18
Feb

The Bookmobile and Daddy's Big Hand

I won first place in a local library writing contest with this story several years ago. The theme was 'what library memories did we have?'.

In 1950, I was a first grader in a new, small, rural school. The children marked the days off the calendar, waiting for the two days a month  the yellow Sonoma County bookmobile visited the school and we could each select a library book! Without today’s modern technology of television, videos, and smart phones, a book was the doorway to a world of fantasy, imagination and excitement.

We lined up at the door of the bookmobile. I was barely able to contain our excitement until finally it was my turn to enter the truck. The librarian directed my attention to the two shelves dedicated to beginning readers and I made my selection.

The librarian challenged me with the responsibility of caring for library property and tucked a card into the back cover. It was mine for two whole weeks! Triumphantly, I carried my book down the steps and into the shade of a nearby tree.

The book was a treasure, sent to me personally by the President of the United States, who owned the County Public Library System and personally sent the yellow bookmobiles to rural schools, as a symbol of truth, justice and the American Way. This, I knew in my heart of hearts.

I walked home from school that day, carrying my lunch pail, sweater and my precious library book under my arm. One of my companions suggested we take a different route home. Though I knew this was against my mama’s rule, the chanting of chicken cinched my decision to agree. Several blocks from home, our path brought us to a PG&E workman’s hole, loosely covered by boards. Our leader pranced across the boards and 'double-dog dared' us to follow. I was afraid, but unable to defy a double-dog dare, I had no choice but to follow him across the wobbling boards.

Fighting back tears, I clutched my lunch pail, sweater and library book, closed my eyes and took a step onto the wobbly boards. Flailing my hands to keep my balance, my precious book tumbled into the dark hole and landed surely, into the pits of hell. Horrified, we peered into the darkness. I could barely see its pages flipping gently back and forth. The hole was too deep, and rescue too challenging for our small six-year-old minds to comprehend.

I contemplated the outcome of this catastrophe. The President of the United States had personally commissioned the book into my hands and I had failed him…. miserably. Someone was going to jail. I felt sure they wouldn’t put a 6-year-old in jail, but, who…? Suddenly it became all too clear. They would put Daddy in jail because I was his kid and somebody had to pay for this grievous error.

When I got home, I hid in the closet, despite my mother’s pleas to come out. I sat in the dark, crying, imagining what would become of us. Mama would have to go to work. Everyone would  point fingers at me, knowing I was the reason Daddy was in jail.

When Daddy came home, he grabbed me by the collar, pulled me from the closet and whacked my bottom, “What the heck is going on?” Daddy always could get to the seat of the problem in about four seconds.

Between tears and trembling, I confessed the loss of my library book on the way home. (I decided not to mention my suspected opinion about him going to jail. The library police would be here soon enough to point that out and arrest him.)

Daddy drove us back to the gigantic, monstrous hole that yawned beneath the 100 foot deep PGE boards, the hole that had swallowed my precious book, the hole that was the cause of his impending incarceration, and my everlasting shame. He leaned over the gaping cavern, reached his long arm down and…pulled out the book.

Things were easier back then. You could count on Daddy to solve life-shattering problems with one sweep of his big hand, or so it seemed to me, as I snuggled against his shoulder on the way home, my library book clutched tightly to my chest.

 

15
Feb

The Elevator Pitch

 

The blurb on the back of my cozy cat mystery reads something like this. ‘While Black Cat narrates his own challenges back home, his mistress, Kimberlee, follows a clue to a lost treasure she found in a WWII soldier’s diary. It sends her on a treasure hunt to Austria. Little does she know she is on a collision course with a stalker determined to steal the diary and reach the treasure…blah…blah…blah...’

The back of the cover cannot explain the plot’s humor, drama, intrigue, or the battle on the beaches of Normandy and the friendship struck between Dewey and a German soldier recorded in the diary, or the beauty of Austria, or the intrigue as Kimberlee matches wits with the stalker.

When I first starting writing years ago, no one told me there was more to ‘being an author’ than plots and dialogue. In these days of limited acceptance by traditional publishing houses unless one has achieved personal fame or fortune and a platform of 10,000, an author must resort to Indie Publishing and be a jack of all trades.

Beyond writing talent, one must master the skills of publicist, bookkeeper, full time blogger, cover artist, and skilled orator, always keeping an eye and ear open for opportunities to participate on author panels and speaking engagements. Though not necessarily a ‘master’ at any of the above mentioned skills, I’ve become somewhat competent in most. Now, I’ve learned I must master one more skill... Memorize an ‘elevator pitch’ on the off chance that, perhaps in a coffee shop or the dry cleaners, I should run into a literary agent sipping a Carmel Macchiato or picking up dry cleaning.

It is imperative to command the agent’s undivided attention with an opening hook, and define my scintillating plot’s originality. I must convince him everyone from a cowboy in Texas to a stock broker in Hollywood would buy my book with his last green dollar, and how it will become a Best Seller…and accomplish all this in sixty seconds or less.

I have practiced my ‘elevator pitch’ in front of a three-way mirror and perfected where to smile, when to pause for special effect, and when to use hand motions to emphasize the final sentence. It has become second nature and the words now roll off my tongue like scotch tape at a Christmas party.

Unfortunately, in my case, I fear if I should ever be fortunate enough to find myself on that much discussed elevator with an agent, in spite of my good intentions and hours of practice, I expect the conversation would more likely go something like this.

Uh… You’re that Zondervan guy, right! Wait. Let me push this button and stop the elevator. I never thought… I have some notes here somewhere. Where is that paper? Well, never mind. I wrote a book, see? You’re not going anywhere special right now, right? About that book I wrote… You’re gonna love it. I called it Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary. Do you like cats? It’s narrated partly by the cat. At least half of it. The other half is in Austria. There’s a stolen treasure, see and Kimberlee…that’s the lady, not the cat. She finds a clue in a diary. Well, you have to read it. So, there’s this cat…see….

****

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary is available on Amazon for $3.99  https://tinyurl.com/vgyP89s

 

 

22
Jan

MORNING MATCH - A short story by a visitor - Judy Vaughan

Today, I'm sharing a short story by my writer friend, Judy Vaughan.

Judy  grew up in Northern New Mexico surrounded by sacred mountains and engrossed in the lives of horses and other animals. She left the family ranch for boarding school in Colorado and then attended Carleton College and the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. She has composed stories since childhood, and began to hone the craft of writing after forty years practicing neurology.

Morning Match  

This morning, before I raise my eyelids, the cat’s paw-steps crinkle the surface of the comforter pulled to my chin. His indentations push down. They are somatosensory taps along my thigh. He might be walking in snow while I am the ground below.

A dream vanishes into the ringtone of the smart phone alarm, set today to prompt me to meet the washing machine repairman during a “window” from eight to one. “Ask him to come as early as possible,” I had told the receptionist yesterday though I have no other deadline short of their arbitrary “window.”

Awake now, I give Match his morning hug and cue him back to his sleep-spot on top of the fuzzy acrylic coverlet, folded at the end of the bed. He bypasses it, and jumps to the floor, his crepuscular self on the move at daybreak.

I don a tattered robe and hobble to the kitchen. I push the start button on my single service coffee maker.

Bangs and scuffles make me imagine the repairman at the door, sounds not unlike someone organizing their tools outside the home of a scheduled client. But it’s way too early; It’s just Match banging the door of the linen closet.

I think of all the poems that begin with the author at the breakfast nook, ceramic cup in hand, interrupting their writing to muse over the décor, the kettle or some bird outside the window. On a segue way to a solitary mood.

And there’s my bird through the sliding glass door. In the yard, an overgrown lavender shrub feeds the local hummingbirds through the damp spring. Last year’s nests stand out in the skeletons of my neighbor’s trees, and a green male Anna’s clicks as he explores the clustered back yards in my cul-de-sac. The click call, generated by a pop of air from his throat is as loud as a mobile phone notification.

I open the glass door.

The cat hears it. I let him slip through a narrow opening and crouch behind the locked screen. That’s his catio. He can’t see the bird clearly at his age, but he chirps his attention. I check the latch. Match wants to go out---the loamy smell and the swoop of the birds lure us both. Volunteer lettuce has sprouted in the wine barrel; I might broadcast a few more seeds later today.

He rattles the screen latch again and meows.

“I get it Match, but, no.” I close the sliding glass and distract him with fresh water. I push a cup of Sweet and Creamy coffee through the machine into a souvenir mug that uses three x-es to write “Relaxxx in Ireland.”

Match never wanted to be an indoor cat. As a kitten with a demanding meow, he appeared at my daughter’s home, black with white markings, the most prominent of which was a 5-millimeter spot on his forehead. A dot. Like Match.Com, the dating service that was easing me into grandmotherhood twelve years ago.

Adopted into my home, he was exhausting. His dog-like demand for my attention included biting and scratching to initiate communication. If I kept him busy, he was a lot of fun. As in tricks. He would retrieve small toy mice or bring me a toilet paper roll as a gift. I easily taught him to jump when cued around furniture or through a hoop. Escape was his favorite game, and one day he succeeded. He disappeared.

I sip the coffee and relive the grief I felt. How I let my neighbor convince me to take in an elderly stray and made her take him back the next day. How I told everyone about my “Labrador retriever cat.” For years. Tearing up every time.

Five years later, I got the call. “Did you lose a cat? ‘Match Dot Com’ on his microchip? He’s at the County Animal Shelter. He’s injured. Do you want him back?”

“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” I said.

When I lifted his skeletal body from the shelter crate to my bosom, he snuggled and purred. He’d been found eleven miles from my house.

I move aside to let the repairman do his job. I get a rag and clean the grimy surfaces of the washer revealed during the repair. The technician, Gregor, is polite, but not as chatty as I’d want. I’ve only recently learned to restrain myself from asking about national origins. The price is as quoted, and the app on his smart phone processes my credit card. Match leaves his strangers-are-here hiding place seconds after Gregor’s van pulls away.

I reheat the last ounce of Sweet and Creamy, sit back down and open the Mac. Match jumps to the other chair then onto the kitchen table where he looks at me with an owl-like stare. His eyes, once pure green, are now checkered with iris atrophy. They look like the mosaic eyes of a Byzantine virgin. A scar has widened one tear duct. A larger one in his right axilla leaves a patch of skin devoid of hair and warm to the touch. It marks the site where an open wound almost sent him to euthanasia when he was brought in from his five years of feral life.

I must have half a dozen pictures of him on Facebook in this very pose, the owl stare hinting at a possible stealth attack, or maybe just a wise proof-read.

I suspect all those poets had a cat.

*******

Judy lives in Elk Grove, California, and writes with Elk Grove Writers and Artists. Works in progress include her New Mexico memoir, Strawberry Roan. Her stories have placed in short story contests and have been published in NCPA Anthologies.

She is a member of the California Writers Club, Northern California Publishers and Authors, and the New Mexico Book Association.

Contact her at jfbvaughan@comcast.net.

 

27
Nov

Mom's Silverware - A Thanksgiving Story

 

Corrine sighed as the comforting scent of turkey wafted through the dining room. She glanced at the clock, mentally judging her dinner’s progress with the anticipated arrival of the children. Her mother’s china, crystal wine goblets and silverware were lovingly arranged on the dining room table. She continued polishing a silver fork from her mother’s rosewood silverware box and placed it next to a wine goblet.

She remembered the holidays at Mom’s house when all the grandchildren came to dinner. The lights from her chandelier had shimmered and bounced off each shining goblet and piece of silverware. Mom would move a spoon a fraction of an inch until it was just right and then, placed a chocolate kiss on each plate.

“There,” she would say, “that’s so they know they are loved.”

Corrine’s husband mumbled something unintelligible from the family room. “What are you doing in there?” Corrine called.

“I’m converting your Dad’s old 8- mm movie films to VHS. We can show the grandkids pictures from your childhood.”

Corrine returned to the kitchen and poured herself a glass of wine. She pulled her mother’s casserole dish from the cupboard. Her thoughts turned again to memories of past holidays.

She recalled the Christmas’s and Thanksgivings when mom and “the girls” all bought party dresses specifically for the event. The tradition ended when her mother passed away.

Through the years, Corrine moved up a generation in the family chain. She had become the gray haired “Grandma,” and her daughter took her place. Different little children bustled through the house.

“Where have the years gone?” she thought.

Corrine returned to the dining room and placed the polished fork on the table. Mom’s silverware was a tradition that had been present for 60 years, throughout years of young motherhood and still remained a part of every holiday dinner. It was a constant, defying the loss of loved ones, gray hair, or climbing through the links of the family chain. The silverware would grace her daughter’s table some day; a reminder of her childhood holiday memories. It would become part of her tradition as she created new memories with her children.

Corrine admired her table setting. It looked nice. “Oh! I almost forget the kiss!” she said, adding Mom’s droplets of chocolate love on each plate. Mom would be pleased. Corrine wondered, Where did Mom get the silverware? It was not likely to have been a wedding present. Mom and Dad were married during the Great Depression.

Her husband interrupted her memories. “Honey, come take a look at this. It’s one of your Dad’s old Christmas movies when you were a baby.”

They sat together on the couch, sipping wine, watching the jumpy speckley black and white film flicker across the bed sheet pinned to the wall.

The speckles became Corrine’s mother and dad. It was Christmas Day, 1946. Cousins Dolly and Beverly hugged giant dolls and little Allan sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree. Corrine saw herself, a three-year-old, holding an enormous doll. Her unbelievably young mother smiled from the bed sheet. Corrine’s nine-year-old brother,, Vernon, chased little cousin Allan around the room with his new BB gun, making faces at the camera. Big sister Lois and Cousin Wilbur ripped open puzzles and books. Only one last gift remained.

Dad handed a large package to Mom. She smiled, looking uncomfortable in the spotlight. The Christmas wrap fell away. She opened the beautiful rosewood box filled with shiny new silverware. Her face beamed and she mouthed a silent “thank you.”

How Dad must have sacrificed to buy such an expensive gift in 1946 when jobs were scarce and times were hard.

Here was the birth of Corrine’s most precious family tradition; the beautiful rosewood box filled with silverware. A connection she still shared with her mother, one that she would continue to share with her daughter and her granddaughter for years to come.

The oven buzzer sounded. The turkey was done. Corrine wiped the tears from her eyes, picked up her wine goblet and hurried to the kitchen. Time was getting away and the children would soon be here!

*****

Reader: If you enjoyed this story, please check out my seven novels on Amazon in paperback and e-book.

 

4
Nov

Does God Love Cats? Another short story preview from All Things Cat -

My cat, Truffie, had surgery on a foot laceration this week, and racked up another large veterinarian bill. It put me in mind of her illness years ago when she was a kitten, and I wrote this piece called, Does Got Love Cats? It is one of the stories in my anthology, All Things Cat, which is available at Amazon for $2.99 (e-book)   http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak.

 

DOES GOD LOVE CATS?

I love my cat, Truffie. She’s a gift of joy in my life. Every day, she makes me smile. She loves me unconditionally, even when I’m not wearing lipstick or my hair is a mess. She loves me when I’m grumpy. She even loves me when I won’t open another can of cat food because she doesn’t like the flavor or the last one.

One day, Truffie stopped eating. She lost weight. We took her to the vet…twice. Though we racked up $600 in medical bills, the vet had no words of reassurance, “All the lab tests and x-rays are normal. I don’t know what’s wrong with her. Maybe we could−”

“No,” I said. “I can’t afford to spend more money. If we knew what was wrong or how to fix it, it would be different.”

Five days had passed since she became ill. If something didn’t change soon, there was no hope for her. I took her home. I forced eye droppers full or water down her throat every few hours. She was dehydrated and still wouldn’t eat. She had a fever. None of the medicine the vet prescribed had helped.

I began to wonder. Does God care that Truffie is sick?

Sure, we know He cares about our health and our finances and foreign affairs and protecting the troops fighting in far-away places. But does God really care if my cat is sick? Would He take time from His busy schedule of healing folks and finding work for the unemployed, and protecting our troops and trying to make the Washington swamp solve our problems to heal a cat, just because I asked? You see, I’ve prayed about all those things for a while now, but Truffie’s fever? Does He really care? Do I dare pray and expect God to heal her?

I asked my pastor, “Does God care when our pets are sick? Would it help to pray for Truffie?” He told me that on a certain day, people bring their animals to the Catholic Church to be blessed, but he couldn’t think of a Bible verse that specifically says God heals pets, especially cats.

I searched the Bible in hopes I’d find something to prove God cared about the animals and would answer our prayers when they’re sick. Matthew reminds us…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:20 NIV) Sparrows... Cats... Not quite the same, but if He cares about sparrows, it stands to reason He cares about cats.

We’re all familiar with God’s blessings and promises. We know He gives us everything we need. Our home... Our loved ones... A job–well, most of us have a job, or we had one, before they downsized the company, and now some folks live on unemployment benefits. But not many of us are going hungry, so even in our adversity, God supplies our needs. But that didn’t answer my question. Would it help if I asked Him to heal my cat?

I searched the scriptures for more confirmation about prayer and faith. Ask and it will be given to you. (Matthew 7:7 NIV). Was that the key? It went on to say that the power of faith, even a tiny bit, could have wondrous results. For truly I say to you. If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move and nothing will be impossible. (Matthew 17:20NIV) That sounded promising. And lastly…how much more will the Father in Heaven give good gifts to those (his children) who ask Him. (Matthew 7:11NIV)

Now, we were getting somewhere. The Bible said God cared about sparrows, that it was a matter of having faith when we pray, and that He loves His children and stands ready to answer our resonable requests.

What have I got to lose? So, with a grateful heart and a great deal of faith, I prayed for Truffie. “Lord, you know how much I love her. You know how much joy she gives me, and You know how it would grieve me to lose her. I’m calling on Your promise, Ask and it will be given…. I place this little cat in Your loving hands, Lord, and ask You to heal her and raise her up again. I have faith that she will be healed because You’ve promised…”

Now, I’m not going to tell you that a lightning bolt surrounded my head or that the Heavens opened and God’s voice rang out, “Truffie. Rise up and walk,” but the next day, Truffie started to eat. Her mood brightened! She purred! She was on her way. She would recover.

I know that God cares for our cats and dogs and rabbits and horses and all our pets. Not because there’s a specific verse in the Bible that says so, but because we love them and He loves us…enough to want our joy to be complete. He promises that if we ask and have faith, we can move mulberry trees into the sea, or move mountains from here to there. Maybe it’s all about teaching us to take all our cares to the Lord, no matter how big or small and knowing He will hear and answer according to His will.

Truffie is over ten year old now, and until this week when she hurt her little toe, has never been sick another day in her life. Truffie is living proof. God answered my prayer, and yes, I’m convinced.

God loves cats.

*****

If you enjoyed this story, you'll find 20 more short stories about cats in ALL THINGS CAT. Some true, most fiction, some written By the cat, and all ABOUT cats. All Things Cat, is available at Amazon for $2.99 (e-book)   http://tinyurl.com/y9p9htak

16
Sep

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary

 

I just published the fourth cozy Black Cat mystery.

Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey’s Diary is a dual tale that takes place in California and also in Austria. While Black Cat and Angel are embroiled in village intrigue and riveting drama along the shores of a No. California resort town, Dorian and Kimberlee seek a long-lost treasure they believe is still hidden in Hopfgarten, Austria.The story moves back and forth between Black Cat’s wisdom and Angel’s snarky wit in Fern Lake, and Kimberlee’s unexpected challenges facing a stalker in a foreign country.

 

It all started with a message in a WWII diary from a soldier who befriended a German soldier during the battle of Normandy. Following the war, Dewey receives and records in his diary, a mysterious message from his friend… The treasures is in Hopfgarten….touch the feet of the babe…

 

Kimberlee reads Dewey’s diary just before she and Dorian embark on an Austrian vacation. Of course, they must go to Hopfgarten to follow the clues to a treasure missing for more than 50 years. And also, of course, she encounters a man who has spent the last 50 years searching for this lost treasure. When he overhears Kimberlee talk about a 'missing treasure in Hopfgarten, he begins to stalk the girls... and.. well, if I told you any more, you wouldn't need to buy the book. Amazon $3.99 for the e-book.   http://tinyurl.com/y2tyyeh5

 

Contact me for a reduced price on the paperback copy.

 

Kimberlee’s Austrian adventure includes many of my own 1987 personal experiences when I traveled through castles and villages, saw cows wearing bells around their necks, visited 1000-year-old churches in Salzburg, and finally into Hopfgarten where I experienced many of the events included in Kimberlee’s adventure, and first imagined the story of a missing treasure, and wrote the poem in Dewey’s diary.

 

At last the story is in a novel, something I've wanted to do for years.

 

If you buy and read Black Cat and the Secret in Dewey's Diary, be sure to leave an Amazon review!

 

29
Aug

Camping With Kids - A true story

‘Camping with your children brings families together.’ The full magazine article went on to describe the family sitting around a roaring fire, making S’mores, roasting marshmallows, and making memories to last a lifetime. That’s what my family needed. More bonding and less bickering. I tossed the magazine and phoned my husband. “We’re going camping with the kids.”

By the time he got home, I had I borrowed a tent, a kerosene lantern, sleeping bags, a campstool, camp cots, cooking gear, kerosene cook stove, and an ice chest from friends and made arrangements for the neighbor to feed the cat. Hubby capitulated with arm-twisting and the promise of a fishing trip later that summer. It took the promise of a Barbie doll and roller blades to gain the children’s cooperation.

The smooth-talking Outdoorsman salesman persuaded sold me dehydrated ham and eggs, powdered potatoes, canned beef stew, dried prunes, beef jerky and powdered applesauce. He guaranteed I had enough to cook, stew, puree, and heat over a cheery campfire and create gourmet meals for a family of four for two days. The picture on the dehydrated ham and eggs showed a mom on a hillside with the breeze blowing through her hair. The canned beef stew can showed Daddy snoozing in a camp chair with his dog at his feet. The brochure promised memories to last a lifetime. It had to be true; it said so, right there on the front label.

We set off for a campground in the redwoods, about an hour away. The drive was punctuated by my son’s fingers in his mouth, eyes crossed, and tongue protruding while his sister screamed, “Make him stop looking at me!” Precious kids!

With no guardrails on the steep, winding road to our campground, rocks rolled over the canyon edge as the car wound around hairpin curves.

We found our assigned campsite one-half block from the outhouse and 200 feet from a pipe with a faucet on top, surrounded by 263 bees. Thus, an explanation of the phrase–dry camp. No running water, no electricity and the aforementioned outhouse.

After pitching our tent, hubby started to assemble the camp cots, only to find the poles on the end of each cot were missing. Our sleeping bags would now lie on the hard ground. My thoughts strayed to my own bed with fourteen inches of cotton batting, memory foam and bedsprings. Ah, well, I reasoned, the promised family togetherness would be worth it.

The children chased around the camp, and then my 7-year-old daughter requested I accompany her to the facilities. We walked past other campsites and noticed folding chairs, down comforters, portable record players, and Porta Potties. What did they know that I didn’t know? The answer soon became clear. Within fifteen feet of the outhouse, all that we had previously thought we knew about outhouses didn’t hold a candle to the reality. An indescribable smell hung overhead like a cloud. The outhouse door hinges defied latching. Holding our noses, we rushed the door. The sight inside took away all bodily urges and we raced back to our campsite. The bushes held more promise.

We learned that up the road was a washhouse with real toilets. We made a plan to do a bathroom run after dinner. Also, no open fires were allowed in the fire pits. No problem. We had the little kerosene stove to cook our instant and dried foods... Hubby unpacked the stove. Flip this, fold that, click in the burners, attach the kerosene tank, pump it up and light with a match. Easy-peasy! He pumped and pumped vigorously–it would not light. The sssssssssheoshee emanating from the kerosene tank could only mean…a minute hole in the tank. Thus, no hot water for a dried, vacuumed-sealed, gourmet meal.

“Don’t worry,” I assured my disappointed family. “We can eat the canned beef stew cold.” I reached for the can opener. “It must be here somewhere.” No can opener. “Um…I must have left it on the kitchen counter.”

Like all survival conscious men, Hubby always carried a pocket knife. He attacked the can with a vengeance. The children sat with tin plates in their laps, like the hungry waifs from a Charles Dickens novel, waiting for their daily gruel.

My daughter’s shriek interrupted my fascination with the jagged hole Hubby was gouging into the beef stew can. She danced around the cold campfire, beating her chest and tore at her tee shirt, which I pulled over her head. A flattened kamikaze bee dropped to the ground, twitched and lay still. Several inflamed bumps swelled on her chest. Of course, the first aid kit was likely lying beside the can opener on the kitchen counter. We painted her upper torso with a mud poultice.

By now the ragged hole in the top of the stew can revealed its contents. Unfortunately, it was all too reminiscent of the contents in the outhouse. The anticipated hopes of the family gathered around the fire, eating a gourmet meal tumbled into the dirt next to the stew. The children tossed their tin plates beside the mutilated can and ripped open a bag of dried prunes.

Ah well,” I mused, as I bit into a dried prune, “family togetherness….”

Shortly thereafter, the sun disappeared behind the towering pine trees and darkness crashed around us. It was 5:45 P.M. “We can sit around the fire pit by lantern light and pretend we have a roaring fire. We’ll tell stories,” I cheerfully suggested. (You can see this coming, can’t you?) A few pumps on the kerosene lantern should have blossomed into a soft and romantic glow…but didn’t. “Please don’t tell me the tank is empty,” I squeaked, barely able to distinguish the features of my amazingly quiet children who were holding hands in the darkness.

My long-suffering husband pumped furiously on the lantern, to no avail. That family memory joined the beef stew, oozing into the mountain dirt, casting an ominous green glow.

I munched on another dried prune as we visited the washhouse where we thankfully used the facilities. Returning from the washroom, Hubby turned off the headlights and we sat in total disillusionment and despair for about five minutes, staring at the sagging tent, dark fire pit and useless accouterments. Should we give up and go home or stay? Going home meant driving down death hill, at risk of plunging over the canyon, or going to bed at 6:30 PM in the hot tent.

My husband wanted to chance the hill and sleep in his own bed. I insisted it was only twelve hours till dawn when we could strike the camp and get out of this hellish nightmare.

From the barely discernible expression on Hubby’s face, I knew he would never forgive me.

Our four sleeping bags touched on the canvas tent floor. An enormous lump pressed into the small of my back. Why hadn’t we cleared the rocks off the ground before we set up the tent? We could only wiggle and squirm and try to sleep. Blackness...hot air...kids snoring… Was that a bear? No clock... I heard a mosquito. Mosquitoes find me the way bears find honey. I had to get inside the sleeping bag or be eaten alive…. Oh Lord, what time is it? I poked my husband. “Honey, what time is it?”

He groaned and looked at his luminous dial. “9:30,” he growled.

I would not survive the night. I would go insane before dawn. The strains of Kum-By-Yah drifted faintly from another campsite. I hated those well-prepared campers.

Within a few hours, the unbearable heat turned into a freezing mountain chill. 895 hours later when I could faintly see Hubby’s scowling face, I punched him. “Are you sleeping?”

“You’re kidding, right?”

We struck the tent, wadded and pitched it into the station wagon. We tossed our still unconscious children on top of the tent. The sun cast a faint glow across our neighbors, dreaming of last night’s gourmet meal cooked over a functional camp stove and story time, having bonded with their kids beneath the lantern light. We roared out of the campground and hurtled down the hill, spewing rocks over the canyon wall. We did not look back.

By 7:45 A.M. we were at our kitchen table eating bacon and eggs. We laughed about the camping disasters until the tears rolled down our faces. It became a memory that will last a lifetime.

 

18
Aug

A,B,C's of writing a Novel

A reader spends four to five hours, immersed in a book from cover to cover. If the story is well written, for a time, she forgets her personal life. She sees herself either traveling alongside the main character or, if the writer is talented enough, the reader ‘becomes’ the character as the story moves forward.

She may wish to be transported into a romance where she feels loved and cherished. She may be a frustrated crime fighter who receives satisfaction from following clues and perhaps solving a mystery before the end of the book. She may hope to experience the thrills and chills of a thriller-suspense novel. Or, perhaps to experience life in a different world, or a different time in history. She may hope to learn more of the traditions of people from other lands or other cultures, presented in a fictionalized story.

How do these various types of books come about? Does the reader ever think about what was involved before this story could magically appear on the pages, and land on a bookstore shelf for the reader’s pleasure?

Unless a reader is also an author, it is doubtful she could conceive of the time and energy that goes into writing a novel–plotting, writing, researching, editing, reviewing, formatting, and finally to cover design and publication. Each step takes hours and hours.

The author must first come up with a premise for the story. Some authors outline the entire novel before they ever put fingers to keyboard. Others have a general idea of the story line, and let the story evolve as they write, figuring how to bring it all together in a cohesive manner. She thinks about the characters and the story line most days and often into the night. Every little thread must come together in the end. It is essential to keep the suspense or momentum throughout the middle, lest we lose the attention of the reader. She must keep each reaction and comment true to the personality of the characters as she envisions how they might respond to a certain event. She must make the reader understand the motivation and actions or comments of the character through the dialogue.

The end must make sense, and preferably reach a satisfying conclusion, leaving the reader wishing there was another hundred pages in the story. She wonders where the sequel can be found, if there is one. In ideal circumstances, the characters have become real enough that she can almost see them as next-door neighbors or someone in her circle of friends.

What a challenge and what a victory when a reader comes back to the author and asks, “When is the next book coming out?” That is an author’s highest compliment.

Sometime within the next month, I’ll publish Black Cat’s next adventure. Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey’s Diary, a dual tale taking place in Fern Lake with the cats, and in Hopfgarten, Austria, as Dorian and Kimberlee follow the clues to a missing treasure. (Pictured above. Hopfgarten Church - Austria)

 

16
Jun

57 Years Ago Our Honeymoon Story!

 

While sorting through my cedar hope chest recently, I uncovered my wedding gown and honeymoon nightie. A few shreds of rice still clung to the satin material. I thought back on the days of our unusual honeymoon as I folded and smoothed the purple nightie.

June 17, 1962 was a perfect day. The sun beamed bright through the stained glass windows. The scent of flowers and music filled the auditorium. “With this ring, I thee wed,” we each stated, and we were man and wife, twenty years and eighteen-years-old respectively.

Following the reception, consisting of wedding cake and fruit punch, we raced through torrents of rice, eager to reach our secret honeymoon motel in a nearby lake-resort town. That night, we planned to celebrate by having dinner at a real restaurant.

While dating as teenagers, we had eaten at hotdog stands, drive-in movie snack shacks and BBQ’s with family, but we had never gone to a real restaurant. A candlelight dinner at a restaurant seemed to be a rite of passage, signifying that we were now married adults. It would be a cherished memory, a perfect beginning to our wedding night.

The sun shone hot on our heads as we drove our 1958 MGA with the top down toward the lake. The excitement of the day took a toll on my young husband. His head began to throb and maybe nerves played a role as well. The expectations of “the wedding night” created some anxieties for him that many young grooms don’t experience today.

Several hours later, we reached our honeymoon cottage. My young husband threw himself on the bed, head pounding, eyes aching, a wet cloth held to his forehead. He begged to be allowed to die in peace. He wasn’t up to dinner at a fancy restaurant. “Tomorrow, honey,” he promised, “just let me go to bed.”

A brand new blushing bride, on the eve of my wedding, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected spaghetti, hamburger, tomato sauce, lettuce, and salad dressing. I soon stood in front of a tiny stove in our honeymoon cottage, cooking spaghetti while my new husband groaned on the bed with a migraine headache.

“I hope this isn’t a sign of what’s ahead,” I thought, as I added a pinch of salt to the boiling water. “This is NOT how I planned my wedding night.”

Monday dawned bright and clear, a hot and perfect June day and we slept late, lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore, headaches and anxieties of the night before a forgotten memory.

We spent the afternoon under a willow tree in the park, snuggling on a blanket, watching the squirrels. We spoke of which restaurant we would choose for our special dinner that night to celebrate our one-day anniversary. We swam and frolicked in the lake. My new lord and master climbed a nearby diving board. “Hey, Hon, look at me,” he shouted, spreading his arms wide and launching into a perfect swan dive into the sparkling water below.

Somewhere between, “Look at me,” and the sparkling water below, something went dreadfully wrong. He hit the water with a resounding kersplash. Breaking the surface of the water, he held his hand to his left ear. “I think I broke something.”

The local emergency room confirmed, indeed, he had broken his eardrum. The doctor advised bed rest and a quiet night…

As a recently married woman, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and French bread. On the eve of my one-day anniversary, I heated canned spaghetti sauce and listened to my young husband snore as he slept off the effects of prescribed pain medication.

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, being lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore. All afternoon we churned up the beautiful waves in a rented speedboat. Tonight was the night! We would have a romantic dinner to celebrate our two-day anniversary.

The sun shone deceivingly bright on my young husband’s bare legs and before we noticed, they had changed from white, to pink, to bright red.

My young husband moved slowly toward the MGA, each painful step tugging at his sunburned legs. He tried to pull on his trousers, but the effort was too painful. By evening, my young husband lay on the cool asbestos floor tiles (who knew?) of our honeymoon cottage, moaning. “I don’t think I can put my pants on. Sorry, hon. No fancy dinner tonight. Maybe tomorrow?”

A fairly jaded wife, I pushed a grocery cart through the tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and cookies. The storeowner smiled at me. After all, I had shopped there three afternoons in a row and had become his newest frequent shopper. I vowed to speak to mother about marriage. If this were going to continue, I needed to learn to cook something besides spaghetti.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear, we slept late… (you get the picture…) We spent the afternoon driving around the lake. In the late afternoon, we stopped at a nice restaurant before any further calamity could strike. We celebrated our three-day anniversary. It was as romantic as I had imagined. My husband’s head didn’t ache, his ear didn’t throb, his sunburn had faded to a dull pink, his pants were on, and we didn’t eat spaghetti.

After dinner, at a drive-in theater, necking in the front seat somehow didn’t hold its pre-marriage appeal. We determined it would be best to leave when the movie was half over. It was getting very late, nearly 9:30 after all, and we were anxious to return to our honeymoon cottage.

Thursday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, lulled by the waves…

By late afternoon, we thought about the events of the week. A migraine, a broken eardrum, sun-burned legs… It became clear that we should cut our honeymoon short and return home before any further disaster occurred. I felt the need to speak to mother about expectations of marriage in general, and recipes in particular. By early evening, we bid the honeymoon cottage farewell and started home.

Instead of taking the freeway, a crooked road down the mountain would take thirty minutes off our travel time. We were both eager to reach home and resume…what honeymooners resume.

The air was warm and balmy as we left the resort town. Driving the mountain road was difficult, with switchbacks and no roadside safety rails. Slowly maneuvering hairpin curves, eyes wide, we saw broken, twisted cars in the canyons below. Had they run off the road or shoved into the canyon to dispose of them? Nearing the bottom of the mountain, we saw the valley stretched before us. The terrible ordeal was nearly over.

My young husband shifted gears and revved the engine. Nothing happened. He shifted to another gear and stepped on the gas. Nothing happened. The car coasted into a convenient gas station. He crawled under the car, and found….a broken axle. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he thought about what might have happened if the axle had broken just ten minutes sooner on the treacherous road at the top of the mountain. We were safe, thank God, but 80 miles from home. What to do?

As a mature, experienced wife of four days, able to handle any emergency, I dropped coins into the telephone. Daddy answered, and I said, “Daddy, come get me….” whereupon, Daddy exploded. “Where are you? What has that horrid beast done to my baby girl?” I explained that the beast had done nothing that I didn’t want done, but never the less, the axle on the MG was broken and we were in trouble.

Daddy drove an hour and a half, rescued his baby girl and towed the car 80 miles at the end of a rope; a discouraged young bride and disgruntled half-frozen groom.

Perhaps it was a test to see if our commitment was real. If we had felt the disasters of the week predictive of our future, we might have applied for an annulment the next morning. Perhaps we were too naïve, too inexperienced, or too much in love to fully realize the pitfalls of married life that lay ahead. Suffice it to say, we stuck it out.

Fifty-seven years have passed and my husband’s hair is gray and my face is wrinkled. We have endured through sickness and health, successful and business failure, the birth of children and the loss of loved ones, but we continue to face life’s challenges together.

****

The pungent aroma of cedar clung in the air as I placed the purple nightie back into the hope chest and closed the lid. I closed my eyes, remembering the thrills, frustrations and the romance of that week.

Returning to the kitchen, I dropped a pinch of salt into the spaghetti bubbling on the stove. Much like a pinch of salt adds a touch of flavor to a desired recipe, it takes a touch of adversity to appreciate the full flavor of life. I smiled at the memory of a honeymoon cottage by the shores of a sky-blue lake, and a tiny stove, where another pot of spaghetti bubbled three nights in a row.

Despite the unexpected events that occurred that week, it was the most wonderful, exciting, perfect honeymoon a woman could ever experience, because I was with the man I love

 

11
Jun

Preview from Black Cat and The Clue in Dewey's Diargy

If you've been following my blog you know I have another novel coming this Fall - Black Cat and the Clue in Dewey's Diary - a dual tale of adventures in Fern Lake with Black Cat and Angel, and Dorian and Kimberlee as they ,pursue a lost treasure   in Austria and Germany. Kimberlee's adventures in Austria mimic my own experiences in 1987 when I visited the area. The church pictured IS the Hopfgarten church in the story. Here is an excerpt with Kimberlee, the day she leaves Dorian at her conference and strikes out on her own.

*****

On the outskirts of Salzburg, Kimberlee stopped at an endearing pension. She followed the path to the front door and rang the bell. A stout, older woman answered. “Wilkomen! Kumm in! (Welcome. Come in).

Kimberlee held up her overnight case. “Do you have a room?”

The woman smiled. “Ya. I hef nice room. This way, please.” She led Kimberlee to a room next to the garden filled with pink and yellow tulips and tall gladiolas. The room contained plain, solid wood furniture. A thick feather comforter and feather pillows lay atop the double bed. A vase of fresh flowers adorned the nightstand. French doors led out to the garden. “Is good?”

“Yes, it’s lovely. How many Euros?” Kimberlee pulled out several bills.

The hostess took two bills. “Is enough. Breakfast is 7:00 A.M.”

“Thank you. That will be fine.” Kimberlee set her overnight case on the floor. She opened the French doors, stepped into the garden, and was immediately enveloped by the scent of flowers. A green, carved wooden bench sat beside a fish pond where red and black koi fish bobbed. How she wished Brett could see this. Wouldn’t it have been better to wait and share this beautiful experience with a loved one? Her first day in this beautiful country had already presented so many wondrous sites.

She sat on the bench and watched the koi glide back and forth across the pond, nibbling at a mossy rock, pausing to bask in a ray of sunshine. Would she have experienced the day the same way if Brett had been with her?

The spacious, green, lush meadows, the sense of oneness created by the similarity of the houses, the tinkle of the cows’ bells and the serene agelessness of the castles high atop the hillsides. The way the church bells rang every hour. How the peaceful countryside had affected her! The violinist’s song had touched her heart. The fairytale town transported her to another time and place. In truth, the day’s events left her feeling as though she had stepped into another dimension. Her soul felt refreshed and her faith reaffirmed.

A sudden thought! Spending the day alone had provided such unexpected reactions. As pleasant as it would be to share with a loved one, would she have experienced it the same way? Perhaps, a day spent in solitude was as rewarding as when shared by another.

She revisited the events of the day, from meeting the little cat, to the musician on the church steps, to the castle on the hill, to the mists in the meadows and the cows in the field. And, finally, to a bench beside the koi pond, remembering each beautiful moment in the beauty and stillness of the garden.

She closed her eyes, breathed in the scent of flowers,. In the distance, a church bell chimed. Resolved not to forget a minute of the day’s events, Kimberlee picked up a pen and filled her journal with all she had seen and felt this wondrous day.

*****

Black Cat and the Accidental Angel is Free at Amazon June 12, 13, 2019.     http://tinyurl.com/y6vhxncq

 

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