“Solving” an Archaeological Mystery in Fiction

As I near the end of my current work-in-progress, The Clay Sustains, the third book of The Clay Series, I have arrived at the chapter wherein I will “solve” one of the greatest archaeological mysteries from the Hohokam era in the Tucson Basin.

In 1949, a man by the name of Ray Romo was hunting in an area of what is now Catalina State Park, near Tucson, Arizona. When the ground collapsed beneath his foot, I can only imagine he knelt down to examine the resulting hole and “peered into the past” (Swartz and Doelle, “The Romo Cache and Hohokam Life,” In the Mountain Shadows, 27:1, Archaeology Southwest, 1996 and 2013).

What he found was an ancient Hohokam pot cupped over a larger Hohokam pot containing a most exciting and intriguing treasure. Inside were 25 copper bells and 100,000 beads. That’s right. You read that correctly: 25 copper bells and 100,000 beads! romerocachediscoverysitebackgroundsstif


Continue reading

Posted in archaeology, Archaeology Southwest, Author Sharon K Miller, Bill Doelle, Catalina State Park, Deborah Swartz, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Novel, Romero Ruin, Self-Published Books, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

*”He Moved”

It was one of those moments when time slows and details become more pronounced, a rather macabre tableaux vivant, burned indelibly in my mind. My father, outside, trying to break the door down; my mother inside with the shotgun; me standing helplessly to the side. Nearly sixty years later, the image presents itself from time to time, triggered, perhaps by something on the news, in a movie, or from an overheard conversation. Time has not diminished the clarity of the image.

When she pulled the trigger, I saw him, through the window on the door, jerk his head backward and disappear from sight.

domestic violenceWhat they were fighting about, I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. It never mattered. Their fights were about power and control. My father wanted to control my mother and she wasn’t having it. In fact, she refused to “have it” for more than thirty-six years.

I hated him for his vicious treatment of my mother, and, while I admired her refusal to be bullied, I hated her for not leaving him, for allowing her children to be raised in a house where violence was the norm. Later in life, I understood. Where could a woman go in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, or even the 60s?

Her refusal to yield to him, her willingness to strike back, to throw dishes or skillets, anything she could get her hands on, meant there were no holds barred. He was taller and stronger, but when he slapped her around or knocked her down, she always got up and got back into his face.

But this time, she had the advantage. I don’t remember how she got him out the door, but they had been fighting—pushing, shoving, slapping, kicking, cursing—nothing out of the ordinary. But somehow, she got him through the door and locked it.  He cursed and kicked and rattled the knob trying to get back in. I don’t remember her going for the shotgun, but there it was in her hands, pointed at the door and him on the other side.

Did she let loose with both barrels? No. I think one, since the blast only blew a hole about the size of a dinner plate in the wall. In the sudden silence afterward, we heard my father’s pickup when he started it and raced out the lane. I could only assume he wasn’t hurt.

Calmly, my mother put the shotgun away and then examined the hole in the kitchen wall. She went outside. A couple of the tar paper shingles were bulged out, but had, on the whole, taken the impact reasonably well.

“Go see if you can find extra shingles in the shed. I’ll take care of the inside.”

While I found two shingles and replaced the damaged ones, she cleaned up the hole on the inside, stuffed newspapers into the opening and covered it over with paper tape. Having recently painted the kitchen, she had paint left over, so she painted it and hung a calendar in the space. We were reasonably successful at hiding the evidence, although a forensics team would not be fooled.

A short time later, a family friend drove in the lane. I looked out the window and said, “It’s Joe.”

domestic violence hotlineJoe was a bachelor who often came to shoot the bull (metaphorically speaking) with my father. He was likeable and funny, and he managed to get along well with both of my parents. He mounted the back porch and knocked.

“Hey, Joe,” I said as I opened the door and stepped back for him to come in.

Mom turned from the sink and smiled hello.

Without saying a word, he came in and turned around to examine the door and the area around it.

He looked over his shoulder and grinned. “I knew he was lying.”

“Who?” If there was a picture in the dictionary to illustrate the word, “calm,” my mother would be in it.

“Your old man. He came tearing in to the barbershop swearing and shouting. Said you had tried to kill him. Said you shot at him. Said you were crazy and he was going to have you committed.”

“If I’d shot at him, I wouldn’t have missed. Want some iced tea?” She reached into the cupboard and got a glass.

He stayed long enough to drink his iced tea and share a bit of barbershop gossip about things other than crazy women shooting at their husbands and then went on his way.

As he drove out the lane, Mom said. “He’ll make sure everybody thinks the old man is the crazy one.” She chuckled and went back to the dishes.


*Inspired by Mary Karr’s account, in The Art of Memoir, of her mother’s response to a question about a bullet hole in the wall. Her answer? “He moved.”

Posted in domestic abuse, Domestic Violence, Dysfunctional Families, Memoir, Memories, parenting | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Writer’s Relationship with the Reader

Author Sharon K Miller's Blog

Many years ago, a colleague, Rus VanWestervelt, shared with me a graphic that illustrated his idea of the relationship between a writer and his reader. He described this relationship as a continuum wherein the writer never leaves the piece, but the audience doesn’t enter until a piece of writing has been officially established as a “draft,” that is, a piece of writing that has a future for the writer and a future for a reader who happens upon the piece. For this reason, he asserted, as long as the writer keeps the intended audience in mind during the drafting, revising, and editing stages of the manuscript, success is almost certain.

The Writer-Audience Continuum


As a creative non-fiction writer, Rus describes the initial stage in his writing process as an exercise in free writing. Most writers engage in various pre-writing strategies, at which time we may or may not know who our…

View original post 646 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two Indispensable Tools for Writers and Editors

Author Sharon K Miller's Blog

As a writer, I know how hard it is to self-edit and proofread my own writing. It’s important to have my manuscript as close to perfect as I can make it before I send it to my editor. (Yes, writers who are also editors hire other editors to edit their work.)

As an editor, I know how easy it is to get caught up in a client’s narrative and miss both small and large problems that must be addressed. That’s one reason I always sub-contract proofreading to someone else. But I also make sure I’ve done my own due diligence before I pass a manuscript–mine or someone else’s–to a proofreader.

iAnnotate or Similar PDF/Document Mark-Up App

iAnnotate PDF is an Apple product (the lower case i in its name is a dead giveaway), but a slimmed-down version (with fewer bells and whistles) is available for Android devices, . That’s the…

View original post 763 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Clay Endures Coming Soon

the clay endures 3DFinally, I have a firm release date for Book 2 in The Clay Series, The Clay Endures. Well, sorta.

I anticipate offering pre-sales somettime around mid-July, with the full release coming at the end of July. I will be at the Clay Festival in Silver City, New Mexico, on July 30 and will have the book, hot off the presses, for sale there.

This book goes back in time from the first book, The Clay Remembers. Readers will remember that Anna, an archaeologist, uncovers a broken Hohokam pot which connects her to the lives and experiences of two women from years before: Esperanza, a nineteenth-century homesteader’s wife, and Ha-Wani, the Hohokam woman who made the pot in the twelfth century. A little scrap of land in the shadows of the Santa Catalina Mountains, north of Tucson, Arizona, is the setting.

The Clay Endures is Esperanza’s story. She comes to this place to help her husband realize his dream of building a cattle ranch there. His fascination with La Cresta, a spectacular and massive ridge of granite towers and pinnacles (known today as Pusch Ridge), draws him to this wilderness where the Apaches endanger their lives and steal his cattle.

Esperanza struggles to hold onto their dream in spite of isolation and unrelenting loneliness. When she finds the ancient pot, the spirit of the woman who made it, offers her companionship and understanding. But will it be enough when she delivers her stillborn child all alone, when outlaws attack her, and when the mysterious Apache, who watches her from the shadows, finally makes his move?

You can read an online preview here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Reprise of “The Donald” and His Hair

I published this blog entry w-a-a-a-y back in 2011 when The Donald was the conductor on the Crazy Train, promoting his theory about Barack Obama’s birth. He was, then, no less a joke than he is today. It’s frightening, though, that today he has again boarded the Crazy Train, this time as the Engineer, trying to establish himself as the best candidate for President in 2016. He has drawn in the most rabid of the tea party radicals to his insane rantings. But that’s probably not what most people want to know.  I think what they most want to know is how in the hell does he do that to his hair? And what’s underneath??

Published 4/28/2011

(Click on small images for better viewing.)

I can’t believe it. I’ve been wondering for the last several days how the media can so completely ignore the joke that is Donald. I mean, shouldn’t a man with his millions be able to afford a barber or stylist to improve his physical image? I can’t believe that any interviewer has ever been able to look him in the eyes during an interview; surely they can’t tear their eyes from the “coif,” much like being unable to tear your eyes away from a train wreck in progress.

Today I decided to do a google search to learn what I could about his hair, thinking that I would find lots of recent, even humorous links, since he had so recently thrust himself into the national spotlight by hopping aboard the birther crazy train and commandeering it for his own self-promotion.

How to do the Trump do

How to do the Trump do

I thought for a bit about what I should enter into the Google search box, knowing that the hair was the result of very careful construction. I settled on “architecture of Trump’s combover,” and I was surprised to learn it was not original with me. There were six entries at the top of the list using some variations of those exact words. Even more interesting was the fact that most of these sites were from the United Kingdom and some were several years old. Apparently US journalists are afraid of offending the Donald by mentioning the coif. Kind of like the emperor’s new clothes; no one is willing to be the first to point out how ridiculous he looks.

To his credit, a Vanity Fair columnist, Bruce Handy, more recently commented on a picture in a British tabloid, The Daily Caller:

http://www.vanityfair.com/online/daily/2011/03/heroic-oprah-might-give-donald-trump-a-haircut.htmlThanks to the miracle of harsh lighting, the photo appears to reveal one of Trump’s most tightly held secrets, . . . . Look closely. See the cross-hatching in Trump’s hair? My baldly stated thesis: This could be evidence of a rarely-sighted, possibly unprecedented ‘double comb-over.’

In a 2008 article in Britain’s Daily Mail, the do is more thoroughly deconstructed Note the layersand includes detailed instructions for those who might want to emulate the Donald look. (See above.) Also in 2008, a British journalist, Nigel Farndale of the Daily Telegraph,  plucked up the courage to question Trump about his coiffure–something no US journalist has yet had the courage to do.

 “For the love of God Man, why [the hair-do]?”, Trump replied: “People always comment on it, but it’s not that bad and it’s mine. I mean, I get killed on it. I had an article somewhere saying it was a hairpiece, but you can see it isn’t.”

The Telegraph’s man then watched as Trump tugged on the thatch to disprove the wig accusations, before asking him to reveal the secrets of the comb-over look, which has also been described as looking like a “sunken apricot souffle”. “I use spray actually,” admitted Trump. “I’ll comb it wet then spray it so it doesn’t get blown away by the wind. I’ve taken a lot of heat on my hair, but, hey, it seems to work.”

IT SEEMS TO WORK!!!??? Is he serious?? I guess I should not be surprised; if he knew just how silly he looks, he might have hired a stylist many years ago. There are actually people in this country who think this delusional man could be President?

I’m sure there are those who might chalk it up to the eccentricities of a wealthy man–some might even find it charming. But seriously, no one should take this clown seriously. Please.


So there you have it. Four years later, and he hasn’t changed a bit–other than he seems to have a love fest going on with the radical right fringe.

Scary, isn’t it?

Posted in Dirty Politics, Meanderings, Meanings, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Announcing a New Blog

I have added a new blog to my repertoire of writing activities–as if I needed one more . . .

But, really, I do need this new one. At least, that’s what I read and hear authors need to do. The conventional wisdom is that an author’s blog address must not include “wordpress” or “blogspot.” Having your own domain apparently ups your street cred, and I need all the cred I can get.  It’s linked to my author website even though the address is slightly different. You can get to the blog and back to my site easily.


I am keeping this blog, Boxelders and Blackberries, active and its focus will remain somewhat unfocused–sometimes my own writing, sometimes my opinions on matters big and small, and sometimes whatever strikes my fancy. Sometimes I may cross-post some topics to both blogs.

The new blog is all about the art and craft of writing and self-publishing with the first post celebrating some excellent self-published books I have either read or that were recommended to me by one of my LinkedIn groups. I’m planning to make this a regular feature in the new blog.

I didn’t take the recommendations lightly. In fact, I am developing my own evaluation standards which I can apply even to books I haven’t read. My initial standards (subject to revision) are:

  • Cover: Easily read in thumbnail view, not overcrowded with images, text and title in readable font, reflects the content of the book.
  • Interior formatting: Front matter properly arranged, appropriate margins, reasonable paragraph breaks, chapter headings/titles distinguishable from content text.
  • Writing: Good editing is evident (no typos, misspellings, punctuation errors), opening paragraph/lines are compelling and draw the reader in, interesting characters are introduced.
  • (Note: The “Look Inside” feature sometimes ignores the html code that specifies the size of an image as a percentage of the viewing screen width and makes the image much larger than it should be. (e.g., publisher’s logo, scene breaks. These issues will be ignored.)

I’m sure I will be refining these standards as I go along.

Please drop on by and take a look at the new blog and maybe click the “follow” button. (Or even click the follow button here, too)

Posted in Author Sharon K Miller, blogging, Self-publishing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

PressPublish at the Heard in Phoenix


Sunset in Phoenix Friday night was spectacular from the sky deck at the Clarendon Hotel.
Not only was the view spectacular, but the complimentary goodies, including hand-shaken margaritas, were really good. Didn’t even need to get dinner.

Friend and fellow writer/editor, Heather Severson, and I were in Phoenix for the WordPress PressPublish event, and believe me it was worth every mile, every dollar, and more between Tucson and Phoenix.

The idea was to help those of us who are WordPress bloggers to make the most of our blogs and to introduce us to new opportunities to use our blogs more effectively. There is no doubt that they delivered on the promise.

The venue could not have been more beautiful. We were at the Heard Museum, one of the most important museums of Southwestern Native American art and history in the region. I had been to the museum on multiple occasions, especially for research on my book series (The Clay Series, of which The Clay Remembers is currently available online). I had no idea they had such an amazing meeting facility; nor did I imagine how incredible the FOOD options would be.

I don’t normally dwell on the kinds of refreshments than a conference host offers, but when it is as extensive and generous as this weekend’s conference was, you simply KNOW that your host values your attendance.

Having just released my novel, The Clay Remembers, for publication, my blog is more important than it has ever been. It must become a primary sales channel for me, so what I learned at the conference was very important to my next steps in marketing.

A quick run-down of what we heard and who offered their ideas:

I have to say that Katherine Fritz was fantastic. Interestingly, I had recently read one of the entries from her blog, “I am begging my mother not to read this blog,” and I will follow her. She revealed her experience at going viral and getting new opportunities as a result of her blog. She was a hoot, and she reached out to Heather and me during the afternoon and after the day was concluded. We laughed together which is always fun.

Food blogger, Russ Crandall, told us about how his difficult health experience, particularly with a rare autoimmune disease, led him to, not only blogging about his experiences, but publishing multiple cookbooks for those who face similar challenges. Emily Austin shared her journey from a “little parenting blog” to fame and how she grew her large and loyal following to the forefront and to features on Huffington Post and CNN.com. Kathy Cano-Murillo had us all laughing through her experiences as a crafting blogger who ended up in “the big time.”

In between these excellent presenters, the “Happiness Engineers” of WordPress offered brief tutorials for features that bloggers like Heather and me could take advantage of.

I don’t know when I’ve been to a better organized conference than this one (and, believe me, I’ve been to a lot) than this one. WordPress deserves KUDOS for the work they did to put this program together and to meet the needs of bloggers like me.

Thank you, WordPress. I only hope I can put into practice what I learned this weekend.

Posted in blogging, PressPublish, Word Press | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Anniversary of Melissa’s Death

Recently I received congratulations from a high school friend who had learned of my forthcoming book, The Clay Remembers. She said she was looking forward to reading it, but that it was very hard for her to read stories that dealt with domestic violence. It’s no wonder. Her beautiful daughter, Melissa, was the worst kind of victim of domestic violence–the kind we hear about on the news. I remember learning that her daughter had been murdered–twenty years ago today, to be exact. It was a sobering moment for me to recognize how fragile our lives and the lives of our children are.

Images from Michael Martin and Andy Morris, Flickr Commons License @ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

Images from Michael Martin and Andy Morris, Flickr Commons

One of Barbara’s coping mechanisms was to finally write a story about Melissa’s cat and how the cat grieved after Melissa’s death. It was, no doubt, easier to write about the cat’s grief than her own. Here is that story, written almost five years after Melissa’s death:

January, 2000

Do Animals Grieve?

Honey came to stay with us quite suddenly in March, 1995. Our daughter and her girlfriend rushed in with Honey, in her carrier, one Saturday morning after the Delaware State Police had helped rescue Honey from an escalating domestic violence situation between our daughter, Melissa, and her husband, Steve.

Melissa had left their home the evening before, following a continuing cycle of abuse and control. She had called to let her father and me know that she would be at her girlfriend’s home for the night. After hearing Steve’s threats, I pleaded with Melissa to get her one-year-old Flame Point Himalayan away from him.

Saturday morning brought more threats and a slashed tire on Melissa’s car. Melissa called to say she was going to her home, with her girlfriend and her husband, to talk with Steve and pack a few clothes. Once again, I pleaded to get Honey away from him. I could see Honey as the perfect target to get back at Melissa. Steve refused all requests and held Melissa in the house against her will. Her friends rushed to call the police. With the policeman’s help and proof of her ownership, Melissa was able to grab the carrier and a few of her clothes, before fleeing with Honey

Honey was an adorable little white kitten with touches of honey color. She had bonded immediately with Melissa. She was so loving and playful, hopping around much like a rabbit, giving her a nickname of “Bunny.” Honey’s life was changing quickly, as was ours and that of our cat, Koko. Koko, our two-year-old Seal Point Himalayan, was none too pleased to welcome a new house-mate. Honey held her own, standing on hind legs to box him.

Two weeks later, Melissa had located an apartment that would accept small pets and was preparing to move. As she left the law office where she worked, Steve pulled into the parking lot. He fired four shots with two hitting Melissa in the back. She died instantly. He then turned the gun on himself.

My husband and I returned home from the hospital, where we had been called following the murder-suicide, to find Honey watching the door. Watching for her “mommy” to return. That, too, was heartbreaking.

Do cats grieve? Oh, yes! Honey’s grieving has taken a long time. At the same time she has been a help to us in our grieving process.

She literally watched the door for six months. We bought new food dishes and a second litter box, but we kept her carrier in our dining room. We left it sitting where Melissa had placed it. That became Honey’s safe place–her retreat. She was no longer the playful kitty she had been.

We did not hear a meow, a purr, or any cat type of sound from her. Honey had nightmares. She would cry much like a baby. We would go to comfort her and once awake she would withdraw from us. You could clearly see the invisible wall she had built around herself. She did not willingly accept affection, but would curl up at my feet in bed when she thought I was asleep for the night. She used the litter box, ate her food, and claimed her space with Koko. It was over a year and a half before we heard a purr and two years before she meowed, other than in her dreams.

Seeking and accepting affection has been a very slow process. Now, after nearly five years, she can be a loving little kitty, but only on her terms. Her purrs can still bring us to tears. We know what it took to get her to this point. Honey will always be Melissa’s kitty.

Before leaving for work on the morning of Melissa’s death, Honey had boxed our Koko into a corner. Melissa, laughingly, picked Honey up and called her “my little angel kitty.” Honey has become our “Angel Kitty,” a little bit of Melissa to hold on to.

Barbara T. Everett

Honey died in January 2011, at nearly seventeen years old. She became an important part of Barbara and her husband’s lives in those years following the death of their daughter; she was a piece of Melissa’s life that they could cling to and share their grief with.

Domestic violence that ends the way that Melissa’s story ended is far too common in today’s society, but for me, and I’m sure for many others, it was shocking in 1995.

I grew up in a house scarred by domestic violence and much of that history is described in Anna’s story in my book. But did I ever believe that one of my parents would actually kill the other? Not really, even though my mother actually unloaded a shotgun at my father once. Fortunately, he was on the other side of the door, so there was no injury.  Even so, I never imagined Melissa’s story in my own life and I never imagined Melissa’s story as part of my book, although there is a character who tells about his daughter’s death at her abusive husband’s hands. Maybe her story was there for me all along.

I am honored that Barbara has shared Honey’s story with me as my book is about to be published. I hope that my story somehow honors the memory of women like Melissa.

Posted in domestic abuse, Domestic Violence, Dysfunctional Families, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tell, Don’t Show: A New Trend in Fiction?

I must be hopelessly behind the times. The last few books I’ve read do not adhere to conventions I thought were appropriate to writing fiction. I am still a member of the “show don’t tell” school of writing, but apparently there is a movement afoot to change that to “tell don’t show.”

bd1a704fd817dd55315a287860e99fceOne book, purported to be the hidden diary of a sixteenth-century courtesan, is an interesting view of the history of the time and of the misfortunes that befell our heroine, but hearing only her voice, and her descriptions of the people and events of that time soon became a little tedious.

Understandably, I think, there is no dialogue, although I suspect the tension and the conflicts could be enhanced by slipping directly into scenes and settings that show the tension and conflicts. I would have liked to see and hear the characters with whom she interacted and experienced her tragedy first hand, not second hand through her narration.

Furthermore, she wrote her diary in a secret code and kept it in a hidden cranny in the castle where she spent the end of her life as a prisoner of the crown. Unfortunately, there is no parallel narrative of how the diary was found, by whom, and how it was ultimately translated. I believe that would have strengthened the story. Moving back and forth between time periods, that is, between some present time in which someone–a descendant, perhaps–finds the diary and the sixteenth-century time period as the heroine’s story emerges, would have provided a more compelling narrative hook.

Another book, also historical in nature, explores the conflicts between First Nation and Native American peoples and those who sought to settle their lands for crown and country. A great deal of research went into writing this novel and it describes violent and vicious encounters and warfare. And that’s part of the problem. It describes these encounters; it does not put us, as readers, into the battles. In fact, many of them are described after the fact.

There is dialogue scattered throughout the book, but, for the most part, even when there are only two people interacting in a chapter, no dialogue provides insight into the characters. The author tells us what to know about them. He tells their history, their values, their conflicts, their goals. Again, as a reader, I find that tedious.

If this is a new trend in writing, I’m sorry to see it coming. I hope this issue is related to self-publishing (both books fall into that category) and the authors’ conscious decision to tell a story, rather than to show it.

I’ve been trying to read more self-published books from indie authors in an effort to support and promote quality self-publishing. When I find a good one, one that grabs me and keeps me engaged with the characters and the content (like Touching the Wire, by Rebecca Bryn, or Chivalry, by Kristie Higgins, or even non-fiction like And Life Continues: Sex Trafficking and My Journey to Freedom, by Wendy Barnes), I will happily post a review on Amazon and Goodreads and other sites. If, however, I can’t give a book at least three stars, then I choose not to write a review.

I hope I’m not out of step with current trends in writing. If so, my own book, The Clay Remembers (coming May 1) is a throwback to an earlier time. I hope not, because I’ve worked too hard to try to show without simply telling, and I don’t want to undo all of that work.

Posted in Book Review, Fiction, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment