VIRGIL ALEXANDER – Miner – Arizona Historian – Author

Virgil Alexander was born in his parent’s home in rural Gila County between Globe and Miami, Arizona. His uncles and cousins worked in law enforcement for various agencies. His dad was a volunteer reserve deputy, so he grew up with a lot of cop-talk. His father raised subsistence livestock and kept horses, so as a youth, he spent a lot of time taking care of these. His recreation was camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, and riding. His hot summer afternoons were spent reading at the Miami and Globe public libraries. He enjoyed history, mysteries, westerns, and Arizona geography and nature.

He worked for 42 years in mining jobs, from laborer to corporate management. After retirement, he began consulting with museums on mining and Arizona history, researching and writing papers for the Historical Society, and articles for newspapers, magazines, and webpages. He is a member of the Arizona Historical Society, Public Safety Writer’s Association (PSWA), Western Writers of America, Southwest Writers, and Storymakers. He has won awards from the PSWA in categories: Best Published Fiction Book and Best Non-fiction Published Article.

Alexander’s contemporary rural police series, the Deputy Allred & Apache Officer Victor Series, consists of five mysteries published by Aakenbaaken & Kent. Broken Earth is the 5th book.  Alexander’s books are infused with real settings in which the natural and human history of the place is part of the setting. The western lifestyle of ranching, farming, timber, and mining feed into the stories, as does the contemporary Hispanic, Mormon, and Native American cultures.

Broken Earth: Released by Aakenbaaken & Kent on October 6, 2021.

Sergeant Al Victor must walk a thin line between legal ethics and sacred Apache secrets when a fellow medicine man goes bad and flees into the sacred Broken Earth.

My Writing In my pre-retirement career I wrote technical manuals, standard operating procedures, research papers, and training manuals. I also wrote public communications articles and project newsletters. This turned out to be a handicap when I started writing fiction. I sent my first draft of Wham Curse to an editor, and she called me and asked, “Are you an engineer?”

“I’m a technical superintendent.”

“I thought so. You write like an engineer; STOP IT!” She then spent several weeks teaching me not to write like an engineer.

When I’m actually writing my story, I have the general idea in mind. From this, I create a simple outline to refer back to when I start wondering where is this going? But I don’t write to the outline; I let the story flow as it goes. This impromptu style often takes turns I didn’t plan on and often requires adapting earlier parts of the story to make more sense.

I write in vignettes representing one viewpoint, either of a character or the all-knowing narrator. In order to keep track of characters, I maintain a spreadsheet of all my regular and minor characters. So a jeweler, or medical examiner, or rancher from an earlier book might reappear in the book I’m working on when I need one of those people. Likewise, I track all the vignettes and storylines on a spreadsheet. These allow me to control my clues and events in a logical sequence.

Because my books involve two neighboring agencies, I always have multiple storylines. Some of them involve both the Sheriff’s Office and the Tribal Police, and others only involve one of the agencies. So I may have from three to six major storylines, plus quite a few minor ones.

I write several strong women characters in my books, principally Deputy Pat Haley, but also FBI agents, a State Department attorney, ranch women,  and Deputy Sanchez’s petit wife, Jennie, who in one of the books shoots a bad guy to save her husband. How do I write my women characters? I think of a man then take away reason and accountability… Wait. No, that was Jack Nicholson.  I base my women on women I know or have known. I was fortunate in my career to work with many outstanding and competent women, many in nontraditional roles. The women closest to me, my wife and daughters, are highly accomplished and leaders in their chosen fields.

I generally do a lot of research as I write. Since I really have no idea where my story may take me, about the only preparatory research I do is on the places I plan to use and if I have a particular source of murder I want to pursue. So when I wrote scenes in Chaco Canyon, I researched the place, as well as the organizational structure of the park, the routes that can be used, hotels and restaurants my people would use, etc. Then as I develop the story, I research new items as they pop up.

I use real places for my settings, including towns, streets, specific stores, cafes, wilderness trails, mountains, rivers, hospitals, etc. The only time I use a fictional place is if the place is really bad so that I won’t put a bad light on a real place. If somebody gets food poisoning at a restaurant, it will be a nonexistent place.

Many of my characters are based on real people I have known. I don’t say who I translate as a character because some would be honored, and some would sue. Most are a conglomerate of several people from whom I’ve borrowed their looks, integrity, dark side, or manner of speech.

Looking forward, I will likely write more books in this series. I would also like to get my book on the history of ranching in Gila County finished up. I have been dabbling in writing an epic historical novel using all real people and history to track the western movement of the American frontier, factual but written in novel style.

George, I appreciate the opportunity to appear on your blog. If anyone wants to know more about me, they can go to my webpage to see an expanded bio, all my books, my blog, coming events, photos, and more at: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/

3 Comments

  1. Marilyn Meredith

    Well, I learned some new information about Virgil, this was a great post.

    Reply
  2. Madeline Gornell

    Wonderful hearing more about you, Virgil, especially your growing up background! Congratulations on your writing and continued success! Have a great 2022.

    Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Hey, Virgil, it’s great to hear from you. I look forward to hearing more about your writing, especially that big historical novel. Good luck with your writing.

    Reply

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Crisosto Apache – Poet – Educator – Leader

Mescalero / Chiricahua Apache and Diné Navajo from New Mexico.

Crisosto Apache is an alumnus from Insitute of American Indian Arts (AFA 1992 / MFA 2015) and Metropolitan State University of Denver (BA, 2013) for English and Creative Writing. His work also includes Native LGBTQI / ‘two spirit’ advocacy & public awareness.

“Entirely new, experimental, and worth the effort of reading. Passionate in places, contemplative in others, he travels from that ancient past toward the distant universe.”—Linda Hogan

“These poems record not only the nine months of history occurring while the poet formed in gestation… it attempts to make sense of the whirling world of chromosomes, of snow across body-laden battlefields, the whirl of strobe lights in a sex club, and the spiral which meets in the center where isdzán and haastiń (woman and man) become indistinguishable. Apache’s collection challenges our footing on things we thought we knew.”—James Thomas Stevens

Do you write in more than one genre? Though most of my writing falls under the poetry genre, more specifically the Native American Literary genre, I am trying to develop my narrative elements by writing a memoir. The emphasis for the memoir is my experience growing up on my Mescalero Apache reservation in New Mexico as a gay male, as well as my experience off the reservation in urban areas as a marginalized Native American.

What brought you to writing? I originally started my education wanting to be an artist, a painter. During my adolescent years, I did a lot of illustration in my spare time and read a lot of poetry-the classics. I was mostly drawn to the fantasy style of artwork. My illustration got me a scholarship to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the fall of 1989. I studied two-dimensional design my first two semesters when I was approached by Arthur Sze, the head of the Creative Writing department at the time. He convinced me to change my major, and that was my introduction to writing. I can say I have always acknowledged myself as a lifetime student of Arthur Sze because of the influence taught through his courses and the materials offered. My second manuscript, titled “Ghostword,” is highly influenced by a modern Japanese writer introduced to me by Arthur. The writer is Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, and the book “A Fool’s Life” (Eridanos Press). I have carried carbon copy excerpts from the book distributed in his class until I finally found the book in a reprinted collection of Akutagawa’s work. Until I located a copy, “A Fool’s Life” had been out of print. So, my second manuscript is a kind of conversation or life response.

Tell us about your writing process: My writing process varies from time to time. First, I must say it is important for me to distinguish myself as an artist first before identifying myself as a writer. My identity as an artist is what fuels my creative aspiration for writing. Most of my creative bursts come during the night. I am sometimes awakened by jolting moments to write. When this occurs, I do get up and go directly to my computer and begin typing. It is during these moments many of the fundamental ideas come through for my poetry. The writing is almost automatic, and it feels closer to being on “automatic pilot.” Many of the poems in my book GENESIS have come from these waking moments. Some of the approaches for my writing focus on the juxtaposition of my indigenous language and the English language. Through translation, I found this technique interesting how the language interacts as meaning and description. It is fascinating to me to examine the interaction of language and the mapped direction the language interaction takes me, which resembles the action of “unfolding” or “uncovering.” I always look forward to reading other writers’ work because I draw influence and encouragement from what is written. I often think and wonder if the “jolting wake” in the night comes from the influence of reading, where my mind finally assembles ideas for my writing.

What is the most challenging part of your writing process? The most challenging part of my writing process is finding time to focus on the writing and revision process. Because my time is mostly dedicated to my teaching job as an English professor (and all the facets of faculty responsibilities) and my volunteer position as the Associate Editor of Poetry for The Offing online magazine, it can sometimes be challenging to find dedicated time to focus on my writing. I have a small office in my house where I have a small library and a computer. I sometimes have closed the door and try to focus on my writing. I keep the door closed when I am not in my office so I can separate the concept of the room as not part of the house. When I am in my office, I am usually in the headspace of work. It is especially important now in these current times of the pandemic. I do take my time seriously when I am in my office and focusing on my creative written work.

Do you have any advice for new writers? About writing, my only encouragement is to just write. The act of writing is the most important part of the writing process, even though it may be bad writing. I save all my scribblings and voice recorded entries to various folders on my computer. I learned to carry with me a voice recorder to voice my ideas. I used to carry a small notebook but often misplaced them. My voice recorder fits into my pocket and works simply fine. It is important to find or reserve time to focus on writing. It is simply not enough to assemble and collect ideas. Much of the writing process is composing ideas into the structure and revising. Working on a manuscript also takes a lot of time and care. Deciding how much material should go into a working manuscript and to what order also is part of the process that deserves much consideration. If you are a beginning writer and have made it to the point of assembling a manuscript, then you deserve recognition and congratulations. It is a huge accomplishment to assemble a manuscript. Publishing your work is also important. Finding places to publish your writing can be challenging. Rejection is part of the writing process. Do not criticize yourself for rejection. Sometimes it is all about timing. Most of my publishing opportunities come from my network of friends who write. Establish a network. To summarize, make time to read, submit & publish, and most importantly, keep writing.

How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want posted?

GENESIS book order Link: http://amzn.to/2FzG409

My website: http://crisostoapache.com/books-2/

Lost Alphabet’s website: http://www.lostalphabet.com/genesis/

Twitter: @Crisosto_Apache

Instagram: @crisosto_apache

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Eric Davis

    A really great piece George.

    Reply
  2. Ruby Hansen Murray

    Love the concept of “a small office in my house where I have a small library and a computer,” separated for creative work. Thanks for this interview, Crisosto &George.

    Reply

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Virgil Alexander – Miner, World Traveler, Historian, Author

History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

My first book remains a large, fractured manuscript, still a work in progress, titled Ranching in the Heart of Arizona. From a conversation with a coworker about 14 years ago about the fact that many old ranchers in our area were passing away and my comment, “Someone should get their history before it’s too late.” She said, “Why don’t you do it?” Expecting to be dealing with a score or so ranches, research has turned up more than three hundred old ranch-families in my home Gila County; and started me on my never-ending personal story.

In fact, it was the act of researching that history that I first happened on the very interesting 1889 robbery of US Army Paymaster Major Wham and his escort at Cottonwood Canyon in Arizona. My first fiction novel, The Wham Curse, set in two different centuries relates the story of the robbery and creates a fictional answer to what if the Wham loot were found in modern times?

I became friends with my lead characters and needed to keep them alive. I am the author of a four-book series of mysteries set in rural Arizona and the greater Southwest. I am also an Arizona Historian, with several papers for the Historical Society, museums, on-line history pages, articles in print magazines and newspapers, and an editor and contributor to a history book.  My interest in the Southwest’s natural and human history and my love for mystery stories are combined in my fiction stories. A sense of place and history plays out in my stories as a natural part of the setting.

Each of my books has a primary murder plot, three or four subplots, and character backstories. In The Wham Curse, the primary plot is solving the inexplicable killing of a young Apache boy, which makes no sense until connected with the old robbery. Secondary plots deal with historic preservation, environmentalism, and crime on the Indian Reservation.

Saints & Sinners has the main plot of protecting a Mexican girl from cartel assassins. Secondary themes resolve around border issues, a romance blooming for Deputy Sanchez, international crime, and Mexican culture.

Archaeological theft and international illegal marketing and murder are the primary plots of The Baleful Owl. Subplots include dealing with differing views among different tribes, acceptance of the mentally disadvantaged, and the place of preservation in the rapidly changing Southwest.

Set in two fictional mine developments in Arizona, Murder in Copper, deals with a murder and both industrial and international espionage, justice on the reservation, international relationships with former Soviet republics, alcoholism, and grief.

I do a lot of research, even for my fiction. The Apache, O’odham, Mexican, Mormon, and rural culture will be as accurately depicted as I can make it. The geography, natural environment, and history of each setting will be very accurate. I research the legality of situations and law enforcement jurisdictions, and the local culture’s influence. So when the story is in Hermosillo, Solomon, Spain, Turkmenistan, San Carlos, Tempe, Tucson, Ft. McDowell, or wherever, I used actual street names, buildings, office locations, and sometimes business names, such as the Casa Reynoso in Tempe and Taylor Freeze in Pima.

When I write, I have a general idea, sort of a very sketchy outline of my main plot. From there, I simply tell the story, let it flow naturally. I’m often surprised where this takes me; I guess that’s the pantsy part of me. But the “engineer syndrome” part of me comes to play in that I keep track of each plot and subplot, the clues, and each character I invent on spreadsheets. While I always have new characters in each novel, I also reuse characters from other books. This organized tracking facilitates reuse of interesting minor characters, keeps me from revealing a clue or a clue-related action at the wrong time, and lets me weave the progress of plots and subplots in a logical order, and to sometimes connect subplots as contributory to the main plot.

I love the act of writing, especially fiction because I can take it wherever I want it to go, as long as it makes sense to the story. But I hate to be interrupted when writing. This makes it kind of a tough, lonely time for my longsuffering wife. I need about a three-hour block of time, so I can get the story flowing and translate it to words; with any less than that, I spend most of my time trying to figure out where I am in the story and where I want to go. There have been times I started writing at seven pm and interrupted to go to bed at seven am.  Such a session is very productive; it’s like playing at the top of my game.

One thing I do when writing either pure history or depicting actual history in a novel is present the facts as they actually happened and in the context of the period, without passing judgment or equating it to today’s values. History must be what it is. There is no need for excuses or blame.

For more about my work or myself, visit my page: https://virgilalexander.weebly.com/books.html

The books are available in print and digital at Barnes & Noble Stores and Online, at Indy stores, and through Amazon.

 

10 Comments

  1. John G. Bluck

    I like your method of using real places, Google maps and the Internet to accurately describe locations depicted in your novels. I’m sure your experience as a historian has helped you a lot, as well. One of my daughters lived in Arizona for a while. I look forward to further exploring the Southwest via your books.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    It definitely sounds like you’ve got a system that works well for you, Virgil. Using spreadsheets to keep things on track is a novel idea. Good luck with your writing. I hope to see you at the next PSWA conference.

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Once, I decided to maintain minor characters across by books, it became necessary to keep them straight. In was an idea for novels, so truly a novel idea, right?

      Reply
  3. Valerie Leach

    I have known Virgil for many years and graduated high school with his wife, Lois! Just finished reading “The Wham Curse” and loved it! Will now be reading “Saints and Sinners”! Learning a lot about Gila County where I grew up and love the accuracy of these historical novels!!

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      Gila County gets a little more exposure in the Baleful Owl, and Globe-Miami are a major setting in Murder in Copper.

      Reply
  4. Keith Alexander

    So, what are the best methods for researching distant locales which you can’t visit them in person?

    Reply
    • Virgil H. Alexander

      For scenes of places where I’ve never been, I review the official webpage of the place, then I “explore” it using google street view, so I can accurately describe the setting. I did this with the scenes in Saints & Sinners set in Hermosillo, and in Spain. The CIA World Book is a great source of basic economic, political, and cultural information for any country. Research is so much easier with the internet than having to use physical archives or microfilm.

      Reply
      • Katherine Alexander

        What does pantsy mean?

        Reply
        • Virgil H. Alexander

          Pantsy refers to “flying by the seat of the pants”, writing as ideas flow to you, rather than planning a detailed narrative and following it. This is the way most of my writing is done, though I also usually have a rough outline of what I want in the main plot.

          Reply
  5. Virgil H. Alexander

    Thanks again George for helping to get the word out on my works. I’m hoping we get some interesting discussion of questions. Fellow readers, I will be out for a while late morning today, but will check in periodically for comments.

    Reply

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