By Pamela Dozois
R. Lawson Gamble has just launched his latest novel, “Las Cruces,” the seventh in his Zack Tolliver series.
Building upon historic events in Las Cruces on the Gaviota coast, Gamble’s latest novel takes FBI protagonist Zack Tolliver and his comrade-in-adventure Eagle Feather on a wild ride from the Chumash Casino to Vandenberg Air Force Base and many places in between.
The book focuses on the Gaviota Pass and the Las Cruces land grant, site of a triple murder in the 1860s that was never solved. The overtaxed oil and gas infrastructure of the Gap, the rare archeological sites, and the dark, haunting beauty of its deep arroyos and wind-carved caves are all woven into the story.
Gamble’s previous novels in the series have followed Zack and Eagle Feather as they investigate murders and mysteries in a variety of locations throughout the Southwest, often pitting them against creatures of legend as well as bad guys. Their adventures immerse them in the Navajo, Agua Caliente, Paiute, Mojave, and Chumash cultures.
As a child, Gamble lived in a rural area on 30 acres in New Jersey, three miles from the nearest town. He and his siblings didn’t hang out with the neighboring kids. They read books.
“As a child I started watching Hopalong Cassidy and Howdy Doody, but then the television broke down and my parents decided they wouldn’t fix it. Once the TV disappeared, the books came out. We had books from floor to the ceiling in my home. My siblings and I would graze the library wall for different reading material. It was all that reading that became a large part of my becoming a writer,” Gamble said. “I never watched television again until my first year in college.”
After graduating from Barrington College in Rhode Island, Gamble taught at Fay School in Massachusetts, where he was also Dean of Students for 17 years.
“As a teacher, I used stories that I created to illustrate my points for my students. I created a Leadership Curriculum in which story-telling played a much larger role in illustrating the issues,” he said.
Gamble left his teaching position in 2009 and loaded up his car and moved to Los Alamos without a job offer in sight. His wife Ann had taken a position with Dunn School and had set up residence for them in Cottonwood Glen the previous year. There was an opportunity waiting for him at Dunn School to create a Leadership Program, but Gamble wanted to finish out the school year. Then the economy took a down-turn and the position evaporated, but he decided to move out West and start a new chapter in his life.
“During this period of pathlessness, I began to do research and somewhere during that time I became stimulated by history, drama, and romance. I was particularly captured by the history of the Santa Barbara area and of the famous outlaw Salomon Pico and the Drum Canyon area, formerly known as the Canyon of the Skulls for the bones that had been deposited there by the bandit who became known as our present-day Zorro. Also the book world was changing dramatically. A space was being created where one could write a book and get it published for zero dollars and get it placed on a platform for sales, circumventing the traditional publishing companies,” he explained.
“I wanted to write a novel and thought it would just be a one-time thing. I didn’t know if I could write one and I certainly didn’t know it would turn into the first book in a series. One of the reasons I wrote it was because I couldn’t find the kind of books that used to capture my imagination. I thought about the books I had read and enjoyed and this one book I’d planned to write would contain all those elements including the supernatural, Native American elements of good old Western mysteries and crime. In other words, all those unusual elements that are in my books were drawn from the multitude of authors which I had read and enjoyed. I just wanted to write one book for myself with all those intriguing, fascinating aspects. I never imagined that I would have to repeat all of them in book after book,” he said.
“So my experiment was to see if I could write, edit, publish, and sell a book for no cost. The publishing world had changed and the more I looked into it I discovered that things could happen as never before. It actually cost me $50 for the whole process and ‘The Other’ continues to be my top seller. The $50 was for the cover, which was not part of my skill set,” he said.
Gamble is also the author of the pictorial history “Los Alamos Valley” and “Payus Journey,” an allegorical, anthropomorphic story for children. All of his books are available through Amazon.com.
Gamble will participate in two events in September. He will be at Talley Winery in Arroyo Grande at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 8, to speak and sign his books for the benefit of the Philanthropic Educational Organization. Tickets are $50 per person. Talley Winery is at 3031 Lopez Drive in Arroyo Grande. For tickets, firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Sunday, Sept. 22, Gamble will be at Zaca Mesa Winery to read passages from “Zaca,” the third book in the series, which centers on the San Rafael Mountains and surrounding valleys and that area’s myths and legends, including Zaca Mountain and Zaca Lake, and even the Zaca Winery courtyard. Zaca Mesa Winery is at 6905 Foxen Canyon Road, Los Olivos. The $5 ticket includes a glass of Zaca Mesa 2015 Estate Syrah. For tickets, email email@example.com.
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.