June 26, 2011      Less Horror, More Fun

Little Shop of Horrors - Shuler Theater

I reviewed the Shuler Theater's "Little Shop of Horrors" last night for The Chronicle-News, where prospects are looking a little better for Raton readers than they were three days ago. Marty Mayfield and I are double-teaming, working on the Louisiana boss and his new editor to honor the paper's banner statement, "Proudly Serving Southeastern Colorado and Northeastern New Mexico." The paper has shifted its focus this year to seeing its audience solely as the people of Trinidad; Marty and I are hoping it'll return to serving Trinidad's sister community of Raton, increasing its market by two thirds, based on population.

Little Shop of Horrors - Shuler Theater

Of course it'll have a big impact on me and my work either way: my territory is Raton and northeastern New Mexico. But, over the past 2 1/2 years, I've heard from a lot of people on both sides of the mountain and state line who have taken to looking specifically for my work, saying they enjoy my writing and photography. I'm hoping that the paper's leadership hears the same comments.

Meantime, because "Little Shop of Horrors" runs through July 10, the editor gave the green light to a review, "since it might interest Trinidad readers enough to drive over the hill for it."

Little Shop of Horrors - Shuler TheaterTo help the cause, I put the show's star -- Vinnie Gumlich of...Trinidad! -- right at the top. Of course, he earned it anyway with a great performance as Seymour. That's him at both top and bottom, concerned that his plant, at back right, has eaten his boss, portrayed by Michael Porter (center photo -- as always, click any image to enlarge it). Seymour had hoped to win the girl (Kyra Koelling, top) but nothing goes right in this science-fiction horror musical comedy. There's even a Greek chorus in the form of a 1960s girl group -- Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon, played respectively by Beki Henson, Brenda Ferri, and Sue Martin. And a sadistic Harley-riding nitrous-huffing dentist played by T.J. Mendez -- yes, the comedy has dentist jokes.

Photographing and writing features like this is just too much fun to think about doing it less.




June 23, 2011      The Good, the Bad, and the Busy

Jamil Hindi

In a sign of the times -- the changes roiling the publishing industry -- two of my best accounts are in transitions that are leaving me with less work. Both New Mexico Magazine and The Chronicle-News have had top-down reshufflings, sending editors-in-chief and staff packing, revising priorities. The new leadership isn't responding to queries, and I'm not getting any work from them.

In the case of the Chronicle, they've stopped publishing my work and answering my e-mails. My best guess is that the new management, based in Louisiana, is just continuing on the track they began in the spring when they discontinued street sales of the paper in Raton. Although the paper's banner reads "Proudly Serving Southeastern Colorado and Northeastern New Mexico", the Louisiana owner apparently doesn't see any relationship between our two areas straddling the mesas and state line, even though this means giving up 40% of the readership.

Fortunately, I'm keeping busy this summer with projects on the horse side of things, which has been a strange but successful fit for me. An impressive new online magazine called Ranch & Reata, edited by A.J. Mangum, the former editor of Western Horseman, is publishing a portfolio of my ranch photography later this summer, then reprinting my Brown Ranch feature this fall, with all new photo and page layouts.

I'm in the midst of a 10-day immersion in my next Western Horseman feature, which will run in November, give or take. The Hindi Ranch at Duran, New Mexico, has been breeding and training great Arabian horses for 60 years. I had a wonderful visit there with the amazing 93-year-old Brahaim Hindi and his daughter Anna and son Jamil, above, who has taken over the horse program. I've also interviewed Marcia Hefker and her son Cy Brower; tomorrow evening I'll photograph them on their Hindi horses at the base of Sierra Grande. Tuesday evening I'll photograph Marcia team roping north of Trinidad on another Hindi horse.

I love the photography and the writing equally. The writing's more difficult, but when I finish a piece, it feels fabulous. I wrote my 2000-word Hindi Horses manuscript yesterday, so I'm on top of the world for a couple days as I proofread and edit it. It's enough to keep my mind off New Mexico Magazine and The Chronicle-News for now.




June 15, 2011      All Fired Up

Christina Boyce

While I've been home on vacation (gardening, hiking, reading, sleeping), Raton's caught fire and my wife Christina Boyce (right) has gone to work. She's been creating web content for the new KRTN website currently scheduled to go live on the 4th of July. One of the first things she did was create a Facebook page -- "FM 93.9 Enchanted Air KRTN".

Then the Track Fire broke out Sunday afternoon. KRTN and its Facebook page have become the primary means of communication for thousands of affected people. The Facebook page had 12 "likes" Sunday and almost 1000 by Tuesday. Christina has put in long days and nights keeping the site updated with all the incoming news, photos, and announcements. It's been exciting to watch both the fire and Christina.

While Marty Mayfield and David Frank have lived up to expectations by getting some great photographs of the fire, my favorite has been one taken by teenager Tucker Berry. Two planes -- one a DC10 -- do a delicate dance around each other while dropping fire retardant to keep the fire from homes just below. Many of those homes belong to friends of ours; so far, the fire crews from all over the country have succeeded at saving most of the houses.

DC-10 by Tucker Berry

I'm heading out tomorrow for a couple days. I'll be working on a story for Western Horseman, staying on the Hindi Ranch at Duran, New Mexico, where they raise cattle, sheep, and Arabian horses. I'm looking forward to developing a story on the Arabians and getting some great photographs. When I drive home via Raton, I'm hoping to see very little smoke.




June 3, 2011      "I love kids because their minds are open"

Marge Atwater, Raton teacherRaton has officially declared next Saturday, June 11, as "Marge Atwater Day" in honor of the 46 years she spent teaching in the Raton Public Schools. Although she'll celebrate her 78th birthday tomorrow, she's still tutoring students from near and far. "I've got a reputation," she says, and "I don't charge, because that's what I think I should be doing."

So I headed over to Marge's house in Folsom yesterday to get her story and photograph -- having delayed our meeting for three consecutive days due to thunderstorms and aggravatingly high winds. I've known Marge for 12 years; as I expected, it was a pleasure to interview and photograph her.

Not surprisingly, she was tutoring a student when I arrived. Her husband of 55 years, Jim, joined us to listen, watch, and banter. Two other guests dropped in. Clearly Marge has not slowed down.

I learned that Bob Morris of The Raton Range is driving out this afternoon to get Marge's story for his paper. I love it when that happens, enjoying a bit of competitive spirit as next week I read his article and look at his photo of Marge, then look at mine in The Chronicle-News. The public benefits from the dueling features, and I guess Marge does too -- though she's not entirely comfortable receiving all of this attention!

It's only a warm-up for the big day, though, when she'll be feted at a reception in the atrium of the Best Western Raton Hotel from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, June 11. I can tell two things about Marge right now: she's enjoying the recognition, but she'll be glad when June 12 arrives.




May 27, 2011      Wiley "Big Boy" Hittson

Wiley "Big Boy" Hittson on Blackie

Since Western Horseman reached readers two weeks ago with my June feature "The Horse Who Made Max Evans a Writer", two dozen people have come here to TKA via web searches looking for information on Wiley "Big Boy" Hittson. They've come from almost as many states, throughout the country, and judging by the search wordings, I can see that many are looking for details of Big Boy's November 1949 death, at 23, by gunshots administered by his brother, Tiny, outside the family ranch house out Weatherly Road northeast of Des Moines, New Mexico.

The Western Horseman feature tells the role Big Boy played in the life and future career of his best friend, New Mexico's favorite son novelist Max Evans. As in my earlier "Max Evans's New Mexico" in the February 2011 issue of New Mexico Magazine, Big Boy's death is shown as the spark that led to Max's classic novel The Hi Lo Country; in fact, the novel opens and closes at Big Boy's funeral in the village cemetery one mile north of Des Moines.

Wiley Big Boy Hittson and Pat Evans

And, frankly, that's the only place to get more detail, in the novel itself. Amazingly, it's out of print. When I wrote my articles months ago, Amazon still had lots of inexpensive copies available from vendors, but as of today the cheapest used paperback remaining is $23. eBay has some cheaper, but most of them are in England. Used book stores and libraries are the other obvious sources. It's worth the search.

You can also consider the 1999 film version with Woody Harrelson as "Big Boy Matson" and Billy Crudup in the Max Evans role of "Pete." It's no match for the detail and prose available only through Max's novel, though. (And the film, too, is out of print -- what's going on here! Even Netflix doesn't have a copy!)

Max Evans home in Albuquerque, 2011

Above are the only two photos of Big Boy in Max's archives. At top Big Boy is on Blackie. The center photo shows Big Boy with Max's wife Pat right after the August 4, 1949, Raton courthouse wedding where Big Boy served as Max's best man. They drove up the Raton pass for a wedding reception picnic and celebration, Big Boy's ranch hand eating watermelon. Max took the photo.

And that's Max now, 62 years later, on the upstairs porch of his and Pat's wonderful tree-shaded home near Albuquerque's Nob Hill. I hope he'll now try to get his publisher to re-issue The Hi Lo Country! That's a request, Max.




May 15, 2011      Snaking Downstream in a Crowd

Dry Cimarron Tour

Yesterday's annual Dry Cimarron Tour did what some thought it might do: it drew three times more participants and vehicles than ever before, largely due to my feature this month in New Mexico Magazine, "Home on the Range", showcasing Darien Brown and his 140-year-old family ranch outside Folsom in the volcano-studded far northeastern corner of New Mexico.

Longhorn cattle, Folsom Falls Ranch, NM

Two-thirds of the participants -- about 40 people -- said they'd learned of the event from my magazine article. (Some said my feature in last week's Chronicle-News did the trick.) One couple drove 450 miles from Las Cruces to spend her birthday on the day-long motor tour; another couple drove 400 miles from their home in Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Several couples came 300 miles from their homes in the Albuquerque area.

Dry Cimarron Tour petroglyphs

It was my third time on the tour and my wife Christina's first: that's her at left taking a photograph of a petroglyph on Alligator Rock (click any photo to see it enlarged). The tour guides, ranchers, and board members of the sponsoring Folsom Museum were all thrilled to get so much attention. Best of all, we 60 participants had a memorably great time as we bonded during the dozen stops between Folsom, NM, and Kenton, OK, in 30 cars and trucks snaking their way down the Dry Cimarron River Valley.

Watch for my feature this week in The Chronicle-News, and consider joining the June 18 Folsom Man Archaeological Tour.




May 7, 2011      Winding Down

Samuel Bayliss, Raton NM

Many of you follow my work in The Chronicle-News: it's one of the most frequently-viewed features here at Tim Keller Arts. For 2 1/2 years the Chronicle has run an average of a dozen of my stories each month, with an average of 2-3 photographs accompanying each story. Editors have told me that my stories and photos are popular with readers, who give me a lot of direct positive feedback, as well.

Published in Trinidad, Colorado, the newspaper's "flag", the title banner logo, reads "Proudly Serving Southeastern Colorado and Northeastern New Mexico." But local ownership ended some years ago when the paper was purchased by a tiny chain based in Louisiana, and over the past year the distant owners have been increasingly running the paper from there, laying off the local publisher and then the local editor. Despite the logo's claim, they discontinued news stand sales in New Mexico, so most of the people featured in my articles never get to see themselves in the paper.

The paper has gone to running only one photograph per feature, and the owners want articles to stay under 600 words. (My Shuler Theater reviews, and many features, typically exceed 1000 words.) I'm well-paid for little quickie articles (which aren't much fun to read), but for my better stories which I give several hours of time, I've sometimes earned minimum wage for my time; now I'm earning less. (I'm paid a flat rate for each article and each photograph used.)

My last local contact with the paper has just resigned. None of the Louisiana people has ever made direct contact with me. I just submitted my invoice for the past month: there were only five short pieces and five photographs. I'm going to try to keep going like that but the future, at this point, is opaque.

The owners know far more about the newspaper business than I do. See, I think premium content comes first -- great reading and great photography. Good content attracts and holds readers. Readers attract advertisers. A newspaper's success is dependent on its content. What do I know?

The Chronicle's owners have reduced content and distribution. They're waiting for more ads to come in. By cutting article lengths to press-release size and eliminating all but one photograph per story, they're saving space and money until more advertising dollars roll in. But if cutbacks in content and distribution reduce the number of readers, what magic equation is going to increase advertising revenues?

Two years ago, the Chronicle ran eight photos with my Annual Poetry Marathon feature. Last year they ran nine. This year I didn't bother to submit more than the three photos immediately below, and the paper ran just one. For the annual school writing awards, I didn't bother to submit more than one, of Whited Foundation Writer of the Year Samuel Bayliss, above.

Between my teaching and the five magazines I'm working with, it's not like I don't have plenty of work. But I enjoy the newpaper work, and one of its perks is shining a light on local people and programs that deserve and benefit from the attention. My northeastern New Mexico neighbors are effusive in expressing their appreciation. So I'll hang in with the Chronicle and hope it succeeds and rebuilds.




May 1, 2011      Magical Transformation

Colton Milson, Shuler Theater, RatonJoshua Trujillo, Shuler Theater, Raton

Friday night's Shuler Theater performances by 38 Raton High School students at the 5th Annual Poetry Marathon surpassed all hopes and imagination; it was an extraordinary experience for all concerned. For teachers, parents, and the community, it was a revelation to see the students rise to the occasion so completely and passionately; even more surprising and impressive was to glimpse -- through the students' words and performances -- thoughts, feelings, and experiences previously unknown.

For the students, the evening was clearly transformative. Many had written deeply personal and powerful stories through their new poems; now they found themselves sharing these words with friends, family, and strangers under the spotlight of the venerated Shuler Theater stage.

Jessica Helen Lopez & Manuel Gonzalez, Shuler Theater, Raton

The spark -- no, flamethrower -- responsible for the magic was a two-week residency by Albuquerque poets Danny Solis (below), Jessica Helen Lopez and Manuel Gonzalez (right), who worked with all RHS students in their English classes. Before the arrival of the poets, the students tended to write Hallmark love poetry in rhymed couplets. The poets-in-residence brought an irrepressible exuberance and methods guaranteed to have students spilling their inner experiences onto paper.

Then they worked on confidence-building and performance skills. Many of the students who shared at the Shuler had never publically expressed themselves. After taking their turns at the microphone before a packed theater, the students walked off the stage a couple inches taller than I've ever seen them.





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