Please welcome guest Amber Foxx to this week’s Saints and Trees. Amber writes the mystery series featuring healer and psychic Mae Martin. Amber’s professional training and academic studies in various fields of complementary and alternative medicine, as well as her personal experience and travels, bring authenticity to her work. She divides her time between the Southeast and the Southwest, but Truth or Consequences, New Mexico is HOME.
SAT: Although part of the Mae Martin series, your new release differs from its predecessors in some noticeable ways. For me, the biggest change was the pace. While still character driven, Snake Face reads like a heart-stopping thriller, whereas the first two books, though certainly page turners, didn’t have me figuratively biting my nails throughout. Given the plot premise, the pace and anxiety level had naturally to follow, but I’m curious to know if you were consciously aware of that when you were writing.
AF: I like to vary the genre blend, and change the mood and the pace from book to book. If I’m going to be realistic with a series that’s not about murder or law enforcement, my protagonist’s life is going to vary that way. Each book will have a different feel. The Calling is more of a “paranormal realism” novel, with the mystery secondary to the development of Mae’s gift and her personal struggles in her family and her town. It’s been reviewed as literary fiction—with some disagreement also—but the pace is more like a literary novel than a conventional mystery. In Shaman’s Blues the mystery of Jamie’s layers of secrets is as important Muffie’s disappearance. I thought of it as an un-romance, with that genre turned upside down in many ways, as well as a mystery. As far as intending to write a nail-biter for the third book, I was very much aware that Snake Face was a departure from the previous books. I knew it would be as soon as I decided to write almost half the chapters in Jamie’s point of view. His emotional life tends to go over the speed limit, so that, as well as the plot, affected the feel of the book.
SAT: You state on your blog that the title, Snake Face, comes from a folk art statue you purchased in New Mexico. Did this statue spark the idea for the book, or did the connection occur to you later?
AF: The book was well along when I found the little snake face man in Mesilla. I have a few Oaxaca nightmare-art figurines, such as the two-headed winged deer that’s briefly mentioned in the book. (It is really evil-looking, but also beautiful.) The snake-face statuette intrigued me. Instead of portraying the creatures of the nightmare, it’s an image of the man who’s having the terrible dream. He has a snake crawling down his nose while he’s waving a useless little stick at it. The woman who sold it to me said, with a kind of empathy, “He’s fighting them off as best he can.” I gave Jamie that line, when he admires the figurine as part of the décor in a bar in Mesilla. The snake-face image was a perfect fit for the way Jamie often feels in this book.
SAT: So where did the idea for this particular book in the series come from?
AF: Before writing Snake Face, I’d written a scene that I never used in which a fortune teller in Santa Fe does Tarot readings for Mae and Jamie. (I recycle my works in progress into many forms before they finally come out.) Anyway, I drew cards for them and studied the meanings, and came up with a plot for book three from that. The suggestions from the cards became the plot when I interpreted them in terms of challenges that would disrupt their lives.
Given Mae’s marital history, starting a new relationship is a huge step, and then running into Jamie again adds another difficulty to that situation—one she isn’t prepared for. For Jamie, going on tour is progress for his career, but it’s also incredibly hard for him in many ways, above and beyond the road warrior aspect of it, due to—well, Jamie being Jamie. From the Tarot reading, I started with an image of him at a rest stop halfway across the country, where he realizes something awful has happened, and I worked forward and backward from there. The antagonist character showed up for me the way Jamie showed up, fully formed. I revised the book for two years, changed almost everything about it—but that turning point disaster never changed.
SAT: Jamie’s background is training in opera and his current career showcases his musical talents as a “world music” performer. You mention elsewhere that Jamie simply “came” to you, one of those wonderful gifts any writer would be grateful for. When describing his musical performances, did you have any particular artist or style in mind?
AF: When Jamie showed up, he showed up as a tenor. In my never-written backstory, Jamie’s parents took him and his older sister to the Sydney Opera House to see The Magic Flute when he was a musically gifted child of around eight years old, and he fell in love with opera. Whether it’s comic or tragic, it’s larger than life, and so is he. Before his family settled in Santa Fe (which has its own amazing opera house), he grew up off and on in Australia and also all around the world. With his father being an anthropologist studying shamanic cultures, he had contact with ceremonies like the Korean mudang’s ritual described in Shaman’s Blues. Such ceremonies have a lot of wild color and sound, music and dance.
In addition to these influences I had some elements of Robert Mirabal’s shows in mind, though I was not directly modeling on Mirabal. He’s a singer, dancer, composer and flute maker from Taos Pueblo. He plays, as one might expect, the Native American cedar flute, and he also plays didgeridoo and drums, and he dances. I’ve seen him leave the stage at Santa Fe Bandstand and dance with his audience. Mirabal’s eclecticism, his warmth and audience rapport, and his choice of instruments are part of Jamie’s music, but I added more and flipped it culturally, so I have an Aboriginal Australian who plays didgeridoo but also plays Native flute, and other flutes. I heard a collaboration that Carlos Nakai did with a musician who plays shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, and the mix of ethnic flavors fascinated me. The music scene in Santa Fe is full of performers who do some original, out-of-the mainstream things. So I’d say Jamie’s music emerged from the nature of music in Santa Fe—opera, blues, indigenous music, jazz, folk—everything. I should add that Santa Fe has some great alternative country bands, but as you can see in Snake Face, Jamie is not influenced by them.
SAT: I know that you’re working on Book 4 of the series. How many more are planned? Do you have a fixed end point in mind for the end of the series, or will Mae continue indefinitely?
AF: I enjoy series that take the protagonists through major life changes. Hillerman’s Chee and Leaphorn, and Barr’s Anna Pigeon, are good examples. They grow older and wiser, go through relationships, losses, and renewals, and stay interesting. Book four is with its third round of beta readers right now. Book five is well along, book six is up to chapter twelve in the first draft, and I have ideas for at least the initial disturbance that starts the plot spinning for several others. I don’t have a fixed endpoint in mind, but I do want to wrap it up and give it an end when I get close to my own, if I get some forewarning.
This is something I thought about when James D. Doss died. I could tell from his final book that he knew it was the last, and he wrapped up Charlie Moon’s ever-struggling love life finally, though not Sarah Frank’s training as Daisy Perika’s shaman’s apprentice. Over the course of the seventeen-book series, Sarah grows up from a spiritually gifted child to a college student. I wanted one more book—no, a lot more—in which Sarah would come into her power as shaman. I admire that kind of story line. Mae is twenty-six at the start of my series and I like to picture what she’ll be like in her thirties and forties. As she becomes a more established and experienced healer and psychic, the kinds of mysteries will change. I have a sense of what she’ll be doing as her life moves forward, and it looks so interesting I don’t think I’ll run out of plots or characters. I may take occasional breaks and work on some stand-alone books, but Mae should be around for decades.
SAT: That’s good news for readers! Thank you, Amber, for sharing your thoughts.
To learn more about Amber and her books, visit her website at: http://amberfoxxmysteries.wordpress.com/. Snake Face, the third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery, has just been released. Shaman’s Blues, the second in the series, is the deserving recipient of a B.R.A.G. Medallion award.
The third Mae Martin Psychic Mystery
Trying to revive his career, singer Jamie Ellerbee is on his first tour. Mae Martin is venturing into her first relationship since her divorce. Bad judgment and worse luck force Jamie to ask for Mae’s psychic aid. His unrequited love for her makes it an awkward request, but she can’t refuse to help a friend. The more she looks into the problem, the more frightening it becomes and the wider its web expands—not only into Jamie’s past, but also a bad-boy celebrity’s private life, and even her new boyfriend’s history.