24 March 2012

Hiking in the Footsteps of History

I write historical fiction, so it's pretty safe to assume that places with a storied past appeal to me. To follow the same path others trod hundreds, even thousands of years before me is fascinating--and humbling.

The trail starts here and wends amid the rocky peaks...
This past week, I had the honor of hiking through Cochise Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains, east of Tombstone. This is where Cochise, the Chiricahua Apache chief, hid his entire tribe from the U.S. Army in the late 1860s and early 1870s. This is where fleet-footed warriors ran the trails, warning their people of the "blue coats" stumbling into the passes. Treachery and deceit ultimately ruined the lives of The People who were only trying to defend their homeland.

When Geronimo surrendered in September of 1886, his had been the final band of Native American resistance fighters in the entire nation. They were only a group of less than forty people: women, children, and warriors who had eluded the Army for years, even though other Apache tracked them as scouts. Geronimo's actual surrender happened a number of miles further east  (in New Mexico), but Cochise Stronghold had been the tribe's sanctuary for centuries: first from the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and finally the Americans.

Looking northwest from The Saddle
Look at those rock formations, created by earthquake, landslide, and wind. Imagine this is your home. You know every crevice that holds water, every rock to support your step. PiƱon nuts are abundant, manzanilla (chamomile) as well. Hawks soar overhead and deer peek out from behind sycamore trunks near a gently burbling spring hidden in a shady ravine.

Dr. Terra Pressler, my hiking buddy, was also respectful of the spirit and history of the Stronghold. She is a creative writing professor, an attorney and Ph.D., an author, and an excellent editor. We both walked softly, careful not to disturb much, and stopped often to admire the grandeur around us.

As we sat upon some rocks at The Saddle, halfway between the eastern edge of the Stronghold and the western slopes of the Dragoons (which is the side visible from Boot Hill cemetery in Tombstone), I was overcome with sadness for those who had once called this place home.

With Geronimo's surrender, all of the Chiricahua Apache were severely punished. Even the scouts who had helped the Army [which they did upon the promise that their families would receive food to keep from starving] were thrown into railroad cars with the renegades they had helped to capture and shipped off to Florida. Only a few women, young children, and old men were permitted to go to  the San Carlos Reservation in Eastern Arizona (where many died of starvation). Nearly 450 Apache went from their arid mountains to the humid swamps of Florida, then on to Alabama, where overcrowding, unfamiliar food, insects, disease, and sorrow decimated the population to fewer than 300 souls. Geronimo and those who survived were moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where he died in 1909.

Apache children were taken from their families and shipped across the country to the Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Their hair was cut short, their buckskins and dresses were burned, and everything of their Native culture--language, mannerisms, religious beliefs-- was beaten out of them at every opportunity. They became neither white nor Apache, had neither homes to return to nor places to go that would accept them, and many committed suicide through alcohol.

To this very day, the Chiricahua Apache have never been permitted to return--not even to inter the remains of Geronimo or those banished with him--to their ancestral home.


Dragon & Hawk  and its sequel Out of Forgotten Ashes, touch lightly on the fate of the Chiricahua Apache. Perhaps a future novel will finish the story of Reyna's friend, the medicine woman named Humming Bird, but at the moment, the true history is still pretty darn heartbreaking to mold into an entertaining read.

[Note: I am sorry to say that the idea of shipping the Chiricahua Apache off to Florida and the official sanctioning of an "Indian Industrial School" were both pet projects of Louis Cameron "L.C." Hughes of Tucson, editor of The Arizona Daily Star  and son of Welsh immigrants. His brother, Samuel, was a prominent Tucson pioneer--and also responsible for the deaths of many Apache women and children. Both of their biographies are in my nonfiction book, Cactus Cymry: Influential Welsh in the Southern Arizona Territory. ]

18 March 2012

Preparing for a New Release

"How soon should I start marketing my new book?" new authors often ask. The answer is as soon as you sign the contract. The real question isn't "When?" but "How?"

Book Two of the Dragon & Hawk series, OUT OF FORGOTTEN ASHES, is scheduled to be released on April 2nd by Champagne Books. The continuing saga of the Jones family picks up two years after Dragon & Hawk ended. It's 1886, Geronimo is on the run, and Evan Jones has started horse ranching outside of Tombstone, Arizona Territory. Our story opens as Evan's mystic healer wife, Reyna, is overcome by a vision of her husband caught in a flash flood. Though she manages to find him at the close of the violent chubasco (desert summer thunderstorm), Reyna is worried that Evan's injuries will prove to be beyond her healing skills. Soon it isn't the physical injury she finds hard to handle; it's Evan's troubled past that comes calling, threatening everything they've struggled to build, from their marriage to their very lives.
Here is the forthcoming book's cover, created by the very talented Amanda Kelsey:


I'm excited for this story. It full of action and adventure but also the pathos of dynamic relationships. What happens after a happy ending in Book One? No one remains unchanged by the circumstances of life; stresses can break bonds as well as forge them into steel. Add the real history of the times--conditions in the mines, Geronimo's capture, the very real probability of serious injury in everyday life, and a devastating earthquake that thoroughly changed Southern Arizona--and this becomes a compelling tale of survival: past, present, and future.

For an excerpt, go to my website: jude-johnson.com.  What I'd like to hear from readers of this blog is what stimulates your interest in a book? What piques your curiosity?

08 March 2012

The Tucson Festival of Books

The Tucson Festival of Books draws book lovers


Some of you may be wondering where I've been these past few weeks.  Well, this weekend--March 10 and 11--is Tucson's FOURTH Festival of Books at the University of Arizona--a celebration of writing, reading, bookstores and publishing. GECKO GALS INK will have our very own booth at the Festival this year: Booth #134, on the west end of the Festival, nearest Old Main.  Here is our section of The Map; the Festival encompasses about three-quarters of the Main Mall of the U of A so the entire layout is huge:

Booth #134 is marked with the pink dot above.^

  As you can see, we are situated right along the north sidewalk, next to the U of A Bookstore and near a Souvenir booth. I've been readying a ton of stuff for this event, and so have been greatly AWOL from my usual online obligations. After this weekend, I'll try and catch up.

Guest Authors signing at our booth include mystery author Carol O'Mahoney, Mystery novelist Gloria McMillan,  Det. Michael Orozco, and Fantasy Novelist Meagan Poetschlag.

Of course, Gecko Gal Authors Carol Costa, Mary Ann Hutchison, Ashleen O'Gaea, and yours truly will be there, and all of our books will be available for purchase. In addition, we will have special Registration Forms for our upcoming Seminar, "Writing: From Start to Finesse" to be held on Saturday, April 14th at the Sheraton Tucson Hotel & Suites, 5151 E. Grant Rd. Those who register at the Festival will receive a 10% discount. 

Please stop by and say hello, peruse our books and those of our guests, and Celebrate Reading!