Herrick has the write stuff

Rio Rancho author Dennis Herrick discusses some of his latest projects.

There’s no doubt Rio Rancho author Dennis Herrick has the write stuff.

It’s only too bad more people don’t have the “read stuff.”

“I’m convinced people don’t really read,” the River’s Edge III resident says. “If they can’t get it online, they won’t read it.”

And that’s why he’s made some of his books available online.

The one-time owner of the Mount Vernon (Iowa) Sun, the bulk of Herrick’s 73-year existence has involved writing or reading or teaching the craft of writing, whether it be journalism at the University of New Mexico or a local class on “How to Write a Mystery Novel.”

So, he was asked by a recent visitor to his spacious, well-decorated home, why do you still write?

Herrick had an answer: “You do it because you have this creative urge, you create this story in your head.”

He’s created more than a few stories in his head, although he’s has also extensively research a couple of topics for historical fiction and a non-fiction entry.

His first “creative” book — he’s also written a textbook, “Media Management in the Age of Giants” — was featured in the Observer a few years ago.

“Winter of the Metal People,” published in 2013, is set basically in his River’s Edge neighborhood, or at least between it and Coronado Historic Site.

“It’s more history than fiction,” Herrick said, capturing a Pueblo Indian viewpoint of the 1540-41 visit here of Coronado.

“The Spanish version (of the explorer’s visit) is highly distorted,” he said. “Nobody ever wrote the pueblo side. I ‘waited’ 500 years — nobody did it — so I wrote it. Coronado’s headquarters was about a quarter-mile from this house.”

Next came “A Brother’s Cold Case,” published in November 2014.

Also a local story, it involves a newspaper reporter — reporting is still in Herrick’s DNA – investigating the cold-case murder of his brother, “killed” in an Albuquerque park.

The reporter, “Andy Cornell,” Herrick said, thinks to himself, “If the police aren’t going to solve this case, I will.”

“I wanted to write a newspaper story,” Herrick said. “I love newspaper novels.”

He said he spoke with some law enforcement officers, including a detective, for some background.

“I wanted to write about two brothers who were very close,” he said. “And many mystery novels take place in Santa Fe, but few take place in and around Albuquerque.”

The verdict on its success is still out: “It’s waiting to be discovered,” Herrick said. “I self-published that book and sold zero copies. A publisher picked it up and it sold hundreds.”

Next up: “War of the Planet Burners,” scheduled for publication in June 2016.

Long a science fiction fan, Herrick has several shelves in his home office filled with “first contact” paperbacks. Because, as he says, “I’ve always been interested in it,” this book came about.

Spoiler alert: “Sadly, almost everyone on Earth gets killed,” he revealed, although the protagonist — an Army veteran like Herrick, who served in Vietnam — survives because of an immunity in his body.

Herrick wouldn’t reveal the ending, but said it’s ripe for a sequel.

Talking about his latest adventure in non-fiction, Herrick noted, “I’ve always been a big fan of the underdogs.”

And that’s what “Esteban: The African Slave Who Explored America” is all about.

Esteban, Herrick learned, was brought to Spain by way of Morocco, by a slaveholder in the 1500s, “and he participated in the Spanish invasion of Florida in 1528.

“He was one of four that floated across the Gulf of Mexico,” winding up in what is now Galveston, Texas, and guiding a friar from Mexico in 1539 to hopefully locate the “Cities of Cibola,” known as Zuni Pueblo.

“He was the first black man to come from the Old World into (what are now) Arizona and New Mexico,” Herrick said. “Hearsay says the Zunis killed him, so I raised that question, ‘Was he killed in Zuni or was he not?’ The Zunis have two stories.”

Here’s where the underdog theme came in: “African-Americans are tired of their history being ignored or denigrated,” he said.

“Esteban” is being shopped by an agent; it’s the first time Herrick is working through an agent.

No new novels or non-fiction books are on his agenda.

“I’m focusing on my short stories — novels take a long time,” he said, “and with diminishing (monetary) returns.”

To date, Herrick has two short-story collections: “Pueblo Mysteries,” four short stories about Puebloans, and “Guest Bedroom: Collected Stories,” with 14 short stories.

“My writings about the Pueblo people won the 2004 Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest and the 2010 Society of Southwestern Writers contest,” he said. “Some have been previously published in Cowboys & Indians magazine, Storyteller magazine, and the Wapsipinicon Almanac, a Midwestern literary journal.

From time to time, you can catch Herrick at talks and book signings. For more information on him, visit dennisherrick.com.

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