Interview With Southwest Writers

As a member of Southwest Writers, I was happy to give this interview about The Corn Whisperer

What is your elevator pitch for The Corn Whisperer?
In the book, written for children 7-10, young Charlie is apprehensive about visiting his grandfather who lives at a pueblo in New Mexico. However, Grandfather Joe is a storyteller. He tells Charlie ancient legends to help him live a better life in today’s world. And, as a result, Charlie and Grandfather Joe develop a close relationship.

When readers turn the last page, what do you hope they take away from it?
A realization that cultural myths and legends hold universal truths that apply to everyday life. In this trio of stories, the lessons are about becoming self-sufficient, accepting and valuing change, and forgiveness.

To read the rest of the interview, visit Southwest Writers.

Rabbit Stew

In my book, The Corn Whisperer, young Charlie is introduced to some new foods.  In the first story, “The Corn Whisperer,” Grandfather Joe has prepared rabbit stew for dinner.  Perhaps this recipe is similar to the dish that Charlie was hesitant at first to taste. But he wound up eating every bite.

Rabbit Stew

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2-3 pounds of rabbit meat*, cut into bite-size pieces
  • Flour for coating the meat
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Pinch of oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 small cans of green chiles, chopped
  • 6 cups of chicken broth or water
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks

Dredge rabbit meat with flour. Heat oil in large pan until oil smokes slightly. Place meat in hot oil without crowding pan. Using tongs, turn the meat and brown on all sides. Remove from pan and set aside.  Turn heat to low and cook onion and garlic until onion is wilted. Raise the heat to medium and stir in oregano and cumin. Add salt and pepper. Cook 2-3 minutes until spIces are fragrant.

Add the browned rabbit meat, green chiles, and chicken broth (or water). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer about two hours. Add potatoes and cook an additional 45 minutes. Serve hot.

*Or substitute mutton, lamb, chicken, beef or pork.


The Corn Whisperer: Finalist in the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards

The Corn Whisperer has been named a finalist in the 2017 New Mexico/Arizona book awards in the following categories:

  • juvenile book
  • parenting/family issues book
  • young readers book

What readers are saying about The Corn Whisperer:

  • “This is a touching story about Charlie and his grandfather, both Native American, who bond after the storyteller, Grandfather Joe tells the boy legends from his childhood. It’s heartwarming to watch the boy grow in love and knowledge as their relationship develops.”  –Jan
  • “The well-researched and authentic stories are an easy read for children. Includes an afterword and sources.” –LWG
  • “Wonderful book that captures the feel of the Southwest and the feel of childhood. Houser brings care and warmth to these native-based stories of life close to nature.” –Robert

Have you read The Corn Whisperer? Add your review to the above on Amazon.


A Tradition Kept for 305 Years

On September 8-10, 2017, the annual Fiesta de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will honor a promise made over 300 years ago. General Don Diego de Vargas’s skillful negotiations with the Indians in 1692 resulted in an agreement that would allow the colonists to return home to Santa Fe after 12 years in exile. De Vargas gave credit to La Conquistadora, the oldest statue of the Virgin Mary in the United States, for her role in the intercession and promised she would be remembered each year. But the promise wasn’t fulfilled until 1712 when the first City Council of Santa Fe issued the Proclamation of Santa Fe Fiesta. Signed by nine individuals, the Proclamation established the event that honors the colonists’ return to Santa Fe―a tradition that has been kept for 305 years.

Fiesta officially begins at 6:00 a.m. on September 8 at Rosario Chapel, the site where―in 1693―De Vargas and the exiled colonists camped outside the city walls, waiting to enter the city. A mass is held and the mayor of Santa Fe reads from the original 1712 Proclamation, which calls for religious ceremonies, celebration, and thanksgiving to La Conquistadora.

Throughout the weekend, the historic plaza showcases Santa Fe’s rich cultural heritage―an open-air fine arts and craft market, traditional foods, and dances that include Pueblo Indian dances, Mexican folk dances, mariachi dances, and matachine dances.

On the morning of September 10, a solemn procession―carrying an image of La Conquistadora―makes its way from the historic Palace of the Governors to the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi where a mass is held.

The fiesta comes to a close on Sunday at 7:00 p.m. at the cathedral with a mass of thanksgiving followed by a candlelight procession. Participants wind their way from the cathedral through downtown streets to the top of the hill where luminarias light the way to the Cross of the Martyrs.

Smokey Bear Has Two Birthdays!

Around the country, people celebrate Smokey Bear’s birthday twice each year―in May and, again, in August.

It was in May 1950 when a burned bear cub was rescued from a raging forest fire in the Lincoln National Forest near Capitan, New Mexico. After recovering from his injuries, he joined the poster bear―Smokey Bear―in the fire prevention campaign that began in August, 1944.

The campaign was in response to an urgent need to preserve our forests and protect our resources, especially during World War II. Lumber was needed for building battleships, bombers, PT boats, and barracks. Lumber was necessary for making rifles, gliders, and other military uses. But forest fires had claimed thousands of acres of timber and robbed the military of man hours required to fight fires.

Because California’s forests were vulnerable to enemy fire, the Pacific Coast Advertising Club and Ad Council founder, Don Belding, with offices in Los Angeles, had initiated a fire prevention campaign in 1941. Along with radio and television advertising, the council also designed fire prevention posters. But the first posters were dark and war-like in appearance. The public reacted negatively.

Walt Disney was then asked to create an educational, but appealing, poster for fire prevention. Disney produced a Bambi poster with the notation, “Please Mister, Don’t Be Careless.”  This poster was widely accepted and displayed in schoolrooms, public places, and on billboards. But since the Bambi image was only on loan from Disney, there were copyright issues. A new image was needed to represent fire prevention―a stronger forest animal.

On August 4, 1944, a meeting was held at the Department of Agriculture Building in Washington D.C., and a new fire prevention symbol was chosen―a bear. A well-known animal artist, Albert Staehle, created a poster that depicted a bear throwing water on a campfire.  His sketches were approved, but the bear was said to lack emotional appeal. More discussion ensued.

Richard Hammatt, the director of the Wartime Forest Fire Prevention Campaign, suggested naming the bear “Smokey Bear.” Bill Bergoffen recommended dungarees and became known as “the man who put the pants on Smokey.” Now, the bear had personality. Staehle completed the poster―adding the dungarees, a ranger hat, and the tag line “Smokey Says―Care will prevent 9 out of 10 forest fires.”

And that is why Smokey Bear celebrates his birthday in May and, again, in August.


More About Corn

I grew up on a farm where we raised sweet corn. When the cornstalks were tall and the kernels were young, we gathered corncobs in their tightly-wrapped husks. Their silks were dry and bristly. I recall the swish of leaves when walking between the rows of corn and the crisp snap of a corncob breaking from the stalk. It wasn’t a chore to gather corn for the supper table. The result was a platter of steaming hot, tender ears of corn slathered in butter. The particular variety of sweet corn we raised was called Kandy Korn.

Today, there are hundreds of varieties of corn, which come in many colors. However, the most common varieties are sweet corn, dent corn, flint corn, and popcorn.

Flint corn (Zea mays indurata) has a high nutrient value and gets its name from having a hard outer layer―hard as flint. This flint variety is resistant to freezing, tolerates drought, and favors the sandy soil of the Southwest. It is often dried and used to make hominy. One multi-colored type of flint corn is called Indian corn or calico corn.
Dent corn or field corn actually has a dent or dimple in the top of the kernel. It has a higher, softer starch content than flint corn. It is primarily grown as feed for livestock or the production of ethanol but can also be ground for flour, grits, or cornmeal.

Popcorn is a completely different variety―a special type of flint corn. Each kernel holds a tiny droplet of water tightly enclosed in a hard shell. When the hard kernels get hot, the water droplets inside get hot and turn into steam. Pressure builds up and―pop! The steam disappears into the air, leaving behind a pile of fluffy-white, crunchy snacks.

Although there are hundreds of kernels on an ear of corn, there is always an even number of rows.

Count them.

What I Learned About Native American Legends

While writing The Corn Whisperer, I learned that some Native American legends are told only during certain seasons. For example, “Coyote Scatters the Stars” is a winter story―told during the time when the earth, animals, and plants are asleep, waiting for the return of the sun.
I learned that Native Americans consider oral stories to be more reliable than written stories. This came as a surprise because I think of verbal stories changing from one person to the next, like the children’s game of Gossip. But this does explain why there are different versions of the same legend. And, more importantly, each version is valued and preserved.

Storytellers are respected elders, such as grandfathers and grandmothers. Children gather around a fire after the evening meal, and the storyteller instructs them to sit straight and listen. The storyteller speaks slowly with a rhythm―giving the words time and space and repeating certain words. Storytellers measure out their stories over the years, reserving some stories for telling near the end of the storyteller’s life.

For Native Americans, storytelling is an important form of communicating wisdom. Told in the context of the storyteller’s culture and location, the story explains the listeners’ place in the universe, how they came to be, or teaches a lesson. Stories are told in an entertaining way―sometimes with a bit of teasing by the storyteller―so the audience will remember the stories and pass them on to the next generation.

Why I Wrote “The Corn Whisperer”

The idea for The Corn Whisperer came about after I learned that the old saying “It is so quiet, you can hear the corn grow” is actually true.

I grew up on a farm where we raised corn, and I confess that I never heard the sound of corn growing. But on a visit to Acoma―one of New Mexico’s 19 pueblos―I noticed a cornfield at the bottom of the hill. This tranquil setting seemed the perfect place to hear corn grow, and kernels of The Corn Whisperer began to take root.

Dr. Fred Below, a professor of plant physiology at the University of Illinois at Urbana, provided me with an explanation for the sound of corn growing. According to Dr. Below, on still nights when the crop is in the late vegetative state, the area of the stalk between adjacent leaves expands and grows. As the cells of the stalk expand, you can actually hear a popping or cracking sound. The sound comes from the cells that make up the specialized, water-conducting plant tissue that moves water from the root, up through the stalk, and to the leaves. During this stage, the cornstalk can grow up to three inches a day.

My New Book: The Corn Whisperer

My new book, The Corn Whisperer, is here!

The Corn Whisperer is a trio of stories about young Charlie’s visits to his Grandfather Joe, a storyteller who lives at a pueblo.

It begins:

The small pickup whined to a stop in front of a mud-plastered house. Charlie looked around at the sun-baked pueblo. Everything was the color dirt. A shadow of worry crossed over his face. He clutched his Space Ranger and sighed. Tonight, his mom had to work at the hospital. And although they had visited grandfather here at the pueblo, Charlie had never stayed by himself.

Juanita picked up Charlie’s bag. “Maybe your grandfather will tell you a story. When I was your age, he would say, ‘Give me a listen, and I’ll give you a lesson.’”

The Corn Whisperer is about the power of storytelling when handed down from one generation to the next. Primarily written for grades 1-6, it is also a book for all ages. Now available on, The Corn Whisperer is published by Irie Books with original artwork by Ramon Shiloh.