Category Archives: Uncategorized

Who Can You Believe?

That’s the primary question Clifford Garstang asks in his latest novel, OLIVER’S TRAVELS. I’m a long-time fan of his work. By far, this is his best work yet. I know him to be a solid writer with a strong grasp of craft, but the complexity of this novel blew me away.

Take a philosophy major (Ollie) who questions everything, from what his parents tell him, what he observes, from his friends, and from his teachers, to a memory he has of his Uncle Scotty molesting him. As he grows older and enters college, this memory haunts him. Through a series of dreams, he’s able to identify this phantom as his father says is dead. Ollie can’t accept that, because he has no proof that his uncle is alive or dead.

These these conflicting impressions paralyze him. To deal with what he can’t understand, Ollie creates an alter ego, Oliver, who travels in search for the truth about his uncle. Are his memories real? Can he believe anyone? Can he believe himself?

Through powerful prose and vivid imagery, Garstang crafts a work that will leave you thinking long after you turn the last page.

So why did I like this story so much? Because Garstang weaves philosophy, memory, and travel into a convincing narrative about what goes on in the mind of a young man. Part coming of age, part search for the truth, part family drama, every page holds a revelation. I can’t wait for Garstang’s next work.

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Staying True To My Roots

No, I don’t mean the color of my hair. It’s silver-white by nature. What I mean is I can’t and won’t walk away from the roots of what make me me.

I discovered the world when I went away to college. Even with the Vietnam war lucking in the darkness of my senior year of high school, it didn’t make a huge impact until graduation day. That was when I realized that almost fifty percent of the boys in my class who weren’t going to college–and that was the majority at my high school–were being drafted within weeks of graduation. Fifty percent. Boys I’d danced with, cheered for on the football field, studied with. They were going into the draft. And I was off to college. It didn’t seem fair. Just because I was female, I was somehow safe.

I had already had two run-ins with the reality of the wider world. I had everything I needed to go the college of my choice. I contacted my congressman and asked for a recommendation to the Naval Academy. His response: a form rejection letter. A form letter! I was ineligible. My principal took me aside and explained a painful fact of life. Not in so many words, but he told me I wasn’t eligible for the Academy because I didn’t have a penis. The Academy was still male only. It wouldn’t be until 1980 when the first co-eds entered the Academy.

The second smack of reality was when my high school counselor refused to sign my college applications. She didn’t approve of the colleges I’d chosen. She said I should go to the local junior college (old term, but I’m old) and study to be a teacher, a nurse, or a secretary. That’s all she knew; that’s what she counseled all girls. So, my principal stepped in and sound my applications. When I was admitted to UCLA, I walked into her office, wished her a wonderful life, and left a copy of my acceptance letter on her desk.

Once I got to campus in Westwood, I absorbed the zeitgeist. The war in Vietnam. Poisoning the earth. People’s rights. Women’s rights. I marched against the war, sat in at a Federal building and was arrested so many times I knew the sergeant at the booking desk by name. No charges were filed. We spent the night in the drunk tank before being released. The police were so overworked with bigger problems that a few dozen students peacefully protesting the war and doing their homework on the floor of the Federal building didn’t warrant a fuss.

I found a home marching against injustice and give voice to those who couldn’t. I marched for all sorts of reasons, but the one that mattered the most was the Delano to Sacramento march for field workers rights. I didn’t do the entire march, all 340 miles, but I was out there several times. I still have buckshot in my ass from a sheriff firing off his shotgun to chase us off the highway. Forget that we had a legal right to be there. Forget that we had permits to march if we didn’t block traffic. Forget we were right. The sheriffs had shotguns. I recently told a friend about the march. She immediately dubbed me, “Buckshot Betsy.” Never thought about a nickname, but it fits.

In 1967 groups of students stood in silence to protest Dow Chemical, the maker of napalm, recruiting on campus. This went on for weeks. UCLA didn’t experience the violence that University of Wisconsin did, but we did get public attention. I protested the treatment of women and burned my bra for Women’s Rights.

With that as my background is it any wonder that I include injustice in my novels? I had Mad Max confront an crazy doctor who killed women, racial injustice, pastoral malfeasance, a scientist who released pathogens into a hospital. Follow that with a serial killer with her own warped code of “ethics,” and a group of militia that attacked military institutions.

Look for more hints of my activism. Meet me on the street and you’ll see me wearing my “Black Lives Matter” mask over my N95. Scratch my surface and you’ll find the long-time activist alive and well. Instead of marching or standing in the rain holding signs, however, you’ll find me raising my voice here and in my other writings. Join me.

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Filed under #Memories, #NewReadersWanted, #WritingLife, Uncategorized

A Review of Anthony Doerr’s CLOUD CUCKOO LAND

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When my book club decided to read Doerr’s latest, I was skeptical. One, the book is a monster. 600+ pages. Two, I couldn’t see why anyone rated it as high as they did. It was so disjointed. Then, I read the first chapters and was captivated.

As a writer, I was struck by Doerr’s style. He seems to have taken a series of short stories featuring an odd cast of characters across time, broken them apart, and sewed them together to form an interesting yet cohesive whole. I tried deconstructing the narrative style. And failed in spades. I tried to put it into a genre. Not really historical fiction, yet the fall of Constantinople plays a pivotal role. Literary fiction, of course, but what else? Speculative fiction? A bit. Science fantasy? Perhaps. After a while, I simply let the narrative sweep me where it would. This is a fantastic read that moves quickly, interweaves the importance of books and writing them, of how people are connected through time and space.

You’ll find broken characters seeking to do nothing more than survive, some of whom rise to heroic levels. You’ll find redemption for one of the most broken, a bomber who attacks a library. You’ll find people on two sides of a siege find a way to communicate when they don’t understand each others’ language. You’ll fall in love with Moonlight and Tree. You’ll wonder at the resistance of Konstance in her steel capsule heading to a planet she will not reach alive.

Throughout all of this runs a love of the written word, the importance of books to bind us together, and the work a writer does to keep her craft moving forward.

Highly recommended to all readers ready with a sense of wonder about where words can take us.

#WritingLife #BookReview #LiteraryFiction



View all my reviews

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Twas the Night Before Deadline

I always rerun this post just before Christmas in honor of the angst my fellow writers and I often feel. I hope you enjoy it.

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 on the table with care,

In hopes that words soon would appear.

Images nestled all snug in his head;

Visions of page proofs filled him with dread;

With good guy as hero, a 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 his pen so sure and so quick,

He knew in a moment his edits were mixed.

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 such obstacles, they left him aghast;

On the screen his cursor stood still,

Hours to deadline, no words to kill.

When, in a twinkling, he heard in the hall

The shuffling gait of his wife’s footfall.

As he drew back his head, and turned to see,

Into the study she carried fresh coffee.

Dressed warmly in flannel, from her neck to her foot,

Her clothes were all rumpled, no makeup to boot;

She set the cup down with deliberate care,

Steam rising and swirling, to drink it a dare.

He wished she’d call his editor to plead

All he needed was one day to re-read.

His editor he knew would shout and decry,

He was behind in his contract, he couldn’t deny.

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 fought his way out of the mess he was in.

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

Delete key melt down, words appearing from murk,

Finally laying fingers on keyboard, 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 of delight,

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

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Breathing Life Back Into This Blog

After an absence longer that I thought it would be, I’m resurrecting this blog. During the pandemic last year, I wrote and never posted a series of essays about what was happening. I didn’t post them because I thought we had enough voices commenting on all things related to COVID.

I talked with a lot of people about what I want to say. Some thought I should write exclusively about my writing life: what I’m writing, where I am in the creative process, what I’ve learned about writing in the process. And I looked at how many blogs I read about these topics. For me to add my voice to this cacophony seemed like hubris. That’s not to say I’ll keep readers informed of what I’m working on. I will, but that won’t be the central emphasis of what I write in this space.

And then there are the advisors who insist that I stay away from anything controversial. “Don’t write about politics, because you’ll lose readers.” Really. I write about social issues in every one, repeat EVERY ONE, of my novels. Unintended Consequences? Abuse of women. Uncharted Territory? Pastoral abuse, child endangerment, immigration. Unsafe Haven? Pandemic. And it goes on. Telling a former activist not to write about controversial topics is a futile activity. This is a woman who still has buckshot in her butt from a deputy sheriff taking umbrage at legal protestors walking along a highway. Might as well tell me not to breathe.

So, what will this be about? Whatever’s on my mind when I sit down to write. It will have updates on my books. It will have announcements of upcoming special deals.

And it will have something new. I review a lot of books every year, both written by my friends and by top-selling authors. I’ll post some of those reviews here, mostly for books written by friends. They deserve another lift up in their writing journeys.

For now, I’m announcing specials on all of my books. Print versions of all six at $10/each. For a limited time, ebooks are $0.99/each.

All books are available on Amazon at https://bit.ly/BetsyAshton.

Until next time, be safe, be happy. Read on, right now.

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Introducing BETRAYAL

It took longer than I thought, but at last I can announce that my latest thriller, BETRAYAL, is days away from publication. It’s nearly a year late, partly because of COVID (no, neither I nor my family have been ill), partly because of COVID malaise. I’d write and write, only to find I didn’t like much of what was on the screen. I found the delete key became my best friend. And then, one day, I woke up and began working in earnest. So, a year after what I’d hoped was my release date, I’m now closing in on it. For real.

My ARC team read the manuscript and gave me so many great suggestions for improvement. I read them all and took the majority. They were truly great catches, mostly of plot holes. My editor, who is also a pilot, edited not only with an eye for misplaced commas but also for bone-headed mistakes about flying. Thanks to her, I don’t sound like an idiot when I talk about following a flight path to a target. My cover designer fought through unanticipated school closures for her young son to come up with this cover.

“[When] a military jet [crashes] at an Army-Navy game, the danger has never been greater nor the investigation more personal.”—DIANE FANNING, NYT Best-Selling Crime Writer

“…a thriller with heart, and the human side of the drama…makes this book a winner.” AUSTIN S. CAMACHO, Author of the Hannibal Jones Mystery Series

Over 70,000 fans gather at the M&T Bank Stadium for the annual Army-Navy game. Three Navy fighters roar into the stadium air space. A fourth lags behind. The plane loses power. Cheers become screams when it crashes into the tailgating parking lot outside the stadium and explodes.

Was it pilot error? Suicide? Mechanical failure? Or worse?

Three couples in the Section Two Fan Club who knew the pilot—or thought they did—join a multi-departmental government task force to investigate.

Coincidentally, cameras capture a mysterious figure they call Fedora Man at a series of attacks on civilian and military targets. When he appears at the stadium, the Fan Club works to discover if the bombings and plane crash part of a larger pattern.

Amazon link coming soon..

What do you think? Is this something you’d be interested in reading? I’ll update with purchase links shortly.

Thanks again for joining me on my writing journey. See you in this space again soon.

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#LookingBack at 2020

Do you remember…Oh, stop rolling your eyes. This is not an “OK, Boomer” post. It’s about 2020. Do you remember when being in quarantine was cool? When we first heard about this new thing called the novel coronavirus, we ignored it. What’s that? Why was it called novel? It wasn’t because someone wrote a book about viruses. It was novel because it was new, unknown. We learned to call it COVID.

We rallied together once we realized how fast this beast spread. Kinda like we did after 9/11. We wore masks. We wore gloves. We stood six feet apart. We washed our groceries and quarantined our mail. We washed the skin off our hands.

So back when quarantining was cool, we applauded health care workers in cities at their shift changes. We banged pots and pans, clapped, and cheered these front-line warriors. We sang from balconies to lift spirits.

We looked for solace in music. Yo-Yo Ma recorded solos on the cello and posted them on YouTube free. Other musicians followed, posting new music and live favorites. Some recorded complete new albums in their home studios. Thank you, Bruce. 

Long-planned activities were upended, only to be replaced by drive-by parades: graduations, birthdays, funerals. Yes, even drive-by funerals. We made lemonade when we wanted Cabernet. We found ways to honor friends and neighbors without endangering them.

We laughed with a father and daughter who dressed up to walk the dog. When schools went virtual, this duo turned to the silly. They dressed up as Jake from State Farm and Flo from Progressive, as Star Wars storm troopers, paid homage to Indiana Jones, were Doritos. I think they missed tea bags and M&M’s, both of which became long-ago Halloween costumes for me and a friend. 

Classes adopted pen pals in long-term care facilities, hand writing letters and making birthday cards. They visited through glass and played Tic-Tac-Toe on nine-paned windows. They gave the gift of time and caring. They brought the school band for impromptu concerts.

We learned to Zoom, when that word became a verb, not the name of an app. We learned not to lean in too close, or our friends could look  up our noses. Yuck. We learned to wave, send virtual hugs, and connect. Every couple of weeks, my husband and I Zoom with my cousin and her husband near Burlington, VT. We talk about our week before turning to books we’ve read, things in the news that concern us. Every Sunday, I Zoom with my daughter born to a different mother. She lives in Kolkata and is now recovering from COVID. Zoom doesn’t replace face-to-face contact, but it maintains connections.

And now, with the New Year on our doorsteps, I’ve been collecting how my friends are going to celebrate without being together. Six long-time friends are celebrating with Champagne. One glass for each of the five time zones where they live. New York starts it with a glass; Chicago joins an hour later, with NY raising another glass. Denver joins Chicago and NY, followed by San Francisco, Anchorage, and Hawaii. Count that. Five time zones, five glasses of Champagne. My NY friends will be smashed before they get to SF!

Others are having live black-tie parties via Zoom. Couples will dress in their finest, listen to music from one Zoomer, dance, and toast the New Year.

It’s all about attitude. We need to look closer to our feet to see things we’ve ignored. We have time. Look for that fungus growing on a dead log, one you never noticed but which has been there for years. Watch earthworms emerge from frozen ground after the first rains. Smell the mud, the dust, the flowers.

2020 might not have met our expectations, but we can reset them for 2021. It’s all about what we want 2021 to be. I for one am looking for fresh experiences, whether it’s a new fungus or the reopening of my favorite restaurant for outdoor dining or finishing my next book.

Here’s to a great 2021!
Betsy out




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A Rerun of a Classic

‘Twas the Night Before Deadline
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 on the table with care,
In hopes that words soon would appear.

Images nestled all snug in his head;
Visions of page proofs filled him with dread;
With good guy as hero, a 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 his pen so sure and so quick,
He knew in a moment his edits were mixed.
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 such obstacles, they left him aghast;
On the screen his cursor stood still,
Hours to deadline, no words to kill.

When, in a twinkling, he heard in the hall
The shuffling gait of his wife’s footfall.
As he drew back his head, and turned to see,
Into the study she carried fresh coffee.

Dressed warmly in flannel, from her neck to her foot,
Her clothes were all rumpled, no makeup to boot;
She set the cup down with deliberate care,
Steam rising and swirling, to drink it a dare.

He wished she’d call his editor to plead
All he needed was one day to re-read.
His editor he knew would shout and decry,
He was behind in his contract, he couldn’t deny.

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 fought his way out of the mess he was in.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
Delete key melt down, words appearing from murk,
Finally laying fingers on keyboard, 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 of delight,
“Happy deadlines to all, and to all a good write!”

Happy holidays to one and all.

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#Election2020

If you’re like me, you’ve had it up to here with all the election noise clogging the ether. Vote for my guy. Your guy is a crook. Take down your lawn signs “or else.” No one has to define “or else.”

This may the most divisive election in the modern era. I don’t remember one where voters were so polarized. Civil discourse has lost to shouted arguments, parroting talking points from television news, and apparent interference with false news reports from outside influencers.

Social media awash with persona attacks. Friends unfriending friends. Family unfriending that one loud mouth who won’t stop telling you you’re stupid to like your guy.

I’m sick of it. I want the election to end. And then I think about those who voted for “the other guy.” Yes, we all have an “other guy,” the one we didn’t support, the one we can’t understand why anyone liked him. I feel compassion. That’s right, compassion.

A large percentage of voters are going to be in deep despair immediately after the election. Their candidate(s) lost. They don’t know why. They may be angry. They may be sad. Mostly, they may be utterly exhausted. 

And this is why I’m calling for compassion. Each of us has been on the losing side. Each of us has been on the winning side. It does not behoove us to dance in the streets and taunt the supporters of the losing side. It behooves us to understand these people are hurting. We can and must extend a bit of compassion, a helping hand, a kind word and a smile. 

This is a time we must take the first step toward healing the rifts in our country. Even when the last vote has been counted, we still have to grapple with coronavirus, incredibly high unemployment, racial unrest, the climate, poverty and hunger.

The election isn’t going to solve any of these problems. We can and should use it to take a deep breath, figure out our next steps on each of these, and get busy. Without the election sucking the oxygen out of the room, we can find something positive to fill the void.

I hope you voted. If you didn’t, then we will get the president we deserve.

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Pods, Pods, Pods

I’ve been thinking a lot about pods lately. All kinds of pods. Pea pods, to be sure, since the harvest is in and mounds of fresh veggies are available.

Pod people from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Some days I think pod people have taken over the airways. I’ve always enjoyed that movie, but living it gives me a whole new perspective. 

Other pods include learning pods, where groups of parents gather together to hire a professional teacher to augment distance learning.  

My favorite pod, however, is our Saturday at 6P “cocktail pod.” You read that right. Since the middle of March, neighbors have gathered at the end of our cul-de-sac for human interaction and cocktails. Strictly a BYO drinks. Oh, and chair. We do keep our distance but don’t wear masks because we are outside. 

Last week, we had 14, including a few kids and dogs, which provided entertainment by dancing in the circle. We had an unusual event. One home owner is renovating his house and nearly doubling its size. He had grown children, in-laws, and grands at the circle. Another couple came with their 6 yo girl. She usually draws in chalk and leaves her art for us to enjoy. 

The story was complex, but it began with a mention of the university the renovator went to. Two other people who are regulars also went to the same school, although a couple of generations separated them. One woman mentioned that her aunt also graduated from said university. Very long story short, the renovator and his clan and the family with the chalk artist are related by marriage and never knew it. The longer they talked, the more relatives they identified. 

When we broke up, one of the younger regulars mouthed, “WTF was that?”

That, folks, was a moment. Two families who had never met, met. So, we can be physically distanced, but can still interact socially. 

What cool pandemic things have happened to you? 

Peace, out.

#AmWriting
As a writer who is happy as a clam in her writing cave, I glad I turned this time into creative endeavors. I’m making fantastic headway on Betrayal, a suspense story with lots of explosions. I can’t wait to share the cover with you.
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#NewReadersWanted
If you are looking for something a little different, these four books are all $0.99 each. Perhaps you’ll take a chance and see if you like what I write. And here’s the link to make it easier for you to find them. 
Unintended Consequences https://amzn.to/2WWkONX 
Uncharted Territory http://amzn.to/1T71q6D
Eyes Without A Face https://amzn.to/2xoP9ap
Out of the Desert http://bit.ly/outofthedesert 
You can get all three Mad Max ebooks for $5.97 at https://amzn.to/2V4d76v. 
Please help out all of your favorite writers by dropping a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Goodreads. We appreciate it. Thanks, and read on, right now.

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