I guess I should start this out by saying what my late friend, Jack Palance, used to say every week, “Believe it or not”.
I’m a pretty down to earth woman and not given to flights of fancy. I don’t seek out fortune tellers, though I did get my fortune told once in 1982 and was amazed that so much came true in 1983.
I’ve always been fascinated by tales of ghosts, hauntings and other forms of the paranormal but I never saw or heard anything myself so….. I didn’t really believe that there were such things.
Nevertheless, I have pursued ghosts in their private haunts. For instance, my husband and I stayed in the old part of the Del Coronado Hotel in San Diego and looked all over for the famous room where a woman was said to haunt. I mean we looked everywhere for that room. We were all over that hotel and we couldn’t find the room!
When we lived in Orange County, California, I read about the Pink Lady (the color of the dress she was wearing when she died) who supposedly appeared every other year near her gravesite in Yorba Linda, California, right in the middle of a condo complex. The legend goes that she was killed coming home from a dance when her buggy turned over. The ghostly event was in the newspaper and my daughter and I went to witness the spectacle. It was a zoo. Everybody in Orange County turned out and threw blankets over the graves and waited. The hours ticked by and no Pink Lady. But what ghost in their right mind would show up under such circumstances? It was three o’clock in the morning and most of the ghost hunters had left. I was thinking I should go too. Instead, I stared intently at the grave and I saw a flash of pink … or I thought I did. Anyway, I turned to my daughter and we both said at the same time, “Did you see that?” I’m still wondering if it wasn’t just wishing thinking on our parts because nobody else saw it. Regardless, we will always have that one sighting to talk about and speculate about.
I’ve known lots of people who have seen ghosts, including my own mother. Mom was one of 7 children. After she was married, she was awakened by a light in her bedroom at the foot of her bed. She described it as a round light and in it appeared the face of her deceased mother. “Watch out for Rupert,” the vision said and then disappeared. The next morning she contacted some family members and learned that no one had seen Rupert. Next thing she new, the police found Rupert, in an alley, mugged and dead.
A writer friend of mine once told me that she knew things about people—things that would happen in their future. She said it scared her so she didn’t talk about it. She also said that she’d seen the face of Christ and when I asked her to describe Him, she refused and said it was private. Ordinarily, people will boast about such things but not her. She clammed up. I will forever wonder what she had seen.
My first book, Touch The Dawn, was conceived over the kitchen sink. I guess I was day dreaming. I saw a little Mexican boy in white clothes sitting next to his aged grandfather. There was a small campfire burning brightly and behind them were some hills. Grandfather was telling the boy the story of Joaquin Murietta, California’s Robin Hood Bandit and at the end of the story, when Grandfather said that Joaquin was no more, a shout was heard from the hills behind them, “I am Joaquin. You will remember my name.” The boy and the grandfather turned and saw a Zorro-like horseman sitting astride a rearing black stallion. Behind them was a full yellow moon.
Now, it’s only fair to say that I had been planning a driving vacation with my husband and had gotten the Automobile Club book on the Mother Lode, ie. Gold Rush Country. In it is a brief bio of Joaquin Murietta, so I was not unfamiliar with the name. But I was unfamiliar with his deeds.
I couldn’t get the image out of my mind and it eventually became a book, but it’s what happened during the writing of the book that has changed my mind about the paranormal.
I didn’t recognize it first. I didn’t put two and two together until it practically hit me in the face. There were incidents, which at first I wrote off as coincidences. Only now, after much reflection, do I see them differently.
The very first book that I wrote and never completed, took place in 1870 Arizona, around Tucson. I did a ton of research on Apaches and such. Some of that research involved General Stoneman in San Francisco. Once I had the over-the-sink vision, I became obsessed with writing that book (Touch The Dawn) instead of the one I was working on. But I really didn’t want to do a whole bunch of new research. I decided to try to use my vision with some of the research I’d already done. Joaquin is a character that you can pretty much do anything with since there isn’t any proof of his birth or death.
According to the Joaquin legends, he was only 18 years old when he died in 1853, not old enough to be a hero in a romance novel. So, I tacked a few years onto his age, which brought the date up to 1870, the year I’d researched for the Arizona novel. There is speculation that Joaquin didn’t die at the massacre on the Cantua as reported by Captain Harry Love’s California Rangers, but retreated to Mexico and recuperated from wounds there. Picking up on that idea, that Joaquin didn’t die, but did indeed survive, I brought him to the San Francisco I had researched in 1870 and had him looking to get revenge on the men who killed his wife back in 1852 or 1853. And so the book began.
Only after I was half way through the book did I pick up some new research material that speculated that Joaquin eluded the California Rangers, returned to Mexico and found his way to San Francisco in 1870.
I was more than a little surprised by this information.
We were living in Placentia, CA when the book was conceived. My hubby was transferred to Kern County, CA. Soon after we made the move, I discovered that Joaquin was said to have come through the town of Tehachapi, near Bakersfield. I also found out that Academy Award winning actor, Jack Palance, was convinced that Joaquin had buried gold on his Stallion Springs property. In fact, he hired someone to hunt for it.
A woman who knew me through someone else called me because she was thinking of moving to Tehachapi and wanted to look at property. She asked me to drive her around. She was semi familiar with Tehachapi’s history and had been to Tehachapi a long time ago. I drove her to the end of Stallion Springs and she told me that somewhere in the vicinity there was a tunnel through which Joaquin Murietta and his horse gang used to escape. When she told me this, she had no idea that I was writing about Joaquin.
After finishing the book, my agent sent it out to publishers. I got a rejection that clearly stated that Mexican heroes were not saleable. I was shocked. After I recovered, I rewrote Joaquin to be half Mexican and half white. Then more new research material came my way and the author claimed that Joaquin’s mother was a Mexican maiden and his father a Yankee engineer who came to Mexico, fell in love with a young Mexican girl and produced Joaquin.
After a number of such incidents, I planned a publicity trip for a writer friend through the gold rush country and picked up research material along the way. During the trip we stayed the night at a B & B. A guest informed us that the owner read palms and handwriting. We immediately scheduled sessions and during my session she told me that Joaquin had a large ego and that he was sitting on my shoulder helping me. When I finished the book he must have jumped off my shoulder and run away because I never had another incident.
I didn’t have any more experiences until I started on the book I’m working on now, A Man Like No Other. In the book, the heroine works in a museum and has created a life-sized mannequin of the Apache leader, Cochise. Several months after I started the book, a friend sold me a life-sized mannequin of an Indian chief, not an Apache, not Cochise, but still a life-sized mannequin and a covered wagon, like the one in the diorama the heroine was making in the book.
While researching A Man Like No Other, I went on a research trip with a friend and I wanted to find Tom Jefford’s grave. I found mention of the grave and the cemetery where it was located in a research book. Jeffords was Cochise’s friend and confidant. (If you saw Broken Arrow, this might ring a bell). We went to the cemetery and I went inside the offices to ask where the grave was located. I was told it’s in the older section and that they didn’t have those graves mapped out so I’d just have to look till I found it. The area where I was to look was huge, several hundred graves. We pulled the car around to the front, deciding to start at the beginning. I got out with my camera and turned, and right there in front of me, not ten paces, was Tom Jefford’s grave.
I read an article about Spanish Barb horses, the original horses brought into Arizona by the conquistadors, and really wanted to see some of them, then learned that the Arizona ranch where they were being bred and raised had closed down. I hired a guide at the Cochise Stronghold to show me around. At the end of the day, he took us to a friend’s house—a huge and magnificent Spanish hacienda, miles from the highway. The owners bred and raised Spanish Barb horses.
My conclusion at this point is that these “things” only happen when I write about actual characters. If you have a better explanation, I’d like to know what it is.