A Death In The Family

Carleton Harlow, my beloved son-in-law, passed away on Friday, January 6.  I will be in Vermont with my daughter and her family until the end of the month. Thanks to those friends, family members, and colleagues who have sent me their sympathy and condolences.

Published in: on January 7, 2012 at 2:04 pm  Comments (17)  
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Good-bye to 2011

Like the two-faced god Janus, we look back at 2011, even as we look forward to the coming year.  Journalists, political pundits, and economists have already been hard at work analyzing the past year, and making predictions for 2012.


But public reflection aside, there is a personal summing up. We pat ourselves on the back for good deeds and good times, and excoriate ourselves for our failures and disappointments.


In my personal reckoning, I realize how little I would have accomplished in the past year without the love and encouragement of my family, friends, and colleagues. Thank-you for walking with me through challenge and self-doubt, for holding me up when I faltered, and for celebrating when things went right.


Wishing all of you a prosperous and happy new year!

Published in: on January 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm  Comments (18)  
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Introducing GETTING SIDEWAYS by Lisa Nowak

Today’s it’s my great pleasure to announce the launch of Getting Sideways, the second book of the Full Throttle series by Lisa Nowak, a rising star among young adult authors right here in Oregon. Lisa brings her experience as a stock car racer and mechanic to life through the eyes of her protagonist, Cody Everett. But this is more than a book about racing. It’s a book of navigating the sometimes rocky road to maturity.

Getting Sideways: Book 2 in the Full Throttle Series

Getting shipped off to live with his uncle Race was the best thing that ever happened to fifteen-year-old Cody. Then a wreck at the speedway nearly ruined everything. Cody’s making every effort to get his life back on track—writing for the school paper, searching for the perfect girlfriend, and counting the days until he gets his drivers’ license—but there’s no escaping the nightmares that haunt him.

A chance to build his own car seems like the perfect distraction. Until Cody realizes he’ll have to live up to Race’s legendary status. But that’s the least of his worries, considering he doesn’t have his dad’s permission. All he has to do is the impossible: keep Race from discovering his lie until he can convince his dad that racing’s safe.

Yeah, sure. That’ll be easy.

Haven’t read the first book? Running Wide Open is on sale now for 99 cents.

Running Wide Open: Book 1 in the Full Throttle Series

Cody Everett has a temper as hot as the flashpoint of racing fuel, and it’s landed him at his uncle’s trailer, a last-chance home before military school. But how can he take the guy seriously when he calls himself Race, eats Twinkies for breakfast, and pals around with rednecks who drive in circles every Saturday night?

What Cody doesn’t expect is for the arrangement to work. Or for Race to become the friend and mentor he’s been looking for all his life. But just as Cody begins to settle in and get a handle on his supercharged temper, a crisis sends his life spinning out of control. Everything he’s come to care about is threatened, and he has to choose between falling back on his old, familiar anger or stepping up to prove his loyalty to the only person he’s ever dared to trust.

Praise for Running Wide Open:

“It doesn’t matter if you are a racing fan or not, Running Wide Open will captivate you and capture your heart.” – Cari J, Amazon reviewer

“The roar of engines practically explodes off the page in this compelling, heart-thumping debut. Cody Everett is a straight-shooter with attitude, smarts, and whip-cracking wit; he doesn’t pull any punches, and neither does author Lisa Nowak. The collision of Cody and the world of stock car racing makes for a great story, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Running Wide Open is a book not to be missed.” – Christine Fletcher, author of Tallulah Falls and Ten Cents a Dance

“The racing is easy to understand and does not get in the way of a rattling good story. I still couldn’t put it down on a re-read.” – Elisabeth Miles, Amazon reviewer

“We race stock cars during the summer and even though this is a recommended read for Young Adults, we are seniors and enjoyed every page. We can hardly wait for the sequel to come out. MUST READING!” – Maxci Jermann, Barnes and Noble reviewer

“I say read this book, it’s fun, it’s beautiful, it’s a very cool read that will give you a feel-good state of mind. Awesome read.” – L.E.Olteano, Butterfly-o-meter Books

Author Bio:

In addition to being a YA author, Lisa Nowak is a retired amateur stock car racer, an accomplished cat whisperer, and a professional smartass. She writes coming-of-age books about kids in hard luck situations who learn to appreciate their own value after finding mentors who love them for who they are. She enjoys dark chocolate and stout beer and constantly works toward employing wei wu wei in her life, all the while realizing that the struggle itself is an oxymoron.

Lisa has no spare time, but if she did she’d use it to tend to her expansive perennial garden, watch medical dramas, take long walks after dark, and teach her cats to play poker. For those of you who might be wondering, she is not, and has never been, a diaper-wearing astronaut. She lives in Milwaukie, Oregon, with her husband, four feline companions, and two giant sequoias.

Connect with Lisa online:

Author Interview: McKenzie McCann

Today it’s my privilege to welcome McKenzie McCann as my guest.  McKenzie is not only a junior in high school, but a writer as well. She has been blogging since February of this year, and has also written her first novel. Welcome, McKenzie

Alice: You must have begun writing at a very early age, McKenzie.  What is it about writing that makes/keeps you engaged?

McKenzie: Writing is more of a hobby than anything else. I got serious about writing poetry when I was eleven, but the idea of writing for publication didn’t come around until 8th grade. I’m something of a psychology nerd, and being able to create unique characters opens my perspective of how people work, what makes them the same, what makes them different

Alice: What trends or genres seem to be the most popular with teen audiences today?

McKenzie: Most kids in my class like palette cleanser books and fantasy. Very few read for the intent of finding themes or to learn anything. They just want a good story with a lot of sex. I don’t know much about the people who read fantasy, but I know Leviathan is very popular right now. Most of them don’t understand the point of reading classics like The Odyssey or Macbeth.

Alice: I’m unfamiliar with the term “palette cleanser books.”  Could you explain exactly what they are?

McKenzie: Basically, a palette cleanser is a light read. You don’t have to worry about a happy ending and the content isn’t controversial or difficult. Night by Elie Wiesel is not a palette cleanser, but Anna And The French Kiss by Stephine Perkins would be.

Alice: In view of that explanation, do you think teens read fiction mainly for entertainment, rather than to see different ways of coping with modern conflicts and issues?

McKenzie: We’re in something The Maintainer (my best friend, her epithet makes more sense if you follow my blog) and I coined as ‘intellectual decay.’ Younger people are losing the ability to think deeply because school does not ask them to do so. We’re encouraged to only make observations, but analysis is becoming a dying art. If you think teens are consciously reading a book because they think it’s helping them in some way, you are very wrong. They may subconsciously like a book because it relates to them, but ask people why they like a book, and you’ll get a blank stare and a ‘because it’s good.’

Alice: Are teens, in your opinion, reading more, reading less, or reading differently than earlier generations?

McKenzie: I think about half of teens read for fun and the other half read because they are forced to. I’ve heard that the ebooks trend has resulted in more teens reading, but maybe ten of the two hundred kids in my school actually have ereaders. Most of the ones that do were already avid readers to begin with.

Alice: They say a good cover can sell a book. What kind of cover would be most likely to attract today’s teen?

McKenzie: I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, I like covers that pose a question. I do judge books by their covers. I think it’s a good indicator of how much thought went into the story. As odd as it may sound, I’ve noticed a lot of popular books don’t have an actual full face on them, such as Forever… by Judy Bloom, Such a Pretty Face by Cathy Lamb, Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner, or even the Twilight series. They may have half of the face, the back of the head, the face turned so we only see the cheek, but never a full face. Other body parts might be on the cover, such as legs, feet, or hands. I don’t know if this appeals to teens more or less, but that’s what’s being read.

Alice: What important thing should adult writers of YA fiction remember?

McKenzie: Teenagers are so loud. Actually, let me correct that. TEENAGERS ARE REALLY, REALLY LOUD. Every single day I come to school a group of people are often shouting about something. It’s as if they have no idea other people might be inconvenienced. I think that’s something adult authors should keep in mind, most teens act without a single thought of the future and without consideration for one another. And do it loudly and in the worst possible manner. In our high school lunch room, you often can’t hear the person sitting next to you, and there are only about twenty people in there on any given day.

Alice: You’ve recently signed a contract with Puddletown Publishing Group for your book Perfecting Perfection.  Tell us a little about the process of submission and whether you were asked to do any revisions or edits before the final acceptance.

McKenzie: My mom and Renee, one of the founders, knew each other from going to Women in The Woods, which is basically like summer camp for adults. My mom heard from Renee that she was starting a publishing company, so I submitted. I got a reply right away and Renee said she liked it, but was going to hand it off to Lisa Nowak, who was in charge of the YA branch. It was the longest two weeks of my entire life. Mind you, my life hasn’t been very long, so two weeks was absolute agony. Lisa did like it and gave me some edits, asking to resubmit after the edits had been applied. I did all of that, got some beta readers, and sent it back. By then Lisa had quit, so Renee looked it over, gave it to someone they called a ‘marketing editor.’ In July, I learned the marketing editor liked it and I was offered a contract. I did not receive the contract until mid-October.

Alice: What inspired you to write this particular novel? And can you tell something about it?

McKenzie: Basically, I got the flu and wrote this to preoccupy my mind. One of my friends often says ‘my brain is smarter than me!’ and that’s how I feel about this book. I was delirious with a fever and the whole thing just spilled out. It started with Riley, my main character, and I just loved him so much, I had to make him into a story. I knew he was the lead singer of a successful band and the fame was tiring him out. That sounded really intriguing to me, and that was how I knew people would read it. I am a teenager, no matter how much I detest it, and it’s helpful for writing a marketable story. Perfecting Perfection is kind of like a high-minded YA romance novel. There is plenty of deeper meaning, but the story does not rely on it.

Alice: What are your plans after high school graduation?

McKenzie: College, naturally, I am dying to go to Reed in Portland, Oregon. I want to study either psychology or creative writing. It depends on what will happen with my novel in the next eighteen months. If I can make it as a full-time writer, I will. If not, well, I do love psychology, but it’s not my passion

Alice: You’ve grown up in the computer age, but do you ever have moments when you feel that technology is out pacing your learning curve?  Too many gadgets, too many apps, and too many social networks?

McKenzie: I hate Facebook. I got one because on the way home from my first week of Outdoor School, all of the other counselors on the bus essentially yelled at me for not having one. I figured I had resisted long enough, and besides, I barely use it. Technology gives people an excuse not to talk to one another, and that’s just sad. What would life be without true human-to-human interaction?

Alice: Do you have a date for the publication of your book, Perfecting Perfection?  And how can interested readers get in touch with you?

McKenzie: I pushed for a date, but Puddletown refused to add one to the contract. They said there were too many factors to even settle on a time frame. In July they said they were aiming for November/December, but I will be very impressed if it’s out by then. Readers can find me on my blog at The Ubiquitous Perspective and my email mrhmccann@gmail.com.

McKenzie, thank you for your thoughtful responses and for a peek into the world of teenagers as seen by one of their own.

Published in: on November 1, 2011 at 7:15 pm  Comments (6)  
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Interview: Cheri Lasota

Today I’d like to introduce the lovely and talented Cheri Lasota.  Cheri is an editor at Stirling Editing, and recently launched her debut novel in September through SpireHouse Books.  Cheri, I’m so happy to welcome you to share some of your thoughts with me and my readers.

When did you first start writing?  What kinds of books inspired you as an author?

I don’t recall a time when I wasn’t writing, to be honest. But I do know I made my first attempt at novel writing in third grade. In those first years, my only goal was to just finish a story. It took me decades to be able to do that. I had to learn the hard way that I have to outline my fiction before I begin. It doesn’t work any other way for me. I grew up solely with classics by Dickens, Hawthorne, Melville, Tennyson, and Wordsworth. Words and rhythm were my passions and I cultivated them carefully over the years.

Did you become an editor first and a writer second?

My first editing job was in the Azores Islands (interestingly also the setting of Artemis Rising). I was the editor of my high school newspaper. I went on to work at two other newspapers as well as for a nonprofit group. I much preferred the fiction world, however, so after a couple decades of honing my editing skills as well as fiction writing, I started a freelance editing business in 2004: Stirling Editing. I adore working with and encouraging novelists and short story writers. No better job in the world.

Your book, Artemis Rising, has such an interesting setting.  Why did you pick the Azores Islands as the background?

My father was in the Air Force and we were stationed in the Azores Islands when I was 15- to 16-years old. The Azores are a group of nine islands about 800 miles off the coast of Portugal. I had never heard of them before moving there. I would compare them to Hawaii in terms of beauty. They are volcanic islands owned by Portugal but they have very little commercialism. It’s an idyllic, quiet existence, and I loved every moment of it. When I left the islands, I knew I had to capture that time in my memory forever, and what better way to do that then to write it into my first novel?

How did the plot for Artemis Rising come about?

I built my whole story around three major elements: the culture, land, and faith of the Azorean people; the Greek myth of Alpheus and Arethusa; and the Arthurian legend of Tristan and Isolde. What on earth do these three elements have in common? It took a decade of my life to figure that out. And whoa! the parallels will amaze you.

Are you an outliner or a pantser?

As I mentioned before, I’m definitely an outliner. I’m an absolute wuss when it comes to the blank page. I shake in my boots and the whole bit. So I have to create a little box for myself to work within. You can’t just show me the open road and tell me to hit the gas. Doesn’t work. I need to know where I’m going and why. I’m probably the most over-organized writer you’ll ever meet. =)

I know you’re working on a new book.  Can you tell us a little about that one?

This next book has been a breeze to write! It’s because I finally understand how I work best, so I definitely plotted this one out way ahead of time. I’m about halfway through. The novel is set on the Oregon Coast (so I can finally have easy access to setting research!) and it involves a fictitious lighthouse and spans two lifetimes. The first story is set in the 30s when the lighthouse was still in use. The second story takes place in present day when the lighthouse is being restored to its former glory. There is a bit of a mystery in this novel, and how those two storylines intertwine is where the magic happens.

Artemis Rising, an ebook, features interactive links.  Did your publisher come up with those?

SpireHouse Books and I brainstormed cool ideas for interactive ebook content together. We both brought things to the table and then narrowed them down to the very best. We have old classic maps, an author page, external links to my website, etc., a hyperlinked glossary, and up next I’ll be trading chapter one excerpts with other authors. The possibilities are endless! And the great thing is that we can change up these features whenever we want.

One of the unique things you did to promote Artemis Rising was to make a video book trailer.  What can you tell us about that and where can we see it?

I’m blessed to have many friends within the Portland film scene. They went above and beyond to help me create a kind of mini-film of my book that showcases scene snippets from the book and brings them to life. We filmed in Portland and on the Oregon coast and I often say that those two production days were some of the best of my life. To see scenes from my novel come to life before my eyes…there’s just nothing quite like it. Since Director Bill Thoma of Axiom Shift Productions wrapped up production, I’ve been able to incorporate the trailer into my book marketing campaigns in many innovative ways and it has truly given Artemis Rising a broader audience.

Where can we find your book and how can inquiring minds contact you?

Learn more about the novel or contact me at http://www.cherilasota.com. The book is available in all digital formats and can be purchased at SpireHouseBooks.com, iTunes, Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and KoboBooks.com.


SpireHouse Books launched Cheri Lasota’s first novel, Artemis Rising, in Sept 2011. The book is a YA historical fantasy based on mythology and set in the exotic Azores Islands. Currently, Cheri is writing and researching her second novel, a YA set on the Oregon Coast. Over the course of her sixteen-year career, she has edited fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and short stories for publication. Cheri also has twenty-four years of experience writing poetry and fiction.

My Father and the Sea

Last night as I lay sleepless in my bed, thoughts and memories broke upon my consciousness like the waves that ceaselessly crash upon the shores of life.  Because I am drawn to analogy, I saw them like dark waters, borne out from the pregnant sea, called by the waxing moon to dash upon my heart.  The pregnant sea, like the subconscious mind, brings us that which was hidden. Ancestral voices call, seemingly indistinguishable from our own. In pursuing this metaphor, this analogy, I remembered my father, and in so doing have decided to share part of his “Meditation by the Sea.”

“I walk in wonder by the sea—the fresh salt air sharp in my nostrils.  The restless striving of the surf, the shock of breakers against the rock, and the echo of the sea bird’s cry seeming very like a dear but long forgotten dream.

How feminine is the sea—her countenance ever changing yet somehow always the same!  Now smoothed in peace, now dancing in sparkling animation, or—under the lash of the winds—stirred to relentless fury. How secret are her depths—how resourceful and ample her womb from which has sprung all life on this fair green planet.  Yes, and beautiful are her children, even the most grotesque and curious, and how perfect each in its own way—from amoeba to leviathan—from newt to man—from lichen to templed Sequoia…

“And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the deep.”

And instantly, in recalling these majestic words from Genesis, I am suddenly and warmly kin to that ancient, unknown prophet who first phrased them in sudden intuition linking the Fatherhood of God to the motherhood of the sea.

I walk in wonder by the sea.  Here is evoked peace and contentment—but more than this, strength and everlasting striving.  I have come home again!”

Joseph Conrad Chamberlin


Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 9:45 am  Comments (14)  

September Lingers

If I’d known what September held, I might have battened down the hatches and stayed in bed. Instead, I got up and went about my business. Several hours before midnight on August 30th, I was tooling along in traffic when a driver pulled out of an apartment complex, hitting me and starting the snowball to hell. Fortunately neither of us was injured. Damage to my car appeared minimal, and we were both insured. 🙂 Easy fix, I thought. No, the estimate I received didn’t please the insurance company. But neither did their appraisal figures. I was asked to submit my keys and title because the car was a total loss. What I had was a door that needed a new panel, probably a hood, and a bumper. So I argued fruitlessly with them and my insurance company refused to intervene since the accident was not my fault. Then I was told I could retain my car but would have to buy it back from them and obtain a salvage title. They sent papers that never arrived. Finally, we did it with a fax. But to my horror, a salvage title says: a salvage car cannot be licensed or tagged and I would have to surrender my plates. So what good would this do me? I finally found a customer service number for DMV and learned that my car would not be a salvage car; just a totaled one. I have to re-register for the title, allow them to “brand” the title as Totaled, let them check the car to verify the VIN number, and pay the fees. As of October 4th,I think we have reached a resolution. Hopefully, I’ll receive a check and my chariot will be repaired about mid-month.

We’ve also been busy at home, having windows replaced and dry rot repaired. Because the reconstruction involves office space, vital equipment has either been moved out or bunched together, requiring considerable agility to maneuver around file cabinets, computers, printers, and telephones. I’ve come close to standing on my head during a file search. Personal papers, once stacked here and there, are missing. If I’d sorted and filed them, I wouldn’t be in this pickle. Of course these stacks were seldom used because I could never find what I wanted when I wanted it.

I’m hoping October will prove a much happier month. After all, this weekend is Wordstock, and I’ll be there selling copies of Volunteer for Glory in The Starving Writer booth! See you there?

Published in: on October 5, 2011 at 2:28 pm  Comments (12)  
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Scattered Pieces Released by Webfoot Publishing

It seems fitting and somewhat ironic that in announcing the publication of Scattered Pieces, I should think back upon my life. Perhaps all lives are scattered pieces, pieces dealt to us by fate, and the pieces we chose to play in such and such a way.

In my story, Katie Harris looks back to assemble the scattered pieces of her past. Katie’s life was marked early when her little brother, the mischievous Jimmy, wiggled away from her at a Cleveland train station.  His disappearance marked Katie and her parents with what might be a brand that says: LOST. AT FAULT.

As I write that, I think I might bear a similar mark. LOST. TWO SONS. Though I never consciously plotted Katie’s story using my personal history, it may have been at the core of my disseminating dream. My dream: a little boy waits with his father outside a train station. As a spectator, I see the father bring the boy inside. But two menacing figures accost them and the child vanishes.

This was the first dream. The second began after I went back to sleep. This time I’m at an airport, sitting on an outside bench.  A little girl wheels an empty baby buggy toward me. “I’m looking for him,” she says, and walks toward an airplane waiting on the tarmac. Waking again, I reviewed the two dreams, and Scattered Pieces began to take shape in my mind.

As Katie’s life of trauma, love, and mystery unfolded, Lisa Nowak was one of my best pre-beta readers.  Her enthusiasm for Scattered Pieces culminated this week with its publication through Lisa’s company, Webfoot Publishing. Besides having stepped into the world of publishing, Lisa is also the author of the YA series Full Throttle , beginning with Running Wide Open, a coming of age story set against an exciting background of stock car racing.

I want to thank Lisa and Webfoot Publishing for making this dream a reality. And the awesome ladies of Chrysalis who listened and commented, week after week, during it’s initial reading.

Scattered Pieces can be found for the low price of $2.99 in e-book format at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and on Kindle at Amazon.  The print version will be available sometime in November. If you’re interested in reading it and letting me know of any typos you spot, I’ll send you a free copy. Just leave a comment below.

Published in: on September 12, 2011 at 10:46 am  Comments (11)  
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Joseph Kelly, A Son Remembered

Anniversaries mark not only the happy times in life.  They also mark days or hours when lives are changed forever.  Twenty-eight years ago on September 4th, I received the phone call that every parent dreads.  “Joe is dead,” said the voice on the other end of the line. He had been killed in a motorcycle accident, and if I let myself remember, the shock still sends waves of disbelief through my heart.

But on this day, I want to introduce Joe to those of you who never knew him. I remember him on April 29, 1983, his last birthday on earth. The picture I snapped was of Joe holding his adoring little brother.  On the table is a frosted cake and a vase of red tulips and lavender lilacs.  “What is your ambition,” I asked, “now that you’re twenty-one.”

After a quick but serious pause, he said, “I don’t really have any plans.  But I’ve always wanted to reach twenty-one.  I’m a man now, and that’s enough.”  In retrospect, his words seem prophetic.

Joe, the youngest of my first three children, was a sensitive youngster with a tender heart.  At age seven, he railed at his older brother for wrecking a spider web, reminding him how long it took the spider to make it.  He defended younger children being threatened by playground bullies, a protective trait he never lost.  But there are too many memories to write here.  That would require a book.  So I will content myself with two.

Joe was about ten years old.  The children, I thought, were asleep, when I heard someone crying.  Going to the boys’ room, I found Joe sobbing softly in his bed.  Coaxing him downstairs to the family room, we sat before the fireplace where the dying fire still glowed red and gold.  Snuggled in my arms, he explained the reason for his heartbreak.  “I was thinking,” he said, “that someday we won’t all be here.  We’ll be away from each other, and nothing will ever be the same.”  I don’t recall what words of comfort I offered, but I will never forget what he said.

The day following his funeral service, his girlfriend, a beautiful, silver-haired blond girl came to see me.  This is one of the stories she told.  “Joe and I had a special tree,” she said, blinking hard to keep her tears in check.  “It was in a little park near Lloyd Center.  One night Joe took me for a walk there because it was our anniversary.  We’d been going together for six months.  He told me to look up, so I did.  I saw the stars coming out, but he wanted me to look more closely.  Then I saw the twinkle of something tied high in the branches of our tree.  ‘What is it,’ I asked and he smiled.  ‘Something for you.’  He’d been carrying a round leather case with him.  He opened it now and took out a fishing rod.  Putting the sections together made it long enough to reach into the tree.  When he brought the twinkling object down, I saw it was a golden promise ring hung from a ribbon.”

My Joseph was a romantic. He was handsome, kind, and funny.  He could tell jokes that made you laugh.  He could relate a story so poignant it would make you cry.  So today as I brought flowers to the place where his ashes are interred and looked at beautiful young face smiling from the photo beneath his name, I still could not believe he has truly departed from this world.

What do you say to a loved one who passed on?  Can he or she hear what you say?  Can they see your face as you say it?  Nevertheless, I turned my gaze to the clear blue sky and asked that however far he has traveled in that mysterious realm that awaits us all, that he return to greet me as I cross that boundary.  I could almost see him, a glowing figure surrounded by a nimbus of light, a vision to sustain me until that wondrous day.

As I write these lines, my classical radio station begins Danny Boy, one of the songs played at Joe’s service.  A message?  I’d like to think so.

Published in: on September 4, 2011 at 4:48 pm  Comments (35)  
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New Friends and Kindred Spirits

Yesterday I had the privilege of presenting Volunteer for Glory to a wonderful group of people at Tanner Springs Assisted Living. Admittedly, I was nervous as I’d only given readings, and being without a script was a challenge. Once there, however, I felt an amazing warmth and kinship with these remarkable individuals.

How do you describe such an atmosphere without resorting to clichés? You can mention the smiles and gentle responses from each person you greeted. You can refer to their polite attention. And you can report their participation, especially when I asked them to share thoughts, opinions, or memories.

One lady had spent time in the South where the Civil War still lives in a collective memory of carpetbaggers and hard times. That brought on a discussion of the bitter aftermath of Reconstruction following Lincoln’s assassination. The South had lost their greatest friend, for Lincoln’s desire had been to “bind up the nation’s wounds.” Then she told us that only about 5 percent of Confederate soldiers were slave owners. The majority of Rebel soldiers were poor farmers without an economic stake in the fortunes of the big plantations. Another resident remarked that some wives followed their men to wash, sew, and cook.

When I mentioned how different life was in the days before computers, cell phones and iPods, a woman seated in the back row shared a childhood memory from the Depression.  “My father farmed using horses,” she said,  “as we couldn’t afford a tractor. But when he’d come in after a day of plowing, I’d run to meet him.  We had two mares, and he would pick me up and set me on the back of the gentlest, the one named Ruth. I was so proud to ride into the barn on that big horse.” I could see her in my mind’s eye; a sweet mite of a girl running to greet her daddy at day’s end. I could also imagine the man in his cotton shirt and overalls, setting his little girl on the massive draft horse to ride like a queen across the barnyard.

A dress and sunbonnet, part of the Civil War era fashions kindly lent by Roxie Matthews, sparked another story. A wonderful lady told of wearing a sunbonnet to work in the fields, day after day, enduring hot sun and backbreaking labor. Scratching out a living in the ’30s required that everyone pull his or her weight.

Several hands rose when I asked if any had seen husbands or brothers go off to World War II. They nodded, knowing what it was like to be left behind while loved ones marched into danger with no assurance of return.

As a bonus, I’ve been invited back to present Wrenn, Egypt House, and the soon-to-be published, Scattered Pieces. One lady has already spoken for a copy of Scattered Pieces as she can relate to the 1940s. But the sweetness of this afternoon was not in the selling and signing of books. It was in meeting extraordinary people and discovering the riches of friendship and wisdom they offer.  I can’t wait to go back!