If you’ve read Border Field Blues, you’ll no doubt remember that Rolly’s case starts when his friend Max Gemeinhardt, an avid bird-watcher, calls Rolly down to Border Field Park to investigate the damage some cretin has done to the Least Tern Preserve. There really is a bird preserve at Border Field Park and there really is a bird named the Least Tern. It looks like this:
As Max informs Rolly, the Least Terns lay their eggs in the sand, as you’ll see below.
As you’ll note from the photo, the spotted coloring of the eggs blends in well with the sand. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but that sure looks like protective adaptation to me. Unfortunately, it’s not much of an evolutionary advantage once civilization invades and people start tromping through those nesting grounds on their way to the beach. The park keepers had to put up signs and fences to keep us away.
Anyway, when I started writing Border Field Blues, I knew I wanted to make the Least Terns part of the story. The precarious nature of their nesting seemed important. I worked through several drafts before I saw the connection. Many of the characters in my book suffer from hazardous parenting, the fragility of their childhood, abandonment issues of one sort or another. As children, there were in constant danger, just like the Terns egss. I don’t really go looking for themes or metaphors when I start writing. Sometimes it just happens.
Here’s the real question. Was I drawn to the Least Tern nests because of some subconscious idea for my story, or did my interest in the Least Terns lead me to conceive of the characters in the story?
There’s one other question, of course. Do Greatest Terns (if there are any) lay their eggs this way?
I write mystery novels that feature a private investigator named Rolly Waters. He’s also a guitar player – a very good guitar player, but not a particularly successful one. That’s why he has a day job as a detective. Here’s 10 ways working guitar players are a lot like your classic fictional detective.
- They have easy access to alcohol
- They have easy access to women who drink too much alcohol
- They enter buildings through the back entrance
- They employ a protective layer of cynicism
- They see bad behavior at both ends of the socio-economic scale
- They’re used to sketchy lighting (or moody lighting, depending on your take)
- They know how to talk their way out of a fight
- They feel nervous around cops, and vice versa
- They have a business partner who’s been mugged
- They put in more hours than they’ll ever get paid for
What do you think? Are there any other traits guitar players and private detectives have in common?
As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, one of the things I get to do when working on my Rolly Waters books is raid my songwriting closet for material that I can use as lyrics for Rolly to sing. In Border Field Blues, I made the song Jungle Love central to the plot.
In the first Rolly Waters Mystery, Black’s Beach Shuffle I lifted a couple of lyrics from a couple of my songs (one from a very long time ago). I’ve embedded these here so you can stream/download them.
Hercules is from the last recording session I did with my last band, Bad Dog. At the end of the Wake-Up Call chapter in Black’s Beach Shuffle, Rolly gets his guitar out and sings a few lines from this.
Of much earlier vintage (1980), is the following:
In Black’s Beach Shuffle,Rolly sits down and starts playing Maybe It’s Too Late as he ponders how he’ll confront King Gibson about Gibson’s real identity. The song is from the first “real studio” recording session I did with my pop/new wave band, The P-15s, in Los Angeles, circa 1980. That’s me singing, and I think all will agree, it was a good idea to get other people to sing my songs. The band sounds good though and there’s some interesting chord changes.
Just out today, a three-chapter sample of the Extras Edition of Border Field Blues for iPad. It’s like a book and an app all rolled into one! This is something I’ve been working on for awhile, starting with a one-quarter sabbatical I was able to take from my teaching duties a year ago. If you have an iPad, please check it out and let me know what you think. You can email me or make a public comment directly from the book/app. You’ll need a WiFi/Network connection for the extra features to work.
Here’s what’s included:
- First three chapters of Border Field Blues
- Chapter by Chapter Extras – Author’s Notes, Video and Maps
- Deleted or Alternate Chapters
- Author’s comments on plot characters, and locations
- Related videos from YouTube
- Readers can add/read/share comments
- Email the author directly from the book
- Facebook Sharing
The full version of the app should be released by the end of March, but I’m anxious to get some feedback, so I’m making this sample available now. The first 25 people who email or comment directly from the sample app will qualify for a free copy of the full version when it comes out. How’s that for an enticement!.
The first chapter is important to any book, but especially a mystery novel, right? It needs to be a royal tingler. This first chapter didn’t exist until several drafts of Border Field Blues had been completed. My original first chapter had to be tossed out. I rather liked it, but it had to go. I killed it. It’s dead. If you’re interested, you can read the original below, after the line break. If you’re not interested, then move along. There’s nothing to see here.
Beyond the fence it was Mexico. Tijuana. Beyond the fence stood a looming black shape, an elliptical shadow of concrete. It was the bullring, the last happy memory she had of her old life, the place she had gone with the other girls on that Sunday before she deserted them, the day before she climbed into the trunk of the little man’s car, before she was locked in the dark and the car began moving, taking her north, across the border. It had been a bright day at the bullring, una dia del fiesta. But tonight was the moon, shades of gray shadows. She ran up the hill towards the fence, back to Mexico. Behind her, a truck engine rumbled to life, like a bull pawing the ground, el toro enojado. The man inside it had wakened. He would come after her.
On that day at the bullring, she walked up to thefence, touched it. A border patrolman, La Migra, sat in a green and white truck on the other side, staring back at her, his dark glasses an unreadable wall. She slipped one hand through the wire, waving at him, teasing the Californio air with her fingers. La Norte, the rich air, America. The people who breathed it could make their own life. The least among them wore beautiful clothes. They lived in glass mansions.
On that day, at the fence, she’d made up her mind. She would go with the man. The other girls wouldn’t know. She would leave them a note, like the women in the telenovelas, a gloating promise of a mysterious stranger who would appear to them many years later. The girls wouldn’t know who the stranger was, this beautiful women in a long flowing dress and diamond necklaces, the woman who doled out favors and vengeance in exacting proportions. She would return to that house someday, driving a velvet-lined Cadillac. She would have money. She would tear down the house, build a new one, and the children who lived there would never be beaten or starved.
Behind her, she heard the truck’s rumble, the snapping of branches as it broke through the brambles. A trace of headlights swung across the hill and surrounded her, stretching her shadow across the road. The sound of its engine roared up behind her, overwhelming the soft slap of her bare feet on the asphalt.
Squeezing the crumpled paper bag in her hand, she stepped off the side of the road, plunged down an incline into murky blackness, the smell of salt marsh and rosemary. The ground felt easy under her feet, soft and silent, but soon it gave way to deep sand. Crawling vines snagged at her feet. She tripped and fell, losing her grip on the bag. seabirds shrieked. A pair of them danced on the air in front of her face, then vanished like wind-blown ghosts. She put out her hands, searching for the paper bag, felt a tiny depression, like a hollow sand bowl. Inside it were two perfect eggs. She pulled her hand back, carefully so as not to break them.
Light flashed across sandy bumps as the truck turned down to search for her, the beams of its headlights scratched by the uplifted fingertips of the plants. She heard a new sound now, a soft roar – the ocean. The smell of it drifted in over her. She stood up, looked back. The truck turned off the road and crashed down the gully towards her, chewing up dirt like a great charging toro, kicking up great clouds of dust. The man inside it would kill her. Or worse.
There were two hills ahead, berms of sand on either side of the path to the beach. The lights from the truck had pointed the way. She turned and ran. The truck drew close again, spitting and spewing behind her. She dodged to her left, heard the truck sliding past, leaving darkness in front of her. She reached a hill, climbed to the top and looked back. The truck had stopped moving. Its’ engine revved loudly, whining like a gigantic hornet as the tires spun in the sand. She watched for a moment, catching her breath. The truck door opened.
“Come back,” the man called to her, climbing out of the truck. “It’s a game. I’m not going to hurt you. It’s only a game.”
She ran down the hill towards the ocean, across the beach to the firmer sand at the edge of the water. She turned towards the border, towards Mexico. He wouldn’t follow her there.
On that day, long ago, at the bullring, she’d seen the broken wires, holes in the fence a girl her size could squeeze through. The fence on the beach seemed to be different. Dark, heavy pillars loomed over her head. She reached out to touch one, felt its rough steel. The fence here was thick, rusted poles, offset only inches apart, too close together for her to slide between, too heavy to push to one side. She felt her way along the metal wall, searching for gaps, but there were none. She looked back up the beach, saw the dark shape of the man as he came along the sand towards her.
She turned into the ocean. Cold, churning water splashed at her ankles, up to her knees. It slide up her thighs as she pushed through the waves.
“Come back,” the man cried after her, “you stupid fucking chica. It’s only a game.”
The water came up to her waist now. She put her head down, started to swim. She had swum in the ocean, many times, with her friends, on the beach below the bullring. The water was calm. It was easy. But tonight was different. The waves were strong. They were moving in many directions,swirling sideways. Inside her, waves pounded as well. Rumbling shades crashed down on her eyes.
She put out her hand, pulled herself into to one of the metal posts and hung on, trying to clear her head. Splashing sounds came from the beach. The man had entered the water. She heard him panting and cursing. The panting came closer. The man grabbed her ankle, reeled her in like a big fish, grabbing her hips from behind, like the men in Tijuana, the ones who came to the house, all masculino, the men who did not face her when they pushed their way in. She thought of those men, and felt their hot breath. She reached back and swung at the man behind her, raking her fingernails. He screamed and let go.
She drifted back into the fence. Water came in over her head, filling her mouth. She gagged, cleared her throat, tried to swim again, straining against the tide for the end of the fence where she could pass around it, return to Mexico. The next wave pulled her down. It slammed her into the iron posts, pulling her back towards the shore, and dragging her down below the surface. The water ran into her mouth again. A sickly darkness bore down on her eyes.
A pinpoint of light appeared in front of her, growing brighter, expanding. Her sister appeared in the light, calling her name. Her sister stood in bright daylight on the beach in Rosarito, laughing, holding up two giant lobsters she’d pulled from a fisherman’s traps, telling her how much the gringos would pay for them. Don’t be afraid, her sister said, don’t be afraid. Her sister, the brave one, who’d gone into the doctor’s room first, the doctor who cut them, who made them look like the girls in the telenovelas, new and beautiful, whole again. Her sister, who was gone.
Her sister looked like an angel, with dark lips the color of guava jam. The angel drew close. The light faded. “Don’t be afraid,” the angel called, but there was no sound. You could only see the angel’s lips now, her sister’s lips. They called her name, then receded, along with the light.