Shiprock, located in Northwestern New Mexico near the Four Corners area. 

The dramatic landscape of the Southwest in and around the sprawling Navajo Reservation is as important to my novels, Key Witness and Abducted Innocence, as the two main characters, Emily and Abe. To the Navajo people, the mountains, mesas, waters, and land are sacred, as are the animals and plants that live there.


According to Navajo legends, there are six sacred mountains: Mount Blanca in the East; Mount Taylor in the South; The San Francisco Peaks in the West; Mount Hesperus in the North; Huerfano Mesa; and Gobernador Knob. The Navahos belief is that their Creator placed them on the land between these sacred mountains. All play a significant role in the creation stories. It is said that each mountain is a holy person dressed in various outfits. Their configurations and colors help define their role in the history of the Dinetah or Navajo people. Here are the six sacred mountains and their Navajo meaning:

Mount Blanca (Tsisnaasjini’ – Dawn or White Shell Mountain)


Mount Taylor (Tsoodzil – Blue Bead or Turquoise Mountain)

The Introvert Writer

Why do introverts make good writers? According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, “They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”

That being said, how do you know if you are an introvert? The obvious answer is you enjoy being alone. And, when you are alone, you are more productive, you have more time to be introspective, you can work without interruption, and take breaks to daydream or walk whenever you want. Gloria Kopp has a written an interesting blog, “7 Reasons Why Introverts Are Good At Writing.”  https://introvertdear.com/news/7-reasons-why-introverts-are-good-at-writing/. It is short, to the point, and worth the read.

To be fair, there are advantages to being an extrovert writer as well. Extroverts are exposed to a wider range of experiences and people from which to draw their stories. Extroverts love to talk and love an audience. They recharge their batteries in social situations, while introverts recharge by spending time alone. It’s not that one personality is superior to the other. You are what you are, and your job as a writer is to make the most of it.

A revealing exercise is to ask yourself which character in your novel is most like you. For me, it is not the assertive outgoing female protagonist, Emily, as some would assume. It’s her counterpart, Abe Freeman, the reclusive loner from the East Coast. Abe is never comfortable in large groups, feels awkward in social situations, has trouble making small-talk, and would rather be hiking in the woods alone or with his dog than spending time with people. At a party, he’s the fly on the wall, the one standing right outside of the group, not involved in the conversation, and always looking for an excuse to escape early. It’s not that he doesn’t like people. It’s just that he hates superficial socializing. Charles Bukowski once said, ” I don’t hate people. I just feel better when they’re not around.”

This post by Rachel Ginder does an excellent job of explaining from the introvert’s point of view.   https://introvertdear.com/news/introverts-dont-hate-people-hate-shallow-socializing/

To use a phrase from Ginder’s article: “When I socialize, I’m not looking for a way to just pass the time. I already have a full list of hobbies and interests and not enough hours in the day to enjoy them all. But I am always looking for a new person with whom I can share my passions and my world. Sometimes meeting that one new person can be worth the agony of socializing. I like to think I’m the kind of person worth socializing for, and I know I’m not the only one of my kind.”

In conclusion, it is about being with people you feel comfortable with, who you can speak openly about ideas with, and who will not judge you when and if you disagree.



Where The Heck Have I Been?

I need to apologize. I’ve been neglecting my blog, and I have not been responding to a lot of nice comments from readers. I hadn’t checked Rocking Chair Meditations in a while, and WoW! There were nearly 300 comments. Forgive me, dear readers. What’s my excuse? I’ve been keeping my nose to the grindstone and trying hard to finish my latest novel. Still, not a great excuse. So, today I am trying to upgrade all my social sites and blog page, get rid of spam, download a plugin that should help, and resolve to do better. It’s a good day for working on neglected issues because I can’t go outside and spend restorative time in the garden. The garden froze. It’s the 29th of April, and there’s a frigging blizzard going on – 28 degrees Fahrenheit! Ahh,  spring in New Mexico, and the irony of this unseasonable cold snap. Today the “People’s Climate March” against global warming is being held all over the USA. And, yes, I do believe in climate change and global warming.

But for now, it’s back to the grindstone, and I want to tell you about my new book, Abducted Innocence, which will be released on June 20, 2017. I’ll be back soon to catch up on everything.




But, it feels like it has been my circus today, and I am the number 1 clown.  The day started quietly enough. I slept in a little, took a nice walk in the mountains, came home, did a little cleaning, then sat down to write.

Two women yelling threats and profanities at each other, that’s what stopped me, loud enough to be heard in Colorado. Finally, I stepped out on my front porch to see what the heck was going on. My neighbor and my other neighbor’s girlfriend were tearing into each other. Someone called the cops, the girlfriend  hightailed it out of there before they came. I crept back into the sanctuary of my house, definitely not wanting to get involved, coward that I am.


Since writing seemed out of the question now, a new plan evolved. Put the excess yellow squash from my garden to good use. I found a recipe for yellow squash casserole that sounded decadent but tasty and I jacked it up New Mexican style by adding roasted green chile and corn (CALABACITAS SUPREMAS). I had enough to make two casseroles. So, I put one in the oven, went outside to snap some green beans from the garden for another vegetable save and decided at some point to check my casserole. Upon opening the oven, I was met with a rush of smoke and a wall of flames. I quickly shut the oven door, thinking, “what the hell”, and looking at the oven gauge suddenly realized that without putting on my glasses, I had set the oven at BROILER instead of  BAKE. How could I have done this??? Smoke was filling the house. I was afraid to open the oven door again. I shut down the oven, waited a few minutes, and cautiously opened the door a crack. There was my scorched casserole. The pyrex baking dish had cracked all along the bottom, and juices were dripping out all over the hot oven. Sigh. The entire bottom of the casserole dish had separated.

 It took some careful maneuvering to slide it out intact into another dish. Of course, it was wasted, or was it? After scraping off the black crumb topping, I found the remainder appeared ??? edible. So what does frugal Sandy do? Scrape off the top and dish the remainder into another container. The oven was another story. I spent a lousy forty-five minutes doing a half-assed job of cleaning. Fans were set up to blow the smoke out of the house, and now I am eating yellow squash casserole, but the neighbors are at it again and both of them grandmothers. Damn.


Benefits of a Writing Group


Eight years ago, even though I had never attempted any sort of creative writing, I signed up for a writing class at the Arthur Johnson Memorial Library here in Raton, New Mexico. The class, which met once a week for nine weeks, was taught by veteran southwest mystery writer, Steven Havill.  https://www.amazon.com/Steven-Havill/e/B001ITYKH6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1470584751&sr=1-2-ent   Writing a required number of pages each week and critiquing other writers  was some of the hardest work I had done for a long time. I loved it and learned so much about writing after attending two more of these workshops that I felt ready to test my wings and fly with my first novel, A Cipher in the Sand which I self-published in 2011.



Thre takeaways from those workshops that I have found to be extremely helpful are (1) the creation of a timeline in a separate file and (2) a character list. It is also helpful to have (3) a brief statement of what is happening in each chapter. I do all of these in a separate file so they can be pulled up while I work. It may seem like additional work at the time, but it can save you hours of hair-pulling anxiety later on as you are trying to remember what day it is or what so and so’s name was.

When Steven Havill moved away, a few of us were not ready to give up on the regular meetings, so three of us, Pat Walsh, Steven Anderson, and I formed the original writing group.  Eight years later, we still meet on a regular basis to critique each other’s work. A few new members have come and gone, and one other person, John Johnson, stayed with us. It’s no exaggeration when I say that I could never have completed three novels and be working on a fourth without the continued support of this wonderful group of people. My second novel, Key Witness was published by Thomas and Mercer in 2014, and Abducted Innocence (second in the series) will be released in January of 2017. I have been exceedingly lucky and amazed to discover this exciting new lease on life at the ripe age of 75. Remember writers, you are never too old to tell a good story. If you haven’t read Key Witness yet, why not pick up a copy so you will be ready for the second.




I’m equally proud to say that all of our members of our group have published, both fiction and non-fiction, and yesterday I attended a book signing for Pat Walsh’s A Prairie Mourning  which can also be found in both paperback and Kindle version on Amazon.


In fact,  my writing group is wonderfully talented and offers a wide assortment of reading material. Whether you like a good mystery or a thought-provoking philosophical read, I believe you can find something you like by visiting these author sites: Rapid Transient by Steve Anderson; Time Sutra by John Johnson; The Soul’s Critical Path by John Davidson; and more to come. Happy reading!

BookCoverPreview (1)

Abducted Innocence

This is the first chapter of my new novel, Abducted Innocence,  the second book in a series involving Abe Freeman and Navajo Police Officer, Emily Etcitty. I originally titled this book, Kinaalda, but later realized that few would understand the meaning or significance. Kinaalda is a four-day coming of age ceremony celebrated by Navajo families when girls reach puberty. During this time, the girls are required to perform certain tasks, such as grinding corn and running a race. The origin of Kinaalda is in the ancient Navajo creation myth of Changing Woman. 



Abducted Innocence


April 6, 1990

Huerfano Substation

 Navajo Nation Tribal Police


Navajo Police Officer Emily Etcitty picked up the incident report dropped on her desk by Officer Joe Hosteen. She raised her eyebrows and flashed him an annoyed look, which he responded to with a sardonic smile and shrug. She had finished her shift and was filing the final reports, looking forward to spending time with Abe Freeman at his place near Bloomfield.

“Sounds like female stuff to me,” Hosteen said, giving it little significance and, therefore, delegating it to Emily. “Captain Todechine said a woman might handle it better.”

Emily skimmed over the dispatcher’s report. “A missing girl out at Teec Nos Pos,” she said reading quickly.

“Yeah, missing for only four hours when the family called it in. Probably nothing but another pissed off teenager acting out.”

“This was called in four hours ago, Joe. Why didn’t you give it to me right away?” Officer Hosteen’s eyes were black and sharp as pinpoints, his nose and bone structure chiseled angles, his mouth a thin line. He reminded Emily of a Picasso painting. There was nothing soft or sympathetic about Joe Hosteen. The two had clashed on several occasions in the past over police procedures and didn’t particularly like one another. Now that both were in contention for promotion to sergeant, the friction had increased. Only one would be selected.

“I was tied up on another case. This missing girl report didn’t strike me as being particularly urgent—probably a runaway who took off to grandma’s house when she didn’t get what she wanted.”

Emily studied the report slowly and methodically the second time, then paused. It was not uncommon for a thirteen-year-old girl to go missing for a few hours; it was, however, unheard of for one to disappear during her Kinaaldá. “You didn’t even read this, did you?” She pursed her lips and stared at him. “I’ll head on over there and talk to the family,” she said, thinking to herself, you sexist pig.

The trip to the village of Teec Nos Pos on the Arizona side of the reservation took over an hour and a half. On her way, she drove past the looming monolithic rock formation the Anglos called Shiprock. Someone had given it that name because he thought it resembled a clipper ship sailing the gray-green desert. Emily knew it by its correct name—Tsé Bitʹ aʹi, Winged Rock, after the great bird who brought the Navajo from the north to their present land.

After she had left the familiar landmark and the town of Shiprock behind, the land opened up once again to scattered mesas, washes, canyons and the occasional trailer or hogan. Traffic thinned out on Highway 64 to sporadic pickup trucks, giving Emily plenty of time to let her mind drift back to her own Kinaaldá, the Navajo puberty ceremony practiced by traditional families who celebrated a girl’s transition into womanhood. She remembered how proud and excited she had been to wake up and discover signs of her first menstrual cycle. There would be a four-day celebration ending with a feast. A young girl brought up in the Diné tradition would not run away at a time like this.

The sun dropped behind a sandstone cliff, casting fiery orange flames across the western skies when Emily reached the nearly deserted village. She made a quick stop at the Teec Nos Pos Trading Post to ask directions to Jim Benally’s residence.

“Two miles out of town, then turn right on the dirt road. About three more miles you’ll be there. Half the town is looking for Darcy. I’d be there myself if I didn’t have to keep the store open.”

Damn, Emily thought. That means dozens of other footprints have probably obliterated the girl’s tracks, and it’s going to be dark soon. She hurried back to her Chevy Blazer, sped toward the Benally home, arriving fifteen minutes later. Before leaving the SUV, she called in her location to headquarters.

The scene that greeted her looked chaotic and disconsolate. The traditional round corn cake, smelling slightly burnt, sat uncut and abandoned. The other food, roast lamb, mutton stew, green chili, and beans lay congealed on a long table. A medicine man chanted prayers, but no one appeared to be listening. Several women huddled together trying to console one another; while one of their group—probably the mother—cried inconsolably. The children clustered together in front of a hogan, their faces somber, their eyes round. She saw no men or teenage boys. Emily assumed they were out looking for the girl. She approached one of the women, introduced herself, and speaking in Navajo, asked for the mother of the missing child.

“I am Nina Benally, Darcy’s mother,” a plump woman dressed in fancy clothes snuffled through tears. “Why have they sent only one person? Why have you taken so long?” she cried.

Emily exchanged the traditional greeting with the woman, giving her time to calm herself. “I came as soon as I received word your daughter was missing,” Emily said. “Tell me what happened today.”

Nina Benally sat up straight and drew in a long breath before speaking. Her words were uttered slowly, deliberately, as if trying to preserve dignity in front of this officer of the law.  “It is the final day of my daughter’s Kinaaldá. I dressed her this morning in her woven rug dress, turquoise and shell jewelry, washed her hair with yucca suds and combed it with the grass comb.” There was pride in her voice, but unsummoned tears streamed down her face as she continued. “I tied her hair with buckskin in the traditional way.” The mother’s lips quivered as she fought to regain control over her emotions.

Purple shadows loomed over the mesa. It would soon be too dark to see prints. Emily knew time was crucial if she was to find any trace of the girl today, but also that she must not hurry the mother. “Please go on, Mrs. Benally. What time was it when you last saw your daughter?”

“Today was to be her last race before we began the feast and celebration. She left after sunrise, about seven-thirty, excited, so proud, and wearing a big smile. The children followed her as is the custom, but my Darcy ran so fast she left them all behind. They came back without her and told us she had been teasing them and laughing when they last saw her.”


“Do you know the time?” Emily said. “When the children returned?”

“Nine o’clock, maybe. We waited for her until noon. Then, I knew something bad had happened, and my husband went into town to call the police. He is out on the trail now, looking for our girl.” Nina Benally could no longer keep up the façade of dignified composure. She made a keening sound while praying, beseeching the Gods to deliver her daughter home safely from whatever evil had taken her away.

Emily understood. “Thank you, Mrs. Benally. I will do everything in my power to find Darcy. If you have a recent picture of her, it would be a great help.”

The family had called headquarters at noon to report the girl missing, and Hosteen sat on the report until after three-thirty. Why had the asshole waited so long?

Emily left the woman and walked over to a group of children. “Yáʹátéé shaʹalchimi. Greetings children. I’ve come to help find Darcy. Will someone show me where she began her race this morning and which direction she went?”

All but one of the children cast their eyes down, looking too frightened to leave the protection of the pit fire and the adult women. “She started here, at the hogan, and ran to the east,” a round-faced boy of about ten said. “They are afraid of the skinwalkers,” he added, indicating the other youngsters. “But I will show you the way.”

Of course, she ran toward the east, Emily thought. How could I have forgotten so much? “With your mother’s permission only, and you have to promise not to run ahead. When I see her tracks you must go back,” Emily said.

After radioing in her status, Emily retrieved a flashlight and camera from the Blazer. A breeze had picked up, bringing a sudden chill. April in the northeast highlands of Arizona can be sunny and warm one day, and snowy the next. She donned her jacket and met the boy in front of the hogan.

“My mother said I can show you the path as long as I am not out of her sight,” the boy said. “She rubbed corn pollen on me for protection.”

“All right, let’s go, but only a little ways, then you have to turn around. It’s getting dark.”

“I’m not afraid of skinwalkers,” said the boy.

“I know, you are brave, but this is police work. I just need to know where to start.”

“Here,” said the boy, when they were about fifty yards from the hogan. He pointed to a narrow path scuffed with numerous tracks. “Do you want some corn pollen?” He did not sound so brave now and looked anxiously back to the safety of the hogan and fire.

“No. Thank you—I can manage now—run back to your family. I’ll wait until you are there.” As she watched the boy scamper away, she thought about all the stories she had listened to as a child about skinwalkers, those malevolent witches who according to legend, were capable of transforming themselves into a coyote, wolf, bear, or any animal they wished. Shape-shifters they were called. It was rumored they used mind control to make a person do anything they wanted, especially to harm themselves in some way. Emily shook off a chill, telling herself she didn’t believe any of it and beamed her flashlight on the trail, searching for moccasin tracks amidst the numerous tread marks of sneakers.

They were easy enough to find—small, flat, indentations usually off to the left. When she came upon an entire footprint, she took a picture, thinking it looked like a size six or six and a half, not deeply embedded, the weight on the forefoot deeper as Native Americans were accustomed to running. The girl was probably of medium weight. Emily made a mental note to ask the mother about her height and weight when she retrieved the photograph.

A coyote howled from a mesa top, startling Emily and sending a shudder down her spine. She reacted automatically by reaching for her gun, then stopped with her hand on the butt of the Glock 19 in her hip holster. Shake it off, she told herself and continued forward. She was looking for the spot where the other children turned back, leaving only the girl’s tracks. Relieved, she noted the men in the search party had ridden their horses along the side of the trail as not to disturb the tracks.

About a mile down the path, Emily came upon a dirt road. She crossed over, saw the trail remained unmarked by footprints on the other side, but noted the dusty lane showed signs of fresh tire treads. The vehicle had made a sudden stop judging by the skid marks. It then appeared to back up, make a U-turn and head in the direction from which it had come. The horses had also stopped here, and the rider’s dismounted, followed the moccasin tracks, and then returned to their steeds. The horse tracks continued along the road in the direction of the vehicle. Emily snapped a few close-up shots, being careful not to step on anything and returned to the spot where she had last seen Darcy’s prints. They appeared jumbled; the dirt disturbed as if there had been a scuffle, and there were other shoeprints—not children’s sneakers, but large cowboy boots, maybe two different pairs. As she bounced the light around, something else caught her eye. Partially hidden behind a rabbit bush was a single deerskin moccasin. She decided it was time to call for assistance. If a skinwalker had taken Darcy Benally, he wore size eleven or twelve boots and drove a four-wheeled vehicle. It looked like dinner with Abe would be a little later.


Winter Walk



This poem by Phillip Booth pretty well sums up my intentions for the present. It is snowing lightly, a mere powdered sugar dusting on the ground. Sometimes you need to walk away from all the contentiousness, meanness, and heartbreaking tragedy created by mankind in their constant quest for riches and power. My walk, a temporary reprieve, won’t solve any of the world’s problems, but it will clear my head. I will  breathe the sharp cold air, listen to the silence, and celebrate the peace and beauty of nature, if only for a little while. When I return, I know I’ll feel refreshed, ready to continue working on my novel. It is good to be alive.

Talk About Walking

Where am I going? I’m going
out, out for a walk. I don’t
know where except outside.
Outside argument, out beyond
wallpapered walls, outside
wherever it is where nobody
ever imagines. Beyond where
computers circumvent emotion,
where somebody shorted specs
for rivets for airframes on
today’s flights. I’m taking off
on my own two feet. I’m going
to clear my head, to watch
mares’-tails instead of TV,
to listen to trees and silence,
to see if I can still breathe.
I’m going to be alone with
myself, to feel how it feels
to embrace what my feet
tell my head, what wind says
in my good ear. I mean to let
myself be embraced, to let go
feeling so centripetally old.
Do I know where I’m going?
I don’t. How long or far
I have no idea. No map. I
said I was going to take
a walk. When I’ll be back
I’m not going to say.


A Winter Wonderland


When God gives you lemons, make lemonade, but when God gives you snow, make bread.

That’s my solution for beating cabin fever in the winter, anyway. There’s nothing quite like the smell of bread baking in the oven or the feel of the dough as you knead it and it watch it become shiny and elastic to the touch. Pushing that dough around is also a great way to meditate, or plan the plot of that next novel. I admit, I do get carried away sometimes, for a single person living alone. But my freezer is packed, my belly is full, and my house is scented.


I made two kinds of bread yesterday: whole wheat with three kinds of seeds and nuts; and French baguettes and boules. The recipe I have, given to me by my son-in-law is the easiest and best ever, besides being extremely versatile. With this one simple recipe, I have made pizza, calzone, focaccia, and my latest, which I can’t get enough of, Kraut Bierok. These are German or Polish rolls filled with a combination of meat, sauteed onion and garlic, sauerkraut or sauteed cabbage and spices. Delicious.



Here is the recipe for French Baguettes. No kneading required. The gluten develops in the refrigerator overnight.

For two baguettes:

1 and 1/2 cups of warm water

1and 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons dry yeast

3 and 1/4 cups of flour

Add the ingredients in the order mentioned above. Stir just enough to mix together  (should be less than 1 min. Cover the container and let rise at room temperature for 2-3 hours. Put in the fridge overnight.

Next day, preheat oven at 450 or 425F. Put a low wall baking tray of water in the bottom of oven to raise humidity.

You may take all of the dough at this time, divide it in half and shape into two baguettes, or make just one and return remaining dough to the fridge. Just make sure it has a tight cover so it doesn’t dry out.

Let your dough rise for 20 min at room temperature. (It will not rise much at that time, so don’t expect it two.

Make 3 diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep on the loaf, spray with water, and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden brown. Enjoy.





A Winter Poem


spring snow

Winter. Time to eat fat
and watch hockey. In the pewter mornings, the cat,
a black fur sausage with yellow
Houdini eyes, jumps up on the bed and tries
to get onto my head. It’s his
way of telling whether or not I’m dead.
If I’m not, he wants to be scratched; if I am
He’ll think of something. He settles
on my chest, breathing his breath
of burped-up meat and musty sofas,
purring like a washboard. Some other tomcat,
not yet a capon, has been spraying our front door,
declaring war. It’s all about sex and territory,
which are what will finish us off
in the long run. Some cat owners around here
should snip a few testicles. If we wise
hominids were sensible, we’d do that too,
or eat our young, like sharks.
But it’s love that does us in. Over and over
Again, He shoots, he scores! and famine
crouches in the bed sheets, ambushing the pulsing
eiderdown, and the wind-chill factor hits
thirty below, and the pollution pours
out of our chimneys to keep us warm.
February, month of despair,
with a skewered heart in the centre.
I think dire thoughts, and lust for French fries
with a splash of vinegar.
Cat, enough of your greedy whining
and your small pink bumhole.
Off my face! You’re the life principle,
more or less, so get going
on a little optimism around here.
Get rid of death. Celebrate increase. Make it be spring.

by Margaret Atwood




Yes, I Can!

New Beginnings


The holidays are over, and another new year is upon us, along with a plethora of well-meaning, but impractical and impossible to keep, resolutions. We all know that daily life has its own plan, and often gets in the way of our best intentions.

Rather than make resolutions I will inevitably break, my desire is to simply try:  try to begin each day with a positive outlook; try to be kinder; try to fit at least one walk in;  try to write each day. And, keep in mind, it’s all right to mess up once in a while, pig out on that bag of chips, feel angry, skip a writing day if the muse doesn’t call you. I  skipped many days on my blog, and felt plagued by guilt, at first.  But at the same time, I have been writing furiously on my new novel, a sequel to Key Witness, and have completed 18,000 words of the first draft. So, I am forgiving myself, as we all should when we falter. Pick up where you left off, and keep making forward progress. That’s my resolution.  Yes, I can!

yes I can