Review: The Governess of Penwyth Hall

Four Stars

I picked up this book on a whim based on the beautiful cover. A quick riffling through the pages revealed good writing and characers that seemed (at very first glance) to be believeable and engaging.

Cordelia Greythorne, widowed, has taken a position as a governess in a wealthy man’s house. Tragedy and mystery lies behind her choice of occupation. In a trick of fate, her employer is fatally injured in a riding accident, and she and the children are sent to his surviving brother living in Cornwall.

Cordelia takes the chidren to their uncle, and the story goes on from there. The uncle, Jac Trewethy, accepts his niece and nephew, and welcomes them and their governess into his home. Love blooms, but the shadows of the past intrude.

Smugglers, double-dealing – What is Cordelia’s part in this?

Do her past tragedies have any connection with her current situation?

Is she one who knows too much, who steps into the shadows of her past knowingly, with intent to clear them all out? The story unfolds in layers of knowledge.

Love blooms, questions are answered, and the danger is eliminated and all problems are resolved.

This is a complex story, and it has a strong compass, both morally and from a storytelling standpoint. The characters are well drawn, the action kept me reading, and the flow of the story itself is engaging, apparopriate and enjoyable. There are moments of grace even for the villains, and they work very well.

From a ‘crafting’ standpoint, this was very well done. The pace was excellenr, and any ‘surprises’ had been set up from the beginning.

I am currendly reading the second of Ms. Ladd’s books set in Cornwell, and am enjoying it. I will be reviewing it when I am finished.

Five stars.

Humor, Grace and Cleverness

Review of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book sounded interesting, the samples online flowed very well, and I thought it would be worth reading and, to enhance the experience, to read in a ‘hard copy’ rather than an electronic one. (I am one of those criminals who marks passages that I happen to like.) As it happens, I marked quite a few of them.

If you want crowds of villains and heroes and vivid love scenes, this is not for you. If you are hoping for a standard ‘spy’ novel, or a tale pf oppression and harshness and heroic resistance, you will be disappointed. This is the straightforward story of a man’s life under house arrest starting in 1922 and ending in 1954.

Count Alexander Rostov, the last of an aristocratic family, has been living under house arrest at a hotel in Moscow. At the beginning of the novel, he has been advised that he will be required to move to a much smaller set of rooms. This will entail discarding some items that he has treasured over the years. He takes this in stride, and the story follows the events in his life, as though you are an interested observer.

Deftly told, peopled with characters that you can understand, even if you don’t like them, featuring Rostov’s memories of long-ago events and his musings on life, people and chance, this book seems to move at the pace of a person’s life. It contains the totality of its main character, and the other characters that come into the story and linger before moving on, provide color and interest. You care for them.

Catching the Echoes – An observation About Love, Loss and Memory

I have owned Burmese cats for years, starting in 1980.  They are a lively, affectionate, intuitive and very smart breed.  Burmese originated in and around Thailand and Myanmar, and spent centuries hanging around people – generally in temples.

Merlin and Morgan
My first two Burmese cats were a pair of brothers named Merlin and Morgan. They were supposed to live to their mid-twenties. Or so I thought. I did wake up when they were fifteen and realized that they were old, but they were with me, they were fairly healthy, though the one boy’s kidneys were iffy, and we would all continue as we were, unchanging. Or so I thought.  The first one died in my arms of a heart attack on August 28, 1996.  I was stunned.  His brother died one month later to the day of kidney failure secondary to a severe hantavirus that his old body survived, but which threw him into a decline. I hadn’t wanted him to go, but I had realized that I was fighting against his best good, and I told him that I wouldn’t insist on his living and would let him go if that was what he wanted.  It was.
There is no ‘back to the drawing board’ when love has touched you.  Whether you believe in forever or not, the very fact that your life has intersected and run together with another’s has changed you. You are not the person you were before you came to love the one who has departed. You have an altered perspective, you have a part of you that grew in response to that other one. You have a way you would respond to the other’s voice, jokes, antics, love. You can’t go back to what you were before you loved the other.
But life does go on, and grief must be dealt with and resolved in one way or another. I didn’t expect to ‘replace’ my boys, but I needed to have pets in their places, so Boomer and BJ came to me. Boomer is a Burmese. BJ’s father was a Burmese (a particularly nice one!), so though he’s a Bombay and black, he looks, through the face, like my first Burmese. That is when I encountered the echoes. 
I started catching hints, sometimes faint, sometimes very strong, of my old boys.  A way one of the kittens reacted to being stroked. A way of tilting the head.  Finding one curled up on a pillow and raising its head to blink at me in a familiar way.  The sound of a voice.  It was not as though the lost ones had come back as those two kittens, but as though, somehow, I was given back the part of me that had loved them. As though I had been given a chance to re-live their kittenhood, to revisit memories I had forgotten in the rush of the years, to have the hurts, the sad memories somehow smoothed away, and the memories of the young, strong, lively ones returned to me, fresh and clear, unspoiled.

I have experienced this with all lost loves, memories that touch my shoulder and remind me that love still exists in me.  I recently opened a book and found a folded slip of paper with a note from my father saying that he believed in me, and enclosing a check to ‘keep the wolves from the door’.  Driving through Vermont one autumn afternoon, seeing a hillside with a familiar slant behind a yellow house…  My grandparents’ old house, which they sold decades ago, now repainted.  Landmarks had changed, but I remembered.

Those memories, touching our experiences, are a part of us, a reminder.   Something to be embraced.

IWSG for January, 2018 – Plans and Dreams

This is the January entry for The Insecure Writer’s Support Group Blog Hop.

The hop takes place on the first Wednesday of every month.  All are welcome to sign up and participate, and visit the blogs of the other participants.  

The co-hosts for the January 3 posting of the IWSG are Tyrean Martinson, Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor, Megan Morgan, Jennifer Lane, and Rachna Chhabria Go visit their blogs!

The question for January’s blog hop is: 

What steps have you taken or plan to take to put a schedule in place for your writing and publishing?

Tempus Fugit…if you haven’t noticed.
Speaking as a writer who had not written anything substantive or published anything at all in three years for a lot of very good reasons (there: I’ve said it!), even thinking of writing was a step in the right direction. But that was only the first step. 

I read a man’s blog where he mentioned an app that reminded him to write 1,000 words per day. It was on his iPhone, he couldn’t avoid seeing it, and it was a nice reminder for him. I sat back, blinking. That was what I needed! A reminder, rather like getting jabbed in the ribs with a thumb, rather than a rather muzzy, wistful ‘Gee, I should really be writing…’ thought I.

I went hunting for the app and discovered that it is an older one and unavailable right now. Apparently it is not mainstream and is undergoing an overhaul.

After some searching, I found a similar one for iTunes: Momentum Habit Tracker.  

I have set it to remind me to (1) write 1,000 words per day; (2) READ (amazing how you can stagnate if you don’t read other peoples’ work…), and SCOOP (my cats’ litter box).  Hey, what’s good for writing is good for cleaning.  It also offers to ‘discuss’ any issues with you.  I haven’t taken it up on that offer just yet, since I am not sure how to address  my iPhone.  I’m sure I will learn.

So far, so good.  I get pinged around 8pm if I haven’t set up my writing time.  Or reading time, or scooping time.  I’ve enjoyed getting reacquainted with other writers like Georgette Heyer and Tolkien.

Once writing, I have to keep up with it.  There is a nice (?) little app called ‘Write or Die’ (by Dr. Wicked), which I encountered during NaNoWriMo:

Write or Die by Dr. Wicked
This is the dashboard.  You set the time (in this case, 60 minutes) and the output (1,515 words in this case – attainable).  You can select the screen background – white works for me – and any deterrents or incentives that will keep your nose to the grindstone.

There are levels of motivation,  including one where the program starts erasing what you have written if you don’t write fast enough to suit it.  This was a little too harsh for me, so I selected different motivations and rewards. 

If a certain amount of time passes with no output (I selected two minutes), an alarm sounds and I am treated, so to speak, with an alarming image – in this case, it is Grumpy Cat, superimposed on my typing and scowling at me.  It is hard to be alarmed and buckle down to slave at the keyboard while laughing like a fool, but it does help.  The beep is more effective than Grumpy Cat’s scowl, but the grin is helpful at any rate.

If you manage to meet your goal, you are treated to a rewarding image.  I chose a cute puppy wearing a birthday hat, which appears behind the text that I have typed after I have reached my goal.  If I am cooking along at a great rate, it is a little startling to see that I am scattering text over the face of a cute puppy in a party hat, but it makes me laugh and continue typing.

Have I written every day?  Well, no.  But I’m reading more and writing more and thinking more and jotting more, and the cause of the blockage, a combination of work, eldercare, health issues and exhaustion, is now beginning to crumble.  The momentum is back, and while it may be a bit of a struggle, I am going to commit to having my most urgent WIP, an eagerly awaited (by my readers, at least) installment in my Egyptian series, in a state to be published by September.  I can do it.  Besides, I don’t want to have Grumpy Cat mad at me.  

I know that cat is SOMEWHERE!

How about yourself?  Do you need to do something to get going?  It’s a common problem, and not just with writing.

Read the other entries in this hop and see what they say – I will be reading them, too!

I Quit! (Or do I?)

Today is the first Wednesday of the month, which is the date that the Insecure Writer’s Support Group holds its monthly blog hop.

If you haven’t heard of the IWSG, you need to look into it:

To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds.  It’s a good place to go to for advice, reassurance and a lot of enjoyment.

Today’s question is:

Did you ever say “I quit”? 
If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

This month’s co-hosts are:

JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan, and Heather Gardner  

Go visit their pages!

So…  Have I ever decided to quit writing?  

No, I can’t say that I  have.  I  have been discouraged, I have wanted to burn whatever story I was working on, and call various people idiots for various reasons, but I haven’t decided to quit.  How can I?  I’m a writer.

…But I have trickled to a near-halt.  Inertia.  I wrote about it, obliquely, here and here.  I’ve been in dry spots, as you see.  Sometimes they seem to stretch on forever, and you wonder if they will ever stop.

I am in one right now. I haven’t published anything new in three years.  I have followers, people have read my work, but I haven’t put anything out.  Sales are falling off.  

I have a number of works in progress.  The second book in my Orphan’s Tale series is nearly complete.  It was delayed, in part, by a plot revelation that required an internal rewrite. But it is nearly finished…and I haven’t touched it in a year.  I have a fable, a ‘short’ (say, 45,000 words) that is nearly done. Nearly.  There are several stories in my Memphis Cycle that were coming along.

So what happened?

Life.  Eldercare issues.  Work issues.  Money issues.  (It costs me nothing to write, thank goodness).  And I have been very tired.  Very tired.  It’s hard.

A friend told me of a time that she was discouraged.  She was at a show, and was talking with the man who had been mentoring her.  She recounted children problems, worries about her husband’s job, illness, disappointment.  It was all so hard, she said.  Her mentor, who had been busy jotting notes about the things that were going on at the show, said without looking up, “Quitting is easy.” 

My friend stopped speaking.  Quitting is easy.  But it was not an option those ten years ago.  She moved past that point and is doing well.

As for me, quitting is easy, I suppose.  Except that I can’t quit.  I am a writer.  I write stories.  I have stories to write.  I can’t go back.  I don’t want to.  And I have been through this before and may well go through it again, all things being equal.  I’ll survive.

So…  What can I do to get out of this particular situation?

I can wake up.  My job issues are behind me, along with that job.  I will set my timer for, say, half an hour.  And during that half hour I will write.  At my desk.  On my laptop.  No internet.  Just write.

Sales are down?  I’ll finish the various books, half an hour at a time, and get them out there.  

Writing doesn’t need to be lonely: I have begun to participate in writing activities.  Joined groups (including rejoining IWSG).  Maybe go on a retreat.

And I will get more sleep.  That’s more important than I realized.

The blog hop is here.  Check it out!

In Memoriam: Pets

We call them ‘pets’, and we pamper them and fuss over them and sometimes think that they are in some way a status symbol. 

They love us unconditionally (though perhaps even more deeply when food is involved) and ask in return only that we be their Alpha dogs or -cats and provide them comfort, protection and affection.

In almost all cases, we are the gainers.

The worst thing about them is that they have such heartbreakingly short lives, and the puppy or kitten that rolled across the floor and hurried clumsily to you is suddenly the white-muzzled dog who lifts cloudy eyes to you and thumps his tail on the floor.

Dogs or cats?  I have both.  They both give love.

And they both die too soon.

Last night I bade farewell to a boy I have owned and loved and laughed at for nine years.  It was hard, but he was surrounded by those who loved him as he slipped away.

You never get used to it, but truly, it is a small return for the unquestioning, generous love they give us.

IWSG October 5, 2016: Getting started

Today is IWSG day. Come join Alex J. Cavanaugh and all the other writers who support each other, make us all smile and think in this monthly hop. No one is mocked or sneered at. All are welcome. We have all been there.

Please be sure to visit our host Alex J Cavanaugh, and this month’s co-hosts: Beverly Stowe, Megan MorganViola Fury, Madeline Mora, Angela Wooledridge, and Susan Gourley.

The twitter hashtag is #IWSG

Visit the website and look around:
This month’s question is:  

When do you know your story is ready?

My answer is that it is never ready.  Or, at least I *think* it is never ready.  I was just reading one of my published books, one that I am really happy with, that expressed what I wanted to express and told, I thought, a good story.  The fact that it features two of my absolute favorite characters is an added treat.

I opened the paperback copy I had printed for myself, read a section and thought, “You know, it would work better if I expanded the various contractions and changed a couple words.”

I had to put on the brakes, hard, and admit that the story is set.  Too much fiddling makes the story stale.  (This does not mean that I won’t fix the odd mistake that I find).  

And now, I am going to reveal what insecurity has me by the throat at the moment:

It has been too long since I published.

…or, come to that, since I wrote anything really new.

The Memphis Cycle

I have a series of books set in New Kingdom Egypt (think Ramesses the Great) with a great many stories that can come off that.  I have my notes: the stories just need to be written.  

The Crocodile Fable

I have a short piece, a fable about a crocodile, that is nearly finished.  I just have to finish it:

The Orphan’s Tale #1
The Orphan’s Tale #2

I have a series set in 1830’s Paris with one completed, another nearly completed and the final one well underway.
I have other stories in varying stages of being outlined…

But I have published nothing in over three years.

Why?  Well, my father died in 2012.  That was a terrible blow. My delightful mother’s health took a downward spiral.  She had been caring for my father and now she was dealing with her own issues.  She needed surgery, she needed to be moved to a better place.  And she was far away from her family.

Work issues, travel issues (my mother lives 250 miles away) money issues.  I was, and am, very tired.   But I can feel things moving, stirring.  I have ideas.

…and I received some notes from readers:

I really enjoy your Memphis Cycle stories.  I have all of them in paperback.  I know you have one in the works: is it coming out soon?

I replied, and they replied enthusiastically. It made me smile.  And it started me thinking. 

It could be done.  The fable is about 40,000 words, the cover is finished.  I have some ‘shorts’ on the Egyptian stories that could be put together.  Something to please those kind people who wrote me and follow me.

I have some vignettes from the Paris story that I could put out.  Something to read.

Ramesses the Great never looked better…
And, things having eased up a little, I can set the Paris story aside for a bit to let the edits sink in.  I could take up some kind friends on their beta-read offers and put the manuscript out for review.

…and I could get to work on the full length novel that fits after the second book of The Memphis cycle.  Heck, I have a cover:

…errrrr….  Maybe I need to work on that…

(You aren’t down for the count if you can find something to laugh about, you know…)

Check out the posts on this hop.  Read, comment, enjoy.  I’ll be doing the same this evening.

Where were you when the world stopped turning…?

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.  I saw a headline that likened the day to ‘History Just Like Pearl Harbor.’

Well, that is certainly true.  It was history, just as our births, deaths, celebrations and actions are history.  And yet, for all the significance of our day to day activities, 9/11 somehow stands out as an especial time in history.

  • It was the day people realized that their ‘homeland’ was not immune from attack.
  • It was the day people learned of needs and incidents far greater than their own daily heartaches and activities.
  • It was the day that we learned what it is to be truly helpless.
  • And it was the day that we learned that we could survive, and that heroes really existed.

Russian ‘Tears of Grief’ memorial

(It was also a day I learned that some people are too stupid to live and need to be devoutly ignored:

A woman from Canada on a message board:

Americans need to think, sincerely and without offense, what they did to cause this attack.’

I don’t generally get nasty in public.  You don’t put out there on Facebook or message boards things that you wouldn’t want printed on the pages of the great newspapers of the world.  But my response that time reduced the poster to tears.  And I don’t regret a word.)

I heard the tales of heroism, of the firefighters and rescue workers toiling up the stairs in the Towers against the tide of fleeing people.  Going ever upward to serve and protect and rescue.  Giving their lives.

I never saw the footage of the plane striking the towers.  I missed it, somehow  In later years I decided not to seek it out.

Some months after the attack, I was talking with my father, a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.  I was saying how humbled I was by the heroism we saw on 9/11. 

Dad frowned thoughtfully.  “We saw heroes,” he said.  “They were everywhere that day, and after.  The people lining up to give blood, to help however they could…  But, you know, if I had to say who the real heroes were that day…”

He fell silent.

“The police and rescue workers?” I suggested.

Dad shook his head.  “They were heroic,” he said.  “But you know, that was the purpose for which they pledged their lives.  To serve, protect, fight if necessary…  And they did it beautifully.  But those people on the plane in Pennsylvania, possibly headed for the U.S. Capitol…  They were everyday folk with the backgrounds they had, caught up in a situation.  And they took action. They were true heroes.”

Maybe so.   Probably so.  Everyone seemed to step beyond their own needs and turn to others’ needs…

It was a day to remember.  One that should not be forgotten or belittled, any more than the other great watersheds of history.

Where were you then?

Valor in Action and in Remembrance: an interview with Terry Wilson

The first Wednesday of the month is IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) started by  Alex Cavanaugh.  Please visit the IWSG site, and this month’s co-hosts: C. Lee McKenzieRachel PattisonElizabeth SeckmanStephanie FarrisLori MacLaughlin, and Elsie Amata

I am always insecure when I encounter a gifted writer.  Today I am happy to interview him:  Terry Wilson.

I am pleased and honored today to present my interview with Terry Wilson, a man of wide experience, with a sense of humor, a knack with a pen, and an understanding of conflict, courage and resolution.  I ‘met’ him through the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award fora, and always enjoyed his contributions.

I learned that Terry had written a book (at that time) set during the Kent State Massacre: The Blanket Hill Insurgency.  Over the next several years he produced another also set during the Vietnam war but looking back to another war: Breaking Liberator’s Shackles . The Vietnam war was the event, as it was going on, and then afterward, that seemed to hang over my generation and form my society afterward.

Terry’s third book, Tarnished Valor, touches upon the Vietnam one more time.

I am happy to present my interview with Terry.  Enjoy the excerpts from his books.  I have inserted geotargeted links to his books (they will take you to whatever Amazon site you use) as well as links to my reviews.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.

You have done a great many things in your life -combat veteran, writer, devoted husband (you’ve done a lot of other things: what are they?) Which of them did you find the most challenging?

Because of my respect for 58,272 men and women who died in Vietnam, I must make a clarification related to this question. I served, but I did not see combat.
I’m no different from any other human being who has lived for many decades. As a child and teenager I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where my faith was nurtured and ethics were stressed. My father was a high school coach who taught me the rewards of hard work. I participated on the football, wrestling and track teams. I held my high school’s record for the 880 yard run. My dreams were to either become a pastor or an architect.
Following my time in the Army, I became an architect. Millions of children have been educated in school buildings I had a hand in the design and construction of. I’ve served on the boards of a number of non-profits, and I enjoy fishing and golf.
As with everyone, I’ve been faced with problems. In the early Nineties a striving architectural practice I built was wiped out by a default judgment from the court when my attorney failed to respond to motions for sanction brought against me associated with what was a nuisance law suit. All of my resources were wiped out, and this led to a divorce from my first wife of twenty years.
Being able to hang on to my belief in the Lord and conduct my life with ethical principles has been the greatest challenge I’ve faced. When things go bad, it’s hard to not want to seek revenge, but I have been able to move on. These challenges have helped me renew who I am.  
You have written three books that touch upon hope, despair, renewal high hopes, faith and love.  What inspired you to write them?
I would add humor, ego, self-doubt, conflict, loss and ethics to the descriptors of this question. Humans are forced to deal with all of these on a daily basis. I strive to portray every character as a complete person. None are perfect, and none are all bad. I want the reader to feel empathy for each…. even for an antagonist.
Now I’ll address the inspiration for my novels. Finishing my enlistment in the Army in 1970 I returned to Kent State to continue my education. The University was a different environment from the one I left three years prior. The culture changed. The once patriotic campus, steep in tradition, exploded into a battleground of unrest and revolution. I witnessed the tragedy of the shootings that rocked our nation and the world. The change and clash of cultures that occurred at Kent and elsewhere were in need of telling, and to tell the story I wrote The Blanket Hill Insurgency.

The following excerpt is from the 41st Chapter of The Blanket Hill Insurgency:

Six were seated around a large round table in Ray’s Place. Because of his shortly cropped hair, Jim stood out from others in the campus town tavern even though he wore civilian clothing. Richard, Linda, Jed, Ruth and Ann all agreed to spend the evening before the start of classes for the Winter Quarter having pizza and beer. It was something Jim had missed doing, in a campus tavern, since he graduated from Ohio State. Having just arrived, the conversation was mostly light and dominated by the upcoming weddings. Ruth was intrigued by the conversation, and Jed acted as though he didn’t notice her interest to everyone’s amusement.
It was revealed to Jim that Linda and Richard had become god parents. This led to Ann starting a more serious conversation.
     “Their godson has parents who protest against Vietnam,” Ann said abruptly. “I can’t believe the lying they do to make our being there sound wrong.”
     “Like what?” Jim asked.
     “Kelly, the kid’s mother, said we intentionally destroy farmer’s crops. She said it has forced whole communities to move to city slums so they won’t starve.”
     Jim reached out and grabbed Ann’s hand and said, “She’s not telling a lie. We are, but there’s a legitimate reason for it.”
Ann was shocked as she asked, “What?”
     “The country has political divides, and there are large rural areas sympathetic to the North Vietnamese government. Many living in these farming communities are farmers during the day and grab weapons at night… sometimes during the day. They are the Viet Cong.”
     Jim had everyone’s attention.
     “The Cong have killed and wounded thousands of our soldiers. We target these communities by dropping a chemical on their fields. It’s called Agent Orange. It’s very effective in killing the crops, and without food, the people, rather than starving, move from the area, mostly to cities where slums have sprung up. I feel sorry for the people, but it has probably saved thousands of American lives.”
     “There’s no other way?” Ann asked.
     “Short of our leaving, I doubt it.”
     “So we should leave?” Linda asked.
     “No Linda… that’s not what I’m saying. A majority… most of the South Vietnamese people support their government. If we left, they could not stop the country from falling to communist rule. I agree with our being there, and I would hate to see us pull out before we complete our mission. Three men in my platoon died for the cause. I’d hate to see their sacrifice go in vain.”
     “Couldn’t we just find the farmers that are the Viet Cong?” Ruth asked. “Why should whole communities have to suffer?”
     “Most of what my platoon did was called search and destroy missions. Our job was to find the Cong. We’d search hamlets and farms looking for signs of enemy activity. We’d look for stashes of weapons and ammunition along with tunnels they would conceal themselves in. We were successful in identifying some of the Cong, but we never knew if the next person, be it a man, woman or child would be the next to aim a weapon at one of us.”
     “Child?” Ruth exclaimed.
     “Yes. Hundreds… maybe thousands of children fight with the Cong. Following the firefight where two of my men died, we surveyed the Cong that were killed. Along with twelve men there were three children probably between ten and twelve years old. All were clutching A.K. Forty-Sevens.”
     At that moment one of two coeds who were seated at an adjacent table walked over to Jim and slapped him across his face as she screamed, “BABY KILLER!”
     Jim simply looked at her and did not say a word as the bartender raced to the table from behind the bar.
     “What’s going on here?” he barked at the coed.
     “He’s a baby killer.”
     Looking at Jim the bartender asked, “What’s she talking about?”
“She must have overheard part of our conversation. I’ve just returned from Vietnam, and I was…”
     “You don’t need to say another word,” the bartender said to Jim. He addressed the coed. “You… young lady… get out of this bar. I don’t need your kind of trouble in here.”
     The coed and her friend left without arguing.
     The bartender shook Jim’s hand and announced, “Welcome home. This table’s tab is on me.” He lowered his voice and continued, “My brother was killed in the Iron Triangle.”
     Jim stood up and embraced the bartender, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

As a child my hero was my Uncle Kirby. During the Second World War, he endured the horror as a prisoner of war held by the Japanese. He would never talk about his ordeal, but when I was able to watch an old Japanese Army Newsreel showing the capture of him and his bomber crew, I decided to write Breaking Liberator’s Shackles. The novel is based on his experience, but the bomber crew is fictional characters…. after all, my uncle never talked to me about it.
     The following is an excerpt from the 1st Chapter of Breaking Liberator’s Shackles:

     My excitement was intense. I couldn’t wait to see Doug. Since he was inducted into the army, this was only the second time he came home. He had a two week leave the past Christmas holiday.    

      The drive into and through Cleveland to Hopkins Airport seemed to take forever. Traffic was very slow moving because of road congestion caused by a rare Saturday Cleveland Browns’ game. This was actually my first trip to the airport. At Christmas Doug traveled by bus, and when we dropped him off the day he entered the army, he left on a train from the Terminal Tower station. We could see the tower dominating the skyline as we crept along on the crowded inner-belt of the expressway.    

      Eventually we arrived about a half hour before the scheduled arrival of Doug’s plane.          Emma and I found our way to a gate on Concourse A where Doug’s plane was scheduled to unload. We waited, with a handful of others for a United flight from Washington National Airport. I was surprised that what was referred to as a gate was a second story waiting area with regular doors identified with gate numbers. Between these doors were large expanses of windows through which we could watch the commercial jets as they arrived or departed. It amazed me how aviation had advanced since my days in the Army Air Corp. I watched as a jet taxied to an adjacent gate.
      I pointed to the jet as I addressed Emma, “Look at that.”
     We watched a motorized enclosed and moveable telescoping ramp that was connected to the building being moved into position at the door of the jet. The passengers were provided direct access into the terminal while protected from outdoor weather conditions.
     About a minute later a much smaller aircraft pulled up outside of the window. Rather than a jet, it had a single motor and propeller mounted on each wing. My mind screamed at me. Except for the porthole windows to the passenger cabin, it was the same type of aircraft I flew on during my return trip to the States following my imprisonment. The plane was a DC-3, a commercial version of a C-47 Skytrain, a military cargo plane.
     Rather than connecting with a movable walkway, a set of steps was wheeled into position at the cabin door of the plane.  I watched in anticipation as passengers exited and descended the stairs to the pavement and walked toward the terminal. It wasn’t long before Doug appeared.
     “There he is,” Emma stated. Tears of emotion were trickling from her eyes.
     “That’s our son,” I replied. “He really looks sharp.” It wasn’t an exaggeration.  The way he wore his uniform was a sight to see. The khaki uniform had what appeared to be razor sharp creases. The pants were neatly tucked into the tops of highly polished black leather boots. Sergeant stripes dominated the short sleeves of his shirt, and a deep-green beret crowned the top of his erectly held head.
     Doug disappeared from sight as he entered a door to the terminal building, and I noticed those who exited the plane in front of him started to enter the waiting area through the door labeled with the gate number. I grabbed Emma’s hand and led her toward the door. I felt lumps in my throat, and I was filled with pride when Doug appeared. Emma raced to him and engulfed him with a passionate hug. The smile on Doug’s face was electrifying, and then he leaned over and kissed his mother’s forehead. I wished I would have brought a camera with me to catch the moment.
     Once Emma released her hold on our son, Doug extended his hand to me and stated, “Great to see you sir.”
     I accepted his firm handshake and responded, “Great to have you home Doug.” I then took my other arm and wrapped it around him in a hug. “You don’t need to call me sir. Dad is fine.”
     Doug laughed and stated, “It’s my military training.” He quickly looked around and asked, “Where’s Mary?”
     Emma answered, “Someone had to milk the cows. She wanted to be here.” Emma then realized Doug left the plane without any baggage. “Don’t you have luggage?”
     “We’ll have to pick it up at the baggage claim area. I was told it will probably be about a half an hour before it’s there.”
     “So…” Emma stated. “We have some time to kill,”
     “Let’s catch a beer,” I offered. “I saw a small tavern along the concourse on our way in.”
     “Sounds like a great plan,” Doug stated.

(My review is HERE.) 

One of the ugliest periods for my generation was the War in Vietnam. The ugliness continued for veterans who returned, and it continues to this day for many. Tarnished Valor is my tribute to all of the men and women who served during Vietnam. It focuses on the aftermath of the War that still haunts many veterans years following return to “The World”.
     The following is an excerpt from Chapter 4 of Tarnished Valor:

     I have just arrived in Philadelphia at the Thirtieth Street Station. Following the hassle of getting myself off the train and to the taxi stand in front of the terminal… had to negotiate barriers with my chair… I feel the chill of an early morning wind. I am cold. My field jacket doesn’t have a liner, and I left my sweater with Judy.
     I roll my chair to a taxi, and I can see the driver look at me, but he doesn’t seem interested in giving me a ride. I tap on the passenger side window, and he takes his time lowering it.
     “I need a ride to Carver High School.”
     He stares at me. I have the impression he’s about to refuse me a ride.
     “Do you have twenty dollars?”
     “I do.”
     “You’ll need to pay me up front.”
     I take a twenty-dollar bill from my wallet and hand it to his outstretched hand. He gets out of the car and helps me into the back seat and hands me my crutch. He folds my wheelchair and places it in the trunk along with my knapsack. Once he returns to the car and pulls away, he asks, “You’re sure you want to go to Carver this early in the morning? I doubt if it’s open yet.”
     “I do.” I decide to take a verbal jab at him for his rudeness. “This is my first time in Philly. In almost every other city taxi drivers collect after reaching the destination. It’s different here.”
     “Can’t be too safe. I’ve been burned once by a vagrant, and I’m not about to be burnt again.”
     “I’m not a vagrant.”
     “Can’t tell that by looking at you.”
     I rub my face with the palm of my hand and realize I need a shave. I’m wearing an old Army field jacket and trousers with a dirty knee caused by yesterday’s crawl up the Capitol steps. I’m minus a leg, and I realize I probably look like a vagrant. I haven’t had a shower, so I probably smell like one too.
     “Yeah… I probably look pretty bad. I’m from Cleveland and flew to D.C. yesterday. I planned on being back home by now, but my plans changed. I didn’t pack a change of clothing, a razor or toothbrush.”
     “Why were you in our nation’s Capital?”
     “I joined a large number of other disabled to crawl up the Capitol steps. It was a protest to encourage Congress to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
     “I saw that on the news last night. They showed this little girl…”
     “Jennifer Keelan. She was amazing. I crawled up just behind her.”
     “Watching her choked me up.”
     “She’s an amazing kid.”
     The traffic is fairly heavy, and I’m amazed to see the flow of vehicles blocked by trucks making deliveries by double parking on the street as they are unloaded. Back in Ohio this would never happen without tickets being issued by the police. What’s even more interesting is how traffic will get by these temporary roadblocks. Cars, where they can, quickly drive over the curbs onto the sidewalks to pass.
     We pass areas with large numbers of people wrapped in blankets sleeping on sidewalks. This leads me to comment.
     “I’ve never seen so many homeless. Is it like this during the really cold nights?”
     “Always. You’ll notice some of them are lying where steam is rising from under them. They have the warmest location on top of manhole covers to the city’s steam pipe tunnels.”
     After we pass Temple University, we turn off of a wide boulevard onto a side street, and the driver comments, “Carver High School is just a few blocks ahead. Why are you going there?”
     “I’m looking for a good friend I served with in Vietnam. I thought he was killed. After I finished the crawl up the Capitol steps, I visited the Vietnam Memorial. His name wasn’t on the Wall.”
     The driver is silent until he stops the car in front of Carver High School. “We’re here. I hope you find your friend.”
     “I do too.”

My review is HERE

What started you writing at all?

When I was a high school student, a fantastic English Teacher dropped a bombshell on my class. We were all assigned two novels to read and write a literary comparison. The novels assigned to me were Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham and The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. Following my initial alarm, I read and (to my surprise) thoroughly enjoyed both books. I was awed by the ability of each author to hold my attention and rip at my emotions, so the writing of the literary comparison became a labor of love. I also wondered, “Could I also write a story as potent as these?”
Fast forward a few years. I was in the Army, and during my free time I found that always getting drunk with the guys was not for me. I started to write, and by the time I completed my military service the first draft of a novel was also complete. The novel dealt with the struggles of a young man in college (at a fictional university) and his time in the Army during the Sixties. Following my service I returned to Kent State University to continue my education. I was there to witness the horror when National Guardsmen fired into a mass of students…. killing four. At that time I knew my novel would need to be reworked incorporating Kent State.
The novel remained dormant until I retired from the practice of Architecture. I did conduct research for it during those years. I needed to understand the cultural changes and events at Kent during the three years I was away in the Army. They were dramatic. I retired, dusted off my old manuscript and wrote. One could say it took me forty-seven years to write The Blanket Hill Insurgency.
I know that a storyteller tells a story, and you do.  But what is the ‘core’ or ‘kernel’ of your story?  Aside from keeping your readers engaged, what do you hope to convey to them?
I describe my writing as, “Novels of significant cultural and historic events wearing a costume of fiction.” The events I write about need to be remembered. They are part of the fabric of who we are and the changes in our cultural norms. I have noticed many young people today have little understanding of the world their parents and grandparents grew up in. What were highly offensive words have become common in conversations (such as “bitch”). It is my sincere hope the stories I write may help younger generations appreciate where we were and those who lived it to remember a time that has been lost.
When you write, do you put yourself in your work, somewhere?  Perhaps in disguise?  (If so, I’d like an illustration of the character that really is you.)  Do you express your hopes and dreams?
Many of the experiences I have had are molded, following modifications, into scenes depicted in my novels. As an author I find this essential to create stories capable of evoking emotional conditions a reader will believe. I also, not often, have inserted myself into the work. In The Blanket Hill Insurgency a collegiate cross country race provides a back-drop to a scene. I actually was one of the runners in the race. In Tarnished Valor a scene takes place in a building where I operated an architectural practice. My name is mentioned in a short dialog between two of the characters.
I asked you to send me excerpts of each of your books, which I post now.  -Which one do you, yourself, like best?  Why?
This question is like asking, “Which of your children do you love the most?” While writing a novel, I become so engrossed and attached with the work. They all are very much a part of me. Having said that, my most recent novel, Tarnished Valor, I consider the most important. It focuses on a tribute to a generation of veterans who gave their all and returned home to face ridicule and problems that haunt many until this day. It’s a story that had to be told.
If you had something to tell someone who is considering reading your stories or writing, or just facing life, what would it be?
I believe my novels are a good read for any age. They honestly depict who we were by placing characters into historically accurate times and events from our not so distant past. They cross a multitude of genres including historical, romance, tragedy, faith-based and military/war. Offensive language is only used where necessary to properly depict an action, and words selected are never based on political correctness (it’s the way it was).
Related to life, due to medical conditions I may be nearing the end of mine. If I make it, I’ll be seventy my next birthday, and looking back I know life is short. We are on this earth only once, but while we are here, we affect the lives of many. Live life to the fullest, but live with integrity.

I’m often asked about the photo on the back of my books. The dog with me is Rascal, and he’s a bit older now. When I write, Rascal is always on the floor at my feet. When I finish writing a section, I’ll read it aloud.  Rascal is attentive. His tail wags as I read happy passages, and he whimpers as I read emotionally sad passages. He probably reacts to the tone of my voice, but Rascal has become my first critic.

July 29, 2016 – Celebrating Heat Waves and Teething Puppies

Celebration Friday!!!

Friday is the day we observe the ‘Celebrations’ blog hop founded by VikLit and now ably managed by Lexa Cain and her two delightful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits (Go visit them!)

So…  What am I celebrating?

After about two weeks of above 90 degee weather, the heat wave is breaking!  Temperatures in the eighties and then the seventies.

I thought New England was supposed to be a cool area…

Chet, small and cute

I am also celebrating the fact that my teething puppy appears to be lightening up a little.  Although at four months – approximately 5 years old in human age – he wants to romance anything on four legs at the dog daycare he goes to for training twice a week.  We are hoping for an Alpha Female to arise and knock him into the middle of next week.  That just might straighten him out.

Chet The Nuisance

  Someone commented that it might traumatize him.  I suspect that smart, stubborn puppy is about as easy to traumatize as a U.S. Army  Humvee…

The U.S. Army’s replication of a teething Labrador Puppy