Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Fifty States of Pray - From Connecticut


My name is Diana Wilder and I am living in the state of Connecticut.   

I saw this blog hop, started by Mark Koopmans  which ties in with a good many things I had been considering over the past year.  I did not see the blog instructions until after I entered the hop.  Residents of Connecticut are sometimes called ‘Nutmegs’.  Drop the ‘megs’ and perhaps you have a good description of me, at least regarding reading instructions first thing in the morning. 

A man I chatted with once, who worked as a counselor, had this to say about past regrets: 



You have to think of your life as a sort of building.  Its construction continues while you live, and each happening adds to it.  Your past is in the lower courses of the building, and no matter how much you may regret it, it is there and without it the building would not be what it is now.  Concentrate on what is being done now: that is all you can do.  And it is enough.

I have dealt with the aftermath of my father’s death over the past year and a half.  His burial was two weeks ago.  During that time I found countless reasons to give thanks that that man had been my father.

Can it be so for us?  That people will count their contact with us as blessings?  I think so, and I am going to do what I can to make it so.  I am also looking at those I deal with using new eyes, seeing who they truly are, what burdens they bear, and how they have touched my life for good.  And if I see no good in an association from the past (I can name two complete scoundrels who seemed to like to wreck people) I will let go any bitterness and pray for them.

It doesn’t take much to spread kindness.  This video (I hope the link works) expresses it very well:
 

I wish everyone on this hop, and everyone who reads the posts, the most blessed and happy of years to come.


Monday, December 23, 2013

Holiday Best Wishes





I am sending this quick note wish to wish everyone all the best.  Over the past year or so I've met so many fascinating, enjoyable and good people, it is only fitting to share good wishes at this time.
 
It's funny how time seems to telescope as you get older.  My family celebrates Christmas.  I can remember how the month of December seemed to simply crawl by.  I would sneak down to the living room and look at the tree to see if maybe - just maybe - Santa might have misread his calendar.
 
Christmas eve, we left cookies and milk for Santa and a carrot for his reindeer.  Santa always wrote a thank-you note.  His handwriting was a lot like Dad's. 

I'd go to bed, certain that I was going to stay awake.  I always fell asleep.  Once or twice a blanket that I knew had been folded at the foot of my bed was spread over me.  Obviously, my guardian angel had taken a hand in things.  (Now I realize that I wasn't far wrong.  I'll be visiting that particular angel over New Year's while my sister stays with her over Christmas.)

When the 25th finally dragged around, half the fun was watching my family open the gifts I got them, even as I tore into those I received, myself.  My mother advises me that she isn't sure why Santa didn't give me sticks and coal on one or two occasions.

Off to church, singing songs, enjoying the weather, just...happy.  And, looking back, I don't think the presents had all that much to do with the happiness.

They still don't.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, if you celebrate it, and a happy December 25th if you don't.  I hope 2014 is peaceful, prosperous and full of health and heartsease.

Raising a joyful noise...   Well, at least raising NOISE!

Did I leave anything out?  Oh yes - laughter.  Here is some, with my compliments.  I cobbled it together from a photo I saved and a vintage card.  From me to you: smile!





Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating the Small Things - December 20, 2013

It is Friday again, and a time to stop and take stock of the small things we celebrate, often unknowingly.  Thanks to VikLit, who had the idea for this wonderful bl0g hop, we can remind ourselves of the beautiful things in life that make our days just that much more lovely.  You're welcome to join - head on over to her blog!

Details are at the end of this post.

I remember, years ago, the first time I bought a condolence card for someone.  I write notes now, of course, but I was in 9th grade then (age 13 for non-USA folk) and I wanted to express to someone my regret at her father's death.  The card showed white roses and it said 'God gave us memory so that we could enjoy roses in winter'.


Roses in Winter

It was a nice sentiment and a pretty picture.  At that point I had all my grandparents, both my parents, and had never attended a funeral.


The card was well-received.  And it was true.


Memory allows us to enjoy roses on a snowy day.


I realized this anew over the past week.  Memories of happy times, of good parents, of laughter and caring and some scolding - all came back to me.  And (for those who read Proust) I didn't have to dip a madeleine in my tea...

I was bored, recently, and found myself remembering travels, books, conversations with friends.  In some cases they were better the second (or twelfth) time around.

Relax - it's just meatloaf with an onion at the 'wrist'

What would we do without memory?  How would we know where to go?  How would we equip ourselves for each day's endeavors?  savor a wonderful meal we enjoyed with others? Or avoid the wretched meatloaf served by the corner restaurant?

We wouldn't even be able to sing along with our favorite songs on the radio.  For our passengers in the car, that might actually be a blessing.

So I am celebrating memory.


(And I am remembering that today is a Friday!  I hope you all have wonderful weekends.)




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My book Covers - Updated


Since Kindle covers are hard to see at the best of times, I'm setting up a gallery of mine in the order of their appearance in my story line:
The City of Refuge,  


the second uploaded was, actually the third one I wrote but the first in the cycle, chronologically.  I recently located its very first appearance in my imagination when I was going through some old notebooks.  I had a notation about an idea for a story - and it grew into The City of Refuge.  One of the main heroes, Lord Nebamun, is one of my all-time favorite characters to write about, and I was delighted to be working with him again in Mourningtide, which was published June 1, 2013.
Mourningtide
This story follows one of the great kings of Egypt during a time of grieving, when he learns too late of his oldest son's death and has to withdraw to deal with it.  Peace and quiet are hard to find, and Seti, the king, finds himself in a small town of artists on the border of the desert.  At one point he has the pleasure of guarding his own tomb, which is under construction.  More urgently, though, is the fact that marauders are targeting the town.  He trains the town in the art of battle.

Pharaoh's Son



I hung on to Pharaoh's Son, the third in the cycle (soon to be the fourth, with its 'prequel' set to come out in about a year) for a long time.  It is a lively story, the one I enjoyed writing most, and I had wanted to consider what to do with it.  I concluded that Kindle and paperback were best for it, as for my others.  I ran into my first experience of the delicacy required to handle historical fiction involving characters that actually lived.  In the case of Pharaoh's Son, the names are real, the characters are my own - though I arrived at some insights into the character of Ramesses II during the course of writing about him.  I now have a strong disclaimer at the beginning of my historical novels.


A Killing Among the Dead




Chronologically, this is the last in the Egyptian cycle - and the first one I wrote.  Egypt was rocked by a scandal of tomb-robbing and desecration in the Valley of the Kings.  It happened toward the end of the XXth Dynasty (the last of the Ramesside dynasties) when Egypt was going into eclipse.  The scandal was far-reaching and implicated some of the great mortuary temples along the Nile.  The story came to life for me, and its main character, Wenatef, is the closest I have come to a true tragic hero in the Greek sense.

The Safeguard 



        Lavinia Wheeler had watched as her world had been torn  apart over the past three years When the Civil War comes to her doorstep, her generosity in opening her house as a hospital brings a change in her life far  beyond any blessing she could have dreamed of or asked for.
          Between dealing with the Yankee-hating townsfolk, her former slaves, a passel of wounded  Yankees, a government that takes a dim view of people who aid the enemy, and a  group of raiders that is ravaging the countryside, Lavinia isn't sure that she  has time to care for herself, much less fall in love.


I have another Civil War novel underway with the tentative title of Crowfut Gap.  Another, The Bones, has its roots in the Civil War and involves events set in motion then, but it is set in the present.  The Safeguard features two of my ancestors, who appear as Union foragers...

The Orphan's Tale


 Set in Paris in the autumn of 1834, The Orphan's Tale is my newest book. 

'Autumn is beautiful in 1834 Paris. But to Chief Inspector Paul Malet,   raised in a prison by the greatest master criminal in French history  the season's splendor is overlaid by a sense of gathering danger: something is afoot.
'When Malet learns that Victoria, England's young Heiress Apparent, will be traveling to Paris at Christmas for a state visit, all  becomes clear. Her assassination on French soil would shatter the accord between France and England. And war can be a profitable business for those criminals daring enough to mold events to suit their own purposes.'
 This is a trilogy, with the second book set to be released next year.  While the cover for #2 is problematic (do I use the hero's portrait - in which case I have to find it or the villain's?  I don't like the villain.  Decisions, decisions...)  I do have a projected cover for book #3:



Monday, December 16, 2013

Hail and Farewell

I was at Arlington National Cemetery on Friday, honoring my father at his funeral.


Honor Guard at the Caisson.  the riderless horse can be seen at Left

...and they move off to the gravesite.


It was stately, solemn, respectful and celebratory.  Dad would have loved it.  He would have loved it even more if there had been some little children to sit on his lap and have things explained to them, then told a bedtime story.


Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations…
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valor…
all these were honored in their generations, and were the pride of their times.

Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.
But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed;
they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them.

But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten;
Their offspring will continue forever, and their glory will never be blotted out.
Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.
                                      (from Ecclesiasticus)



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sharing a Little Holiday Joy (flash mob)

This has taken the internet by storm, and it came at a moment this morning when I was feeling overwhelmed.  A good reminder of the Reason for the Season at a time when I, for one, am being bombarded by stories that I find upsetting.

But this reduced me to tears.  I am sharing the beauty.





I'll be away for a few days.  I hope return to find all well and happy when I return.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Just Plain Ghastly, Awful - Hysterically So

I worked with a fellow named John.  (No fear of him recognizing himself with such a common name.)  I hadn't thought of him in ages until yesterday when a single word brought him back to my memory and I started grinning.

He was neatly groomed, always impeccable.  Nicely bearded, pleasant to look at - and an complete original.  He sported a statue of the Madonna of Prague in his office and, on the back of the door, had a pinup picture.  Actually, I rather liked him, but you have to take the entire package, and he was an original. 

He loved cigars, loved brandy, loved to speak at length (not, surprisingly, pontificating) on things that were meaningful to him.  He offered to allow me to read his theological treatise on dying (he worked in insurance).  I thanked him with great enthusiasm but said that I had so many projects, I doubted I could give his work the attention it merited.  He beamed and did everything but bow.

Thus John.

He was a wonderful mine of erudite, eloquent gibberish.  I started jotting down his words:


But you have to understand - we have to take the bull by the horns and drive it!

I scrawled that down in a notebook.  And this:

Just because we are taking a muscular stance does not mean that we have to ride that horse to the bitter end and go down with it!

Oh, John, I miss you!  I'm not sure you miss me, though, after that time I zinged you good on the subject of required reports on April Fool's day.  *sigh* 

Dignity.  Always dignity.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group, December 4, 2013

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

Check out this bit of writing and see what you think of it:

     Pushing to his feet, The Hero drew a deep breath and lifted an eyebrow, his mouth twisting with disgust as he eyed the scene before him.  The Hero stalked to the doorway.  “So you say,” he growled.  “Speaking for myself only, begging your pardon and hoping that you will take this as it is meant, I must take myself off!  Good day!”
     She clasped her hands at her breast and took a hesitant step toward him.  “Ah, no!” The Heroine  breathed.  You mistook me – or I misspoke – or something – anything at all! – but what does it matter, truly, when you and I have found love and I can indulge The Author’s excessive love of hyphens by putting four in one sentence?”
     His steps dragged to a halt, his eyes lowered; The Heroine  could see the fan of lashes against his brown cheek.  Unwillingly, The Hero turned toward her, raised his eyes, and said, “She has never understood em-dashes and en-dashes…”
     They sighed.
     He spoke again, his voice easing into the thick silence.  “For heaven’s sake, don’t you think The Author has stuffed this passage with enough of those hackneyed, stilted, repetitive word choices that bug her whenever she comes up with them to the point where she ruthlessly blue-pencils them all?  D’you think she might let us go and do something enjoyable now that she’s made her point?”
     “Oh, no,” The Heroine said, lifting her chin.  “She has not yet used a semicolon; that is imperative!”
     "Hey!” The Hero exclaimed.  “Check it out!  She just did!”
     “At last!” The Heroine cried.  “We are free!”
      They turned and looked at the Author. “Well?”
      “Oh, go on with you.," she said with the hint of a grin. "You’ve made my point for me.”

      This passage contains most of my favorite (for which read 'deplorable') habits.  Turns of phrase, punctuation quirks, descriptions.  They're there.  I have others, but these are the main ones.
      I admit here and now that I have trouble shaking them.  That is, I have no problem taking a blue pencil to them, but they will crop out, do what I may.  (Y'know, Diana, your characters breathe a lot," said an editor once...) 
      I think most authors have quirks that they have to fight.  Kill them and they come back, rather like the hydra.
      ...and that's another quirk I have: quoting mythology, literary references, things that either make people go glassy-eyed or else run away.
      Vigilance takes care of them, usually, but I'm embarrassed to have them.

 
     I think writers are insecure by nature.  I just picked up Guy Gavriel Kay's wonderful book, River of Stars, a fantasy of sorts, certainly alternate history set in almost-China of the Soong dynasty.  A scene where a condemned man, dying at the command of a nothing of an emperor because he is loyal to that emperor, is offered a chance to escape and live out his days. 




He thought about his friends, about wind in your face on a galloping horse, about waiting for dawn and battle, the beating of your heart then.  The taste of good wine.  Even bad wine sometimes.  Bamboo woods, the sun through leaves, a bamboo sword.  His mother's hand in his hair.

   It is beautifully written.  Effortless, with the tinge of poetry.  And of course, I have to compare it to my own efforts.  How can I write that way?  I can't write that way.  There is no beauty in my writing!  Or so I thought.  After all, if you're an aspiring writer you have to be not-so-good...don't you?

Do you?  ...well, do you?

I riffled through some things of mine and came upon this scene.  It is toward the end of a story that needs to be written.  The first man nearly betrayed his king.  And now, defeated, he is waiting:

          He stood in the darkened hallway as his son hurried away.
          Heartbeats passed and he heard the change in the sounds around him. A cheer, suppressed, the rumble of wheels, clatter of bronze-clad weapons. More cheers, silenced again.
          A clank...hushed voices. He raised his head, facing the tall, bronze-clad door, and waited.
          A slit in the darkness widened to painful brightness that spilled across the pavement and lapped at his feet. Movement, merely sensed, solidifying into a form and a face that came in from the sun and moved toward him, gaining solidity and substance as it approached.
          He waited.
          The voice seemed to come from the light. "Why?"
          "I do not know."
          "That is not an answer." 
          "It is the only one I can give."
          Silence, poised on a knife-edge of thought. He had the sense that if he chose to wait an eternity to answer, the listener would be there as well, waiting with a terrible patience.
          He raised his eyes, met the dark gaze upon him, and went to his knees. "You have defeated me," he said. "But grant me this credit: I never tried to fight you."
          "You considered it and took steps to do so in the teeth of my commands."
          He lowered his head. "Yes."
         "And you did not, though you had everything in place to do so. Why?"
          "I could not."
          The man moved out of the light.  "Why?"
          He could see him clearly now. "You have asked and I have answered," he said. "Why continue asking?"
          The other folded his arms. "Because I do not like the answers you give, Holiness," he said. "I want to know how we got to this place from where we were."
          He looked down at the floor, at his hands clasped on his knees. "End it, Sire," he said. "I beg you. If you ever held me in regard, end it."
 
      I am not Guy Gavriel Kay.  Or not just yet, but that isn't too shabby, considering it's a first draft.  We don't read and appreciate our own work nearly enough.  That is a shame, since we are writing to give enjoyment (aren't we?).  It is not wrong to enjoy your own work or at least, having created something, it is perfectly all right to read it and admit that maybe you do have a spark of ability.

      We're all a bit insecure in that regard, I guess.  Something to share and work on.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Review: Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade

Hot Flashes & Cold LemonadeHot Flashes & Cold Lemonade by Susan Flett Swiderski

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Wisdom, Tears and Laughter. Pull up a chair!

I encountered this book the first time I read something by Susan Flett Swiderski (who is a very active and enjoyable blogger, among other things). She had a picture of a glass of lemonade with a twist of lemon, with the words 'Hot flashes & Cold Lemonade' on it. The photo itself was enjoyable. When I learned that it was actually a book cover, I had to pick up a copy. Being a cautious sort, I checked inside, skipped around the previews, and bought a copy.

The story starts out with a bang. Pearl is driving through her childhood neighborhood, remembering the happy moments, savoring the memories - and suddenly sees her father driving off with a woman who is not her mother. At her childhood home her mother has a couple pithy things to say about her husband and the situation. Reality - the existence of inconvenience, unhappiness and even tragedy - comes crashing down into Pearl's consciousness. And the story unfolds.

This book is a little like sitting down with someone you enjoy, who can tell a good story and somehow make a laundry list enjoyable. That is not to say that this book is a laugh-fest. it isn't. It touches a great many serious issues like adultery, aging, disillusionment, but it does so with a smile.

Wisdom and laughter are almost inseparable. Tears are not always tragic. And, sometimes, listening to someone telling a wise, deep story through laughter can stay with you longer than anything you have read to date.

Hot Flashes & Cold Lemonade is skillfully written. The narrative, while very enjoyable, allows the story to move on even as it collects little items to salt in among your consciousness.

I really enjoyed this book and would suggest it to anyone. I hope more are in the works.

...and don't forget to read the postscript.



View all my reviews

Thoughts for the Season, Busyness, a Milestone and Remembered Love

I have been away for nearly two weeks. There is much going on and I am going to be spotty in my posting (though I have a great idea for the Insecure Writers Support Group, which posts the first Wednesday of the month).

Life has been a kind of mélange at this moment, with ups, downs, busyness and frustration.  Sorting things out, whether in the silence of my own mind or on paper (keyboard?) sets things in order.

Thoughts for the Season:
It is good to have a time where we sit back and take stock of the things that we are grateful for.  Counting one's blessings has been used as a way to deal with the doldrums for centuries, though it does sometimes lead to the thought, Yeah, well with all these blessings can someone explain to me why I'm still feeling glum?  What kind of creep am I?  In my case, I have bunch of things to be grateful for and something coming up celebrating one of those major reasons and providing some closure.

Making haste to no purpose is a good way of describing the downside of busyness.  No idle hands, but little accomplished.  We have all, I am sure, had cycles where we rushed about and fussed about and accomplished nothing.  I have been in the middle of one of those, with too much to do and not enough time.  What do I propose to do?  Ride it out.  Accomplish what I can and not fuss too much over the answer.

A milestone is approaching.  Possibly the last milestone in this series.  My father's funeral is set for a week from this coming Friday.  He died in August of 2012 and was cremated.  He was a career Naval officer who had accomplished a great deal in helping to organize the Judge Advocate's Corps'  procedures and organizations.  He never spoke of that.  He went into civilian practice after he retired and worked for many years in Philadelphia.  He was a combat veteran from World War II, serving as a radar officer (top secret technology then) on a Destroyer.

Dad died over a  year ago and was cremated.  The burial in Arlington was put off for various reasons: 1. there are a good many younger, non-cremated casualties who need to be buried there.  Dad would not have objected; 2. You have to ask for a date to be selected.  My brother forgot to do so.

Well, the interment was requested and scheduled - caissons, buglers, a band marching behind, and a LOT of family attending.  Dad would have enjoyed it.  Dad's ashes were requested from the funeral home, which has been storing it and Dad's flag, which will drape the caisson. 

My older brother, whom I privately think of as a consummate doofus, phoned my sister to tell her to ask our long-suffering and very kind neighbor across the way to check the front porch and see if Dad's ashes  had been delivered, since he didn't want anyone to run off with them.  Uh...  You directed them to deliver the ashes to ME, Chuck?  Why not our other brother who lives in the same town as the funeral home?  You think he'd be inclined to forget to bring them to the funeral?  Kind of like forgetting to ask Arlington to schedule the funeral in the first place?  Did I mention that you're a Doofus?  I did?  Well, it bears repeating, Doofus!

I arrived home from Thanksgiving after a long, grueling drive to discover that a package was, indeed, sitting on my front porch.  My sister opened the box, which was surprisingly heavy, and saw, inside, the flag, folded into a triangle (as we had done for years) and a small box, perhaps 10" square.  "Dad's in there," she said.

Well, currently what is left of my father's body is residing in my garage along with his flag.  It will be taken along to Philadelphia and then to Arlington in two weeks' time.

The milestone is coming up.  People talk of 'closure', and while I haven't been stewing over the fact that the funeral wasn't scheduled (Dad wouldn't have been, either), it will be good to have a public acknowledgment of his quality as an officer.  And yet -

If the funeral had not been scheduled as it was, I would still be acknowledging all the ways Dad influenced me.  Not a day has passed that has not brought with it something that gives me a reason to be very thankful that that man was my father.  He had a temper, he could be very pointed, and he was known to yell at us kids (never saying anything demeaning or insulting), but he always rang true, and everything he did for his children he did out of love.  Military families had access to 'free' medical care (a quid pro quo for the unrealized fact that if you are in the military you are on duty 24/7, no excuses.  Well, we went and got free shots - but when my family moved to a new town, Dad looked up the very best pediatrician in the area and took us to him or her.  (Now I am remembering the time I did NOT want a shot and fought the doctor, tooth and nail, and scornfully rejected the proffered lollipop after I lost the fight.  Dad said I was stubborn.  Hah!  I was all of six years old...)

Love remembered never leaves us.  It keeps affecting us and we reap its benefits all our lives.




Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Celebrations, November 22, 2013


Happy Friday!  Thanks to Vikki at  Scribblings of an Aspiring Author, who had the idea, we pause every Friday to think about the small things to celebrate, and share them with others.

I tend to be a sky-watcher.  A beautiful sunset or sunrise will make me stop and stare and fumble for my (phone) camera, which never quite does the trick.  I have a star chart in my bedroom.  It's the kind of thing that allows you to figure out what constellation is hiding behind the clouds.  You can get an idea of date, time, orientation..  It came in very handy when I had a character who loved to gaze at the stars.

And it is late November, the time of year when one of my favorite constellations goes striding across the sky:


ORION
I'm looking forward to stepping outside, frowning at the leaf-less trees (with the piles of leaves that must be raked tomorrow), trusting that my dog has gone nowhere near there, raising my eyes to the northeast sky and counting all the stars.

  Cheers, all - have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your own celebrations!


(And visit the other participants - see below!)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Friday, November 15, 2013

Friday Celebrations - Chocolate Cakes, Baking and Ahhhhhhs

Welcome to Friday celebrations.  thanks to VikLit, who conceived of this blog hop (and finally signed up for it...) we pause every Friday to think about the small things to celebrate, and share them with others.

I am celebrating something that happened yesterday, but which is pertinent for today because I have the other half of the item that caused the celebration at home with me and ready to be devoured.

You see, I like to cook, and I especially enjoy baking.  I ran across a 'Chocolate Stout Cake' conceived by a local brewery, that is three layers of magnificent chocolate goodness and iced with a dark chocolate ganache.  It is very chocolatey but not horribly sweet, which is a good thing.
The cake is the invention of The Barrington Brewery, a Massachusetts establishment that is well worth visiting.

Click on the photo to go to the site..
I was enjoying what the British might call a 'Plowman's lunch' and happened to look over and see a splendid chocolate cake.  'Chocolate Stout Cake'.  Hmmm...  I was too full to consider it, but I remembered it.  When I ran across a request for the recipe printed in a gourmet magazine Bon Appetit, I snapped it up and made it.
Click on THIS to go to the recipe.

A lovely recipe.  It sets up in about twenty minutes, cooks beautifully, can be halved or quartered without any trouble and, if you have the self-control of an angel, gets better if you can put off eating it for a couple days.



I made one of them yesterday and brought it in to my office.

I work with some blase' people.  No reaction, no enthusiasm, at least around my area.  But there was little reaction...until I took it into the lunch room. 

It is so lovely to watch people enjoying something you offered.  One fellow, who looked rather like a Hillbilly, saw the cake, zoomed right over saying 'woo-HOOOO!', cut himself a slice and ate it, smiling beatifically.  He did not know that the chef was standing by.

Isn't that what it is all about?  In everything we offer?  Making something we think is wonderful and hoping that others enjoy it, as well?  It is nice if they know who you are and thank you, but the beatific smiles are sufficient.

I'm still smiling, and it's Friday - and I'm driving down to visit my mother.  Cheers, all - have a wonderful weekend and enjoy your own blessings!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Veteran's Day

I come from a long line of people who picked up their weapons and fought for causes that they thought worthy.

An ancestor from Besancon, France, Francois Durand, came over and settled in the American colonies.  When the American Revolution broke out, he enlisted in the Continental Army and was tapped to serve as interpreter for the Marquis de Lafayette.  Personally, I suspect  Lafayette probably spoke better English than Francois.  Not sure, though...  Lafayette was reported to speak broken English when he returned to the United States early in the 19th Century.

Other ancestors fought in that conflict (and since my great-grandfather hailed from Hesse Cassel and came from a military family, I suspect we may have had a few Hessian mercenaries in the background.)

The American Civil war came along, and my great-great Grandfather, Theodore Wilder, a student at Oberlin College, signed up at the very beginning along with a company of his college friends to fight against slavery.  Yes, they actually said that: they wanted to see the end of slavery.  Great-great Grandpa ultimately died for that cause, though his wounds did not kill him until 1872.  He was badly wounded in the battle of Cedar Mountain in western Virginia ('Slaughter Mountain', they called it).  He was saved by a farmer and his fiancée, as the story goes.

(Serving years later as a docent in the Civil War Library and Museum, I encountered the memoir he wrote of that time.  He only used his initials; imagine my surprise when I learned that the writer with the dry, humorous tone was an ancestor.)

November 11 is called 'Veteran's Day' in the United States now.  I suppose I could go on about the various other veterans in my family and the wars they served in, but I want to mention a veteran who is dear to my heart.  My father, who died a year ago in August.

I knew him for a wonderful father before he died, and I'm glad I did.  At every turn I find reasons to thank God that he was my father, that I had his kindly, stern and laughing presence in my life.

On this Memorial day, however, I think it appropriate to pass on something he said to me.

Dad joined the U.S. Navy during World War II.  He entered the top secret Radar program, and served as a radar officer during the war and afterward.  He attended law school and served in the JAG (Judge Advocate General) corps.  I did not know until after he died that he had helped to set up the system they have now.

At any rate, Dad was a veteran and a serviceman, retiring as the Judge Advocate General for a U.S. military district.  He then went into the practice of law as a civilian.  Not surprisingly, he had a few things to say about some of the crooks he encountered.  He also had a low tolerance for idiots.

A few years back Tom Brokaw wrote the book The Greatest Generation.  I had long thought that the people who lived through World War II, whatever their country, certainly had earned that title.  There was a time, for example, when the only thing that stood between Hitler and world domination were the stout hearts and determination of the people of the UK.

I said so to Dad - about his generation.

His words were typical:

I don't know about that, Diana.
We did what we had to do when we faced what we were facing.
You, too, would do the same if you were in that situation.

Generous words.  Dad was wise, and I think he was probably right.  It is good, though, that we have not yet had to face that sort of test, though we have faced some others.

So, this Veteran's day, I thank all who put their lives, their income, their health on the line in our behalf.  Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, and those who gave their whole lives and retired.

Thank you all.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Insecure Writers - 'Do I have it in me?'

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers' Support Group We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 2011 NaNoWriMoAs others have commented, it is NaNoWriMo time. That time when we are expected to crank out fifty thousand words in thirty days. If you prefer numbers, that is 50,000 words in 30 days. (It doesn’t look quite so frightening when you are looking at numerals rather than words, does it?)

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Well, speaking as an insecure writer, I will say that something that we all fear has come to pass.  No, nothing tremendously horrific.  I just somehow, in adjusting the spacing in my post (I tend to get grumpy about spacing) I managed to delete the whole thing.

I clawed back the beginning paragraph from the preview, and I am giving a brief run-down of my post.  I have learned something as an insecure writer:

If you mess up your manuscript (or blog post) you can carry on.

Here is what I said:

2011 NaNoWriMo
We are supposed to put out 50,000 words.  Will they be any good?  Can we write under that much pressure?  This is my third time participating in NaNoWriMo, and since my big problem with writing is to just let the ideas flow and make myself Wait to edit.  In otherwords, initial output does not have to be perfect.

This is a lesson I have learned.
My first NaNo (2011) is now a book called Mourningtide:

Last Year's effort will be coming out at some point in 2014.  I am currently working on a fable or fairy tale involving a rather large crocodile that comes to stay with a struggling family.

I tried an experiment where I just wrote.  I turned on my laptop first thing in the morning (morning composing seems to be the time when my work seems the best) and I typed with my eyes closed. I had contemplated a scene involving the local busybody who was going to come bustling over, encounter the croc, and after some humorous histrionics go tearing out of there mouthing threats.  It came out nothing like that.  It was, in fact, rather moving to see where the story went and how it went.  And it was all from me.
2013 NaNoWriMo
I think there comes a point where we have to admit that we do have ability, that it is there to be tapped, that we have to nurture it and not be so bossy.

It isn't hard, is it?  We see others as gifted and capable.  Why is it so hard to see ourselves so.

(And, this second time around with this @#$! post, it isn't such a bad things to let things be, is it?)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Something Taken - Interview with Jerrie Brock, Author

Something Taken - By Jerrie Brock
I asked author Jerrie Brock if she would mind being interviewed on my blog.  I encountered her two years ago when I was involved in the ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) Competition.  Her submission was a beautifully done story of forbidden love - a young girl and an older man, both lost and tempest-tossed.  I was touched by the story, and by the deft way she handled people who might have been viewed as misfits, but were creations of heart, soul and strength.  And there was another theme that caught me...

Her first published book, Something Taken, is available in Kindle and in paperback.  It is a wonderful read.  (My review on Goodreads, Amazon US and Amazon UK is below).

She can be peppery, kind, understanding, and very direct.  She is a woman of wide experience with the sort of humor that comes of seeing many things and understanding them.  I enjoyed interviewing her.  I think you will enjoy reading of her.


How would you describe yourself?   


Jerrie Brock and two of her dogs
I barely make sense to myself, so describing myself is beyond me. The most appropriate description might be what my beloved grandpa used:  “You’re like fly shit, you’re all over the place.”  Needless to say, I probably wasn’t the easiest kid to deal with, and I don’t know if I have improved much over the years.  Fortunately, I found a man to put up with me.  We were married 25 fun, goofy years but he was much older than me and he died seven years ago.  I think he’s irreplaceable.  
I enjoy working with my hands, and most my employment has been in maintenance, as a supervisor to a mostly male workforce, often technical.  Landscaping is generally my field, but it involves more than mowing grass.  For fun, I restore old furniture and antique machinery, I build things like decks, gazebos, model trains layouts, I garden; you get the idea. When I relax, I read, sometimes a book a week, sometimes a couple of books a week. I don’t watch TV, honestly, I have no idea of what’s on TV or at the movies.  Compared to what my imagination conjures when I read, TV and movies tend to disappoint me or put me to sleep pretty quickly.  I converted an 85 foot Pullman Passenger Car to a library to avoid getting lost in stacks of books around the house.  Of the few thousand books, aside from the many technical manuals I use for building and restoration, and some of the ponderous reference books, I’ve read at least three quarters of those books, non-fiction and fiction.  Some of my favorites are my Peanuts collection, the cartoon books I started collecting back when I was very young.  Some of them are before Linus was born.  Another is a book commissioned by Congress in 1876 chronicling some of the highlights of the first 100 years of the US .  You’d be amazed at what was considered big news then, eclipses, droughts, etc. Things we never even hear about today.  The other is my Oxford English Dictionary—every 20 volumes.  Few people know what the true Oxford Dictionary is, or how it came about but it is so cool.  The citations for A go on for six and a half pages.  I read that every now and then, for fun.
 
You’re a writer – what do you write?  
My favorites are historic fiction and contemporary fiction, based on real life and real people in both instances.  Some are romances, some just a reflection of an era, some crime, some drama, some humorous.  Everything I write is born from reality however, though I insert fictional characters along the way, including the main character.  I have so many stories backed up in my mind, I’ll never get all of them written.  In terms of writing, my favorite eras are England (or rather the UK and Ireland ) after the Norman conquest and before their Civil War, and the US after our Civil War all the way to the present. 
 
What got you started writing?
I have no idea. It was a challenge?  I started very young, I wrote letters to my grandparents starting in first grade and never stopped. School and I didn’t always get along. I didn’t have the patience to worry about forming letters correctly when I could communicate through writing.  I would get punished for writing a story instead of practicing my letters.  Who cares about letters, anyway?  Right?  Right!  So began the cycle of failure and success in school.  Mostly my presence in a classroom was greeted with a groan, although I had a few teachers who were a huge inspiration and I truly loved them.  So I think I wrote because it was one of the few things that always presented a challenge and it gave me solace in times when I felt rather alone in the world.  I had my characters, so at least I was never lonely.   There are so many ways to write, so many words to use, so many thoughts to convey.  I call writing, wordsmithing, and like any craft, there is always room to be better.  Hard to beat that kind of thrill.
 
How do you write?
I just sit down and write, nearly every day.  Sometimes it’s revisions, other times it’s completely new.  I know the story, how it begins and ends, and so I write it.  But I usually have to go back and hack away a lot of the unnecessary stuff to get it to something reasonable and worthy. The one thing that side tracks me during writing is research.  I like to be accurate, and it gives me an excuse to read, too.  In one, before I wrote the court scene, I had already read the laws and legal procedures of that state, and then I went further, reading a couple of college text books on interrogations, criminal law, that sort of thing.  When I write historic fiction, I often read texts from the time period because it allows me to see from their vantage point, to get an idea of how they viewed the world, which is so much different than our concepts today.  Most people rarely traveled more than a couple of miles from their homes in their entire lives. The idea of people who looked completely different was almost incomprehensible. The world held so many secrets that venturing too far was a rather frightening notion. I try to reflect that sort of image in my historic writing.
 
Anything you find indispensable?  (can be a tool, a technique, a location…  Someone said she reclined nude on her sofa and wrote with a pen and notepad.  Another fellow, at a loss for words, would jump up and dance around madly until he found the right word.)
 Music.  Have to have music.  Sometimes I sing and write, mostly I just listen.  I have an Ipod thingy with about 2500 songs, mostly rock in every style, but I also like Big Band, Jazz, Military Band, Soul, Bluegrass and a few others. No Country unless it’s Country-Rock and no Rap.  People think its odd when they hear it -- Glen Miller doing the Chattanooga Choo Choo might be followed by Blue Oyster Cult doing Don’t Fear the Reaper.  And books and the Internet for references.
 
How did the idea for SOMETHING TAKEN come to you?It started with the sequel.  I was laid off and looking for a new job. I had to undergo an extensive background check that came back with a couple of little issues that needed to be settled, which got me thinking about the past creeping up in the present.  My imagination tends to operate in overdrive most the time, and I could visualize how something from long ago could destroy a person in spite of all the changes they made.  Then I got caught up in the story, and decided to start at the beginning.
 
You mention that it is loosely based on something that happened to you.  Can you tell me about it? 
This was a story I thought I should write because unfortunately, the incidents in the story do happen in real life, even today.  They are still hushed up and it is one of the few types of sexual assault where the victim still bears the blame.  It’s hard for people to believe, in truth, which makes it easier to hide.  For what happened to me, let’s say things didn’t always go right for me.  Things happened, I didn’t always make good decisions, and I probably didn’t always choose the easiest route.  But for all that did go wrong, I still feel like I did manage to make something worthwhile of my life, even if I can’t claim to be rich or anything.  The one thing I am rich with, is the realization that there were people who did reach out, who grabbed me from a few gaping pits and pulled me up again. It took awhile to fully appreciate it since I couldn’t figure out why they bothered.  In the end, I decided that the why didn’t matter so much; they found some value they decided to preserve.  Now I pass their compassion on to others.  So the bad stuff is submerged in discovering that the world is filled with far more good people than bad, truly.
 

I have read and reviewed SOMETHING TAKEN – the link is at the bottom of this blog post – and one of the things that truly struck and moved me was the notion of a ‘hero’ who has the courage and heart to see beyond appearances and sense something deeper and darker that must be addressed and must not be allowed to triumph.  What were you saying here?
What I was saying was truly what I came to realize, though not quite so quickly.  That there are so many good people out there, so many willing to lend a hand.  Just like you’re doing with this interview.  I think with TV and all, always bombarding us with the negative, we tend to doubt the goodness of people.  But there are truly some super people out there, looking for the good in others.  Once a person realizes that, it can change their entire outlook.  No matter how simple, from a hello in passing, holding a door, or giving an interview to a struggling new writer, it reinforces the good.  In the end, we need to take the time to pay kindness forward. 
Just as I was about to ask her to join us, she began to speak softly, as she continued staring out at the mountains and the setting sun.  “These last few days, being here, and seeing all the happiness, made me remember what I really wanted from life.  I remembered what it was like to have fun without being out of my mind with drugs and all.  It reminded me of the good times I had with my Dad and Ricky.
“When I left home, I just wanted to find a way to have that again.  No matter what I did with my family, I was always gonna be the black sheep.  It wasn’t that they did anything wrong, they’re good people.  It’s just me.  I didn’t quite fit with their style.  I guess I don’t really fit in anywhere.
“Since there’s nothing wrong with their ideas, I should’ve just accepted it.  But I thought there was more to life that might be equally good.  When I was at college, I met a really good group.  We partied a lot, but we all had this dream that one day we’d do important stuff to make the world better.  It was probably just grandiose dreams, beyond reality, but we believed them.
“Now, too late, I’ve discovered it’s not the spectacular stuff that really makes a difference in the world.  It’s just living well, as best you can, day to day, and hopefully making one person’s day a little better.  After seeing all you’ve been doing for me, and for others, I realized I was just living in a fantasy world that I kept intact by using drugs and pretending I was trying to achieve something.  In other words, I was a fraud.  I really wasn’t making any difference, and I wasn’t even trying. 
“It’s a little late for all these profound thoughts and regrets but they keep pressing me.  Helping out around here, enjoying all you’ve given me, all the happiness, I keep wishing I had one more chance to get it right.  But the only way I can do it is to start over one more time and I blew that big time.”
She stopped to light a cigarette with shaking hands.  When she finally resumed, her voice also wavered.  “I think now, I really know what I should’ve known before.  I don’t think it would be easy, but I think I’ve learned what it means to be strong.  And now, it doesn’t make any difference because I can’t change what I did, or go back and undo it.  It’s just hard, knowing it’s too late.  I wish things were different.”
    For a moment none of us had anything to say as we digested her words.  Hard to believe they came from an eighteen-year-old, until a person reflected on those eighteen years she lived.  She had leap-frogged most of us in wisdom already. 
Quick, answer me:
  • Sword or pistol?  Sword
  • Horse or Porsche?  Horse  
  • Mountaintop or ocean?  Ocean  
  • Hot dog or hamburger?  Doesn’t matter.  
  • Flapper or screamer? The one leading the charge – the dreamer – the who says, ‘What the heck, lets do it. The worst that can happen is we fail.’   (...sounds like a flapper to me...)
  • Typewriter or fountain pen? (handsome scribe optional)  Quill 
Unbeknown to you, your bed is a time machine.   You go to bed, snuggle down under the comforter and wake up the next morning in another place and time.  Where?  When?  What do you need to survive there? 
I could probably be happy at any time period, past, present or future. I’d just be as odd as ever, wherever I popped in at. I don’t really need security or stability, I can adapt to nearly anything, except ignorance and boredom.   However, I have a feeling if the time machine broke, they’d be working like hell to get it running again and send me back.  I’ve been accused of being a disruptive force before.
So, it’s been a rough day.  Nothing has gone right, everyone has been driving you mad, traffic has been slow, lunch was disgusting.  You’re outta there.  What do you do to kick back? 
Read, listen to music, write, build something.  But first and foremost, I play with my pups and sometimes the cats if they’re in the mood.  No matter what goes wrong in the world, they are my sparkling bit of happiness and laughter.  I don’t know how people manage without pets.  Where else can a person get unconditional love and the chance to feel like they are the most important person in the world for a moment?
 
What can we expect from you in the future? I know you are working on a sequel to Something Taken  Tell us about it.   
The sequel to Something Taken, titled Something Returned will come out just before Thanksgiving.  It was the original story, in truth.  It follows the main character, Terry, now living under an alias, Mel (Melissa) McCurdy, married nearly 25 years, two grown children, suddenly discovering the Denver Police are re-opening the case of the cop murdered in Denver in 1979.  As much as Mel fears what will come of their investigation, what frightens her even more is trying to explain to her husband, her children and her in-laws that she really is not Melissa.  It also comes with a few surprises that readers of Something Taken would never imagine.  This is more of a love story, and though it has some sad moments, its not near as challenging of a read as the first one.

I could envision how scary it would be to have to suddenly reveal a new reality.  Even though I wrote this story after my husband died, I can say with perfect confidence if I had to confess something horrible I did to him, he would still believe in and stand by me.  So in a way, it is a tribute to him and his love for me.

There will be a third and final book in the series, that I am writing now, called Something Broken.  It is the perspective of the Denver police back before the murder.  Part of it is to explain how things like this develop without any real intent or recognition of the harm it causes.  The other reason for writing it was to explain some parts that might come as a surprise about the whole thing.  

After I get these two out, I’ll have to stop and analyze.  I have quite a few already written that need a lot of work and editing, but I don’t know what I’ll pursue after this.  Writing is something I have to do, but publishing, eh, well, we’ll see.
 
And, finally, what do you want to say to someone who has just bought one of your books and is about to open it?  
I truly hope you enjoy it, but if you don’t, I’d really love to hear why.  Whatever your reaction, I appreciate your taking the time to read it. 


Purchase Links:

Amazon US
Amazon UK
(the book is also available in paperback)

My Review:

Something TakenSomething Taken by Jerrie Brock

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Terrible things happen. There comes a point in many people's lives where they realize that the world is not small and safe. They realize that it is large, unpredictable, random and terribly dangerous. For some people, the realization comes through watching others. For some it is a process of thought. And some come up against the danger, cruelty and randomness in their own lives without warning.

Terry is in a new place, starting a new life after turning her back on the rags of her childhood. She is eighteen years old, making it on her own, happy with her friends, her job, her dog... And then in one night her innocence is stolen, her trust is betrayed and she is trapped and despairing.

Terrible things happen. You can't bend the rules. You're on your own. The weaker always loses. Something Taken tells of this - and it also tells of a truth that we often lose sight of when we are transfixed by the cruelty and harshness of life: there are heroes. There are the Bright Ones who stand against the dark, who follow their hearts in defiance, sometimes, of the rules.

An old nursery rhyme talks about 'The Benders, the Breakers, The Menders and Makers'.

This is a story of a broken girl and how she comes through it. I found it moving.

There are some things that should be mentioned. This is a story of an eighteen-year-old girl, alone and vulnerable, who is used very badly. Harsh things happen, she is subjected to mistreatment. Brock's gift is that she can tell of a terrible experience and do it completely by recounting the character's sometimes disjointed impressions. She chronicles Terry's descent into hell, and (I will post no spoilers) and of the hand outstretched to her that brought her back.

I was struck by the power of Brock's writing, by her instinctive understanding of people. Her descriptions are very well done, and her characterizations do not falter. It is a powerful book.

This may be a hard book for some to read, for it touches upon difficult subjects, but ultimately it is worthwhile. (There are ways to preview books through Amazon and other sellers. If in doubt, try it out.)

I give this book five stars. It can be dark, it can be harsh, it is, as a whole, a very good book.


View all my reviews