Category Archives: Research

Tucson Festival of Books and Other News

On March 11th and 12th, an amazing annual event takes place on the University of Arizona campus in Tucson – The Tuscon Festival of Books. This star-studded gathering (as far as authors go) offers something for everyone in nearly every age group.

This year, I’m excited to participate as both a signing author and a volunteer. On Saturday, I’ll be in the Author Pavilion from 12:15 to 2:15, then presenting a short “Tent Talk” at 3, discussing research and writing on the road. Sunday will be my volunteer day to assist other presenting authors with their programs.

sandfordWhen not “on the clock”, be assured I will peruse campus grounds and attend workshops by some of my favorite writers such as John Sandford (be still my beating heart) and “Longmire” creator and author, Craig Johnson accompanied by series star, A. Martinez.

I promise to post lots of photos and regale you with my adventures after the event. Be sure to check my Instagram and Facebook pages for the most up-to-date news. If you are attending, be sure to download the free “app” to help navigate the festival and events.

During the week of March 19th, I’ll be attending Escapee’s Escapade, also taking place in Tucson. For those not familiar with RVing, Escapees is a membership club of fellowship, activities and learning. This year, I’ll be conducting a workshop entitled, “Gold, Ghosts and Gravel Roads” where I hope to entertain with my adventures and teach from experience about how to enhance the RVing experience. The presentation will be loosely based on my research for ROAD TALES, Myth, Lore and Curiosities From America’s Back Roads. It will also include a few stories from the upcoming Volume Two.

The hubmeister and I decided to workamp at Ruby’s Inn outside of Bryce Canyon, Utah for the summer months. It’s a win-win since we planned to visit the area anyway. Now we can explore Bryce, Zion, Canyonlands, Monument Valley and so much more while keeping a centrally located base camp, and earn a buck or two along the way. We’ll only work part time and have the same off days.

roadkillthumbAnd now for my big FAIL…I played entirely too much the past few months and didn’t finish my second book in th e Dead Men series, Dead Men Can’t Dance. By the time I took a breath and realized time had passed me by, I needed to focus on my upcoming author appearances. I hope to release Book Two by April.

One more piece of exciting news, I’m working on an episodic thriller, Road Kill. It’s gritty, not light and fun like my Dead Men books so I hope readers won’t ding me too hard for changing genres. It’s a project I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Episode One will release in mid March. There should be four to five episodes to reach the conclusion, and then I may combine them into a single title. Hope you like serial killers!

What Lurks Beneath The Ground In Iraan, Texas?

Iraan (pronounced Ira Ann) is a small oil boom town in west Texas. Somehow this little wide spot in the road has garnered some good and bad attention over the years.

Let’s start with the “good”. The town was built on land owned by Ira and Ann Yates, thus the name “Iraan”. Unfortunately, most people call it Iran and that doesn’t sit well with the locals. An interesting bit of trivia: it’s the second largest town in the second largest county in the second largest state.

Perhaps the biggest claim to fame for Iraan is Victor T. Hamlin, creator of the syndicated comic strip Alley Oop –  which at one time was as popular as Dick Tracy. Victor worked as a cartographer for an oil company but had a nice sideline as a cartoonist. It is said he came up with the idea for Alley Oop while watching the steam shovels and scrapers haul up truckloads of dinosaur bones during the excavation process for the oil wells.

To perpetuate the association with Hamlin, Iraan built a park dedicated to the mythical characters in Alley Oop, including “Dinny” the dinosaur. If you’re too young to remember Alley Oop, the park is still a fun stop for kids and adults. The adjacent museum offers more than just Alley Oop history. There are some interesting exhibits and artifacts which make it worth a visit.


                          Is there an underground city beneath that hill?

Now for the “bad” – generated by a flood of strange allegations. An online media source claims Iraan is empty. Stranger Than Fiction News used Google Earth clips as proof that no one inhabits the town, citing an empty high school parking lot, an empty hospital parking lot and “street” images of the town which makes it look deserted.

I admit to viewing the YouTube video and humming the theme song from Twilight Zone. I might have discounted the entire story had I not also read about a mysterious underground city several miles beneath the surface outside of Iraan. Two bizarre claims in the same week aroused my curiosity. Since the town was only fourteen miles off my designated route to research another strange phenomenon, I decided to check it out.

When we drove into town, I immediately noticed gas stations, restaurants, markets, schools, a bank, post office, library and traffic. I suppose they might have bused actors to town and staged the activity for my arrival but they since they had no way of knowing I was coming, that seems unlikely.

After debunking Stranger Than Fiction’s claim, investigating the underground city proved more challenging.

The story has nebulous origins since it is hearsay from a second party. That being said, I listened to an interview with the person who repeated what was told to him.

Allegedly, a truck driver was hired to deliver an unknown cargo to a location outside of Iraan. He was met by two military jeeps and escorted through the hills to a secret “base” where he drove switchbacks into the ground for approximately three miles. The driver saw an entire city with thousands of residents. One building was seven stories tall. He was told to back his truck into a loading dock. Once the cargo was unloaded, he was escorted above ground.

The person telling the story marveled at the fact an underground city of that size could exist in the “desert”. Iraan is not in the desert. The geography is hilly with thick foliage, trees and grasses. It is dotted with oil rigs. That was a big red flag.

Perhaps the best rebuttal came from “Tory”, a life time resident. He laughed at the mention of an underground city and was quick to point out the locals would know of any military activity. Tory explained that the oil fields are shallow. Some flow naturally without assistance from a pump. In other words, the structure of the land would never support an underground city.

While the conspiracy theory is fun to ponder, I would rule out Iraan as the location for a subterranean military city/facility.

Even though Iraan is not a modern day ghost town, the site of nefarious going-ons, or inhabited by genetically modified aliens, it is still a nice town with a quirky park and some of the nicest people I’ve met anywhere.

And I’m not saying that just because I’m old enough to remember Alley Oop.

The Domes, Casa Grande, AZ

When most people seek out something to do near Casa Grande, they usually head for the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. The Hohokam ruins is the first archaeological preservation project and worthy of a visit.The Domes, Casa Grande

However, there is another site nearby just as fascinating to those of us who enjoy “different”. The Domes are a cluster of pods intended to house a computer manufacturing facility during the early 80s but never came to fruition. There are still foundations in place marking the site of future construction. The empty buildings are clustered about an overgrown plot of land, some resembling a caterpillar and while others stand as a single unit.

There’s also a No Trespassing sign. Of course, there is. Any insurance company in their right mind would insist on such a notice because the buildings are crumbling and in disrepair. However, a sign out front offers the site to film crews for a daily rental fee.The Domes, Casa Grande2

There is broken glass everywhere, even along the road, but inside the pods is where the action takes place. And graffiti. Lots and lots of graffiti. A large pentagram is painted on the wall of one of the buildings which coincides with rumors black magic rituals and satanic worship has taken place there. And to be honest, I can almost believe it. It’s that creepy.Domes3

The first building resembles a flying saucer with an elongated roof. The sound inside the structure is not something I can describe accurately. It’s more than an echo. More than a reverberation. It’s almost as if the hollow sound of your footsteps occur BEFORE you take a step.

There are deep crevices in the floor which were probably meant to accommodate wiring and ductwork. Who knows what’s in them now? Bodies? I’d almost believe it. So would my Golden Retriever, Jake. He was trembling as soon as he entered the building. Visibly 20160226_142626shaking. Almost belly crawling toward one of the cuts in the concrete floor.

If I had never heard the stories about shadow people, mysterious footsteps in the dark, strange tapping noises or the bad vibes people feel when they enter the area, I would still have been uneasy. It’s that kind of place. Would I go back. Perhaps . . . but not at night.

Story Inspiration: Dionicio Rodriguez – Faux Bois Sculpture

I’m always on the lookout for unusual sights, urban legends or myths to inspire my short stories so as soon as we set up camp in a new location, I make it a point to ask the locals where I should go. While camping near Maumelle, Arkansas this summer, one of our neighbors suggested I check out The Old Mill at T. R. Pugh Memorial Park in Little Rock.  All he would say was the site had been filmed for the opening credits of Gone With The Wind and it was amazing.The Old Mill6

Okay, sounded interesting although not the lore I usually research but I was bored so off we went with Jake in the back seat. Our retriever is a well mannered dog and attracts a lot of attention wherever we go . . . which he loves. Unfortunately, on this particular day Little Rock was in the midst of a brutal heat wave and Jake was feeling it. When we parked in front of the idyllic park setting – water, green lawns, flowering trees and shrubs – I noticed a sign which read, “no pets allowed.” It was too hot even in the shade to leave the Jakester in our vehicle. I resigned myself to leaving until Hubby, being the wonderful, accommodating soul he is, volunteered to pet sit  in the air conditioned truck while I explored The Old Mill. [Hmmm . . . looking back now, I question his motives.]

The Old MillAs I passed through gates flanked by large rock walls and shaded walks, it was like stepping back in time. Tangled vines formed an arch over a footbridge stretching across a small pond. On the other side of the walkway stood a two-story rock mill house with a water wheel churning green blue water. Azaleas spilled across the grounds and beside meandering paths. I can imagine how gorgeous the setting is during spring when the shrubs are in full bloom.

At that moment, I was content with the day’s excursion but it got better. As I eased through the massive portal of old vines, I trailed my fingers across the gnarled surface, marveling at the polished wood. Except it wasn’t wood. Ah ha, there IS a quirky tale here, after all!
The Old Mill4

The tumbling vines, wooden planks, bridges and more were crafted from concrete in the early 1930’s by a premier sculptor of faux bois (fake wood), Dionicio Rodriguez. Justin Matthews, developer of the Lakewood Community in North Little Rock, ran across the artist’s work while  visiting Mexico City. He then learned Dionicio had relocated to San Antonio and began a quest to find him. With the help of an interpreter, Justin negotiated sculptures for three of his projects, T.R. Pugh Park being one. Dionicio’s magnificent creation caught the eye of film maker, David Selznick who used the site in his movie, Gone With The Wind.

There are some historic aspects to the site, as well.  The grist mill’s first floor dates back to 1828. Two original mile stones were moved to the site from a road  laid out more than 150 years ago, and used by the Cherokee and Choctaw to travel from Dardanelle, Arkansas to Oklahoma. Three sections of a wrought iron shaft were cut from the stern wheel of an 1800’s passenger steamboat.

But it was eccentric actions of Dionicio Rodriguez during the construction phase that provided inspiration for one of my stories in the soon-to-be-released anthology, Tales From The Back Roads.

The Old Mill2Dionicio hired helpers to assist with building the concrete footings and underpinnings of the project, however he never shared the process behind his artistic methodology. It is said he mixed products in the trunk of his car, slamming it shut if anyone approached and even breaking jars or peeling labels to keep his ingredients a secret. He used a variety of objects to re-create the texture of wood such as spoons, forks and tools he handcrafted himself, perfecting the technique so well, he managed to fool the most discerning eye. Everything “wooden” in the park, including a huge bridge spanning an adjacent lagoon, is crafted in faux bois.

After learning of the eccentric way the artist worked, my imagination began to churn faster than the water wheel next to the grist mill. What obscure motive drove Dionicio to keep his processes and mixtures a secret? Were there illicit or illegal ingredients in the preparation of his product? Did he have an unseen force instructing him? Could he have hidden something in the concrete structures? Body parts, perhaps?

And that, dear readers, is how inspiration for a short story begins . . .





Come Along For The Ride

Life on the road is about constantly learning to adjust. Things seldom go exactly as planned and even when they do, we have the luxury of making real time changes to our schedule if we choose. It’s a great lifestyle in theory but trust me, there are as many day to day challenges as living in a stick and brick.

I’m not going to lie . . . developing structured writing habits in an unstructured atmosphere has not been easy. You might say I’m a work in progress, just like my manuscripts. I’m determined to make some major improvements in 2016 so one of the things I did was merge our travel blog, OlDogandMe with my author blog. Nothing like a little variety to spice things up.

Readers will now have an opportunity to follow my writing progress as well as my adventures. Occasionally I’ll share research for an upcoming story in my Tales From The Back Roads series. (Vol One is Releasing Jan 1).  Or I may do a photo collage from one of my hikes. By eliminating the travel blog, it frees up time for this blog and my writing.

I redesigned DebSanders dot com to reflect these changes. I am no longer concentrating on book reviews although you might see one pop up from time to time.

As a side note, I want to enlist your help.  If you have a good urban legend suitable for the Back Roads series, let me know. My contact info is available on my BIO page. Tales From The Back Roads is a collection of short stories based on North American lore. The stranger, the better! You can learn more on the HOME page.

Author Resource: Savvy Authors

Any writer who says they “know it all” is either fooling you or fooling themselves.

The market is constantly changing, so fast it’s hard to stay on top of current trends. Pouring over a dozen or more websites is time consuming and takes us away from what’s really important . . . our writing. Most large companies encourage professional growth but what happens when you’re self-employed? Seeking conferences and workshops to expand one’s knowledge can seem daunting.

Not anymore.

Savvy Authors offers a plethora of workshops, advice, resource material and communal networking tools for writers to stay focused in this ever changing industry. Not everyone is lucky enough to belong to an organization like RWA which offers physical meetings and conferences. Savvy Authors fills the gap, as well as complements those groups, concentrating on what we all want and need – the “savvy” to succeed in our profession. It doesn’t matter if you are a New York Times best selling author or unpublished. This organization is about writers helping writers.

Basic membership is free and allows an opportunity to test the waters i.e. see what they’re all about while taking advantage of some great services. Premium membership is $40 annually, a pittance compared to other organizations with comparable resources, and offers unlimited access to online tools, workshops and special events, chat rooms, craft and industry articles, etc.

Whether you’re updating your current knowledge base or exploring the industry, Savvy Authors should be highlighted on your bookmark roster. Subscribing to their monthly newsletter is a great place to start.

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