This special issue of Desert Exposure celebrates writing, as you might have guessed from our oh-so-appropriate "bookish" cover by Mary Yardley. Most of our second section is given over to the winning entries from our annual writing contest, in which we ask writers throughout the region to share work in any genre that somehow expresses life in Southwest New Mexico. This year's Grand Prize-winning entry, "Hank" by Deming writer Betty McMahon Buman, does so masterfully, evoking the loneliness and longing of a young man on an area ranch in the late 1940s.
Coincidentally, our other fiction finalist, "Whitewater" by Michael Jackson Moore, is also set in Southwest New Mexico's past and likewise touches on the mysteries between men and women. But, as you'll read in this stand-alone chapter from Moore's novel, in "Whitewater" the year is 1929, and besides two young people attracted to each other there's a borrowed truck and some melting ice cream.
I probably had a special fondness for the two nonfiction entries among our finalists because of their subject matter. The title character in Jeannie Miller's funny yet touching "Sandulik Has a New Att-i-tude" is a dog, and I still warmly recall the sometimes-sassy personality of the dog we owned—really, who owned us—in our pre-New Mexico life. In Mary Anne Ciancia's "Painted Desert," the challenge is finding just the right shade for their new house. Again, I empathized: Every other day or so my wife brings home another swath of paint swatches. So far we've tried two on the shed—not, thank goodness, on the whole house. The first shade proved to be too, well, pumpkin-custardy. The second, which we really thought had just the right pseudo-adobe look, is just too blasted orange. The search goes on—but we may soon resort to the approach Ciancia describes in her chuckle-inducing tale.
Finally, Sarah Johnson's entry among our contest finalists is an engaging poem crafted from an enormously clever conceit: considering various local critters as varieties of "philosopher." Like all our finalists, she wields words with the finesse and precision of a gem-carver.
We received almost 80 entries in this year's contest, so the five you see in this issue represent truly the cream of the crop. The pile of entries, both on paper and in digital form, included an array of finely crafted poetry, a rich variety of personal experiences set down in print, and fiction of every description.
One theme that kept recurring—and that also resonated with me—was the wonder of having recently moved to New Mexico. We could have published an entire issue all about coming to the Land of Enchantment, adjusting to life here (more cactus, less rain, more chile, longer drives), and experiencing the magic of this corner of the world. I can't help but think this is unusual—that, say, a publication titled Wabash Exposure would not elicit so many essays about moving to Indiana. These writings say as much about what the writers hope to find in Southwest New Mexico, I think, as about the special character of the place. We transplant our dreams here along with the oddments of our lives.
Evidently, for many of us, those dreams include writing. I can hardly wait for next year's contest to see what our readers will write next.
Speaking of writing, this issue also marks the return of our daughter's column, which as you'll see has been transformed from "Away at College" to "Away at Grad School." I'll let her tell you exactly how that came about. Ordinarily, you might dismiss such a column as a father's proud indulgence, but the truth is that we got a number of requests in our recent editorial survey for her return to these pages: "Get the daughter writing again," as one respondent pithily put it. When she got a full-time job this summer, we her doting parents figured, well, that's the end of her column, sorry, folks. But life sometimes throws you a curve and—whaddaya know?—she's back in Desert Exposure and back at school.
Our lead feature this issue shows off the writing of Jessica Savage, whose byline has appeared several times in our pages—most recently, in last issue's report from the front lines of Harry Potter mania. But I think you'll agree that this is Jessica's finest work yet, an in-depth account of the past, present and future of the Rio Grande Theatre in Las Cruces, whose renovation will be formally unveiled later this month. Whether you're just discovering this architectural gem or you share the movie-going memories she captures, "Grande Reopening" will put you right in those theater seats.
While I'm boasting about our writers, let me also draw your attention to Marjorie Lilly's "Borderlines" column. When she submitted her July column about the light in the part of our territory where she lives, Deming, I emailed Marjorie to say I thought it was the best thing she'd ever written for us. After taking last month off from "Borderlines" to write a powerful feature about two human-rights workers in Palomas ("On the Line," August), she returns to columnizing this issue with a moving piece about "stitching" the wounds of the US-Mexican border—an all-too-often-tragic line that has been much in the news lately. If you haven't already discovered this relatively new addition to our column lineup, make this the issue you start reading "Borderlines."
That survey I mentioned a few paragraphs back revealed that Desert Exposure readers spend an average of two hours on each issue, which is an astonishing investment of time in our frantic world. Like every issue, I hope that this one will well reward your two hours or so of reading with a wide variety of writing that opens your eyes and your heart just a bit more to the places where we live.