Review: The Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

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Rating: 4.75 stars

Dr. Raine Magrath is lazing about in a hotel hot tub when he sees young Apache Johnny Bravo and his grandfather by the side of the pool. Johnny is in town for his first film festival and to meet with a man about the independent film Johnny has made. When Johnny joins Raine in the hot tub, they make an immediate connection with each other and Raine asks Johnny to look him up in Taos if he ever visits.  Then Johnny and his grandfather disappear and it is another year before they meet again.

When Raine walked into The Peaceful Bean to get his morning coffee, he was surprised to see he knows the new guy behind the counter.  It was the Apache film maker he had met a year ago at the film festival.  Johnny Bravo was in Taos and it looked like he now lived here.  Johnny had gone home with his grandfather until the cancer killed him and then went looking for Raine.  The connection they felt at their first meeting is as strong as ever and getting stronger with each passing conversation.  And when Raine takes him home to the family ranch he shares with his father, he semi jokingly introduces Johnny as his new boyfriend, something that  becomes reality.  With the arrival of Johnny’s 8 year old cousin, Weasel, the men start to form a family, cemented by love of the land, history, family, and each other.

But Johnny has another love, film making.  He’s a genius at it and Hollywood is beckoning by the way of the Sundance Festival.  And when he begs Raine not to put any chains on him, Raine knows that for them to succeed, he must be prepared to let Johnny go and chase his dreams.  When Johnny heads off to the Sundance Film Festival, the welcome his film gets is overwhelming with offers to work out in Hollywood.  It’s everything he has dreamed about or is it? With Raine and his family missing him back in Taos, Johnny must decide where his dreams really lie.

OK, right off the start, I will tell you that I want to take a black marker and eradicate that awful blurb for this remarkable book.  Why?  One, Johnny is in no way an “airhead” bur rather someone focused more on the quality of film he makes and less on its marketability.  What a disservice the person who wrote that did to Sarah Black’s characters and this story.  *Shakes head*  Alright.  Rant over, now that I have gotten that off my  chest.  The Legend of the Apache Kid has all the qualities of the best of Sarah Black’s writing.  Her characters of all ages are so well crafted, so beautifully put together that I feel I have run across them in my travels out west for truly Sarah Black has one of the strongest regional voices for our western states that I can remember.

These people rise up from the pages of this book covered in the dust of their ancestors, history percolates through their bloodstream, and who they are is so strongly tied to the land they walk on that they are as much a part of the landscape as the weedy scrub sage, twisted juniper and alligator pine of Carson National Forest.  From their dialog to their rides (either horseback or truck) the characters exude authenticity of  location, the author’s love of the southwestern desert and the native american tribes who belong to it.  Sarah Black knows this land and its people intimately and it translates her love and knowledge into her stories, characters and locales.  If she has an old man talking and walking in her scene, then that character moves and sounds like an old man does. When the bored and sullen Weasel is left by himself for a few precious moments in his first introduction to Raine and Taos, he carves his initials into the shop’s small table because that what small sullen boys with a pocketknife do.  To write like this, your knowledge of people cannot be superficial.  You must have the ability to see beneath the surface, to get under their skin and somehow burrow into peoples thoughts and emotions to bring forth characters as real as these.

Equally remarkable is the dialog and narrative of the story. It is both weighted with emotion and yet as dry as the desert air. It is elegant in that spare western way rarely heard outside the region.  You could give me anonymous samples of writings, and I could pick out Sarah Black’s signature voice in an instant.  Although I dislike taking sentences out of context, this is one such example:

“He leaned forward and kissed me, light as a hummingbird on the side of my mouth. “Later, Raine.” He climbed out of the tub, grabbed his clothes, and pulled the old man’s jacket over his shoulders. The snow was falling on his hair, but he didn’t hurry, just followed the man, wet bare feet on frozen concrete. I closed my eyes so I didn’t have to watch him walk away.”

I put that out there, loving the feeling it evokes within me  and still feel I have not done this author justice because there is so much beauty to be found everywhere within this book.  There is the author’s considerable knowledge of the history and her appreciation for the differing Native American tribes and their cultures. In fact, her love for and curiosity about all cultures comes shining through each and every story.  A particular delight of mine is to see what new element of Americana she will bring into a book.  In Marathon Cowboys, it was bathtub Marys. Really I had no idea. Check them out.  Here it is the green Earthship homes built in communities out west.  Yes, I had to look them up and darn it if I can’t stop thinking about them and the need for green sustainable living ever since.  Sarah Black has given me a real itch to go out west and visit one to see  and experience them for myself.

So why not a 5 star rating?  Well, that would be the ending and really, I need to just give it up when it comes to Sarah Black.  If anyone reading this is already familiar with Sarah Black’s books, then you know what I am talking about.  The ending of the book just comes to a gradual stop.  There is no epilogue, more of a “this is where it needs to end naturally” sort of thing.  It’s not rushed, nor is it drawn out, it just is. In some of her stories it drives me crazy my need to know more is so great, in others it’s just fine because it is in tune with the story and characters.  And truth be told, she is never going to change that, so I just need to let it go.  And yes, it works here, it ends well and brings the story back around full circle. But damn it , I just wanted more. More of these characters, and more of their story and so will you once you read this. It enters your bloodstream as it did mine and won’t let you go. And you will be ok with that.  It’s a Sarah Black story after all.

Cover: Paul Richmond was the cover artist.  The colors he chose are perfect for the story as is the illustration.  The background graphic is the poster for Johnny’s film.

Read my review of Marathon Cowsboys here.

Read my review of Border Roads here.

Read by Author Spotlight on Sarah Black here.

When It Comes to Understanding People or Characters Is Music the Key? Thoughts on Novels and Playlists

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When you are reading a story and the characters within are people you can relate to or commiserate with, do you ever stop to wonder why these fictional people seem so authentic?  How has the author made them so real to you that you cry over their pain and  or laugh in shared joy when they do? For me an author accomplishes this goal by giving their creations the same mental and emotional makeup (for the most part) that every person is born with. The fictional characters must come complete with a backstory as well as the same emotions, thoughts and behavior that we would be able to relate to as well as understand.  If they lose someone or fall in love with someone, it should be in a manner that we not only recognize and empathize with. Another way is with descriptions of  the items the character keeps around them.  It might be many things such as clothing, cars or even pets but I think music is a huge component. Music is a shortcut to helping a reader understand who this character is in much the same manner as it would when looking through a collection of CD’s of someone we just met.

There you are with someone new in your life and you are at their place for the first time. You are checking them out either as a potential friend or romantic partner.  Do you remember what the first, ok second thing, you looked at?  Either surreptitiously or blatantly?  For most people, it’s their music (and then maybe their movies).  Maybe you take a sneak peak and flip through their albums as they are pouring some wine,  or scope out their cassettes (don’t give me that look) when they are warming up the fondue? Who hasn’t quickly perused someone’s CDs on the sly?  Yep, done all those and more.  Perhaps you casually ask if you can put some music on while the appetizers/dinner/breakfast (you slut!) is being prepared and ask where they keep their music?  Another popular and subtle approach.

It didn’t matter what method you employed, the goal was the same.  Checking out the songs they liked and the bands they followed to see if you meshed with each others tastes. It was and remains an instant glimpse into what makes a person tick.  And god forbid you find that Tiny Tim album, Chumbawumba, or more recently Whip My Hair by Willow Smith.  Because, once found, never forgotten.  And that chance of romance? Dead and gone.  Because while you might forgive a friend’s lapse in judgement, the same can’t be said when first contemplating a romp in bed with someone who has questionable taste in music, for god’s sake. I mean what other secrets are they hiding? Clown shoes?

It was so much easier in the past to excuse that odd Tiny Bubbles cassette or Leonard Nimoy’s sings Bilbo Baggins album.  They could always say a past roommate or old boyfriend/girlfriend left it when they moved out or even the dreaded “it was given to me as a gift” workhorse.  There was always the possibility that it might be true and you could, maybe, give them the benefit of the doubt until later.  Didn’t matter whether it was albums, 8 tracks, cassettes or CD’s, those excuses were valid.  These days how do you explain away the fact they exist on your iPod or MP3 player? Hmmm, yeah, that’s what I thought. Can’t.

So I was thrilled/intrigued to find some of the books I was reading this year had playlists attached to them.  And the more I investigated and the more I listened to the songs and bands the authors included, the brighter the wattage of the light bulb that clicked on above my head.  What a wonderful (and underused) avenue to flesh out your characters, to give them a human dimension or layer that would otherwise be missing!

One of your characters is lost in memory as he listens to a Bach Violin Sonata 2 in A minor and it brings him to tears (Shira Anthony’s Blue Notes).  How much richer is that scene if the music is available to the reader to listen to as the scene unfolds?  Then the meaning behind the described emotions jumps into clarity, and truly you are literally in tune with the person on the page.  Or maybe, if you are like me, when I started reading  Andrea Speed’s Infected series, I was clueless as to who These Arms Are Snakes were and what they sounded like.  How could I possibly get a grip on an important part of Roan’s internal makeup if I don’t understand his music? And boy is his music a definitive facet of who he is.  The chance of Hootie and the Blowfish on his iPod? Zero. Because that is not Roan. Whether Roan was listening to Ritualz’ Baba Vanga or The Twilight Sad’s A Million Ignorants, if I know the songs, the bands and the lyrics, then I can access more of the character’s thoughts and headspace, in this case Roan’s. Both Andrea Speed and Shira Anthony produce playlists for their novels, but so does Katey Hawthorne (Riot Boy, By The River among others) and Josh Lanyon (Fair Game, etc) to name a few.

To be sappy about it, music is the rhythm of our lives. We access important memories by it, people and places are associated with songs as are significant milestones in our lives. Feeling sad? We have go to songs for that.  Want to dance about the kitchen as you bake brownies or making a roadtrip to the beach?  We have songs for that too.  They leap to mind with all the familiarity of old friends and lovers, and yes, we have music we associate with them as well.  I know just reading this has brought some of yours out before you realized it. So why not the same for the characters they write about in stories we love to read?  In Sarah Black’s latest story The Legend of the Apache Kid, Johnny asks Raine McGrath if  “You know anybody who sings like a bird with broken wings?”  And Raine replies “Gram Parsons….You can hear his heart weeping in his voice.” Then you listen to Gram Parsons’ singing Wild Horses and you understand, not just the reference but also the men in the story (and author) who appreciates it.

And that brings me to my final point about music, playlists and characters, the authors and their appreciation of the music they use to enrich their characters.  The authors I have referenced here all have a deep connectivity to the music in their stories that reaches beyond their characters.  While I don’t know most of these authors personally, I can tell you that Shira Anthony comes from a musical family and background as a opera singer from reading her blog and author notes.  Andrea Speed often tweets the bands she is listening to with links so we can hear the new indie group that has snared her attention. Music is all over Josh Lanyon’s website and Katey Hawthorne sent me a CD of the music that snarled like a sentient ribbon through Riot Boy.  And Sarah Black? Well, just read a paragraph or two and you can feel the love of old cowboys, the dry heat of the American Southwest and the refrains of old country songs to be heard from pickups as they head down the highway.  And without ever having met them, I can tell you how central to their lives is the music that sings to them and through their stories, to us as well.

All of us have a soundtrack of our lives, a list that is perpetually being added to.  From the earliest of childhood lullabies to a song we may have listened to and connected with as late as five minutes ago.  So why not have your characters have the same, feel the same way as we do about our music?  How much more relatable or realistic is Roan, or Johnny or Jules when we can hear the music that accompanies their actions and thoughts?  How much easier is it to empathize with them if we can understand their songs? To me it’s the difference between Technicolor and watercolor.  There is a rhythm, a song to everything we do and are.  The crucial beat of our hearts or the frivolous flip flopping of sandals hitting the sidewalk, that’s us. So let us hear the soundtracks of the characters we love and love to read about.  We are richer for sharing their music and they are more memorable for having it.

Do you have favorite novels and characters who have music associated with them?   Drop me a comment, or link.  I am compiling a list and am sure I am missing authors and titles.

To listen to some of my favorite playlists by authors, see below:

Shira Anthony’s website.  Look under books extras for the playlists for each novel (and Youtubes links)

Andrea Speed’s Playlists for all of her novels, not just Infected series.

Andrea Speed Infected:Lesser Evils

Katey Hawthorne’s Superpowered Love website. Link for By The River playlist.

Josh Lanyon’s Fair Game  playlist,  Dead Run playlist

It’s Thanksgiving and the Week Ahead!

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Hard to believe I will be cooking away starting Wednesday.  I have pies to bake, and a fresh turkey and stuffing that need my attention.  There are some last minute things to get like the pears and baby arugula for the salad.  I know it never gets eaten as the focus is on the bird so it will only be a small salad this year.  The mashed potatoes and fresh green beans are the domain of my mother and the mango cranberry relish is being supplied by my daughter and her husband.  Things are looking good and I can’t wait to start smelling those wonderful aromas that mean family, closeness, and Thanksgiving.

This is going to be a great week here at Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words.  We have some terrific books and Riptide Publishing is visiting for a guest post on their Warriors of Rome blog tour,  Love Spartacus or strapping gladiators in leather?   Don’t miss this one.  On Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, I am blogging about novel playlists, authors and the importance of understanding the music central to a character.  Trust me, it’s not as dry as it sounds when we are talking about  bands like These Arms Are Snakes or The Flying Burrito Brothers!

So here we go, a little percussion please:

Monday, 19th:                            Knitter In His Natural Habitat (Knitting#4) by Amy Lane

Tuesday, 20th:                           Warriors of Rome Blog Tour, Guest post by Sam Starbuck

Wed, 21st:                                   Review of The City War by Sam Starbuck

Thursday, 22nd:                        Lesser Evils (Infected,  #6) by Andrea Speed

Friday, 23rd:                              When It Comes to Understanding People or Characters is Music the Key? Thoughts on Novels and Playlists

Saturday, 24th:                          The Legend of the Apache Kid by Sarah Black

For all the Americans, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving.  For everyone else, be happy and safe too!