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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:

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 fiancĂ©e, 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?)


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