Introduction and Acknowledgments
I first met Rebecca Rothenberg when I called her in 1992 to ask about the medium-sized New York publisher that had just published her first mystery, The Bulrush Murders, and was about to publish mine. She had visited their editorial offices and likened the operation to WKRP. I knew instantly that this was someone I could love.
As I got to know her over the next few years, I learned that she was witty, wise, accomplished, self-deprecating, and possessed of an enviable gift for language. She had been a songwriter in Nashville and an epidemiologist in Los Angeles. What's more, she had seized the vast and arguably unlovable San Joaquin Valley for her Claire Sharples series and had invested the region with charm and appeal.
Becky and I did a lot of book signings together, often with a sheaf of bulrushes quietly crumbling in the back seat. Her series was botanical and one of my books took place in the flower-growing industry, so we also ended up on a lot of the same mystery discussion panels. We lived less than a hundred miles apart, but much of our time together was spent a continent away at the Malice Domestic convention in Washington, DC. Becky's parents lived nearby and she attended as what she called a "day student."
In the fall of 1994, while Becky was staying with me during San Diego signings for The Dandelion Murders, my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. "I have a brain tumor," she told me matter-of-factly, adding that it had been diagnosed a full eight years earlier. This is a disease steeped in the rhetoric of hope, featuring dreadful treatments and appalling survival statistics-and she had survived eight years. With that astonishing revelation, she metamorphosed for me from a savvy and talented colleague into a shining beacon.
Becky left an unfinished manuscript for The Tumbleweed Murders, the fourth Claire Sharples mystery. Being asked to complete that manuscript was a frightening challenge and an awesome responsibility. Many people participated in this process, and I am grateful to all of them. For all of us, this was a labor of love and sorrow.
Sandra Dijkstra, Becky's agent, set the entire process into motion and then graciously stepped aside to streamline the legal and contractual matters.
Meredith Phillips of Perseverance Press wanted to publish The Tumbleweed Murders and believed wholeheartedly in the project, and my role in it, from the beginning. John and Susan Daniel, of John Daniel & Co. Publishers, have been wonderfully supportive.
Jane Chelius, my agent, handled the necessary contracts and agreements, and did it without taking a commission. In one of those twists that define the family nature of the mystery community, it was Becky who first introduced me to Jane, back in 1993.
I would like to be able to thank all the people who helped Becky with the research she had completed on this book, but I don't know who you all are, so I can only offer a blanket, but heartfelt, appreciation. Heidi Asparturian and Liza Taylor offered me insights into this manuscript based on their relationships with Becky and her writing. David Alderete of Kern Delta-Weed Patch Cotton Ginning Company shared his knowledge of the San Joaquin cotton industry, including a terrific cotton gin tour. Wendy Owen of the Bakersfield Californian helped with agribusiness information and the Californian's excellent Oil Centennial issue was very helpful.
Sharan Newman provided the Latin, and Richard Barre shared his exhaustive Kern County connections.
One of those was musician Inez Savage, a veteran of the Bakersfield music community. When I sat down with Inez and began telling her the history of this project, a strange look came over her face. Several years earlier, she told me, Becky herself had talked to her as part of the research for this book.
Martha Rothenberg, Becky's sister and literary executor, has been helpful and patient and cooperative as liaison to the Rothenberg family. I am grateful to her, to her sister Tish King, and to her parents, Herbert and the late Marjorie Rothenberg.
When I finally met Martha and her husband Vincent Griscavage in person, she told me about a CD of Becky's original music that her friend Richard Haxton had put together after her death. Since music is an important component of this book, I asked for a copy of that CD and was utterly charmed by it. Her collaborator Terry Fain filled in some of the musical blanks and permissions. Whenever song lyrics are used in The Tumbleweed Murders, they are from songs that Becky wrote.
I wish that Becky had finished this book herself, and I made every effort to complete it as I thought she would have wanted. To the extent that I have succeeded, it is tribute to the strength of her writing. For any shortcomings, the responsibility is entirely mine.
As I followed Becky's footprints and tire tracks around Kern County, I had a tumbleweed rolling around in the back seat for old times' sake. I sure do miss her.
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