The Write Stuff

Matters of life and death

Correspondence with an author and preparations for the end


This week’s books are an unmatched pair. The first shares letters exchanged with noted Taos author Frank Waters while the second is a guide to help readers prepare for the inevitable.


The golden age of corresponding by letter has likely come to an end for most people, replaced by email, texts, Facebook posts and, certainly for the president, tweets.

So, it’s a bit remarkable Alan Louis Kishbaugh and Frank Waters, the late author who lived in Arroyo Seco, were active pen pals for nearly 30 years. This book contains an annotated collection of the hundreds of letters the two men exchanged.

Waters, of course, wrote more than 20 books, including “The Man Who Killed the Deer” and “Book of the Hopi.”

In 1967, Kishbaugh was the head of western operations for a publishing firm, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, when he and a friend stopped by Waters’ home on a lark. Waters graciously received his fans.

A thank-you letter by Kishbaugh followed, launching a correspondence that ended with Waters’ death in 1995. (Waters’ wife, Barbara, took over the physical job of writing in the late 1980s.)

Kishbaugh, a Californian, started keeping copies of the letters he sent Waters in 1971 and was able to find earlier ones in the collection of the author’s papers at the University of New Mexico.

The letters are organized into eight time periods with commentary to put them in context. Here is a reflection on what turned out to be his last visit with Waters, at a coffee shop in Anaheim, California. “And, there was an unreal quality about it as well, for Frank Waters away from Taos was not the same as Frank Waters at home in Arroyo Seco, animated by the land around him.”

Besides writing letters, Kishbaugh and his companions visited Waters in Seco, where they enjoyed feast days at Taos Pueblo.

Their correspondence was a friendly one. I would summarize it as a mutual admiration society of two with a great deal of compliments and gratitude tucked among the personal stuff.

Kishbaugh, an unabashed fan of Waters, shared what was happening on his end, including his travels and friendship with the philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti.

Of course, readers will likely be more interested in what Waters had to say, especially about Taos, which seemed snowier and colder then. He mentions Taoseños of note and his constant stream of visitors.

Waters also writes about his work and sometimes frustration with the publishing industry. On Nov. 16, 1975, Waters mentions a new bathroom was finished in his house. “Unfortunately all my royalties on all my books for the past year are barely enough to pay for it. I can’t understand why the sales of my books are so low.”

The collection is a bit slow moving, given there are so many letters, but it will give Waters’ fans the opportunity to delve into his private side.

“Deep Waters” is a 400-page hardcover published by the University of New Mexico Press. It is priced at $39.95.


A lot of us are uncomfortable talking about death. Sometimes it’s unexpected and those close to the deceased are unprepared.

So Peter Callan created this guide, now in its ninth edition, to eliminate that situation.

Callan’s book was inspired by the unexpected death of his brother. It was a difficult time for his family. “We were numb with pain and insurmountable grief and were trying to figure out what needed to be accomplished, who to do it and who among us would get it done.”

He means such mundane matters as his brother’s bills and bank accounts. The notes Callan took that day spawned this guide.

Keep in mind, as he reminds us several times, Callan is not a lawyer, although he did obtain his paralegal certification for the purposes of writing this book. What he does give is practical, easy-to-read information with a bit of humor.

Mostly, preparedness concerns filling out certain paperwork. Basic draft forms included.

On the lighter side, Callan includes some “fun facts” about death, such as: “Zoroastrians in India put out the bodies of the dead to be consumed by vultures.”

The book comes with two covers. One is on the campy side with a woman hovering over a man’s body with the title: “Prepare to Die!!! And Other Stuff Nobody Told You.” The other, with the title above, is a bit more celestial. For more, visit

“Preparing for the Inevitable” is 48-page large-sized paperback priced at $19.99.

Livingston is a writer and a reader living in Ranchos de Taos. For more information, visit

The Write Stuff