News from Pete KJ

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Cradle of Humanity
February 11, 2018

Santiago Apoala is a village on a mesa at the head of a valley in Oaxaca State in Mexico, sitting at often chilly 6,500 feet. A stream runs through it and irrigates fields of corn, wheat, and beans. Fig and pomegranate trees complement the pines. It was a center of Mixtec society, pre-Hispanic, and for good reason: this is the setting of the Mixtec creation story.

Here is where two trees growing along the banks joined their roots and branches, and from their union emerged the first woman and man. It’s understandable that this would be considered a place of emergence, what with the startling Morelos Canyon outside of town. The space between its soaring, vertical gray walls is only about 10 to 15 meters across.

If you backtrack through this porthole passage, and keep hiking, you reach a veritable eden of grassy hillsides, gurgling water, and oak trees draped in phantom moss. Before man and woman, the gods lived in peace and harmony here, at “The Place Where the Heavens Stood.” Here is where the deer god Puma-Snake and the deer goddess Jaguar-Snake raised a hill above the all-encompassing waters and built palaces. On top they laid a copper axe with its edge pointing upward, and on this edge the heavens rested.

Two of their sons, Wind-Nine-Snake and Wind-Nine-Cave, were particularly skilled. They could shape-shift into an eagle or a snake, or become invisible and pass through solid matter. They made a garden of flowers, fruit trees, and herbs, and tilled the earth and burned tobacco and prayed to their ancestors to let more earth be freed from its water covering. To strengthen their prayer they pierced their ears and tongues with flint, and sprinkled the blood onto the trees and and brush.

“Mixtec” comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) word meaning “cloud people.” As for what the Mixtecs called themselves over the eons, the names varied, and mostly translated to “people,” with an association with rain. It’s interesting how names given to distinguish a people are often not what they called themselves. The Ute Indians of Colorado, for example, didn’t call themselves Utes; the Spanish did (or “Yuta,” which possibly meant “meat eaters”). The Utes rather referred to themselves as “people.”

In alternative news, the Volkswagen Beetle is still going strong in Mexico!

Sadly, they are no longer being manufactured. The last ones were produced in June of 2003. A Mariachi sang the farewell song “Las Golondrinas” as the final one rolled off the assembly line (renamed the Hall of Sorrow) and was crated for shipment to the Volkswagen museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.

Sales had been declining for years, and not helped by certain rules that said taxis in Mexico City couldn’t be more than eight years old, or have only two doors. The latter seems like a reasonable regulation, but come on, only eight years? That’s but a blip in the life of a Beetle.

Which means, of course, that the roads are still well-populated with charming, classic Beetles (though not as taxis). Sometimes you might feel you’ve stepped back into the 1960s in the USA. It makes you want one, and bad!

The good news is you can have one. A car not-approved-for-sale in the USA only has to be something like 25 years old before it can be imported.

So come on down, find someone who can bear to part with their 1993 Beetle, and buy it from them. The main problem is that you'll have to get it to pass emissions. After that you’ve got it: a 1965-style roadster to chug around in for another decade or two!

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Full Circle
January 11, 2018

Happy New Year! I wish you all the best energy for the coming year, and hope you are looking forward to it as much as I am.

I’ve got my work cut out for me, but I am going to be publishing two new works in 2018!

First and foremost: I have a new novel. I drafted the raw words for it in fall-winter of 2016, while I was traveling in Ghana and Vietnam. Then, into a drawer it went shortly after the turn of 2017, as I spent the year walking and writing Base Camp Denver: 101 Hikes Along Colorado’s Front Range.

When I finished hiking in October, I pulled the novel out of the drawer. I set up a room in my house, a little blue room about 10 feet square. I put a table in the center, and a chair, and that was it. I arrived every day at about 5 AM and stayed for about 4 hours. The rule was that I couldn’t work on anything except the novel in that room. If I needed to do something else, I had to leave the room to do it.

Success! On December 31, I wrapped Rev. 3 of my new novel, Black Volta. I feel good about it. And into a drawer it goes again, until my longtime editor and writing coach Victoria Hanley comes on board in March. My goal is to have it on the “also by Pete KJ” page when the hiking book comes out.

As I mentioned, I finished hiking for Base Camp Denver in October (though I still hike once a week; I can’t help it, I can’t stop). Originally I thought I might need two summers to do all the high-altitude hikes, and thus the book was slated for publication in mid-2019. The date is now moved up to December, 2018! We are heavily into the editing process, and the map and book designers have begun their work.

How did I come to write this hiking book? It was an interesting process that began in the spring/summer of 2016. My life had evolved and my gut was telling me to return to the mountains, and go hiking every single week like I did when I was younger. So I did. It was the first summer I had done this since my early twenties. It was mesmerizing.

Then in fall and winter, I traveled. It was a working trip. While I cranked out new fiction words every day, I also sent a minimum of 5 queries a day for my previous novel, The Rooster’s Hindquarters, trying to sell it to a conventional publisher.

I was in Ghana in November of 2016, writing query 101 of 111, when a scary orange lunatic was elected president of the USA. I don’t know about you, but for about a week I could not eat. The only food I could keep down was chocolate, and fortunately Ghana makes good chocolate. So for a week I ate chocolate and tried to stay as busy as possible, and I redesigned my website. When I got to the “About” page, I wrote that I was an actor, singer, and hiker. Simultaneously, Imbrifex Books of Las Vegas requested the full manuscript of Rooster, and rejected it the following day with some nice comments that indicated they’d actually read it. And the publisher wrote, “Your novel isn’t right for us, but I went to your website and saw that you are a hiker and that you live in Colorado. Would you like to write a hiking book about Colorado?”

I told him I’d get back to him after the New Year. My initial reaction was, “No way.” But then I remembered an awesome piece of advice I’d received a couple years back, haphazardly (as tends to happen), and it went like this: “Sometimes you will be asked to go through doors that you might not, at first, think you want to go through.”

I got back to the States in December and started thinking: Write a hiking book? Wait a minute. I love to write. I love to hike. I live in Colorado. Of COURSE I will write this book.

We cut the contract at the end of January, and I started walking. And the year proceeded like a dream.

Now I can see that I was meant to do this all along. It’s the buzzing, energetic feeling you get when you come full circle.

I began hiking seriously when I was in my teens. You could not keep me out of the Cascade Mountains, near Seattle, when it was summertime. I tromped ALL OVER them. And I had two bibles: 101 Hikes in the North Cascades, and 102 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes, South Cascades, and Olympics, published by the Seattle Mountaineers, written by my heroes, Ira Spring and Harvey Manning.

Last month my publisher and I started talking about the maps. Instantly I thought of Ira and Harvey’s books, and particularly the very lovely and effective “route diagrams” they contained, which were drawn by Helen Sherman, a friend and neighbor of my grandmother.

I’d long misplaced my dear old bibles. Thank goodness for Amazon! The books are now on my shelf, – the original versions from the 1970s – back in my life to guide me as I finish writing a 101 Hikes book of my own.

Thank you Ira, Harvey, and Helen!

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