It helped that my family was given to long odds and high hopes. My father was a jazz musician. My mother was a nightclub singer. They met at the '39 World's Fair, where she represented New Mexico.

We moved around. My father played at the Albuquerque nightspot depicted in 'Stallion Gate'. In an El Paso club, the owner flashed a .45 pistol at my father whenever he started playing bebop. I was around four, my brother Jack a year older, when we lived next to the winter quarters of a circus, which accounts for my lifelong fear of being eaten by a lion.

Not that we weren't bloodthirsty creatures ourselves. When Jack and I got hold of a decapitated rattlesnake we swung it over our heads and played tag. Finally we tied a string to the rattler, hid in the bushes and gave the snake a tug as someone with groceries ventured into our trap. When the snake 'struck' the effect was spectacular. Then we ran for our lives.

Appalling behavior, of course, and totally thrilling. I don't remember being caught but even if we had it would have been worth it. As Nietzsche said, "That which does not kill us is material." Or words to that effect.

I've sorted through boxes of my material to make your visit worthwhile. I don't reread a book of mine after it's been published. All I see is shortcomings and errors. The gap between what I intended to accomplish and what I settled for is a yawning abyss. But I do enjoy the material because they still, for me, carry the excitement of discovery.

Martin Cruz Smith portrait

portrait by Bob Adelman

In the gallery the picture of Russian factory ship 'Sulak' brings back the memory of her captain, who defied the KGB and tried to keep me aboard when we set out for the Bering Sea, even though by then I had been labeled a "graphomaniac" in the Soviet press. I don't want to know what a graphomaniac is. Years later the captain visited me in California and presented me with an advisory book issued to Soviet citizens travelling abroad. In it was a list of foreign agents provocateurs to avoid. Smack in the middle was the dangerous M.C. Smith.

The trawler I was on had a Portuguese crew born to the sea. Water came up the ramp and over the gunwales but the men were locked to the deck like magnets, with an occasional sidestep of a wave. Since my camera was getting wet I sketched instead. It's not a pretty picture but sketching forces a person to engage, to know what he/she is looking at, whether it's the deck of a ship or the high prairie of New Mexico. So, please, wander as you will and I promise: no snakes.

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