Don’t get too excited because it’s an annual burning-at-the-stake that’s been going on in the City Different since 1924. The victim is a fifty-foot articulated puppet whose annual incineration is said to burn away all of our woes and worries. Or at least, that’s the Mexican folklore legend.
The Burning of Zozobra opens the Santa Fe Fiesta, a grand celebration of the 1712 retaking of New Spain by Don Diego de Varga following Po’ Pay’s Pueblo Revolt. The Fiesta claims to be North America’s oldest continuous civic celebration.
My novel, The Zozobra Incident, uses the burning of Zozobra as a pivotal moment in a murder mystery set in the summer of 2006. The novel seeks to provide the flavor—as well as the history—of this symbolic purging of our souls.
Zozobra, the first in a mystery series featuring BJ Vinson as a gay Albuquerque confidential investigator, is scheduled for release on Tuesday, November 15. The second novel, The Bisti Business is due out in April, 2017 with the The City of Rocks following in about four months. A fourth book, The Lovey Pines, is presently a work in progress. Each novel takes place in a different part of New Mexico, allowing me to paint word pictures of our beautiful landscapes and historical places.
Born in rural Oklahoma, I graduated from a university in Texas with a degree in government and history. Somehow after a stint in the US Army, I found gainful employment in various pursuits—utilizing neither major. My sheepskin did, however, cement one thing in my mind: an interest in history. I hope that shines through in my work.
I do a weekly blog centering on my writing and my personal foibles at dontravis.com. A member of SouthWest Writers, New Mexico’s largest writing association, I teach a writing class at one of Albuquerque’s multigenerational centers.
Let me tell you a little about my protagonist and my book. B. J. Vinson is a former marine and ex-Albuquerque PD detective turned confidential investigator. Against his better judgment, BJ agrees to find the gay gigolo who was responsible for his breakup with prominent Albuquerque lawyer Del Dahlman and recover some racy photographs from the handsome bastard. The assignment should be fast and simple.
But it quickly becomes clear the hustler isn’t the one making the anonymous demands, and things turn deadly with a high-profile murder at the burning of Zozobra on the first night of the Santa Fe Fiesta. BJ’s search takes him through virtually every stratum of Albuquerque and Santa Fe society, both straight and gay. Before it is over, BJ is uncertain whether Paul Barton, the young man quickly insinuating himself in BJ’s life, is friend or foe. But he knows he’s stepped into something much more serious than a modest blackmail scheme. With Paul and BJ next on the killer’s list, BJ must find a way to put a stop to the death threats once and for all.
The following scene at the beginning of chapter 3 of the book is the first time our hero, BJ, makes a connection with Paul Barton, a young UNM student who comes to play an important part in his life, both professionally and personally. I chose the scene because it is rather idyllic in a book full of action scenes.
I relaxed on a chaise lounge amid the clashing odors of chlorine from the pool and the summer roses climbing the whitewashed adobe walls as I eyed the North Valley Country Club’s new lifeguard. Lean, loose-limbed, and broad shouldered, he had the ideal swimmer’s build, reminding me somewhat of Del, even though Del was a Teutonic blue-eyed blond, whereas this young man was bronzed and brunet, and his eyes were likely brown. Up close the dark shape on the left pec would probably morph into a small tattoo. Spandex seldom did anything for me, but his thigh-hugging, well-filled trunks were… interesting.
As the place was deserted at this early hour except for the two of us, the lifeguard turned pool boy and policed the area, scooping fallen leaves and debris from the water with one of those baskets mounted on a long aluminum pole. He worked his way to my side and netted a soggy candy wrapper.
“Kids,” he observed in a pleasant baritone.
Seized by an unexpected need that was 90 percent loneliness, I did something I had not done in twelve long months—reacted to the good-looking guy. Flustered, I fumbled for the orange juice on a table beside me and overturned my glass.
He knelt to recover the tumbler, holding it up and offering to get me another.
Yep, brown eyes, deep and soulful. Dangerous eyes on one so young. He couldn’t be more than twenty. The dark spot above the nipple was a small dragon.
“No, thanks. Nothing left but ice cubes, anyway. But I appreciate your offer, uh….”
“Paul. Paul Barton.”
“Paul.” I was surprised by the family name. There was a strong Latin look about him. Must be the mother’s blood.
He rose, our eyes locked—and the penny dropped. This was the young man I had seen dancing so energetically at the C&W last night. He broke first, raking me with his intense gaze. His lips twitched as he zeroed in on a two-inch scar on my inner right thigh. My body looked pretty good except for that purple, puckered blemish. At first I’d been spooked by Del’s reaction to the pockmark and tried to hide it from the world. But after putting up with that foolishness for six months, I said to hell with it. The world was full of imperfections, and it could deal with this one too.
“Bullet wound,” I said.
“Damn, I’ll bet that hurt.”
My throat closed up at his casual treatment of the wound. Maybe I wasn’t as blasé as I thought. “Like you wouldn’t believe. That’s why I swim early in the morning. Therapy.”
“Swimming’s the best exercise in the world,” he declared like a true water bug. “And you were really going at it a few minutes ago. Looked pretty good out there.”
As Paul turned back to the pool, a cell phone on a nearby table piped the first line of “Dixie.” The conversation was short. He admitted to someone named Jill that he got off work at five but said he’d decided to cool it this evening, turning down what was obviously an offer of some sort. Was it coincidental he was watching me throughout the entire brief conversation?
The image of Paul Barton stayed with me as I peeled off my trunks and showered in the locker room a few minutes later. Then, dressed in Albuquerque casual—leather ankle boots, blue gabardine slacks with a knitted belt, and a yellow silk guayabera—I headed downtown for the office.