Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Boy Like Danny Rivas

Main character, Danny Rivas, a Tohono O'odham boy from the Desert Southwest near Tucson, Arizona, is the central player in a 3-part saga, 'The Borderlands Trilogy.' The novels; 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' and 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss,' feature his adventurous exploits, supported by grandfather, Joseph, and school chum, Diego 'Digs' Ramirez. Danny is both typical and atypical of today's adolescents on American Indian reservations. He possesses many of the rebellious traits of youth as revealed in these coming-of-age stories, longing to discover what the big-city life of nearby Tucson and Phoenix is all about, while still strongly tied to his Native community and similarly dependent upon his grandfather, Joseph, for support in dealing with a detached and negligent father. He has a lot on his plate, but still manages to grow and mature against the backdrop of a border region where illegal immigration and drug-trafficking combine to create a most dangerous environment.

In the opening novel, Danny is a petulant twelve year-old, at war with himself and his parents, particularly father, Tony, who is away for long periods of time working for a landscaping company in the city. Even when Tony isn't working, his tendancy to drive the back roads with drinking buddies leaves Danny feeling unwanted and abandoned, questioning whether his life has any meaning at all. Not surprisingly then, he handles everyday crises by running away--to a remote desert kih (ceremonial hut) fashioned in the traditional method by his grandfather (with Danny's help). In this place, he feels at peace for reasons he doesn't fully understand, but will slowly come to appreciate in the person of old Joseph. Their decision to seek out the spirits of their ancestors propels them on a desperate journey to the summit of legendary Baboquivari Peak, where a lone coyote teaches Danny the values of loyalty and commitment.

In the sequel, 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' Danny, Joseph, and 'Digs' Ramirez, join forces to uncover the lost portions of an ancient manuscript that reveal the secrets of a desert people. It is one year later and Danny, now a teenager, continues to grow and mature, gaining support and encouragement from Joseph and 'Digs.'

The final novel, 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss,' is a culmination for fourteen year-old Danny, as he discovers many of the unique characteristics that define him as a young man. When an illegal Mexican girl named Lupita rescues Danny and Digs from the bottom of an abandoned mine shaft, they all learn the importance of universal acceptance and respect. These revelations bring him closer to his family and friends.

Through all the adventure and mystery, Danny Rivas emerges as a viable force for positive change and self-fulfillment among the people of his O'odham reservation community. He has arrived as a leader for the future, and the reader senses that nothing can hold him back--no barrier is too strong, no mountain is too high to climb.

 In learning about a boy named Danny Rivas, I hope young readers find in themselves many of the same strengths, appreciating their own unique abilities and talents--That they develop a greater love of family and community--That they come to realize what makes them truly special as Americans.    


Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Next Big Thing Blog Hop

I was tagged by my friend, Margaret Larsen, of the Words and Works blog for the Next Big Thing blog hop. I agreed to answer questions about my latest middle grade/YA novel in 'The Borderlands Trilogy.' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch' is a mystery/adventure for all ages, but written particularly for young readers.

Q: What is the title of your current work?
A: Secrets of the Medicine Pouch, Book Two in The Borderlands Trilogy

Q: Where did the idea come from for the book (series)?
A: This series was born out of my love for indigenous culture, particularly Tohono O'odham tradition of the SW, resulting from years of middle school classroom teaching

Q: What genre does your book fall under?
A: Middle grade/YA fiction, mystery/adventure

Q: Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
A: 'Danny Rivas' - Layne Alten (The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, Cold Case), 'Diego 'Digs' Ramirez' - Arsalan Ghassemi (Iranian child actor), 'Old Joseph' - Graham Greene (Dances With Wolves)

Q: What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A: Wise old Joseph; a Tohono O'odham healer, his grandson, Danny Rivas, and Danny's pal, Diego 'Digs' Ramirez, risk their lives to unravel the secrets of Chief Jonathan Gray Horse's sacred medicine pouch and save their people from destruction

Q: Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?
A: Represented by an agency - Andrew J. Whelchel III, GTR, Inc., Elizabeth, CO

Q: How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
A: The first draft took four months

Q: What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
A: 'Touching Spirit Bear,' Ben Mikaelsen   'Hatchet,' Gary Paulsen   'Crossing the Wire,' Will Hobbs

Q: Who or what inspired you to write this series?
A: My inspiration comes from the struggles of O'odham reservation families to provide a better life for their children

Q: What else about your series might pique the reader's interest?
A: The three books in the series: 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' and 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss (coming in 2013), are adventure/mystery stories which take place in the dangerous desert/mountain borderlands area of southern Arizona

Q: Where can readers purchase your books?
A: All titles can be purchased at B&N, B&,, and all independent booksellers (greater Tucson - Mostly Books, Bookman's, Green Valley Book Shop)

Q: How can readers contact you?
A: Visit me at my website:  Follow me at my blog:   Follow me on Twitter: @DesertDogWriter

Monday, October 29, 2012

Writing That Inspires!

I think the reasons why Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings received her 1939 Pulitzer Prize for writing 'The Yearling' are many--not the least of which is the incredible emotion packed into every single word. I offer the following:

Ma Forrester sat by the side of the bed. She held her apron over her head and rocked herself back and forth. She flung down the apron. She said, 'I've lost my boy. My pore crookedy boy.' She covered herself again and swayed from side to side. She moaned, 'The Lord's hard. Oh, the Lord's hard.'
 Jody wanted to run away. The bony face on the pillow terrified him. It was Fodder-wing and it was not Fodder-wing. Buck drew him to the edge of the bed. 'He'll not hear, but speak to him.' Jody's throat worked. No words came. Fodder-wing seemed made of tallow, like a candle. Suddenly he was familiar. Jody whispered, 'Hey.' The paralysis broke, having spoken. His throat tightened as though a rope choked it. Fodder-wing's silence was intolerable. Now he understood. This was death.

To my way of thinking, Rawlings (although she wrote about the common man in humble surroundings) ranks among the very elite of the world's fiction writers. She absolutely captured in the pages of her work the essence of the American experience, ca 1850. Great writers do that in their own time, for their fellow citizens, and for a universal audience, as well.
I think you have a copy of 'The Yearling.' If you don't, you must obtain one. Re-read this amazing story. And then, if you're like me, take a few days to decompress. :) My post-read experience has never changed--not in the several times that I've read this book. Thank you, Ms. Rawlings. :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Adventure fiction never loses its edge!

Total escape!
'Here the way was through utter darkness. The stream was narrow--so narrow that in the blackness I was constantly bumping first one rocky wall and then another as the river wound hither and thither along its flinty bed.

Far ahead I presently heard a deep and sullen roar which increased in volume as I advanced, and then broke upon my ears with all the intensity of its mad fury as I swung round a sharp curve into a dimly lighted stretch of water.'

The Warlord of Mars (1919) - Edgar Rice Burroughs

This amazing adventure story was published by A.C. McClurg, Chicago, the same year that my father was born! And it was my father who first introduced me to the novels of this greatest of science fiction/adventure writers. The first Burroughs novel I owned (and it's still in my bookcase) I received for my 10th birthday: 'Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.'

Burroughs's descriptive passages resonate with me as much today as they ever did. Any writer wishing to work in the adventure genre needs to read Burroughs--pretty much any of his collective works will do.

Happy reading! 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Ben Mikaelsen's 'Touching Spirit Bear'

This excellent YA novel was not included on my earlier list (posted here at the end of last month), but I'm including it now, even though it's publication date is 2001. What I love about this well-written story is the depth to which the author takes his protagonist before attempting to bring him back (experience an epiphany)--a remarkable construct of character that requires a profound understanding of both human nature and the adolescent mind.

A teaching colleague and friend commented recently that 'Touching Spirit Bear' is a book he always has in the back of his mind while recommending/helping students make reading selections. He added that what is required in the case of this title is 'a reader who is mature enough' to handle the tough dialogue and raw message. I agree completely with that assessment. This is not a book for casual pickup, but rather one that might give a particular struggling student a needed 'jolt.' The story intends to grab the reader's attention, and it succeeds with room to spare!

Also woven into the story is the 'spirit bear' theme. Because of how compelling the plot and characters are, readers would be drawn into a closer investigation of the hereditary science behind these remarkable creatures. What exactly is a double-recessive gene? What produces an albino offspring? Since these double het animals do not have pink eyes (are non-albino), how do they differ from the more common albino variety? What are the myths and legends surrounding these animals in the Native/Indigenous world?

Teachers looking for a title to use with students for serious self-assessment and/or to affect change in attitude will find this book quite useful. Particularly beneficial with reluctant boy readers, looking for a no-nonsense, realistic perspective. It carries my highest recommendation.

Northwest 'Spirit Bears'

Here's another example of the double recessive gene in the wild. In this case, a 'spirit bear' of the Pacific Northwest. Again, a rather non-traditional black bear. The indigenous Klamath people of Oregon have ceremonies and stories about this animal.
I can recommend a wonderful fiction read on the subject: Ben Mikaelsen's YA novel, 'Touching Spirit Bear,' will take you on an adventure into the deep woods of the Northwest! It's beautifully written. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

'Miracle,' the White Buffalo

'Miracle,' an extremely rare wild, white buffalo. Born on August 20, 1994, on the Heider Farm, Janesville, WI. Not an albino, but the product of a double recessive gene. As with the 'spirit bears' of the Pacific Northwest (black bears, also double recessive, and thus, white), these rarities are held in very high esteem by Native peoples.

One legend passed down from the Rosebud and Lakota Sioux says: 'A holy woman spoke to a young brave on the prairie and said, "Return to your people and tell them I am coming." The woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped it, giving them a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. "With this pipe, you will walk like a living prayer," she said. She told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the women, and the children. "You are from Mother Earth," she told the women, "What you are doing is as great as the warriors do." Before she left, she told them she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times, turning into a white buffalo calf. It is said after that day the Lakota honor their pipes, and the buffalo will always be plentiful.'
'Miracle' lived just ten years, passing into the spirit world in 2004. But during the animal's lifetime, thousands visited the farm where 'Miracle' was part of a free-ranging herd. Among the visitors were tribal representatives from many North American Native nations.
'Da'a uhpam hu'u, chu'uchum hemako' Fly back to the stars, little one...


Monday, September 24, 2012

Drew Hayden Taylor's 'The Night Wanderer: A Native Gothic Novel'

Although this title has been out for a while (2007), I thought to include it in my reviews of Native-related subject matter, largely because of its author. An award-winning playwright, author, columnist, film maker, and lecturer, Canadian, Drew Hayden Taylor, utilizes a wonderful sense of humor to bridge the gap between various cultures. He accomplishes it nicely in his travel appearances, far and wide, and in the pages of his novels; 'The Night Wanderer,' his first YA, being no exception. I was lead initially to his writing by way of the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Awards, where 'Wanderer' took Gold/First prize in the Juvenile/YA fiction category. I followed that up by watching a short video book trailer and speaking performance clip. I was hooked!

What attracts me to work like 'The Night Wanderer' is that it blends together several important themes in ways that directly appeal to young readers - much as I strive to accomplish in my own fiction projects. Themes of coming of age, ties that bind, and redemption are backdrops for his treatment of kid-important issues like bullying, suicide, prejudice, and fairness. I was impressed with how he mixed these in 'Wanderer.'
His depiction of life on an Anishinabe (Canada) reserve is authentic and well-supported, including Native American vocabulary and word usage. The humor he weaves into the dialogue and description is refreshingly smart, and reminded me of the clip from his speaking performance - very funny stuff!
Yeah, this is a vampire novel, but it is definitely 'once removed.' And by that I mean that the main characters are Native American and the plot does not follow the typical line. The protagonists are Tiffany Hunter, a 16-year-old resident of the fictional Otter Lake Reserve in present-day Ontario, and Pierre L'Errant, a mysterious man of Anishinabe ancestory who shows up from Europe. Tiffany has serious issues going with her dad, who doesn't approve of her non-native boyfriend, while her grades at school are also taking a nose-dive. Pierre is seeking an honorable end to his vampirism, drawn into Tiffany's world when he becomes a boarder in her home (Tiffany's father decides to convert the house to a B & B).
This novel is great escapism; a delicious blend of the real and the unreal, plus thrills and chills in the deep woods of Canada. The dark of night encounter between Tiffany and Pierre is, by itself, sufficient to make the reader rave about this novel, once they've raced through the pages to finish it. I can enthusiastically recommend this read to those looking for a different slant on the traditional paranormal.
Look for more reviews in the coming days. Happy reading!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Great new selections in YA novels - Native American Theme

In addition to my series, 'The Borderlands Trilogy:' 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' and 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss,' I highly recommend the following new books, all with a Native American theme. They are well-written, sensitive, and timely works reflecting the amazing diversity of North American Indian topics and nations.

The Night Wanderer by Drew Hayden Taylor
The Lesser Blessed by Richard Van Camp

Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories by Luci Tapahonso

Moccasin Thunder by Lorie Marie Carlson

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Night Flying Woman by Ignatia Broker
Wild Inferno by Sandi Ault
Neighbors by Joan Leslie Woodruff
You can find all of the above titles at your local library, or available at Barnes &,, and all independent booksellers. I will begin a critical blog series on each of the titles shortly. Watch for my posts on Facebook, Twitter, and here at :
Happy reading!


Monday, September 10, 2012

Descriptive Passage at its Best!

In a recent Facebook post I suggested three novels of western author, Zane Grey, and so what do I now do?! Use a fourth. :) Here, from his 1910 classic, The Heritage of the Desert, is an excerpt that demonstrates his wonderful skill at setting a scene/establishing mood/creating imagery in the mind of the reader:

Hare (the protagonist) held to the pommel and bent dizzily forward in the saddle. Silvermane (his horse) was going down, step by step, with metallic clicks upon flinty rock. Whether he went down or up was all the same to Hare; he held on with closed eyes and whispered to himself. Down and down, step by step, cracking the stones with iron-shod hoofs, the gray stallion worked his perilous way, sure-footed as a mountain-sheep. Then he stopped with a great slow heave and bent his head.

The black bulge of a canon rim blurred in Hare's hot eyes. A trickling sound penetrated his tired brain. His ears had grown like his eyes--false. Only another delusion! As he had been tortured with the sight of lake and stream now he was to be tortured with the sound of running water. Yet he listened, for it was sweet even in its mockery. What a clear musical tinkle, like silver bells tossing in the wind! He listened. Soft murmuring flow, babble and gurgle, little hollow fall and splash!

What style! And here's the thing: When reading a story with this kind of creativity, the reader has no choice but to fall totally into the moment--up very close in the head and experience of the character. Since Grey is already there (in the head of his protagonist), his great challenge as a writer is to make sure you are too. And doesn't he succeed magnificently?

This two-passage example is very fine writing by an author known far more as a popular fictionist than a literary craftsman of remarkable prose. And yet, he delivers fabulously here in the tradition of masters of the pen, i.e. Stevenson, Hugo, Cooper, and Baroness Orczy. Is Grey's writing archaic? Yes, definitely. And is that a huge issue for today's readers? It could be for a younger audience, and perhaps a small distraction for the adult reading public. But I'm so impressed with his ability, his commitment to the craft of writing, the cleverness and beauty of his word selection, that I feel much less inclined to be a detractor--just the opposite, a strong supporter!

Why not take a similar journey yourself, into the pages (and fascinating imagery) of a Zane Grey novel? If you are a lover of the classic adventure story, you will find great escape. If you are a writer, you will (re?)discover a real stylist here!

My best to you in reading and writing!

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Junior Version of Dan Brown!

Recently I posted a promotional, calling my new middle grade/YA novel, Secrets of the Medicine Pouch, a 'junior version of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.' Understanding how popular (and well-written) Brown's book is, I had to think hard about the similarities between our two works, and how/whether the plot, characters, pacing, story details, etc. would lead readers to make such a comparison. I'd like to share with you some general points that I believe make the case.

1. The imaginative use of ancient script and code - I did considerable research into the ancient writing and symbolism of Native American/Sonoran culture as it was originally interpreted and used, and ways it might still hold meaning and significance for today's reading audiences. The real challenge for me was conveying all of the specifics to my editorial staff at Open Books Press.

2. Important props in the storyline are secretive and hidden away - As with Dan Brown's riveting storyline, Secrets is very much about the delicious mystery of the unknown and the imaginative. What the reader is forced to speculate about, simply because detail is being held back, drives the plot and makes the novel a real page-turner. I try to provide just enough 'food for thought' to keep the 'stomach' from growling--at least, not too loudly.

3. The plot must develop fully within a very restricted timeframe - Secrets races, as does The Da Vinci Code. Placing a severe restriction on the amount of time your main characters have to successfully complete the mission is a winning formula in any novel project.

4. Very authentic and believable characters - Both novels utilize well-developed, dual protagonists who convince the reader early on that they are in charge, on top of the action, and best suited to solve the mystery and overcome the odds.

5. Unpredictability -  Numerous twists and turns in the plot and storyline make it very difficult for the reader to anticipate what will happen next. I always want my reader to be with me, but not ahead of me. Actually, struggling to catch up is okay too!

And so, my advice to readers is to revisit The  Da  Vinci Code. Reread this wonderfully crafted book, enjoying it for all the literary strength it possesses. While you read, take mental notes (even jot down as necessary), so that you gain full satisfaction from the experience. Then, pick up Secrets of the Medicine Pouch. Follow a similar note-taking process, and finally ask yourself: Is this (Secrets) not the best example of historical mystery/adventure since the publication of Brown's hugely successful book? I strongly believe that that will be your conclusion! Happy discovery!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Wow, is that a spelling error? But you're an author!

I thought I would address this statement, not only because I professionally write and author books, but because I support the sentiment behind the quote: 'To err is human, to forgive devine.' And with this, the knowledge that a number of the world's greatest literary masters were famously poor spellers and punctuators. John Keats? Ernest Hemingway? Jane Austen? I'll return to these authors, among others, and their briefs shortly.

From the critic's perspective, deciding whether or not to publicly correct a writer's spelling, punctuation error(s) is definitely a judgment call. And that is certainly not to assume that everyone uses good judgment. When such an error is within the body of an email message, random posting, etc., it is (reasonably) much tougher to criticize. When an error is discovered within the text block of a published work (such examples are uncommon, but do surface occasionally), it is more likely that the mistake was the writer's and then overlooked by the line editor, though the editing process does work both ways. My editor would admit to her own errors not found in the original manuscript. An error might constitute more of an issue, particularly if the glitch distracts the reader, or prevents them, in some way, from fully enjoying the scene, setting, dialogue, story arc, etc. And if such an issue does result, it would (again, reasonably) justify contacting the author, publisher about it. But notice that I have thus far avoided a return to the word 'publicly,' used in my opening sentence.

There are those who cannot resist an opportunity to find fault in others. It's pretty much 'Psychology 101,' or 'I can repair my own low self-esteem by chipping away at yours.' And some would jump at the chance to provide criticism because they see published writing as falling within the domain of public consumption (Hey, it's out there for everyone to see, isn't it?). It's worth noting here that professional critics get paid to do this sort of thing. Nothing personal, of course! :) There's also this: 'I mean really! I paid good money for this book!' True, we all want and deserve our money's worth. Additionally, bad editing is insulting, since reading is a personal experience. But then, writing is also very personal.

Because writing is so personal, I am inclined, actually happy, to accept private notification, correction of errors in spelling, punctuation, and/or usage in my everyday correspondence, postings, etc. Although I try very hard to avoid such mistakes! After all, I am a published author with a reputation to uphold. Where I think the average critic oversteps the 'rudeness barrier' is when they point out such everyday errors in a public arena. This is likely to embarrass, at least disconcert.

In a novel I recently read, published by a major house, there were two errors that fall under the category of 'typo.' One, I had seen before, and is more common: 'the the.' The second: 'after' spelled 'alter.' Neither had any impact on my enjoyment of the work. Rarely does one see formatting issues; a good thing, since that kind of error can really distract.

Now back to the authors mentioned at the top of the blog, and a couple more that may surprise you.

Ernest Hemingway did a good deal of journalistic reporting during the Spanish Civil War, often from the front lines of the conflict. Newspaper editors regularly complained about his miscues and spelling mistakes. His typical response to them was something like - 'Well, that's what you're paid to correct!'

Jane Austen titled one of her early works, 'Love and Freindship,' and once spelled 'scissors' as 'scissers.'

William Faulkner's editor at Random House, Albert Erskine, referring to the author's misspellings, faulty punctuation, and accidental repetitions, once said, 'He depended on me to point out such errors and correct them, and though we never achieved a perfect performance, we tried.'

F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, 'This Side of Paradise,' was famously criticized by literary critic, Edmund Wilson, who said of the work, 'One of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published.'

In a love letter to Fanny Brawne, Keats spelled 'purple' as 'purplue.' The author tried to hide his embarrassment by claiming that he meant to coin a new word - a cross between purple and blue.

Enough examples of the human side of erring? It's reassuring to know that it has happened to the best of them, and will likely continue with today's writers. Doing the research to prepare this blog, I can say that I am as determined as ever to avoid missteps in my work, while appreciating that the foot bridge over the chasm is wobbly, my gait is unsteady, and there is no hand rail to protect me from falling!

My very best to you in writing!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Tonight is the night! Come join us! Three of southern Arizona's freshest voices in fiction - Robert L. Hunton, author of the 'Borderlands Trilogy,' including his new powerful sequel to 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' Michaele Lockhart and her latest novel, 'Hoarding Lies, Keeping Secrets,' and Matthew Marine, author of the just released mystery/suspense novel, 'Devil's Moon.'
The Bridge Gallery Art Walk - 5425 N. Kolb #113 - Ventana Plaza - Tucson, AZ - 5-9 p.m.
Enjoy the warm evening air on your stroll along this wonderful venue and take advantage of some great summer reading selections! All three authors will be there to talk about their latest work and sign copies. The art is aesthetically pleasing, the mountains are majestic, and the fiction is fantastic! See you there!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Great reviews!
Here is what Nicole Sorkin, Managing Book Review Editor, Pacific Book Review, had to say about Michaele Lockhart's 'Last Night at the Claremont:'
'Lockhart treats her readers, as does her character, with unique kindness and polite respect. Finishing her book I felt stories reverberate as long as possible only to become my memories as well. Bravissimo!'
And Lisa Barker of Biblio Reads - Children's Book Reviews, said this about Robert L. Hunton's 'Borderland's Trilogy' mystery/adventure series for young readers, including 'Gift of the Desert Dog' and 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch' - 'These stories are even more than the descriptions put forth. They are wonderfully warm and patiently told tales of a boy coming of age and embracing his heritage in the Arizona desert. I was swept up in the life of Danny Rivas. I found myself deeply immersed in the tension and unfolding mystery. Love and Native American spirituality are woven throughout. They are well worth the read!'

Join Michaele Lockhart and Robert L. Hunton, Thursday, July 12, 6 - 9 p.m., The Bridge Art Gallery, Ventana Plaza, Sunrise and Kolb, Tucson, AZ. It's time to add to your summer reading list!

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

I was just connected with young adult readers at, and part of a discussion on: 'What book started you reading?' Many are citing wonderful examples, everything from C.S. Lewis's 'The Chronicles of Narnia,' to Suzanne Collins's ...'The Hunger Games.'
I couldn't resist adding the book that really started it all for me, thanks in part to my 7th grade English teacher. She brought the pages of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings' 1939 Pulitzer Prize winner, 'The Yearling,' to life for all of us in her class. For the first time, I learned about honor, respect, and sacrifice, and in a way few other writers have accomplished for me since.
I urged all in the discussion thread to read the book, if they hadn't already, and share their thoughts.
What book started you reading? More importantly perhaps - Why was it such a motivator for you?
See More

Monday, July 2, 2012

An author signing event not to be missed! Robert L. Hunton and Michaele Lockhart together at the Bridge Gallery Art Walk, Ventana Plaza, Suite 113, 5425 N. Kolb Rd., Tucson, AZ, Thursday, July 12, 2012, 5 - 9 p.m.
Two southern Arizona writers with a flair for fiction will meet/greet, talk about their books, and sign copies. Plan to spend a summer evening strolling Ventana Plaza, surrounding yourself with wonderful art, and checking out some excellent summer reading selections.
Robert L. Hunton is the author of the 'Borderlands Trilogy:' 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch,' and 'Coyote-meeter's Abyss.' His novels for young readers also include 'Ripper's Tomb: An Eddie Castro Boarding Adventure,' and 'Dead End Summer.'
Michaele Lockhart has authored her latest, 'Hoarding Lies, Keeping Secrets,' 'Last Night at the Claremont,' and a fun summer novella, 'Men with Black Briefcases.'

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Join me in my study! I know you're here is a look inside the world of my reading and writing; a world that I created to provide solitude and inspiration, a place where I can contemplate story, arc, pacing, and characterization. This is a place where my careers as a public school educator and writer come together--my accomplishments in the classroom, reminders of where I've been and where I'm headed, memorabilia, and examples from my service to students and parents.
Books, reading, and writing remain a cornerstone of who I am. I am always in high admiration of the collective effort and talent required to produce the volumes that line my shelves. I feel I am a better writer because I surround myself with great writing. Also, I'll be answering the questions: Who are my favorite authors, and what titles? From Melville to Morrison, the work is here. So, come on in and share a few moments in my space.
I think you'll enjoy it!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The following discussion strand is currently running at:'Are All Prologues Bad?'  I definitely started something with my input concerning 'fictional forewords/afterwords.' The immediate result? 88 hits at this blog site! I'd love to hear (view) your comments as well. I hope you enjoy the post!

Robert HuntonI have a foreword/afterword in my latest middle grade/YA novel, 'Secrets of the Medicine Pouch.' Looking through my editors comments made about a year ago (the book came out at the end of March), I'm noting that he liked how the foreword helped him transition from Book One in the series (2010) into the second story mentioned above. And although he has often expressed to me the (his) need to see each installment as 'stand alone,' he indicated that in this case it worked both ways--strengthening the plot and advancing the trilogy storyline.
I believe prologues/forewords can be useful, but I would add this caveat: If you write for young readers, such an intro must be short (say, a single scene-a page or two) and powerful, real with strong hook. You can stretch these parameters a bit, but not a lot.
As the prologue concludes, you want a 13 year-old's eyes to be literally jumping ahead into the opening lines of Chapter One. If they've already read the first book in a series, then what you established there will likely aid you. If they haven't, you are left with the strength of this device and the story at hand. Your insurance lies with 'Kapow!' 

Robert Hunton • ----------, I talked briefly about length in my previous comment. When it involves young readers, this (length) is of particular concern.
My thanks to --------------, who among others (Arthur C. Clarke, Hugo Award winner, Norman Spinrad), uses a fictional foreword in '-------------.' My response to 'definitions' would be to avoid letting such conventions get in the way of a good book. There are any number of things that might need explaining at the forefront of a novel, and there isn't a literary form out there that someone hasn't used as a fictional device. I'd say, where it's fiction, anything goes.                   

 Robert HuntonI couldn't agree more with ------------ about 'not making the reader start the story twice.' The foreword, or whatever you want to call it, must be integral to the story. Such that, you ARE reading the story when you read it. Take a look at Katherine Paterson's 'Jacob Have I Loved,' and you will discover wonderful use of this device. Also, S.E. Hinton's 'Hawkes Harbor' comes to mind. 

------------- • Robert, A fictional foreword. Now that's a cool idea. I think that's been used in novels that are supposed to be true--where the hero has wandered off to another time or dimension. I'm glad you mentioned that. 

Robert Hunton • ----------, yes, a fictional foreword as a structural device. You mentioned the need for 'time lapse' to consolidate events, providing a neater picture (history/backstory) in the mind of the reader. It can be accomplished in this way.
Most often, a flashback, for example, predictably feeds the plot and explains a character's actions by exposing a critical event from the past--it is the 'here and now' interrupted by a quick visit to 'back then.' I'm sometimes turned off by flashbacks, even though I used one in the opening chapter of 'Gift of the Desert Dog,' because they don't transition well or are distractingly long. But what about writers who have successfully reversed this order to create a flashforeword, keeping it short and effective, and positioning it (obviously) at the opening of the novel?
I think you are right; it (the fictional foreword/afterword) is typically thought of as an intro/conclusion in stories that are supposed to be true. And yet, why not add realism to any piece of fiction (I mentioned him before), as Arthur C. Clarke often did in sci-fi, particularly using afterwords? What makes his fictional predictions, conclusions so chilling? They seem so real...when reality is more about his clever use of devices. 

 Robert Hunton • ---------,----------,-------,-------, others, I agree..fantastic discussion. Of particular benefit to me has been secondary input around definitional boundaries, i.e. prologue and/or foreword, flashback use, structural devices, etc.
I made the statement earlier that anything (use of devices) goes in fiction, and I firmly believe that. A fictional story works (and sells) when it appears real to the reader. Any strategy that an author uses to get there is good stuff--entertains an audience, pushes the boundaries of definition, and challenges the writer to reconsider his/her overall strategy.
It's also about word choice. Mark Twain often expounded upon the importance of every single word used in a fictional piece. He called an 'acceptable' word the 'light from a firefly,' while the 'right' word was 'fireworks on the 4th of July.' And although his comparison is an obvious exaggeration, he was right to emphasize it for writers in such a way. And that's because his comments speak to boundaries, as well. Prologue. In context: How does it read, sound, play to the reader? Foreword? Preface? Prelude? Afterlude? Is the writer free to use any word in their work? Of course. Make up a word? Yeah, that too.
Is it possible that 'prologue' doesn't work in a particular story? That the word itself bores the reader? I like Katherine Paterson's choice of words to open 'Jacob Have I Loved' - 'Rass Island.' I also like that, throughout his novels, Edgar Rice Burroughs used the classic device of a fictional 'foreword' (yes, he used the word) to suggest in some way that the contents of the story to follow reflected true events. The device worked especially well in 'Gods of Mars,' part of his famed 'Martian Series.'
Let's keep this strand going. I think we all benefit from diverse views. 


Monday, May 28, 2012

For the final 'Folklore 2012' exercise at Valencia Middle School we took a fast trip along the spine of Appalachia, from Georgia in the south to the Canadian Maritimes in the north, including the Green Mountains of Vermont.
We used a terrific 'word harvest' activity to examine the colloquial tradition as it applies to post-Colonial American myth and legend - everything from 'A painter (panther) kilt muh chickens' to 'Course that blizzahd they had the lahst night theyah was wicked, ayuh,' referring to the horrific New England winter storms of 1888, and the equally devastating winter of 1816, known in legend as 'the year without a summer.' These and other events inspired the poetic voice of writers like John Greenleaf Whittier, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Frost.
The excerpt below is just a sample of verse that originated in those remarkable times and places. I hope you like it, the kids sure did!

'Months that should be summer's prime,
Sleet and snow and frost and rime.
Air so cold you see your breath,
Eighteen hundred and froze to death.'

Friday, May 25, 2012

My congratulations and best wishes to 8th graders throughout the TUSD! With graduation and promotion ceremonies going on at city schools today (5-23), 13 year-olds will join their peers in the fall as members of various high school classes of 2016.... It's an important day for families, whether their sons and daughters are off to Cholla, Tucson, Catalina Magnet, or elsewhere; they can take this opportunity to pause and reflect on the joined sacrifices made in pursuit of an educational dream.
These students know that nothing of value in life is easy to obtain - from solving difficult social problems to mastering the English language. I am confident they will do themselves and their families proud!
Good luck, and have a safe summer!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

                        Folklore 2012

Thanks once more to teachers and students at Valencia Middle School for participating in Thursday's 'Folklore 2012' program (the second installment of four). We had a terrific time with plains Indian winter counts, scenes from 'Dances With Wolves,' and a 'fashion show' that included a feather fan and an authentic antique buffalo bone chest protector, like the one worn by 'Wind in His Hair' in the film. My example from a Lakota original was fashioned (hand-made, using all natural materials) by Dr. Fred Wiseman, anthropology professor at Johnson (VT) State College, and tribal representative for the Abenaki Nation of Missisquoi.
Congratulations and good work to students who started their own 5-year winter counts! Before starting work on the counts, they studied the actual drawings of Oglala Sioux chief, American Horse (the accompanying photo is of his daughter, Julia American Horse, taken in 1930).
Next Thursday, we will measure and plot out a bull buffalo, and look at mysterious sand paintings of the Navajo! Awesome!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Magical Baboquivari!

Every time I visit the unspoiled Sonoran desert on the Tohono O'odham reservation, I remind myself of two things - how incredibly fortunate I am to be in the here and now, in such a remarkable place, and how important the preservation of these natural areas is for all of us and future generations. What I find here in the purity and solitude is very special. I use the term purity with the utmost respect, regarding not just the flora, but the fauna as well.

On a recent hike into the Baboquivari wilderness, to the foothills of that magnificent peak, rising to a 7,700' summit, I was joined by a pack of coyotes, who clearly had my scent and were circling in to whet their curiosity. They remained at a safe distance - I picked up occasional glimpses through the desert undergrowth as they moved about, some 30 - 40 yards away. They communicated constantly with yips and yaps; signaling which I sensed was not a result of nervousness or alarm, but only to verify each other's location in relationship to mine, and likely to warn me of their territorial authority. There were numerous signs of scat about, and perhaps a den nearby. The smells associated with my SUV parked on a rocky flat below the scene probably added a sense of confusion to their investigation. I felt completely unthreatened by their presence - a feeling I have developed from many encounters with coyotes in the desert around my Arizona home.

And so, revisiting the purity theme, I can say without hesitation that these coyotes were instinctively pure of heart in both action and reaction. As all animals are; pure of heart and soul. Delusional to think that we could be the same. They circled a while longer before settling into position to simply monitor and observe. The loud communication died away, leaving just  occasional whining to let me know they were still there.

I did some circling of my own, around a giant saguaro, replete with cozy cactus wren nest about half way up its massive main trunk. Several curling arms rose skyward, not reaching the height of the center spire - some thirty feet above the ground. A two hundred year-old specimen, no doubt. Just a six-foot baby when Geronimo walked this land.

Hauling out my trusty Nikon, I took a few pictures of the surroundings, the mountain backdrop, the thick, tough, semi-arid greenery, and even one of a coyote who kept pacing back and forth along a ridge line off to the east. Then I retraced my route back toward the SUV, listening for movement from my companions all the while. Next to the vehicle I turn to take a last look back at the saguaro.

I will return to Baboquivari as often as I am able. My spirits are greatly lifted with each visit. My soul finds peace here with each message the desert sends me. I cannot claim to be 'Coyote-meeter.' That title, among the O'odham, is reserved for one who experiences a quest-like, one-on-one encounter. An encounter involving a pairing of spirits - man and animal together. But maybe some day. A mystery to contemplate, if there ever was one.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creating strong 'hook,' Part 3

February 22, 2012

Suzanne Collins'  hook in 'The Hunger Games'

God! Look at that opening!

'When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out; seeking Prim's warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course she did. This is the day of the reaping.'

The mood here is so ominous - hook. The word selection is so dangerous - hook. The final sentence in the paragraph provides such tension. Your eyes have no choice but to leap forward to the next paragraph - hook. Your mind is already at war with your emotions - outstanding hook.

No wonder this novel raced to the top of the YA charts. You are tossed 'smack dab' into the middle of this scene, with little choice about it, and absolutely no escape route. Collins has you, and she has worked too hard at crafting this opening to let you go. You are putty in her hands, and isn't that a great feeling?

Notice also Collins's powerful use of nouns, not adjectives. One more adjective might have killed this scene. The paragraph seems simple enough, but if you think it was easy to craft, think again.

Short, choppy sentences. Say it! Don't mess around with words. Don't insult your reader, go for their heart. This is the key to good writing and a great opening to a novel.

I admire so much that Collins created such a powerful opening scene using rumination - a character's thought process. She does not utilize back and forth dialogue or fast action, but instead relies on a first-person glimpse into the mind of her character. A mind that is insecure, fearful. In fact, so ominous is this scene, that it leaves the reader unsettled. Big time unsettled. Unsettled a'la Stephen King.

All of us who write fiction strive to achieve what Suzanne Collins succeeds with in 'The Hunger Games.' Give your readers great escape, great connection. Make them feel for your characters. Empathy - ask for their heart and give them closure in return.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What's in the coffee?!

In an earlier post title, the word would be 'formatting.'

Creating strong 'hook' continued...

Let's start with Jeff Kinney's bestseller, 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid.' What strategies does he use to draw you in?

1. He starts in the middle of the action. It's Tuesday in his opening JOURNAL entry; a random day, and that's the point--spontaneity says what? Natural. Real. Young readers want stories they can identify with, and right away this kid sounds real, like they are.
   Also, there is no backstory, no history right off the bat. That's a very good thing with young readers who want to get to the 'meat' right away--Patience is a virtue. Yeah, right! When was the last time a nine year-old in your family was patient? Backstory can come in snippets, distributed cautiously.

2. His main character has a bone to pick. In fact, several bones to pick: With his mom for buying him a journal that says 'diary' on it. With people who write in 'diaries.' With the school bully (by inference and a page illustration) who's looking for any reason to slug him. With his teacher too, again by connecting the dots. The Kid: 'How many times do I have to tell you? This is a JOURNAL, not a diary.' And along with this formal complaint is a vow to fight it. Tension. Nothing very serious to an adult, but this book is not for adults, although they might enjoy reading it too, if they can still remember what it was like to be a kid. A middle school kid's day is ruined because of a locker that won't open? Please...
   So, tension. And you can tell from the opening to this book that his troubles aren't going away soon. A great formula for a tough-to-put-down book.

3. Does Kinney inject personality into his character? Right away, on the first page. Kids who moan, groan, and otherwise complain all the time regularly draw the ire of parents...and classmates. No one likes a whiner. Suck it up! But again, this is more about what is lovable, funny, quirky, immature, insightful, etc., etc. in the main character.

One final thought about Kinney's 'hook:' This story is all about 'show, don't tell'--a successful writer's dictum. There isn't a boring word in it. And he makes you laugh at every turn. Now, how can that not be a winning combination?

What other devices did you identify in Kinney's opening? In the first chapter?

Please feel free to share your thoughts.


My apologies for the fotmatting issue!

This last blog submission on writing was copied/pasted from my other blog site at I hope the line jumps weren't too distracting, and that you got a good sense of where I'm going with future postings that continue the subject. Watch for a second installment on 'hook' coming along today (2/9). Many thanks!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Creating Strong 'Hook' (in a fiction novel, short story)

If the rejections have been piling up, maybe the culprit is your story's opening. That opening must be compelling--very compelling. Agents and editors have experience with a large segment of the reading public. They know what that readership likes well enough to buy.

Here is an assignment for you. Go to your local public library (You have a library card, don't you!). Bring along a pen and writing pad. Find the young reader section (sometimes called

'children's' or 'teens'). Sign out to read or take to a chair/table to read any TWO of the following titles:

'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' Jeff Kinney

'The Hunger Games' Suzanne Collins

'The Lightning Thief' - from the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series Rick Riordan

'The Revealers' Doug Wilhelm

'Bridge to Terabithia' Katherine Paterson

'The Invention of Hugo Cabret' Brian Selznick

You are particularly interested in the FIRST PAGE of each book you choose. In

your writing pad, try to identify (describe) the devices or strategies used by these authors to draw you into their story. Can't find any? Try using the following short list (add your personal preferences once you get the gist of it):

1. The story starts IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ACTION, through the use of descriptive passage and/or dialogue. Give an example.

2. A character(s) PERSONALITY is revealed, particularly anxiety-driven, funny, quirky, etc. Can you relate?

3. An ISSUE/PROBLEM/STRESS-CAUSER is being identified by a character(s), often using dialogue or rumination (talking to oneself). There is TENSION present and you feel it. How does this tension affect you?

Start with the above prompts and see how you fare. Good luck!

We will be discussing your notes in the next few posts, and drawing comparisons between these very effective openings and examples that perhaps need a power boost! I am open to questions/comments at any time.

Best writing,