Friday, December 30, 2011


Just watched SENNA, a documentary about the Brazilian Formula 1 driver. Get it now, if you are at all interested in racing and the men who dare drive those scary death needles. A man who read the Bible before a race, he was unashamed to use his faith to support himself in a stressful career. You could tell he loved pure, apolitical racing, and that the politics of Formula 1 drove him crazy. The saddest part is, he thought he had a long life ahead of him to learn more than just racing.

His face said everything he was thinking. A man seemingly without guile, he gave Brazilians, desperate for a bright light in a dark time, something to cheer for. Someone for whom they could cheer. How sad he got in his car that fatal day. He wasn't happy with the car, and his owner wasn't sure he'd be on the starting grid. But Senna could not quit.

A lesson in listening to your gut, sadly enough, that Senna didn't heed.
Watch the film. You won't be wasting your time.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post Christmas

Errant tree is out of the house. Needles vacuumed. Ornaments, the survivors of the Great Escape, snooze once more in the attic. It's beginning to look like back-to-work at our house.

That means getting the Mythmaker books up on Amazon. My Beloved bought me a scanner, so I'm ready to put that puppy to work. Need to work on rewrites on the 2011 book, pull together The Reservation Dead in a final draft, and then start the new book. Phew. It all sounds wonderful to me. Time in the office, working on the writing, has been scarce the past few months. Crankiness is a direct side effect, my family will assure you.

No resolutions this year. I have to-do lists to last me a lifetime. Two dogs and two cats are curled up at my feet and splayed across the desk, as if daring me to rev it into high gear. Hitting the clutch and shifting. . .hold on tight!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Tree Tried to Escape

We went to see "We Bought a Zoo" last night, thinking it would be a sweet movie and a welcome respite. Both were true. However, we came home to anarchy and chaos. Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much. The Christmas tree, you see, had nosedived onto the floor, bellyflopping in the direction of the front door.

It didn't land on any furniture, so the glass balls took a direct hit. Fortunately, we'd used the red wooden beads for a garland this year, instead of the antique glass strands that are part of my Beloved's childhood memories. We also have a ton of handmade ornaments, and that's a good thing. But some beloved pieces shattered, and as I was lamenting their demise, my youngest had some words of wisdom gleaned from TV. The show "Hoarders," to be precise. "The stuff can go, but the memories remain."

Yeah, sounds good, right? I swear I don't hoard. Every now and then, I get vicious with the closets. Still, I'm going to miss the beautiful hand crafted glass ball from St. Thomas. And the dangly-legged Santa with curly white hair that I bought on another trip. The good news is, the milky, other-wordly ball made from ash from the Mount St. Helen's eruption survived. I guess if you're volcano-born, you're tough.

This will be remembered as the year the tree made a jail break for freedom. That's okay. We have it tied up six ways to Sunday, and it ain't goin' nowhere 'til Santa is back at the Pole, resting up for next year. Sorry, kiddo.

I don't hold the smashed balls against you. Tonight, when we turn off the house lights to have Christmas tree admiration hour, I'll be the first to say how lovely you are this year, all trussed up like a green and glittery turkey.

Merry Christmas Eve to all!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's a rainy, quiet day

and I'm pretty much doing nothing on my to-do list. I decided to have a Mary, not a Martha day. When my youngest was a student at a girls' school, the headmistress would give a short lesson during the annual Christmas program the upper school presented for the parents and families. Invariably, she spoke about being in Martha mode at this time of the year, and how she had to work to get to a Mary-stage.  I knew exactly what she meant. Hence, today I took a few Mary hours.

I've been reading some in-depth articles about the star that appeared over Bethlehem, which may actually have been a constellation that had meaning for Hebrews, and of which the Romans were unaware. So, some people were paying attention, and some were too absorbed in their own political games. Yep, feels familiar.

Placing the birth of Jesus in its historical context, taking place when the foot of the Roman empire was especially heavy on Palestine and its taxation of the Jews crippling, gives me something to ponder. Just think, Jesus raised the dead, healed the sick, and cured the incurable, all in a time when the Hebrews were at rock bottom politically and economically. No matter what the economy or politics of the time, healing and hope cannot be denied.

 And some Bible experts think the wise men arrived two years later! The shepherds got there on time, which says something about acting immediately and not taking the long way around to get where you need to be. Listen to your gut and go with it. Check, got it.

I've given myself the perfect gift for this season. Time to stop and think. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Dec. 20

Today would have been my dad's 90th birthday. While we miss him and all our family members who have moved on, going about their Father's business, we refuse to be sad. He left us with wonderful memories of a happy childhood, as did my Beloved's parents and my mom. What a blessing that is, to know as a kid that you are loved and will always be protected and guided by those who are raising you. My Beloved and I are beyond fortunate.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Good Excuse

I'm on the downward side of a judging stint for a best book in a genre I can't name, and it's been a job to keep up with the reading load. I'm down to the final book, and in a way, I'm glad I still have one to go. I now have a totally legitimate excuse to plunk down with a book and wave off any other distractions, such as 1) wrapping gifts 2) cleaning the house 3) watering the tree (my beloved is very good about this, but I worry about spontaneous combustion and the like, even though we've never had a Christmas tree catch on fire).

I would like to say all the cookies are deccorated and the fruitcake marinating, but that would be a lie.

What cookies?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Writing through the holidays...

Or not-writing, as the case may be. Every year, I swear the extra holiday work load won't cut too deeply into the writing time. I do more online ordering of gifts. Instead of decorating two trees, I do one.  I decline extra outside commitments of my time. I try to hoard my creative energy. Somehow, it never quite works.  I'm always flat-out and just plain frazzled when I stare at my WIP. 

I love Christmas. Love decorating for it. Love the lights, hearing carols (although it's getting old when they start blaring in stores before Halloween). Finally, I have to admit that I'm a willing participant in the whole Christmas shtick. That's the bottom line, so I'm willing to take the hit where the writing is concerned. Is this a major flaw? I've come to the conclusion, it isn't. All the decorating, etc., gives me pleasure. Admittedly, I could trim back. In fact, I have. A lot. But some of my happiest Christmas memories are of being up at 1 a.m. Christmas morning, trying to finish sewing Indian Princess costumes for the children, with matching dresses for their American Girl dolls. 

So if the writing dips into the non-existent zone for a month, so be it. I'm not going to give up these few weeks of fun and family. Next year, though, I won't agree to judge a book contest that has a January 15 deadline!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Virginia Tech redux

I was going to discuss Darian Grubb's future, (as if I know what's going on, but hey, I think Stewart done him wrong). Then yesterday happened, and my heart did that scary jumpy thing and I thought I was going to throw up when the guy who is refinishing the oak floors said, "Say, did you hear about the shooting at Virginia Tech? Two dead, they think."

I was immediately back to 2006 when my daughter, a freshman at VT, called to say she was okay after a man shot two men in uniform and took off for the campus. I hyperventilated a lot, decided I would let her stay there, and calmed down. I'm even proud of myself for not jumping in the car and hauling a** for the school so I could stand, spread-eagle, in front of my child to protect her from all harm, real and imagined.

I can't even think of April 16, 2007, without getting upset.  My daughter, guided by angel thoughts, left her classroom and went off- campus, leaving her backpack, keys, and books by her desk chair, ten minutes before Cho began his mass killing spree. Those hours when I didn't hear from her (all lines in and out were jammed) were filled with sheer terror as her dad and I listened to reports on the TV, watched the police standing outside Norris Hall while gunfire was going on inside, and just barely held it together. Her high school teachers called. Friends called from all over the country. A friend, a former police officer and detective from California, told me everything the campus police did wrong. And I could barely speak for the fear clotting my throat. I called her sister, in college 45 minutes down the road, and asked her to drive to Tech and get her sister out of there. She couldn't. The highway was blocked for emergency vehicles. Ambulances.

I thought I'd put it behind me. Then yesterday happened, and I found myself back in those terrible minutes of 2007, and praying like crazy for everyone involved. A father of five. A deranged gunman. A beautiful, peaceful mountain university once more rocked by senseless violence.

This must stop. Evil has no place in a school filled with a diverse, bright, and vibrant student body and faculty. Evil does not have the upper hand. 

Darian Grubb is a VT graduate, as is my daughter. Yes, she stayed and graduated with honors. She still loves her school, its campus. Love is the only power I know of that can fight such evil.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Old diaries

I never kept one. The idea just doesn't appeal to me. I know writers who use journaling as a useful writing tool, but for me, the small details of my very quiet, boring life just don't work as a springboard to creativity.Besides, I don't want my children reading an old diary and thinking "Golly, mom was so boring.". I think I have them fooled right now, so I need to preserve the illusion.

In clearing my dad's house, I found a diary kept by his brother during his years as a cadet at West Point. His brother was killed in 1952 in Korea, so I have no idea why it didn't go to his widow. I'm guessing she returned it to my grandmother after she remarried. Anyway, it's pretty boring stuff. Mostly, he lists what subjects he studied, exam grades, PE activities, and the names of movies he saw. Girls are sprinkled in here and there, including one named Jeanne Anderson. Jeanne, if you are still with us, I want you to know you looked really, really hot in that one-shouldered black ball gown. And he was crazy about you for at least a month.

With electronic communication dominating our connections with each other, we don't leave written records to be passed down to our heirs. Letters my grandmother, then my father, saved from her dead son still exist for us to read today. They're certainly not earth shattering, but they come from a long-gone place and time. I have enjoyed "hearing" from the uncle I never knew. I think I'll keep them, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


A local shopping mall, I learned to my horror, used a tracking program to trace their Black Friday shoppers via their cell phones. They say, after what I assume was an attack of mini-sanity, that they won't use it again until they give shoppers an opt-out other than turning off their phones. If I'd known this was happening while I was shopping, you can bet I'd have knocked, loudly, on management's door. Or organized a protest where everyone in the mall turned off their phones. Alas, I neither knew about it nor was I a shopper there.

Then again, I have to wonder how many people cared they were being tracked? Most people are only annoyed at airport security because of the delays. However, after my last flight where the TSA woman fondled my breasts (yes, I explained I was wearing an underwire bra but it was hardly big enough to be classied as a lethal weapon), I haven't flown since. Nor will I. It's my choice, and while I love flying, I won't surrender my rights to be protected from an unlawful search.

Do we really not care about protecting the rights of the individual? Fewer and fewer of us do. The argument that the greater good of society outweighs the rights of one person is one civilized societies have struggled with for ages. If you are that one person whose rights are abrogated, I'll bet your answer is clear and emphatic. But when it's the other guy, the weirdo, the shirtless kid with the Sixth Amendment written on his chest in the airport security line who causes a delay as he's arrested, then how do you feel?

A mall using technology to track shoppers sounds harmless enough. Bu what if you don't want anyone to know you visited Victoria's Secrets? Or the shop that sells sex toys? They don't know it's YOU, is the argument. But how long before they do?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I hope you all had a wonderful and thanks filled day. Ours starts with church, and it's my favorite part of the day. Then we went for a long walk before the cooking. With all hands on deck, the kitchen work went quickly. Eating was the final event of the day, and I have to say, we outdid ourselves. It's the one day we eat together. What a treat.

We all talk about the books we're reading, and this year's favorite question was "if you were asked to pose with your favorite book for a poster, what would it be?" Youngest child chose THE WASTELAND, elder one picked HATCHETT by Gary Paulson, and I chose, of course, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. My beloved had a hard time with his, since he hates playing favorites. Beth, who was joining us for dinner, said Jane Austen's PERSUASION fit her well. All good books and worthy of a poster each.

Great book talk, wonderful food, and many reasons for gratitude. What a perfect day.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


What a stunning word. Including everything we have doesn't meet its full import. Abundance implies even more than we need, a surfeit of good, an overflowing of riches of all kinds.  It's a wonderful word we don't often associate with our lives.

We should. How many of us have more than we need of most everything.  If you think about your life, you can probably look back (and forward with expectation and joy!) to times when you were filled to the brim with whatever it was you needed, material or spiritual, at that time. I know I have.  We say in our house that complaint is poverty.  Stifling the niggling little bothers in our everyday lives leads us to acknowledge and appreciate all we have that is good.  It's a lesson I learn again and again, and one day, I hope to get it right and stay rooted and grounded in love.

My gratitude for all the good in the world is deep and unfeigned. We just have to open our eyes and see it.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Even though I started out as an English major, I switched to art history when it came time to declare. I think it was the story that the art told that attracted me at first, and then I was in awe of the talent and creativity of the artists. They did something I couldn't - they conveyed a story without words. Plus, I love to look at beauty. Botticelli's beautiful hands, Vermeer's luminescence, Giacometti's strange, haunted figures, looking as if they rose from the ashes of a dying world.

Even today, art galleries and museums call to me. I'm so grateful to live where I can see art, good art, right where I live.

Saturday, November 19, 2011


Today's gratitude covers the incredible advances society has made in technology. We went to see ANONYMOUS last night and liked it very much.I found it to be a commentary on artistic drive and the price paid by those who can't do anything but succumb to it. And that true art is politcal. All interesting ideas. But what really struck me was how difficult it was to communicate. You had to send a rider with a note, and the recepient could be several days' ride away. Entertainment? Two thousand people squished into a mosh pit to see a play. Writing by quill by candlelight.

It all seems very romantic until you have to do it. I'm so happy to be living in an age where technology is cool, advancements occur daily, and they further mankind. No Luddite here. I love hearing music through a high tech speaker as small as my palm, watching hi def TV, and surfing the Internet. Plus, I can't wait to see what comes next.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More Gratitude

Today's thanks goes out to all those teachers who go above and beyond. I've been blessed to pull more than my share, and I know my kids have, too. Billie Burke, who taught senior English in Turkey, gave me my love of Shakespeare. I thought everyone was enthralled sitting through forty different productions of Hamlet, until my daughter wondered why you'd see the same play twice. "The words never change!" she exclaimed, much to my horror. What, why hadn't she been bitten by the Shakespeare bug? The difference, I figured, was the teacher.

Frances Niederer made me pay attention to details. The big picture was fine, but if the details were wrong, it wasn't worth diddly. Richard Dillard provided a safe, nurturing creative envirnonment for all his students. I could go on and on, because every teacher who tries to do the best job possible deserves more than thanks.

How fortunate I've been in my education.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Gratitude #3: Books

Well, what did you expect from a writer?  Lord have mercy, if I'd been born in a time and age without books and literacy that made sure girls learned to read, I'd have checked out early.  Books have always been beside my bed, on my desk, in my bag, under chairs, piled on name it, there's not a part of my physical environment that isn't book-touched.  When I find a good book (goodness gracious, my heart skips a beat at the thought), there's no putting it down.  It doesn't happen often, but when it does, I have to tell everyone to read it. I buy it for friends and family. I tout its virtues from the roof top.  And when the stack is getting pretty low grade, I return to favorites like Pride and Perjudice, Sylvester or the Wicked Uncle by Georgette Heyer, Falling Woman by Pat Murphy.  I never tire of some books, some authors. The early James Lee Burke Robicheaux novels, some of them, fall into the never-boring category, too.

As you can tell, I'm an eclectic reader. I cross genres with ease.  It's all about the characters, the plot, and the writing for me. The voice, if it grabs me right off the bat, will help carry a not-so-great story, and I'll stick with it.  What a wonderful world we live in, where books are readily and easily available. Thank goodness for libraries, the last bastion of the First Amendment. Mucho gusto for ebooks and cheap paperbacks.  Great gratitude for friends who swap books and recommendations.

I'm eternally grateful to be a woman in a society where books abound, and good books are not the exception, but the rule. Where women can read and not break the law by doing so.  Where women are the literacy-pushers of the young. (How many male librarians did you know when you were growing up?)

Books rule, and not reading drools, to paraphrase one of my daughter's favorite (very youthful) sayings about the difference between the sexes.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More gratitude

I've been thinking about this for the past 24 (not nonstop...), and there's so much I take for granted for which I am deeply, humbly thankful. Big picture here, but this country is amazing. If you have ever lived in a place where Christian church structures are forbidden by law, let me tell you, it's not fun. Freedom of religion is fundamental to happiness, and especially the option to attend services in public at your denomination of choice. In reading an article about the colonial days of Williamsburg, I was surprised to read that one of the Gettys, I think he made firearms, was fined for not attending the required-by-law Sunday service at Bruton Parish. When you think about the start of our nation, you just assume people were free to worship when and how they preferred. Not so. Religious freedom was a big step out of the past. Thank you once more, Mr. Jefferson. So today, I'm expressing my gratitude for the freedom to attend (or not, depending on your beliefs) in public a house of worship of choice.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


What a powerful force for good. Not just a simple, verbal thank-you for a service provided (though that's important too), but a heartfelt, almost prayerful, sometimes unspoken, thanks for blessings received, blessings given.  From now until Thanksgiving, I'm going to choose one thing I'm extremely grateful for in my life, and give thanks.  Hopefully, it will become a habit, and I'll find a reason every single day to stop and say "wow, I am so blessed because . . . "

Today's expression of thanks: for my family. Loving, supportive, funny, kind, giving, and the kind of people of I would choose for friends if we weren't already related. I am more than grateful these people are in my life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What's the difference?

I write mysteries. Red herrings (love that visual - where did it arise, anyway?), lots of possible suspects, all kinds of twisted paths, lead the reader to a hopefully logical ending, where s/he can say "But of course he's the killer!". Those mysteries that drag a killer out of thin air, a character who doesn't appear until the last chapter, drive me nuts. But it has always seemed to me that the joy of a mystery happens as the reader follows the clues along with the fictional sleuth. Then voila! (Not viola, as in the musical instrument, but the French word that the iPad doesn't accent for me.) The crime is solved!

Thrillers, on the other hand, need a known bad guy right up front. The reader is made well aware of the level of danger involved in stopping this evil. Stakes are high, because the readers, along with the protagonists, are biting their nails, praying the evil they understand is out there won't succeed. Often, the protagonist's fear and dread are aggrandized as the reader is sucked into the driving need to stop the baddies. When the reader knows the consequences of failure as well as the protagonists, you have a thriller.

Sure, mysteries can be tense nailbiters. Will the unknown bad guy strike again? They can also be more leisurely, character studies dipped in a poisoned pen. Or they can be cozies, with humor and silliness. Thrillers, though, are never funny or cute. They are driven by action and the need to stop the known enemy.

That's my take on the difference between the two genres. What's yours?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More Shock/Elections

I just found out it costs $20,000 to file to run for the office of state senator in my home state. What ever happened to democracy being free and open to all (legal) comers? A filing fee that steep sure discourages anyone but the wealthy from trying for state office.

I'm really upset. Here I am, a regular voter and follower of local and national politics, and I had NO idea that this stupid fee hinders office-seekers without deep pockets.

It's not right. I'm going to have to do something about it. Letter writing campaign, here I come.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Horse Memories

I was working through my father's filing cabinets (he never saw a piece of paper he didn't have to save!), and found old newspaper clippings.  A 1938 copy of the Roosevelt Rough Rider high school paper was a real gem. Anyway, I was reading old clippings, trying to figure out why he saved them, and there were the usual investing advice columns, how to protect your identity online, how to graft fruit trees, how to save your bees from hive rot (no kidding), and a ton of how-to articles. My dad figured he would do anything if he read up first, LOL. And he was right.

In between all these how-to articles were some clippings from the Leavenworth, Kansas, newspaper about horse shows at Ft.Leavenworth. My 15 and a half hand Quarter horse mare and I showed in novice hunt classes (we were both beginners),and dad saved every single article where our names were listed. She was a flashy red roan with four white stockings and a white blaze down her face, and let me tell you, she was as sassy as her coloring. A true redhead in temperament. We were quite a pair, I can assure you. Most of all, we had fun. What more can you ask for when you're a teenager?

I began reading the lists of event winners, and remembered quite a few names. Of the horses, that is, LOL. They stuck in my brain long after the names of their riders/owners.  One of them, Box Canyon, was an elegant, long-legged bay thoroughbred mare who was the dream of every rider in Kansas. She floated over jumps, had exquisite manners, and made any rider look wonderful. All you needed was quiet hands and a light touch, and she won. Everything.

Today I can see that learning the ropes with a young horse was perfect for a young girl. We mastered our skills together, if it can be said we mastered anything. Probably not a lot. We both loved a flat-out gallop, and I still remember the time we raced down the edge of the small air field, hit the earthen barrier at the end, she swerved left, and the saddle flew off to the right, taking me with it. I certainly checked my cinch after that!

Those horse-memories will be with me forever. They were alien creatures with incredible beauty and complicated natures.  And I still wish I'd gotten to ride Box Canyon, just once.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Anniversaries of Sorts

I like the French word for birthday. Anniversaire. I think I remembered its correct spelling. As a mom, I really think birthdays should be extravagant parties thrown on behalf of she who looked like a whale for nine months, then pushed that piano through a transom window. (My husband's description, not mine, LOL.) The kids get their parties when they're adults and parents.

Having just celebrated my own piano-through-the-transom day, I was mulling over things I still want to do in this lifetime. The list isn't long or extravagant, which surprised the heck out of me. Guess I have already knocked a lot of goodies off, which means I'm a happy girl by any standards. However, these few remain.

1. I want to see where the Battle of Greasy Grass was fought. Don't care a lot about the Custer monument, but I really want to see the terrain where the Sioux beat the tar out of the 7th Cavalry.

2. Learn to play the piano. I'll probably be awful, but what fun to create your own music.

3. Raft the Colorado. Speed on white water, oh yeah.

4. Take stock car driving lessons. End goal? Hitting the track over 100 mph. Or faster.

That's the list for today. All do-able. I'd better get cracking!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Nascar and Kyle

Nascar has to decide if it's Big Daddy or a business. Maybe the two are the same, but I don't think so. Kyle Busch lost his temper Friday night and slammed Ron Hornaday into the wall, nose first. Not the first time this has happened, won't be the last, and Kyle will probably do it again someday. If he keeps his job.

Seems to me it's up to the sponsor to decide who represents its brand. Gun might be a better fit for Kyle than M&Ms after Friday, but you know what? Let the Mars Company decide the punishment. Allow the other drivers to take care of Kyle's behavior. Believe me, they will.

I was much more upset when Carl Edwards flipped Brad Keselowski last year. That was more than scary, with the car ending upside down after it stopped doing barrel rolls through the air. What happens to Crazy Carl? Put on probation, the naughty boy, even after he said the hit was deliberate retaliation. Haven't liked the dude since. I vote with my purse and will never buy a single product from any of his sponsors.

There are ways to punish drivers who act like brats. The public and the sponsors do a pretty good job of it.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

What the heck is going on?

I'm not an "occupy" fan. I don't study the issues these protestors avow, but I do know one thing. It's very American to hold group protests. Where would we be without all those rowdy Revolutionaries dumping tea in the Boston harbor? So when I see pictures (taken by a reporter who was arrested on a sidewalk because the police told him to stop with the camera...uh, excuse me. Are you kidding?) of the police arresting protestors at 1 a.m., I get really upset.

In the middle of the night the authorities conduct a roust? I'm aghast. What's next? The protestors get locked up and held incommunicado and without legal counsel? Oh wait, that happens in Cuba, not America. While it may seem far fetched, it's a slippery slope when you don't think it's a big deal that a few protestors get locked up.

We should all be outraged.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Big Picture - Halloween Story 2011

Every year, I try to post a (slightly) scary story for your holiday pleasure. Enjoy!

Halloween 2011


            Everyone has a childhood monster story.  There are the little yellow men with sharp knives who live under your bed and come out at night to slice your ankles to ribbons if you have to get up to go to the bathroom. Or maybe you were terrorized by huge furry creatures who popped out of your toy box when your parents were sound asleep. Creatures of the night have terrorized children for hundreds of years.  Most of us outgrow the bone-numbing fear.  Some of us don’t.

            Jean was one of those who didn’t. I’d ask her why she was half-dead at work, and she’d give me one of those martyred smiles that women perfect, and I could tell she wanted me to drag it out of her, but to be honest, I wasn’t too interested. Because we shared a cubicle, I tried to be friendly and interested in her personal life, but I don’t have too much in common with a married mother of two boys under the age of four.  Bachelorhood suits me just fine, and if I’m dragging my ass into the office on Monday morning, it’s because I spent the weekend with a hot hook-up and imbibed a bit too much of the cheap stuff.   Jean’s husband sounded like a lazy monster himself, from the way she talked about how he never helped her around the house or with the boys, and I always figured she looked like hell because she was taking care of three babies over the weekend, not just the two who really were. Some monsters are real, and they don’t come out only at night. Some, you marry.

            She was pretty once, I guessed from looking at the wedding photo she kept on her desk, beside the color pictures of her kids when they were in the hospital nursery, all red and faces screwed up like they were constipated.  Brown hair that was once long, but now cut short and not very well, and a nice figure if you liked women without boobs, didn’t have a chance on Jean, with the huge circles under her eyes.   In the year we shared office space, she got skinnier by the month, and I just assumed it was because she never had time to eat, given the pressures of our jobs and the double load she carried at home.

            I know it sounds like I was interested in Jean, but really, I was just a head with two ears who half-listened when she needed someone to dump her complaints about her family crap.  We never socialized after work, since she wasn’t into the bar scene, and our projects always got finished at the office. So we were colleagues, I guess is the definition of our relationship, which really wasn’t one.

            That’s why I was surprised when she didn’t show up for work for one solid week.  We were busier than heck, and she was always good at the detail work, which meant I had to do double duty.  I tried to not resent her absence, but she knew we were on a deadline here, and she could at least have taken some of the work home to do while she was lying around drinking her herbal teas and sucking down vitamins like candy.

            The big project deadline is my excuse for burying my head in computer programs and not taking the time to find out what was really going on.  When our boss, Kev, dropped the bomb about her missing kid, I was like, totally shocked. 

            “They go to day care, how can one of them be missing?”  I knew that much, at least.

            “The husband said the youngest got snatched out of his bed in the middle of the night, when he called to explain why Jean wouldn’t be in.  The one and a half year old. The three year old saw it, said it looked like a big black blob was standing over the baby’s crib, so the police are coming the area.”

            “Sheesh, I’m sorry to hear that.  Do they have any leads?”  I sounded like a bad Dragnet actor.

            Kev shook his head. “It’s crazy. No fingerprints, no DNA, nothing to find the guy.  Even the Boy Scouts are out there.  Don’t you watch the news?”

            “Not if I can help it.”  I glanced at Jean’s desk, at the pictures of the ugly, red baby faces.  “Any idea when she’ll be back?”

            Kev shook his head. “She’s totally in pieces, according to her husband. May be a while. I’ll pull Rocco from the other team to help you out.”

            “Don’t do that,” I protested. “He’ll just slow me down.  I can pull this out, just keep everyone away from me for the rest of the week.”

            Kev made good on his promise, and I cranked out the final program and got it off to our client without too many hitches.  Since I had the weekend free, I figured I’d go to Jean’s house, make an appearance, a few sympathetic noises, and try to scope out when she’d be returning to the office.  I didn’t expect what I found.

            Jean and her family lived in an older neighborhood filled with huge oaks and cracked sidewalks.  Some of the bungalows hadn’t had much done to maintain them, but Jean’s looked pretty nice. Bright yellow paint, white wooden rockers on the front porch.  Right now, they were filled with neighbors, their butts planted on the rocker seats as they blew their noses and rubbed their gloved hands in the cold.

            “Jean in?” I asked from the bottom step.

            An older woman wearing a really ugly blue knitted hat that she should have thrown away thirty years ago, nodded.  “Who’re you?  Only police and family allowed inside. Jim’s orders.”

            “I work with Jean. She’ll want to see me. Grayson Whiting.  Tell her I’m here.”  I was pretty sure she would. Then I’d feel like I’d done the right thing, and I could have a nice weekend after all. “Please.” I added as an afterthought.

            The Blue Hat Biddy stared at me through black framed glasses and after glancing at her fellow cronies, who gave her reluctant nods, she stood up and went into the house.  I could hear her lock the front door behind her. What did she think I was going to do, storm through after her?

            Jean appeared at the front door, and boy howdy, was she a mess.  “Gray, come in, please. I’m so sorry I didn’t call and explain in person, but I’m so glad you’re here.”  Grabbing my arm, she hauled me into the front room.

            Even though it had big windows facing the porch, no light  could penetrate the gloom caused by the pulled curtains. Everything smelled stale and musty, and I could see dust on the coffee table, even though it was piled with Styrofoam cups and plates with half-eaten donuts.

            “Sorry for the mess,” she fussed, shoving aside a blanket and some pillows crumpled on the sofa.  “Have a seat. Please. It’s so nice to see someone who isn’t the police.  They think we did it, you know, killed our baby. They’re here nonstop, asking us the same questions over and over, and I said I’d take a lie detector test, but they said it wouldn’t help find Stevie, and we had to tell them where we put his body.”  

            Any hold she had over herself melted as she crashed into my chest, clearly expecting a comforting set of arms. After a few tentative pats, I gave up and held her as she soaked my jacket with snot and tears.  At that moment, I was so grateful I wasn’t married, I could have sworn off sex forever.

            “Where’s your husband?”  I was looking for someone to take over who knew what to do better than I did.  “Um, Jim, right?”

            She reared back. “The bastard says he’s out looking, but I know what he’s up to. He’s just pretending.  He knows where Grayson is, I just know it.  He never believed me when I told him about the attic.  Now there’s proof, and he won’t let me tell anyone.  Oh God,” she wailed loudly, scrunching my good Burberry jacket in her hands, “it took him. I know it did.”

            I waited for her to dump more of her craziness, but she was sobbing so hard, she couldn’t speak.  Taking her shoulders, I gave her a little shake.

            “Jean, you’ve got to hold it together.”  I had a flash of inspiration.  “For the sake of your other boy.  He’s around, right?”

            “My mother took him home so he wouldn’t get snatched too.  I’m going to kill that bastard, he wouldn’t nail the closet door shut, no, not when I told him what I’d seen as a kid when my family lived here.  This was my grandparent’s house, and I spent the night with them when I was little, sometimes a whole weekend, and I knew what lived in the attic. I saw it, but I screamed, and it ran away. I was older than Stevie, though, and he was too young to cry out before it snatched him.”  Louder wailing. Oh great.

            This was getting too creepy for me. She needed drugs, serious ones at that.  “Do you have a doctor?” I asked loudly, so she’d hear me over the sobbing.  “You need something to calm you down, and I’ll be glad to pick up the prescription.”

            “Screw that,” she snapped, all white fury and red eyes. “Tell them, tell the police about the monster in the attic. Please. Maybe they’ll listen to you.  You’re not a suspect.”  She began hiccupping, she was weeping so hard.

            I didn’t know what to say to calm her down, other than “Okay.”  I finally disentangled myself and let myself out the front door.  The Blue Hat Biddy and her cronies stared at me as if I were a child snatcher.

            “She needs help,” I offered, hoping they’d take over where I’d left off. “Anyone know her doctor’s name?”

            “She’s not crazy,” Blue Hat Biddy snapped. “Everyone knows the monster has lived here for centuries.  Her grandparents finally believed her, and they moved out.  But her cheapskate of a husband said they had to live here because it was free, and poor Jean has slept with the kids every night since they came home from the hospital. Did her jackass of a worthless husband help keep watch?” The glares of the tree women grew uglier, and my manhood was feeling threatened.  I crossed my hands in Adam Pose Number One in front of my crotch.

            “I don’t know what to say.” I really didn’t. Insanity seemed to run in the neighborhood. “If there was a problem with the house, and I’m not saying there is, why didn’t Jean leave with the kids?”

            “She was going to go.  The weekend the baby was snatched.  She said she could hear the monster pacing, and she knew it was getting ready because it hadn’t had a baby in a long time.  The people who lived here before Jean’s grandparents, they lost their only boy to it.  We found out later he didn’t die of SIDS, like they told everyone.”  Blue Hat Biddy wiped a tear of her own with her gloved hand. “I was just a girl back then, and my mother told me to stay out of this house.  She knew.”

            Mass hysteria had a longer shelf life than I imagined it could.  “Okay, well, Jean needs some serious medical help, and if you won’t call a doctor, I’ll get an ambulance here.  She’s falling apart, and it’s not going to get better.”  I’m a good big picture person, which is why Jean and I worked so well together. I knew I’d never get her back on my team, not for a long time, but I owed her something for all her hard work. The least I could do was get her medical help.

            I pulled out my cell and started to dial 911 when Blue Hat Biddy smacked it out of my hands. It bounced on the cracked walkway and the screen shattered.  I couldn’t help it, I almost grabbed her by the throat. “That cost $700, and I expect you to pay for it!” I yelled.

            “Screw you and your phone. You want to help Jean, get into the attic.  The police went up there, and they said they couldn’t find anything.  Jean’s too emotional to see what’s there because she doesn’t want to, and her so-called husband won’t.”

            “You go,” I snapped, scooping up the remnants of my expensive and very cool phone. I was more than angry.  “I’m outta here.”

            “We can’t,” Blue Hat explained as if I were an idiot who didn’t know what two times two equaled. “It knows us. It’ll hide. You’re a stranger.  You might catch it.”

            “The police are strangers. Why can’t they catch it?”

            “It’s hidden from the authorities all its life.  For over a hundred years. It can smell a uniform a mile away.  Please, do this for Jean. She deserves to know what’s happened to her baby, so she can finally leave this horrible house with her other little boy. She won’t go as long as she knows her baby is up there with that monster.” Blue Hat Biddy grabbed my arms and clung like a drowning woman.  “You’re the first person who isn’t police to come here and get inside. Jean won’t let any of us in.”

            I shook my head. “No way. I’m not getting in the middle of this.”

            “Please. Do it for the sake of a woman who needs to bury her child.”

            The other two women, eyes reproachful, joined Blue Hat Biddy in surrounding me.  I was either going to have to knock them over, and probably break their fragile bones in the process, or do as the old woman asked. 

            “Oh hell.”  I was stuck and I knew it. I couldn’t hurt a woman, especially an old one who could have been my great-grandmother. “Okay, get me back inside.”

            I’d run up to the attic, stir up some dust, tell Jean her baby wasn’t stashed in the rafters, and leave.  My brownie points with the Big Guy upstairs were adding up, I hoped, even though I wasn’t sure the Big Guy even existed.

            Blue Hat and her cronies approached the front door and Jean let them in. A few minutes later, Jean came to the door and reached out her hands for me, her eyes even redder than when I’d left her a few seconds ago.  I really wished I’d gone to Hooters instead of Jean’s, but I said I’d do this thing, so I had to do it. Then maybe I could call an ambulance for Jean and my conscience would be clear. Only my phone was now destroyed.

            “Where are the police?” I asked Blue Hat as she took my elbow and steered me into the house as if she was afraid I’d bolt.  “Shouldn’t they have left someone here in case a kidnapper calls?

            “They don’t think it’s a kidnapping. They said they had to coordinate the search, but that just means they’re idiots who can’t see what’s right in front of them. We told them, all of us, when they wouldn’t believe Jean.”

            I was starting to understand Jean’s husband a little better. He’d probably had enough of this crap, too.

            “Okay, let’s get this over with. How do I get into the attic?”

            “Are you sure? It’s so dangerous.  It might try for you, though historically, it only takes children.”  Blue Hat looked at me as if I wasn’t strong enough to fight my way out of a paper bag.

            “I do Pilates, I’m stronger than I look.” Plus, Pilates classes are a great place to pick up hot chicks.  I wished I was in one right now.

            “He’s the only person I trust.”  Jean managed to calm down enough to speak.  “He’s a good man, and he’ll see the truth.”

            I don’t know where she got her confidence except out of a bottle of delusion, but I was ready to get this over with.  They led me to a closet in one of the rooms via some creaking stairs.  A door inside the closet lead to the attic, I assumed.  All four women backed away and I put my hand on the door knob. 

            “If I don’t come back, call the cops, right?”  I was joking, but they looked so stricken, I was sorry I’d said anything so glib.

            I could tell an army had been up those narrow stairs, just from all the disturbed dust.  At the top of the steps, I had to duck my head to crawl into the attic itself.  It couldn’t have been any larger than ten by fourteen, and nothing had been stored there in a while.  A quick glance showed me nothing but a dark and empty space.

            I was just about to duck back down the stairs when a slight shift in one corner caught my attention.  The air shimmered and for a second, I thought light was leaking through from the second floor, between the rafters.  Then it was like a movie, where all these tiny bits of black swirl around and suddenly, voila, there’s a solid shape. Usually an alien or something like that.

            I wanted to run, but I couldn’t. It was as if my hands and feet had been nailed to the rafters.  Tugging as hard as I could, I couldn’t get free.

            The bits of black changed colors, and a man, crouched over, his head lifted and eyes on me, glared.  I couldn’t have screamed if I’d been offered a million bucks.  I couldn’t look away, either.  With a shock, I realized the form glaring at me resembled Jean’s husband, the man in the wedding picture on her desk.

            “Tell her I said I’d get her.  She thought she was so smart, when she was a little girl.  Then she believed she could save her children from me.  They never win, these mothers.  I always take what I want.  Tell her the boy was mine from the minute he was born.”

            I understood every word, even though his mouth didn’t move.  I wanted to ask him if he was Jean’s husband, but I figured he was as crazy as she, and between the two of them, I was in trouble if I stirred the pot.  I nodded, because that was all I could do.

            “Go.  Don’t come back.  If she leaves this house, the boy dies.  He’s mine now, and I will do with him as I want. She knew the risk when she moved in here.”

            I prayed the police would come running when I called them to arrest the son of a bitch.  Any father who’d kill his own kid was dog food, as far as I was concerned.  After giving me one more sneer, the man disappeared.  I figured he had a hidey hole he used, and I hadn’t been seeing anything more than a sick bastard who tormented his family.  Jean needed a divorce lawyer more than she needed a doctor.

            Backing down the attic stairs as soon as I could move, I tried not to shake with the anger I felt.  The three older women huddled around Jean, their protective stance both heart rending and silly. They couldn’t save her from a marriage to a sicko.

            “Your husband took him,” I blurted, grabbing Jean’s arm to pull her away from the women. “Call the cops, they have to arrest him. I don’t know how he gets up there and out so fast, but he’s your monster.”

            Jean started shaking, every inch of her vibrating.  “You saw my husband up there?”

            “In the flesh.  I’m telling you, he’s your monster.”  I wiped the attic grime from my hands on the front of my jeans, feeling dirty inside and out. How could someone so sick manage to marry a normal, ordinary woman like Jean, much less father two children by her?

            Blue Hat Biddy hauled Jean into her arms and gave me that killer look again.  “You don’t need to make up stories.  Jim has been in the police interrogation room all morning. They came by at eight this morning to get him.  He called twenty minutes ago to tell Jean to get him a lawyer down there.”

            My stomach heaved. “I’m not lying. I saw him, the man in the wedding picture on your desk, Jean.”

            Her closed eyes opened, and she looked into mine with infinite sadness and resignation.  “I believe you.  It can look like whatever you want it to resemble.  It has Stevie, and I know what I have to do.”

            “No!” The three women threw themselves at the door leading to the attic stairs. Though elderly, they looked pretty formidable to me.

            “I’ve always known. I just didn’t have the courage.  Thank you.”  She squeezed my hand before she charged the door.  “It wants me. Maybe it’ll give Stevie back if it gets me.”

            A force stronger than any hurricane blew the door open and scattered the three biddies and me onto our asses and back into the bedroom.  Running, Jean threw herself at the stairs, and as she landed on the first steps, the door smacked shut behind her.  I was pretty stunned, but those old ladies scrambled for the door quicker than women half their ages.  No matter how hard they tugged and jerked on the handle, the door stayed shut.

            A phone rang downstairs.  I left the women still trying to pry open the attic door, and figured I’d use the phone to call both the police and an ambulance. Jean had snapped for good, I was sure of it.

            I picked up the phone, ready to tell whoever was there to hang up so I could make an emergency call.  Instead, I listened as an excited man screamed into my ear.

            “We found him, the little boy! Tell Jean he’s safe, they’re taking him to St. Catherine’s Hospital to check him out, she can meet him there!”

            I hung up the phone without saying anything.  I knew before I ascended the stairs to the second floor that the attic door would open and that we wouldn’t find any trace of Jean up there.

            Unfortunately, I was right. I did as the three old women ordered and kept my mouth shut about what had happened in the attic. 

            No one but they would have believed me, anyway.



Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Life and Interruptions

Still dealing with stuff. You know how it goes. Life shifts, you think it's an earthquake, but it's really just a normal slip in the tectonic plates.  You adjust, you clear the debris, you think you are doing just fine.  Then you do something stupid, like leaving your iPad in a hotel room many hours from home, and you know you're not yourself, not yet. Time races by faster than the proverbial sand through the hour glass, and each day speeds by more and more quickly. Jumping off the speeding bullet is my next goal.We writers need hours for thinking and working, solitude that feeds the inner vision.  It will come, I tell myself.

BTW, major props to the Best Western hotel for calling about the iPad and promising to put it on a UPS truck that day, even before I realized it was missing.  I will be back, I promise.  Nice people, and honest to boot. Can't ask for more.

In between all the estate legal work and the house-clearing, I'm trying to get back to working on a Kindle version of BELIEVE IN ME, a mystery set on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in Virginia.  Love this story of the clash between the traditional Native American and the modern (white) way of dealing with murder and death. My heroine is caught between two worlds, and she's really not ready to leave her high-powered job in the white world until two family members die on the Reservation, and she's the next target. Hope to have it finished by the end of next month, at the latest.

Hang in there, I tell myself.  The dust will settle soon, literally and figuratively.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Lauren Myracle

Lauren Myracle is my kind of lady. If you have been following the brouhaha about her book, SHINE, showing up on the National Book Award list for Young Adult, you know she was asked to withdraw her novel from the short list of the final five books. Lauren is one of those writers who regularly ends up on the banned book list because she's unafraid of tackling tough topics. SHINE takes on the issue of bullied gay teenagers, as I understand it.

Without rancor or taking any potshots, Lauren did withdraw her book. When asked how the Committee could make it up to her, she requested a donation to the Matthew Shepherd Foundation. $5000 was sent in her honor.  Lauren said she'd much rather have the donation than any gold medal.

To say that good has resulted from a nasty situation is mildly put. Lauren says she has received unanimous support from other authors, and her book has received new publicity. For a writer, publicity is pure gold. I hope she goes on to write many more controversial books that speak to young people.

What a classy lady. She has my eternal admiration.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Death on the Track

I wasn't watching Sunday, but I heard, via Twitter, about Dan Weldon's death at Las Vegas on an oval track where Nascar races. It's horrible to realize a young man with two small children died in the cause of entertaining race fans. I tell myself he was a racer, that no one forced him into the driver's seat, that he knew the risks.

Doesn't help. While football players get injured, some seriously, and basketball players blow out knees, they don't die going 220 mph to collect a paycheck. I wonder if I'm enamoured with a sport that encourages the bloodthirsty and crashmomgers to cheer big wrecks. I will never understand how anyone can take joy in devastation suffered on the track, or the first time I watched as cars careened into safer barriers and each other. No, I'm not a wreck-lover.

Such a sad day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Creative types

A friend was telling me about a book that defined how creative people work. They want to play sports, not watch them, for example. Only blue collar types watch auto racing, because it takes no involvement of self.  Creative people, in other words, aren't Nascar fans.

You can imagine what I thought of that idea. Clearly, the NYC editors who let that one slide haven't a clue. Sitting next to us in Daytona one year during the season - opening race were lawyers and accountants from NYC. We were all wearing T-shirts emblazoned with our favorite drivers' numbers, hats with the same, and having a good ole time. Not a blue collar in the crowd. And if there were, so what? That doesn't mean you're not creative. The strategy of Nascar, the science of getting the car to handle for each track, the terrifying speeds of the racing, all make it not only fascinating, but a subject of endless study. 

Guess I won't be reading that book. We creative types have our own novels to write, between Nascar races.

Monday, October 10, 2011


When I was expecting, I'd go into super-nesting overdrive just before the baby came. I had the cleanest baseboards in town. You couldn't find a dust bunny if your life depended on it. It was hormonal, for sure, but it also presaged months of minimal housekeeping as we dealt with diapers, sleepless nights, and an altered focus. Life changed, big time.

Nothing was more important than that new baby.

I do the same thing before starting a new book. Major cleaning, dusting, organizing. The new book is like a new baby, all-consuming. Who cares about polishing silver when you're deep into another, fictional world. Crawling into real life takes a ton of effort, and when the book is going well, it's not worth expending the energy. You need to hoard the hours for this new baby, this creative work.

So let the small stuff go. Give that WIP your all. It's a process, and you don't want to miss a second of its new life.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


I declare, I am going to clear out files, toss all those clippings I hoard as if they're gold, and have a bon fire in the back yard with twenty-year-old tax files. Clearing out my dad's house has made me swear I won't do this to anyone else. Of course, I talk a good game. We'll see how brutal I really am with the old junk crammed into cabinets and desk drawers. I really get in trouble when I start reading what's in the files, and before you know it, I talk myself out of hitting the trash pile with the excess paper.

How do you know when to cut your manuscript? Whenever your attention wanders as you're
reading through it. It's as simple as that. You know you love rereading your own words. What could be better? So if you get bored, hit the delete key. Try reading it aloud to yourself. You'll hear the clunkers.

It's always better to do your own dirty work.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Rereading favs

A writer compatriot, Mona Ingram, wrote recently about the books she likes to reread. The Power of One is tops on her list, and I have to echo her praise. My list is shorter than Mona's, because I'm going on the names that come to mind without staring at my bookcase. Elkhorn Tavern, The Barefoot Brigade, Gone the Dreams and the Dancing by a retired army officer whose name escapes me, (Douglas C. Jones?) are wonderful. Lucia St. Clair Robson's Ride the Wind about Cynthia Anne Parker takes me to the Comanche plains every time. Pat Murphy's The Falling Woman is still tres cool (and won a Hugo, I think). Laura Kinsale's Flowers from the Storm, with a hero whose speech is taken by a stroke, never fails to amaze me.

Montana 1948 is a mastery of an innocent's voice telling a sordid tale. It reminds me of To Kill a Mockingbird. Hard trick to pull off, an adult story through a child's eyes.

Each book is an old friend I rediscover with joy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Good Man

I can think of no higher praise for a man than to say he was honorable, a good father, a loyal husband, and a devoted grandfather. My dad passed away on September 22, and we will miss him. But he lived a long and useful life, and that is more than enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Book up on Amazon! The Golden Door

Once I got over being cold, I got busy! THE GOLDEN DOOR, an historical romance, is now on Kindle's list on Amazon. I'm thrilled with the cover and the fact that this book I adore is available.  Golden Door is one of those books an author has to write, knowing full well it won't fit into any pigeon hole. So I wrote it and let it sit, not willing to risk my happiness in the finished product to the snarky comments of an editor or agent. (I know I'm being universally unfair. I never once heard anything even remotely resembling snarky from Gail Fortune when she was my editor.) But this book is/was special. A book of the heart always is.

The setting is the Ottoman Empire at the beginning of the 20th Century.  The hero, Winslow Ertegun, is half-Turkish, half-British, and a spy for the Sultan sent to find out why the new railroad crossing the country is taking so long to complete and is costing such huge sums of money, as well. The heroine, Hope Mountcastle, is on the run from her stuffy aunt's house in York, England, hoping to join her father on his current project in the wilds of Eastern Turkey. She wants nothing less than freedom from her corset and her prim and proper life.  Her father has been hired by the Germans to build a portion of a railroad across the Ottoman Empire, but he's been murdered before Hope can reach him.

Unaware her father is dead, Hope must resort to subterfuge to get to the railroad camp. Dressed as a mute Turkish boy, she's the caravan's cook's helper. Her disguise works only so long, however, and Winslow must marry her in a Muslim ceremony to preserve her reputation and chastity, promising her the ruse will last only until he delivers her to her father at the railroad camp.

All is far from well at the camp, and Hope and Win fall in love, fight for their lives, find Hope's father's killer, and return to Constantinople so Win can report the real status of what's happened with the railroad.  The world is on the brink of war, and politics have become a precarious way of life for a spy. Win fears for Hope in his anti-Western world, and sends her home to her aunt, promising to divorce her according to Muslim practices so she can get on with her life.  Only Hope doesn't want a divorce, but she doesn't want to add herself as another burden in Win's life, either.

The ending is happy, as is the norm for a romance, and blissfully so. I still sigh over it whenever I read it, and I'm quite the cynic.  A romance with murder, sensuality, politics, and a Muslim and Christian falling in love isn't your normal, everyday book, and I hope some of you will like it. Maybe even love it, as I do.
BTW, the cover art was done by Jessie Gemmer. Email me for contact information.

Friday, September 16, 2011

It's Cold Outside!

I swore I'd dance naked in the streets if the summer heat ever broke, but I lied. It's too danged cold out for naked dancing! (Not to mention I'd scare the neighbors). We dropped 25 degrees in one day, and no one was prepared. Well, I wasn't. I like to ease into these things. A couple of degrees here and there works just fine, kinda like shuffling into the cold waves by inches. The bright side is that snuggle weather is here for the weekend, at least. No more lying on top of the sheets, wishing the air conditioning would make a dent in the aching humidity.

I have to recommend Kiana Davenport's short stories. They're on Amazon for Kindle, and dirt cheap. In each story, I'm not only sucked into the stories, peopled with people so alive I feel they have breath, but I'm learning a lot about the art of the short story. Less really can be more. Give HOUSE OF SKIN a buy for 99 cents.

Oh, I was quoted by Nate Ryan in his USA Today article about Brad Keselowski's full day that culminated at RIR for a fan meet-and-greet. Hi, Nate!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Car v. Old Car

In our family, cars never leave.  Personally, I don't like to "break in" a new car, learn the dashboard, the feel of brakes, an engine, how it handles corners, etc. My cars become family members, and sometimes I even name them. Now and then, we finally sell a car because we're simply tired of driving it for years and years, and it's in great shape, but it's become boring. When we do this, I instantly feel seller's remorse and want to buy the car back. I still fondly remember a stick shift Honda Accord that I wish I'd garaged until I could teach the children to drive a stick. Then again, who drives a stick these days? It went on to bless a college student who needed sturdy transportation and great mileage, so selling it was a right move.

My beloved wanted me to drive something newer, so we hit the dealer lots. Interestingly, I never saw anything I liked. Some detail always held up my ability to buy a new car, such as blah colors, no GPS in the dash, stiff ride, seats uncomfortable, etc. I could fill a page with the details I found to dislike in the new cars at every dealer.  It became clear that I don't need a new car, much less want one. Nothing came up to the high standards of my current ride, so I'm going to keep it.

I realize this sounds un-American, but I don't want a new car. So there.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Finality and Bullies

Richmond's decision has been made - and nothing has changed in the Chase. Saturday's race was a wreckfest under a full moon. For a while there, I thought the winner would be the last car running with all four wheels on the track. Despite a hard bit of racing at the end, Harvick pulled out his fourth win of the season. Now we head into the final ten races to determine the champion. Ho hum. If someone other than Jimmie Johnson doesn't step it up, the chase will officially be a bore.

On a more scary note (and it's not even Halloween yet!), I just read a blog by author Kiana Davenport dated August 24. You can read it at Ms. Davenport is being punished by a Big Six publisher for putting two short story collections up on Amazon. One of these books had been rejected by the same publisher before she went digital with them. However, this publisher did offer a contract for another, different book, and paid an advance of $20,000, which they are now demanding back since Ms. Davenport refuses to remove her short story collections from Amazon.

Wow, is all I can say. Amazon must be terrorizing traditional publishers to the point of panic. And you know what? About time! You better believe I'm going to buy Ms. Davenport's short stories on Amazon. No one likes a bully, and if I can help finance Ms. Davenport's legal team, I'll buy her ebooks for that reason alone.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Another small death

The final race for the Sprint Cup Chase is tomorrow. Amid all the frenzy of packing up for a day of tailgating, I just read some shocking news. No, it's not that the Republocans hate Pres. Obama and will do everything they can to undermine his presidency, and to hades with what is best for the country. Wnat else is new?

No, it's that Kevin Harvick, Inc. is closing up shop. They're moving their Nationwide program to RCR, but shutting down their race truck operation and selling the building, if they can. WOW. KHI, Inc. was an inspiration in many ways. They had Ron Hornaday, an old dog with plenty of tricks up his firesuit sleeve, winning truck championships. They sold Chevy chasses to other teams. They are second in points in the Nationwide championship race. Delana Harvick was a business force to be reckoned with, a powerful woman in Nascar whose maiden name was NOT France. People knew what an extraordinary effort it took to keep a small race shop open and winning, and respected the Harvicks for their top notch operation.

In a move that's emblematic of what is happening all over this country, a well-run small business is shutting down, and 140 people are out of work. That it's involved in Nascar is beside the point. As the song says, "and another one bites the dust." What a real shame.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

After eight long days without electricity, I am happy to report that the power is back on. I'm kinda going to miss going to bed at dark. I will NOT miss the candle wax dripping all over the place or the cold showers.

I must now go vacuum like a madwoman. Electricity shows clearly how deep the dog fur has become.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Writing Power

Nope, nothing to do with writing inspiration. In this case, it's all about perspiration. Or, as Southern ladies say, the "glow." With our power still off, I had to get out of my comfort zone to get some work done. Since my laptop runs 45 minutes, tops, on its fading battery, I trekked over to the church, which had power, to plug it in and store up some juice. There, I discovered again something I had lost.

It was the ability to write anywhere. Once upon a time, I wrote in short bursts wherever I was, on whatever, as long as I had fifteen uninterrupted seconds. Somehow, I became accustomed to my home office, my desk, my window view, for my muse to kick it into high gear. However, sitting in a quiet church, feeling a bit odd to be dressed in jeans in a place where I normally wear suits, skirts, or pearls, I got to work.

And the muse was just fine. As the battery charged, the pages flowed. When I finally looked up, it was late afternoon. I hadn't needed my own desk chair, my special wrist pad, or anything else, except the laptop, to write. I probably didn't need that, but it was my excuse for getting out of my powerless office.

From now on, no more excuses. Place doesn't matter. Hands to the keyboard, sweat on the brow, that's all I need.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Still waiting. . .

There are times in your life when you know you just have to be patient. There's no other option. That 39th week of pregnancy, for example. You can jump up and down all you want, but in the end, you have no control over when the baby shows up, because Mother Nature knows best. Or growing out your hair after a bad haircut. You wear hats and try to ignore the awfulness, but in the end, hair grows at its own pace.

So what are we really discussing here, you may ask yourself? The end result of my attempt to be philosophically patient is that I'm not. Sure, I know the power company is doing the best it can. That schools and stoplights trump my little old subdivision. I get it. Doesn't help,though. Those cold showers are getting old. The sight of swinging transformers and downed power lines snaking through my yard is scary. I want them to go away.

I count blessings every day. No trees through the roof. No cars crushed by branches the size of elephants. (We have hundred year old oaks in our area, and they are BIG.) Others in my subdivision didn't fare as well. So what, that I had to toss a brand new box of Schwans root beer bars? (The best ice cream on the planet.) It's all good. And if we have to wait another week for power, so be it. I had a baby come a few weeks after her due date, and if I can handle that, I can handle this.

However, I'd like it to be known that "let there be light" is a perfectly good idea.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Irene, such a lovely name. . .

And such a nasty storm. My town was pounded, there's no other verb for it. Trees cracked, toppled, thumped the ground, and generally kept life interesting. With no power for over 24 hours, I've come to the conclusion we're in for the long haul. After Hurricnae Isabel, we went about two weeks living by candlelight. I'm hoping for a shorter recovery this time around.Call me a cock-eyed optimist.

Bless 3G iPads, and the ability to discover what's going on! I outgrew the romantic candle notion during the last big power outage. Roughing it has no allure. I HATE cold showers. Even reading gets old when candle wax drips on your hands. That stuff is HOT.

At least the generator is keeping the freezer running.I keep telling myself, it could be worse. A whole lot worse. . .Gratitude is the hot commodity at our house.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Brad Keselowski

We were invited by RIR to a "Cookout with Keselowski" this week. Along with hamburgers and meeting other fans, we got to have a meet and greet with Bad Brad.

Who is not "Bad" Brad at all. What a polite young man. Whipcord thin (as we say in romance novels), he's obviously working hard to make everyone feel comfortable around him. He tries very hard, but it must be difficult for someone so young who really just loves to drive fast cars.

He laughed when I told him he was going to show up on our Christmas letter. And when I said "You need to eat more fried chicken and mashed potatoes!" he said, as any well-bred young man would say to an older lady, "Yes, ma'am."  He does his mama proud.

Since following Brad when he got a ride in a good truck and ended up wrecked, but with a job offer from Dale Jr. to run the 88 car in Nationwide, I've been impressed that he's always himself on the track.  Run hard, run fast, and and don't kowtow to anyone.

Especially Carl Edwards, who thinks he's the new Lord of the track.  Give him heck, Brad. Take that championship home to Penske.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Old Stuff

Excavating old files is like a day spent in the attic. Finds abound. I have complete manuscripts that didn't, and don't, fit in the publishing mold. I knew it while I was writing them, but I wanted, no, needed, to tell them. One is set in the early twentieth century in Turkey. Another involves an adopted little girl whose biologic father shows up, wanting her. The monkey wrench is that her adoptive mother is falling for a stock car racer. Two men, one woman, not the standard romance set-up, especially since the mom isn't sure she wants any man in her life. The third is set today on the Mattaponi Indian Reservation in Virginia, and though there's murder and romance, the heart of the story is about honoring treaties and commitments signed in the seventeenth century, even if it's hard for the people involved.

I still love these stories. I've always believed if a story interests me, someone else will like it too. So they're going to get another chance. I'm not sure how or when, but all it takes is creativity. Coin of the realm in the writer's world. Piece of cake, right? When I
start using cliches, I'm in trouble. . . .

Now all I can think are cliches. Shoot.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Another story!

From my stash of scary stories for Halloween. Have fun with it!

House of Purity


Tracy Dunham © 2011

            Of all the crappy things in a year filled with crap, Laura had to take her little brother trick or treating.  Even worse, she had to stick with all the moms and dads at the bottom of the porch steps, make “oooh” noises when the candy rolled out and the munchkins dove in like starving sharks, and pretend like all the snotty nosed kids were just darling, so cute, yes indeed, precious beyond a doubt.  Oh, the joys of being older by twelve years.  If she had a penny for every time she wished her parents hadn’t decided to have another baby, she’d be as rich as Ivanka Trump.  So here she was at seventeen, looking like an unwed teenaged mother with a five year old brat who thought dressing like a ninja was cool.  Ninjas went out of style when she was twelve.

            “Laurie, hurry up. I don’t want Robbie to stay up past eight.  And no eating the candy!  Dad and I will be home by eleven at the latest.” Her mom put on her lipstick by the hall mirror.

            “Lucky me,” Laura muttered under her breath.  Louder, she grumbled, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Bed by eight, no candy.”  As if Robbie the House King would keep his sticky little fingers out of his candy bag.  The only way she could keep him sugar-free was to wire his nasty little mouth shut. 

            “Laurrriiieee,” Robbie screeched from the front door.  “Hurreeyyyy!”

            “Off you go.  How do I look?”  Her mom primped, adjusting her tiara and fluffing up her tulle skirt.  She was too old to dress like a fairy princess, Laura wanted to say, but it was just sour grapes.  She hadn’t been invited to a Halloween party since she was ten and everyone in the fifth grade got invited to the class party.

            At least it wasn’t raining or freezing.  She remembered some miserable trick or treating when she was little.  Robbie got all the luck.  Always had.  He got the smart genes, the DNA that got him put into advanced classes for super geeks. He was reading at two, full sized books that gave her a headache, and doing math problems she wouldn’t even try.  Everyone loved Robbie.  Big blue eyes, curly blond hair, and a laugh that made everyone smile with him, even if they didn’t know what got him giggling.  Yeah, Robbie had it all. What did she have? A sucky grade point average, stringy mouse-colored hair, braces for the past four years, and zits. 

            “Okay, little monster, let’s hit the road.”  She grabbed the flashlight her mom handed her and followed Robbie out the front door.  “If you give me any grief, we’re going home.  Got it?”
            She didn’t like the way he stuck out his tongue at her, but what was she going to do? Smack him?  He’d tattle and her mother would take away her Internet.  Robbie was perfect around adults, but with her he acted like she was his serving girl.  Clean his room, fix him a snack, blah, blah, blah, and her mother made her do it.  She couldn’t wait until she graduated from high school next year and could get out on her own.  College wasn’t going to happen, her parents informed her. Robbie’s extra classes cost a lot of money, and her grades weren’t good enough, so what the heck, she was on her own.

            Fine by her.  Far as she was concerned, this was the last Halloween she had to play nanny for the Super Kid.  Next year she’d have her own place and a job, and she wouldn’t have to see the brat again if she didn’t want to.

            “Hi Laurie.  Good to see you.”  Mrs. Evans was waiting for them at the sidewalk, her two little girls dressed like ghosts.

            “Hi.”  Laura figured Mrs. Evans was cool.  She hadn’t spent a fortune on some stupid costume for her kids or herself.  The ghosts were made from old sheets.  “Mary and Susan look great.”

            “I want candy,” Robbie whined. 

            “So start walking,” Laura ordered.  “It doesn’t jump in your bag by itself.”

            “I hate Halloween,” Mrs. Evans noted casually. “No child needs as much candy as they get. ”

            “I guess so,” Laura agreed.  “My mom said Robbie couldn’t eat anything tonight.  She wants to check it all out, I guess, before he swallows anything.”

            “Can’t be too careful.”  Mrs. Evans waved at the Roginsons, who were standing in their doorway, making admiring noises at the kids’ costumes.  “Would you and Robbie like to stop by our house on the way home for some hot chocolate?”

            Just what she wanted.  More chatting with Mrs. Evans while Robbie whined that he wanted to eat his candy.

            “I don’t think so, thanks.  Mom said Robbie has to be in bed by eight.”

            “Sure. Makes sense.  I’m a terrible mother, I know.” She sighed, then laughed. “The girls won’t be able to sleep until I let them eat their candy, but they don’t have to show off in school tomorrow.”

            Laura couldn’t help it, she laughed. 

            Mrs. Evans tilted her head under the nearest driveway lantern and looked at Laura as her girls and Robbie attacked another front door. “Must be difficult sometimes, being the elder sibling to the alien child.”

            This time Laura’s laugh was less enthusiastic. Robbie was a brat, but he was her brother.  “Not too much.  He has a mouth on him, but then he was talking in full sentences before he was one.”  Her mother was very proud of that fact and repeated it often.

            “How far are you taking Robbie tonight? Around the block?”

            She hadn’t really thought of it. “I guess, and maybe the next one if we have time.”

            “I hear the church on Ford Avenue is open and handing out candy.  I might take the girls there after this row.”

            “Sounds good.”  Robby couldn’t object.  “What’s the church? Isn’t it new?”

            “I’m not sure of its name.  It got left the old Coleman house in the old lady’s will, so it’s turned the place into a church.  Opened about a month ago.  They’ve been pretty quiet, but I hear they’ve worked on the yard a lot, and the neighbors are happy.”

            The trick-or-treating on their own street took forever, it seemed.  Laura was sick and tired of all the cutesy comments about costumes and how big everyone was getting, blah, blah, blah.  Dragging Robby with the two girls turned out to be pretty easy, since the girls were handing him pieces of candy from their bags and he was stuffing it in his mouth as fast as he could. Finally, they headed for a new street.

            The church on Ford Avenue that Mrs. Evans wanted to visit didn’t look too promising, however.  No lights brightened the second floor windows, and the front door hid beneath a bulb that couldn’t have been more than ten watts.  A hand-painted sign reading “House of Purity” hung on the porch eaves.  If this was a church, she was a gorgeous blonde with big boobs.

            “You sure they’re handing out candy?”  Laura dragged Robby back beside her as the two girls and their mother wandered down the walkway.  “It doesn’t look open for business.”

            “That’s what I heard.  Can’t hurt to try.  I’m right here, and besides, I’ve been wanting to see what they’ve done with the place.”

            Not much, Laura thought.  The paint was still peeling, and if they’d worked on the yard, she’d be surprised.  Big branches hung low over the sidewalk and leaves cluttered the gutters.  Checking out the second floor, she saw the shutters still hung at crazy angles. Fat lot of good the House of  Purity was doing this house. And who in the heck would belong to a denomination with that name? Purity of what?

            Laura watched Mrs. Evans ring the doorbell.  To her surprise, it opened and a nice looking woman wearing a long blue dress gestured for the two girls to enter.  Something didn’t feel right to Laura, but Mrs. Evans didn’t hesitate. She and the two girls disappeared.  Waiting for them to come out, Laura started to worry.  When the porch light went out a few seconds later, she panicked.  What did she do now? Call the police?  Call Mr. Evans?

            “I wanna get more candy,” Robby whined.  “Why can’t we get candy there?” He pointed at the house where the Evanses disappeared.

            “I don’t think it’s a good place. Come on, let’s go home.”  She’d call Mr. Evans from her house.  Maybe after this, her mom would let her have a cell phone.  She was the only girl in her class who didn’t have one.

            “No,” Robby screamed.  “I have to go in there!  They’ll get all the candy!”

            “You’ll do what I tell you to do!  Now come on!”  Jerking Robby behind her, Laura tried to drag him down the sidewalk but his hand slipped from hers.  Running as fast as his short legs would carry him, he hurtled to the front door and beat on it, crying “candy, candy!”

            “Robby,” Laura cried, scrambling to catch up, fell flat on her face. To her horror, the door creaked open.  A single hand reached out, and before Laura could dive to catch him, Robby disappeared.

            A loud crack sounded like a gunshot as the door slammed shut behind him.

            “Hey,” Laura screamed, “give me my brother!  You can’t do this!  I’m calling the police!”

            Racing to the house next door, she beat on the front door, crying that she needed to use the phone.  No one opened to her.  Down the block, she continued her quest, but it seemed the whole block around the church was dark.  Where was everyone? This was Halloween, at least a few houses should have been handing out candy at this hour.  Why weren’t they?

            She gave up trying to get to a phone anywhere near the House of Purity, and fighting panic, ran for home.  Hands shaking, she could barely unlock the door.  Grabbing the kitchen phone, she was trying to see through her tears to dial 911, when someone came through the front door behind her. Terrified because she hadn’t locked the door, she ducked under the kitchen table, clutching the phone to her chest.  She hadn’t turned on the kitchen lights, thank goodness.

            “Laura, where are you?  What happened to you?  The girls missed you when they left the church.”  Mrs. Evans lifted the tablecloth and peered at Laura.  “Are you ill?”

            “You’re okay,” Laura screamed, “I thought they’d taken you and the girls. Where’s Robby?  What was going on in that place?”  She could barely talk, she was so relieved to see Mrs. Evans.

            “Robby who?  What do you mean, you thought someone had taken us?  We didn’t go anywhere.  Just got the girls some chocolates, we brought some out to you, and you were gone.  Come out, dear, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

            Grabbing a table leg, Laura held on for dear life. “What do you mean, Robby who?  He’s my brother, he followed you into that creepy so-called church.  I’ve got to call the cops, my parents will kill me for losing him.  How could you let them keep him?”  Shrieking at Mrs. Evans, Laura tried to dial 9ll again, but she dropped the phone trying to fight off Mrs. Evans.  The woman had Laura’s foot in both hands and was dragging Laura like a sack of grass seed.

            “You poor dear.  I can’t help you if you won’t let me. What’s your mom’s cell phone number, she needs to get home right now.”  Mrs. Evans, Laura realized, sounded like the sane person in the kitchen. She wanted to scream, but no one was home to hear her. 

            “I’m going back for Robby,” Laura cried as she fought free of Mrs. Evans, and half on her hands and knees, threw herself out the front door. She was younger than Mrs. Evans, she had to be faster if she could just stay on her feet.  She did.  Running so hard her lungs hurt, she cut through back yards to get to the House of Purity before Mrs. Evans.

            As she rounded the corner, she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.  She had to have the wrong street, but glancing at the street sign, she saw it was Ford Avenue.  How could this be happening?  Where was the house that had swallowed her brother as if he were a gnat?  Nothing but trees stood where the house had been extant not fifteen minutes ago.  Big trees.  Black walnuts and pin oaks.  Even the grass had been planted at least a season ago.  There was no way that house disappeared into thin air.  Or any kind of air, thin or not.

            “Robby?  Where are you?” she sobbed.  She’d lost him, her little brother.  Her parents would never forgive her.  She may as well find another place to live right now.

            “Honey, what’s wrong?  Mrs. Evans called, said you were having some kind of breakdown.”  Her mother hopped out of her dad’s car, still in her fairy princess costume, and came running to her.  “Come home before you make a complete fool of yourself out here.”  She gestured to the black Mercedes.

            “Mom, Robby’s been taken!  By a house that was standing here not twenty minutes ago.  You’re got to believe me.”

            Her mother stroked the sweaty hair from her face.  “I believe you sweetie, but you need to rest. It’s been a busy month, with all the games you had to cheer, researching colleges for your applications, tutoring after school, being class president.  It’s my fault for letting you get so busy, but you seemed to be thriving.  Please, hon, let’s go home.”

            “You’ve got to call the police about Robby.”  What if he were hurt?

            “I don’t know about any Robby.  Is he your new boyfriend?  I’m glad you’re dating, but there are so many boys, it’s hard to keep up.”  Her mother laughed.

            Fighting for breath, Laura shut her eyes and counted to ten.  This was a bad dream, she’d wake up any second now.  Please, let her wake up.  What if she didn’t?


            Malin morphed from the humanoid woman dressed in blue into her true state – a large gaseous blob.  “I must say, this has been a disappointment.”

            “You weren’t the one who had to live as a human child for the past five human years.  I thought you’d never show up!  What took you so long?”

            The green gas once known as Robby swirled into the house’s ceilings.  “And when can we get out of here? There’s nothing here for us, I can report with the utmost certainty.”

            “It’s a shame their intelligence is so limited.  We had high hopes.”  Malin’s gas form grew more frenetic.  “There’s only one thing left to do.  I’ve wiped clean the memories of everyone who had contact with you as Robby.  What an unfortunate name.”

            “Good.  What about the sister?  I sense her distress.  She doesn’t seem. . . .”  He hesitated. “No, it can’t be.  She’s searching for the boy.  Malin, what’s wrong?  Why isn’t she cleansed like the others?”

            Malin sighed.  “It happens sometimes.  You know that.  We’ll have to go to stage two.  Not that it’s a loss, this planet is so useless.  I just hate expending the energy.”

            “Well, it’s your job, not mine. I’ve done my part.  See you on Ulona 6.  I’ve got my orders.  First, though, I’ve some R & R coming after that ordeal.”  With those words, the green gas blob dissipated into the night sky.

            “Right, leave a woman to clean up the mess. How like a man.”  Swelling into a larger gaseous state, Malin swirled into the sky behind him.  From miles above earth’s atmosphere, she hesitated, then with a mighty swelling, knocked earth out of its orbit.  With compassion for the pea-sized inhabitants of this minor world, she added a quick shove that would hasten the end more quickly.

            No sense in prolonging their pain.