turned out she enjoyed telling those writers her opinion and has turned that into a living.

She has never written a novel or short story that I can find. On her website, she wrote, “[A]lthough I have the know-how to write a book, my real passion is helping other writers bring their books out into the world.”

In other words, “I could easily write a novel. I’m sacrificing my art to help others. Umm, for cash.”

Uh huh. They have a term for that sort of thing in Texas, and the term refers directly to bovine excrement.

As I said, I read the critique. The first three-quarters of it was how she would have written the story.

And remember, folks, this woman doesn’t have the ear of any particular publisher. She doesn’t work for a major publisher in New York. She’s just another non-connected reader with an opinion. You might as well pay your neighbor to read your novel and give you an opinion.

Don’t get me wrong. All readers have opinions, and they should have opinions. But they should not foist those opinions on writers as to how the book should have been written. And they should definitely not charge people money for that disservice.

  • She talked about characterization and character arcs, but she has never developed a character or written an arc of any kind.
  • She talked about deepening scenes (she didn’t call it that) but thought the writer could do that through the characters. (Uh, no.)
  • She listed specifics, like wanting in one case to make a character work by herself when the character preferred to be teamed up with another character. (Again, no. The characters are IN the story. Let THEM decide.)
  • She talked about weaknesses in the plot, apparently never having heard Bradbury’s quote that “plot is the tracks characters leave as they run through the story.”

Sigh. This sort of stuff washes over me with waves of weariness.

Look, you’re the writer. You get to choose.

  • You can either be the Great Writer On High, directing everything the characters say and do (THIS is where writing becomes drudgery), OR
  • You can resign as General Manager of the Universe, toss off all that responsibility, get down in the trenches and run through the story with the characters. That’s where the fun is.

This “editor” probably is a very nice woman. But she charged my friend $300 for this “critique,” which was only a little over 4 pages long. And remember that upselling I mentioned earlier? In the last several paragraphs, she recommended three different “levels” of editing:

  • a “developmental edit,” during which she would go through the manuscript and note in the margins what the writer should do in each instance (um, developmental editors work in New York for big publishers, and I wouldn’t even let THEM touch my work);
  • a “line edit,” “to ensure everything is in the best place [what?] for the flow of the story, that all the character reactions are in good shape [huh?], and that all those plot issues have been addressed.” (She wouldn’t do that during the “developmental” edit?); and finally
  • a copy edit to “address all the wording and sentence structure concerns, as well as most of the grammar, punctuation, etc.” (Really? Just “most”?)

And yes, of course, she would charge a different fee for each level of edit.

Now, here’s some of that free advice that you can accept or just chunk on the junk pile. At least it won’t cost you anything.

As I told my friend,

  • Write your story.
  • Then have a good First Reader and/or copyeditor go over it to find wrong-word usages, typos, inconsistencies, and places where the story is confusing.
  • Then do your “second draft” to correct What You Agree With that the first reader or copyeditor finds.
  • Then publish it and write the next story. Don’t look back. Look forward.

Please. You’ll be a much better (and happier) writer.

I welcome comments on this post.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

Note: This is one of very few remaining “instructional” blogs at this location. I write those, almost daily, over on my Daily Journal now. If you want to continue getting advice from this professional novelist and short story writer, visit and subscribe! It’s free.