'The Power of Rain' pulls from personal experiences

Former reporter pulls from personal experience in ‘The Power of Rain’

“The Power of Rain” by Rosalie Rayburn

Elizabeth “Digger” Doyle is the protagonist of Rosalie Rayburn’s lively, crisply-written debut novel “The Power of Rain.” Doyle’s nickname fits; she’s the tireless, hard-charging city hall reporter for the Daily Courier, a newspaper in the fictional New Mexico town of Las Vistas.

A monsoon triggers a flooding of homes in the new upscale subdivision of Los Sueños. It also triggers a political storm.

The washed-out road reminds Digger of environmental reports she’d read, warning of unstable soil because “the sloping terrain was a precipitation catchment area.”

Mayor Jack Kimble pushes for a drainage project, but it would mean raising taxes. Kimble is planning to run for reelection, likely facing opposition from Dave Johnsen, an energetic city councilor supporting free enterprise.

Rosalie Rayburn is the author of “The Power of Rain.”

Johnny Raposa, an unsavory influence peddler/land developer, wants to see the road extended from the subdivision to a shopping center.

That extension, Raposa predicts, would mean more sales of high-end homes in the subdivision, more businesses, more tax revenues for the city, a shorter route to a shopping center … and more money in his pocket.

Kimble and Johnsen have ties to Raposa until they see the light.

Maria Ortiz is a leader of a protest group that staunchly opposes the road extension because it would harm access to an historic Spanish chapel. The protest points to a cultural divide in the community, between recently arrived Anglos and longtime Hispanic residents.

Meanwhile, Maria and Digger have an alternating warm-and-cold personal relationship. Digger thinks she should go slow, fearing their relationship will color her role as an even-handed reporter covering the road issue.

Those are some of the main characters in the public debate over the road.

In writing the novel, Rayburn said she drew on her many years of experience reporting for the Albuquerque Journal on local governments, among them Rio Rancho, Bernalillo, Corrales and Sandoval County.

“To me, (the reporting) was like watching theater in slow motion. There were so many interesting (real-life) characters. I watched the conflict of older communities in Bernalillo and the original village of Placitas versus Rio Rancho, a very, very fast-growing city populated heavily by people coming from other places,” Rayburn said in a phone interview from her home in Portugal.

“I kind of saw a conflict there. And I have seen it in other countries. Ex-pats are not interested in understanding the culture of the place they’ve moved into.”

As Rayburn had at the Journal, the lead character of Digger has a ringside view of Las Vistas and its players.

The novel has a subplot set in the Courier’s newsroom. It’s filled with a melange of editors, photographers and other reporters. One particularly savvy older staffer is Dan Halloran. He befriends Digger.

They frequently chat about newsroom politics, and bemoan impending staff reductions and the possible sale of the Courier, a sign of a gloomy near-future for the newspaper.

One character who stands apart in the book is Abuela, Maria’s welcoming, raspy-voiced grandmother. She takes a shine to Digger. Abuela calls her “cowgirl” and shares advice and nuggets of wisdom.

Rayburn has a knack for creating fresh descriptions. Here’s a glimpse of the town’s country club, built in the early 1970s. Though the club was renovated since then, “the lobby retained the aura of bell-bottom pants, mullet hairstyles and droopy mustaches.”

How vivid!

Rayburn credits a small Albuquerque writing group coached by Susan Stiger for providing the encouragement that propelled her to finish the first draft of the manuscript before moving to Portugal three years ago.

She is currently working on another work of fiction featuring Digger and Maria, though it is not a sequel.

“It continues their lives about a year after the first book ends. Other characters return,” Rayburn said.

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