Diana Holguin-Balogh spent childhood Fourth of Julys at Billy the Kid Days in Lincoln, New Mexico. She found historical fiction possibilities fascinating — thus the catalyst for “Rosary without Beads.” “Shadowboxing Lupe’s Ghost,” her first manuscript, was named Top of the Mountain Book Award finalist for Northern Colorado Writers. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Anthology, “Found,” a Colorado Book Award recipient, featured her story, “Telling Bones.”
The following is an interview with Diana Holguin-Balogh.
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
What inspired you to write this book?
While attending a cousin’s funeral at Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation, my brother walked me across New Mexico Route 70 nearby and showed me the graves of Andrew Roberts and Richard Brewer. Here two combatants, victim and killer, Regulator and House fighter, rested side by side for eternity. Billy the Kid had fought in the Blazer’s Mill Shoot-out. In fact, although many guns were firing, he was the only one prosecuted for the death of Shotgun Roberts. Viewing the grave site reminded me how local farmers and ranchers, as well as señoritas, loved the bilingual outlaw. Possibilities exploded in my head.
On my first exploratory library run of “Billy the Kid,” seventy books surfaced instantaneously. I asked myself, “Does the world need another book on Billy?” However, most all the listings were academic versions by male historians on the Kid’s life. I knew my story had to be completely different. Thus the voice of a Mexican sheepherder’s daughter who tells a back hills rendition from the powerless locals caught in the bloodiest war in New Mexico’s history.
Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?
I have told John Nichols he inspired me with his “Milagro Beanfield War,” his unforgettable story of a New Mexican family struggling to keep their agricultural beans afloat against a capitalistic endeavor to channel the water to a golf course. My first manuscript, thus far unpublished, “Shadowboxing Lupe’s Ghost,” more reflects that influence.
I’m often drawn to multicultural, marginalized humanity themes. More contemporary favorites are “Behold the Dreamers,” by Imbolo Imbue, a story of a struggling Cameroon couple who cope with immigration issues in New York City during the 2008 recession. Another is “House of Broken Angels,” by Luis Alberto Urrrea, a poignant, cultural immersion with a poor, Southern California Hispanic family who live close to the Tijuana border. I must plug the two other contenders in the 2019 General Fiction category: “Go Ask Fannie” by Elisabeth Hyde and “Daughters of the Night Skies” by Aimie K. Runyan. I thoroughly enjoyed their audios and would highly recommend both novels.
Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?
This is a great question. I must admit when trying to decide, I am torn among many scenes. It’s like asking which finger works the hardest. I settled on a passage which captures the push/pull Ambrosia faces. She fights a moral dilemma.as she struggles with her conservative Catholic upbringing, yet she fears ending up like her exhausted mother who has recently died of TB. Ambrosia wants to satisfy family expectations but finds her future terrifying while passionate angst torments her. Without Billy, she envisions a dismal, hardscrabble existence. No doubt, as in this scene, Billy’s tantalizing sensuality lures her. I’m hoping someone will be enticed about what happened in the barn that stormy day. Also, this scene offers typical dialogue which perspective readers might appreciate in deciding whether to spend more time with Ambrosia and Billy.
What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?
It’s exciting to watch a mental story, literally something from nothing, come to fruition. The manuscript can be difficult to sell to others, but if someone believes, the thrilling part begins. That is the reward, the showcase. I recently visited my hometown. They rolled out the proverbial red, community carpet. I actually made the front page of the Alamogordo Daily News. I spoke to high school classes, presented at New Mexico State University lecture series, lunched with Sertoma Club, and greeted interested readers at the Tularosa Basin Historical Museum. I’m still aglow and wonderstruck.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t honor Colorado Book Awards. Thinking back on the hard, at times lonely, work makes me realize I never imagined riding this literary high. Colorado Humanities is a golden asset for all who love books.
What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?
Difficulty rests within the given nature of the historical fiction genre. Industry caveat demands the writer absolutely and seamlessly weave fiction with history and that includes the ending. So in a sense, history has spoiled the final conclusion, and therein lies my challenge. The historical part of my novel has no surprise. The cat’s out of the bag; the candy has been dispersed. Most people know how Billy the Kid dies. However, the fictional, the “what could have been” has to be designed as if it were truth.
Tension had to be couched in surprise despite that awareness. A huge relief came from a UNM reviewer who said he knew Billy was going to die but kept reading because he was curious about Ambrosia’s redemption and destiny. I knew then my goal, at least for that person, had been fulfilled.
What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?
At Stinking Springs, when Pat Garrett finds Billy sheltered in a rock hut in frigid winter, he mistakenly shoots Charles Bowdre as well as a horse outside their refuge. Because of the extremely cold weather, Billy had sheltered his horse inside. The fallen mount rested outside across the threshold so that Billy’s horse would not jump over it. Consequently, the outlaw was trapped. Researching horse nature fascinated me. In the 1800’s, these wonderful creatures played critical roles and learning about them was fascinating.
Horse miles had to be calculated from San Patricio to Fort Sumner. The time is based on the difficulty of the terrain, health of the horse, amount of saddle time, and whether the horse gallops, trots, lopes, or walks. Given the distance, it would be a combination, as a horse could not gallop full speed for that distance. Thus, Ambrosia could not ride her trusty old mare Luz. Food and drink needed to be considered and possible stops along the way. Idiosyncratic detail such as a thirsty horse’s dumb instinct to literally drink themselves to death was noted in the writing. Ambrosia had to yank young Esperanza away from the water as they traveled.
What project are you working on next?
I’m currently working on a story about Josefa Jaramillo Carson, Kit Carson’s wife, and Ignacia Jaramillo Bent, first territorial New Mexican governor Charles Bent’s wife. These two sisters silently participated in the 1800’s shift from a Mexican republic to United States occupation. The transformation brought in new financial systems, commodity acquisitions, military rule, and obvious cultural and sociological modifications. They witnessed scalping, local fur and agricultural trade reduction, Indian resettlement, Catholic reformation, Civil War as well as the industrial fabrication of the Singer Sewing Machine.
“Sisters of Crumbling Adobe” is evolving into a saga about the depths and clashes of pioneer sisterhood. Ignacia, as she lives the longest, tells the story. She resents Kit’s long absences while her younger sister, Josefa, remains childless and later overburdened with children. Together they learn about Kit’s past two marriages with Indian women and his Indian child. Josefa struggles with loyalty to her older sister’s wishes, which are misaligned with her husband’s demands. Ignacia and Josefa endure frontier miscarriages, early childhood deaths, household maintenance, betrayals, and paternal resentment.
For research, I spent four days at Bent’s Fort encampment at La Junta and interviewed John Carson, Kit Carson’s great grandson. As with “Rosary without Beads,” it’s a challenging, yet stimulating project.