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Featured, Haiku, Humor, Lifestyle, Poem, Poetry, Writing

Seasonal Haiku

February 26, 2018

It’s time for something light. Days are getting longer, a minute or two each day. Tempers are getting shorter, because winter seems to be dragging on. It isn’t, but still people think it’s endless.

So, in hopes of bringing a giggle into your life, I offer four haiku.

SEASONALLY AFFECTIVE ORDER

Whites, browns, yellows, blacks
Screeching, shoving—
Gang warfare @ the bird feeder.

Gently rocking waves
Lull one to sleep—
The nose peels.

Apple, cherry, pumpkin
Pies in the oven—
Time for the gym.

Ice-shrouded world
One slippery step—
Technicolor moon.

Watch your step now, ya hear???

Crime, Featured, Lifestyle, Narrative Voice, Serial Killer, Suspense, Thriller, Writing, Writing Style

An Interview With An Author, Part II

February 12, 2018

Welcome back. I’m your Intrepid Reporter interviewing Betsy Ashton, author of the incredibly chilling EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

IR: I’m here with Betsy Ashton. Welcome back.

Me: Thanks. And thanks for the coffee.

IR: We’ve already talked about the cover and why you wrote the book. I want to talk now about the killer herself.

Me: I’m good with that. This killer got under my skin.

IR: She doesn’t have a name.

Me: I think you mean she doesn’t have a given or family name.

IR: Right.

Me. In her small town, most kids grew up with nicknames, Buddy, Bub, Junior, Princess. Her family nickname is a representation of how her family sees her.

IR: Did they really call her That Thing?

Me: Alas, they did. It shaped her worldview.

IR: I found I couldn’t always believe her.

Me: Well, she is unreliable. She doesn’t want you to believe everything she says, but she wants you to believe everything she does.

IR: That sounds contradictory.

Me: It is and isn’t.

IR: I see, I think. Is she a sociopath?

Me: She doesn’t think so.

IR: So, she’s a psychopath?

Me: She doesn’t think so.

IR: That’s why she’s called unreliable, isn’t it?

Me: That’s part of it.

IR: I may be foolish, but sometimes I found myself rooting for her.

Me: Good. That’s what she wants you to do.

IR: I got a distinct Dexter vibe. Was that intentional?

Me: By no means. I have heard of Dexter, of course, but I’ve only seen one episode. I don’t receive the channel it was on.

IR: Did you have any television show in mind?

Me: Criminal Minds. I think the episodes are perfect for that show.

IR: Do you see any of the actors playing That Thing? G-Man?

Me: Casting That Thing is for a different interview. If Joe Mantegna weren’t so old, I’d like to see him play G-Man. That said, I wouldn’t turn down Shemar Moore…

IR: Do you have any advice for a budding author trying to do what you did with this book?

Me: Humanize your character.

IR: How do you recommend doing that?

Me: Give her a cat.

IR: I’m afraid our time is up. I hope I can have you back to learn more about how you write and what you are working on now.

Me: It would be a pleasure.

Author Interview, Betsy Ashton, Eyes Without A Face, Featured, Lifestyle, Psychological Mysteries, Psychopaths, Suspense, Writing, Writing Style

An Interview With An Author, Part I

January 29, 2018

Recently, I sat down with an Intrepid Reporter who wanted to talk about my serial killer book, EYES WITHOUT A FACE.

Intrepid Reporter: I understand you recently wrote a book about a female serial killer. Do I have that right?

Me: Well, since you are reading from the press release, yes, you have that right.

IR: What ever possessed you to write about such a dark subject?

Me: Nothing possessed me, if you mean, was I taken over by a spirit or something like that?

IR: Huh?

Me. It was the result of a double-dog dare. You can never turn down a double-dog dare.

IR: Really? Who dared you?

Me. I took a course on writing mysteries a few years back. One of our challenges was to write the first sentence of a mystery. I wrote: “My sorority sisters were into sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but that wasn’t enough for me. Then, I killed someone and found my true calling in life.”

IR: Well, now.

Me: That’s what the teacher said. She went on to double-dog dare me to turn the opening into a novel. I did.

IR: May I assume you are not a serial killer?

Me: You may.

IR: How were you able to get inside the head of such a, um, well different character?

Me (signing): It’s called using the creative gene. I imagined what it would be like to be a killer and wrote about it. Simple as that.

IR: I think it would be very hard to write this book in first person.

Me: No harder than in third person or from the point of view of a dog.

IR: A dog?

Me: Never mind. It was a challenge, but one I was ready to take on. I’d never written anything with such an unlikable character. Strike that. Some people think she’s likable.

IR: Eeuw! Really?

Me: Really.

IR (shaking her head): I couldn’t, but then again I’m not you.

Me: And you should be glad you aren’t. Imagine what my husband had to live with for the three years it took to shape and polish the book.

IR: I’d rather not. Let’s move on. The cover is very chilling.

Me: It’s supposed to be. I asked my son to put on a hoodie and ski mask that covered his lower face. I gave that picture to a cover designer who took out the rest of his skin, overlaid the eyes, and created a character without a face but with eyes that follow you.

IR: I can’t imagine what your dinner table conversation is like.

Me: Pretty normal, actually, except talking about using KA-Bars or switchblades for killing.

IR: But you don’t have a KA-Bar in the novel.

Me: Aha, you have read the book. I did, but I took the scene out. I may use it as a short story because I love one line in the section: “I don’t use guns because you never have to reload a KA-Bar.”

IR: I think it’s time to take a little break.

The second part of this interview appears on this blog on February 12. Stay tuned.

Eyes Without A Face, Featured, Lifestyle, Writing, Writing Style

Looking Ahead

January 1, 2018

And so 2017 is in our rear view mirrors. ‘Tis the time to wax eloquent about what the new year, 2018, will bring. I’m not one of those. I’m more rooted in what I can make happen and how I can entertain readers of this blog.

  1. Trust me. I will still occasionally post a blog with social meaning, social commentary, or just thoughts about life.
  2. I want to share more of my work in progress. Some brief bits of new work will appear here before anywhere else. (Later, the bits will appear on my Facebook pages, MadMaxPage, and EyesWithoutAFaceNovel. Completely new work might appear on my BetsyAshton page as well.) Lots of little things swirling around in the old brain that demand to be shared.
  3. I will continue promoting Eyes Without A Face  most of the year, because it’s a terrific story. I’ll share what readers tell me, like this quote:  “Congratulations on a superb achievement! Your book is riveting, original, and impressing. To evoke sympathy for a serial killer is no small task, but you did it. And the amount of research you must have had to do for this novel boggles the mind.” When you share comments, I’ll keep them, respond, and share.
  4. I ask you to review my books, all of them, on Amazon and Goodreads.
  5. I’ll let you know when the next Mad Max book comes out. HINT: February.
  6. And I have yet another novel I hope to get out in 2018.

So putting the angst-filled 2017 behind me, I’m really looking forward to 2018. Thank you for taking this journey with me. I value your support and comments more than I can express.

Happy 2018. Onward!

Christmas Past, Editing, Featured, Lifestyle, Satire, Writing, Writing Style

‘Twas the Night Before Deadline

December 18, 2017

with apologies to CLEMENT CLARKE MOORE

‘Twas the night before deadline, when all through the house

Not a writer was stirring, not even his mouse;

The laptop was set up on the table with care,

In hopes that the words soon would appear.

 

The images were nestled all snug in his head;

While visions of page proofs filled him with dread;

And good guy in mischief, and bad guy with a rap,

How to keep the right words, and edit the crap.

 

When out on the street there arose such a ruckus,

He sprang up in anger at loss of his focus.

Away to the window he flew like a flash,

Drew back the curtains and peered through the glass.

Red lights swirled on ceiling and wall,

Shattered concentration caused him to bawl.

When what to his curious eyes did appear,

Images of pages, blank and austere.

 

He wielded a pen so sure and so quick,

He knew in a moment his edits were nixed.

More rapid than eagles his cross-outs they came,

And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:

“Now, Bracket! now, Period! now Colon and Slashes!

On, Comma! on, Hyphen! on Quote Mark and Em-Dashes!

To the top of the page! to the top of the wall!

Now erase away! erase away! erase away all!”

 

Ideas that normally flowed freely and fast,

Now met so many obstacles they left him aghast;

So on the pages his cursor stood still,

Hours to deadline and no words to kill.

 

And then, in a twinkling, he heard in the hall

A shuffling gait of his wife’s slow footfall.

As he drew back his head, and was turning to see,

Into the study she carried fresh coffee.

 

She was dressed all in flannel, from her head to her foot,

And her clothes were all rumpled, no makeup to suit;

A cup she set on the table with care,

Steam rising and swirling, to drink it a dare.

 

Her eyes—how they twinkled! her dimples, how merry!

Her cheeks were like roses, her nose like a berry!

Her droll little mouth was pursed up like a bow,

And the hair on her head was as white as the snow.

 

He wished she’d call his editor to plead

All he wanted was more time to re-read.

His editor he knew would laugh and deny,

He was behind in his contract, he could but sigh.

 

That editor so mean, so nasty and bold,

“Not another second,” his memory so cold,

With a nod of his head and a stroke of his pen,

He showed him the way out of the mess he was in.

 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to the work,

Delete key melt down, words appearing from murk,

Finally laying fingers on keyboard with a touch so slight,

He typed and typed well into the night.

 

He sprang from his chair, the manuscript to send

The deadline met, the last words “The End.”

His editor sent a note full of delight,

“Happy deadlines to all, and to all a good write!”

Featured, Harassment, Lifestyle, Women's Perspective

#MeToo

November 20, 2017

I hadn’t planned to write about the #MeToo movement. Some of my readers might think it too political for all the places this blog posts. The more I think about what is happening, the more I know I can’t remain silent.

#MeToo started with a few women speaking up about sexual harassment. Without going into details, these women stood up and talked about how some men had demeaned them, had exposed themselves. had touched them inappropriately. The list grew daily with women in entertainment, business, and politics feeling emboldened. No longer hiding in the shadows, these women stepped into the light, risked ridicule and having their reputations impugned, and stood steady under verbal assaults from too many different sources to name here.

It’s not just in the US where #MeToo has brought the issue of sexual harassment into the light. I’ve read posts from all over the English-speaking world, including India and Pakistan. Women everywhere are no longer silent.

Yes, I was the victim of sexual harassment. When I was early in my professional career, I traveled with my VP, my Managing Director, and a technical manager overseas. I was the only woman. I had no thought that anyone would say anything inappropriate, but on the first night, the VP offered to “take the edge” off my, um, “tension.” He said I’d be on the road for two weeks and would probably like a little “servicing.” Yes, servicing, like I was a cow in heat. I turned him down. He never made a second move, but I was never in the same room with him without a lot of people around.

By the standards of what is being reported today, this encounter was almost benign. And yet it wasn’t. The VP made me feel dirty, like I was coming on to him, and that I couldn’t be away from home for two weeks without needing sex.

I don’t want this post to be only about what happened to me or to these other women who have the courage to name names, places, and feelings.

I want this lesson to be the LAST time we have to talk about sexual harassment. I want this movement to make real changes in how we respect both men and women, because men are often victims of sexual harassment themselves. I want my daughters and granddaughters to know that they can speak up immediately. More, I want them not to have to speak up, because we have changed our behavior. I don’t want them to have to tell a person in power that you aren’t interested in their overtures. I don’t want them to have to tell a man to talk to the right boob because it’s getting jealous of the attention he’s paying to the left one. I don’t want them to have to look over their shoulders to be sure no one is stalking them at school/church/on the job/wherever. I want the next generations to feel as safe as they should be. I want them to wonder what all this craziness is all about, because it’s no longer an issue for them.

Are you with me? Are you ready to stand up with me and say #MeToo?

Featured, Lifestyle, Veteran's Day, Writing

He Sat Alone

November 11, 2017

Those who are regulars on this blog have read this essay before. I run it every Veteran’s Day to remind me of what our service men and women do and what ghosts they bring home. I hope you enjoy the rerun.

Dedicated to the management and staff at Applebee’s,
Bedford, VA

The black man sat alone in a large booth in an Applebees restaurant filled with friends and family honoring our veterans on 11.11.11. When he arrived, the manager asked, “Would you like to sit with other veterans?”

He shook his head. “I’d rather eat alone if that is all right.”

“Of course.”

The manager led him to a large booth, the only one open, at the side of the restaurant and handed him the special menu for Veterans Day. Every year for the “Veterans eat free” promotion, it was always the same:  sit alone, eat, leave. Every year the manager tried to get the man to join with others, but failed.

He measured every bite of his free dinner slowly. He drank nothing but coffee and spoke with no one. Was he a Vietnam vet? He didn’t look old enough. Was he a combat vet from Persian Gulf War? The age seemed right.

Veterans walked over to greet the man and ask if they could join him. He shook his head. No, he wasn’t feeling like company. He didn’t look up. The vets moved away and found others to share a meal with.

A little boy broke away from his father’s hand.

“Mister, are you a veteran?”

“I am.” The man looked at the boy.

“My daddy was in Iraq. What war were you in?”

“I wasn’t in a war.”

The boy’s father retrieved his son, apologized for interrupting the man’s dinner and moved to his family’s booth.

“But, Daddy, if he wasn’t in the war, why does he get to eat here today?” The little boy’s voice rang through a quiet moment amid the usual cacophony of shouted greetings and hellos.

“Because, Ben, many men and women are veterans, but they never went to war. We need them to help keep America safe during peace, too.”

The boy crawled into their booth, his face frowning over his father’s lesson.

Halfway through his Salisbury steak and macaroni and cheese, the man looked at a vet across the aisle from his booth. They recognized the emptiness in each other’s eyes.

“Army?”

The man shook his head. “Air Force.”

“Where?”

“Dover.” The man looked at his plate. The conversation was over.

The Army vet whispered to another vet. “He was at Dover.”

“Think he was a crew dog?” asked a third man.

“Nah, seen a lot of crew dogs. He never worked the flight line. He was inside somewhere.”

“Don’t look like an officer,” said the original vet.

“Might have enlisted right out of high school,” said the man who knew the black man wasn’t a crew dog.

“Coulda been in an office job. Logistics. Payroll. Something like that.”

“You don’t get that thousand-yard stare flying a desk.”

Other vets in the restaurant joined the whispered conversation. They kicked around what kind of job the man had held that left him haunted.

“Maybe he was in the clinic. Get to see a lot of sick and injured there.”

“Maybe. He don’t look like a combat vet. ’Sides, he told the kid he wasn’t in the war.”

“Peacetime guys see shit, too. Sick and injured. Dead.”

“Don’t Dover get the bodies from Afghanistan and Iraq?’

“Yeah. Wonder if he was on part of the honor guard.”

“Could be. Thought most of them guys was younger. He seems too old for unloading flag-draped coffins in the middle of the night.” The second vet wouldn’t let the issue die.

“Someone has to do it,” said the first vet. “Maybe he saw too much of what’s in those boxes. Young kids. Someone like his own son, maybe. Had to be hard looking at dead kids.”

“Never forgot what it’s like to see your best friend blown to bits,” said an older vet.

“He’s got the look, don’t he, Rex?”

“If he wasn’t in combat, he most likely was in the Dover morgue. Bad enough to be shot at. Worse to have to put the pieces back together for the families. Most IED dead don’t leave much behind,” Rex said.

“He’s alone. Bet his wife and family dumped him. Hard to live with a guy full of demons. Wife left me, too. Never understood the darkness didn’t involve her. She moved out. I tried to move on. Damned hard sometimes.”

“Hear you, man.”

Tables emptied as veterans and their families finished their meals. New vets arrived. Someone would whisper “Dover” and jerk a head at the man sitting alone.

No one asked what haunted him, the man with the thousand-yard stare. Veterans walked past his booth, dropped hands on his shoulder and moved on. He sat straight, frozen, neatly dressed in clean jeans, a shirt and zippered jacket. His ball cap rested on the bench seat beside him. Head and face shaved. He couldn’t acknowledge the support his fellow vets tried to give him.

Alone. On Veterans Day. As was his wish. He kept his head down and ate with complete concentration, lost in his thoughts. He paid for his coffee, asked for a go cup, and carefully dressed it with two creams and two sugars. He stirred, put the lid on, set his cap on his head and worked his way off the bench seat. He passed the boy’s table.

“Mister?” The little boy stood in front of the man. He held out his small hand.

The man reached out and shook it.

“Thank you,” said the little boy.

The little boy saluted. The man straightened his shoulders, held his head high and saluted. He looked at the father and his son, nodded and walked slowly out of the restaurant, a black veteran alone, his cup of hot coffee clutched in his hand.

 

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.

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?

 

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