Friday, August 26, 2011

And the winner is . . . . . .


This novel was a labor of love. Many times I've told the story. I sailed my boat DoriKam from Olympia WA to San Diego, where I left her for three months as I could not take more than two weeks off at a time. I had an extra day or two, so I rented a car to drop off at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport, and drove across the bottom of California to Yuma.

Yuma is so close to sea level that you have to wear galoshes just in case (not true). It's also so hot that you can dig down two feet and hear voices. It's that close to Hell. Maybe that's why they called the Yuma Territorial Prison the Hell Hole.

Well, anyone who writes westerns who gets within shouting distance of the Yuma Prison (now a state park) and doesn't go, is not true to his (or her) craft. Naturally, I went. I saw the cells, the watchtowers, the brick yard, the sallyport, and a large-scale model of the prison as it was in 1880.

And I found out one fact that set my mind racing. The youngest inmate ever incarcerated in Yuma Territorial Prison was only 14 years old. THE SNAKE DEN is the story of that 14-year-old. Totally fiction, except for the setting, but one of the toughest growing-up stories you'll ever read.

THE SNAKE DEN refers to what the original inmates called the "Dark Cell." A solitary cell. A cube made of iron straps, five feet on a side. It hangs by chains from the top of a cave dug in the south hillside that formed the wall there. It's totally dark inside, except for the ventilation hole in the top of the cave. That's where the snakes crawl to get out of the hot sun. Rattlesnakes. Diamondbacks. Sidewinders. You name it. How does a kid of 14 stand up to THE SNAKE DEN. What gives him the strength to see it through?

Read THE SNAKE DEN and find out.