Friday, August 26, 2011

Queho-The Renegrade Indian

Stories from the Hoover Dam
During his lifetime, Queho (pronounced KEY-ho) was credited with the deaths of 23 people, was declared Nevada’s "Public Enemy No. 1,” and the state’s first mass murderer.  He committed several brutal crimes, was the scapegoat for many others and was the resident “boogeyman” to the children living in Black Canyon during the building of the Hoover Dam.  He was a killer, no doubt, but also a misunderstood outcast of mixed blood living during a time dominated by white men.    

Although he has been credited with crimes dating as far back as the late 1800’s, newspaper accounts of his exploits began in 1910.  He was last reported seen on the streets in Las Vegas in 1930.  However, when his mummified body was found ten years later in a cave in Black Canyon, there were several items amongst his possession that had been stolen from the Six Companies worksite during the building of the dam.  It is unknown when he actually died, but his body showed evidence that he had succumbed to the venomous bite of one of the local residents, a rattlesnake.    

The story of his life, pieced together from fact and legend, is fascinating to say the least, and I encourage you to read more about Queho at the links below.  But the story does not end with the finding of his remains, and it is Queho’s story, after 1940, that I want to tell you.
The possee that recovered Queho's remains

Helldorado Days began in 1935 and was an annual cowboy themed celebration sponsored by the local Elks club in Las Vegas.  Complete with rodeo, parade and a carnival, it was, at one time, quite an affair, drawing visitors from all over the state.  When the remains of Queho found their way into the hands of the Las Vegas Elks Club, Queho found his way to Helldorado Days. 

The Elks built a model of Queho’s cave and enclosed it in glass.  Inside, Queho, surrounded by his last possessions, became a favorite attraction for the visitors to Helldorado Village.  This was not a one time event.  Queho was on display at the annual event for twenty years and at least once, rode in the back of a convertible during the Helldorado parade. 

Visitors began to lose interest by the early 1960’s and the Elks reported that his remains and possessions had been stolen.  In 1962, his mummified remains were found at the city dump. On an order from the county coroner, Queho's corpse was finally buried, twenty-two years after it was found, in an unmarked grave in the public portion of the local cemetery.

But that is not the last of Queho. 

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, the Renegade Indian comes alive once again…

Read the story of Queho’s life at the following links:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview: Crime Writer Charlie Stella

I recently had the privilege of being stranded on Star Island during a hurricane-ish storm with crime writer Charlie Stella. Charlie is the author of seven novels, including his most recent Johnny Porno. He is a powerlifter, drummer, Bills fan (everyone has their weakness) and loves opera music. He does not, however, shave his back.
(Okay, it wasn’t a hurricane, it just rained for three days, but I’m from the desert, so what do you expect.)

1. What are you working on now?

A crime novel that much of takes place on your favorite island and mine, Shutt--I mean, Star Island; it’s a witness protection sequel to my second novel, Jimmy Bench-Press. My MFA literary attempt at a novel and a bunch of literary short stories I hope to submit to some literary journals this fall ... and reviews of foreign films and various books on my dopey blog (when I have the time).

2. Why do you write? 

#1) it’s how I landed the Principessa Ann Marie (Cucci-Stella); #2) it keeps me out of trouble (why Momma Stella encourages me) and #3) I can sit while doing it. 

Charlie and me, when the sun was still shining

3. Publishing-talk about it

Oy vey ... I was head over heels in love with being published back in 2001; thought my life’s dream had come true (it had), but I was as naive about the business as you’d be about an IF bet (bookmaking speak). I left a lot up to my first agent and publisher. True horror story: The guy who originally bought my book was fired after C&G was bought out. We had just started the editing process when it was given to a new editor (who hated the book so much he wanted a friggin’ rewrite). Basically, my book was about to be orphaned. That was the first time my street balls (excuse the French) showed in my new life adjustment. I figured I waited 40 years to get published, I could wait a few more. My agent had a good relationship with the other half of C&G and he managed to get me my editor for all my books to date, Peter Skutches. He’s seen the gamut; edited national book award winners and a stiff like me (we consider Peter family).. The book was finally published and it received a Kirkus starred review. I didn’t have a clue who or what Kirkus was. A week later Publishers Weekly took a dump on it (in the first line of the review). Other reviews were very good. I submitted two more books immediately (I’d written a bunch) and was given a two book deal. The horrors (for me) got worse when I realized that the publishing industry can be every bit as incompetent as the mob, the FBI and/or the government (any government). It isn’t an excuse for my pathetic book scan numbers; I’m well reviewed but I sell as good as the Chevy Volt. My third book made two industry best of lists, received two Starred reviews (one from PW) and was sold out in 6 weeks. Who didn’t know? My publisher. So when I spent a grand of my own coin to attend a writer’s conference in Florida, I had to bring my own copies of the book or they wouldn’t have had any to sell. The horror followed me to my next publisher (an offshoot of the first) and just last year I landed on a lucky number (Stark House Press). They aren’t Random House but at least they don’t remind me 6 x’s a week (as an excuse for not letting me know when the book was released so I could drop-ship signed copies to loyal mystery book stores--that happened with my 2nd publisher and was one final straw because those small stores are getting killed by amazon and if they lose sales to them, it doesn’t help anybody). The other final straw was when my second publisher got nasty in an email. I may be retired, but the day I take “nasty” from some punk playing email tough guy is the day I cut them off with a butter knife. The business is what it is; but my advice to anyone getting into the process is to make damn sure you stay on top of it. Be as helpful as you can. Be as respectful as you can ... but don’t take shit from anybody. It’s your book. When people get out of line, respectfully inform them you’re trying to help in the process, not hinder it. When they don’t listen, remind them. When they still don’t listen, make them listen. My current publisher is a gem. We have a great relationship and I owe it to a long time friend of Greg Shepard’s, Ed Gorman. He hooked me up (and didn’t really know me when he did--a very gracious man and legendary mystery writer).

4. Other than writing, what is your claim to fame?

I once ate 6 pounds, one ounce of spaghetti and won the championship of the world (back in my window cleaning days when I was just 212 pounds). See my webpage/blurbs: Spaghetti King

5. What is life with Charlie like right now?

It was work 7 days a week for a while (and my wife was blessed not having me around), but then outsourcing whacked two jobs and I went on unemployment (it’s a beautiful thing for a writer). Last week I returned for a 3-month temporary assignment but it’s Mon-Fri so she still has to see me nights and weekends (the poor thing). I’m a mellow old man with a lot of back pain (from being a moron a few years ago and trying to power lift again---I’ve never been accused of being the sharpest knife in the drawer). I listen to a lot of opera, I don’t play my drums enough at all and I write, write, write ... as much as I can. Come September, Sundays are reserved for Mom and my beloved New York State Buffalo Bills.

6. What turns you on?

What turns me on is pizza ... verismo opera ... my wife’s freckles .... a well played jam on the drums ... While crime fiction originally turned me onto writing, I prefer reading literary fiction on probably a 5:2 ratio (I’ll read 5 literary books to 2 crime fiction books).

7. Why an MFA?

 I need to find something I can do to pay the bills because my legitimate job for the past 30 years has been effectively outsourced. My illegal job(s) are long in my past. I also owe my first writing teacher my ass (Dave Gresham is the reason I’m not dead/in jail, you name it). He got me started way back in the day and although I took many dopey detours, the writing bug was firmly implanted. I had thought about an MFA for years and was turned off by the application process because I was dumped on for being a crime fiction writer--I thought it was some arrogant bullshit, but it was their ball--Brooklyn College--they rejected me after I submitted one of my books in the application, which clearly stated it was okay to do so). What they did was take $125 from my pocket. I wrote the director an email and told him to let me know if he ever needed an agent. I’m not proud of that response because it made me as small as he was. I should’ve caught him on the corner somewhere and took his fuckin’ watch (if it was worth $125.00). I doubt it.

8. What do you think of the SNHU Program thus far?

I’m like a kid again. Okay, a fat, old, ugly kid but a kid nevertheless. I love it. I can’t tell you how great the experience has been/is. Having all that talent on staff to approach is a treasure trove. I first met Katherine Towler by reading one of her books a dozen or so years ago. I’d written her to tell her how much my wife and I enjoyed Snow Island. So look who’s teaching in the program, I learned after rereading Snow Island  a second time? Mitch Wieland has already turned me on to four writers I never would have known about without meeting him. And where would I have met Mitch except for in this program? And crazy Mae! Who would’ve known such a stately woman could curse like a champ? Where else would I have met Mae (she’s from Jersey too) except in New Hampshire? Craig Childs has me seriously considering trying something non-fiction. I think Diane Les Becquets is doing a great job of creating a community atmosphere and she’s a Lombardi fan. Vince is my God. I know I feel as close to many of my fellow students as I did to guys I played football with in college so there’s that aspect as well—camaraderie.  All you crazy writers are great friendship finds. Frankly, I wish it were a 6-semester program. I think it’s great. I truly love it. And who cares whether or not I can pay the loans back some day. I’m friggin’ 55 with a life expectancy of 68 years. Like Tommy Burns might say (about that unpaid loan), “What they gonna’ do, arrest me? Fuck’em..”

9. Do you really offer an open house to visitors in the NY area?

If you’re in our program, you’re welcome. We’ll do whatever we can for yous. Hey, we’re famiglia now.

Visit Charlie at:

And his always hilarious bog:

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Trailer Tease

I have recently become fascinated with book trailers, those visual, multi-media experiences meant to tease readers. They are “the back of the book” set to short film, animation, slideshow and music.  They are growing in popularity. And I love them.

While many of us try to resist changes in the book world, let’s face it. The days of going to browse in a bookstore, picking up hard copies of books, reading the blurbs and deciding if we want to buy are becoming a thing of the past.  While I fully support the independent book stores, we all know that online purchases and downloading digital versions of books is becoming increasingly popular. And the next generation of readers will not have the same ties to the “old school” way of buying that many of us do. So what do we, as authors, do? How do we get the information to our readers?

In steps the book trailer. The back of the book, delivered to your facebook page, your twitter feed, your blog, your website or your email.  Short and sweet, with music, pictures and a link straight to the online site it can be purchased at.  Brilliant. Love it.

Now that I’ve praised the idea, and I commend those that have forged ahead in this new expression, I must tell you my peeves about book trailers. These are not meant to slam anyone who has bravely stepped up and produced their own trailers, but more as suggestions. Here we go:

  • The length varies. I’ve seen trailers as short as 30 seconds and as long as five minutes. 30 seconds doesn’t engage me. Five minutes doesn’t tease me. Those that run one to two minutes have been my favorites.  And two minutes is stretching it.
  • Slow down. I am a fast reader and yet I’ve seen trailers that flash the words so quickly I couldn’t make it through the sentence.  The words are the tease. I need to see them.
  • Fancy Font Tricks. Cute. But it’s difficult to read words that are exploding and twisting and jumping up and down. Let your visual do that. I want to be able to read the words.
  • Choice of music. You may like “Baby Got Back”, but does that really fit when you are trying to promote a novel set in the 1600’s? A spy thriller? Grandma’s memoir?  I found myself singing along to one the other day, and have no idea what the book was about.
  • Presentation. Okay, I am not an expert, but I do know what bothers me. Flashing pictures so fast that I feel I may start seizing. A frightening visual when you are trying to promote a ‘feel good’ book. Half naked bodies that are in the trailer as eye candy only.  Presentation is the author’s opportunity to express to the reader how they perceive their book. It can set the tone.  How disappointing for someone to see a book trailer that is dedicated to men in kilts, only to buy the book and read about puppies?

I’ll say it again: I love book trailers, and I post them, tweet them and forward them frequently, because I want others to love them, too.  So consider the message you really want to convey about your book. And please—tease me. 

To Authors: Thank you to those that have chosen to lead the pack.  If you post a link to your book trailer in the comments, I will gladly tweet it and post it on facebook.      

Monday, August 8, 2011

Social Networks: A Question of Responsibility

Yesterday, I listened to a conversation on NPR that dealt with our responsibility as members of online social communities. The discussion focused on two incidents that happened on Twitter and Facebook, and since I have an account with both, I found the conversation interesting—if not a little disturbing.

Example #1-A young Englishman on Twitter mentioned that he was going to blow up his school. A Canadian follower saw the tweet, reported it immediately to the police who were able to work internationally to find the person and stop him before he carried out the act.

Example #2-A woman on Facebook stated on her status update that she was going to commit suicide. No-one that saw the statement did anything, assuming that someone else had or that it was not their responsibility to do so.  The woman died at her own hand, after broadcasting her intentions to her “friends”.

What I have been considering is the reference to responsibility. We are compelled to act when our brother or a child or a neighbor cries for help yet I think that most of us don’t feel the same sense of duty toward those that we know only by status updates and 140 character tweets.  But don’t we have a moral obligation to report comments like those above?  One Canadian thought so, yet hundreds of facebook “friends” thought otherwise.  

Social networking has given us the ability to connect with people all over the world. We have the opportunity to experience things through their eyes in ways we never dreamed possible.  We are exposed to ideas that transcend borders. We learn about other cultures in ways that a textbook can’t teach us. We see differences, but we also recognize our similarities.  We make friends.

These are just a few of the benefits of our global social networks. But as we continue to grow them, I think it’s time we think about what our responsibilities are toward each other: not as brothers or parents or neighbors, but as human beings.

A cry for help can now be heard around the world. Shouldn’t we be listening?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hoover Dam Stories: African American Workers

The start of construction on the dam in 1930 held the promise of employment for thousands of workers many of whom had relocated to the desert in hopes of finding work. With the nation enduring a crippling economic depression, the project looked like a life saver. For African American and other minority citizens, however, the situation remained bleak. The U.S. government's contract with Six Companies stipulated that American citizens be hired for the job.  The term American citizen, however, came to be defined as white American citizen. 

In May, 1931 the Colored Citizens Labor and Protective Association of Las Vegas complained that none of the first 1000 workers on Six Companies payroll for the dam project were African American. Officials contended that Six Companies had not hired African American workers for fear of causing racial strife among the work crews. Under mounting pressure from the newly elected Roosevelt administration, Six Companies promised an increase in the number of black workers hired. Still, by 1933 only 24 African American workers had been hired.
African American were the only minority group not allowed to live in Boulder City, the “model community” that had been established by the US government for dam workers. They traveled on segregated buses, 30 miles to work each day and were returned to their homes in the slums of West Las Vegas each night. They were relegated to working in the Arizona gravel pits, the hottest spot on the entire job site and were forced to drink from separate water buckets while on the job.

In the years I have been doing research on the building of the Hoover Dam, the picture above is the only one I’ve come across that was taken of African American workers.  Taken by Ben Glaha, a photographer hired by the US government to document the building of the dam, it was never used in official government publications.  It is believed that the photo was taken in the event that the government had to prove fair hiring practices.

In my upcoming novel, Ragtown, you will meet several men on my fictional African American crew. Their contribution to the building of the dam while enduring the harsh conditions and racist attitudes that surrounded them is not forgotten.