The Department of Curiosities

Today, I would like to welcome my friend Karen J. Carlisle to the blog. Our works have appeared together in three different steampunk anthologies: Denizens of Steam, Den of Antiquity, and DeadSteam: A Chilling Collection of Dreadpunk Tales. Karen has a new novel coming out tomorrow and she has agreed to share an excerpt from it. So, without further ado, I will turn the floor over to Karen.

Good morning everyone and thank you to David for allowing me to guest post on his blog.

So far on this blog tour, I’ve written about why The Department of Curiosities was written, introduced our heroine, Tillie Meriwether, and other characters and exposed some background on one of the many competing groups.I’ve chatted about mechanicals (gadgets), shared book trailers and a new short story and The Department’s Australian connection.

The Department of Curiosities is a tale of adventure, a heroine, a mad scientist, traitors and secrets. All for the good of the Empire.

Buckle up and get ready for the adventure…

Now there’s just one more day until my new book goes live on 22nd May. It’s also Tillie Meriwether’s birthday! (I chose Tillie’s birthday in the first draft – and had forgotten the date. Imagine my surprise when I realised it was the week of the intended release date. So why not make them the same day?)

The Department of Curiosities will be released 22nd May, 2019.

Watch the book trailers:  or on Karen’s YouTube channel:

If you want to follow the rest of The Department of Curiosities book launch blog tour, check out the links on Karen’s blog post:

You can pre-order your eBook copy of The Department of Curiosities (for special price of US$2.99) at:

or sign up for Karen’s newsletter at:

Follow Karen on:

Or support Karen on Patreon (for less than a cup of coffee a month and you get cool rewards!):

Karen J Carlisle is a writer and illustrator of steampunk, Victorian mysteries and fantasy. She was short-listed in Australian Literature Review’s 2013 Murder/Mystery Short Story Competition. Her first novella, Doctor Jack & Other Tales, was published in 2015 and her short stories have featured in the 2016 Adelaide Fringe exhibition, ‘A Trail of Tales’, and the ‘Where’s Holmes’ and ‘Deadsteam’ anthologies.

Karen lives in Adelaide with her family and the ghost of her ancient Devon Rex cat.

She’s always loved dark chocolate and rarely refuses a cup of tea.

Owl Dance Excerpt 7: Dreaming of Airships

In this final excerpt from Owl Dance, General Gorloff goes to one of the great Russian scientists, Dmitri Mendeleev. If you’ve taken a chemistry class, you likely remember Mendeleev as the creator of the Periodic Table. However, he was also interested in airships. What if he had the resources to actually build one?

General Alexander Gorloff strode down a corridor at St. Petersburg University and knocked on a door.

“Come in,” called a distracted voice on the other side.

The general opened the door and was astonished to see a desk surrounded by books, some open, others closed—all in some kind of disarray. The desk itself was covered by papers. On the wall was a black chalkboard covered in incomprehensible scribbles that—as far as the general could tell—were some combination of hieroglyphs and a foreign language. None of this astonished the general as much as the man who sat behind the desk. His head was covered with a wild mop of gray-streaked, black hair. A bushy beard hid most of the man’s face.

The general introduced himself. “You are Mendeleev?”

“Yes, yes,” said the scientist, impatiently without rising from his chair. “What can I do for you, General?”

The general turned and closed the door. “I wish to discuss a matter of some secrecy that is important to our Czar.”

At this, Mendeleev turned his attention fully to Gorloff. “Go on.”

“In my duties as military attaché to the United States of America, it has come to my attention that the young country poses a threat to the Russian Empire.”

Mendeleev scowled. “This does not surprise me. It is a country of cowboys and loose cannons who have no respect for intellectual pursuits. The country has been around for a century and I cannot name one decent university or important literary work that has come from there.”

“I have heard some critics speak highly of a novel called Moby-Dick,” ventured the general.

The scientist waved his hand as though subjected to a bad smell. “A long-winded book about a madman hunting a whale? It has no value. Poe showed some promise, but he was obviously influenced by the French.”

“Obviously,” muttered the general in agreement. He sat down and decided to steer the conversation back to the topic at hand. “While in America, I also learned that there are vast reserves of gold and oil in Alaska,” continued Gorloff.

Mendeleev’s disdainful frown turned into a smug grin–although the general had some difficulty telling that through the thick beard. “I knew it was a mistake for the Czar to sell Alaska.”

“America poses a threat to Russia and the stability of the whole world,” declared the general. “I ask you, as a patriot, will you come to the aid of our country?”

“I am loyal to the Czar, General Gorloff. He has a good heart. He showed that when he freed the serfs. Ask what you will.” Mendeleev folded his arms across his chest, his eyes intent.

“We need a way to move quickly to the United States without being stopped by their navy,” explained the general. “We also need a way to deploy troops and heavy artillery across large sections of western North America.”

Mendeleev nodded and thought for several minutes. His head fell forward and for a moment, the general thought the scientist had fallen asleep. Just as he was leaning forward to tap Mendeleev on the shoulder, the scientist leapt to his feet and erased a section of the chalkboard. He drew a large ovoid shape. Next, he added boxes with something like ship propellers attached. Underneath, he drew a bigger box. “Imagine if you will, a ship of the air,” said Mendeleev, pointing at his drawing. “We build a steel frame. Inside will be great bags that we fill with a gas that’s lighter than air—say hydrogen.” He pointed to the boxes and propellers. “It will be light enough that small steam engines can be deployed to move it through the air. Underneath, like a balloon’s gondola, is a pilothouse. Within the steel frame structure, we can place troops, artillery, whatever you like.”

The general stared at the drawing wide-eyed. “Will such a thing really work?”

“I have been working on the problem of such a craft for the past few years.” As Mendeleev spoke, he continued sketching on the board, showing the airship from underneath. “The only thing that has kept me from building it is funding. If the Czar is serious about having such a war machine, I believe I can design it and we can build a small fleet.”

“This year?” Gorloff shook his head in wonder.

“If enough resources are dedicated to the problem.” Mendeleev stepped aside. The silhouette of an owl adorned his new sketch.

“Why do you adorn your airship with an owl?”

“My ancestors are Kalmyk, General Gorloff. A story has been passed down through the generations that an owl saved Ghengis Khan’s life. To us, owls have long been talismans of great power. These ships will be like great owls, expanding the Russian empire. We will guide the Americans to a more civilized age.”

Gorloff nodded satisfied. “Begin work designing these ships. Send word to the palace and let us know what materials and personnel you need. We will make sure they are sent.” The general reached out and shook Mendeleev’s hand. “It was a delight meeting you, Professor Mendeleev.”

“The pleasure was mine.”

Back out in the hall, the general heard Legion in the back of his mind. What a fascinating individual.

“You did well.” Gorloff’s voice was barely above a whisper. He didn’t want to attract attention as he walked down the hall. “It seems Professor Mendeleev responded quite well to the visions you showed him.”

We showed Professor Mendeleev no visions.

“What?!” The general shouted, then looked around quickly to make sure that no one had heard him. “What do you mean you showed him no visions?”

We didn’t need to. Those were Mendeleev’s own ideas.

First off, a big thank you for reading the excerpts today and helping to make this launch of Owl Dance a real success. I hope you have enjoyed the excerpts. You can find out more information about the novel, or buy a copy, at the following:

Owl Dance Excerpt 6: Kid Antrim

In this excerpt, Fatemeh Karimi rides to Silver City, New Mexico along with a reporter named Luther Duncan. Ramon has been jailed unjustly in Socorro and Fatemeh and Duncan are trying to solicit the help of a deputy sheriff named Dan Tucker. While there, they meet a teenage troublemaker.

“Who’s your prisoner?” Duncan looked toward the cell.

“Calls himself Kid Antrim.” Tucker chuckled to himself. “He’s been making a real pain in the ass of himself over at Fort Grant in Arizona.” He blushed and tipped his hat at Fatemeh. “Pardon my language, ma’am. They say he keeps stealing their supplies out from under them. His mother lives here in Silver City and I finally caught him this morning.”

“You wouldn’t o’ caught me if it wasn’t for this ankle,” grumbled the kid.

Fatemeh stood and stepped over to the cell. “What happened to your ankle?”

“Sprained it, hopping onto a horse.” The kid looked as his feet, apparently embarrassed at the notion of being clumsy.

“A horse that he stole.” The deputy sheriff scratched the back of his head. “I’m taking him back to Arizona tomorrow so he can stand trial at the fort. Even if I wanted to, I’m not sure there’s anything I could do to help Búho Morales. What you need is a good attorney and a judge sympathetic to your case, not a deputy sheriff like me—no matter how much I admire his reputation.”

“Whacha really need is someone to break him outta jail,” said the kid.

Fatemeh ignored the comment and returned to her seat at Tucker’s desk.

“Is there anyone you know that could help us?” Duncan leaned forward.

Tucker dropped his feet back to the floor. “Not around here. You might try Albert Fountain in Mesilla. I hear he’s pretty good with difficult cases.”

Fatemeh looked at Duncan with narrowed eyes. He gave an apologetic shrug. She redirected her gaze to the deputy sheriff. “I’m sorry we’ve bothered you, Mr. Tucker.”

“No bother at all, ma’am.” Tucker smiled faintly. “May I ask what the bishop was going to lynch you for?”

“His brother-in-law, Randolph Dalton, accused me of running off his miners. I was a better curandera than the ones in his parish…” She began counting off items on her fingers.

Tucker held up his hand and smiled. “I get the idea. If you’ll excuse my language again, you were a pain in his ass.”

Fatemeh grinned at that. “I think that about sums it up.” She looked toward the cell. “I wonder if you would allow me to treat the young man’s sprained ankle?”

Tucker shrugged. “It would sure make getting him to Arizona a lot easier if he could walk on his own two feet.”

Fatemeh nodded, then stood and left the sheriff’s office. She tried to think if there was anything else she could say to persuade Dan Tucker to help them out. It was clear he admired Ramon’s good reputation as a lawman. However, he was right. They needed a lawyer to get Ramon out of jail, not a deputy sheriff. She approached her horse and patted it on the nose, then went to her saddlebag and retrieved a bottle and some bandages. A few minutes later, she returned to the sheriff’s office.

She took the chair from in front of Dan Tucker’s desk, placed it in front of the jail cell and sat down. “I have something to help your sprain,” she said.

“Much obliged, but these things heal themselves with time.” Kid Antrim looked at the bottle suspiciously.

“This will help. I promise.”

Kid Antrim limped over to the bars. Gingerly, he pulled off his boot, then stuck his foot through. Fatemeh uncorked the bottle and the kid quickly pulled his foot back. “What in the name of Hell is that?” he cried, wrinkling his nose.

“Horse liniment. It’s the best thing I know for sprains.”

“I ain’t no horse.”

“Stick your foot back through the bars.”

He complied and she massaged his ankle with the liniment. Then, she wrapped his ankle snugly with the bandages.

“Hey, that feels better already.”

“Sure you don’t want to help me get him over to Arizona?” asked Tucker. “He listens to you better than he listens to me.”

“I would consider it, if you could help me with my problem.” Fatemeh put the cork back in the bottle of horse liniment.

The deputy sheriff scratched the back of his head, as though giving it serious thought. “The problem is I just don’t see any way I can help you, short of breaking Morales out of jail. If I really thought he’d been wronged, I might even help you do that, but from what you tell me, he admitted he was guilty of running away from his duties. It sounds like he may be facing a bad situation in Socorro, but how do I know what you’re telling me is true?”

“You don’t.”

“If you can think of any way to help, send word to me at the Mesilla News,” offered Duncan.

“I’ll do that.” Tucker stood from the desk and showed the visitors to the door.

That evening, Fatemeh and Duncan ate dinner at the hotel. Afterwards, they planned to get some sleep and ride back to Mesilla the next day.

“So tell me, Mr. Duncan, why exactly did we ride all the way out here, when we could have just spoken to this Albert Fountain back in Mesilla?”

Duncan sighed. “Albert Fountain is a very high powered attorney. I thought his services would be more than you could afford.”

Fatemeh looked down at her plate and stirred the food around with her fork. “I suppose you’re right.” She looked back up into Duncan’s eyes. “So what exactly are we going to do?”

Just then, the hotel door flew open and the scrawny fifteen-year-old kid from the sheriff’s office appeared. He slammed the door behind him and looked around. Seeing Fatemeh and Duncan he made for the table.

“What are you doing here?” Duncan’s eyes were wide.

“My ankle felt better, so I broke out of jail.” The kid smiled. “I didn’t feel like waiting around to go back to Arizona, so I thought I’d come here and see if I could help you all.”

Owl Dance is now live at

Owl Dance Excerpt 5: A Glimpse of the Future

In excerpt 3, we met the alien Legion. In this scene, Legion encounters the Russian attaché to the United States and shows him a vision of the future.

Alexander Gorloff thought he heard voices. His eyes fluttered open and he felt the rumbling of the train. He looked around, searching the darkness, but didn’t see anyone. Finally, his eyes drifted shut. A short time later, the general had the most remarkable dream.

He found himself in a vast white space, surrounded by a swarm of some strange species of insect. They neither landed on him nor bit him, but he heard soft whispering voices as though they were speaking to one another. He plucked one out of the air and looked at it. It was soft and malleable, but he could not squish it like an insect. It flew away from him and joined its comrades.

“We are called Legion,” came a velvety voice speaking Russian.

“Where are you?”

“All around you.”

“You’re the insects?” Gorloff raised his eyebrows.

“We are a swarm, but we are not insects. We have come to learn about your world.”

“My … world? Where are you from?”

“We are from a distant island of stars.” The scene around him changed. At first, Gorloff thought the room had become black and the swarm was now white, but then he realized he was looking at the night sky. However, when he looked at his feet, he realized he was not standing on a surface. Instead, he was floating, carried by the swarm, which swathed him like a blanket. The swarm carried him through the sea of night to a great whirlpool of stars. “This is where we came from.”

Legion then carried the general back through the sea of stars. Finally, Gorloff saw a blue-green ball that floated in the void. In the distance he saw the sun, but it looked strange floating in a sea of black, instead of hanging in a blue sky. The blue-green ball unfolded and Gorloff realized he was standing in the white room again, looking at a remarkably detailed map of the world. Light whispers continued in the background—so many voices, but so soft, it was almost a white noise. The general was aware of questions being asked and suggestions being made very gently, as though Legion didn’t want to break something delicate.

Gorloff found himself studying the Russian Empire and the United States. As he did so, Legion helped him to understand things about their relationship that he had never known before. The memory of Alaska’s sale to the United States came to the forefront of his mind. He remembered the land as a potential target should Great Britain renew its hostility toward Russia. As a strategist, the Russian general had agreed that the sale of the land to the United States was necessary. However, Legion showed him there was great wealth in Alaska that he had not known about. Not only were there great gold deposits, but there was oil, which was vitally important to machinery. Alaska’s sale to the United States had been accomplished less than a decade before, but after Legion’s revelations Gorloff began to wonder if it was a mistake.

The military attaché shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. “This is a crazy dream.” His tone was harsh. “America is our friend.”

The swarm appeared at Gorloff’s side. Its whispers were more audible to him now. “Analyzing political and economic structures of countries called the United States of America and the Russian Empire. Recent war in the United States will have lasting effects on the population, including increased economic stress in certain sectors. There is a 90% likelihood that such stress will result in an uprising by the labor class to improve their well-being. This movement will likely spread around the world…”

The voices continued. Although Gorloff did not understand all the words, he found that if he did not listen closely, he followed the meaning surprisingly well. He began to have a vision within his dream. He saw workers rising up in Russia and toppling his beloved Czar. In spite of that, Russia grew even more powerful. America also increased its might. Eventually, a time came when the two countries were directly in conflict. He saw a future where Russia and the United States of America developed horrible weapons—weapons that could murder every man, woman, and child in the world. Finally, Gorloff had a vision of a charred and blackened Earth, floating dead in space.

“This is terrible.” Gorloff put his hands to his head. “I cannot let this happen.”

Legion’s soft murmurings changed and the general saw a new vision. This time the Civil War ended differently and America was permanently cleaved in two. In the world that resulted, neither the Union nor the Confederacy would ever become a dominant world power. The labor class of the United States would not rise up in the same way and there was a chance the Czar could keep his power, especially if he made conditions better for Russia’s laborers.

General Alexander Gorloff saw a future where Russia was the strongest country in the world.

“The only problem,” said Legion, who sensed the general’s thoughts, “is that machines will become increasingly important. Although Russia has resources, they may not be sufficient to power the machines necessary to obtain dominance.”

Gorloff’s attention went back to Alaska. He thought about the American Civil War and how it almost divided the country. Looking at the map in front of him, a plan began to form.

“Can you help me?”

Will Legion help Gorloff? Find out in Owl Dance. More information about the book along with an interview of me at:

Owl Dance Excerpt 4: A Clockwork Wolf

This excerpt begins after Ramon has seen a poster in the town of Mesilla, stating there is a bounty on wolf carcasses. He’s decided to collect the bounty, even though Fatemeh objects. An alternate version of this chapter will also appear in the anthology Wolf Songs: Volume 2 edited by M.H. Bonham.

Ramon found a hidden spot in a ring of rocks just at the edge of the little grove. There, he laid out his bedroll. Opening his rifle he aimed the barrel toward the moon and checked that there wasn’t too much powder buildup, then loaded a shell into the barrel so he’d be ready to fire without delay. He was determined to shoot a wolf, but tired as he was, he fell asleep instead.

He dreamed of a time when he was a child, running through a field on his way home from school. He saw two wolf pups wrestling with each other in the tall grass. Nearby, a mother wolf watched him. The young Ramon thought they were cute and wondered if he could pet the pups. Remembering his dad’s warnings to stay away from wild animals, he decided he should give them a wide berth. Just then, he felt a sharp pain and heard a loud snap.

He woke suddenly and realized the snap was a nearby twig. There was another sound as well—a strange whirring and buzzing, not unlike the soft sounds that came from Mr. Castillo’s clock.

Slowly, he reached for his rifle and turned toward the grove. The moon was high and there were deep shadows amongst the trees. His throat was parched and he wished he had time to take a drink from his canteen. However, he soon spotted movement. A lobo stepped from the shadows and strode confidently toward the cattle down the hill.

Ramon tried to swallow, but no saliva would come to his mouth. He thought he detected a flash of movement behind him, and quickly looked around. Not seeing anything amongst the rocks and deep shadows, he turned his attention back to the strange lobo that walked so brazenly in plain sight. Ramon thought a wolf would have been more cautious when stalking prey, but he was glad for its erect stance, and slow, steady stride. It was an easy target. He carefully aimed his gun at the wolf.

Just as Ramon started to squeeze the trigger, someone pushed the gun. His shot went wide, missing the lobo. Ramon cursed and turned, finding himself facing Fatemeh’s angry glare. “What are you doing out here? That animal doesn’t deserve to be shot just so you can have a few dollars.”

“It’s not about…” Ramon shook his head. Fatemeh would not understand. “We really could use the money.” He looked down, avoiding her gaze.

She sighed. “I know, but there are other ways.”

Ramon looked at the lobo. The gunshot had not spooked it. It strutted through the grove, ignoring its surroundings. It didn’t even seem to notice the strange clicking and whirring sounds—Ramon looked around, trying to figure out where they were coming from. When he looked back at the wolf, he saw that it was headed straight for a rock. Surely it would turn before it got there, but no. It walked right into the rock and the most amazing thing happened. There was a bright flash of light accompanied by a loud popping. The top of the wolf’s head flew off and its body toppled over sideways.

“What the hell?” Ramon scrambled out from his hiding place. Fatemeh followed close behind.

He reached the wolf and peered inside its head, expecting to find a bloody mess. Instead, the head was mostly empty and separated into two compartments. At the back of one of the compartments was a small, glass photographic plate. The other compartment held the charred remains of some kind of powder. The wolf’s eyes were lenses with black metal just behind them. Ramon reached in and felt around, then dragged the wolf’s body out into the moonlight where he could see better. It was much heavier than a wolf would be, as though most of the body was made from metal rather than skin or bones.

Fatemeh looked inside. “It’s like a camera.”

Ramon nodded. “There’s some kind of spring-loaded mechanism that lowers these metal contraptions just behind the eyes.” He pushed on a rod inside the wolf’s head and sure enough the metal plates lowered, which would, in turn, expose the glass plate at the back of the head to light—except that the plate had already been exposed when the top of the head was blown off.

“But what caused that bright flash of light we saw?”

“Flash powder,” said a voice from the trees.

Whose voice came from the trees? You’ll find out more in Owl Dance available at Flying Pen Press:

Owl Dance Excerpt 3: Legion

In this excerpt, we see that Owl Dance is not your ordinary western novel. This section introduces Legion, an intergalactic explorer who will become involved with Ramon and Fatemeh.

His name was Legion.

For millennia, the nanite swarm that was his current form explored galaxies and visited planets populated by thousands of races. He hadn’t always been this way. Many centuries ago he had another name on a planet now nothing more than dust, gradually drifting outward from the exhausted core of a dead star. On that world, he’d possessed a mortal body. The thing called Legion remembered that world, and remembered his old body, and also the first computer he lived in, but he knew such memories meant little in the face of his immortal existence.

Unconstrained by a mortal lifetime or the distance he could travel, Legion gathered information about everything he came across. The universe contained so much variety that if he grew bored in one location, he simply moved on to another.

Eventually, he found his way to a small cluster containing two spiral galaxies and several dwarf galaxies. While ambling through one of the spirals, he came across a middle-aged yellow star that supported a handful of planets in stable orbits.

Legion was especially interested in the problem of intelligence. How did it evolve? What was its purpose? In all of his travels, he had yet to find a satisfactory answer. This humble solar system looked like one that could nurture life.

As he approached one of the inner, rocky worlds of this system, Legion grew excited. The planet contained large bodies of water broken up by landmasses, not unlike the world where he evolved. As he drifted closer, he saw straight lines cut into the ground and regular, geometric patterns of growing things. Not only was there life on this world, but there was life that altered its landscape. That indicated intelligence. Legion decided on a closer look.

On the world, he found corporeal beings, similar to the creature he once was. Legion realized these beings might be at the perfect stage to help him answer a few of his questions about the purpose of intelligence. They had developed agriculture and industry. However, they still appeared primitive. All the devices he saw could have been built by hand or through the use of rudimentary machines. The creatures of this planet appeared to be on a path to become as intelligent as he was, yet they were still primitive enough he might be able to glean some understanding of how that intelligence came about.

He sought out an intelligent being so he could study its neural structure and attempt to interpret its thoughts with minimal interference or detection. Because of that, he chose to seek out a being in a sparsely inhabited area. He found a river valley that he hoped would serve his purpose.

It was windy in the valley and Legion allowed his component parts to ride the air currents. The wind came in gusts, propelling him some distance, but then quieting, allowing him to regroup and scan his surroundings. He passed what appeared to be a military fortification near the river and then he saw ruins of much older habitations. Walking among the ruins was a lone creature, who looked around with interest.

The being was perfect. He was clearly the same type of creature who had altered the landscape. Moreover, the creature was alone. If Legion affected the creature adversely, detection was unlikely.

Before the next gust of wind, Legion drifted over to the creature.

The being took a deep breath and some of the components entered its nasal passages. Those components traveled into the being’s lungs and ultimately into the bloodstream where they were carried to the brain, scanning and transmitting information as they went. Other components scanned the ruins and still others, further down the river valley, analyzed patterns of technological development and settlement, then compared that information to data collected from other worlds.

Learn more about Owl Dance at: Today, September 16, it’s on a special pre-publication price of $10.95!

Owl Dance Excerpt 2: Meet Fatemeh Karimi

Throughout the day today, I am posting short excerpts from my new novel, Owl Dance. In the first excerpt, Sheriff Ramon “Búho” Morales heard about a troublesome new healer in town. As we left off, Ramon was about to break up a bar fight. As it turns out, he was grazed by a bullet and decides to pay a visit to the healer.

Back at the sheriff’s office, Ramon collected his horse and rode down toward the Rio Grande, past Old Man Seaton’s farm and up a slight rise to where the new curandera had moved into an old adobe. Next to the house was the fancy wagon that Mrs. Chavez had mentioned. It was painted and built all of wood, not covered with a canvas tarp like so many others. It reminded the sheriff more of a chuck wagon or a gypsy wagon from Europe than a Conestoga.

As Ramon climbed off his horse, he heard odd little whistling sounds. When the whistling stopped, he heard the chirping of a burrowing owl. Stepping around the wagon, the sheriff saw a woman dressed in black, sitting on an old crate near a fencepost. Atop the fencepost was a small owl. The woman whistled and then paused. The owl would move from one foot to the other—almost like it was dancing—then it would chirp. Enchanted, Ramon watched this for a few minutes, but the orange glow of the setting sun reminded him that time was short. He had probably not seen the last fight of the evening. The sheriff cleared his throat.

Startled, the woman looked up and the owl flew away.
Ramon was struck by the woman’s bright green eyes and lovely, smooth features, which quickly shifted from astonishment to impatience and finally to concern as her eyes settled on the wound. Noticing the direction of her gaze, Ramon realized he should say something. “Pardon me, ma’am, but I heard that you’re a curandera.”

Without a word, she stood and stepped close. Carefully, she extracted the fabric of Ramon’s shirt from the wound so she could see better. At last, she nodded without taking her eyes off the injury. “Come this way,” she said. She led Ramon toward the house and paused to light a lantern that hung outside the door before taking it down and going inside. She reappeared a few minutes later with a black bag, like a doctor’s.

She opened a door on the back of her wagon and instructed Ramon to sit down. He could smell assorted herbs from within and wondered what all she had in there. Opening the bag, she retrieved a bottle and some cotton. Far more gently than Doc Corbin would have done, she cleaned and dressed the sheriff’s wound. “You’re new in town, aren’t you?” Ramon asked as she worked. “What’s your name?”

“Fatemeh Karimi,” she said. “I’m from Persia.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance.” He watched her climb into the wagon. She might not be a local, but somehow her gentleness and concern for a stranger reminded him of many good people from his youth, who had since moved on. She searched through a few drawers and finally climbed down next to the sheriff. She handed him a small bottle.

“Drink this, it will help ease the pain but it won’t cloud your mind.”

Ramon sniffed at the contents of the bottle and made a face, but he did as she instructed. “That was quite some trick you were doing—whistling at that ol’ hooty owl,” he croaked, trying to hide the tears that came unbidden to his eyes from the potent flavor of the herbs. “It was almost like you were talking to it.”

She smiled. Ramon wasn’t sure whether she was amused by his reaction to the herbs or by the question. “That was no trick.” She stepped over to the well and retrieved a ladle full of water. “I am Bahá’í. We believe that all humanity is one family and that family should live in harmony with the world. The owls are my neighbors. As you’d say, I’m doing my best to be neighborly.”

I hope you’re enjoying this sneak peak at Owl Dance. If you are, you can order a copy at:

Owl Dance Excerpt 1: Meet Ramon Morales

Throughout the day today, I will be posting short excerpts from my new novel, Owl Dance. This first excerpt is from the beginning of the novel. We meet one of the story’s protagonists, Ramon “Búho” Morales, sheriff of Socorro, New Mexico. Enjoy!

“Sheriff, I hate to spread rumors…”

Ramon Morales tipped his hat back on his head. The blurred form of a small, hunched-over woman silhouetted by the light of the setting sun was in the door of his office. “Rumors? What…?”

The woman inclined her head and planted her hands on her hips. “I’m talking about the curandera that rode into town last month in her fancy wagon.” She looked from one side to the other, then stepped close to the desk. Mrs. Chavez’s face became clear then. “I think she may be practicing black magic,” she said in hushed tones. “She might be a bruja.”

The sheriff sat upright and put on a pair of wire-frame, round-lensed spectacles. “What makes you think that?”

“That wagon of hers is full of strange potions and powders.” Mrs. Chavez’s breath smelled of garlic and onions. Ramon scooted back, putting a few inches between himself and the irate woman. “She gave Mr. Garcia a potion that cured his liver and he took up drinking again. She told Mrs. Johnson there wasn’t anything she could do about her straying husband.”

Ramon shrugged. “Alfredo Garcia’s a drunk. Of course he started drinking again when he felt better.” The sheriff inclined his head, confused about the second point. “I’d think you’d be happy she couldn’t help Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. You’re a curandera, too. That’s more business for you.”

Mrs. Chavez heaved an exasperated sigh. “That’s not the point. They went to her first, even though she’s not a local. She doesn’t even go to Mass.” She straightened and pointed a long, gnarled finger at the sheriff. “But that’s not the worst of it. You should see the owls. They’re her familiars.”

Ramon stood. This nonsense had gone on for long enough. “She lives out by Old Man Seaton’s farm.” He firmly took hold of Mrs. Chavez’s elbow. She tensed and her eyes narrowed, but she did nothing else to resist as he escorted her toward the door. “There are always owls out there. They aren’t a bad omen. They just hunt the mice in the field.”

“You would sympathize with those creatures—with a name like Búho Morales.” She clucked her tongue. Ramon rolled his eyes at the use of his nickname. “Mark my words, Sheriff. She’s trouble.”

Ramon didn’t like the sound of that. He’d heard rumors of witch hunts in other parts of New Mexico Territory. Some had turned very ugly. Still, he wanted Mrs. Chavez out of there so he could focus on more immediate concerns. “I’ll go talk to her soon,” he said.

She pursed her lips and seemed to consider that. Finally, her shoulders relaxed. “Thank you, Sheriff.”

Ramon sighed and gently closed the door behind the old woman. Socorro, New Mexico had been part of the United States for less than twenty years. In that time, it had swollen from a population of about 400 to nearly 4000. Many of the settlers came to work the silver and lead mines in the surrounding mountains. Others were ranchers who had moved up from Texas after the Civil War, looking for new land to feed their cattle. Meanwhile, farmers did their best to hold onto prize soil near the valuable waters of the Rio Grande. It was a rough and tumble town that failed to attract many educated folks like doctors. Ramon was pleased at the prospect of a new healer in the town, but frustrated that others would not welcome her.

Ramon shook his head and tried to put thoughts of Mrs. Chavez behind him. It was Friday night of a warm spring day. That meant there would be bigger trouble than squabbling curanderas. The miners would be coming in from the hills and the cowboys would be coming in from the ranches. They would collide in the saloons that night. The sheriff turned around and resumed his place at the desk. Just as he removed his glasses and tipped his hat over his eyes to get a little more rest, the door burst open.

“Sheriff!” Deputy Ray Hillerman was breathing hard. “We already got our first fight down at the Cap!”

Copies of Owl Dance may be ordered at: