Family, Featured, Lifestyle, Navy Football, Travel

Family and Community

October 15, 2017

Family and community are two words that are flung around like confetti nowadays. We’re a football family. We are a community of like-minded individuals who like a certain musical group. We think of community not as something where we are actively involved but where we are brought together for short periods of time. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about this. It’s just that the meaning of the words has dulled with overuse.

Take this past weekend as an example. As many of you know, my husband and I are rabid, and I mean rabid, Navy football fans. We’ve had season tickets for about 15 years, beginning when we lived in Northern Virginia and games were a lovely day trip to Annapolis. When we moved down to Smith Mountain Lake, it never crossed our minds that we would cancel our tickets and stay home to watch games on television. It was just too much fun to be in the Navy-Marine Corp Stadium with upwards of 33,000 fans five times a year.

We tried once to make this a day trip. Too long a drive, too much traffic, and two grumpy people in one car. We started staying overnight, meeting up with friends we’d left behind when we moved further south. We made these five weekends away our time to play. Limited access to social media, except for an occasional posting on Twitter or Instagram. Mostly, we stayed in the moment with a group of like-minded fans who all sit in the same seats every game. Our group has changed over the years, but at the same time it has also stayed pretty much the same. Every year we have about 50% turnover, so we get to meet new folks all the time.

Last weekend was a zoo at the stadium. Navy hosted Air Force. Sellout crowd of over 38,000 people. Way too many cars for the parking lots and surrounding streets and lawns. The day starts with the March On when the Corp of Midshipmen march into the stadium in winter blues, even though it was 80+ degrees. It was after October 1, so winter blues it was. Everyone stands when the colors pass. Everyone stands for the National Anthem and then the fly-over. The game begins after both teams run onto the field, the coin toss at the center tells the teams which one gets the ball first. By now, the fans are “ready for some football.”

Our boisterous group cheered, moaned, and jumped up and down throughout the game. It all came down to the last 15 seconds when Navy held on to beat its rival of 50 years. Only Army and Notre Dame have played Navy for more years.  Parents whose children go to the Academy go wild; fans like my husband and me go wild. There’s little like the pageantry, the unabashed patriotism, the symbolism of an academy game.

So, Navy won and the 38,000+ fans clogged exits to get to their cars. It took us over an hour to get out of the stadium and onto the highway that would take us to our hotel, the same one we’ve stayed in since we moved to the lake. It was so late that I went straight to the restaurant before checking in. We were starving. Never did it cross my mind that the two men at the front desk would be worried because we were so late. When we finally dragged in, Sam, who was on duty, called out to Ivan who was in the back area, “They’re here. They’re safe.” I didn’t realize that they would be so concerned. Ivan charged out of the manager’s office, around the counter, hugged me. He shook hands with my husband.

We’ve come to know Ivan over the years. We’ve prayed when he struggled with cancer and cheered when he was pronounced cured. We worried for his family in Puerto Rico after the recent hurricane. He told us, “they are all alive.” No running power, no electricity, no telecommunications, but his family was alive. We rejoiced in the news.

Okay, so it sound silly, but that little group of fans in Section Two, Blue Side is like a community that gathers together five times a year. And the two men at the Hilton are like family, because who else but family worries if you stay out too late.

Maybe the words aren’t so overused after all. I’ll keep my Navy community and my Hilton family, thank you very much.

Vietnam, Vietnam war, War, WVTF

I Did Not Know

September 26, 2017

When Ken Burns released The Civil War, I was mesmerized.  My husband and I watched every episode with him narrating more of what he knew about the Civil War than I did. I was inspired to read Shelby Foote’s trilogy. For me as a California girl, the Civil War had been little more than half an hour discussion in an American history class. My husband grew up 30 miles from Gettysburg, so for him it was tangible history. There was so much I did not know.

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick are out with The Vietnam War. Here’s where things changed. My husband is a Cold Warrior, having served in the Air Force between Korea and Vietnam. He was married with kids when this conflict gained strength. I, on the other hand, was in undergraduate school at UCLA. While not the hotbed of protests like Berkeley, UCLA was more oriented to quiet sit-ins, blockades, marching. As the death toll mounted and the scroll of names of those killed unrolled nearly every night at dinner, I felt this war viscerally. This hit home. Perhaps 50% of my high-school graduating class was drafted. A large number of my college graduating class was either drafted or high in the lottery. There was still so much I did not know.

I believed early on that our government was telling bald-faced lies about our progress. I had an activist professor who had us read materials about the French fall at Dien Bien Phu. He preached that the United States wasn’t learning from the French. He refused to call it history, because it was only a decade or so before our time. He called it “current events.” He led us to sit-ins at the Westwood Federal building, coaching us to sit on the floor in silence. We did. He said we might be arrested. We were. He said we might spend the night in jail. We did. For nearly two years, it was wash, rinse, repeat. Sit in. Arrest. Booking. Release. No charges were ever filed, because the district courts were jammed with real problems, not hundreds of kids sitting down on a floor and studying. There was no much I did not know.

I lost friends to death and injury. I watched how our military were treated when they came home. I stayed away from airports and chose instead to work with a different professor in counseling the mentally wounded. I had no inkling at the time that for many of these men and women, the war had taken up permanent residence in their heads. I thought they’d put everything behind them and get on with life in the civilian world. How wrong I was. I simply did not know.

So, now, with the Burns/Novick program airing over 18 hours on PBS, my husband and I decided to watch it. I’m almost sorry we did. Again, for him, it was a reminder of historical events, many of which tore the country apart but did not touch him personally. For me, it was an assault on the senses. Iconic images–the murder of the Viet Cong by a Saigon policeman, the napalm girl, dead on both sides–slammed into my brain. I couldn’t watch without feeling, or re-feeling, what I felt then. Anger. Rage. Sorrow. Loss. I couldn’t listen to the lies from Johnson, Kennedy, Nixon, et al, lies writ large because lives were at stake. Lives lost in a senseless slaughter. I couldn’t listen to Walter Cronkite tell us that the war was lost without remembering what we had for dinner that night–pasta and salad. And still the war continued. I did not know what was going on in political realms, in smoke-filled rooms, that lead to the loss of so many friends. I visit them at The Wall. It’s all I have left.

I did not know I would feel so strongly when the series began. Until I listened to the secret tapes about the secret bombings in Cambodia, where a man I cared for had been killed. It took 19 months for his mother and me to get the official word, when he went from MIA to KIA. His mother died within days, and his daughter went into the foster system to be adopted. I did not know all the emotions from those years were still alive, taking up real estate in my heart and soul.

The parallels between Nixon and our current president couldn’t be played out more clearly if the producers had flashed a neon warning across the screen: Don’t let it happen again. This may not be the time for marching in the streets, but if it is, I’ll be there, chanting and carrying signs. This is the time for making our voices heard. Write to your local newspapers. Write to your congressmen and senators if you think we should ratchet down the rhetoric against North Korea. Let them know how you feel. Tell them what you want. I do know. I know I want never to have our brave men and women die for a cause that is not ours, not a defense of our homeland, of the homelands of our allies. I do know. I will not sit silent. I do know.

 

9/11, Emotional Release, Emptiness, Featured, Grief, Inspiration, Lifestyle, Memories, Patriotism, Stress, Survival, Twin Towers

Seminal Events

September 11, 2017

We all have seminal events in our lives. Most are personal–births and deaths, weddings and divorces. Some, however, are public. Massively public. Depending on how old you are, you can respond immediately when someone asks, “Where were you when…?” Pearl Harbor. Kennedy was assassinated. The Challenger exploded. Armstrong walked on the moon. 9/11.

This will be published on 9/11. September 11, 2017. I can remember exactly where I was when I heard my country was under attack. I remember watching the twin towers fall again and again on television, never thinking that, to a child, all buildings in all cities were under attack. Watching the Pentagon on fire, not knowing how many were killed or injured. Weeping when passengers took down a jet in Pennsylvania before it could be turned into a weapon.

Yes, we can remember, but what I remember most is what happened later. After. When we drew a collective breath and realized there were no additional planes in the air waiting to attack us. When there was a run on US flags and poles for displaying them. People who had never flown the flag did so with unabashed patriotism. Some flew it to thumb their noses at the cowards who attacked us. Whatever. They flew them. Whole subdivisions, whole city blocks bloomed red, white, and blue. Many of those flags still fly all these years later. Mine does, although my original flag has long since gone to its grave. Properly destroyed in a military-style ceremony when its colors were retired forever.

Doors opened to strangers. When the commercial jets were pulled from the skies and hotels filled up, people took in strangers. Some stayed more than a week, because the skies were closed for many days. New friends became instant best friends. Blocks had cookouts and group functions to share their grief, pain, anger. Strangers worked hard to help their hosts. Prayers. Hand-holding. Hugs. “Thank you” didn’t seem like enough, but it was.

As days turned into weeks, people in cities looked for hiding holes should there be another attack. Knowing cities could never be evacuated should there be a biological or nuclear attack, city dwellers looked for places away from home where they could feel safe. We gave eight families invitations to our lake house, where we now live year round, but where in 2001 we didn’t. We told them where to find the outdoor key, told them to eat what was in the freezer, sent them maps not only to the house but the local services. Gas stations. Grocery stores. Pharmacy. Liquor stores.

We were lucky. No one needed a rush evacuation due to new attacks. Everyone who knew where the keys were came for long weekends after the initial fear cycle was behind us. The keys are in the same place, so if anyone needs to get out of any situation, they have sanctuary with us.

I have never forgotten the kindness the world showed the US. It seemed that even age-old enemies stood beside us symbolically. We wept and raged together. Later, we met together on battlefields against a common enemy.

The blog entry will be published on September 11, 2017. My gratitude toward the world hasn’t weakened. We were all Americans for a period of time. All over the world. The world became one when we were attacked.

Now, I wish we could become one again. Not due to a tragedy. Not due to a natural disaster. But, because we need to be one world. We need to stand together. We need to build bridges. We need to make amends for our actions which have disrespected other countries. We need to open the door of friendship. We need to be the grownups. We need to do it now.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing, Writing Style

Interacting

August 28, 2017

Have you ever sat in a coffee house or bar and watched how people sit or stand when they talk with each other? I love watching the gestures, facial expressions, set of the shoulders–anything that makes me think the people want to talk and listen to each other. Recently, I’ve noticed something else.

Men and women sit differently. Women like to sit at a table and face each other. They look at each other, paying attention to facial expressions. Whether it’s a table in a restaurant or a low table in a coffee house flanked by comfy chairs, women like to look at each other. Maybe it comes from learning to read expressions at an early age. “Be careful. Mom’s on the warpath” does not mean Mom is wearing war paint but that her face is set and she’s not going to brook any nonsense. We learn that smiles mean it’s safe to approach, maybe even ask for something. Frowns are off-putting. We learn not to go near until the frown goes away.

Men, on the other hand, like standing at a bar side by side. Whether they are bellying up and leaning on the bar itself, or sitting on bar stools, or turning their backs on the bar to watch what other people are doing, men seem to be more comfortable talking out of the sides of their mouths, glancing over occasionally. When something like a crowd of women or a good game on big screen televisions captures their attention, they may pause at the distraction but resume the conversation a few moments later.

Women like words. Lots of words. They like telling stories about their friends, sharing plots of television shows, catching up on each other’s kids. They fill their space with so many words that they seem to hang in the air, crowding out everything else. They’re in a cone of chatter.

Men like silence. Lots of silence. Grunts, nods, shrugs are as important as words. Single words, monosyllables convey as much between men as clouds of chatter do to women. Men like to think about one thing at a time. Women created multitasking. They are always focused on something they have to do later/tomorrow/right now.

We’re wired differently. Ain’t it great?

 

Featured, Marketing, Serial Killer, Suspense, Writing, Writing Style

Introducing EYES WITHOUT A FACE

August 7, 2017

My newest book, Eyes Without A Face, releases in October. Unlike anything I’ve written before, it’s from inside the mind of a psychopath. Here’s a teaser:

No matter what anyone says, I wasn’t born a serial killer. I don’t carry a sociopath gene, a psychopath gene, or even a serial killer gene. No such thing.

You can argue about nurture versus nature. Go ahead. Have at it. Look at the studies about psychopaths. Check me against the list of traits. I didn’t wet my bed, kill small animals, or set fires. My younger brother did those things, but he didn’t kill people―as far as I know. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous. My sister was. She began screwing every boy and some of the men in town as soon as she got breasts.

My father was verbally and physically abusive like half the men in town. So overpowering was the old man’s dominance that my mother retreated into a dark place where no spark emerged. Valium and vodka numbed her into submission.

None of this turned me into a killer. I came to this life through free will.

Back in college, I was never in touch with the lifestyles of my sorority sisters, who were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I knew from the very beginning that would never be satisfying. I needed something more, something different. Once I killed someone, however, I found my true calling in life.

In a way, fate led me to kill people that didn’t deserve to live. Other than one time, I never, ever killed anyone without a damned good reason. Even that time, I felt justified because I was learning my craft, honing my skills, if you will. I came to killing gradually, but once I started, I continued for more than three decades.

Featured, Lifestyle, Travel

Hot July Night

July 24, 2017

Instead of a hot August night at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, my husband Terry and best friend Glenn joined 7000 of our closest friends for another hot July concert at Wolf Trap. The venue is outdoors with a covered pavilion and lawn seating. The temp peaked at 96 with high humidity by 5:00. We’d arrived around 5:30 and with gates opening at 6:30, we had a long, standing wait to get in. We actually heard the sound check, although we couldn’t see the stage from the gate area.

Because we arrived early enough to be third in line at our gate, we were assured we’d have a good spot once the gates opened and the land rush began. We had a plan: Terry would immediately rent back rests, Glenn would dash downhill to stake out our homestead, and I’d follow more slowly with the blankets and food. Recently recovered from a broken wrist, I don’t “dash” anywhere. Glenn is a pro at this and had grabbed a great place only about fifteen feet up from the front of the lawn area.

We’d been following this band for years. I became a fan when its first album was released fifty years ago and never stopped buying every new release. In all formats except 8-track tape. Among the three of us, we knew the words to nearly all of the hits. Glenn had been following the reviews as the band worked its way across country. Not a single slightly sketchy review to be found. From 17,500 people at the Hollywood Bowl earlier in the summer to our paltry 7000 at Wolf Trap, the band sold out every venue for its fiftieth anniversary concert series.

The reason for the tour, beyond saying thank you to the fans, was to recognize the life-changing effect the first album had on the band and its fans. The concert was split into two halves: in the first set, the band played hits from many of their albums and singles over the years; the second set was the entire inaugural album from first note to last. The fans came to adore their favorite singers; the singers came to be adored.

Just before the encore, Justin Hayward, the lead singer, thanked the fans for joining them on their life’s journey. The sheer fact that we were there to celebrate was testament to the effect the songs from that first album had on so many of us.

We writers can take a lesson from The Moody Blues. We can thank our fans, our readers, for joining us on our writing journey. It takes so little, but Justin’s recognition of what we’d done over the years, loving the band, made all the difference. The fans were speechless before erupting in a standing ovation that lasted many minutes.

Writers don’t get standing ovations, but we do get to meet fans who buy our books. May we never forget to say “thank you” when we hand back a signed book.

To those readers who continue to enjoy my scribbles, thank you. I hope I’ve entertained, and I hope to continue entertaining for many books to come.

Featured, Lifestyle

Thinking About Toes

July 10, 2017

First of all, the word “toes” is a funny one. It rhymes with nose and does. It’s a plural referring to ten digits at the end of two feet. Now, feet are more than just things we walk on; feet are also units of measure. Toes are not units of measure. They are simply things we need to stand and walk.

I’ve become something of a toe fetishist this summer. It all began in April when I put on sandals and looked at ten bare toe nails. Off to get a pedicure and have bright red polish applied by a professional who not only took care of said toe nails, but the entire foot and my calves. Massaging and scrubbing until my legs were purring with pleasure and my feet were soft as a baby’s behind. It felt so good I should say I’m a toe hedonist, but that was before color choices.

I was one of two women getting my pedicure that first spring day. I poked through fifty shades of red before deciding on one that was perfect. The woman next to me was enjoying getting coral on her toes. We chatted about how and why women chose different colors. Very enlightening, because I never choose coral (coral lipstick washes my face out), but heck, that shouldn’t apply to toes, should it? For me, it seems to. I never lean toward coral shades.

During the last pedicure, the nail salon was crammed. Every chair was filled; many more waited for polish to dry or to begin their appointments. Nail art was in full swing. Several women were having rhinestones glued to big toes; others were opting for stencils of flags, flowers, or dogs. Covering everything was a thick coat of clear varnish to keep the designs from fading.

I grew fascinated by two different approaches to making statements with nail polish. One young woman was having a French manicure, pink nail beds with white rims at the tips. She was going to a wedding and wanted fingers and toes to match. Of course, silly me for asking. The other fascinating approach involved a twelve-year-old and her mother. The child had selected ten different colors ranging from deep purple to hot yellow. I thought she couldn’t make up her mind, but no, she wanted each toe painted a different screaming color. Her mother agreed, then asked for five of the colors for herself. She started with bright yellow on her left little toe and worked her way to purple on the big toe, reversing the order on the other foot. When she left, her daughter looked like a happy neon billboard; mom looked like she was signaling someone with one purple big toe and one screaming yellow big toe.

Me? I settled for a lovely brick shade, not too bright, not too dull. A Goldilocks shade. Maybe I’ll get brave next time and opt for purple. Or not.

Featured, Lifestyle, Travel, Writing, Writing Style

Summer Memories

July 3, 2017

Late last year, I shared a short story here called “Toad.” Set in the high desert of Southern California, it was the tale of an imaginative little boy in the late 1950s. To be a free-range kid in those days was heaven, because Toad could go anywhere but toward the highway. With his two best friends, Shorty, the gray burro, and Rex, the German Shepherd, Toad roamed the desert alone or with his younger brother, Jimmy. The story was filled with sunlight as you would expect from something set in the summertime desert.

Toad began as a bit of flash fiction. I loved the little boy. Later, I expanded the story several times. I wasn’t done with Toad. The further away I was from Toad, the clearer I could see him. I couldn’t get the boy out of my head. I wondered how he would grow up, who his friends were, what happened to his parents, his brother.

The more I thought about Toad, the more I really wanted to write more of his story. What I didn’t want to do was  write a novel. I wanted more freedom to explore, to change voices, to change points of view. I’d read a novel by Clifford Garstang, What the Zhang Boys Knew, a few years back. Cliff’s work was a novel in stories, wherein a pair of boys living in an apartment complex in Washington, D.C. figure prominently in each story, which focus on other residents in the complex.

I couldn’t put Toad in a high-rise in Washington, but I could leave him in the desert, let him go away for school and work, and return to his roots. Along the way, Toad picked up a good friend, Pollywog, who moved in “up the road.” Pollywog and Toad met in high school, before they went their different ways. A not-so-nice aunt and her two young girls, one a spoiled princess who hated everything and one a studious child who hid from conflict inside the pages of books, joined the family. Jimmy, Toad’s younger brother, found voice in his own story.

Toad remained the center of the stories, as did the desert compound where he grew up. Family came and went, married and divorced, had kids and lost kids. Life went on, but Toad’s story unwound in ways I didn’t expect.

I have a lot of work to do on this before it’s ready for publication. I hope it’s out in the first half of next year.

And why did Toad draw me in? Partly because I spent many summers in the compound, which was exactly as described in the stories. Party because I was a free-range kid, something my grandkids can’t be nowadays. Partly because I knew and loved the inspiration for Toad. His story needed to be imagined and told. I hope I do him justice. Time and our family will tell.

Featured, Lifestyle, Writing

Summer Doldrums, Early

June 26, 2017

I spoke with several close friends about their drive to do something. Since the beginning of June, they’ve had the summer doldrums, otherwise known as the summer blahs. Yes, they know chores have to be done, and they do them, but then they want to sit beside the pool, or on a dock on a lake, or on the patio, pour a glass of iced tea (sweet or unsweet, depending on your degree of “Southern-ness), and dive into a book. We want some lounge time, me time to read what we want, not what we may have had to read for work. We want a steamy romance. a chair-rattling gothic, a keep-the-lights-on mystery, a spy thriller.

Me? I chose a spy thriller, P.A. Duncan’s A War of Deception. Like something right out of the John Le Carre school of spy thrillers. this blends old-fashioned Cold War spycraft with modern locales and themes. Bad boy spies and the women who love to hate and love them keep me turning pages.

Why don’t you join me? What are you reading today? If it’s one of my books, please take a pic and let me know where you are and which one you’re reading. If not one of mine, that a pic and post to FB. The author will be delighted.

Editing, Featured, Writing, Writing Style

When Women Writers Get Together

June 19, 2017

A week-long writers workshop began with a reunion of half a dozen kindred souls, all writers who had attended the workshop for several years, as had I. We filled the first hours with catching up on the families and other personal activities. Then, we began talking about our writing. And that’s when the conversation turned serious. Really serious.

Each of us expected the other writers to have finished a chapbook of poems, much of a new novel, a series of essays or short stories. What we learned is that to a one, we had been oddly blocked. We knew what we wanted to write, but the writing-ness of writing was more than difficult. For a couple, it had been impossible. Some of us were stress starvers who don’t each much; others were stress eaters who put on weight. At least fifteen pounds.

This felt different from generic writer’s block. Its origin was in the cosmic angst, not in the person herself. The more we talked, the more we were able to identify the point when we stopped feeling like writing. (Not to say, many of us continued, but the joy was gone.) For a couple of writers, the date was early in November; for others, it was in January. Those who waited until January hid behind the holidays. Once January ended, their mental paralysis was in full bloom. They sat. They spun. They thought but could find little to write down.

Several started writing about happier times in their lives. I didn’t realize it, but I was one who went back to an earlier time, to a story I started on a lark about a place where I felt safe and joyous. I revisited the story, fleshed it out, wrote outlines for six additional stories, and decided I would write a novel in stories about an extended family and some of their friends. Good things and bad happen to the family, but they always have one place of solace they call home. I felt excitement growing. I felt a release.

The more the women talked, the more we realized we had allowed outside events overwhelm us. We spent too much time on social media. We allowed people we love to interrupt our writing. One woman’s daughter texted her constantly when she was writing, growing shriller and shriller until she stopped and responded. Concentration shattered. Might as well go onto Facebook and Twitter and see what was going on.

We pretended we were doing research when we followed trails all over the Internet. One woman wanted to validate a point in her novel, only to find herself an hour later still following links down all sorts of side paths. She had entered the “oh, look, a chicken” mindset. She vowed to turn off her phone, keep only the story live on her screen, and let the world find its own way without her for a while. Sounds good to me.

I too let myself get distracted because I don’t want to hurt my friends’ feelings if I don’t interact then instant they get online. I played into their games, leaving myself vulnerable to losing my train of thought. I let them control our relationship, because I didn’t want to get into any lengthy discussions about why what I was doing was more important than looking at their stickers.

We women left the week-long workshop rejuvenated. We promised to help each other if we found ourselves straying. We agreed that our position might not be all that popular, but if you want books from us, you must, absolutely must, understand that we will take the space we need. No matter how many times you text me, how many emojis/videos/stickers you send, I will be online when I’m finished with my work at the end of the day. I may take breaks in the middle of the day for a few minutes, but that doesn’t mean I’m inviting anyone to try and engage in lengthy conversations. I ask you to understand. This is not open for debate. I have two books that must be finished in short order. And they will be.

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