Jack’s Newsletter April 5, 2020

Hello from Jack!

Jack Matthews at his desk, April 4, 2020.

A Week of Complying

For several weeks, I have adapted to the rules of physical separation when at the grocery store, post office, and on my walks. As of April 3, 2020, the C.D.C. recommended wearing a mask while in public. I will comply with that recommendation. I have dozens of bandannas, some large, some small, silk and cotton. I wear one on my head quite often. So, when I don the face mask, I’ll be swathed appropriately. I wear a large broad-brimmed hat over the bandanna and apply plenty of sunscreen. I’ve had far too many treks in high altitudes without appropriate covering. (Thank you, Anita La Cava Swift, for your advice on sunscreen.)

The Writing of Medicine Bundle

I continue to write the second novel about the fictitious Tulona Pueblo and the investigations of Tribal Policeman Richard Tafoya and Forest Service Biology Specialist Janet Rael. As of today, I am at 36,382 words. The force of the story (yes, a story has its own volition) has taken Tafoya into the Cristos Mountains near Angel Fire, New Mexico. The murder mystery is contemporary and filled with sharp, fine, and colorful description of northern New Mexico during the month of October. Like my first novel, Medicine Bundle is for a general audience. I have canceled two research trips to Taos because of the virus.

The Books Behind At-home Interviews on Television

I watch a lot of news and I’m always interested in the books behind those interviewed on television. I will go up close to the television screen, cock my head, and read the titles. I’ve seen science, history, fiction, the whole spectrum of the printed word. The at-home interviews, not the conventional backdrop of books in studios, show parts of a person’s life I don’t expect. Russian authors, like Chekhov and Tolstoy, have been on shelves. I see also that interviewees move their books around for the audience, emphasizing a different book each day. I have several bookcases through the house. The bookcase directly behind me is filled with books relative to the Indigenous, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures of New Mexico. Other rooms in the house have other titles and sections.

The Photographs for the Week

Shown in the photo grid above are Indian paintbrush flower in my farm field, the Navajo mask of Child of Water, my writing desk at Sagebrush Inn in Taos, and a good example of dendrite turquoise. (All photos by J. Matthews.)

On Writing

Read the interviews of famous writers in The Paris Review. Those interviews of Hemingway, Elroy, Sam Shepard, Louise Erdrich, and dozens of others will give you a sense of how different men and women approach the blank-white page. I have my approach to writing and one of these days I will share it with you.

Take care of yourself and stay healthy. –Jack

Jack’s Newsletter March 28, 2020

Hello from Jack!

Jack Matthews, bolo tie by Lyle Wright, Taos Pueblo.

I hope you and your family are doing well in this period of, “Stay at home,” “Lockdown,” or “Shelter in place.” I wish my novel was out in print or on the online market so you could purchase it and enjoy a general audience, entertaining, suspenseful, contemporary murder mystery set in northern New Mexico. But I am waiting for St. Martin’s Press (see below the Tony Hillerman Award).

I have been busy realigning my schedule to conform with Fort Worth’s, “Stay at Home,” rules. I know you have, too.

Sadly, two research and writing excursions to New Mexico have been postponed.

But that’s not what “Jack’s Newsletter March 27, 2020,” is about! What this newsletter is about is my latest writing and pursuit for the Tony Hillerman Award for Best First Novel. First, however, a few photographs.

On Forest Road 91B to Burned Mountain, New Mexico. Photograph by Jack Matthews, 2019.

I took this photograph last year when I was in Carson National Forest field surveying scenes for Death at La Osa. The photograph was taken on May 28, 2019. Snow showers followed me most of the day in the Tusas Mountains.

“Spring Sunrise,” by Ryan Suazo, Taos Pueblo, Jones Walker Gallery, Taos, New Mexico. Micaceous ceramic bowl, ca. 2019.

Suazo’s bowl is beautiful. My novel, Death at La Osa, is set in late August to first week in October, so the motif of Suazo’s is not congruent with my timeline. I will inquire with the Jones Walker Gallery if Suazo has a fall season micaceous bowl. Perhaps part of the book cover?

Jack Matthews on trail to Truchas Peaks, Santa Barbara route, 1971. Photograph by Charles Fairweather.

Charles Fairweather, Selden Hale, and I climbed two of the Truchas Peaks in New Mexico, ca. 1971. The photograph and climb was faraway, long ago. When you see me now, my hair is grey, not auburn. My friend, Anita La Cava Swift, who helps administrate the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, told me last summer in Tucson that I should apply sunblock on my ears as well as the rest of my exposed skin. I have followed her advice on the ears; I was already putting sunblock on other parts of my body, but not on the ears.

Death at La Osa submitted for Tony Hillerman Award for Best First Novel 2020!

On December 30, 2019, I submitted, Death at La Osa, to St. Martin’s Press for the Tony Hillerman Award for Best First Novel 2020. The awards committee is scheduled to let authors know by May 1.

The novel is 90,000 words long.

Death at La Osa is a contemporary novel of mystery, bringing together Pueblo, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures of northern New Mexico that circulate around the fictitious Tulona Pueblo and villages of Arroyo Luz and Ojo Verde.

An unidentified man is found dead on the Tulona reservation. Tulona tribal policeman Richard Tafoya leads the investigation. The dead man is found wearing a Navajo-designed belt buckle with never-before-seen turquoise embedded in silver. Janet Rael, a Forest Service biology specialist, assists Tafoya in solving the murder and finding an ancient, previously undiscovered, turquoise mine.

Some background of the novel

I wrote and researched the novel from August 2018 to December 2019. My fieldwork for the novel encompassed northern New Mexico, especially Taos, Tu-Tah (Red Willow people or Taos Pueblo), and Carson National Forest.

To get the landscape correct (and flora and fauna) I spend a third of my time in the field observing, photographing, and taking notes. I want weather and natural descriptions to have authenticity of northern New Mexico through the seasons.

Fortunately, my work as a historian and anthropologist enlarged my world, and over the years I have amassed a collection of 1,000 plus books. Just looking now at my two desks set side-by-side, I have books on Native American linguistic structures; an archaeologist’s field handbook; rural houses in northern New Mexico; The Secret of the Golden Flower; San Juan Pueblo; Ortiz’s work on the Tewa world; Parson’s two volume Pueblo Indian Religion; nine field guides on birds, trees, medicinal plants, weather; and Willa Cather, Death Comes to the Archbishop. And, several other books on the desk are specific to Pueblo culture, including two children’s books.

I have a lot to say about the mechanics and research on this novel. Maybe one day I’ll be able to lecture about it. Oh, by the way, I had to learn the Navajo keyboard to insert diacriticals! Fascinating.


I have another room (actually the dining room) dedicated to the spreading out of maps.

Maps on my dining table. Photograph by Jack Matthews, 2020.

Final thoughts

As soon as, “All clear!”, is given us by the CDC and science authorities, I will be traveling to Taos and finishing my second novel in the series of Tribal Policeman Richard Tafoya and Forest Service Biology Specialist Janet Rael solving cases and tracking down criminals in northern New Mexico. This second novel, very tentatively called Medicine Bundle, begins with a theft of Indigenous artifacts from a museum that are to be used in the revitalization of an extinct kiva brotherhood. Along the way, one of the thieves is murdered. Tafoya and Rael work together to solve the case before the Day of the Dead ceremonies in the Tulona Pueblo and the village of Ojo Verde.

Please take of yourselves and stay healthy. –Jack