Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What Great Fun!--Peregrine Falcons, Germans from Russia, and Tourists at Readings

Amelia Montes and me

I was invited to Lincoln, Nebraska, as a visiting writer by Amelia Montes, director of the Ethnic Studies Institute and professor of creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The visit was scheduled to begin with a dinner with faculty members and graduate students. Ben and I were late arriving because of unexpected road construction delays, so we parked at the hotel, checked in, and ran across the street to the restaurant with Amelia, who was patiently waiting for us.

Even with such an inauspicious beginning, the evening was a stimulating experience—brilliant company and conversation that ranged from crimes of passion in Mexico City to Russian Orthodox monasteries. Professors Joy Castro, James Garza, and Jennifer Garza, and Ph.D. candidate Bernice Olivas joined Amelia, Ben, and me for that very best kind of wide-ranging intellectual conversation that lasted late into the night.

Ben at the Museum of Germans from Russia
The next day, Saturday, was packed with activities. We woke early and were joined at breakfast by our dear friends, Allison and Travis Hedge Coke, who had driven two hours from the University of Nebraska-Kearney where Allison holds the Reynolds Chair of Creative Writing and coordinates the incredible Sandhill Crane Migration Literary Retreat and Festival. Travis was on his way to the airport, and Allison intended to join us for the day’s activities and my reading that evening. As always, it was so much fun to see them and talk with them, even if it was just for a short while with Travis.

Amelia arrived to interview me for a chapter in her book, Corazon y Tierra:  Latinas Writing on the Midwest, Amelia’s critical book on contemporary writing by Latina authors who are writing either about or from the Midwest. I’m honored to be in this book, which is such a fascinating exploration of different kinds of Latina identity. Amelia’s questions were probing and perceptive, and she was massively prepared for the two-hour interview.

While Amelia interviewed me, Allison and Ben went exploring in Lincoln, visiting the Museum of Germans from Russia and the university campus, which has been beautifully landscaped with native plants, always a strong interest of Ben’s and mine.

The old Senate chamber at Nebraska Capitol
We had lunch with a discussion of some of the initiatives both women were working on at their respective universities and the newest work of other writers with which we are all familiar. After lunch, Amelia had a special treat for us—a guided tour through the Nebraska State Capitol. It so happens Ben and I love to visit places like state capitols, but even those who don’t would have enjoyed this tour. Nebraska’s capitol building is a true original. All its components—from floors to ceiling—are pieces of art with symbolic meaning. Just wandering through it would be a delight because of the beauty, but the tour enhanced that with an understanding of the philosophical concepts behind everything. And our tour guide, Jameson, a student of history at the university, gave us such a dramatic rendering that it added to the pleasure.

The cap of our tour was a trip to the rotunda where a soldier’s poignant wedding was taking place. He and his best man were in uniform, and I’ve never seen such a starry-eyed groom. When the couple finished their vows to each other, the groom made his own vows to her three young children that left not only the kids wiping their eyes. We kept hoping he was not scheduled to leave for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Breathtaking beauty in flight
The balcony section outside the rotunda offered an incredible view of the whole city. But even better, it offered… peregrine falcons! They nest on the top of the building, and during our whole time out there, the parents flew back and forth, bringing food to their constantly crying children. Of course, this was a great treat for me since I’m such a lover of raptors.

As the tour ended, Amelia announced my reading that evening to the rest of the people in our tour group. This is exactly what I would have done in her place, so it’s interesting being on the other end and feeling embarrassed about the fuss. She was right to do it, though, and one lady said she intended to attend. After all of this, we went back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the reading and book signing.

Reading from Every Last Secret
I was excited about the bookstore where I would read. Indigo Bridge Bookstore is a bookstore, a coffee shop, and a nonprofit community development organization, all in one. This is quite unusual for a bookstore, and I was interested to see how well it worked. Located in the historic Hay Market district, Indigo Bridge Bookstore is cheerful and bright with plenty of customers, so I think it’s working quite well.

Since some people had come for the mystery and some for the poetry, I mixed them in the reading, which worked well—I think because many of the same subjects and obsessions inform both areas of my work. I spoke about Every Last Secret and read from it briefly. Then I read a couple of poems from Heart’s Migration and a few more from my newest manuscript, Dark Sister. We had a lovely audience for the reading, including fellow writers Allison Hedge Coke and Joy Castro, students from the university, and townspeople. The woman from the Capitol tour showed up halfway through the reading, having wandered downtown Lincoln lost and missed the mystery part when that was what she came for, but she liked the poetry so much that she bought both books. It turns out she was a tourist from Iowa. And another woman of obvious maturity declared it was her very first reading, as she bought a book, and she thought she'd make them a regular thing from now on. So I felt I'd done my part for literature that night!

Joy Castro, me, Amelia Montes, Allison Hedge Coke, Ben
After the reading, we went out for a late meal and good conversation with other writers until midnight. So we wandered up to our hotel room, sleepy and happy.

The University of Nebraska has been wise to hire gifted writers, scholars, and teachers, such as Amelia Montes, Joy Castro, and Allison Hedge Coke. Somehow, after having seen the state's quirky but beautiful Capitol building, I'm not surprised.

In other news, I am a weekly blogger for the group blog Writers Who Kill on Saturdays, as most of you know. I have now also joined the group blog, The Stiletto Gang. (Ben said, "You'll have to use a knife for your photo since you can't wear heels.") I will be blogging there on the fourth Friday of each month. I hope you'll come visit me at both places.

I want to bring this blog back to twice a week, alternating between my two series, Books of Interest by Writers of Color and Literary Mystery Novelists, with occasional posts in the series, Balancing Writing and book Marketing, and posts about my own work. It will be a little bumpy for the next couple of weeks trying to get back to that, but then I think I'll be back in the groove. Thanks for stopping by!


  1. You are doing a lot of writing. Im very happy you are one the Writers Who Kill bloggers.

  2. Thanks, Warren! I'm glad to be part of the Writers Who Kill family, too.