On the Shelf: Author adds fictional perspective to Las Cruces mystery


LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Mary Armstrong said she started her writing journey later than expected but said she was always interested in storytelling. She found inspiration from a local mystery, and motivation to finish her book from her mother.

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Armstrong got her degree in architecture, and all of the writing she did was technical. That changed when a friend read something she had written. “She said, “You know Mary, whenever I read something that you write, I feel like you’re talking to me. I think you ought to write something.’ That’s when I started thinking about writing something seriously,” Armstrong said.

She said inspiration hit when she and her husband moved to Las Cruces. “When we moved out here, the history of the area just really captured me,” Armstrong said.

One story in particular haunted her, she said. It’s the story about Colonel Albert Jennings Fountain, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding his and his son’s disappearance in the late 1800s. “As I read, there’s a lot written about it, I realized that there was a story there that really wasn’t being told,” Armstrong said. “I got to thinking maybe I could write something that really talks about how this all happened. Why did it happen? Because nobody had really written about that.”

Armstrong created a fictional nephew of Col. Fountain that would come to Las Cruces to work with Fountain. Through his character, she hoped to allow readers to see from a unique point of view the circumstances around their disappearances.

Armstrong said her mother loved reading books that she called “pioneer books” like those in the western genre. She would read her mother the chapters of her book as she wrote them, and her mother would ask her for a physical copy that she could hold in her hands. “Every day, she wanted to know what I had written, so I read to her every day what I had written. That really motivated me and helped me stay focused on writing it,” Armstrong said.

As Armstrong neared the end of writing the story, she realized trying to find a publisher could be a time-consuming endeavor, a time she wasn’t sure she had with her mother. She decided to self-publish in order to get a physical copy of her book to her mother, which she now does.

The first iteration of her version of the story was a one-act play for a local theatre group, which focused on the community’s reaction after the disappearances. She decided to write a more in-depth story because of her mother.

The first book in her series is called The Mesilla. The series will span the 10 years leading up to the disappearances, with the fictional nephew as the narrator. The next book she’s working on will be a continuation of that story, and the third will focus on the Tularosa Valley.

She said she wants to capture the differences between the people in the Mesilla Valley versus the Tularosa Valley, differences that can still be seen in the city today and can be traced back to how the investigation of the disappearances was handled.

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