ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Jes Márquez thinks of her latest book as a hybrid – part memoir, part advice column and part collection of anecdotes.
Márquez’s book gives readers a fresh, funny and fraught perspective on Santa Fe for some of its residents – and for some prospective ones. Her book is “Utilities Nearby: Musings on the Off Grid Real Estate Scene of Santa Fe, Taos & Northern New Mexico.”
“My goal with ‘Utilities Nearby’ is to share quirky values of a supposed idyllic place and life,” Márquez said in an email.
Stress the word “supposed.” On their own, prospective renters and buyers apparently fail to ask enough questions about utility lines. Caveat emptor.
“It’s about people straddling technology and ideas of homesteading somewhere in New Mexico. Mostly, I hope readers find ‘Utilities Nearby’ as a Southwestern, humorous commentary – a ‘paella’ of sorts,” Márquez said.
The book has its roots in her 30-month Craigslist post – a rant, as Márquez labels it – about her tribulations of renting a house off the grid in Lamy with her husband, Chris, and their dogs. They lived there for part of 2014 and 2015.
“It was a straw bale house about 1,400 square feet that lacked a final stucco coat. …That should have been a red flag to me,” Márquez said in a phone interview.
Her Craigslist post covered many related issues, such as water quality and descriptions in real estate listings. As she writes, “state-of-the-art” amenities in listings can even mean a drafty house with broken appliances.
Márquez’s post produced a series of responses from the public that ranged from appreciations to, well, rants. That dialogue between her and her readers motivated Márquez to write the book.
Some of the chapters conclude with responses under the heading of “Readers’ Comments.”
Here’s one reader’s comment in the chapter “Enchanted Abandonment, Disenchanted Suburbia”:
“I am new to NM and I found this (post) very helpful and witty. I lived my first month ‘off-grid’ on the Mesa in Taos and was so enchanted the first 10 days. That wore off quickly with the rocky mile-long driveway that was killing my car, the insane amounts of dust, monsoon season coming and quickly figuring out the $$ on propane if I were to stay. …Lived there in June. …Moved into town in July and couldn’t be happier. …”
Here’s another reader in the same chapter:
“Thank you so much for your warnings … so informative. Question: What is it about the water in Madrid and Cerrillos? Does that apply to Galisteo?”
Márquez said there are so many people coming to New Mexico to find themselves that she wanted to help them. And she wanted to show her own literary voice, a “voice that’s a little bit different.”
The back of the book has Márquez’s original Craigslist post, eight pages describing Santa Fe neighborhoods, and a glossary of what she says are Santa Fe real estate terms, from A (acequia) to O (off-grid lot).
It’s a phrase she defines as having no electricity “and probably won’t (have) any for another century. Good chance there’s no water or septic either. Euphemistically referred to as ‘raw land.’ ”
Writing as Jes McKay Gilmore, Márquez is also the author of two volumes of Species Spectrum’s “Colorful World of Animals,” interactive activities for ages 5-9.
She has lived in Santa Fe and in Albuquerque for many years. She and her husband currently live in an on-the-grid home between the two cities.